Why Jonathan Hickman’s “Solve Everything” Could be a Near Perfect “Fantastic Four” Film

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*Spoilers for the first arc of Jonathan Hickman’s Fantastic Four run*

Like many comic book fans, none of the marketing for Fox’s new Fantastic Four film has really grabbed me. I’m not going to sit here and bash it before it even comes out, but something about it just doesn’t seem right to me. The dark costumes-that-aren’t-their-costumes-yet, the gritty, real-world atmosphere, the same story of disparaging youths coming together to fight for a common good against an insurmountable evil. It’s been done before. Plenty of times.

It’s not like the Fantastic Four have ever gotten any real love on the silver screen. The previous two entries starring these heroes were received with lukewarm feelings from both critics and fans, and the less that’s said about the unreleased 1994 film, the better. But those were at least closer in tone to the comics than what this new film is advertising. It could be that this film may take influence from the more recent and modern Ultimate Fantastic Four series produced by Marvel, but that may not be the route Fox should be going.

When fans think of the Fantastic Four, they think about the fun dynamic between the four main characters. They think about the strange adventures they go on, and the wild ideas they face. Hell, they have one of the best villains in comics in Doctor Doom, and he’s been made to look like a joke of a super-villain on screen. While many writers have excelled at using these elements in the comics, Jonathan Hickman embraced the entire history of the franchise and turned in a career-defining run on the book that is still highly regarded by fans. His first story arc, entitled “Solve Everything,” could even serve as a near perfect basis for a future Fantastic Four film due to three key elements Hickman used throughout this story arc.

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A run that most fans would love to see adapted to screen. Via comixology.com

  • The Story of “Solve Everything”

It would be hard to talk in detail about this story arc without a brief background on the plot first. Kicking off his run with a whirlwind of ideas, Hickman began by showing Reed Richards exhausted at the idea of continuing on just being another “super-hero.” Using a machine he developed that allowed him to view alternate realities, Reed discovers “The Council,” compromised of dozens of alternate versions of himself with only one goal in mind – solve the problems of every universe, not just his own.

Learning the ways of the Council, Reed begins spending more and more time away from his family in order to pursue his goals. His wife, Sue Storm, worries the most, but Reed tells her the simple truth that he’s trying to help humanity. Studying under the three heads of the Council, Reed is shown both the good and the bad of what the Council must do in order to help everyone. After some thought, Reed agrees to become a member of their organization.

Just as his induction ceremony is about to begin, one of the members of the Council reveals he has betrayed them by allowing Mad Celestials, ancient beings looking for even more power than they already have, into their hall. Barely beating them back, Reed discovers the truth about the council – in order to help solve the problems of his universe, he would have to give up his life with his wife and family so he can devote all his time to the Council. Reed ultimately turns down the offer, electing to be with his family than with a group of people who don’t care about their own humanity.

While not perfectly structured for a film script, there are three key components Hickman uses in this story arc that could easily be used in an adaptation to film.

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The Council of Reeds. Via comixology.com

  • Already Established Heroes

The last thing any super-hero movie needs is another origin story, so why bother with one? When Hickman started his run on Fantastic Four, there was very little focus on the origins of how all these characters got their powers. They simply were super-heroes, fighting to save the city. Fans didn’t need to see how they got their powers, and outside of a brief “previously in…” page, there was no mention of the accident in space that gave them their powers.

Granted, this clearly worked in the comics because people who were reading the book knew who the characters were. Fox Studios don’t want to hedge their bets on introducing these characters, already established and saving the day, without showing some kind of exposition to the viewer about what made these people into who they are today.

But fans of both the comics and movies in general have already begun showing signs of “origins fatigue.” No one wants to plunk down twelve dollars to see a movie that’s essentially something they’ve already seen dozens of times. On top of the fact that now the Fantastic Four’s origins will have been brought to the big screen twice.

If Fox were to adapt “Solve Everything,” they could just skip over all the origin talk and get right into the action. Even if moviegoers didn’t know the exact details of what happened, they’d be able to figure it out quickly. After all, their origin isn’t so different than most other superheroes. Cosmic rays, radioactive spiders, super-soldier serums…they’re all kind of the same when it comes down to it.

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In essence, is his origin much different from the fantastic Fours’? Via nydailynews.com

  • The “Family” Dynamic

The Fantastic Four are more than just a group of super-heroes; they’re a family. Reed Richards and Sue Storm are the happy-if-sometimes-exasperated parents of Franklin and Valeria Richards, who show signs of having their own gifts. With Ben and Johnny there as the “fun-loving uncles,” the dynamic established in the comics is less of a team of people thrown together by a freak accident and more a doting and eccentric family.

While not completely present in “Solve Everything,” Hickman brought a fun family vibe to the pages of both Fantastic Four and FF, showing readers a team of heroes who were a family above everything else. While the early films had some good banter between the four leads, the family dynamic was lacking. Even this new film looks like it’s taking a page out of The Avengers and showing the origins of the team, not the family behind it.

One point from “Solve Everything” that would be interesting to explore on film is the growing rift between Reed and Sue. Reed, absorbed in his ideas about how to solve all the problems of the world, begins to neglect his wife and children in favor of discovering more and more about how to help people. Bringing this sense of a family slowly breaking apart could help separate this Fantastic Four film from other super-hero movies by mining topics not normally broached by such popcorn-fueled summer blockbusters.

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More family dynamic, less punching-out bad guys. Via comixology.com

  • Grandiose Ideas of Science

One thing that helps makes Hickman’s writing unique to other writers is the level of detail and research into science theorems and ideas he puts into his comics. His creator-owned work shows this a great deal, but his Fantastic Four run helped to bring his science-driven work to a much larger audience and could be used to inspire and wow crowds looking for a new kind of Fantastic Four film.

In “Solve Everything,” Hickman came out of the gates with ideas that immediately made him a name to be talked about. The idea of a secret base for the Council hidden in “a place outside of both the universal structure and the space that exists between them” comes up in the very first issue alone. If you think that’s a mouthful to handle, that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

Dozens of different versions of Reed Richards, multiple infinity gauntlets on display (which Fox most likely wouldn’t be able to use due to rights issues with Marvel), artificially-aged clones, Celestial beings looking to conquer all of reality…all of these populate the pages of “Solve Everything.” It only gets wilder and stranger the further Hickman’s run goes on, but never does the science overtake the emotional heart behind the story; a key point, considering the characters are what drive this story.

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The breathtaking madness of a Hickman-penned Fantastic Four book. Via comixology.com

The Fantastic Four have always had a mixed bag of success when it comes to their film adaptations. Some points throughout the earlier films have been good, while others have fallen flat compared to their comic book counterparts. The newest film seems to be taking a markedly different turn from the previous on-screen iterations, but still feels like just another super-hero film. Had Fox looked more closely at the comics, specifically Jonathan Hickman’s “Solve Everything” story arc, they could one day produce a Fantastic Four film that could have comic fans cheering.

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Archie Comics and the “Celebrity” Kickstarter Conundrum

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This past week, Archie Comics made a big leap in comic publishing when they announced that they would be taking to Kickstarter to help fund three new books coming out this fall. The company was asking for $350,000 to help bring these books to the shelves. These books, by top-tier talent (which included Jughead by writer Chip Zdarsky, Betty and Veronica by writer/artist Arthur Adams, and Life with Kevin by writer Dan Parent and artist J. Bone), would have helped to expand the newly rebooted Archie universe, spearheaded by the soon-to-be-released Archie #1 by Mark Waid and Fiona Staples. It was a bold move that got people talking.

Unfortunately, all that talk did nothing but hurt the publisher’s plans. Both fans and industry insiders questioned why Archie Comics, a “big name” in comics, would look to fans to crowd-fund several new books. They also questioned some of the validity of the rewards being offered, asking why fans would pay hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars for free copies of these books that they could go out and pay three or four dollars for when they were released (helping to support their local comic book shop at the same time).

