Hope you are all enjoying the summer and staying cool. In previous posts, we have discussed some podcasts and books that we have been into lately. My current summertime media consumption has included reading The Vision and watching Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.
So why am I talking about these two things together? Besides being the things I have most recently read/watched, they both employ a style of narrative storytelling that warns you what’s coming. Rather than dampening the story, these breadcrumbs lead you through the drama and guide you into darker elements without even coming close to diminishing the gut punch or (especially in the case of The Vision) some truly difficult emotional moments. The story remains compelling despite what could be termed as spoilers built right in.
Of the two, A Series of Unfortunate Events (SoUE) is clearly the lighter fare, geared for ages…well I would say 8 and up, but you know your kid. These stories were first a book series and then a Netflix series. The story follows the Baudelaire children as they are orphaned and then repeatedly terrorized by Count Olaf, a villain obsessed with getting his hands on the fortune the oldest daughter will inherit when she is of age. While I stopped reading the books after about 3 (there are 13 in the series), the Netflix series manages to stave off some of the repetition with a very strong cast and interesting stylized visuals. The most fun part of the series is Patrick Warburton who plays author and narrator Lemony Snicket. Snicket, with a dry gravitas that Warburton is just perfect for, tells you right off the bat what you are in for. And what you’re in for is horrible people treating some innocent kids horribly. Anyone around them is also pulled into the horribleness -horribleness that is largely orchestrated by Count Olaf. The narration acts as a teaser, breaking the fourth wall to remind viewers of the drama they are watching play out, reminding them that they are watching a show that is literally telling you it’s a series of unfortunate events. And yet, you still think and hope things might go the Baudelaires’ way. But don’t hope, because they don’t. But still, I found myself moaning and groaning and hoping maybe, just this time, things would be okay, even as Patrick Warburton’s dulcet tones continuously told me they wouldn’t.
The Vision is a 12-issue comic series by Tom King. It’s available in two trades, so do yourself a favor and just buy them both because if you start this series, you are going to want to finish it.
This story uses a similar narrative device to the one used in A Series of Unfortunate Events, SoUE is largely comical in its misery, The Vision is too real. An unseen narrator tells us that Vision decided to create a family. They move to a suburban neighborhood in the Washington DC area and try to fit in. This never happens. Instead, the Visions exist in a limbo, not quite human, not quite synthezoid. Sometimes they go through the motions, acting as they think humans should. Other times they are perhaps too human, unwittingly falling into the perils of violence, mania, and love. The villain in this story is largely unseen and debatable. Is it life? Ultron? Vision himself? Despite this story not having a mustache-twirling antagonist like SoUE, you know in the first few pages that this experiment in family won’t end well. Over 12 issues, we watch the pieces fall and shatter on the floor. Knowing this is coming doesn’t make this story any less compelling. Instead, it’s a study of an unraveling of a dream – its own series of unfortunate events, and we are never lead to believe it will be anything but that.
So, a similar narrative device, but 2 different stories in tone and weight. I would recommend them both but maybe have some tissues available when you read The Vision.
This post will feature spoilers for Avengers: Infinity War largely in the form of a character study, but also in the form of point of the Infinity Saga story in the comics.
Maybe you have seen Avengers: Infinity War by now, or maybe you haven’t. But surely you have at least heard of Thanos, the Mad Titan by now. When The Goog and I first started dating now 16 years ago, he asked me if I was familiar with the Infinity Saga the way one of those kids with the suits and backpacks (you know the ones) might ask if you have heard about the Good Word. We have been an Infinity Saga household ever since. A big part of what makes this massive event/cross-over story so compelling is not just the coming together of so many of the Marvel Universe’s heroes (and anti-heroes), but that Thanos, as the catalyst, is such a compelling and complicated villain. Continue reading
Friends, I’m going to be honest – this isn’t the post I want to write this week. I was planning to tell you all about the delightful manga series I’ve been reading lately, but it will have to wait, because once again, Twitter went insane over women in the comics industry, and it feels necessary to unpack that a bit.
