boston_comic_con_banner517491478We just returned from three days attending Boston Comic Con, meaning that we have spent eight of our last 18 days walking the floor at various comic conventions. That is a physical feat that no one should ever attempt. Co-host Amanda is now on a course of serious painkillers, and Rob is  considering commissioning a Krazy-Straw long enough to allow him to drink beer without having to move at all.

But we survived, and spent some time this evening talking about the experience of Boston Comic Con on its journey from minor convention to regional powerhouse over the past few years, what worked and what could be made better, and the joys of arranging on-site art commissions from artists ranging from the gleefully professional to the simply brilliant and loose.

We also discussed:

  • The Superior Foes of Spider-Man #14, written by Nick Spencer with art by Steve Lieber and Rich Ellis, and
  • Kick-Ass 3 #8, written by Mark Millar with art by John Romita Jr. (as well as a discussion about the entire Kick-Ass saga and how well it worked)!

And now the disclaimers:

  • This show is recorded live to tape. While this means that the show might be a little looser than you are used to, it also means that anything can happen.
  • This show contains spoilers. Specifically, if you don’t want to be spoiled on the events of The Superior Foes of Spider-Man or Kick-Ass 3, please tread lightly.
  • This show contains adult, explicit language, and is therefore not safe for work. Simon Bisley was able to swear at us with impunity during the convention due to the background noise. Your cubicle does not have that noise. Get some cans.
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Enjoy the show, suckers!

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batman_89_one_sheetIt’s the 25th anniversary of the release of Batman in theaters, so this week, Amanda and I talk about what it was like being a geek in the years and months leading up to the flick… and whether it holds up now (Hint: in 1989, Batman was a terrible, terrible pervert).

We also talk about:

  • The pilot for The Flash that leaked to the Internet this week,
  • Superman #32, written by Geoff Johns with art by John Romita Jr., and,
  • New Avengers #20, written by Jonathan Hickman with art by Valerio Schiti!

And, the usual disclaimers:

  • This show is recorded live to tape. It means some more pauses and repeated thoughts than you might be used to, but it also means that anything can happen.
  • This show contains spoilers. We try to warn ahead of time, but if you haven’t seen Batman yet, I’m not sure what you want us to tell you.
  • This show contains adult, explicit language, and is not safe for work. It’s 2014; check behind your couch cushions. You’ll find ear buds.
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Enjoy the show, suckers!

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sdcc_logoAnd finally, here is the last of it. The last panel we attended at San Diego Comic-Con on Sunday, July 21st, before the convention-closing screening of Buffy The Vampire Slayer‘s musical episode, Once More With Feeling: The Avengers, X-Men, Dr. Strange and Sgt. Fury 50th Anniversary panel, featuring classic Marvel writer Roy Thomas, current writer Brian Michael Bendis, and artist John Romita, Jr.

There wasn’t anything revealed that you could particularly call “news” at this panel. Hell, there wasn’t even a hell of a lot of information about the creations of The Avengers, The X-Men, or any of the rest (although we did learn that Thomas made The Vision an android because hey! Stan Lee says stuff sometimes!). But what we did get were some cool and inspirational stories of what it was like to be at Marvel right around the time when Fantastic Four was breaking, what it was like to grow up around one of the premier Spider-Man artists of the late 60s, early 70s, and what it was like to grow up in Brian Michael Bendis’s broken home! Well, I guess some stories are inspirational only in their aftermath.

But even if the panel didn’t have anything new to say about the modern world of comics, I can think of worse ways to close out the convention than to hear about what the world of comics was like when legends were being created every month, when characters who would literally change some of our lives were being spitballed to meet a deadline on a Sunday afternoon, and when a man could get a gig writing some of the most legendary books in Marvel history by filling out a workbook on his lunch break.

And even if you weren’t there, you can check some of it out right here. We have a few videos of some of the cooler stories – not the best videos we’ve ever shot, but you can see who’s talking and get the whole stories – right here after the jump.

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kick_ass_3_1_cover_2013As a guy who grew up – and, arguably, grew old – reading superhero comics, it can be hard sometimes to read Mark Millar’s Kick-Ass stories. Because it is all too easy to see myself in pieces of every “superhero” in this book… and every “superhero” in this book is a pretty Goddamned pathetic excuse for a human being.

We’ve got The Juicer: a couch-surfing leech who spends money he should be using to get his shit together on comic books, Blu-Rays and beer. There’s Ass-Kicker, who’s using his low-level of fame (and we’re talking low, citizen superhero makes middle market overnight disc jockey look like Jon Bon Jovi in 1988) to troll for MILFs to bang on the Internet. And then there’s Kick-Ass himself, who uses his father’s death at the hands of supervillains as an excuse to get his own place and to utterly fail to break Hit-Girl out of jail in favor of “training”: working at a fast food joint and arguing about pop-culture ephemera at his local comic store, where they know him by name because he never fucking leaves.

