Fastball Feedback: Comic Book Reviews for May 27

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on May 27, 2015.

Fastball Feedback - May 27

This week for Fastball Feedback, we’re taking a look at profitable careers in violence. There are three comics this week that are focused on violent men and women who make a killing (pun absolutely intended) with their skills. Whether it’s a group of students learning the art of assassination, a relapsed psychotic fighter, or a gigantic headhunting–err– head, all of these characters make for some interesting comics.

Deadly Class 13

Deadly Class #13

Written by Rick Remender

Art by Wes Craig

Colors by Lee Loughridge

Deadly Class #13 brings an end to the sprawling fight sequence that began in Deadly Class #10. What started as a mission to kill Marcus’ rival F***face exploded into this much larger battle against Maria’s sponsors, a deadly Cartel family. Despite the fact that this battle has spanned four issues, the story never felt like it was dragging. Instead it has gripped readers with new cliffhangers and shocking moments that have all led to an incredibly satisfying conclusion.

Wes Craig’s work has been a revelation on Deadly Class. He constructs chase and fight sequences with precision and panache. Everything from the tight framing of blows when Maria faces off against the priest to her teeth-gritting grimace is absolutely perfect. Pain, determination, and ferocity flow from her form and actions just as much as her words when she denounces the cartel for killing her family. Deadly Class has become a benchmark against which all other action comics can be compared, and Craig’s work here shows just why that is.

Deadly Class #13 may be dominated by a fight sequence, but Rick Remender is no slouch on the script. He uses action to illustrate character, rather having it fill gaps between conversations. Maria, Marcus, and everyone else involved in this battle are clearly changed by it, and reveal some essential bit of who they are in what they do. The fire and fury is every bit important as the dialogue that follows. It’s a perfect use of action in comics, recognizing that bullets and blades can illustrate ideas just as well as speech balloons.

And then there’s that ending, the penultimate page of the issue that will shred your heart. It’s a reminder that life doesn’t end, victories aren’t permanent, and danger never disappears. Remender has never let his characters off easily and he isn’t interested in happy endings. What he, Craig, and Loughridge are interested in in Deadly Class is something less cathartic, but more significant. It’s a tale that no matter how big and crazy it gets is always grounded by humanity. That’s why Deadly Class #13 hurts so good.

Grade: A

Fight Club 2

Fight Club 2 #1

Written by Chuck Palahniuk

Art by Cameron Stewart

Colors by Dave Stewart

Some ideas are best left alone. No matter how popular or critically acclaimed they are, they ought to simply exist without prequel or sequel because there is nothing left to say. Fight Club 2 #1 makes it exceedingly clear that Fight Club is one of these ideas. Palahniuk has returned to his best-selling novel that spawned one of David Fincher’s most revered films to tell the story of Sebastian (the unnamed narrator of the original story) ten years after he killed his alter-ego, Tyler Durden.

Every element of the story reads as if it were copied and pasted from the original text. It is constructed like high school fan fiction, playing what readers enjoyed about the original on a loop. The characters and concepts in Fight Club 2 have all reverted to their origins in Fight Club. A marriage and child simply play out as new ways to display what a sadsack Sebastian has become. The ideas of the comic are sophomoric, revealing both this issue’s lack of depth, as well as problems in the original text. It spits in the eye of modern society in a manner that same fanfic writing high schooler might revel in, but lacks any real substance.

This is all the more disappointing considering the incredible talent Palahniuk has parlayed into bringing this story to life. Cameron Stewart and Dave Stewart are two of the best artistic talents working in American comics today, and it’s a shame to see those talents squandered on a story that reads like a cheap knockoff. Cameron Stewart’s page layouts are as packed as ever, fitting 15 panels and wild montages into a completely natural reading experience. His sense of geography in even simple scenes is exceedingly clear, and it’s only his pencils that make these characters feel the least bit human.

Even both Stewart’s contributions are occasionally buried under the inclusion of pills and flower petals that cover the page. It’s a “cute” idea that adds nothing of value to the pages nor any depth to the story in this first issue. That lack of value is endemic of Fight Club 2’s entire debut. It is a work without substance or meaning, beautifully realized before being quickly and mercifully forgotten.

Grade: D

MODOK Assassin 1

M.O.D.O.K. Assassin #1

Written by Christopher Yost

Art by Amilcar Pinna and Terry Pallot

Colors by Rachelle Rosenberg

M.O.D.O.K. Assassin #1 is set in Killsville, a section of Battleworld dominated by the meanest and ugliest villains of the Marvel Universe. While Baron Mordo may rule the land, M.O.D.O.K. runs amok doing only what he was designed to: Kill. Christopher Yost plays the premise for comedic value, but it’s never clear whether we should be laughing at M.O.D.O.K. or with him. There are two big action sequences that bookend the first issue, featuring M.O.D.O.K. taking down two very different foes. Neither really serve a purpose beyond creating havoc for M.O.D.O.K.’s amusement, but the titular character isn’t half as funny as he fancies himself.

M.O.D.O.K.’s humor is entirely based on sarcasm and an annoying level of confidence. After a few pages, it begins to grate and by the end of the issue it’s difficult not to root against the enormous head. His looks don’t help either, but that part is purposeful. Amilcar Pinna and Terry Pallot play up the ugliness of this character design, focusing on M.O.D.O.K.’s tightly stretched face, thin lips, and pug nose. It’s this presentation that manages to make him still feel like something of an underdog when facing off against the chiseled chins and sleek outfits of Bullseye and Baron Mordo.

The action sequences have a madcap sensibility to them as well, where M.O.D.O.K.is effective, but never cool. A spread at the beginning of the comic captures the weirdness Yost seems to be aiming for at its best. M.O.D.O.K.’s stilted internal monologue and juvenile sense of humor (think a sixth grader on Reddit) still drag the joy of rockets and mental blasts down. He’s at his best when he simply shuts up and gets the job done. There’s the seed of a fun idea here, but M.O.D.O.K. himself seems determined to kill it.

Grade: C-

What did you think of this week’s comics? Sound off in the comments below.

Posted in Comic Reviews, ComicBook.Com, Comics, Wednesday Checkup | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

ComicBook Countdown: The Week of May 25

CC - 052515

The world of TV and at the movies are finally slowing down after a month of big finales and releases. But worry not, as the comic shelves are still loaded with exciting new releases. That makes this the perfect week to swing by your local comic book store if you haven’t been in a while. As “Convergence” draws to a close, DC Comics is publishing some of their most exciting new releases of the year. There’s so much good stuff coming from DC this week, that we didn’t even have room to include the director’s cut of The Muliveristy: Pax Americana. That says a lot.

CC - 5 - San Andreas

5. San Andreas | Warner Bros. Picutres

There have been plenty of movies featuring disasters this summer, from a crumbling city inThe Avengers: Age of Ultron to the fire-filled Mad Max: Fury Road. San Andreas is the first true disaster flick of 2015 though, and it looks to be a doozy. Falling skyscrapers and exploding dams fill the trailers, but there’s only one solid reason to check this one out: The Rock. He’s the kind of actor who combines big drama and bigger stunts into popcorn flicks that allow you to settle back and enjoy the CGI slugfest.

CC - 4 - Game of Thrones Hardhome

4. Game of Thrones “Hardhome” | HBO

Game of Thrones is drawing very close to the end of its fifth season now, and it’s hard to know what to expect at this point. As a book reader, I’ve been blown away from the very start with lots of changes being made, and almost all of them improving upon the source material. Jon Snow’s story has stayed largely on track, but his visit and alliance with the Wildlings is bound to shock book-readers and show-watchers alike. “Hardhome” may come one week before Game of Thrones’ notorious episode 9, but I don’t think we can only expect the unexpected.

CC - 3 - Sandman Overture 5

3. The Sandman: Overture #5 | Vertigo Comics

I won’t actually believe this is coming out until it’s end in my hands, but assuming the solicits are correct, then we call all be excited about the release of The Sandman: Overture #5. The increasingly delayed mini-series is proof that long waits can lead to greater rewards. Neil Gaiman’s return to his comics opus has been as lovingly detailed and poetic as fans expected, but for me this series is all about J.H. Williams III. His painted compositions are without peer, bringing the wildest dreamscapes from Gaiman’s script into vivid reality. It is a truly beautiful piece of art, one that we will hopefully get to see a new chapter of this Wednesday. Hopefully.

