You are complicit in terrorism in Tom King’s perfect The Omega Men debut

screen shot 2015-06-03 at 3.24.25 pm

Unlike almost any other form of media, comics force the consumer to take an active role in consumption. You dictate the pace. You can linger over panels, taking in detail after detail or you can run right through, turning each issue into a breakneck blockbuster. You know how characters sound and you think you know how they act. Maybe you have a headcanon for them. Maybe you ship characters. You’re a part of their world. You’re overseeing it. You’re an inactive God.

In the last few years, many creators have started to interrogate that relationship and in 2014 and 2015, readers have really been forced to confront their relationship with the comics they consume. More than almost any other book, Grant Morrison’s magnum opus, The Multiversity, is all about the act of creation and destruction that readers bring to every book they open and close. It’s about the life you give to characters in the books you read and the things they put in your head as a result. The Multiversity, however, is more of a thought exercise than anything else. It’s the meal you chew on all day. Tom King and Barnaby Bagenda’s The Omega Men is the gut punch that makes you throw up your lunch.


Drawing on his background in the CIA working with counter-terror operations, King places readers in an unfamiliar situation from the debut which almost acts as a counterpoint to Star Wars, Green Lantern or Guardians of the Galaxy. In The Omega Men #1, we don’t follow the scrappy rebels fighting an all-knowing empire. We’re with soldiers desperately trying to save lives from a terrorist group who has taken a hostage and plans to kill many more. Your relationship with the protagonist is complicated before they make their first appearance and that’s before you know their trump card, imprisoning upstanding former Green Lantern Kyle Rayner in their hold.


Everything that happens in The Omega Men #1 is intended to make you, the reader, feel ill at ease. Tigorr indiscriminately murders his way through a Citadel hit squad. Scrapps brutally guns down those in her way, sending as much of a message to her enemies as she does to the innocents who meet her gaze. More importantly, however, Bagenda utilizes a traditional nine-panel layout to evoke familiarity that is constantly disrupted by the protagonists.  Every panel is meant to make you feel comfortable, safe with the actions of the Citadel right up until the moment Tigorr enters the scene. It’s a turning point in that first issue and it asks an important and defining question of the reader: who do you sympathize with?

See, that question sits squarely at the center of The Omega Men #2 and it acts as something of a thesis statement for the relationship between Primus and Kyle but also about the relationship between the readers and the protagonists. Primus knows what he’s doing. He’s going to try to break the stranglehold the Citadel holds by any means necessary but he’s accustomed to fighting a war by inches and he harbors no illusions about what he and the Omega Men are capable of. He knows he’s not a hero and he’s realistic about what he has to accomplish to take the fight to the oppressors.


King’s treatment of Kyle Rayner is some of the best since the New 52 launched and he uses that understanding to heartbreaking effect as a counterpoint to Primus objectivity. More than any of his fellow Lanterns, Kyle is a dreamer, someone who believes in the impossible and the best that every person is capable of. Making him a powerless hostage and bargaining chip in the Omega Men’s fight is the right way to take away agency from a character in an effective and illuminating way. Kyle wants to save people but, for now, he can’t and he realizes that he’s complicit in whatever Primus and the others do in pursuit of a better world. Kyle’s vastly in a similar position as the reader, powerless to impact what happens but, ultimately, forced to watch the death and destruction unfold around him.

The Omega Men #2 climaxes with a moment of abject despair which serves to crystalize the relationship between Kyle and the reader as both watch helplessly as the Omega Men leave hundreds of people to die. In any other comic, it’s a moment where the superheroes would swoop in, lay their lives on the line to save the unjustly imprisoned. In The Omega Men, it’s a toll in blood Primus more than willingly pays so he can steal a space ship. You watch, unable to act, unable to move and hoping only to hold onto what’s important as those with the most power do the least good.


On the final page of The Omega Men #2 (showcased above), Kyle tries to hold onto the only morality he thinks he can, blending blood from a recent wound onto his captors’ symbol to form a source of comfort he no longer knows if he has earned. It’s a scene that shows the book’s themes in microcosm. How long can you hold on to what you value when you fail to act? Is it enough for the righteous to simply play witness to atrocity? There’s no easy answer in Kyle’s action and readers should be left to ponder the answers for themselves but it’s certainly some of the headiest questions asked by a comic this year. Let’s hope that this is a book that can keep asking these kind of tough questions for a long time to come.

The New Boy Wonders – Establishing Robin in a world without Batman


I don’t envy writers who have to try to separate Robin from Batman. From his very first appearances in the 1940s, Robin’s relationship with Batman has always been characterized as one of a father and his sons. Even under the best of circumstances, separating a Robin from the Caped Crusader, leaves a character in the shadow of the more known hero. The most successful reestablishments of Robin without Batman usually dramatically alter the status quo and forcibly separate the two characters. The recent Grayson did a fantastic job turning former-Robin-turned-Nightwing-turned-Batman-turned-Nightwing-turned-spy Dick Grayson into a character on his own, in over his head and having to depend on his own strengths to deal with unique character-specific challenges, much like how the successful Chuck Dixon Nightwing relaunch relocated Dick into a crime-infested Bludhaven.

The post-Endgame status quo gives DC an open palate to put a new spin on Robin by taking the Batman readers have known for decades off the table. With the world believing Batman has died in a final battle with the Joker, the very idea of Robin can be given an entirely different characterization. Robin’s not a son anymore. He’s a standard-bearer and DC’s two new Robin-centric titles give very different interpretations on what carrying a legacy means.


