For all that I’ve given Jeff shit on the podcast for his continued support of Batman: Eternal — a series that he doesn’t seem to be enjoying as much as enduring, based upon what he’s said about recent issues — I have to admit that I have kept up my own unhealthy DC weekly fix in the shape of The New 52: Futures End, a series that continues to confound expectations (and, increasingly, understanding) the longer it continues.

By this point in the series — #37 is out this week, with Ryan Sook delivering a cover that looks as if he’s channeling Steve Pugh’s 1990s style, unexpectedly — it’s not an exaggeration to say that the storylines have become so convoluted that I’m not entirely sure why some things are happening anymore, nor what is necessarily has to do with earlier events featuring the same characters. So far, for example, Grifter has gone from being a lone wolf, hunting down alien invaders, to a living lie detector forced to work for Cadmus against his will, to a desperate man hiding on an island filled with robot-controlled superheroes from an alternate Earth, to a surrogate father to an omnipotent genetically-modified clone that thinks she’s an eight-year-old girl. See: doesn’t that just sound like a coherent chain of cause-and-effect events?

Grifter isn’t alone in the almost arbitrary changes: Ronnie Raymond went from someone who didn’t want to be Firestorm to someone who only wanted to be Firestorm, to someone who could never be Firestorm, to dead (Spoiler alert!) in such a way that seemed entirely unrelated to anything other than wherever the plot needed Raymond’s emotional state to be in any given issue. Shazam literally took up the mantle of Superman off-panel, then gave it up when confronted by Lois Lane midway through the series — and, notably, when the real Superman showed in the book as a character — only to appear later, again dressed as Superman.

Admittedly, that’s better treatment than Mr. Terrific, who was supposed to be a major player in the series but who disappears for long stretches of time because it’s clear that his plot isn’t long enough to stretch the entire series if he appeared every issue — although, given his unexplained evolution into an asshole (Once again, comic books mistake “being arrogant” with “being a straight-up dick”), that might not be the worst thing, all told. Similarly, characters like Tim Drake, Lois Lane and the Stormwatch team of Hawkman, the Atom and Amethyst make irregular appearances in the book, their plots dropped and picked back up seemingly at random.

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The stuttering pacing, like the increasingly nonsensical plots and the incoherent cast list, are all part of the same central problem with the series: the longer it continues, the more it reads as if no-one expected to burn through story as quickly as they did (or, else, the initial plan for the series consisted of “We know where we’re starting, we know where we’re ending, let’s just wing the middle part while it’s happening”). As difficult as Futures End is to read, there’s a perverse part of me that wishes it were an ongoing, just to see at what point everyone involved just threw up their hands and admitted they’d run out of even the most ridiculous, out-of-nowhere plot twists and would like the chance to start over, please.

At the launch of this series, there was enough of a 52 vibe to get me excited about where it could go, even if the character line-up wasn’t entirely my bag. As we’re approaching the finish line, it could be argued that Futures End has started to approach Countdown to Final Crisis more, except without even the promise of Grant Morrison at the end to make everything feel better. It’s a series that’s gone impressively off the rails, but I know that I’m in it for the long haul.

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Occasionally, I get slightly overcommitted with deadlines, and this week — and, I suspect, next — are looking a bit like that, which means that my written posts on here will be shifting to Wednesdays for the next couple weeks. The alternative is, you get the text version of me crying I have so much to do and my brains don’t work anymore, and nobody wants that… or, at least, I don’t. Don’t worry, the important stuff on the site (the podcasts, and Jeff’s posts) will stay as before, and I’m sure I’ll get back to Tuesday posts before too long. In other words, come back tomorrow; there’ll be something worth reading, then.

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Empress Audrey

“I, for one, welcome our feline overlords.”

Okay, so this may well be a bit on the hasty side shownotes-wise  (I won’t ever bore you with it, but let’s just say I’ve spend over three hours chatting with tech support in the last few days) but on the plus side:  OUR FIRST NEW PODCAST OF 2015! Featuring a great giveaway! Lots of chatter! And maybe possibly the bitchiest Graeme and Jeff have been to each other to date?  Check out the notes below, fire up the podcast (remember, we provide just the link itself in the first comment to this post if you don’t want to mess with the RSS feed or the player above), and dive in!