CC - 2 - The Valiant

2. The Valiant TPB | Valiant Entertainment

Ever since their return to the comics industry, Valiant Entertainment has been setting a bold example in superhero comics. Their series all reflect unique ideas, genre elements, and artistic styles. Nowhere is their focus on revitalizing superheroes more apparent than in this four-part blockbuster of a crossover. It’s tightly written, epic in scope, and beautifully realized, everything you could want from an event. Even better, it’s entirely accessible to new readers. Matt Kindt, Jeff Lemire, and Paolo Rivera have outdone themselves in The Valiant. This is a must-read for anyone who likes superhero comics.

CC - 1 - Convergence Shazam 2

1. Convergence: Shazam #2 | DC Comics

I have not been the biggest fan of the Convergence event. It’s just not my cup of tea. But there has been one enormous exception: Convergence: Shazam. Doc Shaner, Jeff Parker, and Jordie Bellaire, the same team that revitalized Flash Gordon at Boom, has brought the magic of Shazam to life. It is a beautiful fever dream of Golden Age superheroics summoned by some of the greatest talents of modern comics. There is so much to love about their version of Shazam, that I have to doubt the humanity of anyone not enjoying this two-part series. We’re lucky to have received both of these issues, and maybe we’ll be lucky enough to see DC Comics offer this team an ongoing series down the road. They certainly deserve it.

What new comics, shows, and other releases are you looking forward to this week? Share in the comments below.

Posted in Comic Trends, ComicBook.Com, Comics | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Superhero Films Open the Door to Women in Hollywood

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on May 25, 2015.

Wonder Woman

This year will see the release of at least 13 films budgeted at over $100 million, possibly more depending on films like Ant-Man, which may come close. While 2014 saw that many productions breach the $150 million mark, that’s still a lot of money being spent to produce the movies we fondly refer to as blockbusters. There is no bigger stage in the world for stories right now than these big budget films being produced in Hollywood. They are found in cinemas worldwide, often garnering more than $1 billion at the box office, before being distributed again across the internet. Scroll any website or walk down any city sidewalk in summer, and it’s plain to see that these are the stories everyone is seeing. Below is a list of all 13 set to breach the $100 million mark, and the directors given the responsibility of steering these massive movies.

The Avengers: Age of Ultron – Joss Whedon – $280 Million

Fantastic Four – Josh Trank – $122 Million

Furious 7 – James Wan – $190 Million

Jupiter Ascending – The Wachowskis – $176 Million

Jurassic World – Colin Trevorrow – $150 Million

Mad Max: Fury Road – George Miller – $150 Million

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation – Christopher McQuarrie – TBD

Pan – Joe Wright –  $150 Million

San Andreas – Brad Peyton – $100 Million

Spectre – Sam Mendes – TBD

Star Wars: The Force Awakens – J.J. Abrams – TBD

Terminator Genisys – Alan Taylor – $170 Million

Tomorrowland – Brad Bird – $190 Million

Looking at the list of directors, one observation is too obvious to ignore. They are almost all men.

I say “almost” because Lana Wachowski is one half of the Wachowski partnership. Besides her, not single woman directed a movie over $100 million dollars this summer.

In fact, only one woman has directed a movie over $100 million dollars on her own ever: Kathryn Bigelow. She directed K-19: The Widowmaker with a budget of $102 million in 2002. That was 13 years ago.

Bigelow has been Hollywood’s single, reliable exception to the lack of women directing large studio pictures. Before K-19: The Widowmaker she made her bones on features like Near Dark, Strange Days, and Point Break, which transformed Keanu Reeves from stoner to action star. While she has not dealt with a budget quite as large since, her films have been well received both critically and commercially. The Hurt Locker  won a slew of awards in 2008 (although it was independently funded), and Zero Dark Thirty was released to an even greater response from the public. Bigelow has not so much broken the glass ceiling for women directors in Hollywood, so much as she has become the exception to prove the rule.

Even Lana Wachowski’s successful partnership with her brother Andy is tempered by the fact that she broke into Hollywood identifying as a man. Neither she nor any studio acknowledged her gender transition until after the release of Speed Racer, the fifth blockbuster directed by the Wachowskis. The first studio film directed by Lana after acknowledging her transition wasCloud Atlas in 2012, 16 years after the success of The Matrix.

Looking at the representation of women telling stories in Hollywood at any level is depressing. When you focus on the film’s that receive and earn the most money, the problem could not be any plainer. There are few boy’s clubs bigger than the one composed of Hollywood directors, and the result if that women are being excluded from sharing their voices on the largest stage in the world right now.

There are no excuses for this in the year 2015.

Some will claim that no women in Hollywood have the necessary experience and skills to direct films on this scale. Not only are there women ably prepared to take on these projects (who we’ll discuss very soon), but this standard isn’t even being applied to the current roster of blockbusters. Josh Trank’s largest film before being handed the reins of Fantastic Fourwas Chronicle. While it was a superhero flick, it only cost $12 million. Colin Trevorrow, the director of Jurassic World, makes for an even more extreme example. Safety Not Guaranteed, his last and most expensive film, cost only $750 thousand. While both of these men have shown skill behind the camera, they lack any experience directing films of this scale.

The other common counter-argument is that studios ought to simply pick the best person for the job regardless of race or gender. It’s a fine argument if you are living in a perfectly equitable society, which we are not. If you truly believe that only the best people are being hired to direct, then you have to accept that white men are inherently better suited to the job (because they receive it the vast majority of the time). If that’s a premise that sounds perfectly reasonable, then it’s time to sit in the corner and think about what’s in your head.

This is the point where thing can seem pretty hopeless. Looking at a sea of exciting new films, reaching people around the world, and all of them are being directed by men. But I’m not ready to give up on Hollywood and it doesn’t look like Hollywood is giving up. Marvel Studios and Warner Brothers, the studios behind two of the biggest blockbuster franchises today have either hired or are actively seeking women to direct an upcoming film. And to me, it makes perfect sense that superhero stories, tales of hope and justice if there ever were any, are leading the way.

Warner Brothers initially hired Michelle MacLaren to direct the upcoming Wonder Womanfilm. When creative differences led to the studio and director parting ways, they opted to hire Patty Jenkins, rather than giving up. Jenkins’ 2003 film Monster is a masterpiece (Roger Ebert named it the third best film of the decade). Although she has focused on smaller projects since like the film Five and episodes of both The Killing and Betrayal, Jenkins has shown she is an incredibly skilled storyteller and cinematographer ready for this opportunity.

Marvel Studios has not officially hired a woman to direct an upcoming film yet. However, they are currently searching for people to head up Black Panther, Captain Marvel, Thor: Ragnarok, and Inhumans. They have also been meeting with Ava DuVernay, director of the superb Selma. DuVernay is perhaps the brightest rising star in Hollywood and could make an excellent fit for any of these films (although I would love to see her direct another large ensemble in the lands of Wakanda). Marvel Studios has also made a point of hiring Nicole Perlman and Meg Lefauve to write Captain Marvel, providing encouragement that the movie will feature a woman’s perspective.

MacLaren, Jenkins, and DuVernay are far from the only women deserving of a shot at the biggest films in Hollywood. Lena Dunham’s work on HBO’s Girls has been consistently great, and has risen to the sublime in episodes like “Beach House” and “Home Birth”. She’s also worked closely with Judd Apatow, receiving a mentorship from one of the most popular directors working today. Debra Granik, the director of Winter’s Bone and Jennifer Lawrence’s breakout role, is developing a series with HBO currently, but it has not been greenlit. Jennifer Kent’s breakout work on The Babadook last year ought to have her on any smart producers map. And the list goes on including incredible directors like Angelina Jolie (Unbroken), Dee Rees (Bessie), and Amy Seimetz (Sun Don’t Shine).