Patrick Gleason’s Robin: Son of Batman is the most straight forward approach but it’s one that also doesn’t directly address the absence of Batman. After his resurrection, Damian Wayne is taking a new look at his life. He’s continuously confronted by death and he’s no longer able to shove down his guilt and regret over his own bloody past. It’s a natural growth for the character. In the Peter Tomasi run on Batman and Robin, Damian slowly came to terms with his tortured, traumatic past by seeing the future his father was trying to build. With the tragic end of Batman Incorporated, Grant Morrison showed Damian’s final turn away from Ra’s and Talia’s plans for him and embrace of his father’s path and this issue’s focus on Damian’s guilt and rejection of the League of Assassin’s tenants is a clear way to pick up what that story established.

Robin: Son of Batman #1 puts Damian on a Herculean quest. He’s writing the wrongs of his past, trying to clean up the years of spilled blood, trying to do his best to honor both his father as well as his surrogate father, Dick Grayson. Gleason sells the hell out of Damian’s guilt and uncertainty in a wonderful, haunting nightmare sequence where the child continuously is forced to relive his guilt and his own death and when he finally chooses to begin a year of atonement, it feels earned, like Damian is doing more than just choosing to follow in his father’s shadow. He’s creating a new path.


We are Robin #1 is a more ambitious approach to the relationship between Batman and Robin and more directly addresses a Gotham City without Bruce Wayne as Batman. The issue centers around Duke Thomas, a minor character who has appeared twice in Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman, whose parents disappeared following one particularly traumatic scene in Batman #37, which echoed Batman’s origin. Since then, Duke has bounced around Gotham orphanages, searching for his family and increasingly depending on himself over all others. Lee Bermejo gives Thomas’s dialogue and running internal monologue an endearing nerdiness and Jorge Corona infuses the issue’s action sequences with a nervy, confident style that brings readers directly into its protagonist’s head. He’s a relatable hero, trying to do his best but still making the wrong choice as often as he makes the right one.

Duke’s characterized throughout We are Robin #1 with elements reminiscent of almost all of the former Robins. His acrobatic combat during a schoolyard bout recall the graceful dangerous dance of Dick Grayson, his over-confident defiance of authority bears more than a little resemblance to Jason Todd and there are peaks of what made Tim Drake such a memorable sidekick. What most establishes Duke’s place in the issue, however, is his connection to Batman. When the mysterious new Robins arrive on the scene at issue’s end, they’re not interested in what Duke is capable of or what he’s been through. They just know he’s “hung with the bat” and that’s all he needs to get in.


We are Robin establishes less than Robin: Son of Batman does but it does so in a particularly engaging way. Much like how Gotham Academy took its time to establish the mysteries around Olive Silvermane, the issue doesn’t answer much about the nature of the new Robins but their presence speaks volumes. In a story haunted by the Joker’s actions during Endgame, the establishment of a group of teens keeping Batman’s memory alive is a wonderful homage to ideas like online activism and inspiration through sacrifice. It’s a smart, thoughtful way to connect Bruce’s final fateful actions in Batman #40 to the new status quo.

We are Robin and Robin: Son of Batman both highlight what I love best about one of my favorite concepts in comics. Both boldly showcase the way Batman can change the future through inspiration, how he can prevent the next child from losing everything to one terrible day. More importantly though, both establish characters separate from a greater hero, giving writers and readers a whole new perspective on Gotham and its young protectors in a bold, exciting new world.

Star Trek: The Original Series Recaps Episode 41: “Obsession” and call me First Officer Spock


There are certain plots that feel like quintessential Star Trek: powerful, near godlike aliens lack compassion, negotiating a fragile treaty with the enemy, encountering strange diseases and conditions that change the way characters see each other and, above all, those goddamn space clouds.

The gaseous entity in the depths of space is one of Star Trek’s hoariest cliches but it’s also one that can be hard to remember exactly how many times you’ve seen it. It just feels familiar, like you’ve watched it a million times. I can remember a handful of appearances of the trope in The Next Generation and the Original Series, and if I took the time, I could probably come up with another handful before I finished my drink.

“Obsession” doesn’t do a lot to differentiate itself from what comes before it but like so many of The Original Series’ less ambitious efforts, it lives and dies on the charisma and performances of its cast. In that arena, “Obsession” excels. It’s a great showcase of Will Shatner’s unique style and performances and Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley both perform ably as well.

On a routine mission, Kirk, Spock and some doomed Red-Shirts are testing some tritanium deposits before a mysterious gas makes an appearance and the captain gets paranoid. Kirk remembers a particular smell and evacuates the planet but not before all but one crew member succumbs to a deadly, semi-sentient gas.

What follows is mostly a bug hunt. Kirk wants to blow off a scheduled meeting in order to make sure the Enterprise can destroy the gas and Spock and McCoy try to gauge their captain’s sanity and whether or not they can trust him to make the right decision.

“Nemesis” is a tense but lethargic episode. A lot is made of Kirk’s first encounter with the gas cloud on his first assignment as well as his relationship with a crewman whose father died during the cloud’s previous encounter but both do little other than to expand on Kirk’s belief that he needs to redeem his former indecisiveness. The meat of the episode is in Spock and McCoy’s questioning over whether Kirk needs to be removed from command. It’s interesting stuff. Both characters vastly agree that the cloud needs to be destroyed but know that the more time spent hunting it, the more danger they put a colony in. It’s a very Star Trek moral conundrum, but not an ineffective one.


