Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 4/29

Avengers #44
Story:  Jonathan Hickman
Art: Stefano Caselli, Kev Walker and Frank Martin

New Avengers #33
Story: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Mike Deodato and Frank Martin

Congratulations, Jonathan Hickman, you did it. You blew up the Earth, on my birthday no less. Now I know how Molly Ringwald felt.

Hickman’s long-game multiverse-smushing saga comes full circle in his final issues of Avengers and New Avengers, in an everything bagel of a plot that involves the main and Ultimate Marvel universes colliding into (and waging war on) each other, the Beyonders as the architects of destruction, Dr. Doom as the god of a doomsday cult, Molecule Man (hey, comics geezers, remember this guy?) serving as a multiversal martyr, Marvel’s top minds fleeing Earth to rebuild it, Thanos playing one world off another, President Obama not understanding what’s going on and more.

But before the world ends, let’s watch Steve Rogers and Tony Stark play Civil War one last time. In the last minutes of pre-Secret Wars 616 Earth, the elderly Rogers, wearing a suit of armor, assaults post-Axis Jerkface Stark, realizing Tony had known since the current volume of Avengers began that their Earth’s destruction was imminent and there was nothing he or anyone could do about it (which seems not to gibe with the whole “I believe in the future” message of Kieron Gillen’s first arc on Iron Man, which ran concurrently). So he essentially tricked Steve into remodeling the Avengers and sending them running around in circles to busy themselves, hoping they wouldn’t notice. Circle imagery has been a hit-you-over-the-head big part of Hickman’s run, right down to the character lineup pages in the front of each issue. The final issue of Avengers also includes multiple flashbacks to the first issue, juxtaposing Steve and Tony building the “Avengers Machine” with Old Steve and Jerkface Tony just beating the snot out of each other because it’s all they can do as the world burns.

Meanwhile, in New Avengers, the bad guys are trying just as hard as the good guys to salvage Earth, for what good is a shattered world that Doom cannot rule? (Read that in your Dr. Doom voice. It’ll feel good, trust me.) The Beyonders, the cosmic beings whose existence date to the original Secret Wars in 1984, apparently set up retired supervillain Molecule Man as a bomb in every reality, so Doom has been dimension-hopping, seeking out each world’s MM and killing him, and amassing followers called Black Swans to speed the process along (and worship him, because why not?). The Beyonders, of course, saw all this coming, so the issue ends with Doom realizing his own hubris was once again used against him, with the punishment being the destruction of Earth.

There’s also a ton of B-plot to unpack, which frankly, if you haven’t been reading either or both books and the past years’ events, you’re gonna be left scratching your head about. The recap pages are like recap scenes before a TV show: If you have no context for them, you don’t know why they’re the on the Island, let alone what the significance of the Hatch is. But the important thing to know is this is the end for both books. Now, there is only Secret Wars.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Free Comic Book Day 2015: Matt's Picks of this Year's Free Comics

Comics are great. Free stuff is great. So any day where you can get free comics has to be super great right? Right! Yes, this Saturday, May 2nd, is Free Comic Book Day, the day where most retailers give out select books to their loving customers. My shop, Dewey's Comic City in Madison, NJ, does it to the nines, and if you click the link, you'll see the list of all that stuff, including a costume contest, artist's alley, face painting, and goody bags. Plus, you know, the free comics you expect. I would also be remiss to not mention that if you are more southerly in Jersey, and have enjoyed the writing of Matt Signal contributor Dan Grote, he'll be at Level Up Entertainment selling and signing copies of his new novel, Magic Pier, as part of their festivities. I will be travelling to a wedding that day, and so am going to be investigating new and different shops along the way on the busiest comic book shop day of the year, so I can only imagine what an adventure that will be.

Now for my annual plea. FCBD takes a lot of time, effort, and money from retailers (Yes, the books are free to you, and they're cheap to retailers, but they're still spending a lot of money when you think of the volume of books they're buying and all the various marketing and publicity, staffing, and the like). So be nice to your retailer on this day. Maybe buy something else. Or just be patient and courteous. And try something new! If you love Avengers, sure pick up All New, All Different Avengers, but also maybe try the Dark Circle book from Archie. And if you're into Kodansha Comics Sampler of manga titles, maybe you want to try something from one of the big American publishers. The price is right to try something new and different.

Now, it's time to pick some of my favorites of the year. Check out what I think you should be reading this Free Comic Book Day. I'll give you a rundown of the contents and then the recommended age group for the book along the way.

All Ages: Avatar/Plants Vs. Zombies/Bandette

Dark Horse Comics has usually done antholgies for their two free comics, each containing stories from their popular franchises. With the loss of Star Wars from their stable, this has opened up spots for some different properties. Avatar: The Last Airbender is a FCBD staple for Dark Horse, and this year's story is a fun tale of Toph and Ty Lee, two characters who didn't share a lot of screen time, teaming up at the circus and getting a better idea of Ty Lee's family, something mentioned only briefly on the show. I've never played the game or read the comic Plants Vs. Zombies, but this story gives you everything you need to know and if funny. Bandette is Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover's series about the world's greatest thief, a costumed teen who in this story is planning to break into an exclusive movie showing where a legendary emerald once owned by the documentary's subject on display for a caper that has an unexpected result. It introduces you to Bandette and her supporting cast, and is one of the most smile inducing stories in any of this year's books; this has moved the two volumes of Bandette I recently purchased to the top of my read pile. This is an all ages comic