Some like Jolie have expressed a lack of interest in directing blockbusters. It is difficult to believe that none of these women have any desire to leave their fingerprint on cultural landmarks like the superheroes of Marvel and DC, terminators, aliens, and so many others though. Studios and audiences would be lucky to have any of them leave their mark though. Right now we are only receiving these massive stories from the perspective of half of our population. In turn we are missing out on half of what can seen and experienced. By denying these women the opportunity to direct blockbusters, we are hurting ourselves.

It looks like we will be in for some good luck in 2017 when MacLaren’s Wonder Woman is due to be released, and it seems likely that DuVernay and Marvel will follow up soon after. These two opportunities mark an important start. They are the opening shots in an attempt to change Hollywood and help our most popular form of entertainment reflect the audience who loves it. Each of the women mentioned in this article represent a unique vision and opportunity for these massive films to pursue. Whether it is the incredibly tense and idiosyncratic storytelling of Jennifer Kent or the masterful scope and style of Ava DuVernary, these women are offering us blockbuster films like nothing we have experienced to date. As audiences we are lucky to demand to hear these tales, and studios ought to consider themselves lucky to have access to this talent. With any luck at all, we’ll only hear more from these incredible women in the years to come.

Posted in ComicBook.Com, Critical Analysis, Film | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Looking for a Theme: Lessons Learned from April Comics Sales

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on May 22, 2015.

Sales

Trying to discern trends in comics from Diamond’s industry statistics is a bit like peering into a crystal ball. I’ve tackled the subject before here and spent a large portion of the analysis discovering what numbers could even be trusted. Diamond’s numbers only represent physical sales to retailers in North America, leaving out a lot of key data. Assuming sales are an accurate reflection of readership is unfair because there’s no way to tell how many copies are actually sold in stores. But here I am, going once more unto the breach and attempting to discover some insight in the April sales numbers.

One of the important points of comparison when looking at the best selling comics in North America is how they are measured: in dollar or units. With standard price points ranging between $2.99 and $4.99, and extreme outliers like 25¢ and $9.99, there’s no guarantee that the comic with the most issues sold made the most money. Let’s take a look at the top ten best selling comics in April based on both measures.

Top Ten Best Selling Comics in April 2015 (by Units Sold)

Title Units Sold Price
Star Wars #4 203,817 $3.99
Convergence #0* 143,053 $4.99
Convergence #1* 132,747 $4.99
Batman #40 131,128 $4.99
Darth Vader #4 123,394 $3.99
Convergence #2* 111,760 $3.99
Convergence #3* 109,388 $3.99
Kanan: The Last Padawan #1 108,167 $3.99
Convergence #4* 106,131 $3.99
Princess Leia #3 102,434 $3.99

Top Ten Best Selling Comics in April 2015 (by Dollars)

Title Units Sold Price
Deadpool #45 96,897 $9.99
Star Wars #4 203,817 $3.99
Batman #40 131,128 $4.99
Convergence #0* 143,053 $4.99
Convergence #1* 132,747 $4.99
Darth Vader #4 123,394 $3.99
Convergence #2* 111,760 $3.99
Spider-Gwen #3 102,234 $3.99
Kanan: The Last Padawan #1 108,167 $3.99
Convergence #3* 109,388 $3.99

Issues of Convergence on these lists are marked with an asterisk. This is because DC Comics is allowing retailers to return up to 100% of their orders (and including a 10% discount) on the series as long as they order at least as much as they ordered of Batman #31, so Diamond has “slightly reduced numbers”. This means that the numbers shown are less than those ordered, but do not accurately reflect the amount returned. Neither that information nor the formula used by Diamond to reduce the quantities is known, so the final sales to retailers will likely remain a mystery. It’s one more example in a long line of examples as to why a ranking on this list should not be treated as the gospel truth. It’s the best information we have to work with though, so we’ll assume these numbers are close to accurate, unless new information arises.

So what can we observe in these two lists?

Deadpool #45 is an obvious outlier. While it is only ranked #13 by units, it is #1 by dollars. This is because it is cost twice as much as any other comic in the top ten at the price point of $9.99 for 86 pages. That price and content have more in common with a graphic novel than a comic book based on consumption. However, there is a key difference in that, unlike graphic novels, Deadpool #45 is only available to be ordered by comic retailers excluding the bookstore market. This is a very real benefit to local comic stores, encouraging readers to shop with them instead of Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

The correlation between price point and pages is reliably coordinated between many of the best-selling comics. Convergence #0 and #1, as well Batman #40, are all priced at $4.99, but also come with 40 pages. Convergence #2, #3, and #4 are only 32 pages, but also reflect a decreased price of $3.99. These six issues along with Deadpool #45 create an a linear correlation between price and page count. That goes right out the window when Marvel Comics’ other titles are included. All of the Star Wars titles (Star Wars, Darth Vader, Kanan: The Last Padawan, and Princess Leia) and Spider-Gwen cost $3.99, and come in at 22 pages, 10 less than their DC Comics counterparts at the same cost.

There’s also a notable drop in sales between Convergence #0, #1,and #2, decreasing by 10,306 units and then 20,987. Convergence#2, #3, and #4 all come very close to the floor established by Batman #31 for returns. They are all less than 5,000 units above the total sales of Batman #31: 107,499. This gives the appearance that retailers are ordering just enough to receive the discount and be allowed to return unsold stock, no more.

So we can we draw any conclusions or ideas from the observations and data listed above? I think so, but only with a much bigger asterisk than the one Diamond places next toConvergence titles. We are drawing from an incomplete and flawed set of data, and focusing on the cursory statistic provided at the very top of all that. Even considering these restrictions, the numbers do suggest some interesting points.

First of all, the return program for Convergence makes the sales numbers, especially those past #0 and #1, very unreliable. Retailers appear to be ordering just enough to receive discounts with no risk to themselves. There are always incentives to account for, but this is an offer so good that it would be foolish for retailers to not order the necessary amount.

I spoke with several retailers about this to see how well Convergence was selling and whether any of the other titles in the top ten offered similar incentives. Spider-Gwen#3 was accompanied with a 10% discount, if ordered at 150% of Amazing Spider-Man. However, this is an offer that multiple retailers I spoke with declined due to a lack of confidence that the new series could outsell one of Marvel’s best-selling series. This may still explain why that issue ranks so closely to Amazing Spider-Man in the month of April. The return and discount offer on Convergence is truly unique and the numbers it is producing does not appear to reflect sales in stores. Jason Dasenbrock, co-owner of the Eisner Award winning Legend Comics and Coffee in Omaha, NE, had this to say:

“Actual sales on Convergence are dismal, I will be returning 55-60% of our order. I slashed the orders for the #2’s of the tie-ins by 50% and we still aren’t selling through most of them.”

The other titles in this list all sold through at a rate of 95-100% at Legend, with Batman #40selling out in only six hours.

Leef Smith, owner of Mission: Comics & Art in San Francisco, CA, said, “Convergence has been weak seller, with the main series doing ‘ok’ and tepid sales for all tie-ins.” However, other big DC Comics like Batman #40 and The Multiversity #2 have both sold very well for him. Smith also commented that Star Wars sale have been “brisk”, comprising 6% of all his sales from Marvel Comics.

Convergence sold better at Larry’s comics in Lowell, MA, with every issue being one of the store’s top ten sellers in April. Larry Doherty, the owner, mentioned that as the series continued fans “reluctantly picked up the main series” and “sell through on the crossover titles has been terrible.” Deadpool #45, Batman #40, Star Wars titles, and The Walking Dead were all top money makers for the store.

Based on these anecdotes, it’s clear that Convergence sales to retailers do not reflect sales to readers. If you throw out the three Convergence titles which just meet the minimum requirement to be returned, then the top ten list as ranked by units sold includes Spider-Gwen #3, Amazing Spider-Man #17, and Deadpool #45 instead.

Both top ten lists are dominated by comics that could be described as events. Convergenceis a literal event and the re-launch of Star Wars at Marvel has been received the same treatment as an event. Batman #40 and Deadpool #45 are both landmark issues, concluding a well-publicized storyline and concluding a well-loved series, respectively. I would only characterize as Spider-Gwen and Amazing Spider-Man as not being event comics, and both of them just barely reach the bottom of the top ten.