It’s easy to draw comparisons between “Obsession” and Star Trek’s marginally more memorable tale of revenge and the greater good deferred, “The Wrath of Khan” and both are playing on the same themes. Like in the film, Kirk’s desire to restore his own honor is putting thousands in jeopardy and the episode vastly acknowledges how his crew feels about the captain’s, well, obsession. They’re frightened and on edge, increasingly drawn into Kirk’s mounting hysteria in a believable way. What differentiates the two is that while “Wrath of Khan” is decidedly Kirk’s story, this is more the story of Kirk’s crew, his history as a captain and an officer, as well as the potential trauma he could inflict on the next generation of Star Fleet officers.

I don’t dislike “Obsession” by any means. It’s just Star Trek at its most rigidly formulaic and it skates by on small charms. It’s certainly not the series most memorable or distinguished episode but much like Kirk’s first impression with a certain cloud, it serves as something of a sign for greater, more important things to come.

Next up: One of the Original Series worst episodes finally rears its ugly head as we sink into the horrors of “Wolf in the Fold.”

Action Comics #41 limits the scale but keeps Superman’s heart


For decades, one of the defining characteristics of Superman has been tying the scope of his powers to the characters’ personal philosophy. Superman would do anything for anyone so he can. Since John Byrne’s relaunch of the character post Infinite Crisis, writers have experimented with how changes to Superman’s power or his views of his abilities impact the character’s perspective and actions. Dividing Superman in the ill-considered Red/Blue era did little to add to the formula. J. Michael Straczynski’s attempt at turning Clark Kent into a self-loathing young-adult, terrified of his capabilities in the Superman: Earth One series dramatically altered the way Superman interacted with other characters and the world, pushing him away from the supporting cast of Lois and Jimmy to a heroin junky neighbor and the love-interest-turned-hooker, to, at best, mixed results. 


It’d be easy to say that Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder are engaging in similar transgressions in Action Comics #41 but there’s more going on behind the scenes and in the book’s subtext. Following an ill-defined event (we’ll get to it later), Superman has been outed as Clark Kent and forced on the run, both from Metropolis and the Fortress of Solitude. By issue’s end, he’s returning to his familiar haunts and to residents that have a much different view of who Superman is and what his role is. Unlike the aforementioned changes to Superman’s powers, however, Pak and Kuder aren’t using the new status quo or the public’s new reaction to it to change who Clark Kent fundamentally is, just limiting what he can physically do when he’s called to action.

Since Pak and Kuder took over Action Comics, they’ve focused on how Superman’s powers can totally corrupt anyone without Superman’s moral fortitude. In the fantastic Subterrania arc, Clark and Lana’s interactions with a kingdom of powerful monsters and ghost assassins reveal the personal difficulties Superman faces every time he throws a punch. In the Doomed arc, as Clark struggles against his own internalized rage and desire to put other’s needs above his own, he sees the damage he can wreck when he punches down at those below him. So far, Superman has always been in a position of overwhelming power over those he’s come into conflict with. It’s interesting, in that context, for Pak and Kuder to now put him in a situation where Clark is consistently outmatched. In the book’s opening fight scene, a group of roughnecks attack Clark outside a gas station. He’s having to fight back in dire situation in a context that recalls the character’s earliest incarnations.


Kuder’s deliberately aping Bronze Age Superman throughout Action Comics #41, from returning to a facsimile of the original logo, to showing Clark leaping tall buildings and coming into conflict with corrupt authority figures in the form of a sneering police officer. This is the most populist Superman has been in years and Pak does a good job showing the way Superman’s appeal to his neighbors isn’t universal. There’s still very real fear and discomfort around him but little notes like the way Clark provides a role model for kids and rushes to help those in need show a character who isn’t afraid to put his life on the line, regardless of his diminished powers.

There are some problems still and it’s hard to find where to lay the blame. The issue continuously references books that have not been released yet to explain Clark’s new status quo, with one of the books not set to for release for another month. It gives the distinct impression that we’re walking into a series in the middle of a storyline, not  the new-reader friendly jumping-on point DC seems to want it to be. It’s probably best to see Action Comics #41 not as a bold new status quo for Superman but as a natural continuation of Pak and Kuder’s ongoing fascination with the power and responsibility that’s become their calling card on this run. With Superman’s new abilities established for the time being, the team isn’t limiting the character, just his scope and the results are bound to be interesting.

There’s more fucking than fighting in Midnighter #1 and that’s a very good thing


Post Convergence, DC stands at an impasse similar to one they stood at in August, 2011. The publisher once again has the option to relaunch old titles and start new ones, correct the state of their recently tangled continuity, present characters in a new, fresh way and tell stories they haven’t been able to in years. This time, however, much of that correcting is mistakes made from their last relaunch.

Few properties suffered under the banner of the New 52 more than the acquired Wildstorm characters. Once champions of the ’90s creator-owned, anything-goes-as-long-as-it sells-aesthetic, characters from Stormwatch, The Authority and WildCats were left under a more controlled, less open publishing initiative where everything needed to work together. While there were successes, few characters and concepts suffered more than Apollo and Midnighter. The pair were forced into Stormwatch, arguably the least successful New 52 book because it was the least essential. In the New 52, a super brutal team watching the events of the world didn’t need to exist; it already existed in Geoff Johns’ inexplicably violent Justice League. As such, the pair were treated as little more than the Batman and Superman pastiches they were originally meant to parody and the role suited neither of them.

Stormwatch 1

The newest Midnighter series from writer Steve Orlando and artist ACO has a chance to show what makes Midnighter so much different than the character he was meant to pay homage to. Orlando takes the opportunity by taking Midnighter out of every comfort zone he has. He’s far away, physically and emotionally, from his ex and the manipulative Gardener and he’s trying to enjoy being a not-quite-hero as well as an out and on the prowl gay man.