Fight Club 2/ The Goon/ The Strain

The headline of the other book from Dark Horse this year is what I think is a preview of the first few pages of Chuck Palahniuk and Cameron Stewart's graphic novel sequel to Palahniuk's famous novel, Fight Club. If you're only familiar with David Fincher's admittedly phenomenal adaptation of the book, this is a good place to start, as it is clearly a sequel to the book, not the film, as it adapts the ending of the novel. Cameron Stewart does an impressive job making the characters recognizable if you know the film but not making them photorealisitic versions of their movie counterparts; these are similar characters but not the same, and so they won't be Edward Norton and Brad Pitt. The Strain story is a horror short involving a vampire hunting a lost book; solid storytelling and art, but as I have little frame of reference for the characters, I can only comment on it technically. The story from Eric Powell's monster/gangster/comedy mash-up, The Goon, is a perfect introduction to the particularly bizarre world of the Goon and his pal, Frankie. It's both laugh out loud funny and filled with vampires and peril. If you've ever enjoyed Shaun of the Dead, John Dies at the End, or similar horror-comedies, you'd love The Goon, and this is a great place to check it out. This is a book geared towards adults.

Comics Festival 2015!

The comic produced by the people behind the Toronto Comics Festival, this is an anthology of short strips by Canadian and international creators. It's got some shorts from some big name cartoonists and creators, and they're all interesting and not what most of the mainstream think of when comics jump to mind. There's comedy, like Mariko Tamaki & Gillian Goerz's "The Boss" about what it's like to work for a unicorn and Kate Beaton's "Lady's Favor." There's "IRL: CON/GAME: You can't cheat an honest man," from Cory Doctorow & Jen Wang, a classic con story, but set around and inside an MMORPG. "Once Upon a Pony," from Svetlana Chmkova is a story about art and friendship. And "Superhero Girl: The Death of Kevin," by Faith Erin Hicks, takes her character Superhero Girl, and plays with a classic comic book trope in a real world setting. These stories and other are in here, and at the back of the comic you can find recommendations for each creator if you liked a particular story. I'd recommend this book to any age, but I'd say you might want to go with a ten and up crowd.

Gronk/ Hero Cats

Action Lab is a company that has spent the past few years publishing some of the best all ages comics on the market. While this year's FCBD issue doesn't feature the flagship of that line, Princeless, it features two other charming all ages titles. The story from Katie Cook's Gronk: A Monster's Story has Gronk telling the story of her time out in the woods living with the other monsters, so it's sort of an origin story for the adorable green monster. The Hero Cats piece are excerpts from two different issues of the series that give new readers a good sense of the different cats who populate the book and the world around them. This is an all ages book.

Help the CBLDF Defend Comics!

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, the first amendment charity that helps defend free speech, is a favorite non-profit of mine, and this year's anthology from them features some strong pieces all with the theme of freedom of expression. "The Green Turtle Fights for Free Speech," from Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew, spins out of their excellent graphic novel, The Shadow Hero, and features golden age hero Green Turtle in a story about a kid and a mob who wants to take and burn comics; it's nowhere near as didactic as that description makes it sound and is both fun and puts forth it's message well. Archie Comics provides "Read Between the Lines," by Dan Parent, a story of Kevin Keller, Riverdale's most recent favored son, an out gay teen, and his attempt, with the help of the CBLDF, to keep a graphic novel that features his story from being banned from the library. I consider this an all ages book, and frankly, anyone who is going to support an organization like the CBLDF would probably think along the same lines.

The Phantom

This one made the list for an unexpected reason for me. This is a collection of vintage Phantom stories from Hermes Press, and while I like the Phantom well enough as a character, it wasn't on my radar. But one of the stories is a fourteen page story drawn by Jim Aparo. If you don't know who Aparo is, he is one of the greatest Batman artists of all time, in my top three easily, and to see him drawing one of Batman's great forebears is a treat. This is appropriate for readers 10 and up.


Instead of going the one story route as they have in previous years, DC Comics went with the short story path this year, featuring three teasers for their big May soft relaunch. The three books that have shorts here are probably DC's three highest profiles comics: Batman, Superman, and Justice League. And despite these changes being spoiled in various places on the internet, I'm not going to do that. I will say that the Batman story introduces the man under the new Bat Armor, who may or may not be a familiar face, as well as taking an aspect of Batman Beyond and making it DCU continuity. The Superman story drops you into a world where a major change has happened to Superman. And the Justice League story pays off a long dangling plot thread from earlier in the new DC Comics continuity. The stories are new reader friendly, and feature many of DC's A-List creators, including Geoff Johns, John Romita Jr., and the Batman team of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo, and rising stars like Gene Luen Yang (who wrote three of this year's recommendations, between Superman here, Avatar for Dark Horse, and Green Turtle for the CBLDF). This book is a teen and up.

Secret Wars #0

While DC previews the future, Marvel goes the other way and recaps the recent past. Narrated by Reed Richards and Sue Storm's super genius daughter Valeria, readers get a rundown of all the events that have led up to Marvels' new Secret Wars, which debuts this coming Wednesday.It's big, splashy fun, with every hero in the Marvel Universe somewhere in there, and we get to see writer Jonathan Hickman write the kids of the Future Foundation again, many of whom he created in his run on Fantastic Four. It's a great way to get new readers up to speed for the new event. The second story in this issue is a "Attack on Avengers" an eight page crossover featuring the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy fighting the giant Titans from the hit anime Attack on Titan. It works if you're familiar with one or both franchises. This book is teen and up.