The high sales, in both units and dollars, accompanied by higher price points reveals that the price of event comics is likely very inelastic. Without digging too deep into Microeconomics 101, price elasticity refers to how buyers increase or decrease purchasing in response to a change in price. These comics appear to be inelastic because increases in their cover price do not seem to be met with proportional decreases in sales. Basically, we’ll keep buying these event comics no matter how much they cost.

Diamond’s data doesn’t support the kind of economic analysis necessary to come up with some real numbers on this subject, but there’s enough here to support the idea.  People don’t appear to be deterred from buying Star Wars or Convergence #0 despite them costing more than many other comics featuring science fiction and superheroes (the closest comparable items). There is something special about these properties that cannot be substituted for many readers. The amount of content provided doesn’t appear to matter significantly either. Star Wars #4 sold better than any other comic priced $3.99, but only contained about one-third less pages than many other comics that cost the same or less.

Batman #40 sold about 12,000 more issues than Batman #39, and Deadpool #45 sold about 58,000 more issues than Deadpool #44. The attraction to these big finales over the regular ongoing story is clear. This is explained by a variety of reasons in addition to them being events though, like variant covers and the unique collector’s market.

That’s a lot of data and a lot of dissection, but this mix of anecdotes and analysis boils down to two key lessons.

One: Don’t trust the numbers. Publishers like to brag about where they ranked in Diamond’s monthly statistics, but there’s really no reason to brag. Not only do these numbers fail to reflect the entire market (excluding digital sales and international market), but they also fail to incorporate unique strategies like the return policy of Convergence. Asterisks on these numbers are not minor notes, but a mark that they are completely unreliable.

Two: As much as independent publishers have to brag about, they are still far from the giants on mainstream comics market. Even runaway successes like The Walking Dead and Sagaonly rank at 20 and 30, respectively, for units sold, and much lower on dollars considering both are still priced at $2.99. Corporately owned intellectual property and well-marketed events still dominate comics in North America. Devoted fans of franchises like Star Wars and the DC universe are not easily deterred by higher prices or a comparable lack of content, and comprise the greatest buying power in comics today.

The most important takeaway from all of this isn’t what comics consumers are buying, as much as the fact that consumers are buying comics. Sales are up, stores are successful, and more people are discovering comics. That’s a lesson you can discover looking at these numbers or walking into most comic book stores, and it makes the future look a little brighter.

Posted in Comic Trends, ComicBook.Com, Comics, Industry Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

REVIEW: Poltergeist Is As Lifeless as Its Ghosts

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on May 22, 2015.

Poltergeist Review

Poltergeist is the remake of director Tope Hooper and producer Steven Spielberg’s 1982 classic horror film. It hews very close to the originals plot and applies the talents of modern horror visionaries like its own director/producer team of Gil Kenan and Sam Raimi. It is unfair to compare Kenan’s Poltergeist to Hooper’s though. They reflect different periods and utilize distinct directing styles. The comparison is also entirely unnecessary too. 2015’s Poltergeist fails entirely on its own lack of merit.

For those unfamiliar with the story, it follows the Bowen family as they move into a new suburban development. Although their new home appears ideal from the outside, the parents and all three of their children soon begin to experience unexplainable electrical phenomena. As things grow worse it becomes clear that a very angry ghost is haunting their new home, and it is determined to take the youngest child, Madison.

Madison and her family form the core of this horror story. They are the people who allow the audience to sympathize with these borderline silly events, and experience fear and thrills alongside them. Kenan and scriptwriter David Lindsay-Abaire take their significance to the experience of the film for granted though. Poltergeist ignores the Bowens, and opts to instead focus on the haunting. From the very start of the film the camera is focused on small shocks, scares, and effects. Kenan is far more interested in what is happening to the Bowens, than the Bowens themselves.

This is even more unfortunate considering the lack of imagination and originality found in Poltergeist’s “scares” and special effects. It reuses the static imagery of the original in an updated setting where black-and-white fuzz on a television screen is likely to hold no meaning for its new audience. Considering the film’s fascination with technology, it rarely utilizes any innovation made since 1982. iPhones and other new gadgets are given the same treatment as televisions. The only innovation to be found is the clever use of a gyrocopter in one of the few consistently engaging scenes throughout the entire film.

Kenan’s scare tactics will likely blend into the milieu of modern horror films pumped out every summer and fall, relying primarily on jumpy reveals and quick cuts. The use of a sudden hand popping up from the ground or doors slamming shut come from a bag of tricks so overused they’ve lost all effect. Most of the scary moments are broadcast so clearly, they draw laughter instead of tension.

Amidst all of these hackneyed cues are the Bowens, the one part of the film that could hope to create tension and invest audiences in an all too familiar plot (even ignoring that this is a remake). They are a lifeless facsimile of a family though, lacking depth and recognizable character arcs.

Parents Eric and Amy are played by Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt, two actors who have proven themselves capable of handling complex emotions and roles. Rockwell may be the most underutilized actor in Hollywood, capable of carrying film’s singlehandedly (see Moon), but he cannot salvage Eric from this script. He is shown to be an irresponsible father, not taking his children seriously and worsening the family’s financial woes. His practical jokes come off as cruel around his constantly frightened son. These flaws are never actually addressed, leaving Eric unchanged from beginning to end. All of Rockwell’s considerable charms are incapable of making Eric a sympathetic character, when the film desperately needs one.

DeWitt is in worse shape as Amy, who is given even less to do in the movie. Instead of portraying a bevy of flaws, she is left without agency. The closest thing her character has to a goal is to finish a novel, one that she has not begun nor does she touch. Amy spends most of her time in the middle of family shouting matches (which grate on one’s nerves more than the ghosts) or failing to act or make any decisions. Kenan assumes that she and Rockwell will receive sympathy due to the actors and never bother to craft their roles into interesting characters.

The only sympathetic Bowens are the two youngest children Griffin (Kyle Catlett) and Madison (Kennedi Clements). Griffin has the only clear character arc of the film, one that ought to provide a big, triumphant moment in the film’s climax. Instead, it largely falls flat because Griffin’s portrayal is tedious. The best scares of Poltergeist rely on Madison and her wide-eyed innocence. Yet when the camera focuses upon her, a barrier remains where it is clear that this is a child acting, not just a child. The eldest sister Kendra, played by Saxon Sharbino, is entirely unnecessary to the film, a footnote to her family and the movie.

It’s difficult to blame Catlett and Clements for this film’s failure, as their performances are adequate. The problem more likely lies with Kenan and his inability to direct children. This is the one point where a comparison to the original Poltergeist is necessary. The original relied on its young female protagonist every bit as much, but had Spielberg, a director who is incredibly skilled at directing children, around to help out. He is undoubtedly the reason why the line “They’re here” still haunts audiences, a line that falls entirely flat here.

Jared Harris’ turn as a TV exorcist and supernatural specialist is Poltergeist’s only saving grace. It’s inventive, well-acted (Harris is another terribly underutilized force in Hollywood), and very funny. His appearance late in the film gives just enough gusto to keep audiences from nodding off, but it’s too little, too late.

Poltergeist is cut together like Frankenstein’s monster. Individual moments resemble necessary parts of a movie, but they do not add up to any greater sum. By the time the film reaches its uneven climax, it’s just a relief knowing that it will all be over soon. You don’t need to compare this Poltergeist to its predecessor in order to say the effort was unnecessary. It simply is. As a grab-bag of modern clichés and tired characters, Poltergeist is a soulless experience.

Grade: D+

Posted in ComicBook.Com, Film, Review | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Fastball Feedback: Comic Book Reviews for May 20

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on May 20, 2015.

Fastball Feedback

We’re very excited about A-Force #1 from Marvel Comics this week. It’s one of the most exciting concepts emerging from a wide variety of Secret Wars tie-ins, with a killer creative team attached. In honor of the series’ great premise, this week’s installment of Fastball Feedback is solely dedicated to comics with teams of powerful women. Whether they’re protectors on Battleworld, scouts exploring the mysteries of their camp, or newly minted kingpins of New York City, these ladies kick some serious @#$.