For several days, the hubbub surrounding the news continued. Jon Goldwater, Archie Comics’ CEO and Publisher, sent out a press release justifying their actions. But it was all for nothing. The negative press continued, and after five days and approximately $35,000 raised, the campaign was cancelled.

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This guy will be all alone this coming fall. Via ign.com

Many fans may be pleased to see the “big guy” taken down a peg or two, especially when it comes to crowd-funding big projects like this. Kickstarter has the stigma behind it that it should only be for the “little guy,” the kind of person who wouldn’t have the means or resources to make something a reality without asking others online for money. So whenever a celebrity or someone with seemingly substantial wealth goes on and asks for cash for one of their projects, fans immediately turn into angry savages and demand they fund it themselves.

This brings up an inherent flaw within the crowd-funding system Kickstarter has been at the forefront of. The idea that only smaller projects should be able to be crowd-funded is a bit silly. It was the same story a year ago when LeVar Burton hosted a Kickstarter campaign to bring back Reading Rainbow. Despite the campaign’s good intentions, it caught the ire of many because of Burton’s “celebrity” status. Unlike Archie Comics though, this campaign was completed and raised close to $5.4 million, over five times the amount they had originally asked (that number was surpassed in about eleven hours of the campaign going live).

It would be unfair to ask “celebrities” to fund some of these projects themselves, because it’s difficult (if not impossible) to say how much money they have to put towards something like this. Obviously someone like George Clooney or Angelina Jolie wouldn’t need to take to Kickstarter to fund a pet-project, but clearly LeVar Burton did. He’s not rolling in money, so he wanted to get some people (who also cared about Reading Rainbow) to help him realize his dream. He got what he needed, so why couldn’t Goldwater?

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A “celebrity” project that didn’t get chased off Kickstarter. Via kickstarter.com

People assumed that Archie Comics has the resources to put out an entire line of books every month, mainly because they are seen as a “major” comics publisher. That, of course, isn’t necessarily true. Up until six years ago when Goldwater took over the company, they had been simply publishing the same kinds of books they always had; safe, typical Archie stories that no one necessarily cared about. But under the guidance of Goldwater, the company has garnered the attention of major news outlets for their new takes on these classic characters, such as introducing Archie’s first openly gay character in Kevin Keller, killing off an adult Archie in the pages of Life with Archie, and even turning Riverdale into a post-apocalyptic zombie wasteland with Afterlife with Archie.

While these books have gotten Archie back on the map, it hasn’t resulted in major sales for the company. Goldwater even said in his original statement regarding the Kickstarter campaign, “We’re not flush with corporate cash like Marvel or DC. But we’re also not afraid to take calculated risks.” That “calculated risk” resulted in fans and critics making a big deal out of a “gigantic little guy.” Without a major company like Time Warner or Disney keeping things funded, Kickstarter really is one of the few viable options available for a small publisher like Archie to gain backing for new books.

Without something like Kickstarter available, it’s conceivable that the resources behind the company wouldn’t be able to support so many books being put out at once. This would more than likely result in books being cancelled prematurely. Granted, Goldwater has come out and said all three new series will still be coming out (but only Jughead was given a tentative fall release; the other two series have yet to be given any sort of release time), so it might not have come to axing some books. But fans should consider what would be worse; having a “major” comic book company ask for money on Kickstarter, or losing a popular book like Afterlife with Archie?

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Just because this sells decently doesn’t mean the whole company is flush with cash. Via herocomplex.latimes.com

Goldwater has come out and said that these books will come out soon enough, and that this campaign was simply to help accelerate the process and get them out quicker (mainly to capitalize on the buzz surrounding the new Archie #1 release). Perhaps this does take some of the wind out of the argument, but the whole Kickstarter campaign has shown that Archie is able and willing to take risky moves that Marvel, DC, and Image wouldn’t. Said Goldwater, “We don’t regret trying something new. It’s what Archie’s been about for the last six years. We will continue to be a fearless, risk-taking and vibrant brand that will do its best to embrace new platforms, technology and ways to interact with fans.”

This shows the company’s dedication and willingness to try new things. A large, established company like Marvel wouldn’t attempt something like this, whether it be because they can fund and advertise their own books without it or because it isn’t how they run things there. The fact that Goldwater and Archie Comics was willing to buck the trend of what had been the established way of doing things in the comic book community shows their progressive nature. Going against what’s been done before also seems to be something only the “little guy” would do.

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One of the Archie #1 variants by Chip Zdarsky, who will be writing the new Jughead series coming this fall. Via comicbookresources.com

Do I think the way Goldwater went about this was the best way to collect money? Maybe not, but his determination to get new books into the hands of fans shows his willingness to be fresh and innovative in a business that is constantly fighting against becoming too stagnant. While DC and Marvel think the answer to entropy is “reboot everything,” Archie Comics has actually attempted real change. Maybe in ten years, when the idea of smaller companies asking for money from fans isn’t so radical, we’ll look back and see Goldwater was right all along.

Pick of the Week – Injection #1

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*Spoilers for the issue follow*

Image Comics has been pumping out hit after hit in the past year or so. Gathering top creators to make comics that they themselves have complete and total creative control over, Image has become one of the key places to find compelling stories that don’t feel recycled or have been overused countless times before.

From such period piece hits by Ed Brubaker like The Fade Out and Velvet to Scott Snyder’s terrifying horror comic Wytches, alongside Jason Aaron’s compelling crime masterpiece Southern Bastards and Kieron Gillen’s gods-meets-pop tour-de-force that is The Wicked & The Divine, Image has slowly but surely brought together a stellar group of writers and artists under their publishing brand. The most recent addition to the Image crew is the same creative team the redefined Moon Knight for Marvel (which received a stellar review here a few months back), Warren Ellis and Declan Shalvey.

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Injection #1, by Ellis and Shalvey, hit stands this past Wednesday. Via imagecomics.com

Their new book, Injection, sees the creative team take a complete one-eighty turn from their previous work together at Marvel. But that isn’t a bad thing at all. The plot of the book is still vague and uncertain after this first issue, but a few things immediately jump out that gives this book a unique feel and a strong start.

The book’s main focus is on Professor Maria Kilbride, a strange figure who is locked away in a run-down mental hospital, but who appears to be the only patient there. She is brought out of the hospital to investigate a new “actionable” for her old (or perhaps current) employers, a company by the name of FPI. Along the way, the reader is shown a brief flashback to her past and also meet some of Kilbride’s old associates, including fellow scientists Robin Morel and Brigid Roth. It’s clear something bad has happened to England (and conceivably, the entire planet), but no mention of these events takes place in this first issue.

This is arguably the biggest point to make when talking about this new book from these creators; it is structurally completely different from their earlier work on Moon Knight. One of the positive things about that series was that each issue served as its own individual tale, being able to be picked up and enjoyed without needing to know what came before it. This series already feels much more dense than Moon Knight ever did. A heavy sense of world-building is occurring in these pages, laying the groundwork for what is later to come in this series. This can be seen as both an advantage and a hindrance to people who just want a fun tale like what Moon Knight was.

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One of the mysteries that serves to help build the plot of Injection. Via comixology.com

While Moon Knight was very loose and segmented in its structure, Injection already feels like it will be a dense and mythic story. The world that is being built up in these pages is dark and foreboding. Despite the creative team keeping their cards close to their chest when it comes to what is actually happening, the reader can already tell that something isn’t right in the pages of Injection. A heavy cloud of mystery hangs over the events of the issue, making the little clues and hints Ellis and Shalvey drop appear all the more menacing.