You see, that’s the biggest risk Orlando takes in this issue and ACO sells that risk through bold, extremely modern choices. After an in media res opening, we see Midnighter’s Grindr profile and him on a date with the curious Jason. While he doesn’t appear in the issue, Apollo hangs over the book and clearly, the protagonist’s thoughts, but Orlando knows the value of keeping the character off the table. In a recent Comics Alliance interview, he spoke of the representative power of presenting Midnighter without his partner saying, “Often gay males are shown in mainstream media, but they’re coupled, they’re safe and chastened. And for a while, that alone was bold because gay men could be shown in mainstream media at all. But now that’s primetime family television.”

While allowing Midnighter to exist on his own, without Apollo and a support system puts the character in a new situation worthy of a debut issue, it’s the emotional move that’s more powerful. Midnighter is on his own, confident and on the hunt. He’s defending what’s his but he’s also looking for what he can have for the first time in a long time. When he and Jason have sex near the issue’s conclusion, there’s a real sense of the mix of desperation and desire that makes up the wild courtship this book is trying to sell.


Where the emotions are wild and dangerous, ACO portrays the violence in Midnighter #1 as an exercise of practiced control. Both in the new issue and the 8-page preview DC released last month, ACO uses loaded, energetic panels as a way to put us in the protagonist’s head. Midnighter’s computer brain is constantly calculating options and the Andrea Sorrentino-esque layouts give readers the same sort of clear-cut, razor-precise framework we need to get inside Midnighter’s head as he deals with bounty hunters and a threat against his very identity at the issue’s conclusion.

More than anything, the comparison between precise violence and wild, passionate sex provides a mission statement for the book. The most dangerous, unpredictable thing Midnighter is going to face is going to be at the dinner table and in the bedroom, not on the battlefield where he is little-less than a god. As he says over dinner and drinks, Midnighter is always game for some “aggressive anthropology” and I’m ready to see exactly what all that entails, on the streets and in the sheets.

“Please guide me home” – ODY-C #1 is a stunning, beautiful contradiction


Since I put ODY-C on my pull list, following the book’s announcement at Image Expo 2013, I’ve moved across the country, started a new job, quit smoking, began a relationship, turned around my opinion on ramen, read somewhere around 1,000 X-Men comics and rewatched “30 Rock” four times. My comic shop owner regularly asked me “Hey, when’s that ODY-C coming out,” and I would dutifully reply that it got pushed back again or that it seemed like Matt Fraction might be abandoning the book as he kept swapping around Marvel projects, backing out of Inhuman and falling behind on Hawkeye. I eventually, almost gave up hope.

But I didn’t and I’m very happy that I did not. ODY-C, written by Fraction and drawn by Christian Ward, is a powerful, self-assured debut from one of comics’ most recognized modern writers and an up and coming artist with a lived-in style. It’s a book that doesn’t feel like it could be created by any other team, in the same way Fraction’s most recent independent, the smash-hit Sex Criminals, felt as if it couldn’t have been made by anyone other than himself and artist Chip Zdarsky. However, where Sex Criminals took the first issue to establish protagonist Suzie’s motivations, back story and unique ability, ODY-C does everything in two pages.

Well, technically 10 pages.


Yes, the much vaunted 8-page opening spread is there and it’s glorious but it’s what that spread both shows and doesn’t show which is the real masterstroke of the opening. Before unfurling the spread, The sides hold both a map and a timeline, respectively of the world Odyssia and her crew inhabit. Both have the same impressionistic style Jonathan Hickman popularized in charts and diagrams in The Nightly News, Pax Romana and Secret Wars but they serve dual purposes and those purposes highlight the contrasting worlds ODY-C exists in. While a dry, loose timeline explains the background of Zeus’ actions, the reason for so few men in this world, and the conflict in Troii, it all serves as useful flavor around a shocking, imaginative and gruesome tableau of Odyssia and her companions. It’s a smart move, grounding the physical cost of massive violence against the dispassionate recounting of the bickering and pettiness which leads to it.

That fusion of new-age artistic aesthetic and Western canon is what provides some of the more intriguing moments of ODY-C as well. After the ship takes off to bring its crew of warriors home, we visit the Gods, a seemingly powerful family of conspirators and battling factions all watching the actions of Odyssia from on high. While the issue up to this point, has held all of the action unobtrusively in narration, the shift to word bubblers when the gods appear is jarring and an interesting touch, certainly open to interpretation. Is letterer Chris Eliopoulos attempting to show a difference between the controlled, set as legend story of Odyssia with the more emotion based tales of the Gods? Are we meant to view the Gods as more traditional characters while the soldiers are more untouchable by the comics medium? Are the characters and tropes permanent even when placed them in an unfamiliar medium, while the gods wholely inhabit where they are?


To his credit, Fraction doesn’t offer many answers in the first issue but there’s lots of room for debate. So it goes throughout the story, where each of Fraction and Ward’s choices are meant to accentuate both the power of Homer’s original text as well as the new subtext a few changes can bring to these tales. Nowhere is this clearer than in the death of Xylot. While The Odyssey contains many passages referencing Odysseus’ loyalty to his crew as well as the violence he is capable of, the shift to Odyssia’s crew, more in tune with one another and in desperate need of cooperation makes her choice to kill a crew member feel different. She’s no less of a hero and no less worthy of a character than Odysseus when she damns Xylot to the cold reaches of space but it’s a moment that requires the reader to ask something of themselves. Just who is this captain who makes these sacrifices? What is waiting for her back home and is she deserving of taking it upon her return? Reframing these questions, which have formed the backbone of so much of Western fiction as we know it, is the key success of ODY-C #1 and create a strong start for the sure to be long journey to come.