If you haven’t been following the story, you can read all about it here, but the gist is that Marvel editor Heather Antos posted a selfie with a bunch of her fellow Marvel lady friends, holding milkshakes. The caption was “The Marvel Milkshake Crew #fabulousflo.” (More on that hashtag in a minute.) What she got in return were a bunch of nasty tweets and direct messages, complaining that the women were fake geek girls (yawn), who are responsible for Marvel’s flagging sales because of their “SJW agenda.”
Now, there were plenty of folks who jumped to Antos’s defense, creating the #makeminemilkshake tag to show solidarity with Antos and women in comics in general. I think the supporters vastly outnumber the haters, and that’s a wonderful thing. What troubles me with this whole foolish business is that it keeps happening, and I can’t help but ponder the series of bizarre conclusions the haters need to have drawn in order to make the comments they did; the crazy leaps of logic that lead someone to speak with abject cruelty to strangers. It does no good to attempt to understand internet trolls, but I can’t help it – I strive for understanding.
What it seems like is that there are three major issues at play here:
1. These people believe that women making comics is a recent phenomenon.
2. They equate these “new” women with story lines that promote a social justice agenda at the expense of storytelling, art, and the beliefs of the readers.
3. They believe that Marvel as a company is complicit in actively promoting said agenda.
So let’s break these down in order.
1. Women in comics is a new thing: Remember that hashtag, #fabulousflo? It’s a reference to Flo Steinberg, who passed away at the end of July from an aneurysm. Flo was one of the earliest members of the Marvel bullpen, hired by Stan Lee as a secretary, but taking on so much more in running the Marvel fan club, wrangling temperamental artists, and sending artwork to be approved by the Comics Code authority. After she left Marvel, she published Big Apple Comix, one of the earliest examples of “indie comics” – a bridge between the underground work that preceded it and the glossy mainstream work. She returned to Marvel in the 1990s, and worked as a proofreader until this year. Flo was truly a comics industry legend – and she was there from the beginning of the publisher that these trolls are lamenting is being ruined by women. And she’s just one example – women at Marvel and DC are not a new thing, even if they’ve been more behind the scenes than they are today.
Which leads us to:
2. The trolls believe women (and pretty much everyone who isn’t a white man) are promoting a liberal agenda. Spiderman’s a black kid sometimes! Iceman is gay! They made Thor a lady! What’s weird about these accusations is that writers on all of the stories are white men. Perhaps the women in the milkshake picture are manipulating everything behind the scenes! Hmm, that doesn’t seem super likely, does it? What makes more sense is the fact that you have characters who are, on average, 50-100 years old, with whom you’ve been telling stories continuously for most of that time. It seems inevitable that changing up who wears the mantle will happen sometimes, and if that change is a dud, they’ll either change back or into something entirely different yet again. Yes, you can make NEW characters who are women or Muslim or gay or trans, but that doesn’t entirely give you a new direction for your old characters. So it goes.
And here we come to:
3. They think Marvel will ruin the company in order to promote a liberal agenda.
Publishing is a business. The trolls point to these character changes, and point to Marvel’s dropping direct market sales, and then lament that if only the publisher saw the error of its terrible liberal ways, they could FIX this! But because Marvel is so dedicated to this SJW message, they say, the company just won’t do it.
There are two main problems with this thought-train. One simple one is that it doesn’t really take into account how comic sales have changed. While direct market sales are still really important, they don’t track digital sales on things like Comixology. So a book might not be doing well physically, but we don’t really know its total reach.
But the part that puzzles me even more than that is the idea that people believe that a corporation would ever put beliefs over profit. For me, a liberal who IS invested in social justice, that’s a really nice thought. It’s also utter horseshit. Marvel cancels books with flagging sales all the time, without ceremony. They don’t exist to promote an agenda, they’re here to sell you comics, and if the troll-dollars matter as much as they seem to think they do, then the stories will change again in due time. We shall see.