It’s the little things that set off this feeling of dread. From having masked nurses guarding Kilbride in the hospital to the mysterious tattoo that every one of Kilbride’s associates has on their forearm (and which appears in a gruesome image at the end of the issue), both Ellis and Shalvey are able to intimate to the reader that something bad has happened to everyone the book focuses on. Even little, throwaway lines like “I don’t know that I’m healed up from the last one” and “Dr. Morel, we administer The Breaker’s Yard now” make these unspoken mysteries seem much more mysterious and formidable. By the time the reader sees a woman with a disfigured face standing on the street, they know something is terrifyingly wrong in this world.

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One of the images that adds a sense of menace to the book. Via comixology.com

The fact that Ellis doesn’t come out and say any of what happens may put some readers off. That is arguably the biggest complaint I have about the construction of this book. That’s not to say the creative team needs to lay out every single plot point they’ll be covering out on the table, but so little information is given it can be just as frustrating as it is compelling. Like other Image books that rely heavily on mystery and world-building to tell their tales, such as East of West and Intersect, Injection relies on the notion that fans will want to follow these big name creators on a long and winding journey through the world they’ve created. For some, that may just mean picking up the collections and reading large chunks of the story at a time, as opposed to getting little, tantalizingly frustrating bits each month.

But that’s just a small point that takes away from the overall fascinating debut of this new series. Just like on Moon Knight, Ellis and Shalvey work strongly together to create a book that both reads well and looks gorgeous. Ellis brings his dark sensibilities to this book in spades, weaving the narrative through the present and past to give readers a compelling tale to follow (if they stick with it, that is).

Perhaps the most fun part of this book is seeing the focus put on a character that many perceive as “crazy.” Seeing Kilbride talking with Control, the head of the mysterious Cursus Office of FPI, it’s clear something inside her has snapped. Switching focus between being lucidly in control of her thoughts with Control and saying how she desperately wants a sandwich  and can taste copper in the air, Kilbride is a fun character to read. She also can be quite menacing when she wants to be, threatening a staff member of FPI with a beating from her cane should he keep talking down to her. All of this makes her a unique figure, and it will be interesting to see where Ellis takes her, as well as finding out what happened to her in the past.

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The madness of Professor Kilbride. Via comixology.com

Alongside Ellis is Declan Shalvey, whose stark and minimalist art that made Moon Knight such a hit is still on display here. His line work is crisp and stark against the strong colors that make up these pages. He doesn’t overdo his work with excess details and lines, leaving a lot to be handled by the colorists. Yet all of the pages on display feel slick and unique to the eye. From the way the water flows under a bridge to how he is able to differentiate between the past and present versions of characters with only slight changes to their body composition, everything feels strange and familiar at the same time.

Perhaps the most evocative scene Shalvey is made to present is when Kilbride is sent in to a mysterious cave to find several missing members of an FPI investigative team. From the opening shot of stark white light against the dark of the cave to the eerie green fungi growing inside, Shalvey’s art portrays a strange world that looks really cool. Fans of his previous work will love what he’s able to do here to bring the story to life.

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One of the more evocative scenes Shalvey draws in Injection. Images via comixology.com

It’s impossible to say where Injection is heading. It might be that Ellis and Shalvey will eventually get to smaller, done-in-one-issue tales once the main narrative has been established (like they had going on Moon Knight). It could also continue the trend set down in this issue and keep building on what previous issues establish, making it a series that’s impossible to read without going back and starting at the beginning. Regardless, it’s safe to say that this latest release from Image Comics will soon be considered a fan-favorite alongside their other current hits.

Graphic Novel Review: Spider-Verse

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For both Marvel and DC, “event books” are seen as a staple of their publishing catalog. Bringing together their biggest and brightest heroes  to face impossible odds too big for their everyday series’, these crossover events usually have the weight of huge expectations on them. Many times, these books fail to meet said expectations due to countless factors surrounding their execution.

Despite the hard work of some of the industry’s top talents, these event books usually come across as bloated and (ironically) uneventful. Fans have come to gripe over many of the points that define these major comic book events, such as too many tie-in books, not enough characterization, or questionable reasoning behind certain actions taken by characters. It’s true that many events fail in this regard. While the latest major event from Marvel, Spider-Verse, falls into several of the same traps that other event books have hit, it also manages to produce a fun and engaging read for fans of Spider-Man.

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The newly-released collection of Spider-Verse. Via comixology.com

 

The premise of the event is enough to make any fan of comics (not just fans of Spider-Man) intrigued. Morlun, one of Spider-Man’s most fearsome foes, returns to plague Spidey’s life once again. Only this time, he brings his entire family of “Inheritors” along to help him take down the web-head. Travelling along what they call the “great web,” each of the Inheritors hunts Spider-Men and Women of different universes, feeding on their life force as a “Spider-Totem.” This leads to the greatest team-up of Spideys in the history of the character, as thousands of different iterations of the hero come together to stop Morlun from exterminating their kind once and for all.

Despite having an intriguing premise, the story does fail in certain aspects. Like other event books published by both Marvel and DC, the main story (told in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man) is very action-heavy, with huge set pieces and bombastic fight scenes. Smaller character moments are relegated to the tie-in books, which can be hit-or-miss for many readers.

In many cases, the tie-ins fail to tell cohesive and engaging stories on their own. A perfect example of this is Spider-Woman, who began her own ongoing series serving as a tie-in to the main Spider-Verse event. While this wouldn’t have been a problem in it of itself, the character played an integral role in the pages of the main narrative. The Spider-Woman tie-in issues only served to fill in the pieces from the main series, leaving huge gaps in plot throughout these books.

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One of the weaker tie-ins, lacking legs of its own. Via ew.com

 

On top of this, some of the tie-ins have strange, disconnected voices from the main series. Dan Slott, the writer of Amazing Spider-Man, writes with a style that feels very at home in a traditional comic book. The pacing, dialogue, and inner-monologue boxes all feel natural to a book like Amazing Spider-Man. Other writers attached to this event bring in styles that feel different from this and lack the same finesse Slott brings to his books. The obvious example of this would be the tie-in Scarlet Spiders, written by Mike Costa. That tie-in series follows a strange narrative that switches who the focal character is in each issue and brings in references that feel oddly misplaced for a book like Spider-Verse (such as an odd connection to Chaucer one of the villains muses on).

But despite these flaws, the main narrative weaved by Slott in Amazing Spider-Man is fun and adventurous. It feels like a summer blockbuster taking place on the page in front of you, and leaves the reader in amazement at the story. There may not be huge, character-defining moments happening here, but the love Slott has for Spidey is clear on every page and in every panel. This is the kind of story a kid dreams of, and Slott has finally brought it to fans. Children playing with their countless Spider-Man action figures couldn’t ask for a better story.

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Like playing with action figures hen you were a kid. Via comixology.com

 

In regards to the collection of the event itself, Marvel both succeeded and failed in two very big areas. They managed to succeed by bringing in all the tie-ins under one cover, meaning fans who waited for the collection only have to pick up one book to get the whole story (as opposed to having to pick up multiple trades to get all the tie-ins connected to the main series). It is pricey, coming in at a whopping seventy-five dollars for this oversized hardcover. But for twenty-eight issues of story, accounting for several hundred pages of Spider-Action, that’s well worth the cover price.

However, Marvel dropped the ball when it came to arranging the order of the books in this collection. Instead of ordering them in the proper reading order, they arranged them by the order of the series. Meaning you have all of the Amazing Spider-Man issues collected together, then all of the Spider-Woman issues, and so and so forth. This is a huge disappointment, as it takes away from the reading experience to have to flip around throughout the book to read the entire event the way it was meant to be read. It’s even more of a disappointment when compared to the collection Marvel put out for another one of their major event books, the Avengers-focused Infinity, which had all the issues arranged in their proper reading order.

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A collection that Marvel managed to get right. Via comixology.com

 

It will be interesting to see if Marvel hears or heeds any complaints about this, and changes the layout of the collection when the softcover collection finally hits stands. Some could make the argument that this kind of arrangement of issues allows them to read the books they want without having to wade through “useless” tie-ins. To that, I only say that if you’re putting down the money this collection costs, why wouldn’t you want to read every issue there is to get your money’s worth?