“There is no problem that can’t be solved” – The road to SECRET WARS begins here

Screen Shot 2014-11-25 at 7.58.35 PM

“Everything dies.”

It’s a mantra that’s popped up for the last two years, spoken by Reed Richards to the Illuminati in Jonathan Hickman’s “New Avengers.” The slow dissolution of multiverse has been the impetus for widespread destruction and the desperation that seems to be the crux of the ongoing “Time Runs Out” storyline which seems to form the basis for this summer’s “Secret Wars” event. Marvel has been pushing Secret Wars as the event where everything changes for months now, first with an impressive array of alternate universe one-pagers and with a barrage of information on creator and editor’s social media pages.

Executive Editor Tom Brevoort has said the genesis for Secret Wars is in Hickman’s much vaunted Fantastic Four run and within the series’ large scale cosmic focus lies a series of hidden clues and hints about the direction of the Marvel Universe and the seeds of this summer’s upcoming event.

With that in mInd, it’s time to go back where it all started with a look back at Hickman’s run on Fantastic Four, what it has set up, the occasional hints in SHIELD and Secret Warriors, his Avengers and New Avengers run, the beginnings of creation in Infinity and how everything could lead to Battleworld. In this installment, it’s time to take a look at Hickman’s first major Marvel work, the “Fantastic Four: Dark Reign” miniseries.

Screen Shot 2014-11-25 at 8.21.35 PM

Let’s go back to the end of 2008. In the wake of Brian Michael Bendis’ less than stellar Secret Invasion, the seemingly reformed Norman Osborne had won the respect of New York and the president by fending off the invasion of the Skrull Queen and been crowned head of S.H.I.E.L.D. Unable to resist the man he has always been, Osborne assembles The Cabal, a group of villains who will aid him in controlling national policy. While he attempts to keep his new peacekeeping agency, H.A.M.M.E.R., on the straight and narrow, Osborne secretly harbors a hit-list of heroes he wants dead and buried and with the backing of the world, he’s ready to do it.

Osborne’s motivations and actions will change throughout Dark Reign and will eventually bring him to disaster in Siege but for now, he’s unbeatable. In the beginning of Fantastic Four: Dark Reign, he’s moving on the Baxter Building, ready to preemptively take Reed Richards out of the picture. Unfortunately, Reed has already started on a path of self-obsession and discovery which will change the Marvel Universe and define his character moving forward. And it all starts with the Bridge.

Screen Shot 2014-11-25 at 8.32.45 PM

The Bridge, like the Flash’s Cosmic Treadmill before it, becomes the defining artifact of Reed Richards as Hickman’s run carries on but for now, it’s almost solely a plot device. It’s worth noting that Reed’s newest invention is little more than a manifestation of his own guilt at this point. After tampering with the world for so long, Reed wants to know if the machinations of the Illuminati, their meddling with the Beyonder and the group’s dealings with the Skrulls which lead to Secret Invasion could have been prevented and if so, were they handled differently on another Earth.

Hickman’s focus in this five-issue miniseries is somewhat split. He’s writing Valeria and Franklin as something of comic relief characters. While the First Family is away, the siblings dress up and goof off, initially oblivious to the arrival of H.A.M.M.E.R. before stepping up later. In the series B-Plot, Sue, Ben and Johnny hop through alternate realities and pick up members of the family from across dimensions as they’re dragged along by The Bridge. It’s all fun and funnier than it has any right to be.

Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 10.00.32 PM

The real meat of Dark Reign: Fantastic Four, and really the only characterization important going forward is Reed’s actions. Becoming more and more exasperated as he sees the commonalities across dimensions, Reed becomes obsessed with his own place in the dimensional order. Across the surveyed realities, he sees that he alone is the common denominator when searching for peace and he’s ready to discover how and why. By series end, when Osborne has been sent packing after taking a bullet from a trigger happy Franklin, Reed refuses to break down The Bridge and rebuilds it in a secret room of his lab. It’s a defining moment moving forward and certainly one open for debate. How much does Sue know about Reed’s obsession with what he has been across dimensions and what he can do? Reed’s narcissism and focus on himself is a recurring trope in the series and one that will appear time and time again, particularly in the form of those soon to be revealed glowing figures just on the other side of the screen.

Next Up: Who exactly are those people appearing in the Bridge? What do they want and what are they doing? It’s time to jump into Fantastic Four #570.

“I like not knowing” – Looking back at 20 years of Hellboy

pIt’s incredibly difficult to say what exactly made Mike Mignola’s Hellboy such a breakout success when the character first appeared 20 years ago today. In those early appearances, whether in the first issues of the “Seed of Destruction” story arc and in the earlier appearances, it’s the little moments which define the character but there’s so much to unpack, so much richness that it’s somewhat unsurprising to see the character become such a multimedia phenomenon.

Much of the success of Hellboy as a character and as a media franchise are in the details. Physically, there’s no character that looks like him. Hellboy pops off the page, alternatively lithe and burly, with a distinctive color scheme often used in contrast with washed out backgrounds. He’s alien and the other, even moreso than the other bizarre characters in the series. Mignola never shied away from giving these characters a sense of place as well, through consistent visual characterization, such as the otherness of the aquatic Abe Sapien to the mentally and physically scarred Liz Sherman.

Rasputin-HarpoonedWhen Hellboy began appearing on comic shop shelves in the early ’90s, its art style set it so far apart from its competition for good reason. Mignola’s work is heavily inspired by Jack Kirby, the hard chins, defined features and taste for outre alien creatures with inhuman details. It’s a style which has inspired legions, from David Aja’s minimalist designs which character specific details to Francesco Francavilla’s moody and evocative renderings of altered worlds and larger than life personalities.