A-Force 1

A-Force #1

Written by G. Willow Wilson and Marguerite Bennett

Art by Jorge Molina

Colors by Jim Cheung

A-Force #1 takes the same approach to Battleworld as Secret Wars #2, diving directly into the deep end. The issue only takes a few pages to introduce the island of Arcadia and the incredible heroines who populate it before diving into the action. The rules and hierarchy of Battleworld are all explained along the way, trusting the audience to enjoy the ride. It’s superhero adventure on an epic scale, as crazy, fun, and out-of-control as the best of past crossover.

That tone makes the rollercoaster ride of A-Force #1 as effective as it is. Subtlety is not needed, nor is it wanted. Relationships are stated in dialogue, all emotions are ratcheted to the highest level (even seriousness), and conflicts come in the form of gigantic sharks with lazer breath. This is not a slight; it’s what makes the book so much fun to read. Wilson and Bennett are clearly in love with the superhero genre and want to milk everything they can from its tropes here. The overall effect can be jarring at times as the story leaps between different plot points though.

Unfortunately Jorge Molina’s art is not always up to the task of presenting this action in a clear manner. The introductory action sequence is a minor mess. Proportions, movement, and distance are often confused between panels. The shark’s size and its relative distance to other objects often impossible to tell. This inconsistency leaks into faces later in the issue as well, undercutting the soap operatic drama. Jim Cheung’s colors flicker with the same inconsistency as well. While some pages, like the beautiful spread at the start, look fully developed, smaller panels often appear glossy and to have been barely moved past color flatting.

For readers excited about Secret Wars and the epic superhero tales promised, A-Force #1 is a mixed bag. The tone and story are consistent with big crossovers, but share some of their failings as well. Consistent presentation of those ideas is where the issue really has troubles though. If Molina and Cheung’s work improves, then A-Force may be one of the most fondly remembered series of this entire event.

Grade: C+

Lumberjanes 14

Lumberjanes #14

Written by Shannon Watters and Noelle Stevenson

Art by Brooke A. Allen

Colors by Maarta Laiho

After featuring a series of guest artists and one-shot stories, Lumberjanes is back with a new four-issue story arc and original artist Brooke A. Allen. Lumberjanes #14 opens with all of the women gathered in the woods on a camping expedition designed to test their survival skills. Nothing goes as expected (as one might expect), and the cabin’s already dubious chances of surviving the night are blown away by a bizarre summertime snowstorm. Things go from bad to worse when new monsters and adults appear.

Allen and colorist Maarta Laiho define what Lumberjanes is. Their artwork is unmistakably sincere, engaged in every rough-edged panel, flourish of action, and exaggerated expression. They provide madcap action and humor, creating necessary momentum for this story to flow properly. Allen provides every action and reaction with gusto, making even simple smiles and winks shine in her panels. The energy moves the plot naturally between pun-filled dialogue and silliness into life-threatening situations. All of Lumberjanes is encompassed in her style, weaving the disparate parts into a more effective whole. Laiho’s bold colors stand out beautifully against the pure white expanses of the snowstorm. Here the Janes are stars dotting a bleak landscape with joy and ferocity.

Shannon Watters and Noelle Stevenson return to the formula of the first Lumberjanes story. There are plenty of mysteries introduced, and they provide lots for these characters to do and explore. The riddles of the camp aren’t the driver of the story though; that role still belongs to the characters. Every one of the women in Lumberjanes is exceedingly well defined, both in and of themselves and in how they connect. It’s still a joy to watch them interact and respond to new scenarios, and without them all of the snow monsters and secrets wouldn’t matter much.

Lumberjanes #14 reads in a familiar fashion, very much the series readers fell in love with just over a year ago. It incorporates recognizable structure, characters, and tropes, while providing new mysteries. The result is something that reads like the series’ debut with no need for exposition, much like the second or third novel in a series of novels for young adults.Lumberjanes #14 knows itself and its audience, creating a comfort zone in which it can continue to thrive.

Grade: B

The Kitchen 7 - Ming Doyle

The Kitchen #7

Written by Ollie Masters

Art by Ming Doyle

Colors by Jordie Bellaire

The Kitchen #7 is the penultimate chapter of Ollie Masters, Ming Doyle, and Jordie Bellaire’s 70s crime thriller featuring three women who conquer their husbands rackets when the men are sent to prison. The action has shifted from the ladies learning how to control the underworld to their struggle to maintain control after their husbands return. If you’ve been reading this series, it’s an exciting lead up to the climax, providing a clear thesis for the series. If you haven’t been, it’s time to catch up.

The juxtaposition of three women against one of the most male-dominated genres in fiction serves as the crux of The Kitchen. It has been fascinating to see how these three characters assert themselves, and in #7 Masters offers a quiet moment between Tommy and Raven that summarizes much of the series. Set to the New York City Blackout of 1977, they discuss their fathers and the world they were born into. It succinctly characterizes the decisions Raven has made as a necessary response, determined by those already shaping her community. It’s a fascinating look at the choices women face when trying to take power in a world dominated by men.

That understated summation of the series’ soul does not take away from the tension and action surrounding Raven’s power struggle, however. New York City is consumed by riots and fire, as she, Angie, and Kath overcome their final hurdle: hunting down Kath‘s husband and children. Doyle and Bellaire distill the brutality of interrogations and chases into a tight one-page montage. Violence is presented in a realistic manner, every punch and kick landing with unexaggerated force. Bellaire’s colors are infused with a smoky quality, highlighting the resentment and rage that motivate all of this.

As it nears the end, The Kitchen continually gains momentum, helping to focus its ideas and art into the best issue of the series yet. It is both a rapid-fire crime drama and a powerful statement about how a patriarchal society can force women into violent roles. The nail biting cliffhanger lies on the tension set between that and the nurturing aspects of motherhood. It is an excellent build towards an unguessable climax, making The Kitchen one of the best new series from Vertigo Comics this year.

Grade: A-

What did you think of this week’s comics? Sound off in the comments below.

Posted in Comic Reviews, ComicBook.Com, Comics, Wednesday Checkup | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

ComicBook Countdown: New Release for the Week of May 18th

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on May 18, 2015.

ComicBook Countdown 5-18

It’s a big week for both TV and movies. There’s a slue of appealing movies landing this weekend and, while I doubt any will top the masterpiece Mad Max: Fury Road (really, what could?), every offering looks good. It’s also the end of this seaon’s superhero television with the finale of one of our favorite series. So strap in and get ready for an exciting week on screens both large and small.

Tomorrowland

5. Tomorrowland | Walt Disney Pictures

Director Brad Bird is easily one of my favorite filmmakers in Hollywood today. This is the man who brought us two of the greatest superhero films of all time, The Iron Giant and The Incredibles, as well as the most underrated Pixar movie ever, Ratatouille. He then took his epic visions and excellent grasp of character to the big screen with Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. The man knows how to make a movie. Tomorrowland has been very vague on its details, plot, and ideas (the trailers contain a weird Objectivist tone, but that’s about it), but with Bird at the helm, I’m definitely intrigued to find out what this is all about.

BPRD Plague of Frogs 4

4. B.P.R.D.: Plague of Frogs, Vol. 4 | Dark Horse Comics

No American comics publisher does horror as well as Dark Horse. Hellboy may be the thing that they’re best known for, but it’s first spinoff series B.P.R.D. is every bit as good. Providing a team-based, paramilitary spin on the same awfulness confronted by Hellboy, it found a niche and perfected it during the epic “Plague of Frogs” storyline. The series has also collected a tremendous talent of writers and artists, elevating creators like John Arcudi and James Harren. This is the last of four giant paperbacks collecting the various mini-series and one-shots that make up the series. If you’ve never read it before, be sure to pick up all four. You won’t regret it.

When Marnie Was There

3. When Marnie Was There | Studio Ghibli

I adore Studio Ghibli and everything they produce. The worst animated film to come from Ghibli is still light years ahead of almost everything else released in a given year. Hiromasa Yonebayashi, the director of When Marnie Was There, is a product of the studio as well. He began work there as a clean up animator on Princess Mononoke, moving into key animation roles on classics like Howl’s Moving Castle and Spirited Away. He’s now directing his second feature based upon Joan G. Robinson’s novel. It looks to be another beautifully animated film from Yonebayashi, telling the story of two children spending the summer together with an air of supernatural mystery. Like every Ghibli film, it’s a must-see.