00:00-3:39: Happy New Year Greetings! And, of course, apologies—apologies for not being able to successfully wish one another a happy new year. “Start as you mean to go on,” as Graeme puts it. If I were Graeme, I’d make it a point to explain that when we recorded this, we were both pretty knackered by the week and so therefore a wee bit on the crotchety side…but I’m not Graeme! So I’m going to totally leave you in the dark about it. You’ll never know!
3:39-27:38: This podcast is being recorded on the day of Image Expo 2015 and we have some things to say on the subject: Graeme made a list of all the projects announced at previous Image Expos that still haven’t come out yet (including two from 2012); Jeff kind of just wants to talk about Sandman Overture #4; Graeme wants to correct Jeff about when Sandman Overture first came out; J.H. Williams III’s playlist; the problems with shipping irregularly and perhaps even regularly; bimonthly vs. monthly for six months followed by a break; context after a break; Graeme vs. the third Hobbit movie; feeling weird about the fourth Casanova series that is almost out; our new mantra for 2015: “whatever schedule is whatever schedule” and more.
27:38-29:16: Still part of the above conversation but I’m pulling this section out because we talk a bit about (a) our podcasting schedule for 2015; and (b) how, in February, Jeff is going to screw up our podcasting schedule for 2015.
29:16-42:23: Back to comic scheduling! Would we rather have bimonthly books, or monthly with a break? Which would we rather lose, our hearing or our sight? If we had to choose between having no legs or no arms, which would we choose? Also, less loaded topics: pull lists, the second season of The Wrong Mans; spoiler via TV recap; back to Sandman Overture #4 again; a HORRIFYING PUN; Captain Victory #4; etc.
42:23-56:25: Superman #37 by Geoff Johns and John Romita, Jr. Jeff is pretty annoyed by it and wants Graeme to explain to him (SPOILERS, by which I mean that Jeff describes the entire issue to Graeme): why can’t people tell good Superman stories anymore? (You know, as long as you ignore the people who are?) Why is a Superman story so much harder to tell than, say, a Batman story? Discussed: Superman’s new power (!?) (and, as long as we’re at it, #%$&* as well); Peter Tomasi on Superman/Wonder Woman; and then:
56:25-58:07: Another section pulled out here for your attention: we are super-grateful we have passed the $500 mark; it is an honor and a delight and a humbling experience, and we are especially grateful to the generosity of Audrey the cat, who helped put us over the $500 mark. All hail Empress Audrey! See her above, sitting so regally next to some Legion comics!
58:07-1:04:05: Back to the comic talk! Jeff has read Wonder Woman #37 by Meredith and David Finch and has a theory about it that Graeme does not agree with. [SPOILERS about the issue, obvs.]
1:04:05-1:11:48: There are other things we should be talking about! Such as the Image Expo! Remember, that we started talking about an hour ago? And books Graeme’s looking forward to?
1:11:48-1:18:04: Segue! Pivot! Parkour! Now we’re talking about The Ant Man trailer. Listen to Graeme not so discreetly mock Jeff for basically liking it! (To be fair, Graeme appears to be far from alone in thinking it a very dull trailer. Far from alone.)
1:18:04-1:39:18: Pivot! Transition! Parkour! Top Shelf being bought by IDW! Graeme has some thoughts! Jeff has maybe two thoughts! (Three, if you count, “Is Graeme eating chocolate right now?”) Also discussed: those liquidation sales; direct market consolidation; grinders; is Graeme eating chocolate right now; Alan Moore writing Ghostbusters; Neoconicon; and more.
1:39:18-1:47:38: So which companies should buy out which other companies in the direct market? We brainstorm!
1:47:38-2:17:00: It’s time for that part of the podcast where Jeff realizes he’s never going to get a chance to talk about all those damn comics he read and so just starts blurting out titles and hasty impressions. So: Bucky Barnes, The Winter Soldier #2 and #3 by Ales Kot and Marcos Rudi! Men of Wrath #1-4 by Jason Aaron and Ron Garney! Batman Eternal #36 and #38-40 by a lot of people! Wild’s End #4 by Dan Abnett and INJ Culbard! The Humans #1-3 by Keenan Marshall Keller and Tom Neeley! ODY-C #2 by Matt Fraction and Christian Ward! By contrast, Graeme has been reading: Memetic by James Tynion IV (and sorry, James Tynion IV for always calling you James Tyrion IV—it’s the Star Trek fan in me) and Eryk Donovan! Sleepy Hollow by oh my god this Entertainment Weekly link is taking forever to load! the collected Casanova (the first thing) by Matt Fraction and Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon! 2000 A.D. by lots of people! And so: Jeff has also read The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl by Ryan North and Erica Henderson! (by the way, doesn’t a second Inhumans title seem kinda insane?) Scooby-Doo Team Up #8 by Sholly Fisch and Scott Jeralds! Outcast #6 by Robert Kirkman, Paul Azaceta, and some fantastic coloring by Elizabeth Breitweiser! Deathstroke #3 by Tony Daniel, Tony Daniel and Sandu Florea! Flash Gordon #7 by Jeff Parker, Evan “Doc” Shaner and Jordie Bellaire! Shaft #1 by David Walker, Bilquis Evely, and Daniela Miwa! Star Trek-Planet of the Apes: The Primate Directive by Scott and David Tipton, Rachael Stott and Charlie Kirchoff! Abigail and the Snowman #1 by Roger Langridge! McBain #1 by various (thanks, Bongo!)! Lady Killer #1 by Joelle Jones, Jamie S. Rich, and Laura Allred! They’re Not Like Us #1 by Eric Stephenson, Simon Gane, and Jordie Bellaire! (Autmnlands) Tooth & Claw #1 & #2 by Kurt Busiek, Ben Dewey and Jordie Bellaire!
2:17:00-2:18:34: And here’s a transition to the final part of our podcast where we give away stuff.
2:18:34-2:25:21: And now here’s where we return to give away stuff: four copies of IDW’s Rogue Trooper: Last Man Standing, one of them signed by writer and Whatnaut Brian Ruckley! Jeff ended up digging the four issue mini by Ruckley and artist Alberto Ponticelli, so we are delighted to give these away to four lucky listeners. Listen to the rules and enter to win!
2:25:21-end: Closing comments! Things we will be doing in the coming year, things we should be doing, and a head’s up to read those first dozen issues of the Fantastic Four since the next episode of our podcast, dropping January 19, is an exclusive look at exactly that. And then:
Gravity’s Tote Bag! Places to look for us at—Stitcher! Itunes! Twitter! Tumblr! And, of course, on Patreon where, as of this count, 94 patrons are keeping us groovy and making this whole thing possible.

