It was yet another berserk week at the Crisis On Infinite Midlives Home Office, with more workmen in the house, the building of massive shelving that, Tardis-like, is somehow bigger on the inside, and family members evacuating South Florida to escape Hurricane Irma… before turning around to drive right back into Hurricane Irma. Let’s just say there might be a genetic component to why Rob never seems to think things through.

As such, this week hasn’t been conducive to a well prepared episode. For which we apologize, but we saw a few things we wanted to talk about. We finally saw the first season of Alan Tudyk’s Con Men as it premiered on the SyFy Channel, as discussed how it reflects and makes fun of actual convention culture.

We also caught the first episode of Seth MacFarlane’s The Orville, which is a weird show by the creator of Family Guy in that it’s a riff on Star Trek that will make Star Trek fans crazy with rage, and that will make Family Guy fans baffled and confused.

We also discuss Spider-Man #20, written by Brian Michael Bendis with art by Nico Leon, and Venomverse #1, written by Cullen Bunn with art by Iban Coello!

This episode was recorded live to tape. So if you ever wanted to know why Star Trek conversations with Rob and Amanda quickly turn to Romulan Ale, here’s your answer!

Thanks for listening, suckers!

homer_superman_shirtMy God, it’s a miracle: we’re actually releasing a new podcast on our regularly-scheduled Sunday! Sure, we had to tape it on Saturday to get it done, and during a time when we were forced by circumstance to remain sober while we did it, but what the hell; it’s a small price to pay for being able to rant about comics and pop culture on a predictable schedule.

In this week’s episode, we discuss:

  • Television! Particularly, the announcements this week that Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was renewed (and whether or not that is a good thing), and the announcements that various networks have picked up season orders of Agent Carter, Gotham, iZombie, Constantine, and Flash, and which shows we think might be good or horrible, depending on their direction
  • Moon Knight #3, written by Warren Ellis with art by Declan Shalvey
  • Miles Morales, The Ultimate Spider-Man #1, written by Brian Michael Bendis with art by David Marquez, and
  • Why you should never allow a kitten into a recording studio when you are, you know, recording.

And, a few notes (and please let us know in the comments if we mentioned something obscure and forgot to include it here):

  • The “Maurissa” whose name we were trying to remember was Maurissa Tancharoen, one of the showrunners for Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
  • When we talk about Beacon Hill and Dorchester, you might not know that Beacon Hill is a Boston neighborhood populated almost exclusively by people who use the word “summer” as a verb, and Dorchester is a place where you go to witness or participate in a knife fight (it is the home neighborhood of Mark Wahlberg, so you know almost nothing good has come from there)

Finally, the nitty gritty pseudo-legalese:

  • This show may contains spoilers, and it may spoil something with no warning whatsoever (although we make an effort to chuck a “spoiler alert!” in now and again)
  • This show was recorded live to tape and is unedited, so there may be more “ums”, pregnant pauses, and vile, ill-advised humor than you are used to from your everyday comics / pop culture podcast
  • This show includes the use of explicit and profane language, and is most decidedly not safe for work. Unless you have the kind of job that requires you to know what a “Tunguska Reacharound” is, in which case, listen away and feel free to tell your pimp that we think you deserve a larger cut of the take.

Enjoy the show, suckers!

ultimate_spider_man_200_cover_2014I really enjoy the Miles Morales version of Spider-Man in Marvel’s Ultimate Universe, but I am always gonna have a soft spot for Peter Parker. Which, for a superhero comic fan, is about as controversial a statement as decrying Nazis, or perhaps coming down on the negative side of human trafficking, but it doesn’t make it any less true. Not only was the Ultimate version of Peter a pretty solid modernization of the character, while still keeping his core values and characterization, but it allowed we readers to see something we don’t normally get to see: the actual conclusion of the character’s story.