A Force
2. A-Force #1 | Marvel Comics

Secret Wars kicks in to high gear this week with the first round of tie-ins and mini-series. There’s a lot of cool ideas being kicked around, but I don’t think any of them have received the same attention as A-Force. This is a good, old fashioned, mighty Marvel team-up between the greatest leading ladies of Battleworld. Not only is the cast ready to kick butt, but the creative team is as well. Writers Marguerite Bennett and G. Willow Wilson have been killing it onAngela and Ms. Marvel, respectively, and artist Jorge Molina always knocks it out of the park. Big, bold, badass: A-Force #1 is where it is at this Wednesday.

The Flash Fast Enough

1. The Flash “Fast Enough” | CW

When I saw the pilot of The Flash last year I expected the season to be good. I never expected it to be this good. How incredible is it that in only 23 episodes we’ve seen the birth of both The Flash and Firestorm, the Rogues grow together, Gorilla Grodd, an epic Reverse Flash storyline, and 23 hours of Joe West? That last one may be the best part, but this has been a tremendous season of superhero television, flaws and all. I have no idea what to expect after the incredible team up that concluded last week, but I expect it to be a thrilling hour of television. CW started on a high note with Arrow a couple of years back, but they’ve perfected the formula for superhero television here.

What new comics, shows, and other releases are you looking forward to this week? Share in the comments below.

Posted in Comic Trends, ComicBook.Com, Comics | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ Really Belongs To Imperator Furiosa

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on May 17, 2015.

Imperator Furiosa Glare

*If you haven’t seen Mad Max: Fury Road, this article contains spoilers. Also, why haven’t you gone yet? Go! Go now!*

I fell in love with Mad Max: Fury Road the moment I saw it. It’s an incredible thrill ride featuring everything fans recall from The Road Warrior: fast cars, apocalyptic settings, and cardiac arresting-inducing action sequences. Then it takes all those elements a step further by infusing them with new life. There is no better example in 2015 of a pure cinematic vision, telling its story so well visually that dialogue is redundant. Fury Road is a perfect action movie filled with heroes and villains in a constant struggle, never ceasing to engage audiences. But “Mad” Max Rockatansky isn’t the hero of Fury Road.

That role belongs to Imperator Furiosa.

Imperator Furiosa

Yes, Max’s name is in the title and he’s there from start to finish. Yet the first time he even affects the plot is almost thirty minutes into the film’s runtime. Until then, he’s a muzzled hostage drug along by others. Max isn’t the character who drives the action, who infuses the film with its most potent themes, who follows the most dramatic character arc, or who achieves the greatest victory in Fury Road. All those claims belong to Furiosa.

Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron, initiates the film’s action by rebelling against Immortan Joe, stealing his five brides (read: sex slaves) and striking out into the desert in a war rig. She and her supporting cast of women, all of whom possess a clear personality and arc, are not only the cause of this story, but the ones driving it. The metaphor beneath their actions is not subtle: they are rebelling against the patriarchy. The Citadel, ruled by Joe, reveres him as a god and treats his sons and War Boys as the highest forms of life. Dirtied men and women lie beneath them begging for water and food. But they save the absolute worst treatment for the women. Joe does not even recognize his brides or the women he pumps breast milk from. He consistently refers to them as is property instead.

Furiosa and her companions’ rebellion is not only an escape, but a rejection of this notion. They repeat two core concepts throughout the film: “We are not things” and “Who killed the world?” Both seem like they should be obvious, but that is not the case to Joe. He and his War Boys all treat the brides like precious cargo. Much of their dialogue veers uncomfortably close to the manner men discuss porn and sex partners in our non-apocalyptic world. Even Furiosa’s power in Joe’s society as Imperator is undermined by the fact that she must serve Joe or die. Meanwhile, the question of who killed the world is perfectly clear. It’s the same people who keep making the world worse: men. Fury Road’s landscape is presented as the consequence of an economic reliance on oil and nuclear war–creations of our own patriarchal society.

There is hope created by Furiosa. She is aware of the Green Place, a paradise somewhere in the desert where Joe and his ilk do not rule. Her quest is archetypal, seeking out adventure and being changed by the journey. Ultimately Furiosa returns home, running a gauntlet composed of those who have ruled her life since she was a child. The centerpiece of the film comes not in escaping Joe, but in overthrowing his rule. Furiosa returns to the Citadel in order to change society, not to escape it. While old men like Joe are incapable of accepting this change and must die or face abandonment, the young war boys who remain are capable of accepting Furiosa as a leader and cheer her victory. Furiosa and the brides not only change themselves, but their world as well. They are the heart of Fury Road.

I won’t dive too deeply into the character arcs of Splendid, Capable, Toast, Dag, and Cheedo here. Each of them holds a significant place in the film though. They possess skills, talents, and desires that both drive the action and make them integral to the never-ending chase ofFury Road. They are not shuffled aside when bullets and fire fly, but actively contribute and shape the film. Splendid uses herself and her unborn child to shield Furiosa from Joe, being wise enough to know he would never kill her and brave enough to protect her friend. Even Cheedo, who regrets leaving Joe and tries to return at one point, is not presented as cowardly or villainous. She is frightened; her motives are naturally derived from years of sexual abuse. It is a natural response, handled by her friends and the film itself with compassion and understanding. Fury Road belongs to this group of five women as much as it does to Furiosa herself. They are partners supporting one another and the action of the film.

Furiosa and Mad Max

But it’s easy to understand why some may see Fury Road as Max’s movie, especially if you’re one half of the population. As a man, I tend to more readily identify with male characters. Our patriarchal society has taught me to see men as the heroes of stories because that’s typically how our culture presents men. That doesn’t just reflect my gender. Anyone raised in this male-dominated zeitgeist has been exposed to the same influences, to the point where even many women identify more easily with men.

If this comes as a surprise, take a cursory glance over the biggest franchises in Hollywood from Marvel movies to The Lord of the Rings to Star Wars. Who is the central hero in every one of the films? Who is the director in every one of these films? Who is the focus of marketing and merchandise in every one of these films?

Those are rhetorical questions (the answer is men).

That’s an assumption that is beginning to shift with big movies directed by women in the works at both Disney and Warner Brothers. Films like Ex Machina and It Follows are tackling audience identification and actively reflecting the ideology of their viewers. There’s still a very long road ahead though, which makes Fury Road such an exciting film.

It places a woman in the starring role of a franchise crammed full of testosterone, where she is a fully realized, feminine character, and provides full character arcs for all of the women who join her. It also provides a clear message to men about their role in feminism and making our society more just.

This is the message that hit me hardest, so much that I found myself tearing up several times as Fury Road ended. I recognize Furiosa as the protagonist, but it’s the tales of Max and Nux that speak most directly to my personal narrative and role in the film’s themes. Their story is one that ought to be examined.

Max enters the film as a true loner. He is unhinged from any one he has held dear and desires to live apart. His role does not reflect Joe’s patriarchal society, but someone who desires to abstain from and ignore problems that he does not consider his own. He only agrees to help Furiosa at first because he cannot escape Joe without her help. In the first half of the film, he treats women like competitors for survival, threatening and shooting at them multiple times. Only through shared experience does he learn to appreciate their talents and trust them.

Max’s pivotal moment comes after entering into an alliance and a sort of friendship with the women. When they arrive at the former Green Place (the revelation that leading Furiosa to realize you don’t discover a better world, you make it), the chase is over. Furiosa and Max need not rely on one another for survival. When Max sees Furiosa and her party journeying into the salt flats, he is not obliged to say or do anything for his own survival. Instead he opts to follow the group and offer them his advice and aid, if they choose to accept it. After explaining his plan, he extends an open hand to Furiosa and leaves the decision to her.

Handshake

This is where the movie subverts Max’s introduction where he explains he has been reduced to the single instinct of survival. Max chooses to help others and put himself in harm’s way for the first time in Fury Road without his own interests in mind. It’s an offer of aid made with no expectation of reward. His friendship with Furiosa is based upon respect and trust, nothing more. That growth beyond his own self-serving motives is the point in the movie when Max becomes a true ally and someone worthy of admiration.