(p.s. Hail Empress Audrey.)

Thanks for listening and we hope you enjoy!

 

 

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otherManifesto[I’m going to be talking about Batgirl #37 from soup to nuts (no pun intended), so please don’t read if you are worried about being spoiled.]

I can be a small and petty person.  After being one of the only people on the planet that didn’t love Batgirl #35 and 36, the first two issues of new creative team Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher, and Babs Tarr, I felt a big smug when issue #37 came out and hit a massive pothole of controversy. I’d wanted to like issues #35 and #36—really, really wanted to like it—but thought both overstuffed issues had paced things weirdly and, more troublingly, the DJ villain in the first issue seemed a bit culturally insensitive.

That insensitivity apparently amped up for their third issue, as Batgirl faced off against Dagger Type, a villainous imposter that turned out to be a man in drag believing himself to be the real Batgirl.

Kanye

“She’s a man, Babsy!” is the pun I would make if I were a lesser person.

People were upset by the transphobia of the portrayal and a short time later, Stewart issued the following apology on Twitter:

At the time, I’d bought the issue but had yet to read it. But I read the apology with both admiration for the way the creative team owned their mistake—this wasn’t one of those “we’re sorry if we offended anyone with delicate sensibilities” type of apologies—with a bit of the aforementioned pettiness.  I thought, ‘What else could you have been intending when you set up a Batgirl imposter as a crazed man in drag, mascara running down his cheeks, waving a gun about?’

mascara

(I mean, come on. The running mascara thing is practically a trope in itself.)

 

Well, the other day I finally got around to reading Batgirl #37 and overall, I liked it a lot more than the previous issue.  It was a little frenetic while actually having more action, more zip.  And by the time I got to the end, Irealized that in fact Stewart and Team did have an entirely different set of goals with good ol’ Dagger Type and that those goals had kept them distracted from the transphobic reading of the issue.

Now, the imposter villain is an old idea (The Chameleon pops up in issue #1 of Amazing Spider-Man, back in March of 1963, and the idea was far from new back then) but Stewart & Co. are using it to slightly different ends here which is where the drag angle comes into play: from what I can tell, Batgirl #37 was crafted by Stewart and Fletcher as a clever way to address the concept of two men taking over a female led title written for over three years by a popular female creator.

Superhero comics are rife with male creators treating female characters as little more than sexualized images deprived of the depth of characterization accorded male characters.  Similarly,  Dagger Type appropriates Batgirl’s image with a series of glamorous photos featuring a fake Batgirl…but only Barbara herself and her friend Diana know for certain that the Batgirl in the photos is a fake.  Many attending the show believe the Batgirl in the photos is the real deal, just as they believe the actions of the imposter Batgirl out in Burnside to be those of the real Batgirl.  And of course, when a creative team takes over a book, not matter how out of character the lead becomes, it is “the real” Batgirl who is doing what the team has her do.  At the end, as Type melts down, he bellows, “I am the real Batgirl!  The only one who matters!”

Batgirl #37 was a supposed to be a lark, a laugh, where the men writing the character are aware enough of their responsibility to Batgirl and her fandom that they spoof themselves as deluded, self-important comic book creators, ones conceited enough to believe, as Dagger says, “the artist is really the subject, and the subject, his brand!”

manifesto

(Abandoned at the time of writing this essay: thoughts about Jeff Koons, Matt Fraction.)

He’s defeated (of course) and at the end of the comic Batgirl takes a photo of herself, saying “this is the way I choose to be seen.”  It’s an acknowledgment and statement of intent by the creators that their revamp of the character, their difference in tone and theme from Simone’s issues, aren’t a matter of style, artistic conceit or male misappropriation: it’s a way to reframe how the character is seen, a way that is true to the conception of the character.