In the meantime, this makes me feel that projects like LadiesCon are more important than ever, not because women, non-binary folks, people of color, and LGBT folks are a new thing, but because we’ve all always been here. We make comics. We read comics. We buy comics. And we drink milkshakes and take selfies, and we don’t need to apologize for it.
Enough time has passed that if you were going to watch Iron Fist and care about spoilers, you have probably done that…but, you know, if you do care, maybe read this later.
Does Iron Fist really deserve the panning it’s getting? Ehhhhhh, maybe, maybe not. But with the bar set so high from the other Marvel Netflix series, Iron First comes off as a master class of missed opportunities and poor choices. Much has already been written about Danny Rand’s casting. Yes, Iron First is white in the comics. Could that have been changed? Absolutely. Would the show have been better served by having an actual martial artist as the title character? Heck yes, but that’s not the missed opportunity that I’ll be talking about. Rather, Marvel had a chance to turn the tables on a privileged white male protagonist, and they let that opportunity wane. Continue reading
Talking about feminism can be a complex issue. Over the years, there have been different definitions and movements, but put most simply it can be distilled down to the belief in equality between men and women and the rights that go along with it. It’s not a new concept, and it serves as a backbone for the very blog you are reading right now. So when an author is harassed off Twitter for writing a character who wears an “Ask Me About My Feminist Agenda” t-shirt on the cover, I made it a point to not only read Chelsea Cain’s Mockingbird comic, but to also review it for you guys.
I don’t want to spend a lot of time focusing on the Twitter incident, except to take pleasure in the amount of support Cain received from the comics community. It brought a lot of attention to a book that in many ways had been under the radar. As a result, it shot to number one on Amazon and I got to discover one of the most unusual books I have read in a long time.
All right, by now, you hopefully had a chance to watch the Netflix series Luke Cage and at least have some idea who Misty is. If you haven’t and you want to remain 100% spoiler-free, maybe go set up some binge watching time and come back to this later. Otherwise, read on and consider this a bit of a character primer on the comics version of Misty, which will hopefully give you some more background and get you even more interested in this kick-ass lady.
By this time both Arbor Day and Earth Day have come and gone. But just because it wasn’t my week to post, it doesn’t mean that I don’t intend to milk these holidays for another one of my blog posts where I read holiday themed comics. Move over Valentine’s Day, it’s about to get very green up in here.
Batman: Harley and Ivy, Paul Dini and Others
I will admit that I had a hard time finding a good Poison Ivy story that wasn’t her origin and didn’t paint her as a rather flat character whose personality is just being sexy and loving plants. Gotham City Sirens does at times show her as a brilliant scientist, but I ended up going with this comic because based on the other Paul Dini collections, I made the assumption that this was going to be great. Well, no one is perfect. Not me, not the authors or artists, and certainly not this book. In fact, I would argue that this book highlights everything I tried and failed to avoid in my search for a good Poison Ivy story.
The problem with blatant fan service is that it has a way of pulling me right out of a story. Suddenly something that seemed kinda fun feels lazy, cheap, and in some cases alienating to the female audience. I’m not saying that everything about this book is trash, but when the writers go out of the way to provide story lines that are based on a bet over who can kiss the most men, having conversations while posing in their underwear, and having cat fights while naked in the shower, it can be hard for me not to wonder what the real purpose of this book was. I am not against sexy characters or fun, but it is disheartening when those are the only stories you can find.
That being said, this is at times a pretty cute book with a few warm friendship moments between Harley and Ivy. And as always, I was thrilled to see a lot of Bruce Timm’s animated style. I don’t think this book is anything I want to keep in my collection or read again, but I will probably still be drawn to other collections involving Dini and Timm in the future. I just might be a bit more choosey in the future.
The Saga of the Swamp Thing, Alan Moore
I realize that Swamp Thing might be an obvious choice for this article, but I picked this book because I love it so much. There are certain books out there that are game changers – books that are important and iconic because they’ve done something new and breathed new life into the medium. Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing is one of those books. In this volume, not only has Moore created a way of storytelling that would influence generations of writers, but the stories themselves are creepy and engaging.