But in regards to the other aspects of the collection, Marvel sticks to their typical safe bets. The only bonus materials to speak of are a collection of variant covers done for some of the books. It’s interesting to note however, that these covers are scattered throughout the collection (usually placed in a break between series) and not all at the end. An interesting change, but one that does little for fans expecting more goodies inside.

One can’t help but wonder why Marvel wouldn’t want more bonus material in this book, especially considering the cover price. Dozens of new characters were created for this event, including the now fan-favorite sensation Spider-Gwen. For seventy-five dollars, why not include some concept art of these new Spider-Characters, or at least have Slott’s original pitch for the event? Something, anything, to make this massive tome a bit cooler and worth it for trade-waiters.

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Why not show us the genesis of her creation as some bonus material? Via comixology.com

 

Ultimately, event books can be hit or miss when it comes to meeting expectations. Sometimes the hype machine works too hard and the anticipation of a book fails to meet what fans are expecting. There are also times when the very structure of an event fails to engage the reader and is deemed a flop by critics. While the structure of the story and the brand-new collection Marvel put out has its flaws, ultimately Spider-Verse brings fans a fun and exciting story that’s worthy enough to be considered a fan-favorite Spidey story for years to come.

Why Constantine was Always Doomed to Fail on TV

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This past Friday, word came down from the executives at NBC that they had decided to cancel Constantine, the show based on the Vertigo/DC Comics series Hellblazer. This comes as a crushing blow to fans of the show, who had taken to social media to plead the case of the middling series (in both ratings and critical response) with the tag #saveconstantine. Their voices were heard and a story was pitched for a second season, but in the end NBC decided to pass on it.

The writing had been on the wall for months, with the first sign being that NBC had elected to not order a “back nine” of episodes to the season. This resulted in production ending after the first thirteen episodes had ended, spelling imminent doom for the show. Daniel Cerone, the showrunner of Constantine, has already placated fans by saying they are shopping the show to other networks in the hopes that they will be able to save it from being totally dead. But one has to ask, looking at the history of the character and the style of story that has always been told with John Constantine…would the series have ever truly worked?

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We won’t be seeing any more of this guy on NBC. Via geek-prime.com

One of the very first reasons why Constantine was unable to find a foothold at NBC was due to the fact that the premise of the character is one that inherently would have difficulty at a network like NBC. Focusing on John Constantine, exorcist and master of the dark arts, the series followed John as he explored the dark nature of the world around us. The comic series Hellblazer, one of the longest lasting books at any publisher and the main inspiration for the TV series, saw Constantine face horrors from both heaven and hell, along with having to deal with equally disturbing acts from ordinary men. The series never shied away from showing graphic imagery, and Hellblazer was a book that always carried a “mature readers” tag on the cover. Therefore, it was assumed that any show would need to be just as dark and violent in order to be a worthy adaptation.

Granted, NBC hasn’t been hesitant in taking on challenging series that push the envelope in regards to the level of disturbing imagery. The show Hannibal, currently set to return for its third season on NBC, has carried with it some of the most repulsive and horrifying scenes of many shows currently airing on any channel. While it may not have been the ideal location for a character like Constantine, NBC had the potential to make the series work.

But low ratings right out of the gate (airing on Fridays can only hurt shows, especially brand new ones like Constantine), coupled with a large budget due to so many special effects hurt Constantine fast. Despite reports that NBC wanted the producers to go even darker than they were originally making the show, Constantine felt like it was unsure of how to go about making itself known as a worthy successor to the legacy of horror that the comic series had established. It’s arguable that a show like Constantine, which shouldn’t be afraid of pushing the envelope when it comes to gore and horror, should have been on a cable channel to begin with. One can only imagine what a show based on Hellblazer would be like had it aired on a network like HBO or AMC.

This would (and should) be horrifying to see on a TV show. Via comixology.com

This would (and should) be horrifying to see on a TV show. Via comixology.com

It also didn’t help that Constantine, and Hellblazer as a series, has served as the basis for many shows that had already been established on TV years before the idea of bringing the character of John Constantine to television had even come up. The most obvious parallel would be the show Supernatural, airing on the CW network. Focusing on Sam and Dean Winchester, that show follows the brothers as they traveled around the United States fighting monsters and demons that threatened to take over our world. Sound familiar?

The DNA of John Constantine’s adventures can be seen in several major productions and stories that have come out over the past several years. Having been published since the eighties, Hellblazer has served as the basis and inspiration for countless stories over the past three decades. Even Grimm, which Constantine had been paired with on Friday nights, has some of the same elements of Hellblazer. A figure having to fight supernatural forces to protect the people he cares about…it almost makes one wonder why NBC decided to pick up Constantine, knowing they had a show that was almost identical in nature.

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How could Constantine compete with an already established version of itself? Via mysticinvestigations.com

But perhaps the biggest and most glaring problem with bringing a character like Constantine to a continuing series is that John Constantine is a solo figure most of the time. On many of his adventures he is seen acting alone, only bringing in help from his “friends” when he can’t handle a problem on his own. While there are key figures that recur in the series, such as Chas (who was an integral part of the first season of the show), they only appear for a short while before being pushed away by John’s actions.

This causes a problem for any TV show to overcome, since no show can focus on a solo character without having a regular supporting cast to act around that character. It would also keep the show from building a strong supporting cast to the lead, especially if these characters cycled out at the same speed they do in the comics. It’s hard to care about a character if they only stick around for one season, regardless of how compelling and dynamic the lead is.

Constantine tried to solve this problem by alternating between Chas and Zed as Constantine’s “partners” on missions each episode. But as the season progressed, the excuses for not having all three characters there became more and more ridiculous (Chas needing to work on his cab, Zed being busy with art school, etc.). This led to a strange dynamic in the show that ultimately hurt the character development that is needed in any story, especially in a show that is just establishing itself.

Viewers can only really care about one of these characters. Via idigitaltimes.com

But this glaring problem has a simple solution, which is that you make John a supporting character. When he first appeared in the pages of Swamp Thing by Alan Moore, Constantine was the mysterious magician who knew everything about what was going on. Appearing and vanishing whenever he felt like it, he kept stringing both the characters and reader along as he plotted a way to save the world from total annihilation. He was the cool secondary character everyone wanted to know more about.

Everyone likes these kinds of enigmatic, badass characters. Just look at Angel on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, who when he first appeared (before moving off to L.A. and getting his own show) acted very similarly to how Constantine first acted. He was dark and brooding, knew more than he was letting on about, and served as a guide to the characters and viewer. This is who Constantine needs to be. Take the focus off of him and return him to his roots.

Obviously, this means that the construction of the show would need to change drastically. But one property that has potential to take the character back to where he needs to go is Justice League Dark. Focusing on several supernatural characters from the DC Universe, such as Deadman and Zatanna, this set-up could see John take a supporting role while still being able to have strong character development take place and have really cool plotlines focusing on him. The showrunners could even take plot points from famous Hellblazer stories and adapt them to fit the series, such as the famous “Dangerous Habits” story (which sees John diagnosed with lung cancer).

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Could this be the best way to get Constantine onto TV? Via comixology.com

There have been rumors for several years that Guillermo del Toro has been working to get a Justice League Dark – esque movie made, entitled Dark Universe. The project has seen little traction, yet could eventually see the light of day. However, perhaps these characters could work better on a TV series (even a miniseries), allowing them to better establish themselves and not be distracted by massive action scenes. It would also allow each character on the “team” to have their moment in the spotlight and not feel like a second thought. As part of this, Constantine could thrive and become the household name he has the potential to be.

While the news of Constantine’s cancellation is disheartening for fans, it should be noted that the character is a difficult figure to crack. John Constantine is a magician at heart, and it will take one just like him to make an adaptation that is fitting to his long and grizzly history. Daniel Cerone came the closest so far, but the NBC version of Constantine was still a ways away from being the same “nasty piece of work” that the comic character is.