Of course, in doing all that, they were unaware of the other reading of the issue, the transphobic one.  And while I wonder how that might have changed if someone with the right sensibilities had drawn it to their attention, I think the issue would’ve been misunderstood anyway:  the Batgirl launch was lauded before it happened,  a hit with the fans, so Stewart, Fletcher, and Tarr were defusing a bomb that had never been set.  Even when creators and fandom are on the same page, the page is written before it’s read.  As the book goes forward, I expect that even if this chapter isn’t revisited later, its lessons will remain learned.

pixta

Sigh. The art on this book is so great. Sorry I didn’t spend any time talking about how awesome you are, Babs Tarr!

 

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originffpg

“I — I warned you about ’em!”

Oh, dear Whatnauts — we warned you about this, too. Starting January 19 (or so current plans would suggest), we’re going to be doing three episodes a month, with the third* being a dedicated Fantastic Four readthrough, from the very first issue from 1961 through the final issue of the series’ original run, 1996’s #416. It’ll be like the Avengers readthrough from last year, except it won’t be an afterthought at the end of regular episodes, and we’ll be going further than just three hundred issues.

We’ll also not be doing a set number of issues every month, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, there are going to be times when we’ll just read through a bunch because there’s not much to say about them (Hello, a chunk of the series in the 1970s!), and secondly, there’re also going to be times when we have too much to say about a small number… like our first episode, which will take in the first twelve issues of the series.

For those who want to read along: please do! It’ll be like a book club where two people dominate the conversation except in the comments (You’ll all leave comments, I hope). You’ve got just under two weeks to read twelve issues. We’ll see you back here Jan. 19 to talk about them. And, I mean, hopefully before then for the “regular” episode that we’ll be going live January 12, and also the written posts between now and then, as well…

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One of the unexpected bonuses of Marvel’s increased release frequency is the inevitable discovery, if you’re a Marvel Unlimited subscriber, that you’ve got a bunch of issues to catch up on of whatever relatively-contemporary series you thought you were following. Over the last week or so, I’ve realized that I had issues of All-New X-Men, Uncanny X-Men and a handful of other books to read, and also the chance to sit down and go through Original Sin #1-5 in one sitting, despite being convinced the first issue had only just popped up before Christmas.

That, it turns out, wasn’t the best idea.

When you read the first half of Original Sin in one sitting, it becomes very obvious that there’s nothing to the series. Or, rather, that there’re too many things going on for it to actually be about anything coherent. In the space of those five issues, the Watcher is discovered murdered, heroes set out to find out who did it which leads them to be whammied by… something that makes them all remember things they didn’t before, which isn’t really followed up in the main book at all, and then Bucky kills Nick Fury only for it to turn out that it wasn’t really Nick Fury because he’s old and by the way, he’s been saving the world from aliens in secret for years and… I think you get the picture.

Based on this chunk of issues, it’s difficult (if not downright impossible) to imagine the series finishing in any kind of truly satisfying way; there are too many things being thrown in the air to imagine them all being tied up in a fulfilling manner with just three issues left. I’ve not even gotten into the appearances of Dr. Midas and Exterminatrix from Marvel Boy for seemingly no reason other than he digs them, nor the amount of page real estate spent on Nick Fury’s backstory in the fifth issue to establish… well, I’m not entirely sure what. His bona fides, maybe? Because… no-one believed that Nick Fury was a bad-ass before that…?

Suddenly, Sue Dibny's murder almost understated.

Suddenly, Sue Dibny’s murder almost understated.

The trouble isn’t that Original Sin is devoid of ideas, it’s that it prefers to conjure up something else to distract you instead of developing any of the ideas it’s already presented. I have no problem with comic books as wacky spectacle, especially superhero comics, but for them to work, the spectacle has to have some level of substance to it, some willingness to engage with the reader and do something more than just high concept pitch itself to the last page. There’s a lot of really interesting material on show in these pages, but it’s delivered in a manner that makes the series seem like an easily-distracted kid, over-eager to impress. You almost want to reach into the comic and wipe the flop sweat off Jason Aaron’s forehead, and tell him that he can slow down and we’ll still be paying attention.

(There are problems with the structure of Original Sin that aren’t Aaron’s fault, I feel like I should point out; the whole “everyone remembers something important” thread is almost assuredly created to give the book tie-in potential, but the fact that those revelations only fuel those tie-ins, instead of driving the plot here, makes it feel unnecessary, and a distraction from the Watcher’s death even before that plot morphs into the Nick Fury plot with the series’ fifth issue. There’s a throughline of sorts there, but adding the “Oh no! Shock revelation!” element pulls the balance off.)