Sure, we get nods toward final stories with Marvel’s The End periodic series of books (and some of those are damn good) and in a few DC Elseworlds stories, but they’re never really final in a satisfying way. Because yeah, they’re endings, but then they, you know, end. And part of why any comics fan loves these stories is that they are ongoing. So while we sometimes see a beloved character go down, we don’t see the aftermath in a serious, ongoing way. But we got that with the death of Peter Parker in Ultimate Spider-Man almost three years ago, with the Death of Peter Parker, which was a really spectacular story. I recently reread the issue with Peter’s public memorial, and when the little girl asked Aunt May if she was Spider-Man’s mommy, and if she needed a hug? Jesus, if I could get my hands on whatever motherfucker was cutting onions in a room that dusty…

But that story concluded, and we moved on to Miles Morales, as comics do… but in real life, when someone gets killed, people don’t just yank up stakes and start paying attention to a new person, unless your name is Michael Peterson and you don’t mind explaining your weird behavior to members of the law enforcement community. In real life, those losses stick around for a while… and that brings us to Ultimate Spider-Man #200, which is a long reminiscence of Peter’s life, and shows how some of the regulars from the original series are doing. And while there isn’t any action and no current storylines are really affected, it’s damn nice to check in with Aunt May, Gwen Stacy, Mary Jane and some of the other former regulars on this title.

Unless you hate Brian Michael Bendis’s “guys sitting around a table talking” issues. Because then you’ll hate this.

justice_league_25_cover_2013Editor’s Note: It’s The End Of The World As We Know It, And I Feel Spoiled.

So between spending the week helping the new cat get used to a life where the searing agony of a shot to the nuts happens to stupid humans, and dealing with the first ice and snow falls of the winter (Three times in eight days! I love New England! And I am apparently alone in this affection, since clearly God has forsaken us!), so I am well behind in reading this week’s comics. You’d be surprised how hard it is to concentrate on a simple piece of graphic literature when the cat is yowling and my co-Editor Amanda is asking if I think it would help if she plunked his sack in a snowbank.

It’s hard being a parent, even to a lower beast who shits in a box, loves the taste of network cable, and thinks a laser pointer is the best thing ever despite not being a seven-year-old boy in 1977. So I found it interesting that the first three books I peeled off my stack this evening – Justice League #25, Justice League of America #10 and Cataclysm: Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #2 – all were about, on some level, the relationships between heroes (or anti-heroes) and their parents.

And all three books range from pretty good to excellent, but while I would normally review each of them in depth, well, it is Monday, and to compose my usual type of review for each comic would take me three hours and about 1,200 words to review, meaning there is no way in hell I could get them done before the new comics drop on Wednesday. So for a change, I’ll just write a couple of paragraphs about each, in ascending order of my opinion of them.

Assuming, of course, that this cat doesn’t decide to use my leg to sharpen his claws to remind me that I should be spending my money on scratching posts rather than silly things like neutering. Or comic books.

tmp_cataclysm_ultimates_last_stand_1_cover_2013-1118780580Yesterday I complained that DC’s Forever Evil crossover wasn’t working for me because we’ve spent a whole bunch of weeks watching familiar villains in a new version of the universe run around unopposed, doing blatently evil shit for unclear reasons. And while it’s been all Earth-threateney and what-not, it hasn’t been all that compelling, because we all know that once the heroes reappear, there’s gonna be hell to pay. And to get that vaguely dissatisfied feeling has only taken a few months.

Enter Marvel’s Cataclysm, where a villain appears in a new universe and starts doing truly horrific things that endanger the planet without saying a word as to his motives. It’s Galactus, and unlike his prior appearances (and very much unlike Forever Evil), there is no herald and there are no grandiose declarations of superiority or inevitability. There is just hunger and mass destruction… and in one issue, it’s already ten times more compelling and tense than Forever Evil has been so far.

bendis_fialkov_ultimates_panel_sdcc_2013160553189So yes: the Marvel Ultimate Universe panel, held on Friday, July 19th at the San Diego Comic-Con. I’ve mentioned it a few times over the past few days, not because there were any Earth-shattering revelations at the panel (you know, beyond the question as to whether the Ultimate Universe has any future at all beyond the next few months), but as an example of how difficult it can be to truly cover any of these panels direct from the convention. When you get back to the hotel from a long day on the floor, and you’re staring at four pages of handwritten notes, one bar of $15-a-night WiFi, and your eyes look like you’ve been on a three-day meth jag in a smoke-filled room, it’s hard to sit in front a a keyboard and whip together anything that makes any sense at all.