Pick of the Week – Star Wars #1

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*Spoilers for the issue follow*

(For posterity, I’ll only be talking about the original trilogy throughout this article. We can argue the merits and flaws of the prequel trilogy another time.)

I, like a lot of people, grew up loving Star Wars. The majesty of watching Luke Skywalker grow from a young boy working on his uncle’s moisture farm on Tatooine to becoming a Jedi knight and facing down his father was a regular source of entertainment for me. The budding romance between Han and Leia, the sage wisdom of Obi-Wan, and the looming threat of Darth Vader helped add to the wonder of these films for me. The final film, Return of the Jedi, is still one of my all-time favorite movies (even if it is just because of Luke’s cool, green lightsaber). Other stories may come and go, but Star Wars will always have a special place in my heart.

But despite all of this, I could never get into the expanded universe comics for this universe. I had read a few titles, trying them out to see if I liked them, but none really struck me as being as good as the movies. They either took too many liberties or simply didn’t feel like the characters I grew up loving. Regardless, when Marvel announced at this past year’s Comic-Con that they would be unveiling a new line of Star Wars comics, I figured I’d give them a try. The five year-old inside of me was excited for them, at least.

The first of three new series to be launched, Star Wars, written by Jason Aaron with art by John Cassaday, immediately jumps out of the gate with a strong first issue that manages to grab the reader and pull them into a fun, rollicking good time that feels right at home with the rest of the original trilogy.

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Star Wars #1, by Jason Aaron and John Cassaday

The series begins almost immediately after the events of A New Hope, as Luke, Han, and Leia begin a massive campaign alongside the rest of the rebel army to hurt the already weakened evil empire, reeling after the sudden destruction of the Death Star. The trio, alongside Chewbacca, R2-D2, and C-3P0, all head to one of the outer moons of Tatooine to begin this crusade, where the book begins.

Even before the story starts, readers can get a sense that this series is going to honor what came before and treat the films almost as gospel. The first five pages alone begin as every film did, with the tagline “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” followed by a two-page spread of the Star Wars logo. Finally, the reader is treated to a “scrolling” introduction that elaborates on the backstory of the book and throws the reader right into the action. Any fan of the movies will get a kick out of experiencing this intro on the page. Right from there, one can tell this is going to be something special.

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A welcome return to form for the franchise

One the reader actually gets to the heart of the story, the fun really starts. Aaron manages to bring back the voices of all the characters flawlessly. Han takes center stage for most of the issue, and all the swagger that Harrison Ford brought to the role is once more apparent in the dialogue Han speaks. Leia and Luke feel the same as well, bickering with Han about plans and making noble decisions for the betterment of the galaxy. Even C-3P0, with his nervousness and bleak outlook on all of Han’s plans, feels like Anthony Daniels is back voicing the character just like he did throughout the films.

On top of this, Aaron plays with established ideas in the universe and makes them his own for the book. One line in particular, known to all fans that echoes an uneasy feeling, has been altered enough that it feels fresh without feeling devoid of the original trilogy. Aaron clearly is a fan of the source material, and it shows in every line of dialogue and action taken.

But Marvel didn’t just get a strong writer for the flagship book in their line of Star Wars books. John Cassaday brings some of his strongest work to the book, making each page feel like it belongs to Star Wars. From the Millennium Falcon hiding among a pile of scrap to an assembly line for TIE fighters, even the background details of Cassaday’s work are head and shoulders above what other artists might bring to a book like this.

But Cassaday’s work is perhaps best shown in his character work. Most times when a live action property is adapted to a comic, the look of the characters falls short of the source material. It’s not the fault of the artist, it’s simply that a drawing of a real person will never look as good or as exact as they actually look. Here, Cassaday infuses his own style with the looks of the actors that originally played the roles. It’s never perfectly a match, but many times their looks are close enough that you can get lost in studying the high quality of the art. It’s quite a feat, but one that Cassaday pulls off.

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Cassaday’s Han and Leia, echoing the looks of Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher

Perhaps one of the only flaws in Cassaday’s art is the look he gives to the kinetic motion of moving lightsabers. Akin to the way certain artists draw The Flash, Cassaday draws several blades in the air next to where the actual blade is, giving the sense of movement. It is visually intriguing, but one that at times looks odd. If one were to quickly glance at the image, the reader might think Aaron and Cassaday are trying to design a new type of lightsaber for this book.

The only other flaw this book provides is a certain lack of danger for the characters. Since this book takes place between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, it’s hard to truly worry about our heroes when they face danger. By the end of the book, Luke is about to face down Darth Vader for the first time since the death of Obi-Wan Kenobi, Han and Leia are in danger of being captured by the empire, and C-3P0 has to defend the Falcon from being picked apart by scavengers. It’s a real mess the rebels have gotten into, but one the reader knows they’ll get out of.

Now, it could be argued that this is a tiny flaw and the point of this is more to see how they get out instead of if the get out. I understand that, but by the time I was finished reading the issue I felt no sense of danger for these characters. I’ve seen Empire enough to know they all will make it out in one piece. That previous knowledge takes away from the foreboding “doom” headed the heroes’ way.

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The unique look Cassaday gives his lightsabers throughout the issue

But despite these flaws in the presentation, the first issue of Marvel’s new Star Wars book is a fantastic start to the series. Aaron and Cassaday work well together, bringing a fun adventure to the pages of this book. It’s definitely something worth checking out, even if you haven’t experienced Star Wars in years. The little kid that grew up loving it will most definitely thank you for it.

Pick of the Week – Ant-Man #1

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*Spoilers for the issue, along with the ending to Avengers & X-Men: Axis, follow*

Most comic book companies, when gearing up for a new feature film, will make a strong effort to promote their upcoming movie. Marvel Comics, in particular, have grown accustomed to hyping their properties in the weeks and months before their next major release hits theaters. From direct tie-in books to reprinting classic stories of the character, Marvel knows how to get people excited and eager to find out more about even their strangest heroes.

Marvel showed their skills at this last summer in the ramp-up to the release of Guardians of the Galaxy by advertising their current series, debuting two new ongoing series, and re-releasing some classic stories featuring the Guardians. While this served more as a marketing ploy for Marvel to make more money on the film, it also gave readers a window into the world of the Guardians, showing who these fun and adventurous characters are.

This past week, Marvel began the push for their next risky venture by releasing the first issue of Ant-Man, written by Nick Spencer with art by Ramon Rosanas. While some books may have weak beginnings, relying more on collections to tell full-fledged stories, the creative team gives readers a complete, engaging, and overall fun story that not only feels like a Marvel book, but also might just get fans excited for the upcoming film.

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Ant-Man #1, featuring Scott Lang as the title character.

The series looks to both reintroduce Scott Lang, the current Ant-Man (and star of the upcoming movie) into the Marvel Universe. By giving him a new costume (again, looking a lot like the movie costume) and a new sense of purpose, Lang looks not to save the universe from impending doom, but instead give his daughter the kind of life she deserves.

Perhaps the strongest aspect of this debut issue is the way Spencer grasps Scott Lang’s voice. His inner monologues and interactions with other characters brim with snark and humor, yet also showcases a compassion for those closest to him. These inner monologues make up a large chunk of the reading experience, making this issue feel denser than many other books on the stands. However, most of this comes from the heavy amount of exposition used. Granted, this issue is designed to re-familiarize and even introduce the character to readers, so some backstory was expected to perforate the book. At times it can be overwhelming, but in Lang’s voice it comes off as humorous and zany.

On top of this, the book introduces plenty of pieces from the Ant-Man mythology that will (more than likely) show up in the film. The costume has been re-designed in order to more accurately depict how Ant-Man will look when Paul Rudd depicts him on the silver screen, and the backstory involving his strained relationship with his ex-wife and time as a thief are shown throughout the issue. Even Scott’s daughter Cassie, who appears to be an integral part of the film, gets a good amount of focus in this issue.