(A second aside, for a second; it’s difficult to say Original Sin has leads, per se — maybe Bucky and Nick Fury, but otherwise everyone else is a cypher and likely to cycle in and out of the story as needs and tie-ins demand — but it got me thinking about the casting of event comics at Marvel nonetheless. Remember when the point of events was that all your favorite heroes would get together? These days, that doesn’t really happen in events — the heroes will work in smaller teams, taking on different aspects of a problem — and the home for the massive team-up is in regular titles like Avengers. I read criticism of the Axis event that argued, essentially, that it just felt like an Uncanny Avengers storyline super-sized up, but isn’t that just what all Marvel’s events feel like these days?)

Stuck with an over-active, over-stuffed story, Original Sin needs art that can somehow normalize everything, making the book feel better paced and more coherent than it actually is; sadly, it has Mike Deodato, who certainly gives everything the same look — unfortunately, that look is “overly dark and shadowy, with lots of rendering that almost disguises the fact that his characters are worryingly generic and stiff, thereby killing a lot of the comedy implicit in Aaron’s dialogue.” Deodato’s not a bad artist for some writers (his machismo actually plays well with Bendis’ overly wordy writing, creating an oddly dissonant whole that’s more interesting than either is capable of solo, for example), but he doesn’t play well with the casual, cartoony appeal of Aaron’s superhero writing. Putting him on a book where Aaron is off his game only emphasizes the mismatch.

Original Sin is, then, another event book that fails. If I was paying money for this book alone, I’d likely have stopped buying by this point — but another bonus of Marvel Unlimited is the fact that failures are included in the price of admission. I’m sticking around for the whole thing to play out, even if I’m doing so six months later than first adopters. Why not? All it costs me is time.

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Big Star

And there they go!

Oh, it’s too late.  2015 has already barged in, wiping its feet on the carpets and asking if there’s anything to eat because its hypoglycemic.  Nonetheless, while editing our last podcast for 2014, I had an insight about Roger Stern’s Avengers I wish I’d had earlier to include in our talk.  So, while our loutish friend the New Year is helping himself to the beers in the fridge and any cheese he can find, let’s pretend it’s still 2014 and I can sneak this in under the wire.

I actually have a few other points about The Avengers I’ll jam in here too, just to make this more like one of those listicle things which I hear is the only way anyone reads the Internet nowadays.

Avengers Tend to Work Best in Pairs.  By which I mean, looking back at the first 300 issues, it’s pretty common for the book to find its focus in the interplay between two members of the team:  for example, it’s a good thing the Internet didn’t exist back in the ’60s, otherwise it would’ve melted under all the Captain America/Hawkeye slash fic.  If ever two characters were destined to have their hatesex recounted in detail, it would be Cap and Hawk, whose sexy antipathy powers a good chunk of the first hundred issues. But certainly, I think the only reason any of us remember David Michelinie’s run with any fondness is because of the friendship between The Beast and Wonder Man.  (And although I never got very far into the run, it does seem like Bendis’ Avengers originally relied on the chemistry between Wolverine and Spider-Man.)  Although the team roster swelled at various points, and subplots for individual members came and went, the majority of the rapport tended to run between two characters with a bit of love left over for either the heavy hitters of Thor, Captain America, or Iron Man, depending on whoever was on the team at the time.

This may be why I like Englehart’s run the best and why it felt the fullest to me: rather than just focus on one pair of characters, Englehart fashioned pairs of characters to bounce off one another and then alternated his focus throughout the run.  Although I think of his run as the Vision and Scarlet Witch era, he actually has the Swordsman and Mantis bounce up against those two in a romantic quadrangle, sets the Beast off against Hellcat toward the end (and Thor or Iron Man in the beginning) and even Thor and Iron Man are contrasted as friends who trust each other wholeheartedly, despite being portrayed as very different people with totally different reasons for disliking Monodragon.

Starfox Played Well With Everybody; Dr. Druid Did Not.  Interestingly, having come up with this assertion, I find myself wondering if the idea holds up with Roger Stern’s run.  Like Englehart, Stern plays his characters off in different pairs, but the associations are loose and change up more frequently.  Starfox might be having sex with She-Hulk, but he’s more likely to identify with Thor when it comes to his desire for adventure and his otherworldliness.  Hercules may pop up as a booster of The Wasp, with a similar love of parties and the good life at the beginning, but by the end of things he’s tired of being ordered around by her.  As I keep alluding to with my favorite panel, I wonder to what extent Stern’s Avengers in the 80s are a reflection of Marvel in the 80s, where everyone has to learn to be a good member of the team if they want to stay on the team, and ambition (such as the Vision’s plan to save the world by conquering it) is simultaneously understandable and undesirable.

My Favorite Avenger.  I’ve always loved the Mr. Spock-iness of the Vision.  There’s a point where Hawkeye’s loudmouthiness becomes distinct from The Human Torch’s or Spider-Man’s, more human, more of a cover for his vulnerability than with those two.  It’s awesome what a dick Cap is in those first hundred issues and I’m not sure I’ve ever liked Thor more than toward the end of Englehart’s run, where Moondragon gets him to admit he’s slumming with his Avengers membership because he just likes everyone too damn much.  (And certainly I’ve never liked the Beast in any incarnation as I do in his incarnation here in The Avengers, under at least four different writers, no less.)