But from the comfort of the Crisis On Infinite Midlives Home Office, it seems, in my opinion, like the subtext of the panel is that Marvel intends to kick the living shit out of the Ultimate Universe for a while, blowing some stuff up really good, before either spiking the concept of the Ultimate Universe as a whole and somehow folding it into the 616, or at least finally and officially turning it into some kind of a defacto Earth 2 for the Marvel Universe, with people traveling back and forth just as often as they did in the DC Universe back in the 60s and 70s.

So in short: it looks like Marvel intends to totally fuck up the Ultimate Universe. Must be a year with a San Diego Comic-Con.

ultimate_comics_spider-man_22_cover_2013Editor’s Note: Bitten by a stolen, genetically-altered spoiler that have him incredible, arachnid-like powers… to irritate people.

Finally, we’re getting somewhere.

Between the slow and decompressed start of Ultimate Comics Spider-Man back in late 2011 and the leisurely dealing with Miles’s uncle the douchebag cat burglar and the unfortunate and misguided intervention of the whole United We Stand crossover across the entire Ultimate Comics line, it has felt like there has been something missing from Miles’s story. That thing being a real and clear motivation for his being Spider-Man.

Sure, we got the ephemeral sense that Miles understands that his power arose from his uncle’s bad acts, and that he feels a responsibility and sense of awe toward the legacy and reputation of Peter Parker… plus that, you know, he gets a kick out of being Spider-Man. But there has never been a simple, bright-line-in-the-sand motivation for him to actually be Spider-Man in the way that other superheroes have. You know, Parents Killed In Front Of Him, or On A Mission Of Peace From Themyscira. Or, you know, Let The Man Who Killed His Uncle Go Free.

Well, 19 months in, we finally have a moment that fits the bill. Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #22 closes out with a gutpunch of a moment that meets all the emotional criteria for someone to, beyond all reason, pull on a pair of spandex pants and not only go out in public wearing them, but wear them battling criminals and monsters. It is emotional, it is effective… and it is a credit to writer Brian Michael Bendis that the moment is not a simple, “Now I shall become a $ANIMAL!” point of departure for a standard, if well belated, origin story.

You ever get a shit assignment at work? Someone pulls you off of your normal duties and you get asked to work on some bullshit project that was someone else’s bonehead idea, and maybe you try to argue that maybe this thing isn’t something that you should be spending your time on, and that maybe it will totally fuck up what you were trying to accomplish on your primary project, but you get told that this is the way it is, and it’s their way or the highway. So you grind your teeth, you take on the assignment, and since you are a fucking professional, you do the best you can with what you’ve been given to work with, while trying your best to keep your original work from dying on the vine.

Welcome to Ultimate Spider-Man #17, a continuation and integral part of the Ultimate Universe’s United We Stand crossover, a story where Captain America has been elected President of The United States in a write-in campaign, where Hydra has taken over big parts of the country, terrorists roam the streets of New York, and Wyoming is some kind of dead zone / no man’s land where anyone who chooses to go there is taking a dangerous, useless risk. Actually, that’s pretty much how Wyoming is in the real world, but that’s not the point.

The point is that United We Stand is a big, goofy, nonsensical shoot-em-up that has made a bunch of schoolyard, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we $WILDEST_THIRD_GRADE_IDEA?” choices along the way. And it has occurred smack in the middle of writer Brian Michael Bendis’s efforts to create and nurture a new Spider-Man, one who attends a private school, who has a loving, if complicated, family, and is learning about what it means to be not only a hero, but to be a decent person. And smack in the middle of those efforts, now he needs to fight War Machines over Wyoming with Giant Woman and Falcon under direct orders of the President of The United States. You know, Captain America. Which flies in the face of the slow paced (admittedly, sometimes seemingly glacially paced), character-driven story that Bendis has been building since last year.

And it is to Bendis’s credit that even though he has to deal with this big, goofy situation, he keeps a tight focus on the characters of Miles and his family, while delivering enough big thrills to make it arguably the most effective issue of this crossover to date.