Yet this depiction of Cassie brings up a continuity problem within the structure of the series. Cassie was, at one time, serving as a Young Avenger under the codename Stature. Being able to grow to large sizes, Cassie continued her father’s legacy as a superhero. However, nowhere in the issue is any of this mentioned. For all intents and purposes, her time as a superhero is ignored in favor of her being the “normal” daughter trying to lead a “normal” life. Even if, through some retcon, she no longer has powers or doesn’t remember being a superhero, it would have been nice to see Scott acknowledge his daughter’s time as a hero. Even if it was just for a line or two.

On top of this, Spencer manages to really showcase the abilities of Ant-Man beyond just being able to shrink down to really, really small sizes. His abilities to manipulate ants are on full display here, showcasing the versatility of the character beyond being a one-note hero. Similar to how Geoff Johns showcased the true scope of Aquman’s powers during his run on the DC character, Spencer brings more to the table for Ant-Man to do beyond trying to be intimidating through shrinking.

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Ant-Man in action, courtesy of Ramon Rosanas.

Here, we really get to see Rosanas get to cut loose and show his artistic abilities. His ability to manipulate sizes and reimagine how things would look from a smaller perspective really bring a level of fun to the already enjoyable script. However, beyond these sequences involving Ant-Man in action, his style is simply serviceable. That’s not to say it isn’t bad, it’s just not breathtakingly amazing. On top of this, there are quite a few panels per page, more so than what would normally be seen in a comic. It’s hard to say if this was in part to the way Spencer structured the script or how Rosanas depicted the action, but there are pages that feel a bit cramped. If the art could have a bit more room to breathe, then perhaps the book may have worked a bit more in its favor.

While this last point doesn’t directly affect the way Ant-Man is portrayed, I feel it’s something to bring up considering what this new series is trying to do in bringing in moviegoing audiences to comics. The depiction of Iron Man in this book I had somewhat of a problem with. Die-hard readers will understand that, after the events of Avengers & X-Men: Axis that Iron Man is still “inverted,” meaning he’s acting more villainous than he normally would. However, as this book is designed to bring new readers in on the character, readers who may not have read Axis, it makes Stark look kind of like an a-hole. He openly dismisses Scott to his face and belittles other characters as if it means nothing. Fans of the movies looking to read an Ant-Man book after seeing the movie might take umbrage with how Stark acts here, not understanding the nuances of what happened to him (as it isn’t even addressed in the book).

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An “inverted” Tony Stark acting like a real dick to Ant-Man.

Yet overall, Ant-Man succeeds in finding a fun tone that never takes itself too seriously. Similar to how Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye and Charles Soule’s She-Hulk manage to strike a balance between superhero adventures and quirky, off-the-beaten-path stories, Nick Spencer and Ramon Rosanas bring the same sensibility to Ant-Man. By getting out of New York City and having Scott wind up in Miami by issue’s end differentiates the book from the plethora of other Marvel books on stands, most set in the big apple. Marvel may have only launched this book because of the impending movie, but this series may have a longer shelf life if this first issue is anything to go by.

Have Comic Book Adaptations Ruined the Medium?

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*Spoilers for Avengers & X-Men: Axis and the current Green Arrow series lie ahead*

On Christmas day, I was sitting on my couch watching an endless parade of basketball games with my father and brother. It’s something of a yearly tradition that we do, something to entertain ourselves before relatives arrive for Christmas dinner. It was during the second game of the day that an ad came on for the new movie Kingsman: The Secret Service. Based on the comic book miniseries by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons, Kingsman ad had all the earmarks of looking like a really cool, slick film. But then I thought about the source material the movie would be based on, and I thought something to myself that got me wondering…

“If the original series was so terrible, how is it that the movie looks…dare I say it…good?”

It made me start thinking about the genre of comic book movies (yes, they belong in their own genre at this point. With something like half a dozen superhero films due out per year in the next few years, it’s hard to argue that point) and the affect they’ve had on the books they adapt to screen. While no one can really complain at seeing their favorite characters realized in glorious live action, it does raise the question of whether or not comic book stories are better off for the sudden influx of movie adaptations.

Looking at that Kingman ad again, one thing stuck out to me that began to put the puzzle pieces together as to why the movie looked good. The original series was written by a guy named Mark Millar.

Millar, for those that don’t know, is known for making his own brand of books that fall into what he has dubbed the “Millarworld” line of comics. Books like Jupiter’s Legacy and Super Crooks have fantastic taglines (like the one for his latest series, Starlight: Buzz Lightyear meets Unforgiven). Perhaps his most famous work, however, is the hit comic series Kick-Ass, drawn by superstar artist John Romita Junior. It was this very series that allowed Millar to set out on his own and make books away from the umbrella corporations that are DC and Marvel. But it was also Kick-Ass that began the trouble with all “Millarworld” books.

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The book that began the rise (or fall?) of Mark Millar. Via theartificialselectionproject.com

Each one of Millar’s books are underdeveloped. Sure, the idea is catchy and intriguing enough to get people to buy the book. Who wouldn’t ant to see a mash-up between the squeaky-clean Disney figure Buzz Lightyear and the gritty, outlaw-filled world of Unforgiven? But while the books may sound cool and fun, the story itself leaves a lot to be desired. Action happens at either a sluggish page or at breakneck speeds, always at the worst times for each. Places that should add some character development quickly get swept away, while action sequences run on for ages and take up too much space in the structuring of the series.

After trying to work my way through the mediocre Jupiter’s Legacy this past summer, I came to realize that what Millar is doing isn’t trying to put out fun comics for fans to read, but develop a storyboard for prospective filmmakers to develop into feature films. He’s not trying to create a masterpiece with each series he makes, he only wants to get the ideas down on paper in order to get any copyright benefits before the idea is snatched up by someone else. Kick-Ass was a perfect example of this, with the initial series not even finished with only a few months to go before the release of the movie. In the end, Kick-Ass was a fun flick, but at best an okay comic book. Millar’s anxiousness to see his story up on the big screen ultimately hurt the original product.

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The new status quo of Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. Via vixenvarsity.com

While Millar certainly isn’t doing the industry any favors by producing lukewarm stories that eat up fans’ hard-earned dollars, Marvel is likewise hurting their own hallowed history by messing around with what had come before. To understand this next point, I should clarify some technical things about rights regarding characters. Before the Marvel Cinematic Universe took off with Iron Man in 2008, Marvel sold the film rights to several of their characters in order to see movies made. These characters include Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, and the X-Men franchises to name some of the biggest figures involved. Because of this, Marvel no longer has the right to use any of these characters in their films.

One hot-button topic of conversation regarding this, however, has been the characters of Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. While they are mutants, and therefore fall under the X-Men franchise (which Fox owns), they are also members of the Avengers. Because of this, they fall into a grey area where both studios can use these characters. While Fox recently had Quicksilver appear in their film X-Men: Days of Future Past, Marvel will have the characters appear in the upcoming Avengers: Age of Ultron.

All of this is fine and it still makes Marvel their money, but they don’t want to help out their competition. Because they can’t have these characters be mutants (since the term “mutant” is copyrighted by Fox for the X-Men franchise), they are changing the entire histories of these to by making them inhumans instead. Revealed in the pages of Avengers & X-Men: Axis, this brother-sister duo found out that Magneto, primary foe of the X-Men for decades, was not their actual father. This paves the way for the belief that they are, in fact, inhumans and not mutants as everyone believed.

The Inhumans are similar to mutants in that they are humans that are a step forward in evolution and have a certain marker that, when activated by something called the Terrigen Mists, activates their powers. While this is an interesting development, it tears down countless years of history these two have had as being mutants. Marvel, in their attempts to ice out Fox and make themselves more money, have burned a huge bridge that stood for decades when it came to these two.