Bodie Troll and Friends

Ok, I'm going to be up front here: I haven't read this issue. Due to the workings of Diamond (the distributor for all comic shops), if your FCBD shipments are short anything, you won't receive them in time for the actual day, so usually you just get credited for those books and don't receive them. And we were missing a few BOXES this year, meaning not only were we short some quantities of some books, we were completely shorted three titles, including this one. Red 5 has historically been home to the annual Atomic Robo Free Comic Book Day Story, but now that Robo is digital first, this issue instead headlines Bodie Troll, the troll who is too cute to be scary. I love this comic, and with a new mini-series starting on Wednesday, this is a great way to meet Bodie. And if any of you Matt Signal faithful happen to come across a copy of this at your local shop on FCBD, and would be able to grab one for a fan, contact me at mattsignalblog@gmail.com. I would happily pay to ship a copy, or trade you something. Save me from the ravages of e-Bay, my friends! This is an all ages title.

Atomic Robo

But wait, I just said there would be no Atomic Robo comic on FCBD, didn't I? Well. I said there would be no print one. Atomic Robo is a FCBD staple, with a new issue each year, many featuring the delightfully deranged Dr. Dinosaur. Well, I'm part of the Tesladyne Patreon, helping support more Robo, and I have it on good authority if you head over to Atomic Robo.com tomorrow, you might be pleasantly surprised in some new content. And if the preview is any indication, this is going to be amazing!

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Fit to Be Tied In: A History of Marvel Crossovers and Events- Part 8: The Leftovers

I’ve largely tried to keep the chapters of this series A) grouped thematically and B) under 1,000 words each. As in life, not everything fits into such neat little boxes. With that in mind, here are some of the events the previous chapters missed.

Acts of Vengeance (1989): It’s the old supervillain switcheroo. A group of Loki-led nasties (Dr. Doom, Magneto, the Red Skull, the Kingpin, the Mandarin, and the Wizard) decides the best way to thwart their enemies is to change dance partners. And so you have Spider-Man fighting a giant mutant-hunting Tri-Sentinel, and Rusty and Skids from the New Mutants fighting perennial Spider-baddie the Vulture. The plot, of course, fails, mostly because the villains can’t stop fighting each other, to the point where Loki ends up imprisoning the Kingpin, the Wizard, and the Mandarin. Most importantly, we get a story in Uncanny X-Men about Psylocke being transformed into an Asian, bathing-suit clad ninja programmed to serve regular Iron Man enemy the Mandarin. This version of Betsy Braddock has largely stuck ever since. “Acts of Vengeance” also gave us the first appearance of the New Warriors superhero team, who would go on to inadvertently cause the Civil War. Fun fact: Among the villains who declined the supervillain team-up was Apocalypse. (Matt's aside: A personal favorite from this event is when Holocaust survivor Magneto slaps around Red Skull's Nazi ass in Captain America #367)

Operation: Galactic Storm (1992): A big Avengers-family crossover that spanned Avengers, Avengers West Coast, Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Wonder Man and Quasar. The Avengers butt into a war between the Shi’ar and the Kree because the conflict is somehow destabilizing Earth’s sun. The story is considered a throwback to the 1970s’ Kree-Skrull War, in which the Avengers also took part, and features a uniting of the two Avengers teams – East and West Coast – and an overall beefing-up of their ranks (Hey, everybody, Gilgamesh is back!). The crossover has a bit of a bummer ending: A Nega Bomb kills billions of Kree, the mastermind of the whole conflict turns out to be the Kree’s Supreme Intelligence and the Shi’ar annex the Kree, leaving Lilandra’s mad sister Deathbird in charge of them.

Maximum Carnage (1993): AKA the crossover that got me reading comics regularly. Carnage – the figurative lovechild of Venom and the Joker – breaks out of prison and goes on a killing spree across New York with his Harley Quinn, a new supervillain called Shriek, and a gang of Spider-villains including the demonic version of the Hobgoblin, Spidey’s Doppelganger from the Infinity War, and Carrion. To stop them, Spider-Man teams up with Venom, Captain America, Iron Fist, Deathlok, Nightwatch, Cloak & Dagger, Morbius, Firestar, and the Black Cat. The villains are finally defeated with the power of love and hope – in the form of a Stark-tech device apparently powered by the Star Sapphires and Blue Lanterns. The Spidey-title crossover went on to inspire a 1994 Super Nintendo/Sega Genesis video game that came in a sweet red cartridge (And shortly after all that, there was “The Clone Saga,” but the less said about that mess the better).

World War Hulk (2007): A few years back, a secret superhero cabal called the Illuminati (Reed Richards, Tony Stark, Charles Xavier, Dr. Strange, Black Panther, Namor, and Black Bolt) decided the Hulk was too much of a threat and blasted him off into space. While away, he overthrew the rulers of the planet Sakaar, took a wife and made a nice little life for himself. Then the ship that took him there exploded and killed his pregnant wife, and Hulk. Was. Pissed. So he makes his way back to Earth with some space friends to get revenge. After all is smashed and done, Hulk is reverted to his Bruce Banner form and arrested. The Incredible Hulk is renamed The Incredible Hercules, following that hero’s adventures with Amadeus Cho. A new series, Skaar, Son of Hulk, follows the adventures of … well, I suppose it’s obvious. And another new series, Hulk, debuts featuring a Red Hulk who is later revealed to be famed Hulk-hater Gen. Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross.