He cements his place as an ally at the end of Fury Road when he saves Furiosa’s life. After having lost a tremendous amount of blood battling Joe, Furiosa is on the verge of death. Max, a universal blood donor, freely gives a piece of himself to Furiosa, ensuring she will live. Max’s role as donor extends far beyond his blood type though. His journey allows him to lend help to those who need it and perceive sickness he can assist in healing.

Nux follows a more complex arc in Fury Road, beginning the film with fanatical devotion to Immortan Joe. When Joe glances his way, he’s exuberant and screams about the wonderful gift of recognition. He repeats the phrase “I live. I die. I live again.” with religious fervency as he attempts to detonate himself to stop the chase. He is the MRA or #Gamergate follower completely consumed by the misogynistic ideals of a charismatic leader. Nux is, in some ways, as much a victim of Joe’s patriarchy as the brides. He has been locked into a hyper-masculine lifestyle defined by violence, insensitivity, and the glorification of death.

Only when Nux plays a role in the death of Joe’s favored bride, Splendid, placing him permanently beyond Joe’s favor that he’s capable of change. Nux is discovered in a fetal position by Capable, who speaks to Nux and comforts him. It’s the first time that Nux has experienced empathy and a turning point for him. Rather than expose Nux to her companions, Capable allows him to remain hidden until Nux is able to help them.

Nux

Nux’s transformation is two-fold. Capable’s compassion offer him relief from the pain he is feeling, and it allows him to recognize flaws in Joe and his society. The hatred and objectification of people (women as sexual object and War Boys as soldiers) inherent in the Citadel’s patriarchy are shown to be meritless. The fanaticism that brought Nux low offers no real rewards, only an imagined afterlife.

Capable provides Nux something substantial and real in the present: friendship. The two comfort one another in the second half of the film. There are no sexual overtones, only gentleness that lacks in the rest of a very brutal film. Holding one another and providing cheek kisses stand out as moving acts of compassion against a bloody backdrop. Nux isn’t rewarded for helping the group through specific acts or a relationship. Instead, he discovers his friendship with a woman is its own reward, and learns the value of empathy.

The culmination of Nux’s story comes when he sacrifices himself to allow Capable to escape. It is a brave act, especially within the context of someone who recently lost faith in the afterlife. His transformation is summarized in the final shot when he looks forward at the women he has helped and extends his hand. It is a simple act of recognition. Nux points to her as the reason he is willing to sacrifice. Capable is the character whose decision allowed him to become a better more loving individual and his final act is to offer his hand in appreciation as he helps her achieve her own goals.

Max and Nux represent two types of men, those who don’t care about feminism and those who actively oppose. Both of their arcs follow the revelation that feminism is necessary not only for women, but for the creation of a better world. Furiosa’s cause results in the improvement of her own life and the bride’s, as well as the advancement of Max, Nux, and all of the Citadel. Her struggle for equality and self-determination is a rising tide, creating a better world for everyone.

Even Nux’s fellow War Boys, those too young to accompany Joe’s war party play into this at the end of the film. They are the next generation of men, neither enjoying Joe’s incredible power nor fully indoctrinated like Nux and the older War Boys. When Furiosa returns with Joe’s faceless corpse, they recognize her as a human being worthy of respect, not someone unlike themselves to be feared and objectified. They are the final men in the film to extend a hand, literally raising Furiosa, her companions, and the lower class upwards into Joe’s palace where they can rule the Citadel and work hand-in-hand with these young men.

When the women begin their ascension, Furiosa recognizes that one of them has left. Max is below them ready to disappear back into the crowd. They share a knowing glance of appreciation for one another, but there is no encouragement for Max to rejoin them. Both Furiosa and Max know that this is not his story. No reward is earned and none is requested. Furiosa’s ascension and the establishment of a more just Citadel is all the reward that ought to be required. Max’s wisdom comes in having always known that all he could and ought to do was help, and then move along.

Furiosa and Nux

Max, Nux, and the young war boys all present a heroic role for men in Fury Road, but they are not the protagonist of Fury Road. Both Max and Nux’s pivotal changes come when they decide to offer help to Furiosa and the brides. Nux reveals himself, threatening his own life, in order to help with the escape. Max races into the desert to offer assistance and an alternative plan. They choose to become actively involved in the women’s struggle, and to do so by offering assistance.

They do not take charge. They do not shout orders. They do not demean their allies.

They offer assistance. They provide advice. They support their friends.

This is the message that Fury Road holds for men in the audience. It is an incredible adventure about women seeking to establish justice for themselves in a world that does not view them as being equal. Max and Nux are allies in the cause, but they are not the focus. Their heroism comes in offering assistance and learning to empathize. Their arcs are defined by learning to offer aid without requiring a reward or central role.

Feminism isn’t about men. It’s not our story. It’s not about us. That doesn’t mean we don’t have an important role to play. Fury Road is a reminder that the best thing we can do is extend our hands and ask “How can I help?”

Posted in ComicBook.Com, Critical Analysis, Film | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Is Marvel The New Universe For Legacy Characters?

All New All Different

DC Comics was the publisher that hooked me on comics. Between picking up back issues of John Ostrander and Luke McDonnell’s Suicide Squad from a quarter bin and discovering Geoff John’s The Flash, there was no way I wasn’t going to read funny books for the rest of my life. As I dove into the world of superheroes, one of my absolute favorite things about The Flash and so many other comics at DC was the concept of legacy. So much at DC relied heavily on this idea, from Johns’ comics like JSA and Teen Titans to back issue classics likeStarman. DC Comics’ stories were established in a world where superheroes had fought the good fight for close to a century and when one of them fell, someone else could pick up the mantle. It was a complex tapestry where old legends inspired the new, a truly unique mythos without rival.

That ended with the introduction of the New 52 in 2011. The company reset their timeline so that the first superheroes had only emerged five years before the current wave of stories. That isn’t a lot of time to build a legacy, much less a personal mythos. It’s still a mystery how Batman has managed to pick up four Robins (and lose/resurrect half of them) in such a short span of time. Many of the classic DC heroes were still around, but the concept of legacy was gone for good along with the iconic Golden Age heroes that founded the company (Earth-2does not count). The concept of a legacy-driven superhero comics seemed to be gone for good. That is until, maybe, now. The distinguished competition, Marvel Comics, is rebuilding their own superhero universe in the event Secret Wars. But rather than remove their history and reset their heroes, Marvel appears to be embracing the ideas DC Comics abandoned.

Just take a look at the cover of Marvel’s Free Comic Book Day offering from earlier this month, All-New, All-Different Avengers, written by Mark Waid and drawn by Mahmud Asrar. Seven heroes compose this team of post-Secret Wars Avengers, and only one of them is the first to carry their name. The Vision appears to be the same character (give or take some bisections and memory wipes) that was introduced in Avengers #57. Everyone else takes on a very familiar name, but the faces beneath the masks aren’t the same as those that were created in the 40s, 60s, and 70s. Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Ms. Marvel, Spider-Man, and Nova are all now legacies passed on to a new generation of heroes.

Captain America

It’s a cover that is loaded with history, 76 years of it. The costumes, and the characters beneath them, play into different elements of their many years in publication. It’s worth examining both the mantles and those bearing them one-by-one, starting with the “big three” of the Avengers.

Captain America’s shield is no longer wielded by Steve Rogers, but by Sam Wilson, formerly The Falcon. This torch-passing occurred last October in Captain America #25. It was a natural transition between an elderly Steve Rogers and one of his oldest, most trusted friends. Wilson makes for a fitting replacement. He has been part of Marvel Comics since 1969, and has fought alongside Captain America for a significant portion of that time, reflecting the same patriotic ideals. This is far from the first time that someone else has held the name Captain America though. Before the Falcon, it was Bucky Barnes when Steve Rogers was believed dead (as recently as 2012). There’s a long history of the shield being handed over for a year or two before returning to the arm of the original Captain America, which may leave some fans reasonably skeptical.