These characters make reading Kick-Ass 3 #1 difficult for its target audience: me, an inveterate comic book geek. And while I have never worn a superhero costume (not even for the purposes of weird sex), I can see bits of myself in all of these losers (I have, in fact, been a middle market overnight disc jockey), and it can make the story a hard go. It is never easy to find yourself faced with your own flaws in a story, particularly when those flaws are embodied by generally ineffective and irritating no-accounts.

That, however, does not mean the story is bad.

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captain_america_4_cover_2013The unique thing about comic books, at least comic books from the Big Two that are owned by the publisher and have been around for a while (of course, whether those kind of comic books are the best thing for the industry or for readers is a whole different argument) is that writers and artists come and go, while the character remains. This dichotomy brings comic fans one of their favorite things – a continuity across years that can give some characters and titles an epic, historic feeling that supercedes the often simple adventure stories at their core – and one of their least favorite things – a continuity across years that the new douchebag creative team on a book are clearly fucking with with no regard for the character’s epic history and they’ve ruined the character and now I will Tweet a death threat and hello, Officer, no handcuffs are necessary, if you’d just read this issue, you’d see that I was right to threaten to set fire to the writer’s cat, and is that a Taser, and…

…well, you get the point.

The point being that creative teams change, and each new set of people has their own stamp that they want to put on these long-running books. And a lot of times these creators want to pay homage to a particular era from the character, which can be pretty damned varied; keep in mind that, at various times, Spider-Man has been a high school student battling street-level crime, a college student fighting more mid-level threats, an Avenger, a widely-reviled public menace, a member of the Fantastic Four, and a fucking clone… and now he’s Doctor Octopus. So if a writer wants to revisit any particular era, the story could be almost any kind, and if they want to do something new with the character, they’d need to make him a gay cowboy eating pudding or something (and I’m pretty sure if I dug far enough into the Marvel Team-Up back catalogue, I might even find that’s already been done).

All of which brings up to Rick Remender, and his reboot of Captain America following Ed Brubaker’s long run on the title. Brubaker’s reign on the title was categorized by S.H.I.E.L.D.-based espionage stories, and while God knows that he took his share of chances on the title – he killed Cap and brought Bucky back to life, for Christ’s sake – they were generally grounded, somewhat realistic stories with a classic Steranko-era feel. However, that’s not the only kind of Captain America story there is; Cap has a legacy of science fiction-style stories in his history, written and drawn by no less than Jack Kirby and Gene Colan – let’s remember that before MODOK became a comic reader’s punchline, he was created to fuck around with Cap.

Remender has clearly chosen to focus on the science fiction history of Captain America in his initial reboot story, which continues through this weeks issue #4. This is a full-blast sci-fi story, including alternate universes, alien races, spaceships, and one of the classic Captain America sci-fi villains: the Kirby-created Armin Zola. The question is: how does all this weirdness – weirdness supported by various eras in Captain America’s history, mind you – go down immediately following years and years of cold war-style spy stories?

Honestly? It’s going down hard.

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HitGirl5-1[Ed. note – Attention any vigilantes whose crime fetish is knocking out rampant spoiler bombs: I have a taser, a panic room, and a crate of whiskey. Do your worst.]
I have to admit that, although I was a big fan of Mark Millar’s Wanted, when the original Kick-Ass dropped back dropped back in 2008, I didn’t scramble to read it. In fact, it took renting the movie version, or possibly stumbling across it on cable, I don’t know – I drink, what can I say, and Chloë Moretz’s star turn as Hit-Girl, to really draw me in. Sure, the put upon nerd who turns vigilante thing had been done to death, but the little girl who just wanted to please her dad to the point of psychosis? That was new. That wasn’t a sulky teenager with a vainglorious mom like Silk Spectre, involved in the family business because it was expected. This was a young child who’d developed an amazing – and terrifying – skill set. Hit-Girl worshiped her father and he seemed to love the hell out of her right back, with both parties oblivious – in this story about serving justice to criminals – that dad was a perpetrator of systematic, pervasive child abuse.

Don’t believe me? Read Hit-Girl #5.