Shadowland (2010): Before Mark Waid could relaunch Daredevil into one of Marvel’s best books, the character had to be completely run into the ground. And how better to do that than turning him into a demon-possessed ninja lord in a sprawling crossover with the company’s other street-level heroes? In addition to the main series by Andy Diggle and Billy Tan, Shadowland sucked in Spider-Man, the Heroes for Hire, Daughters of the Dragon, Punisher, Wolverine, Moon Knight, Ghost Rider, Black Panther, the Thunderbolts, Shang-Chi, White Tiger, the Night Nurse, and Elektra. Even the Kingpin appears to team up with the heroes in an attempt to stop Matt Murdock and the Hand from destroying New York. Among the series’ repercussions, Daredevil kills Bullseye (Don’t worry, he gets better); Daredevil kills himself (he gets better AND gets a new series); a new Power Man is introduced who looks like the one from Disney XD’s Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon; and the Black Panther, who has an entire country to deal with, takes over patrolling Hell’s Kitchen.

Spider-Verse (2014): A reality-hopping, Spidey-chomping, vampirish character named Morlun and his kin, the Inheritors, seek to wipe out every Spider-Man ever, until they all team up to stop them. We’re talking Peter Parker, Miles Morales, Spider-Woman, “Mayday” Parker aka Spider-Girl, Peter Porker the Spectacular Spider-Ham, Spidey 2099, Ock-Spidey, the Scarlet Spider, Gwen Stacy (whaaaa?), Uncle Ben (whaaaaaaaaa?), et al. Many Spiders die, but many Spiders also live, and some even get their own ongoing series, such as Silk, an Asian-American woman who was bit by the same spider that bit Parker; and new fan-favorite Spider-Gwen, a Gwen Stacy from a reality where she got bit and Peter Parker became the Lizard and died.

So there you have it. It’s not every crossover ever, but hopefully this series gave you more than enough background headed into Secret Wars, which if we’ve timed these right, should be starting nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnow. Happy reading!

Dan Grote’s new novel, Magic Pier, is available however you get your books online. He has been writing for The Matt Signal since 2014. He and Matt have been friends since the days when making it to issue 25 guaranteed you a foil cover.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Fit to Be Tied In: A History of Marvel Crossovers and Events- Part 7: All-New Crossovers NOW!

Avengers Vs. X-Men brought about a mass renumbering and creator roulette known as Marvel NOW, heralding a new era in which the original five X-Men from the ’60s were pulled to the present, the Avengers expanded to deal with the just-simmering end of the universe, Dr. Octopus went gallivanting around in Peter Parker’s body, and Daredevil and Hawkeye became two of the Best Books Ever.

The first big event of the NOW era was Age of Ultron, a 10-part series by Brian Michael Bendis with art by Bryan Hitch, Brandon Peterson, Carlos Pacheco, Butch Guice, Alex Maleev, David Marquez and Joe Quesada.

Ultron opens in media res, with the killer robot already having won and platoons of Ultron Sentinels prowling the streets looking for the remaining heroes. Time-travel hijinks ensue. A common theme of the Marvel NOW era is how Earth’s heroes keep screwing up the timestream with their shenanigans, vis a vis their actions in Ultron (Wolverine and the Invisible Woman travel back in time to kill Hank Pym before he creates Ultron, creating an alternate reality in which Earth is a casualty of the Kree-Skrull War, necessitating even more time travel), Beast pulling the ’60s X-Men to Earth, Kang being himself, etc.

Among its effects, Age of Ultron brought Angela – a character Neil Gaiman created for Image – into the Marvel Universe (and made her Odin’s secret daughter from a heretofore unseen 10th realm), Galactus was shipped to the Ultimate Universe and the company launched Avengers A.I., a book about Hank Pym and a bunch of android characters, which lasted 12 issues.

Marvel has been scheduling two events a year for most of the NOW era, so later in 2013 we got Infinity, written by Jonathan Hickman (also the architect of the upcoming Secret Wars) and drawn by Jim Cheung, Jerome Opena and Dustin Weaver.

“Infinity” at Marvel has always implied a universe-spanning cosmic adventure, and so we get the mad titan Thanos attacking Earth while the Avengers are away in space trying to fight the Builders, a race of aliens introduced in Hickman’s first Avengers arc. Part of the storyline involves Hickman’s ongoing series of incursions – the collisions of Earths across the multiverse, which is how the upcoming Secret Wars will start.

Thanos and the Inhuman king Black Bolt wail on each other pretty hard, as BB tries to prevent Thanos from finding his Inhuman-descended son, Thane. In the process, Thanos sets off a Terrigen Bomb, creating more Inhumans, including the new Ms. Marvel. Among the event’s other effects, a new volume of Mighty Avengers launched, starring Luke Cage and a group of other street-level heroes (Monica Rambeau, Blade, Spider-Man, etc.), who were left behind on Earth during Infinity.

The next event is a murder-mystery. Original Sin, by Jason Aaron and Mike Deodato, centers on the death of Uatu the Watcher and the theft of his eyes, which have dirt on everyone. Teams of investigators scour here, there and everywhere to determine who may have killed him. One of the eyes is in the possession of the Orb, an old Ghost Rider villain with a giant eyeball for a head. So that’s appropriate.

Along the way, the heroes also find the real Nick Fury, an old man with a seemingly limitless supply of Life Model Decoys of himself. Original-recipe Fury reveals that, in addition to running SHIELD for decades, he had a secret job protecting Earth from extradimensional threats, which jibes with his underground work during Secret Invasion. He’s also revealed to be the man who murdered Uatu, but ends up becoming his replacement. Bucky Barnes, the Winter Soldier, in turn, replaces Fury as Earth’s guardian against extra-dimensional forces, so who’s gonna have an army of LMDs now?