Part of what made the Hellboy franchise so appealing from the very beginning was an authorial voice that was as distinctive as the art. In a series full of Nazi occultists, soul crushing deals and a consistent, creeping sense of doom, Mignola’s characters are often charming and even funny. Hellboy quips like Spider-Man while smashing like Hulk and the intersection between fairy tales, Lovecraftian horror and good old fashioned dime-store pulp often creates situations which are ripe for a couple of cutting quips. Hellboy-The-Corpse-and-the-Iron-Shoes-01-1996-06The key to the franchise and really the key to any piece of media is the way Hellboy had a true sense of history, even from right out of the gate. From Rasputin’s rebirth in the early part of the century to Hellboy’s summoning in 1944 to constant references to past adventures readers weren’t always privy to, this was a series that felt like it was going on before readers found their way there and one that felt like it was still going to continue to exist after they left. The mysteries of the series, from Hellboy’s lineage and role in the future to Abe’s past and the various adventures and secrets hidden throughout the world, never felt like a gimmick or something reader were waiting to learn about it. It always seemed as if the clues were there, as if someone knew the arcane horrible truths but dared not speak them. It’s an exciting, powerful sort of world-building that’s still rare to see, even in creator owned books.

In an interview with USA Today, Mignola said his goal with Hellboy was just to do an occult detective series, something he’d wanted to do without the trappings of an established universe. What came out of that was so much more and looking back, it’s amazing to see the way the entire franchise grew and expanded building off of a host of secrets and details, both dangerously arcane and wonderfully mundane.

The Second Annual Vulcan Quiche Awards: Part 4

Screen shot 2013-08-30 at 10.39.32 PMI know this is (holy shit) three months into 2014 but at long last, here’s the top 20 series of 2013. This was an intensely contested category and I really had to whittle the list down to the very best of the best of the best. Let’s get into it.

The Next Generations – Awarded to the finest series of pictorials of the year.

Runners UpANXMEN2012013_int_LR-2-3
This was tough. All New X-Men somehow overcame a limited premise, several overly complicated story arcs, a tie-in to the underwhelming “Battle of the Atom” and some rickety character work to be a fantastic look at the X-Men through the ages and a reflection on how the series has changed. The Allred family overcame some rocky plotting by Matt Fraction and fixed FF, making it one of Marvel’s most unique and recognizable books on the market. Bringing Rafael Albuquerque onto Animal Man took it from an impressive title to one of DC’s finest off-key horror books and a consistent source of nightmare imagery and heartwarming scenes of characters fighting for what’s important.

Twentieth PlaceBruce-Banner-in-Indestructible-Hulk-2Indestructible Hulk

Mark Waid is a man who can redefine a character. Focusing on Banner, the jealous, hopelessly petty, intrinsically flawed monster underneath another monster is the focus and like in Waid’s Daredevil, he’s a character who finally wants to change his place in the world. While stories like “Agents of TIME” dragged along, Waid positioned Banner and Hulk as separate, albeit linked, characters looking to change, even when the world and the people they surround themselves with aren’t so sure they’re ready.

Nineteenth PlaceuxmUncanny Avengers

Uncanny Avengers isn’t a perfect book. It’s often barely a good one. What makes this story unique is that it’s always bold, always pushing the envelope, always relentlessly putting the characters in the worst possible position and watching them hopelessly crawl back from the brink. It’s a technique Rick Remender perfected on Uncanny X-Force but it’s given new weight in Uncanny Avengers with a team who can’t afford to let its secrets stay locked away. Each issue is an event, a talking point, an upcoming Twitter firestorm and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Eighteenth PlaceScreen-Shot-2013-10-05-at-8.33.07-PMStar Wars

If there’s a better introduction to the Expanded Universe than Brian Wood’s Star Wars, I don’t know what it is. Taking the familiar bits of the canon and slowly bringing in the looser character relationships, motivations and world building, Star Wars is a master class in how to make a licensed book work for diehard fans and newcomers alike. Evocative, recognizable and classically nostalgic, it’s a book that makes a galaxy far far away feel never more reachable.

Seventeenth Placehooded-figure-green-lanternGreen Lantern

After years of guidance and hundreds of issues of wonderfully realized worlds, Geoff Johns handed over the franchise he resurrected in a single issue of Green Lantern. While Robert Venditti has done a commendable job moving the series forward and keeping the book a must-read, Johns’ deliberate, wonderfully realized moments between Hal Jordan and Sinestro in Green Lantern #20 made this book an instant classic and cemented his place in the Corps’ history.

Sixteenth PlaceNova's_lifeNova

Casting off years of complicated backstories and Marvel’s often arcane space baggage paid off by bringing Sam Alexander home in Nova. A wonderfully realized, empathetic and true portrait of growing up young, poor and without much guidance, Sam is the perfect character to try to fight for what he believes is a galaxy worth saving and his attempts to right intergalactic wrongs are touching, bold, attention grabbing and often hilarious. Nova often achieves the impossible, being a well written, fun and passionate book, as well suited for first time readers as Marvel junkies alike.

Fifteenth PlaceScreen Shot 2013-08-23 at 12.41.31 PMWonder Woman

A rare example of a writer and artists’ voices defining a DC character, Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang’s take on Wonder Woman is the boldest book by a traditionally conservative publisher and the results are often stunning. Focusing on Diana’s twisted family dynamics and her attempts at creating a more stable home, Wonder Woman is a deeply human story on the way we reflect and deny the families who define us.