And under Stern, Captain Marvel is an excellent hero of color—courageous and powerful, but without any of the stereotypes Marvel writers could be quick to indulge in: she’s not angry, she’s not defensive, she’s not even “of the streets.”  (My heart broke more than a little when Simonson brings in Monica’s parents just as she leaves the book and suddenly these two characters are saying things like “Soon as we get you home, we’re gonna fatten you up on hominy and chicken!”)

But my favorite Avenger across the three hundred issue read ended up being The Wasp.  In the melodramatic years of Thomas and Lee, she’s the only one with a sense of fun.  In the Shooter/Michelinie/Shooter era, even after being presented as wildly flirtatious  and flighty, she’s incredibly icked to find out her romance with Tony Stark is actually a romance with her co-Avenger, Iron Man.  And finally, in the Stern era, she becomes the leader of the team.

If Englehart and Stern are the two best writers to handle The Avengers in these 300 issues (and I think they are), it’s for opposite reasons:  I love Englehart for everything chooses to do, for his lack of restraint, but I love Stern for what he chooses not to do.  Just as Captain Marvel is deliberately steered away from any and all white stereotypes about black people, Stern takes Jan Van Dyne as chairman and keeps her from so many of the stereotypes male writers inflict on women characters.  Jan never worries about running The Avengers “as well as any man!” (as Roy Thomas probably would’ve put it), but she worries constantly about running the Avengers well.  Jan doesn’t get involved in any relationships with any of the men on her team (despite both Starfox and The Black Knight showing obvious interest in her)—it honestly never enters her mind.  When Jan decides she needs to cut loose, she goes on vacation on Bahamas and hooks up with someone she hits it off with. There are a lot of guys who’ve written female characters for a lot of different mediums over the decades, and there aren’t a lot who get how professionally loaded it is for a woman to become involved with a co-worker, so I really dug that Stern has Jan go to Club Med to cut loose, more than a decade before Stella got her groove back.

See ya Jan

See ya, Jan!

After Wasp steps down as Chairman and leaves the Avengers, it was tough for me to tell if the book suffered from her absence or suffered from Stern’s departure soon after, but I do know I missed her like hell when she was gone.

My Favorite Avengers Artist: Well, it’s a tough call because there have been a lot of great artists on the book and, at least as far as professionalism goes, it’s pretty tough to beat John Buscema and Tom Palmer who do a superlative job of storytelling and rendering over a large run of issues.  (Also, when Buscema first starts on the book back in the fifties, he is on fire with some dynamic layouts that play with depth and design.)

But I’ll be honest:  Buscema and Palmer are technically impressive as all hell, but I still adore how Perez’s work really pops in his run(s) on the title, and how the first time around (running from the late 130s to early 150s), you can see his work ramp up dramatically.  Like Alex Ross, Perez is a fanboy artist, one who understands how much of the power of Kirby’s work comes from excess, and part of the pleasure I take in his work is watching how he figures out how to equal that excess while making it his own.

And yet, that being said, my favorite Avengers artist is still Dave Cockrum, and his Giant-Size Avengers #2 is just always going to be my favorite issue of the run (and in my top ten favorite comics ever, I think).  Although you always see the influences in Cockrum, at his best he always transcends them:  he somehow manages to take Gil Kane’s dynamism and invests it with John Romita’s sensuality, Neal Adams’ design sense married to Kirby’s explosiveness, Perez’s lavish attention to detail, Byrne’s focus on character’s personalities.

For the few issues he’s on (and even when he’s inking well-intentioned second raters like Bob Brown), Cockrum’s pencils jibe perfectly with Englehart’s character-driven, high head count scripts . (And, of course, Cockrum goes on to reinvent the X-Men with Chris Claremont after this, so it’s like not losing him on The Avengers did pay off for all of us in the long run.)  But Cockrum’s run does illuminate another harsh truth about The Avengers.

The Avengers Should Not Be A Monthly Book.  This is undoubtedly a ridiculous thing to say in 2014 (shhh, we’re still pretending, remember?) what with their being something like a half-dozen Avengers titles, all shipping at least monthly.  But for the first 300 issues?  It would’ve been better if The Avengers had been published somewhere between eight and ten times a year so that dudes like Cockrum and Perez and pre-Palmer Buscema could’ve lasted for more than a year.  For a flagship title, The Avengers seemed to always totter on the precipice of disaster, with ambitious scripts requiring a pile-up of artists and inkers to get the issue out on time.  And that was at its best!  At its worst, whether by the writer or artist or both, The Avengers was always in danger of being hacked out.

Final Point!  So a million words ago, I started this with a point I wanted to make about Roger Stern’s run and I don’t think I could’ve made it without this overstuffed imitation of a sleek listicle.