Editor’s Note: Seeing double? I got two spoilers, one for each of you.

You ever run into an old high school or college girlfriend that you broke up with? I have, and man, it sucks. There’s that whole moment of cognitive dissonance where your brain tries to match the person you knew years before with the older face and new haircut you’re seeing right now, and then you plaster on the fake smile and exchange overly loud and jocular greetings and exclamations of surprise at how long it’s been, and then you exchange stories of who you are now and the things you’re doing, and you promise to keep in touch while maybe exchanging email addresses that you know full well will never be typed into any browser, all the while dealing with the guilty knowledge that the reason it’s been so long is because you told her that you needed space… space to try to chuck the meat to that skank from UMass with the big knockers and the full liquor cabinet in her dorm room. And then you wander away feeling like you’ve had low-voltage elecro-convulsive therapy, and you spend the next day or so kinda moody and fucked-up, trying to get yourself back to normal equilibrium where you don’t feel like a long-term asshole. It’s a terrible experience; it’s one of the primary reasons you will catch me dead before you catch me on Facebook.

I know what you’re thinking: “Rob,” you’re thinking, “What in the ripe fuck does any of this have to do with comic books?” Well, all this emotion I’m describing comes from seeing someone you merely hurt by breaking up with them. Peter Parker, however, in The Amazing Spider-Man # 121, at best failed to rescue Gwen Stacy, if he didn’t accidentally kill her himself in a botched rescue attempt. So when Peter meets and interacts with the still-living Ultimate Universe version of Gwen in Spider-Men #4? I simply didn’t buy it. But we’ll get to that in a minute.

One thing I’ve learned over several years of attending the San Diego Comic-Con is that DC Comics panels are more entertaining than Marvel panels. That’s a harsh reality but for me, a true one.

Panels from each company are jam-loaded with hype, and each does its damndest to try and whip the crowd into a screeching nerd frenzy, which is fine; Comic-Con panels aren’t press conferences, they’re public relations exercises that happen to include some pieces of legitimate comics news. And often that news is exciting – Neil Gaiman back on Sandman, anyone? – so I don’t blame either editorial staff for trying to whip the crowd into a slavering geek frenzy. But for me, the difference is that Marvel is just so self-congratulatory about things.

Here’s an example: last year, DC Comics blew up their entire universe and ran a real risk of alienating a huge chunk of their core audience. Instead, the move allowed DC to overtake Marvel in sales for he first time in recent memory, and their sales have reportedly stayed damn solid since then. We have attended no less than five DC panels so far at SDCC, and the biggest pat on the back DC gave themselves was when Bob Wayne opened the New 52 panel yesterday by asking the crowd how many people spent SDCC last year thinking that DC was insane for making the move… and followed up by asking why more people didn’t think that at the time.

Compare that to Marvel, who last year introduced a black / Hispanic Spider-Man. In the Ultimate Universe, which thanks to the recent 616 universe crossover in Spider-Men, is the equivalent of DC’s Earth 2 – a sandbox where Marvel can mess around with characters without it affecting the valuable core titles from which they make movies. Was is a bold move? Sure it was… but compared to blowing up your entire continuity, it’s about the same as comparing dropping a washer slug into a Coke machine to sticking up the Federal Reserve with a dynamite belt: one’s a little easier to walk back if the plan goes sideways.

However, if you listened to the panelists at yesterday’s Marvel Ultimate Universe panel, you’d think they cured the common cold. “This was a big risk,” said Marvel Editor in Chief Axel Alonso, “It was harder for us to kill [Peter Parker] than it was for you guys.” Alonso also said that the new Ultimate Spider-Man was the best work of Brian Michael Bendis’s career, and make no mistake: it’s a pretty good story, albeit utterly decompressed. But the hype was, personally, a little hard to take. My notes from the panel read, “Lot of ‘We’re so awesome and brave’ shit on the panel for killing Peter and having an Afr.-Am. kid as SM. There’s no news here, just fucking hype.”

And then Alonso announced that Ultimate Spider-Man artist David Marquez just signed an exclusive deal with Marvel. And my notes read, “There’s your news, writer prick.”