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I have always had mixed feelings about Mark Millar’s and John Romita Jr’s Kick-Ass. On one hand, I feel like it has a tendency to go for over-the-top, nihilistic violence as a simplistic deconstruction of the superhero genre. Which, while effectively demonstrating that the concept of superheroes in the real world would be somewhat ineffective and silly, means that we’ve gotten a lot of likable characters getting their faces kicked in so that Millar can try to make a point. It doesn’t take a genius to point out that a dipshit with a stick in a spandex suit would lose to the business end of a .45, and after a while, seeing it happen over and over again just feels fucking mean. There’s no great joy or enlightenment in seeing a costumed adventurer you’ve grown to like  getting stabbed and beaten to death; it just feels like the comic writing equivalent of having your head jammed in a junior high school toilet while a jock bellows, “Superheroes are fucking stupid, wuss!”

The best part of the Kick-Ass universe has been Hit-Girl, who is as close to an actual superhero as exists in this world. And even granting that the character was probably only created to show that a kid sidekick would grow up to be hopelessly warped, and that any really effective superhero would need to resort to extreme violence in order to be in any way effective, she provided the only real and exciting superhero action in any of the Kick-Ass miniseries. And while we are only in the second issue of the Hit-Girl miniseries, and while it’s probably safe to say that, as with Kick-Ass and Kick-Ass 2, everything will end in tears, that particular book is simply action-packed, interesting, and just fucking fun. At least, for now.

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Avengers Vs. X-Men #5 is yet another issue of this series where they ramp up the pure, lunatic, schoolyard-level, “You know what would be fuckin’ cool?” ante-upping that has been a signature of this event since day one; I am convinced that if Marvel Editorial had forgotten to put an end number on this series, we would eventually see Avengers Vs. X-Men Vs. Defenders Vs. Justice League Vs. Watchmen Vs. Godzilla Vs. Enraged Gunship Jesus.

At times in this series, the pursuit of that adrenaline rush or hormone rush or whatever rush it is that gives twelve-year-olds boners has led to writing that has placed classic characters with well-established behavior patterns in situations where they act like they are loaded on adrenaline or hormones or writing a major summer crossover event. However, this issue’s writer, Matt Fraction, avoids some of the characterization pitfalls from earlier issues by focusing his character work on Iron Man (with whom he is intimately familiar), and by putting his attention to the needs of the plot… which is basically to have superheroes bitch smack each other stupid.

Considering how the past few issues of this series has gone, this is, at least temporarily, an inherently good thing.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This review constitutes a confirmed extinction-level spoiler.

I don’t have kids myself, but many of my former drinking buddies do, which has in turn made me decide I can never have kids. Because I just can’t talk to them. You ever try talking to a little kid, particularly after they’ve had a shitload of candy? Candy you gave them in the hopes they would take it, go away and stop trying to talk to you?

You can’t make any sense of it; they spin wildly from point to point, with no real logical gristle connecting them, with weird exaggerations that beggar belief to hear (“Wait, wait, little Billy… you’re saying Deathstroke rode his pony… sorry, his My Little Pony… to Cybertron? To fight fucking Voldemort? Who plots your shit, Billy? Rob Liefeld?”). After a while, it starts to hurt the mind to keep track of what’s happening and why, because if you stop and think about it for even a minute, it doesn’t make any sense at all.

In that same vein, if I told you that the plot of a story was, “You know what would be cool? If the Avengers battled the X-Men and Phoenix – no, not some redhead in a green body stocking, but the actual giant flaming bird, like the one from Battle of The Planets – on – get this – the fucking moon,” you would think that you were overhearing a schoolyard monologue by some kid who was on the first step of a road that’s started with Ritalin and will eventually end with methamphetamine extract.

Welcome to Avengers Vs. X-Men #4: where every plot point was written with a prefix of, “And you know what else would be cool?” regardless as to whether it makes any Goddamned sense at all.

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The biggest problem with the first two issues of Avengers Vs. X-Men was, to me, that in order for it to make any sense, the writers needed to make Cyclops into a monomaniacal zealot, vis a vis Hope-as-mutant-savior, so focused, rigid and intractable that he made Timothy McVeigh look like Winston Churchill with a quualude habit.

It is now the third issue, and it appears that the Marvel Architects in charge of this story have found a way to temper our perceptions of Cyclops’s fanatical tendencies: by making Captain America a focused, rigid and intractable monomaniacal zealot.

In short, Avengers Vs. X-Men #3 displays the first real and disappointing cracks in what has been a tight, if sometimes logic-stretching little tale (if you can call an event comic destined to cover all Marvel titles for the next four months “little”): and that is that it attempts to mask Cyclops’s believability-stretching reactionary behavior with similar, yet opposite,  behavior by Cap. And instead of balancing the scales, it shows the Man Behind The Curtain by making two characters do stupid and unbelievable things in the interest of advancing the plot.

With that plot apparently being to make it so Wolverine can fight anybody. Because that shit sells some comics, yo. But we’ll get there in a minute,

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