While Moore’s writing can at times be everything from poetic and grand to overwrought and grandiose, it is hard to deny that this volume (and the rest of Moore’s run) provides riveting commentary on the world around us. Swamp Thing’s story tackles not just the environment (though that is Swamp Thing’s specialty), but also manages to hold a mirror to the human condition and the reflection isn’t always the most flattering.
The only real negative to this book is that the older art style might not be everyone’s cup of tea. This is especially true if you are used to the more grounded or whimsical looks that can be found in a lot of comics now. I could make the argument that the style is pitch perfect for the tone of the book, but perhaps it is time that I stop gushing and just move on to the last book in this article.
Groot, Jeff Loveness and Brian Kesinger
When a character suddenly becomes very popular as a result of a recent movie or TV show, it’s pretty common that the company is going to pump out a lot of junk to capitalize on the character before people move on to the next thing. I’m happy to say that this book is an exception to that practice. Sure, it might not be something that we are going to be talking about years from now, but this story about an intergalactic road trip gone wrong is pretty fun.
What I loved best about this book is how cartoon-y and animated the art style is. The drawings show a lot of movement and faces that are both expressive and almost gummy. Ok, I realize that isn’t the best description here, but you can tell that Kesinger has an animation and Disney background. I could spend days just looking at his drawings of Rocket’s annoyed mugging.
The story itself, while thin and filled with a lot of happy coincidences, is fun enough to not really care. Rocket and Groot’s friendship is highlighted without laying it on too thick and we are given more opportunities to see what a lovable goof Groot can be. So yeah, you aren’t going to get much complaining from me.
Any great titles I missed out? Got a good Poison Ivy book you can recommend for me? Just annoyed that I missed the obvious chance to write about Star Wars comics on May the 4th? Chime in below and be heard!
The Jessica Jones Netflix series is set to start on November 20. While Daredevil has shown us that you don’t need to be familiar with the source material to enjoy the show, it’s sometimes nice to get some background on a character. I guess it should be said, if you haven’t already read the comics, and you want to go into the show completely fresh, you may want to skip this post. But I am trying to keep things higher level so as not to unwittingly spoil.
Jessica Jones is a Marvel character who appears primarily in 2 comic series, Alias, and The Pulse. I read them both and hooo boy are they different.
Alias was a 28 issue series back in the early 2000’s. Written by Brian Michael Bendis, Alias was the title that launched Marvel’s Max comic line. The Max books are R-rated, darker, rougher, NOT ALL AGES and Alias jumps into that headfirst. Jessica Jones was a new character, created explicitly for this series. When we are introduced to her, right away we realize she’s far step away from other female characters we have seen in the comic world. Jessica is a super-powered human, but she’s is not a superhero. As the owner and only employee of PI firm Alias Investigations, Jessica is a hard drinker, a chain smoker, who curses like a sailor raised by a truck driver. She’s angry, and paranoid, and doesn’t suffer fools for a moment. You want to talk damaged characters? Jessica is a human train wreck. And that’s what’s so great about her. She’s not one of the bright eyed, impossibly coiffed, female characters who were (still are?) prevalent in comics. She’s how you feel on your darkest days when you have completely lost your way so badly that you can’t determine what’s good from what’s not.
So I debated talking about “that scene.” I will, but I am going to keep it very brief. Yes, in the first few pages there is a sex scene that implies Jessica is well, adventurous. Less than being character building, I took it as a way to show “hey, these aren’t comics code comics.” To my read it’s consensual so that’s all I’m going to say about it. We are all grown ups here.
Consent is actually a big theme in Jessica’s story. The big deal is less what she consents to, but rather how she loses free will and the effect it has on her. This is the real crux of her story. When we meet Jessica she is working as a private investigator in the superhero world, have firmly retired from costumed hero-ing. The first 4 story arc in the series have Jessica using what she learned in her hero days to work on cases that don’t necessitate Avengers-level attention, but do take someone with the specific knowledge, skills, and abilities that Jessica has. We don’t learn the specifics of why Jessica has retired until the last story arc where both her origin and why she got out of the superhero game is revealed.