Fourteenth PlacesagaSaga

Last year’s winner, Saga continues to be one of the biggest success stories in independent comics and one of the best examples of the diversity of stories the medium can tell. A “Pulp Fiction”-esque storytelling device brought all the characters together in 2013, letting them bounce off each other and haunt their actions until only love can define them. Saga continues to be an electrifying read and the wait for the next issue is always far too painful.

Thirteenth Placebatman-242Batman

In 2013’s Batman #21, an unmasked Bruce Wayne raises a youthful middle finger to the man who will one day be his archenemy. It’s a defiant wonderful moment but it might as well be Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo flipping off the established canon. “Year Zero” has been a wonderfully realized, exuberant and fresh take on the early days of Batman, both respectful to Frank Miller’s “Year One,” and willing to critique, prod and kill its idols. Snyder’s Batman is everything the New 52 should be: fresh, respectful, modern, hip and unbelievably ready to slash and burn.

Twelfth Placeku-xlargeHawkeye

Matt Fraction and his stable of artists went bigger, more ambitious and infinitely more complicated in their second year of Hawkeye and that’s why it’s on the list but also why it’s not higher up. While the investigation into Gil’s death, Kate’s trip to California and the return of Barney were all great character driven beats, an inconsistent shipping schedule, missed deadlines and switching publication orders left fans wanting more and not in the most friendly way imaginable.

Eleventh Placegg1Guardians of the Galaxy

Brian Michael Bendis skills are all in display in his revamp of Guardians of the Galaxy, his whip smart dialogue, wonderful characterizations, fight choreography and gripping story telling. Like Nova, Bendis built on the past without being enslaved by it and made the Guardians more than just a team of space pirates but a group of heroes like no one else in the Marvel Universe.

Tenth Placeaaron-02Wolverine and the X-Men

What defines the X-Men? Is it their deep history, their very recognizable and personal struggles, their complicated romantic lives or the ongoing stories which define a race and people? Jason Aaron’s Wolverine and the X-Men takes all of those disparate bits and brings them together into a single cohesive package. Wolverine and the X-Men is the perfect look at why the X-Men work as a franchise and despite some missteps (I don’t think anyone will look back favorably on the Frankenstein’s Murder Circus arc), it’s a stunning, beautiful book, always ready to surprise and remind readers why they’ve invested so much in these characters and this world.

Ninth PlaceAstro-City_1_PanelAstro City

The return of Kurt Busiek’s Astro City is more than just the return of a series which redefined comics. It’s the culmination of all the ways the medium has grown and changed since the series went on hiatus in 2009. Astro City is a wonderful reminder of how a deconstruction of  comics can work, not stripping down and destroying the characters and world but celebrating the way the medium works and how people exist within it.

Eighth Placetumblr_mtyn4dOw4m1qj97xmo1_1280Fatale
In the wake of murder and madness at the end of Fatale #10, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips had a chance to go bigger and broader with their tale of Jo and the monsters who pursue and they made a splash in a huge way. Going back through the past and ending the year in the ’90s Seattle Grunge scene gave the title the same amount of freedom and energy Jo has found. It’s a book mercilessly in command of the story and characters it slowly unravels, pushing Jo and the Bishop closer and closer together into what is sure to be an Earth shaking conclusion in the final year of Fatale.

Seventh Placenew-avengers4-strangeNew Avengers

One of the masterstrokes of Marvel’s soft relaunch has been the company’s decision to pay attention to the past without being beholden to it. In New Avengers, past relationships haunt a team of Earth’s most brilliant minds and the odds the group is up against weigh heavy on their hearts. While dealing with the extraplanar incursions is the narrative thrust of the series, Jonathan Hickman’s writing is sharpest when delving into the minds and motives of his characters. Black Panther and Namor’s tense declaration of war, Reed Richards tentative, inquisitive interrogations of the unknowable Black Swan and Stephen Strange’s slow descent into a power he doesn’t know if he can control create a perfect mix of internal and external tension. These are characters with a history and presence in the Marvel Universe and by pushing them against a threat they don’t understand and have never faced has let all of what makes them icons shine.

Sixth Placemanhattanproj-13-review-9_copyManhattan Projects

In Manhattan Projects, absolute power doesn’t corrupt absolutely, the illusion of absolute power corrupts everyone absolutely. As the team secures its place as the defacto leaders of Earth’s future by killing, bribing and dominating anyone who stands against them, their reach finally extends their grasp. It’s just a matter of time until every unleashed horror collapses in on this team of opportunistic scientific schemers and their grand plans and grander delusions make every issue a tragic, stunning, revolting must-read.

Fifth PlaceincBatman Incorporated

Everything ends and everything begins again. It’s a maxim Grant Morrison has often repeated in his mainstream comics but it’s never been so vivid, so dark and so wonderfully daring than in the conclusion of Batman Incorporated. It takes a ruined Gotham, the death of his son and a final battle with the only woman who could have stopped him to take Batman and Bruce Wayne from a child fighting for the wrongs his parents suffered to a father fighting for the children he’s losing and it’s pulled off with aplomb. Morrison’s operatic conclusion to his years of Batman stories is a perfect end to one of the best DC stories of all time and like the ever-present serpent eating its own tale, the last moments of Batman Incorporated show a future for Bruce Wayne that will only begin again, eternally and forever.