In the podcast, when Graeme talks about Captain America being an aspirational figure in a way similar to Superman and how Marvel doesn’t seem to have that any more, I realized (while editing the podcast) what I enjoyed so much about Stern’s run:  it was filled with aspirational figures.  Jan Van Dyne under his run is refreshingly free of angst, as are most of the Avengers.  She and Captain Marvel are both admirable figures, heroic without the maudlin undercurrent Marvel’s heroes had for so much of their existence.

This, combined with glacial subplots whose payoffs run the gambit from underwhelming to nonexistent, make me wonder to what extent Stern is actually a Silver Age DC fan in Marvel Zombie clothing.  I haven’t read enough of his work to know, but at least in The Avengers, the subplots—The Black Knight pining for Jan, Captain Marvel talking about opening her own business, Jan worrying about Starfox’s abilities to manipulate his enemies—slow to the point they become tropes, not so far off from Barry Allen always showing up late, or Lois wondering if Superman and Clark Kent are the same person.

It sounds like damning praise—”hey, if you play an Avengers comic at thirty-three and a third instead of forty-five, it sounds just like The Justice League of America!”—but I actually admire how timeless it can feel when done right.  When done right, those unfinished subplots don’t feel slapdash and frustrating.  When done right, they don’t become the Brian Bendis trapeze act of storyline to storyline to storyline, the myth of Sisyphus turned into a one-way road and stripping Sisyphus of even the moment of reflection of walking back down hill to start over.  When done right, they become questions you have about the characters, stories you never have to see played out, dreams you can continue to have long after the books are read and put away, once the new year’s begun.

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One of the things about growing older, at least for me, is a loss of being certain exactly when anything happened, unless there was a particular identifier surrounding an event. What I mean is, I can’t swear that my reborn love of Marvel’s Micronauts series is, for certain, something that’s just happened in 2014 or started last year and I’m crushing time together subconsciously to make myself feel older (I suspect it’s the latter). Nonetheless, after re-reading Micronauts: Special Edition, the five-issue reprint of the original Mantlo/Golden issues, it’s something that I’m closing out the year utterly obsessed by, all over again.

micro1

Even someone who didn’t grow up with this stuff — I read the reprints in Future Tense, a short-lived British anthology title from Marvel UK at a truly-impressionable age, although it was Mantlo and Broderick at the time — there’s little doubt that it would seem instantly familiar; Mantlo’s particular genius with Micronauts, especially these earliest issues, is the way in which he steals from everything to build the mythos. It’s Kirby’s Fourth World mixed with Lucas’ Star Wars, most obviously — not only are Biotron and Microtron very obviously inspired by C3-PO and R2-D2, but the end of the first issue features Commander Rann, talking about his ship in a very Han Solo-esque manner: “This lady’s had some surprises built into her by Biotron and me over the past 1,000 years!” — but there’s a lot of other stuff to be uncovered. Rann’s origin story is lifted wholesale from the original Guardians of the Galaxy, and there’s a feel of Lost in Space to the whole thing.

And yet, it all works. Somehow, through design or sheer force of magpie will, Mantlo pushes it all into a cohesive whole that’s as exciting as it is shameless; his (previously unnoticed by me, until this re-read) Bob Haney-esque captions help (“Rebellion! It is not a very lovely word!” goes the opening of the first issue), but his ability to keep things moving forward towards a suitably epic conclusion — “Is it hours or days they fight? On a platform of ethereal energy, suspended above the molten core of the great pit, time seems to stand still as the two titans clash again and again,” as Mantlo puts the final battle — makes the entire five issue run (well, twelve issues, really; the “Special Editions” collect the twelve issues of the regular series) speed by.

Micro2He’s helped immeasurably by the Michael Golden art, of course, which is suitably melodramatic and dynamic in a way that immediately dates it — comics just don’t do the kinds of layouts and lighting anymore, unfortunately. You can see Golden evolve as an artist throughout the run — his line becoming more stylized and his characters more cartoony, gloriously so — keeping the eye busy and helping to paper over some of the cracks in Mantlo’s writing; there are lines to trace back to Kirby and, interestingly enough, Will Eisner in his work here, and it makes for fascinating viewing even with the muddy color reproductions in these editions. (He never quite learns the importance of drawing backgrounds, however; Golden, I’m looking to you for much of the Image era’s excesses!)

Every time I revisit these issues, I’m struck by the way they feel like a perfect summation of where superhero comics were at the time they were originally published — despite not being a superhero comic, per se, nor being in print for… what, the last three decades? — and a sign of what was to come. In their own quaintly innocent way, they’re ambitious and entirely derivative, heartfelt and cynical, and filled with personality despite their toy tie-in origins. It’s the missing link between the days of yore and today, and some of my favorite comics ever. For those looking for dollar bin treasures, this is your new destination. You’ll thank me later.