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Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, newly-minted inhumans, in the upcoming “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” Via kdramastars.com

But Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch aren’t the only figures who are being hurt by Marvel’s shrewd business deals. The Fantastic Four, having been a mediocre seller for years, is finally losing their own ongoing series and taking a backseat when it comes to the current ongoings of the Marvel Comics Universe. These characters are getting the raw end of a stick that Marvel created years ago, before their shared cinematic universe was even a glint in someone’s eye.

With old history is being torn down to fit in with the synergy being created over at Marvel, DC has decided to do something similar with one of their own fan-favorite adaptations. The TV series Arrow, now well into its third season on the air, has slowly seen new characters that were designed exclusively for the show making their way into the comic book world.

The first was John Diggle, ex-soldier and current bodyguard to Oliver Queen. Jeff Lemire, during his tenure on the current Green Arrow series, brought Diggle into the action in order to help Oliver bring down crime boss Richard Dragon and retroactively created a shred history between the two. Now, with Andrew Kreisberg co-writing the series, DC has brought in Felicity Smoak to help Oliver and Diggle fight their battles in Seattle.

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John Diggle’s first appearance in the DC comic book universe. Via ign.com

While it’s always cool to see these kinds of characters cross genres and show up in either comics or film, these characters have effectively written out other, pre-established figures within the comic book universe. Lemire took his time to introduce and develop two tech geniuses by the names of Henry Fyff and Naomi Singh. There were even points where a potential romance between Naomi and Oliver was hinted at, adding shades of complexity to these characters’ relationships to the titular hero. Yet with the introduction of Felicity into the comics, Henry and Naomi are now taking a much needed “rest” elsewhere. To have built up these characters into a cool dynamic between them and Green Arrow only to shuffle them off for synergy between the TV show and the comics only hurts the series and fans of the book from “The New 52” reboot.

Despite all of this, I still enjoy seeing these kinds of films and TV shows crop up and amaze me with their takes of wonder. But now whenever I hear that a current series is being optioned for a movie, like the recently released Wytches by Scott Snyder and Jock, I can’t help but wonder how the source material will fare to all of this. If the actions of Mark Millar, alongside Marvel and DC are anything to believe, then it might not work out so well for these comic series.

Series Review – Scalped, by Jason Aaron

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*Minor spoilers follow.*

Every now and again, a story comes along that moves people in ways they didn’t expect. Whether it be the deep characterization of the main players or the emotional resonance of the plot, some stories transcend the genre they were made for and take on a life of their own. When this happens, people begin to stand up and notice, similar to how shows like Breaking Bad can take on a life of their own by the conclusion of their run. They leave the confines of their niche and break out into the very essence of pop culture itself.

I bring up Breaking Bad because right now, everyone holds it up as the premier standard for dramas. The way the writers were able to weave each disparate plotline together into a magnificent tapestry of violence is a testament to how great stories can be told. While I won’t argue the power of Breaking Bad and the legacy it left behind, I don’t think it is the premier crime drama everyone thinks it is.

That title belongs to Scalped. Written by Jason Aaron, with art by R.M. Guera and a plethora of others, the series brings together broken and flawed characters into a powder keg of emotions and grudges dating back decades. Over the course of sixty issues and ten collections, Aaron and company manage to create a story that is disturbingly beautiful and emotionally haunting, setting a new bar for not only graphic storytelling, but storytelling as a whole.

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Scalped, volume 1: Indian Country. Via comixology.com

The series begins with Dashiell “Dash” Bad Horse returning to his birthplace of Prairie Rose Indian Reservation after being away for over a decade. Once on “The Rez,” Dash joins up with local Tribal Chief and crime boss Lincoln Red Crow to work inside his organization as a tribal cop. While everyone assumes Dash is back to join in on the takings of a newly built casino, in reality he is an undercover F.B.I. agent sent in to bring down Red Crow once and for all. But like all undercover cop stories, Dash begins to wonder which side he’s really on, and how he’s going to make it out in one piece.

What is arguably the best aspect of the series is the writing. Aaron brings perhaps his best comic work to the series by showcasing a once-noble people who have been treated like dirt because of the system they live in. That system creates perhaps some of the most nuanced and complex characters in all of comics, regardless of genre. From Red Crow, the crime boss who only wants what’s best for “his” people, to Dino Poor Bear, a struggling father who believes he only does bad things for the good of his family, each character has enough flaws and attributes to make them feel like real people you could meet out on the street.

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Dash Bad Horse. Via comicvine.com

This depth of character is also shown in the protagonist of this series, Dash Bad Horse. With a bad attitude and lightning-quick nun-chucks in tow, Dash makes his mark known on the Rez as being a hardened, tough-as-nails criminal who doesn’t care about anyone beyond himself. There will even be times when you may hate the character’s guts for some of the actions he makes. But as the series unfolds, Aaron is able to bring more of Dash’s past out into the light and showcase not only the traumas he experienced throughout his life that made him who he is. Dash may do horrible things, but only because so much was missing from his life to begin with. By the end, the reader can’t help but feel sympathy for Dash’s plight and the trajectory his life has taken him through.

But that trajectory leads him into another aspect of what makes Scalped so breathtakingly beautiful is the cyclical nature of the Rez and the roles that must be followed. Throughout the series, readers are introduced to characters that both aid and hurt the people on the Rez. Absentee fathers driven away by pain and regret mingle with medicine women who try and help others without thinking of themselves. They help to define the flaws of the Rez, but also showcase what makes it such a remarkable place. Yet by the end of the final issue, those roles have been vacated due to death and outside actions. Yet Aaron brings certain characters full-circle by having them fill these roles, not only fulfilling their roles but also showing that these people, whether they be good or bad for the community, will always be there.

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Scalped, volume 2: Casino Boogie. Via comixology.com

Within these roles that Aaron defines out, there are no true “villains,” making this series rise above others in the portrayal of their characters. Yes, there are those that work against Dash and his quest to get what he wants, but only because what they want stands against what Dash wants. Aaron manages to take the time to have certain story arcs follow these “villains,” giving them the depth Aaron brings to all of the characters. One such figure that stands out in this regard is Shunka, the head bodyguard and right-hand man of Red Crow at the start of the series. For a good portion of the story, Shunka manages to only stand as a side-character that has little to him. But in the story arc entitled “A Fine Action of an Honorable and Catholic Spaniard,” Aaron brings his A-game by turning a baddie who had only been a one-note gruff into an emotionally complex figure.

It’s these kinds of reveals where the series rewards multiple re-reads. Many times, the narrative of a story flows in a direct and unchanged path. While that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it doesn’t add much to going back and experiencing it again and again. Scalped doesn’t face this problem, giving readers plenty of plotlines to go back and review with new eyes to everything that goes on.

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Shunka showing his bad side, from “Scalped” #36. Via comixology.com

All of this makes Scalped a series to take note of in it of itself, but the story would be nothing without the artistic aid of R.M. Guera. Showcasing the dirty reality of what life on an Indian Reservation is truly like, Guera captures the pain these people live with on a consistent basis, issue after issue. From the trash-filled backyards children walk through to the grungy meth labs that pepper the countryside, Guera shows the dismal reality that faces many Native Americans across the country.

Yet at the same time, Guera also brings nobility to these people’s lives that still hangs in the air. While Prairie Rose may be a hellish place to live, there is also the history of nobility to these people’s lives that still hangs in the air. They may be poor, alcoholic, and miserable, but their history shows that they will always have some level of importance that no one can take away. In one of the most resonant issues of the series, Guera, alongside a group of superstar artists, show the true nature of Native Americans and how they will always be a part of the history of this country.