The story line, “Purple,”give us a look at Jessica’s main foe, Zebediah Killgrave, The Purple Man. Admittedly, naming a villain The Purple Man is kinda doofy. But his powers of pheromone-based mind control make him one of the more frightening characters in the Marvel universe. Mind control powers are not new, but there is something particularly insidious about Killgrave, and how his powers work, that make him particularly damaging.
The Pulse is less about Jessica and more about The Daily Bugle newspaper. It’s the shiny, slick, and frankly, antiseptic follow-up to Alias that continues to follow Jessica’s story among other happenings at the Bugle. The Pulse is not a Max series and therefore the tone is completely different from Alias. Or at least that’s what I am going to blame it on since the writer is the same. Jessica is no longer a private eye, she’s sort of a roving lifestyle reporter for “The Pulse,” the superhero section of the Bugle. Also, Jessica is pregnant.
Yup, she’s pregnant. Did I mention she’s pregnant? Don’t worry, she mentions it on almost every page, so you know, you’ll figure it out eventually. Pregnancy has apparently changed Jessica from a well-developed character with nuances, into a woman with super abilities who is pregnant. And that seems to be about it, there is very little left of the Jessica we saw in Alias. I really really like damaged, paranoid, angry Jessica. She was real. This new version is so generic that I swear, when I picked up the book after a week-long reading break, I didn’t even realize the character on the page was supposed to be her (which is commentary on the art and the story)! Yeah, The Pulse is pretty disappointing.
So, if you feel like reading, I recommend you spend some time with Alias, and skip The Pulse. From the previews it looks like the Netflix series is going more along the Alias route anyway. Which is great since my hope for the show is that was get a nuanced female character who tries to battles her demons and maybe finds her way to the other side without losing everything she was.
This year (2015) Boston Comic Con handled the big name guest panels a little differently. Attendees had to get online tickets (no charge) for seats. I think this worked pretty well and kept you from having to line up hours before a panel to get a seat. It did however require some pre-planning. Thanks to The Goog, who went online to get tickets as soon as they went up while I was driving us to NH, we were able to attend the Haley Atwell panel late on Sunday. If you are reading this you likely know that Atwell plays Agent Peggy Carter in the Marvel Universe. She has been in both the Captain America movies, and her own Agent Carter series, which is getting second season.
When the panel started we found there was a special bonus, Brett Dalton (Agent Grant Ward from Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D) was joining Atwell in the panel and doing some moderating. After the “Hail Hydra’s” died down once Dalton took the stage, the first question he teasingly asked Atwell was “What’s your favorite color?” She responded with a snarky, “I don’t have one, I’m not 6.” But in case you are wondering, Dalton’s favorite is blue.
Atwell is just as lovely, funny, and delightful as you might assume. When asked if she thought playing Peggy would take off the way it has, she said she had no idea. Really, she said she just wanted to be able to smell Chris Evans… and Dalton chimed in, “Don’t we all?!” Continue reading
WARNING: This post contains mild spoilers for the Netflix series Daredevil. While I won’t be revealing major plot points I will be talking about the series in terms of things I liked and or noticed about the look, feel and characters. If you wanted to stay 100% spoiler free, you might not want to read this until you have finished watching.
Netflix has figured out how to stay relevant in an ever-changing media landscape. If you have seen House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, or The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt you know that they have made some really good content that people want to see. They have also made it affordable (I think we pay $18 a month) and easy to do. If you are reading this post you are likely aware of the deal Netflix has made with Marvel to create various series featuring Marvel street level defenders Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage (Power Man), and Danny Rand (Iron Fist). With the first of these series now available for public consumption, fans have had the chance to see Marvel characters on the small screen outside of network television’s control. Continue reading