Fourth PlaceScreen-Shot-2014-01-26-at-2.52.42-PMEast of West

Every issue of Jonathan Hickman’s masterpiece in progress, East of West, contains the same line: “We did this to ourselves.” East of West is singularly focused on an apocalypse of our own making, a far flung, splintered dystopia not so different from the world we live in. The end of the world isn’t an act of God, despite the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, it’s an act of very mortal hubris, of greed, blind faith, betrayal and xenophobia and between layers of post-modern myth, biblical apocrypha and buckets of blood, it’s a strangely prescient warning of the doom and divisions we still blindly build for ourselves.

Third PlaceBoomerang07The Superior Foes of Spider-Man

Failure is very, very funny. I guess let’s back up from there. Failure is only funny if it’s backed with delusion, if a person only believes they can’t possibly fail or doesn’t even recognize their failures as such. Fred Meyers doesn’t think he can fail. He’s created a new Sinister Six (with only five members), broken his friends out of police custody (which he put them in), killed the traitor in his organization (actually, that didn’t really work out) and planned a daring heist against one of the most dangerous men in New York (under false pretenses). He’s falling apart at the seams and doesn’t even seem to realize it and the rest of his team of narcissists, functioning alcoholics and has-beens are always taking falls and hits they don’t quite deserve. It’s a series which could fall into tragic melodrama just as easily as it lands its humor and that’s what makes The Superior Foes of Spider-Man so special.

Second PlaceXML2X-Men Legacy

X-Men Legacy is indefinable. It’s neither superhero comic nor deconstruction, neither celebration nor character study. It’s something in between but also separated from. Through David Haller, the man once known as Legion, Si Spurrier and a host of artists have examined the nature of heroism with a character who would reject that label. X-Men Legacy is supremely confident in the story it’s telling, one with both world spanning and very personal consequences and stakes and that care shows in every moment. This is an opening statement from Spurrier and a cult classic in waiting, a wonderful story about what being a hero means and the sacrifices and choices that need to be made to get there.

First Placedaredevil_30_panelDaredevil

“Try the red one.” Spoken by the super-sensitive ninja, Ikari in Daredevil #25, it’s a line that walks the balance of horror and humor, of weakness and strength, desperation and victory. It’s the line that made me fall hard for Mark Waid’s Daredevil. Focused on giving Matt Murdock a chance to escape the sadness, death and desperation which has embodied the character since Frank Miller’s turn at the helm, Waid gave his characters a chance to be more than the sum of their parts. Murdock isn’t just a hero when he puts on the suit. He’s a hero when he sits in a cancer ward, a hero when he tries to rebuild his personal life, a hero everytime he reaches out to someone in need. No longer is Matt Murdock defined by tragedy, he’s defined by how he averts it, how he shapes his life and the lives around him with passion, zeal and a never-say-die attitude. Neither indebted to the past nor embarrassed by it, Daredevil soars by letting a character take control and make a difference, or at least let him try. 

The Second Annual Vulcan Quiche Awards: Part 3

Sandman_014In between the big issues, the massive story arcs and the character defining changes, there are the spaces in between. These are the little moments, the panels, the moments of dialogue, the spreads that stay for years. This is a celebration of those moments.

The Prepare to Fire – Awarded to standout single page, double page spreads or panels in comics.

Runners Updo-dogs-dream-of-sheepdogsManhattan Projects #14 nearly made the list for a final moment when only Laika, the semi-sentient dog astronaut sees the horror the team has wrought. Black Panther and Namor’s tense declarations of war in New Avengers #7 shows the potency of a team of characters with a longstanding history. Thor’s first strike against the Builders in Infinity #4 almost placed with a legitimately riling kill that shows the strength the Galactic Council was bringing to the war.

Fifth Placethor_-_god_of_thunder_009-005The Battle Begins – Thor God of Thunder #9

As the war between the Thors and Gorr the Godslayer began, Esad Ribic redefined what a splash page should be with a deeply evocative moment defining the power of its protagonists and the forces they’re arrayed against. It’s among the best splash pages since Walt Simonson’s work on Thor and a standout moment from a great story arc.

Fourth Place2rcpglz.jpg“You will always be my friend” – Green Lantern #20

Geoff Johns’ transformation of Sinestro, from domineering would be conqueror out to make sure Hal Jordan stayed dead, to sympathetic, deeply conflicted Green Lantern, to a somewhat unwilling host of Parallax is what made Green Lantern #20 such a triumph. Watching the final crushing battle between Hal and Sinestro shows the deep, rich characterization of two people trying their best to be heroes and their few differences end up defining and separating them in Johns’ landmark final issue.

Third Placebr18_1“Love and respect” – Batman and Robin #18

In a notably passionate silent issue, Bruce Wayne and Alfred try to deal with the death of Damian after his murder. While Bruce delves deeper and deeper into his war on crime, Alfred silently views the legacy he hoped for slowly be erased. All those simmering, contradictory emotions brutally rise to the top as Bruce reads Damian’s last letter and screams in pain and rage for a child who even in defiance, offered him his only chance for hope.

Second PlaceSuperiorFoes4-p13“Total Heisenberg Moment” – Superior Foes of Spider-Man #4

It’s no surprise Fred Meyers would see himself as Breaking Bad’s self-mythologizing sociopath but his moment breaking the rest of his team from the back of a prison transport shows off exactly why he’s earned that honor. Fred’s a hyperbolic, narcissistic social climber and his one moment of unmitigated heroism is something worth remembering.

And the winner is…xmenlegacy20658“Gestalt” – X-Men Legacy #20

I’ve written extensively on this incredible issue but the single image of David, passionately embraced by his first power is a beautiful moment for a damaged hero and shows the power and self control he’s finally been able to seize.

Coming Up: We’re getting close to the top awards but it’s time to pick out the best series of the year. It’s going to be tough but get ready to see if your favorite makes the list.