(Real talk: One day, when I have managed to finish my own back issue diving and have a complete collection of this series, I’m going to convince Jeff to gather his own so we can do an Avengers-style re-read. This material is unlikely to ever be reprinted due to the complicated rights between Marvel and whoever controls the MEGO rights these days, but if ever any 1970s sci-fi series that isn’t called 2000AD that’s worthy of deeper investigation, it’s Micronauts. Maybe in 2016, post-Fantastic Four…)

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Welcome to Marvel's Corporate Structure, Avengers! Hope you survive the experience!

Welcome to Marvel’s corporate structure, Avengers! Hope you survive the experience!

Holiday’s greetings, everyone!  It’s next to next to the last day of the year, and Graeme and I are here to shut it down in style, with  a two point five hour podcast of Avengersdissing, predictionmaking, shadethrowing hyphenignoreing adventure!  We recorded this one the day after Christmas, I mixed it yesterday, I’m uploading it today, I’m having a quiet nervous breakdown tomorrow and then we are streets ahead into 2015!  So join us for a very quick piece of shownoteisms, won’t you?

00:00-16:13: Holday greetings! As mentioned above, this podcast was recorded on Boxing Day, 12/26/14, so our opening is long on the holiday catch-up news and short on the comics news. Oh no, wait, I’m sorry: We’re actually talking about renowned Marvel supervillain, Swarm…

Image ganked from our fine friends at Comics Alliance.

Image ganked from our fine friends at Comics Alliance.

within the first ninety seconds. How that leads into a big long discussion about Dr. Doom, I wish I could tell you. Well, I mean I could tell you, but wouldn’t you rather hear that for yourself?
16:13-49:37: Is Captain America Marvel’s Superman? Does Marvel have an aspirational hero the way DC has Superman? These are things that Graeme is wondering about—is there a lack of inherently good heroes in Marvel right now? This talk actually turns pretty quickly to Graeme filling Jeff in on the state of Superman right now especially in comparison to how Supes started off in the New52. Also discussed: the Charlton characters and which one would be most likely to end up in 2000 A.D. unchanged, and our appreciation for the ludicrously deep back catalog of DC characters, all of which culminates in our discussion of Showcase #100…

If you like reading about superheroes in bulk, this is the issue for you.

If you like reading about superheroes in bulk, this is the issue for you.

by Pauls Levitz and Kupperberg, Joe Staton and Dick Giordano, which in turn leads to a big description of Gardner F. Fox’s Justice League of America, the best reboot of Hawkman ever hatched, Green Arrows then and now, and more.
49:37-2:07:30: AVENGERS TALK! We had one job for this podcast…! One job!!

Fortunately, we do indeed get around to discussing issues #275-300 (after first talking shit about 2014) and talk about what it was like reading these 300 issues of Avengers, generally, where the high points were and why; the difference between Marvel in the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s, and writer Roger Stern and editor Mark Gruenwald as the embodiments of that last era; the last ten issues (#290-300) written by Walt Simonson and what a strange batch of issues they are;

Simonson giving G-Mo a run for his money...

Simonson giving G-Mo a run for his money…

the dialing down of the Marvel Universe; Nebula, Marinna, and (again) these amazingly weird issues by Walt Simonson; the next 50 issues as summarized by Graeme; the idea that The Avengers is a book that only works by accident: why is that? Also discussed: the retconning of the retconning of the retcon of Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch; Jeff’s analogy about Jonathan Hickman’s work which he’s still somewhat pleased by; how many issues you can read until you get to have an opinion; Serial, fiction, and serial fiction; Twin Peaks (another story about a murder that first infatuated and then infuriated people), Reflections: An Oral History of Twin Peaks; whether or not Jeff should jump ahead and read the Kurt Busiek issues;  and much more.
2:07:30-2:17:06:  You’d think this would be where our closing comments go, and it sorta/kinda starts that way, but instead we talk about what we expect and/or what we want from 2015, as summed up by the guy who knows nothing of what’ll be going on (that would be Jeff) and the guy who knows pretty much everything (that would be Graeme).  Discussed:  Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Butcherology; Star Wars; Secret Wars; Convergence; the article title that will make Graeme turn the Internet upside-down; the prices of comic books; and more.
2:17:06-end: Closing comments!  The Crying of Tote Bag 49! Places to look for us at—Stitcher! Itunes! Twitter! Tumblr! And, of course, Patreon, where, as of this count, 89 patrons make this whole thing possible.

Happy New Year to one and all—we hope 2015 brings you everything you need and all that you might want!  We will talk to you in the New Year!

 

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AJ Throws a P

Andrew Jackson Expresses Something I Feel Around the Holidays

 

MERRY CHRISTMAS, EVERYONE! Guess who was cleaning up the wrapping paper early this morning and suddenly remembered he had a post to write?  Don’t worry, it won’t be too horribly long (or…will it?) but just a little update of comics-related stuff going on around the holidays…. (more behind the jump because I went crazy with the images…) Continue reading

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