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The grimy world of “Scalped,” drawn by Guera. Via comixology.com

Yet despite a high level of greatness, everything must come to an end. Scalped, being no exception, brings all of its true power and emotional weight for the final two volumes of the series, entitled “Knuckle Up” and “Trail’s End,” respectively. By bringing in threads that had been introduced and left dangling even from the very first issue, Aaron and Guera pull out all the stops to have Dash’s world, and the world of Prairie Rose, brought down around their ears. The catharsis that each character goes through is heavy and knocks right in your gut, making you realize how much you care for even the smaller characters Aaron and Guera brought into the series.

All of this culminates in the final issue, where the fates of everyone are dealt with in fashion and all plotlines are wrapped up. The tension may be gone, but the final four pages of the series, in which one character reflects on their home and what the future may hold for them, packs such emotion it still gets me each time I read it. Aaron manages to capture a mood that nearly everyone feels and condenses it down into an inner-monologue that can’t be beat.

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The catharsis of an ending. Via joblo.com

It’s hard for me to read crime books now, ever since I finished Scalped for the first time. None have been able to match the intensity and compelling nature of life on the Rez, and I have no doubt it’s going to be a long time before I find another story that does match it. I’ve since gone back and re-read the series all the way through again and it still feels emotional by the end. Very few stories have been able to do that to me, and when they do they’re absolutely something special. This book might sit at the top of that list now.

So here I am, ranting and raving about how fantastic this series is. If you take away anything from this piece, it’s that you should go out and read it. Talk about it. Have debates about it. Enjoy it. Feel the ride and experience the weight that these characters have to them. Even if you don’t think of it as highly as I do, at least you’ll have seen what I have and understand why I love Scalped above nearly all other stories.

Has DC Really Given Up on “The New 52?”

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Announced in the spring of 2011, DC Comics revealed to both fans and critics alike their plans for the future of their comics. Cancelling every single comic they were currently publishing and relaunching their entire line, DC was making a major effort to bring in both new readers to their books as well as regain old readers who had given up on them. The announcement of this new wave of books, which carried the brand of “The New 52,” was set to change the landscape of comics.

Three and a half years later, DC is now waist-deep into their bold venture. “The New 52” has managed to make them duffel bags full of money they wouldn’t have normally received. On top of that, books like Wonder Woman and Batman saw critically-acclaimed runs that are already being touted as instant classics. But despite all of this, signs have begun appearing that DC may be jumping ship and going back to their old universe and leaving behind the venture that is “The New 52.”

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Promotional ad for The New 52. Via insidepulse.com

The signs of change for DC have been playing out over the past several months, and have slowly grown to a head. Two ongoing weekly series, The New 52: Future’s End and Earth 2: World’s End have both been hyped by the powers-that-be at DC as being driving forces for what is to come for the multiverse of stories they publish. With both series playing out near-apocalyptic scenarios for the characters, it is no surprise that something big is on the way. Tie that in with the appearance of the Anti-Monitor, a being known for destroying universes that was made famous in the seminal tale Crisis on Infinite Earths, and readers can tell something big is on the way.

That “something big” was revealed a few months ago when DC unveiled their next major crossover event, entitled Convergence. The main book in this massive event, written by Jeff King (executive producer of the TV series White Collar), will see parallel earths fusing together and facing off against one another as Brainiac, the classic Superman villain, introduces countless cities from these disparate dimensions thrown together. If there was any way to bring back the old universe and do away with “The New 52,” this was it.

While this may seem like just another mass-marketing ploy to suck up more of fans’ hard-earned dollars, what’s important to note about this is the fact that executives at DC have already been saying how every story will be coming back for this one. Every story. Reading between the lines, it isn’t hard to see that the old DC universe that was scrapped for “The New 52” is coming back during the event. Add onto the fire that 2015 marks the thirtieth anniversary of Crisis on Infinite Earths, a story that changed the landscape of the DC universe by erasing countless years of continuity, and it seems like Convergence may have a bigger role in the history of DC than originally thought.

But the overhaul that could be coming isn’t just apparent in the stories DC publishes. The publisher just announced that in March, one month before Convergence is set to begin, no less than thirteen of their ongoing series will see cancellation. Some books have even been published since the start of “The New 52,” including Batwoman, Green Lantern: New Guardians, and Swamp Thing. While none of these titles have had superstar numbers, they also didn’t have such horrible sales that they warranted cancellation. Some books, like Swamp Thing, have even been some of the most critically acclaimed books for the publisher. With (seemingly) no reason for DC to be cancelling these books, could this be a hint that a major change in the DC universe is on the way, spelling doom for “The New 52?”

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Promotional material for “Convergence.” Via dccomics.com

But why would DC be giving up on something that has made them so much money and made such a huge splash three years ago? One obvious reason is that the newness has worn off. After three years of stories that have been either hit-or-miss in quality, it’s hard to still call something “new.” Imagine calling a car you bought three years ago new. People would look at you like you’re crazy. At that point it’s just a car. Following this logic, “The New 52” is now just a comic book line, with little to nothing new about it.

On top of that, DC has been slowly losing out on the comic book market to competing publishers like Marvel and Image. In November alone, DC only held two slots in the top ten highest-selling comics of the month, with Marvel claiming the remaining eight. With graphic novels, DC fared somewhat better by having three of the top ten slots, but only one of those books actually takes place within “The New 52.” The other two are an “elseworlds” tale and a book published by sister company Vertigo. In overall shares, DC only had 27.47% dollar share, trailing Marvel by seven percent.

When “The New 52” first premiered, it was the talk of the comic book world. DC managed to sell out of every single issue they published that month, being forced to go back and reprint new copies to meet the high demand for their books. In the first few months of “The New 52” experiment, DC dominated the sales charts and overtook Marvel for the first time in years. Now that the excitement has worn off, perhaps DC is looking to backtrack and return to the universe that made them famous in order to make another grab at fans.

Along with the obvious financial reasons for making the change back, there are other factors that fans have griped about ever since the introduction of “The New 52.” The major factor being that fan-favorite characters have either not been introduced, like Ralph Dibny or Cassandra Cain, or have been changed in a way that doesn’t honor the long and honored history of the character, like Wally West. DC has taken some chances on a few characters like this (see West for an example) only to be told by fans that they want the old versions of these characters back. DC could use Convergence as a way to bring these versions of the characters back, if not the entire pre-“New 52” universe.

On top of this, a key talking point about “The New 52” was the lack of diversity in creators working on books, specifically the lack of female creators. At the start of “The New 52,” the only regular female creator was Gail Simone, and the rest of the books were written and drawn by men. Fan outrage was made apparent, and DC tried to do more to bring in creators that would tell great stories. If a return to the old was in the cards for DC, then maybe they could capitalize by having a few female-led books written by women to help diversify their creative pool.

But all of this is speculation, with signs pointing to the idea that DC wouldn’t completely forego their “New 52” line. Scott Snyder, the current writer of Batman, has openly teased some of his plans for the book after his current story arc wraps up, hinting that the Bat-verse will at least remain the same. Similarly, Geoff Johns is still seeding ideas for an eventual showdown between the Justice League, Darkseid, and the Anti-Monitor in a Justice League storyline entitled “The Darkseid War.”

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The cover to “Justice League 40,” the prologue to the Darkseid War storyline. Via newsarama.com.

If these hints are anything to note, then maybe DC hasn’t yet given up on “The New 52.” Then again, they did take some aspects of the old universe and incorporate them into “The New 52” as it was beginning, like the recent developments in the Green Lantern line of books. Perhaps DC will salvage the best, most lucrative parts of “The New 52,” such as Batman and Justice League, and bring those stories into a newer, streamlined version of the old DC universe.

DC has been riding the train of “The New 52” for the past three and a half years, and it has brought them some exceedingly fantastic stories in that span of time. However, sales have dwindled over the past few months and DC can no longer compete with their rival, Marvel Comics. Perhaps they no see this as a time to abandon the line that helped them all those years ago and return to what many fans have been clamoring for ever since the premier of this line; the old DC universe, back and giving readers new stories with the versions of the characters they grew up loving.