Sin revealed secrets about a number of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Spider-Man learned someone else had been bitten by the same radioactive spider that bit him, the character Silk, who now has her own series. Tony Stark apparently had tinkered with the gamma bomb that turned Bruce Banner into the Hulk. Angela is revealed as Thor’s half-sister from the Tenth Realm. Dum Dum Dugan, the Howling Commando, learns he died in the 1960s and is, in fact, an LMD.

Oh, and at some point, Fury whispers something in Thor’s ear that makes him unworthy of wielding Mjolnir and being Thor. Hence, new lady Thor.

Finally, we come to Axis, an Avengers/X-Men crossover that wraps up a storyline – the Red Skull stealing Charles Xavier’s brain – that Rick Remender launched in his Uncanny Avengers title. Remender wrote Axis with art by Adam Kubert, Leinil Francis Yu, Terry Dodson and Jim Cheung.

The Red Skull has taken over Genosha – Magneto’s former mutant haven – and turned it into a concentration camp and base for broadcasting a global message of hate. Magneto is predictably pissed and confronts the Skull, who turns into a being called Red Onslaught.

Doctor Doom and the Scarlet Witch cast an “inversion spell,” intended to bring out the Xavier aspect of the Red Onslaught’s mind. The spell casts a wider net, however, and suddenly guys like Carnage, the Hobgoblin and Sabretooth are acting like heroes, Tony Stark is being a huge jerk (and is drinking again), Deadpool is a pacifist and the X-Men have pledged their loyalty to Apocalypse. Eventually, a reinversion spell is cast, returning most of the heroes and villains to their normal selves, with Stark among the few exceptions.

Oh, and at some point, it’s revealed that Magneto is not the biological father of Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch. Because movie rights stuff, I assume.

Among the new series spun out of Axis were Superior Iron Man, about the new, jerkier Stark; a new volume of Uncanny Avengers starring Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, and Wolverines, which features an inverted Sabretooth among other characters directly affected by the death of Wolverine.

That brings us to the present, mere days from the start of Secret Wars. But wait, there’s more! Check back later this week for a bonus installment, featuring a few of the crossovers we overlooked.

Dan Grote’s new novel, Magic Pier, is available however you get your books online. He has been writing for The Matt Signal since 2014. He and Matt have been friends since the days when making it to issue 25 guaranteed you a foil cover.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 4/22

Beyond Belief #1
Story: Ben Acker & Ben Blacker
Art: Phil Hester

Who cares what evil lurks in the hearts of men? Me for one, if that evil is spooooky and being investigated by Frank and Sadie Doyle in the pages of Image Comics second series based off the wonderful Thrilling Adventure Hour, Beyond Belief. Beyond Belief is my favorite segment of TAH, starring Paul F Tompkins and Paget Brewster as everyone's favorite married mediums, the Doyles, and as with the other TAH comic, Sparks Nevada, this takes place before the events of the podcast, so no prior knowledge is needed. You get to meet the Doyles, bon vivants and alcohol aficionados, who love nothing more than booze and each other. But their bliss is interrupted when Sadie's best friend, Donna, calls to ask for the Doyles' help, as the house she just bought is haunted. For those who know their TAH, Donna will one day be Donna Henderson, vampire and wife of werewolf Dave Henderson, and mother to the beast of the Apocalypse. But right now, she's just Donna Donner, new homeowner. The Doyles enter the haunted house to find a room full of creepy dolls, ancient spectres, and the ghosts of Mary Ellen Capp and her dead husband, Ted. With the story written by TAH creators Ben Acker and Ben Blacker it's not surprising that the dialogue is spot on; I can hear the actors reading the dialogue in my head. It's funny and with just a hint of creepy, especially the flying evil dolls. Phil Hester does a great job, not just capturing the horror, but also the essence of the Doyles. Frank and Sadie look dapper, dashing, and just a tad drunk, which is the ideal for the Doyles. And as a bonus, this issue also contains the digital first Beyond Belief #0 from the same creative team that tells the story of how Frank and Sadie met! If you've never tried Thrilling Adventure Hour, and like horror and comedy, this is the book to try, and if you're already a fan, well, you know what's in here, so get out and pick it up.

Empire: Uprising #1
Story: Mark Waid
Art: Barry Kitson

I love that no project is ever completely dead in comics is the creators have the passion and the rights (yeah, that last one is a little more problematic, but still...). It's how John Ostrander can return to Grimjack after a decade plus away, how I still hold out hope for Mage: The Hero Denied from Matt Wagner, and how we can get a new Empire story a decade after the last. I've been reading Empire through all of its incarnations, the two issues through Image and then the six from DC, so its new life at IDW is exciting. Empire is the story of a world conquered by Golgoth, a supervillain, and the workings of his inner court; it's like Game of Thrones with supervillains. This issue picks up a year after the end of the last issue, and the reader gets a primer on what has gone before from a schoolteacher talking to her class about world history; we hear her sanitized version of history along with panels showing exactly what Golgoth did to bring about his utopia, which is a nice touch. It's the anniversary of the death of Golgoth's daughter, Princess Delfi, and the world will have a moment of silence. And we quickly see that moment of silence is enforced with lethal force for anyone who breaks it. It's chilling to see that there's no real heart in Golgoth. This isn't the villain who has some kernel of good in him; he's a monster. He is also ridiculously powerful, which is evident as he slaughters a group of resistance fighters who attack during the moment of silence. Attacking in masks of Delfi is creepy enough, but as they cry out "Daddy!" in combat, well. brrrrrr. With the soldiers put down, we see various members of Golgoth's inner circle, and get a feeling for those who surround him. And we see Golgoth change his mind, something that does not go unnoticed by the various villains who serve him. Predators always sense weakness after all. It's a strong set-up for the return to this dystopia, and I'm looking forward to heading back in and seeing exactly who is trying to overthrow Golgoth and what their plans are.

Velvet #10
Story: Ed Brubaker
Art: Steve Epting

One of the numerous impressive things about Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting's spy thriller, Velvet, is the way they balance action and plot.Over the course of this arc, Velvet Templeton, on the run from her own agency, ARC-7, has been attempting to find a traitor, and done some things along the way that would indicate to an outside observer she is the traitor, including freeing imprisoned traitor Damian Lake. Well, Damian escaped at the end of last issue, and now Velvet, on a train, is confronted by French authorities. This sets off an issue that is full of intense action, with a fight and flight on the train, through the woods, and to a farmhouse. Epting is at his best in this issue, drawing Velvet making her way through and on top of the train, diving off it, and fighting gendarmes and dogs hunting her through the woods. Brubaker gets to do some nice character work during the chase, especially as Velvet has to fight a dog and does so with reluctance. But as we get to the end of the chase, we see that Damian sold her out to the local ARC-7 office, and we meet the next of our potential traitors, local chief Jean Bellanger. But Damian is up to tricks, and a captured Velvet doesn't remain so as Damian's plan unfolds. The final pages, both Velvet's final scene and the epilogue, set all the gears that have been moving slowly into full speed. There is blood and bodies, and a power vacuum left at issue's end that will need to be filled, and whoever does it is going to want Velvet. It's a nail biter of an ending, one I absolutely didn't see coming and left my jaw on the floor. Velvet is the best spy comic I think I've ever read, adding a modern tilt to the classic James Bond formula. This issue marks the end of the second arc, so it's a perfect time to catch up before the third act begins.

And Dan Grote looks at this week's most talked about comic...

All-New X-Men #40
Story: Brian Michael Bendis
Art: Mahmud Asrar and Rain Beredo

X-Men post-crossover issues are often some of the franchise’s best moments, a chance for creative teams to mold memorable character beats, like Jean Grey proposing to Scott Summers or Jubilee teaching Professor X how to rollerblade. Frankly, I’d be weirded out if Brian Michael Bendis, who wrote many a breakfast scene during his run on the Avengers, couldn’t hack that.

Cards on the table: As someone who has been reading X-comics for more than 20 years, I have no problem whatsoever with Iceman being gay. Let’s be honest, the original five X-Men – five white kids, one of whom was “the girl” – were the Blandest Teens of All. Stan and Jack couldn’t even bother to write origin stories for them; they were just born with powers. Having one of them turn out to be gay at least adds a little spice to the mix. And it’s not like Chuck Austen didn’t toy with the idea during his run on Uncanny, much maligned as it is. And how many stories have there been in which somebody accused Bobby Drake of holding back? Perhaps that wasn’t just about his powers. I guess my only REAL question is: Whatever happened to Opal Tanaka?

I know some have raised issues about the WAY the reveal occurred, with Jean being telepathically invasive and the sort of heteronormative idea that gay people need to “out” themselves whereas straights can just be. I won’t pretend to be an expert in those things, nor should I, but as to the fact of a longtime character being retconned this way, I’m on board. I also really like Jean’s facial expressions and hand gestures in those panels.

All-New X-Men #40 wasn’t just about Bobby and Jean’s heart-to-heart, though. We also get a midair chat between young Angel and X-23. Warren is sporting new wings after the Black Vortex story, a move he says he made deliberately after learning how his adult self was corrupted by Apocalypse and then essentially erased by a Celestial life seed.

The framing scenes set up one last storyline (because Secret Wars) involving a band of mutants protecting Utopia, the X-Men’s old island base. I won’t spoil who they are, because I could only make out two of the six, one of which is an Obscure ’90s Relic.

Also, heh heh, Tyke-lops.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Fit to Be Tied In: A History of Marvel Crossovers and Events- Part 6: Disassembled to A vs. X, the Bendis Avengers years

In 2004, Marvel gave the Avengers to writer Brian Michael Bendis, who immediately disbanded the team, in a line-rebooting story called “Disassembled.” The Scarlet Witch went crazy; Jack of Hearts, Ant-Man (Scott Lang) and Hawkeye were killed; Tony Stark appeared to have fallen off the wagon again in front of the United Nations; and the Avengers realized they needed a little bit of a break (except Lionheart, who was all, “but I just bloody got here!”).

From the ashes of the Avengers rose the New Avengers, a Bendis-helmed team that mixed classic heavy-hitters such as Captain America and Iron Man with street-level heroes such as Spider-Man and Luke Cage. There also rose a story called Secret War (singular), a Bendis-penned mini in which the aforementioned heroes went on a classified mission for Original-Recipe Nick Fury into Latveria that resulted in Fury going underground and the appointment of a new SHIELD director, Maria Hill, who was decidedly anti-hero.

The next big event, 2005’s House of M, was the first of the post-“Disassembled” era and was mainly told in its own book, written by Bendis and drawn by Olivier Coipel. House of M dealt directly with the fallout from Disassembled, specifically the Scarlet Witch’s out-of-control powers. Wanda warps reality and creates an alternate world in which her father Magneto’s dream of mutant dominance comes to fore. Through a young girl named Layla Miller (a future star of Peter David’s second run on X-Factor), the X-Men and Avengers come to realize they are trapped in a world they never made, and confront Magneto and the royal family. Reality is restored, except for the part where Wanda whispers “No More Mutants,” and all but 198 of the world’s homo superior lose their powers.

Meanwhile, tensions between SHIELD and the tights-and-capes set kept climbing, coming to a boiling point in a massive explosion in Stamford, Connecticut, that was a direct result of the New Warriors hunting supervillains for a reality show. This led to the creation in Congress of the Superhuman Registration Act and caped crusaders of all stripes taking sides and battling each other in a superhero Civil War, written by Mark Millar and drawn by Steve McNiven. On one side was Team Iron Man, which favored registration and the regulation of powers, and on the other side was Team Captain America, which favored freedom and the right to privacy. Civil War is notable for a few things, namely Spider-Man unmasking on national television, the death of Goliath (Bill Foster) at the hands of a robot clone of Thor, Tony Stark becoming director of SHIELD and, most importantly, the death of Steve Rogers. Don’t worry, he got better.

As if Civil War hadn’t done enough to prove superheroes have trust issues, the New Avengers had stumbled upon Elektra’s body morphed into that of a Skrull, a green, shape-shifting, craggy-jawed race of aliens. This led to months of “how do I know you’re not a Skrull?” stories that culminated in 2008’s Secret Invasion, an event series by Bendis and Leinil Francis Yu. A number of people are revealed to be Skrulls, including Hank Pym, Dum Dum Dugan and the Avengers’ butler Jarvis. Chief among the secret Skrulls though, is Spider-Woman, who is revealed to be the Skrull queen, and who also had been playing double agent for both SHIELD and Hydra. The queen is killed by, of all people, Norman Osborn, who at the time was running a government-sponsored Thunderbolts team. This leads to Osborn disbanding SHIELD and running its replacement agency, HAMMER. As a result, all heroes – not just the anti-registration ones – are now public enemy No. 1.

Osborn’s Dark Reign culminated in Siege, a 2010 event series by Bendis and Coipel that plays off recent events in Thor. The Odinson was reborn and in turn revived all his friends and Asgard itself, which was now floating a few feet off the ground in rural Broxton, Oklahoma. Loki convinces Osborn to make a play for Asgard, which, naturally, leads to Osborn’s downfall, as participation in Marvel events is mandatory for all heroes, from Spider-Man right down to Howard the Duck. Osborn falls, the government apologizes for treating superheroes like dirt for the past few years, Steve Rogers is appointed commander of all goodie-goodies and the Ewoks sing “Celebrate the Love.” Oh, and there’s a super-gross double-page spread of the Sentry ripping a dude in half.

In the next crossover, 2011’s Fear Itself by Matt Fraction and Stuart Immomen, Odin’s brother, the Norse god of fear, takes on Earth’s mightiest. Eight hammers carrying the power of the former generals of Cul, the fear god, fall to Earth to be wielded by Sin, Juggernaut, the Hulk, Titania, Attuma, Grey Gargoyle, The Thing and the Absorbing Man. In response, Tony Stark and Odin forge new weapons to be wielded by Spider-Man, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Wolverine, Iron Fist, Ms. Marvel, Red She-Hulk and Dr. Strange. If there’s ever a crossover where death meant squat, it’s this one, as Bucky Barnes, the Thing and Thor were all shown to die but quickly got better. That said, it is in Fear Itself that Steve Rogers returns to being Captain America after leaving the role to Barnes, and Colossus becomes the Juggernaut.

The Bendis age of Avenger-dom ends with 2012’s Avengers vs. X-Men, which is fitting, considering after the crossover he jumped over to the X books. The main series was co-written by Bendis, Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction, Jason Aaron and Jonathan Hickman and co-penciled by Coipel, John Romita Jr. and Adam Kubert. The event is incited by the Phoenix Force, which was coming to Earth, supposedly to possess the X-Men’s ward, Hope. The Avengers want the X-Men to fork her over, Cyclops says no and eventually we get Civil War 2: Mutant Boogaloo. When the Phoenix Force finally does come to Earth, instead of going after Hope, it splits and possesses Cyclops and his four capos: Emma Frost, Colossus, Magik and Namor. Fighting continues, Namor levels Wakanda, Cyclops kills Professor Xavier, Hope gets a training montage in Iron Fist’s home of K’un-Lun, Cyclops goes Dark Phoenix and, finally, Hope and Scarlet Witch’s powers combine to repel the Phoenix Force and, BONUS, reverse the effects of M-Day, giving all the mutants their powers back. As additional fallout, Matt writes a piece about how Cyclops was right.

Next week, we wrap this series with a look at the crossovers of the Marvel NOW era and a bonus look at some of the stories we previously missed.

Dan Grote’s new novel, Magic Pier, is available however you get your books online. He has been writing for The Matt Signal since 2014. He and Matt have been friends since the days when making it to issue 25 guaranteed you a foil cover.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Fit to Be Tied In: A History of Marvel Crossovers and Events- Part 5: Onslaught to Second Coming: Even More X-overs

So you guys remember when Charles Xavier turned Magneto into a vegetable in X-Men #25 during “Fatal Attractions?” Well, apparently a small part of Magneto had burrowed into Xavier’s head as a result and was corrupting him from the inside, causing him to do things like rocket-punch the Juggernaut into Hoboken and create Post. These events led to the big companywide crossover of summer 1996, Onslaught, named for the hot mess that was supposed to be the combined personalities of Xavier and Magneto. Onslaught encompassed all the X-books, the Avengers, the Fantastic Four and the Incredible Hulk, and featured cameos by Dr. Doom, Apocalypse and the Watcher. In defeating Onslaught, the Avengers, FF and Doom end up getting sucked into a pocket dimension created by Franklin Richards that led to a yearlong series of books under the banner Heroes Reborn, featuring the return to Marvel of Image ex-pats Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld. In their absence, Xavier was arrested for being Onslaught, a new character named Bastion fed the flames of anti-mutant hysteria, fellow mutant-hater (and mutant supervillain progeny) Graydon Creed ran for president and a new team of superheroes showed up called the Thunderbolts. The events of Onslaught would later inspire Rick Remender’s work on Uncanny Avengers and a recent, equally messy crossover called Axis.

Bastion is the focus of the next year’s crossover, Operation: Zero Tolerance. The Master Mold-Nimrod hybrid uses an army of human-sentinel hybrids called Prime Sentinels to capture key members of the X-Men under the aegis of the U.S. government. He is apprehended by SHIELD in a scene in which he gets a stern talking-to by, of all people, Iceman, who is in revenge mode after his father was beaten to death by Graydon Creed’s lackeys before Creed was assassinated. OZT marks the addition of two new X-Men: the Morlock-Gene Nation member Marrow, whose body produces weapons made of bone, and Dr. Cecilia Reyes, a reluctant member who has force-field powers.

Next came the “Hunt for Xavier,” a tight crossover of the two main X-books in which the X-Men fight a Cerebro that has gained sentience – apparently all the X-Men’s tech has to Pinocchio at some point (see also the Danger Room) – and the professor is found to be working with the Brotherhood of (Evil?) Mutants.

The next two X-overs center on heavy-hitter villains. “Magneto War” restores the master of magnetism from bearded vegetable to top-dog baddie and gets rid of Joseph, the young Magneto clone who had ingratiated himself among the X-Men for the past few years. The story ends with the United Nations ceding to Magneto the island of Genosha, which hadn't been messed with in a while, so it was ripe for the picking.

The dawn of the new millennium brought the long-promised reveal of “The Twelve,” a group of mutants who were predicted to … do something. It turns out that something is power a machine that would help Apocalypse take over the body of Nate Grey, the refugee from the Age of Apocalypse. Sadly, nearly 15 years of build-up (The Twelve were first mentioned in an early issue of X-Factor) didn’t quite deliver the story some were hoping for. Nevertheless, the Twelve were revealed to be Magneto, Polaris, Storm, Sunfire, Iceman, Cyclops, Jean Grey, Cable, Bishop, Professor X, Mikhail Rasputin (?) and the Living Monolith (???). Apocalypse fails to possess Nate Grey but ends up possessing Cyclops instead. After a series of reality-warping stories called Ages of Apocalypse, Chris Claremont returns to the X-books and jumps them forward six months for some ill-explained power swaps, couple swaps and guys-named-Thunderbird swaps.

Then for a while, nothing happened … well, not really, but the early 00s saw a series of writers rotate through the X-books. Chris Claremont came and went, followed by Scott Lobdell, then Grant Morrison and Joe Casey, then Chuck Austen, then Joss Whedon and Claremont yet again, et al. Brian Michael Bendis wrote an X-Men/Avengers crossover called House of M, which we’ll touch on in the next post.

At this point, all but 198 of Earth’s mutants have been depowered, and the X-Men are super bummed about it. Then, for the first time in a long time, Cerebra (the sequel to Cerebro, which met its demise in the “Hunt for Xavier”), picks up a blip in Alaska, a state crawling with Summers family blood.

Which brings us to 2007-08’s “Messiah Complex,” the first of three crossovers that will center on Hope, the first baby born after M-Day. Complex finds the X-Men in a race against Mr. Sinister’s Marauders and the Rev. William Stryker’s Purifiers to find Hope. Among its significant events, Xavier is rendered comatose, Mystique kills Sinister, Cyclops sanctions Wolverine to form a new X-Force that will serve as the X-Men’s secret kill squad, Bishop loses his crap and suddenly remembers Hope is the Antichrist of his timeline, and Cable takes Hope into the future to raise her, because if the future was good enough for Cable, then goshdarnit, it’s good enough for his adopted daughter.

Cable and Hope return from the future in 2010’s “Second Coming,” which is largely a battle of military wits between Cyclops – who by now has turned the remaining mutants into a paramilitary strike team all living on the same island off San Francisco – and Bastion – who has resurrected all your favorite mutant-haters, from Cameron Hodge to Graydon Creed. The good guys win, but at a pretty hefty price: Both Cable and Nightcrawler are killed (obviously they've both since gotten better). The story ends with Cerebra registering five new blips, launching a series called Generation Hope that would last 17 issues.

Internecine strife (lowercase, with an i) among the X-Men reaches a boiling point in 2011’s Schism miniseries by Jason Aaron, which saw Cyclops and Wolverine break the X-Men into two different camps, one of which stayed on the island off San Fran and the other of which rebuilt the Xavier Institute and renamed it the Jean Grey School, in a split that remains to this day.

For more good guys fighting good guys, stop by later this week for a look at the Bendis age of Avengers crossovers, from Disassembled to A vs. X.

Dan Grote’s new novel, Magic Pier, is available however you get your books online. He has been writing for The Matt Signal since 2014. He and Matt have been friends since the days when making it to issue 25 guaranteed you a foil cover.