Thor

Thor’s hammer Mjolnir has a similar history of multiple ownership, moving between the hands of heroes like Beta Ray Bill, Thunderstrike, and even Steve Rogers himself. Now it is in the hands of Jane Foster after Thor was found unworthy in the conclusion of Original Sin. She has possessed Mjolnir in a series of her own since October, but only revealed her secret identity this week. Foster makes for a fitting successor to the Odinson. Much like the original creation of Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, she is a frail doctor who cares deeply for human life, entrusted with an incredible transformative power to protect it. This new identity manages to return to the character’s thematic origins with an exciting twist.

The new identity of Iron Man is still a mystery, but looking as Asrar’s design, it appears that there is a woman under the helmet. It would not be the first time that Tony Stark’s old ally Pepper Potts has worn a suit, but that is idle speculation for now. Just like his most famous allies, Iron Man is no stranger to having others occupy the role he created. In the originalSecret Wars in 1984, it was James Rhodes (better known as War Machine) fighting as Iron Man.

The biggest difference between the many baton passes of yesteryear and now is that all three have changed hands in less than a year. Both the new Thor and Captain America were introduced 8 months ago, and the newest Iron Man has not appeared yet. This time all three of their predecessors have been killed almost simultaneously in Jonathan Hickman’sAvengers. Thor died battling the Beyonders on the edge of space, while Captain America and Iron Man were killed dueling one another during the final incursion that began Secret Wars. These legacies are all being passed along in a carefully coordinated manner.

The other three legacy heroes occupying the cover are all much younger, each of them greeting readers within the past five years. It is only the new Nova, Samuel Alexander, who has a dead predecessor. Richard Rider, the original Nova, has been gone for several years, allowing Sam to explore the Marvel Universe on his own. He is connected to Richard’s legacy primarily through their shared powers and the significance of the Nova Corps.

Ms Marvel

Ms. Marvel has never met the woman who once filled her shoes, either (at least until an upcoming issue). She chose the alter-ego of Ms. Marvel not due to a connection of family, friendship, or powers, but out of respect for Carol Danvers’ legacy. Carol is still fighting as Captain Marvel, leaving the less formal “Ms.” behind. The new Ms. Marvel, Kamala Khan, is not only a spiritual descendant to Danvers trailblazing efforts a woman in the Marvel Universe, but all of the superheroes occupying that world. Her intense love for superheroes is a defining characteristic. She was a fan before she ever met those she now calls teammate, inspired to heroism as much by Spider-Man or Captain America as the woman whose former mantle she dons.

Mile Morales is the most interesting case of the entire lot. He originally became Spider-Man when Peter Parker died in Ultimate Spider-Man, but now Miles occupies a universe where Peter is still alive. He was inspired by a sacrifice, but now must contend with not being the only Spider-Man on the block. In fact, he’s far from the only “Spider-person” in general.

Spider-Verse

In the past year, Marvel Comics has expanded the number of heroes with Spider-based identities and titles. Peter Parker, Miles, Spider-Woman, and Silk all currently operate in New York City. It’s likely that after Secret Wars, Gwen Stacy (a.k.a. Spider-Woman) may join them as well. And the thought of them occupying the same world and working in tandem is reminiscent to the rich Green Lantern mythos DC Comics established, where the collected legacies of fabled heroes shared one space and built a a richer story together.

From these examples alone, it’s easy to see that the post-Secret Wars Marvel Universe will be a radically different from the one we knew just one year ago. DC Comics eliminated most of their history since 2011, choosing to focus on the new instead. Ironically, Marvel Comics has picked up their competition’s legacy, embracing the enormity of their own history. This has resulted in a variety of compelling new series like All-New Captain America, Thor, andMs. Marvel. They reflect a cohesive vision of a universe in which heroes may die or retire, but their legacies live on. New men and women of disparate background are allowed to fill these iconic roles and guard the Marvel Universe for the future.

All New All Different 2

It’s important to remember that most of these changes are very new, and while a unique (and incredibly popular) character like Ms. Marvel isn’t likely to go anywhere, it’s far from the first time that Steve Rogers or Tony Stark have retired for less than a year, only to re-fill their boots with a wave of the hand (movies can do that). But right now, their combined successors are diverse–and successful–enough to suggest that their stay may be slightly more permanent (or at least until Avengers: Infinity War hits theaters).

Looking back at the Marvel and DC stories that have embraced legacies through space and time, it’s hard denying their richness. James Robinson’s Starman and both Mark Waid and Geoff John’s runs on The Flash are some of the greatest longform superhero stories ever told. Excellent sales on these new heroes and fond remembrances of past legacy stories give Marvel all the reasons they need to stick to their guns and continue to build this new (yet old) Marvel Universe. They now possess an unparalleled history and stable of character that can tell stories like no other publisher in comics can.

Over a decade after I first picked up an issue of The Flash, a new golden age of legacy heroes is prepared to emerge. Only time will tell if Marvel is ready to truly seize the opportunity.

 

Posted in Comic Trends, ComicBook.Com, Comics | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Though Imbalanced, Thor #8 Offers A True Journey Into Mystery

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on May 15, 2015.

thor-8-cover-135797

Thor #8 draws the first volume of Marvel’s newest God(dess) of Thunder to a close just asSecret Wars and Thors begin. Wuth Secret Wars upheaving their regularly scheduled programming, Jason Aaron and Russell Dauterman do their best to wrap up the story they’ve told so far while leaving some tantalizing cliffhangers for whatever comes after Battleworld. It’s a tightrope between conclusion and introduction that doesn’t consistently manage to deliver, but looks spectacular in the attempt.

Dauterman kicks the issue off with a spread of Thor, Odinson, and an army of Marvel’s mightiest women charging into battle against The Destroyer. With so many characters bounding through these panels, he makes every moment count. There is no space for quiet moments in this lunar battle; just a great big smackdown that’s totally awesome. Everyone from Thor to Freyja gives it their all, giving this issue the look and scale of a proper superhero climax.

That’s not to say that Dauterman is all flash and style. He manages to fill the conversations and exposition that cover Thor #8’s back-half with plenty of humor, pathos, and dread. There’s two particular pages where Odinson looks absolutely dumbstruck after incorrectly guessing the new Thor’s secret identity. His reaction is nothing short of knee-slappingly hilarious.

Meanwhile, the revelation of Thor’s identity and foreshadowing of future threats carefully slide the tone from a fun, super brawl into a more dramatic and threatening tale. What Aaron lays out at the end of this issue should more than entice readers to return to Thor once Secret Wars has run its course.

thor-8-colors-135798

Colorist Matthew Wilson lights up the dark side of the moon to make magic and fire seem real. Artists like Wilson are discovering ways to make comics appear almost as vibrant on the page as they do on a retina display, marking the work of a skilled craftsman using every tool and skill available to him.Portals, energy beams, and other effects all gleam with a wide spectrum of colors, tracing bright beams of light and movement through panels. Wilson is stretching the limits of what CMYK (the coloring process used for printing) is capable of. Some of the lightning and effects almost glow, as if they rendered in the more versatile RGB (a coloring process that cannot be printed).

For as beautifully as Thor #8 reads, it stumbles in its scripting. In the letters column, Aaron states that “Everything up to this point was really just the prologue.” And it shows. The fight with The Destroyer doesn’t end with a bang so much as a whimper, once Odin ceases the skirmish once his wife is threatened. It undercuts this cast’s abilities, saying that all of women ultimately can’t manage a threat that Odinson had managed in the past. It’s all very anti-climactic.

There’s plenty happening in the issue, including the introduction of some very interesting themes that stem from Thor’s alter-ego, but they are all included as an epilogue. Rather than making the most interesting elements of the issue part of the story, they are tacked on to remind readers that Thor will return. It’s an unbalanced and slightly confusing combination of elements.

Despite that imbalance, the promise within the final few pages combined with Dauterman and Wilson’s superb work makes Thor #8 an enjoyable issue. When it lands its hammer blows, they really land. If Aaron integrate the ideas introduced at the issue’s end, whatever follows this epilogue should feel properly epic.

Grade: B

Posted in Comic Reviews, ComicBook.Com, Comics, Wednesday Checkup | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment