The Super Bowl, Southern Bastards, and America’s Love of Football

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on February 7, 2016.

Southern Bastards Football

Football season is drawing to a close. There’s only one game left and it’s today. Yet even now in the midst of hockey and basketball seasons, football is still on the lips of most Americans. Fans, both lifelong and casual, are discussing the follies of 2015 and possibilities of 2016. They’re talking about what went down in the AFC and NFC Championships, and what may happen at Super Bowl 50 when the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos face off at Levi’s Stadium in San Francisco.

Even as a San Francisco Forty Niners fan, I’m still stoked to have one last game to watch before enduring seven months without my favorite sport. Baseball may still pass itself off as America’s pastime, but there is no sport more watched, attended, or loved in the country than football. Despite the enormous love for this sport, it’s not all encompassing. There are many comics fans who love football, but there are plenty more who don’t know how many points are scored with a safety, but could care less.

That doesn’t mean football is beyond understanding even for folks who have never felt the urge to watch a single game. Perhaps the single most outstanding aspect of all of the media that have come to define being a “geek” is that it brings distant, alien experiences into your head and heart. Taking in stories on film, television, prose, or comics allows viewers and readers to learn about something entirely new. That basic concept applies to football every bit as much as wars taking place long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away.

As a longtime fan of both college (Go Big Red!) and professional football (Go Niners!), no story has struck closer to the experience and enjoyment of football than Southern Bastards. On a cursory glance Southern Bastards is a crime comic written by Jason Aaron and drawn by Jason Latour. Yet what really makes the series pop and has garnered it so much critical attention is the culture captured within its pages. Barbeque and politics both play significant roles within the story, but there is nothing more important to the sinners (and rare saint) ofSouthern Bastards than football. Many of the citizens of Craw County, Alabama may attend church on Sunday, but they all worship beside the gridiron every Friday night.

If you’re reading this and wondering why you should care about football, I’d recommend checking out Southern Bastards. If you’re reading this and thinking about how you already care about football, I’d recommend Southern Bastards. Football is a sport that raises the blood of more than one hundred million Americans during the fall and winter. It’s a powerful thing. Southern Bastards is a comic that provides both perspective and understanding of that thing.

Southern Bastards Homecoming

The truth is that Jason Latour might draw the best looking ugly comic being published today. His characters and settings can be downright hideous, but it’s purposeful. The story he is telling is one steeped in violence, corruption, and history. It is composed of wrinkles created both by time and the wrinkled expressions of hatred. Looking at the face of Coach Boss, the head coach of the Runnin’ Rebs, you can see his soul and self plainly on his eyes, cheeks, and mouth. They are crumpled like trashed paper, but made of far sterner stuff with thick black lines reinforcing each feature.

What you’re seeing isn’t an easy dichotomy of evil vs. good. As bad of a man as Coach Boss may be, he’s far more complicated than a supervillain. He’s a man ruled by his passion and that’s what Latour’s art reflects: passion. There are few emotions as powerful as anger and that feeling is what covers Coach’s face. Even if you haven’t ever screamed at the field, on television or in person, when he screams you can sense the deeply rooted passion on display. It’s difficult to not care, much less ignore.

There’s a difference between experiencing Coach’s passion and that of a fan on television too. Unlike a bystander on your screen, Latour and Aaron have been able to expose the depth and meaning of Coach’s connection to football on the comics page. In “Gridiron”, the second story arc of Southern Bastards, his background as a high school player mocked by his classmates and empowered by hard work on the field is revealed. Even knowing the monstrous man he will one day become, it’s difficult to not root for a young man pursuing his dream with every ounce of his strength. The four issues that compose “Gridiron” make his screams and speeches in Southern Bastards #13, when the Rebs play their homecoming game against rival Wetumpka County, feel real. The anger in his face, eyes, and words are easy to understand even if you don’t understand how badly things are going on the field.

Southern Bastards Locker Room

Coach Boss may be the most fully formed character on the field in Southern Bastards, but he’s far from the only one who provides a window into understanding the sport. A single shot of fans cheering the Rebs in Southern Bastards #13 is simultaneously hilarious and frightening. The small town of Craw County is screaming at young men, minors, who are not being paid to crash their bodies together in a gladiatorial brawl. They threaten the young men and encourage them to threaten those on the opposing side. The one woman in the crowd providing positive encouragement is screamed down in a moment that is funny because of how closely it strikes to reality. Whether or not you have ever been part of that crowd, seeing it is absolutely fascinating.

On the other side of this equation you witness the Rebs themselves giving all of their effort and passion on the field. The men hearing those screams are every bit as concerned with what’s happening on the field. They are not simply victims; they are passionately engaged. Seeing how Latour details their exhausted faces in a locker room after a tough first half is absolutely heartbreaking. His manner of revealing players, coaches, fans, and opposing teams provides so many facets to a single game of high school football that it becomes a complex modern drama told in 20 pages. It’s a potent reminder of all the levels on display when you watch a game in real life.

Looking forward to the Super Bowl today it’s probably worth tuning in, whether you typically watch football or not. It’s no accident that this game, from high school to college to the professional level, has been so widely embraced. The violent poetry of football is its own sort of art reflecting crucial passions and beliefs of the American people. The narrative of a championship match captures the national imagination for months on end and inspires stories in journalism and fiction. Southern Bastards owes a lot to football, but football also owes something to Southern Bastards. They are narratives that build one another up and allow all of us, comics fans, football fans, and those in between, to better appreciate our culture.

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The Mystery of Marvel’s “Dead No More” Solved?

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on February 5, 2016.

Dead No More Teaser

Speculating about what’s to come is a time honored tradition amongst comics fans. Parsing through solicits, foreshadowing, and minor details to unveil the machinations behind these monthly stories can be a lot of fun. Half of that fun lies in sharing your theories with friends and we here at ComicBook.Com have something we think is well worth sharing. There’s nothing more hyped in superhero comics today than Marvel’s “Dead No More”, and we might have cracked its mystery.

The solution begins from two pieces of evidence found outside of comics. First Marvel updated their “Dead No More” ads to include a spider-web and red curtain, indicating a certain webhead would somehow be involved. Now the publisher has released details on their Free Comic Book Day offerings, specifically FCBD Captain America. The story focuses on Captain America being written by Nick Spencer, but there is a second writers name besides Spencers on the solicit: Dan Slott. If there is one thing Slott is synonymous with, it’s Spider-Man. The announcement also mentions that this comic will also “offer new information on Marvel’s mysterious ‘Dead No More’ story.” If there was any doubt that this plot will focus on Spider-Man, that should be abolished.

Knowing that a Marvel story features Spider-Man doesn’t mean too much considering he is their most popular character worldwide. However, Slott is also well known for plotting stories years in advance. The seeds for his Superior Spider-Man became all too obvious in retrospect, a structure of carefully laid groundwork leading to the replacement of Spider-Man with is arch-nemesis Doctor Octopus. So we decided to look at what Slott has been doing recently on Amazing Spider-Man to see what he might be up to, and there have been some significant clues since the relaunch of the series.

Dead No More The Rhino

At the end of Amazing Spider-Man #2, the story jumps to a depressed Rhino lying on the beach who is approached by a mysterious stranger in a red suit. Just as Rhino appears ready to beat the stranger, he reveals his dead wife Oksana (killed in Amazing Spider-Man #617). The Rhino is overcome by gratitude and agrees to do whatever the stranger asks. This isn’t the only instance of a villain’s loved ones being made “dead no more” recently though.

Dead No More The Lizard

Later at the end of Amazing Spider-Man #4, The Lizard is approached by the same stranger who reveals his wife and son (thought to be killed by cancer and his own hand, respectively) are alive and well. Again, the stranger has earned the loyalty of a classic Spidey villain by returning their loved ones to life.

This means two important things. One, a villain is collecting Spider-Man’s greatest foes for some nefarious or, dare I say, sinister purpose. Two, that villain has the ability to return the dead to life in some capacity. So far these resurrections have only affected supporting characters, but there are several big names that have been brought up recently in Slott’s run.

Dead No More Doctor Octopus

The most obvious name is that of Otto Octavius who was revealed to still be alive in the body of The Living Brain at the end of Amazing Spider-Man #1. If someone is looking for Spider-villains and has the ability to bring back the dead, there’s no way they could skip the wall crawler’s greatest deceased foe. If it weren’t for Otto’s mechanical state, it wouldn’t be difficult to believe that he’s behind it all. Instead, it looks like his return is just part of a much larger scheme.

Dead No More Silver Sable

There’s one Spider-villain turned ally who has been waiting to make a return as well. Ever since Silver Sable was killed by The Rhino in “Ends of the Earth”, Slott has focused on how guilty Peter feels about her death. He has obsessed over his own inability to save her and what he would do to save everyone. With both her killer and the ability to return the dead to life in the mix, is it possible that Silver Sable won’t feature in “Dead No More”? What her role will be is unclear. Will she return as a villain (look at how souless the Connors family’s eyes are when The Lizard looks at them)? Or will she become yet another deal with the devil that Peter cannot turn down?

What’s clear is that someone with the ability to bring the dead back to life is plotting against Peter and collecting some of his greatest foes to help. “Dead No More” is bound to feature The Lizard, The Rhino, Doctor Octopus, and Silver Sable all in some capacity based on their roles in Slott’s previous Spider-Man events. The only major question left is who is behind all of this?

Dead No More Green Goblin

That’s the only piece of the puzzle that hasn’t quite clicked into place yet, but we have two great theories. The first of which is that this is the return of Norman Osborne as the Green Goblin. He resurfaced at the end of Amazing Spider-Man #3 as an arms dealer whose face was wrapped in bandages. This would explain why neither The Lizard nor The Rhino recognized him, and would put Spidey’s other greatest arch-nemesis at the forefront of this story.

The other option is Mr. Jacobs, a major investor in Parker Industries, who was just revealed to be the ringleader behind Zodiac who destroyed much of the gang in order to cover his own tracks. The color is certainly right considering the red suit of the stranger and red cape of Zodiac match. Zodiac also has some mystical abilities that might explain how he is resurrecting people.

Of course, the real answer might actually be it is both of these men. While Mr. Jacobs clearly alludes to Jacob Fury, the original Zodiac (currently deceased, for whatever it’s worth), no one knows what Norman Osborne currently looks like. He’s a well known multi-tasker and certainly up to the challenge of running a gang, an arms manufacturing operation, and investing on Wall Street. In fact, all three of these operations could benefit one another and fit right into the Green Goblin’s wheelhouse. He’s also one of the few living villains aware of Spider-Man’s secret identity.

That’s why we think “Dead No More” will be the start of the greatest Green Goblin scheme yet. The man in the red suit isn’t wearing his true colors. Instead, he’s wearing a variety of disguises in order to attach Spider-Man from all sides using his new power of life over death. With that power at his disposal, who knows what else might happen? Even Spider-Man’s most dearly deceased like Gwen Stacy and Uncle Ben won’t be safe from the Goblin’s wrath.

So what do you think? Does this sound plausible or is there a better theory? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Leading Questions: Superheroes Ain’t Violent, Superheroes Can’t Fight

This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on February 4, 2016.

Guardians of the Galaxy Bendis Violence

Every two weeks in a new installment of “Leading Questions”, the young, lantern jawed Mark Stack will ask Comics Bulletin’s very own Chase Magnett a question he must answer. However, Mark doesn’t plan on taking it easy on Chase. He’ll be setting him up with questions that are anything but fair and balanced to see how this once overconfident comics critic can make a cogent case for what another one obviously wants to hear.

So without any further ado…

Superhero comics on average aren’t very good at depicting violence, are they?

Yes, Mark, generally superhero comics are pretty terrible at depicting violence. Before we dive into that question though, it’s probably worth mentioning that most superhero comics aren’t very interested in violence. That doesn’t depend on whether we’re talking about great, mediocre, or awful superhero comics. The genre may include a lot of fights, but it spends a lot of time avoiding violence.

Just take a look at one of the classic examples of superhero comics: Jack Kirby and Stan Lee’s Fantastic Four. There are plenty of tussles throughout the 102 issues and 6 annuals of that seminal run. Marvel’s First Family lays regular smackdowns on Doctor Doom, Namor, Annihilus, and plenty of others in these pages, but it’s hard to describe the comic as being violent. Typically, the fights between heroes and villains in these pages are an obvious way of representing conflict in adventure, science fiction, and dramatic stories. The concept of violence relies on their being impact and consequences, and rarely does a punch result in visual harm focusing more on the plot instead.

I’m going to keep the focus of this conversation on Marvel for the sake of simplicity. Well, that and it feels a bit cruel to be throwing any punches at DC this week as they hover on the precipice of a meltdown. There are more than 50 ongoing series being published by Marvel as of today and even more coming down the pipe in a marketing strategy comparable to carpet bombing. Almost all of these feature fisticuffs on a monthly basis, but very few depict violence well.

Starlord Kitty Pryde Violence

Let’s take the current iteration of Guardians of the Galaxy written by Brian Michael Bendis and drawn by Valerio Schiti for an example. The first issue opens with Kitty Pryde leading the team against a horde of Chitauri warriors. She tricks the aliens into firing at her as she phases resulting in them shooting one another and exploding their own vehicles and sentient war worms. By the time she is done dancing through this pack of warriors they’re a bunch of corpses with all of their space faring ships destroyed in the vacuum.

You wouldn’t recognize the consequences or harm of her purposeful actions based on how Schiti draws the sequence though. Pryde is shown gracefully flitting about and cracking jokes as the focus of the scene. While the destruction of the ships is revealed, the Chitauri themselves remain in the background as minor silhouettes or indistinguishable dots. They are being killed, but there is no focus on the violence felling them much less any awareness of it. While violence is technically present in this and almost any superhero comic, it’s not an important component. Schiti’s presentation of the scene and Bendis’ script aren’t interested in violence here. They’re engaged with moving between plot and comedic beats, introducing characters, twists, and jokes over the wallpaper of dead Chitauri.

Gamora Sexy Violence

The closest thing to a violent moment in Guardians of the Galaxy #1 is the appearance of Gamora at its conclusion. She arrives as a harbinger of a bad things to come having been beaten in spite of recently enhanced powers. Even when she arrives bloodied from a supposedly terrible fight, the focus of the panel is on her sexuality. Her ass is exposed and the curve of her hip emphasized as it rises above the rest of her body. The blood itself is speckled on with no visible wounds, as if an ink pen might have exploded on a boudoir depiction of Gamora.

Even on its fourth issue Guardians of the Galaxy hasn’t shown much in the way of violence. Cities have exploded, dozens of punches have been thrown, and hundreds of guns have been fired. Yet the closest thing to any depiction of recognizable violence or consequence to be found in the series is the speckling or drips of blood on women’s face along with Gamora getting a black eye. The series isn’t just a great example of the poor depiction of violence in superhero comics, but the genre’s bizarre relationship with sex and brutality as well.

Most superhero comics, whether they come from Marvel, DC, or any of the other publishers filling this overcrowded field, are more focused on this sort of soap opera antics or more light hearted storytelling than addressing the violence in their pages. However, there are always exceptions to rules and Marvel has produced some excellent exceptions in the past few years. These exceptions have been crafted by some of the most engaging rising stars in American comics, ones capable of depicting human cruelty like Peckinpah if he’d taken to comics rather than film (god forbid).

Magneto Teeth Violence

The first great example is Gabriel Hernandez Walta’s work on Magneto with writer Cullen Bunn. In the very first issue he shows the title character’s throat punch morality as he replaces an anti-mutant scientist’s fillings with sign posts. That image is horrifying by itself. The simple concept is enough to send shivers down your spine, but Walta adds a number of significant touches to make it really hit home. The scientist’s kneeling position, lax arms, and reclined head put him in a position of supplication. Despite failing to witness the act itself, you can read his final moments clearly and experience their terror and desperation. The blood dripping from his nose and mouth, along with the glass embedded in his skin make the violence feel more real as well. Walta isn’t satisfied stopping with the cause of death; he considers the full reality of the scenario and reveals it all to the reader.

The consequences of violence extend far beyond this single panel in Magneto #1 as well. This moment is framed by law enforcement agents interviewing a barista who witnessed the act. His downturned head and quickly darting, baggy eyes express the impact of this action on the living as well as the dead. He doesn’t only seem scared, but stalked by the memory of what has occurred. Violence rests not only in its depiction in Magneto, but all of the people and moments that surround it.

Magneto Nailed It

Walta did not draw every issue of Magneto, but those he did never shied away from revealing the horror of what this character was willing to do for his cause. Even though Magneto often targeted other terrorists and murderers, seeing their fates was no easier. Creatively destructive moments like the one above in which Magneto nails a man’s hand to his face are so cringe-inducing that it would be difficult to wish them on any person. Yet seeing Wolverine slice and dice dozens of ninjas is often easily swallowed and allows readers to think of him as a hero in a way that would be impossible in Magneto.

The difference between Wolverine’s wanton murder sprees and Magneto’s malevolent actions comes in the depiction. It’s not only Walta’s work that makes this moment function, but that of everyone crafting the page. Colorist Jordie Bellaire makes the blood a dark, muddy affair like the rest of Magneto. It makes it resemble the blood we may recognize from small cuts in our own lives and avoids the technicolor tone of many superhero comics. Cory Petit’s “SHHUNNK” really sells the sickly sound of metal cutting through skin and bone with wavering loud letters. Even Bunn’s limited scripting of a single “muuu-” helps realize this moment, avoiding any speech for a small, pitiful sound of crushing horror. In this moment the entire creative team absolutely nails the depiction of violence.

Moon Knight Declan Shalvey Violence

Walta continues to work at Marvel today on the outstanding new series The Vision, which has continued to see him realize the terrible consequences of violence. However, the best artist to depict violence in superhero comics at Marvel in the past several years is someone who only provides covers for the company now: Declan Shalvey. His work with writer Warren Ellis and colorist Jordie Bellaire on Moon Knight is one of the publisher’s highlights of the past decade. It also serves as an excellent example for how violence can be depicted without relying on gore, like the sequences from Magneto above.

The key to depicting violence lies in showing impact, in recognizing consequences. That’s something Shalvey does beautifully in the issues of Moon Knight where Marc Spector faces off against human combatants. Every punch, kick, or throw he delivers affects his opponents in a clear way. Even when they are never seen after being dispatched, it’s clear that he has severely harmed, crippled, or killed each person he comes into contact with. In the sequence above from Moon Knight #5, he interacts with one gangster for only three panels. But in those three panels it is possible to see Moon Knight’s approach, decision, and action that results in one man being rendered unable to walk and left in agony. It is both a clear depiction of violence and a tremendous example of visual storytelling as well.

COPRA Michel Fiffe Violence

Of course for the best depiction of violence in the superhero genre, you’re going to have to ditch Marvel and DC Comics altogether. There are lots of great indie comics that examine both the action of violence and its aftermath, and COPRA is the king of them all. This is a series constructed on the legacy of a very violent mainstream superhero comic, the first volume of Suicide Squad, and then built into something entirely its own. COPRA creator Michel Fiffe is creating a modern masterpiece that is equal turns horrifying and beautiful. Every action has consequences and he makes you feel them all in the pages of COPRA.

None of this is to say that superhero comics are bad for avoiding violence or failing to depict it well. For series likeFantastic Four or Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, violence is not only not a focus of the story being told, but runs contrary to it. Fights are purposefully cartoonish, making for a visually engaging spectacle of confrontation. The Thing throwing a punch at Doctor Doom in Fantastic Four is entirely different than Manhead throwing a punch at Vitas inCopra. In the former example characters are conceived in a manner that a punch is simply a means of stopping progress. They don’t feel or experience long-term effects from that punch. In the latter characters are engaging in violence to cause lasting harm on one another. It is much more brutal because the story demands it to be.

When the intent and depiction is clear, a punch can be many things. Superhero comics don’t have to be violent, but they often try to have it both ways featuring violence but failing to depict it. Comics like Guardians of the Galaxy andJustice League often feature mass murder and mayhem in a manner where immense harm is self-evident, but never effectively rendered in the story or images. They use violence as a shortcut to impact, but undermine that impact by failing to recognize the consequences of what is actually happening on the page. The result is at best a muddled message and tonally disastrous at worst.

I enjoy superhero comics that depict violence well. I enjoy superhero comics that don’t feel the need to engage with violence. It’s the wide swath of those that fall in the middle, utilizing violence but failing to depict it, that I’d rather avoid. Luckily, there are enough of Moon Knight’s and COPRA’s in the world that those of us who enjoy the superhero genre can dodge bullets like Guardians of the Galaxy.

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Huck #1-3: The Kind-Seeming Mockery of the Midwest

This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on February 3, 2016.

Huck - Cover

I traveled home to Omaha, NE for my mother’s 50th birthday earlier this year. While out we discussed Darlene, a favorite late aunt, a great aunt in my case although I have never used that modifier. To both my mother and I she remains an example of the best sort of the person that the Midwest had to offer: kind, generous, honest, and warm. As we spoke of her the word “naive” arose. The person who mentioned it meant no harm, but I vigorously disagreed. In this instance the word “naive” was being confused with “innocent”. Those two adjectives may seem synonymous, but they could not be further apart in describing the truth of a person.

Naiveté implies foolishness or a lack of understanding. It is a word you use to describe children and idiots. Innocence is a positive quality on the other hand, providing an aura of being without sin or malicious intent. You pity a naive person; you envy an innocent one.

This distinction is a key one when you are raised in the Midwest and around small town America. It’s a region that bears many of the negative connotations of naivete to those who grew up elsewhere, meaning a majority of Americans along with the rest of the world. Hard working, honest folks is a cliche often intended to mask derision. It could not be further from the truth. Midwesterners are no more simple or naive than any other group of people. Yet the rural lifestyles, differences in speech and attitude, and various other regionalisms have constructed a simplified image.

It is that image the lies at the center of Mark Millar and Rafael Alburquerque’s Huck.

Huck is the newest series from Millar’s Millarworld imprint, a line of creator-owned comics covering a wide-variety of genres and tones often packaged for translation into Hollywood films like Kick-Ass and Kingsman. It focuses on the titular Huck, a Superman homage without the costume. He is implied to be a mentally challenged man who uses his extraordinary abilities each day to do good deeds in his hometown. Once exposed that kindness and strength is exploited by politicians and journalists who take advantage of Huck’s kind nature.

While I love that Superman comes from Kansas (and was created by two teens in Ohio) and represents so many positive Midwestern qualities, I abhor what Huck represents. Huck is not a character like Superman, but a caricature. He is simple. This not as a euphemism for a lack of intelligence, but a statement about his lack of depth. His understanding of the world and even his own actions can be reduced to a black and white morality that can only comprehend the most immediate set of action and reaction.

Huck - Boko Haram

When Huck becomes aware of Boko Haram kidnapping of about 200 young Nigerian women, he immediately tracks them down, punches the Boko Haram leader in the face (after asking him to remove his glasses), and then gives the girls candy before they return to society. It’s the sort of solution that might feel cathartic if you did not inspect it in the slightest and requires laughter the moment you do. Huck’s reaction comes without any awareness of consequences or the facts surrounding the situation.

If Huck were going to stop a maniacal super villain set on stealing young women, this scene might make more sense. However, Millar has chosen to set the situation in reality using a well-known incident, and Albuquerque has done his best to accurately depict the clothing and setting involved. When Huck sees the situation in question, he decides the best course of action would be to simply punch one man in the face and assume that fixes it. It’s a scenario that makes both Huck and his actions appear deeply ignorant, unwilling to acknowledge the complexity of what he is attacking or the need for a more significant solution. In this he is shown to be unaware of the larger world, as if his small hometown in the Midwest has been captured in a bottle away from the rest of the planet.

This conflict with Boko Haram is not a singular, tone deaf installment of how Huck addresses real world problems either. Again and again, Millar and Albuquerque set him up to face off against very real ills of the world ranging from homelessness to drug abuse. Each time he is shown to not only be unaware of the existence of these problem, but incapable of addressing them with anything besides good will and a band-aid of a fix.

Huck - Homeless Problem

When Huck sees two homeless men sitting in the alley after leaving a ball, he is genuinely shocked to learn they have not eaten. They ask if they can have some of the food he is feeding to homeless cats and he asks, “Haven’t you guys had dinner tonight?” They respond with the groan inducing line, “Well, that depends if you count mints, or bubble gum peeled from the sidewalk.” Huck’s fix for this problem is as short sighted and superficially fulfilling as every other one he has. He gives them the key to his hotel room and encourages them to take advantage of the free food and bar, before running back to the utopian security of a small town.

Huck is asked by an elderly couple to find their daughter their daughter who they fear may have “got into drugs.” Their sweater vest and polka dot dress match the same small town aesthetic Huck projects. That simplicity is not constrained to their mode of dress either. They do not know what has happened since their daughter fled after an argument, but assume the boogie man of drugs has something to do with it.

Huck - Camden New Jersey

What Huck finds upon investigating her disappearance checks off every stereotype of inner cities and drug abuse that one might list. The comics only interaction with an urban environment depicts it as a squalor-ridden neighborhood with boarded up windows. It is also the only place where Albuquerque depicts people of color beyond a single unnamed women in his hometown. Huck marches into a shooting gallery, picks up the girl, and throws the man claiming to be her boyfriend out a window. Again, when confronted with a massive problem, his response is the most immediate and easiest solution available without considering how to actually help the people involved outside of the next few minutes.

Huck’s reactions to terrorism, homelessness, and drug abuse make him appear both foolish and ignorant. Every time he discovers one of these issues, he is shocked they even exist. Every time he confronts one of them, he jumps to the quickest resolution. Rather than engaging with the world or seeming to be part of it, Huck is a creature of the Midwest who only seeks to return to its comfort and safety. His small town is a place apart from the troubles of the world, neither aware of what is happening outsides its borders nor inflicted with the ills of the world. It is a place of naiveté.

That narrative fits the cliche of what it means to be from the Midwest, but it’s far from the reality. Midwesterners are neither ignorant of the outside world nor untroubled by it. We face massive poverty both in our cities and small town. We are affected by drug addiction and problems in enforcement, specifically with meth. We are not only aware of terrorism, but have lost hundreds of young men in America’s recent wars. Midwesterners are many things, but we are not and have never been simple, foolish, or naive.

Huck - Tux

Huck confuses naiveté with innocence. It presents a hero who is foolish, not wise or pure. The jokes in Huck are not composed to have readers laugh with him, but at him. Even as a grown man he cannot comprehend the evils of the world or be pressed to respond in a reasonable manner. He is a simpleton who we can smile at for his good intentions, but is ultimately incapable of functioning in the world outside of his hometown.

That Millar chooses to also allude to the idea that Huck may be intellectually disabled only further compounds this problem. Just like Midwesterners, or any group of people in the world, the mentally handicapped are not defined by ignorance or naiveté. Growing up in Omaha I found myself volunteering for Special Friends Prom in high school. It was there I learned of my own ignorance towards a community of people that I had very little experience with until that point. Everything I have said regarding the uniqueness of Midwesterners and their own lack of naiveté goes equally for the intellectually disabled. That Millar and Albuquerque would think it endearing to make their characters own foolishness and simpleness synonymous with this community as well is an appalling mistake in judgement.

When I think of my own experience growing up and of Darlene, I can understand where the intent for Huck may arise from. People from the Midwest present a unique attitude to the world and it is one that could be misunderstood as naive. Speaking generally, we hide the ugliest parts of the world and our own lives behind language, feign ignorance rather than confront cruelty, and push forward on tasks even after they have shown to be fruitless. We also present a tireless work ethic, protect our families (whether born or adopted) fiercely, and open our doors and homes even to those we have cause to resent.

We are every bit as strong and flawed as the rest of the world. There is no such place as Smalltown, USA. There is only our towns and they are filled with people, just like any other place. The presentation of this region and of a supposed ideal member of it in Huck doesn’t embrace the Midwest, it insults the Midwest. Millar and Albuquerque are presenting a caricature of a person and a people who have never existed. They are reducing an outsider’s cartoonish perspective on this region into a “loving presentation”.

Huck is an insulting comic. Midwesterners are well versed in detecting cruelty in kindness, and Huck is every bit as mean as the backhanded compliments your mother might make over Christmas dinner. The most naive thing about the series is its own depiction of a people it clearly knows nothing about.

So with that in mind, I’m going to do the most Midwestern thing I can think of, I’m going to welcome Mr. Millar and Mr. Albuquerque. I wouldn’t deny that what they’ve created in Huck is diminutive and insulting, but I also have a hard time closing my door to just about anyone. If they’re interested in coming to the Midwest and seeing what the region and its people are really like, I’d be happy to host them. We’re the area of the United States that gave the world its greatest superhero and plenty of real life heroes as well. I’d prefer they came to understand us as people rather than the simplistic cartoons found in Huck.

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The Unpredictable Legacy of Rob Liefeld’s Youngblood

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on February 1, 2016.

Youngblood - Rob Liefeld

Prophet: Earth War #1 was released last week, marking the beginning of the end for Brandon Graham’s long, strange sci-fi odyssey. For 25 issues, from Prophet #21 to Prophet #45, the series has explored distant reaches of the galaxy, alien cultures, and technology without any basis for comparison. It has been a fascinating examination of what comics creators can compose when given complete control of the story and page. This series didn’t begin with #21 in 2012 though. Its origin begins 20 years earlier in the pages of Youngblood #2.

The character Prophet was not created by Graham or his many collaborators on the current series; he was created by Image co-founder Rob Liefeld. Originally planned to appear in the page of Liefeld’s X-Force at Marvel Comics, the artist decided to withhold the new superhero for creator-owned work. That was how Prophet jumped ship and possibly avoided a fate similar to many other early 90’s X-Men creations, semi-permanently shelved in obscurity. Instead he was discovered by the titular team of Youngblood and launched into his own series in 1993 and another, penned by Chuck Dixon, in 1995.

Youngblood - Prophet

The current iteration of Prophet and those that preceded it bare little in common. They are both pieces of their own time. Liefeld’s Prophet perfectly encapsulates what people mean when they refer to 90s comics. It is big muscles, exaggerated forms, constant violence, and plenty of talk. Everything about both his Prophet and Youngblood can be described as big and bold. There is no holding back in these testosterone-infused superhero adventures. Liefeld makes his biggest influence as clear as can be in both series as well, including a cigar chomping, WWII vet superhero named Kirby in the supporting cast. In these comics, impact is the focus.

Graham’s revival of Prophet alongside artists like Giannis Milonogiannis, Farel Dalrymple, and Simon Roy is much more constrained by comparison. Their focus lies much more in the details of Prophet’s futuristic world from the tools on his belt to the different societal structures on each planet. There’s still plenty of violence in these pages, but the manner in which a character fights and what he or she uses to do so is just as much of interest as what they accomplish. Panels often rest on quiet moments and include various insets to pull forth even the tiniest of additions to the story.

The impact of both series is undeniable. Youngblood and Prophet were both met with massive sales as leaders in the Image boom of the early 90s. The current Prophet has not seen the same commercial success in a comics market significantly reduced in size, but has seen widespread critical acclaim. Its pages have highlighted the work of many of the most talented artists working in the medium today, drawing further attention to works like Graham’s King City and Dalrymple’s The Wrenchies. The connection between the two lies less with the tone or look of the story, but the talent behind the same concept.

Youngblood - Supreme

This isn’t the first time that one of Liefeld’s creations in Youngblood has found a second life in the eyes and hands of distinctly different creators either. The most obvious example of this would be Alan Moore’s Supreme. Supreme was a Superman homage who appeared in a backup feature to Youngblood #3, only four months after Prophet entered the world. The character Supreme would receive a variety of treatments from a variety of different creators before becoming part of an acclaimed comics saga. Liefeld convinced legendary comics scribe Alan Moore to begin writing the ongoing series with Supreme #41. Moore, done working with the “big two” publishers Marvel and DC like Liefeld, agreed on one condition: he be allowed to completely reinvent the character. Liefeld agreed.

Moore’s run on Supreme did not disappoint fans of the writer or the character. He brought the same intelligence and insight to this god-like superhuman that he had to previous superhero stories like those of Swamp Thing, Miracleman, and Batman. His work onSupreme was much less dark however, prefacing his work on more fun future series at America’s Best Comics (ABC) like Tom Strong and Top 10. Moore examined what the impact of such immense power would have on an individual, but turned his focus to more positive outcomes. Supreme, like many other Image series begun in the 90s, was plagued by delays and would not see a conclusion until 2012 when Moore’s final script for Supreme #63 was released.

Youngblood - Glory

Supreme was not the only Liefeld Youngblood creation to be retooled by Moore. Glory, a Wonder Woman homage created in the pages of Youngblood: Strikefile in 1993, would receive a similar treatment in 1999. However, Moore saved most of his ideas for another ABC series Promethea. Glory’s greatest re-interpretation would actually come at the hands of writer Joe Keatinge and artist Sophie Campbell. Just like with Graham’s Prophet her new series was not renumbered; it began with Glory #23 and lasted for 12 issues.

Campbell’s visual reinterpretation of the character might be the series’ most notable aspect. The sexualized interpretation of many of Liefeld’s female characters was removed in order for an actualized female barbarian to emerge. Glory is shown to be a very muscular, scarred albino warrior. Her form becomes much less angular and far more human with elements of muscle and fat playing at the reality of her brutal skillsets. Together Keatinge and Campbell examined both the gender politics at play in Glory as well as the impact of her violent career and choices in a truly spectacular 12 issues of comics.

Prophet,Supreme, Glory: each of these series has established a reputation for excellence in the modern comicsphere. They represent unique stories reflecting the talents and ideas of their own creators. You cannot have Prophet without Graham, Supreme without Moore, orGlory without Campbell. Each of them is utterly unique, yet they share a common origin.

That origin is the mind and pencil of Rob Liefeld. While none of the series that spun out of his initial Image creation Youngblood may reflect his style or sensibilities, they reflect his philosophy. In Youngblood Liefeld sought to create something for himself and control that creation. Whatever accolades his X-Force and Deadpool comics may receive, there is not a more Liefeld comic than Youngblood. By that same standard, each of the acclaimed series to take a Youngblood character into new, fascinating directions has embodied its new creators just as well. Liefeld has invited great talents, old and new, into the world he created and allowed them to do exactly what they wanted to do. The results have been nothing short of spectacular, a testament to the power and potential of comics.

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5 Comics Curmudgeons for National Curmudgeon Day

J Jonah Jameson Cartoon

Today is National Curmudgeon’s Day, an opportunity to celebrate all of the crankiest, surliest, and most miserly individuals in our lives. In order to celebrate this odd holiday, we’ve decided to pick out a set of comic book characters that best embody the “virtues” of a curmudgeon. It’s a mean lot, but you can’t help but appreciate what they bring to the comics they occupy.

Doctor Sivana

1. Dr. Sivana

Dr. Sivana is the Lex Luthor to Shazam’s Superman, a hyper-intelligent, human arch-nemesis. His schemes like Shazam’s adventures tend to be big, bold, and brazen. Even though Sivana has his own family, he’s always been in the supervillain game for himself. He plays a Grinch-like role in Fawcett City, constantly trying to ruin everyone else’s fun. While Sivana is definitely not a good guy, he’s certainly more entertaining than some of the curmudgeons to come. We have to give him props for keeping things colorful while being his miserable self.

J Jonah Jameson

2. J. Jonah Jameson

Was there ever any doubt that J. Jonah Jameson wouldn’t appear on this list? While Jameson has shown a slightly softer side over 50 years of Spidey comics, he’s always been at his best while plaguing the Wall-Crawler with threats, libel, and Spider-Slayers. The fact that Jameson can’t even say thank you to the hero who saved his own son speaks volumes about his unwillingness to acknowledge joy. JJJ is only having fun when absolutely everybody else is miserable, making him a shoo in for the “Curmudgeon Hall of Fame”.

Anton Arcane

3. Anton Arcane

Arcane ups the stakes from wacky schemes to downright evil machinations. Whereas Jameson or Sivana might summon a redeeming quality (or at least prove mostly harmless), Arcane is an example of a curmudgeon the world would be better off without. He’s dedicated his lonely life to antagonizing his dear niece and generally trying to ruin anything beautiful and green. Arcane would rather commune with demons and sell his own soul than allow his own family to live a happy life. It’s good that Swamp Thing keeps an eye on this self-mutilating creep or else the DC universe might be a lot worse off.

Jakob Hock Lazarus

4. Jakob Hock

Speaking of completely irredeemable curmudgeons bound and determined to spoil anything they can’t control, Jakob Hock has made quite an impact in Lazarus. Everything this monstrous family leader has done in the series has been out of spite. There are the obvious offenses like torture, mind control, and poisoning, but he even managed to make a dance invitation into a threat. He’s the meanest, ugliest person in a comic filled with greedy characters looking out for number one. You know Hock is pretty crappy when the writer ofLazarus, Greg Rucka, has called him out for simply being a “piece of s**t.”

Silvio Silverman Superior Foes of Spider-Man

5. Silvio Silvermane

We had to save the best for last: Silvio Silvermane. Silvermane wasn’t much of a household name until Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber reinvented the old (literally and metaphorically) Spidey villain. By turning him into a self-sustaining head, they focused on the character’s attitude, which is nothing but bad. Silverman became a comedic highlight of the very funny series, always happy to sling the very best insults. Even without a body, he managed to manipulate the criminals around him into serving his needs. Now the same creative team is back together this spring for another crime-comedy The Fix. It’s likely they’ll be adding some new curmudgeons to celebrate come this time next year.

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Leading Questions: The Siege of Secret Wars

This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on January 28, 2016.

Fall of Asgard Siege

Every two weeks in a new installment of “Leading Questions”, the young, lantern jawed Mark Stack will ask Comics Bulletin’s very own Chase Magnett a question he must answer. However, Mark doesn’t plan on taking it easy on Chase. He’ll be setting him up with questions that are anything but fair and balanced to see how this once overconfident comics critic can make a cogent case for what another one obviously wants to hear.

So without any further ado…

Why is Secret Wars so much worse than Siege?

I suspect this may be the question to receive the most double takes of any you’ve asked so far, and that’s saying something considering the smack you’ve talked about Martian Manhunter. Secret Wars has received a lot of love after it finally finished earlier this month. People seem to really love this series and enjoy how it ended. On the other hand, Siege is a comic that I don’t think anyone has mentioned in at least a year. It was a thing, it happened, and then we all forgot about it as the next thing came along (approximately 3.42 days later).

Here’s what you have to remember about real, dyed in the wool event comics though: They are all terrible. No asterisk. No exception.

It’s worth defining what we mean when we say “event comics” before digging in too deep though. I don’t want a bunch of “um, actually” comments appearing. Event comics are actual events not just in terms of story, but in regards to marketing, sales, and real world effects. We use the term “event” in comics much like Hollywood uses it to describe significant movie launches. The new Star Wars was an event because it was made to be one no matter what those 150 minutes helf. Event comics are pushed as significant stories that readers must seek out because they impact everything around them. This means there are crossovers, effects on continuity, and an identifiable core story. The closest thing you’ll find to truly great event comics are really just mini-series. Cosmic Odyssey. The Valiant. Multiversity. Mini-series all.

Siege and Secret Wars are definitely both event comics though. They had a variety of tie-ins, were heavily marketed as being significant stories, and altered the status quo of the shared universes they occupy. Taken as a whole, they’re also both terrible comics.

Secret Wars #9

I’ll admit that I generally like Secret Wars better than Siege. It’s much nicer to look at, provides some very nice moments for my favorite Marvel Comics team the Fantastic Four, and has a lot more concepts of interest on display. Hell, I just love that this is a comic that ends with Reed Richards being transformed into the god of the Marvel universe, and with his arch-nemesis Dr. Doom playing the role of a forgiven and restored Lucifer Morningstar. That’s a ballsy move I respect the hell out of.

This is also a comic that ends with Reed faking his family’s death to their friends and loved ones so he can toss chunks of the Molecule Man into space. It’s a comic that introduces a mysterious prophet in one chapter to reveal his identity to no effect in the next. There’s a bit that features Groot and Starlord, which only functions in a vacuum. If this event were a cow, it’s steaks wouldn’t be well marbled, they’d just be marble.

That problem extends well beyond this fatty, self-indulgent story. Just take a look at the effects it had on the Marvel publishing line. It didn’t just get the most mini-series ever associated with a single event (somewhere above 30? I don’t want to count). It didn’t just get multiple “End of Days” tie-ins from many of Marvel’s highest quality comics like Ms. Marvel and Silver Surfer. It didn’t just hijack about an entire year of marketing and printing from start to finish.

Secret Wars actually cancelled the entire Marvel line of comics.

And yes, most of the comics came back in some form or another. Both Ms. Marvel and Silver Surfer are still here. But if you wanted to be reading Marvel Comics during the summer and fall of 2015, it was impossible to not come in contact with this story. The folks in advertising weren’t lying when they dreamed up the tagline, “There is only Secret Wars.” I believe that Secret Wars is a far worse event than Siege because of its impact, specifically its impact on two groups: new readers and retailers.

You and I are old pros or at least experienced veterans when it comes to the superhero hype cycle, Mark. When marketing for Secret Wars rolled out, we were aware that it was temporary and cynical enough to know we could bail for half a year and return to whatever still piqued our interest afterwards. Many new readers were left baffled by the rollout and effects of this event though. If you speak to young people and non-typical comics readers (read: non-straight, white men) who have been attracted to reading comics through titles like The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, this entire event was a disaster.

I’m speaking purely from anecdotal evidence, but this isn’t a statistics paper so who cares? Many high schoolers and converted friends didn’t know what to do when their favorite superhero comics were suddenly ended or appeared to feature a cataclysmic death of the earth. They weren’t used to the constant renumbering of titles or the cycle of events, and Secret Wars was so big they couldn’t even try to avoid it.

Most of these vaunted new readers that Marvel claims to be seeking out who I know just jumped ship. Those that hadn’t been shaken by the two-month catastrophe called Convergence stuck with their favorite DC pulls like Gotham Academy and Batgirl, and the ever increasing stacks of great non-superhero series from publishers like Image, Oni, Dark Horse, and Boom. Why try to figure out what’s happening at Marvel when Lumberjanes and Saga will be there for you on a predictable schedule delivering the same quality you’ve come to expect? It seemed like the best case scenario for many new readers was to stick with other comics, while the worst was to leave their local shops altogether.

That’s a scenario speaking with retailers has only reinforced as reality in my head. I have yet to speak to a single store owner who told me of new readers either buying into Secret Wars or sticking it out with all of the Marvel titles they had previously purchased. Sales for that comic came from the same buyers Marvel could reliably milk for decades, and even that crowd is shrinking.

Speaking with retailers and observing what others have said, like in Big Bang Comics’ recent discussion of their sales numbers on Twitter, it’s clear that both Secret Wars and Convergence had a negative impact on sales. Not only are new readers seeking out alternatives to this convoluted mess of storytelling, but old readers are starting to wear out. The highly praised pull list client is cancelling their subscriptions to either of the “Big Two” publishers at an increasing rate.

All of what I’ve just said comes with a massive disclaimer that this is comics and measuring numbers in comics is a fool’s game. Diamond statistics are the best thing you have and they don’t account for sell through, variants, or any sales outside of the physical ones occurring in the North American direct market. The best analysis that has actually been done on this was accomplished by David Harper at SKTCHD here. The most recent numbers from Marvel’s slue of post-Secret Wars #1’s appear to be following a similar trend of diminishing returns.

So what was Secret Wars really? It was an event that only looks like a good comic book when compared to other terrible event comics, and one that helped continue to trash the direct market.

Siege, while still a terrible comic, managed to not do any damage. It only ended runs on 4 series, two of which were past their expiration point anyway (Dark Avengers and Avengers: The Initiative). Its length of four issues both kept it on time and limited its interaction with other series. It was possible to be a Marvel Comics reader when Siege was published and largely avoid contact with it as long as you weren’t really into Avengers comics.

The Sentry Tears Ares in Half

There are also some highlights in Siege, much like Secret Wars. The Sentry tears a dude in half. The Sentry dies. Ares gets torn in half by The Sentry. Actually, that’s pretty much it. But the series does manage to actually fix quite a bit of bullshit in Marvel Comics starting with the removal of The Sentry. It also banished the Superhuman Registration Act to the dustbin of history and set up Kieron Gillen’s superb run on Journey Into Mystery. It also had the benefit of not being an unreadable tire fire like Civil War.

Siege is pretty much a run-of-the-mill event comic. It has a horrific inciting event, some dead superheroes, some changes to the status quo, a big over-sized battle, and it’s all wrapped up in a variety of tie-ins and surface-level alterations. Comparing it to any other event is a matter of a few degrees. Yet when you move beyond the scope of the story and look at what it did as part of Marvel’s publishing line, your perspective radically changes.

The truth is that if you look at events holistically, not just as some sort of overhyped race to the bottom in regards to quality, then Siege isn’t just better than Secret Wars, it’s one of the best event comics ever.

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The Vision #1-3: Manifestations of Humanity

This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on January 25, 2016.

The Vision - Home

The Vision may be the most honest comic being published by Marvel Comics today, but it’s predicated on a lie.

On the second page of The Vision #1 George and Nora, a suburban middle aged couple, go to greet their new neighbors the Visions, composed of the superheroic Vision and his newly created wife Virginia and their adolescent children Viv and Vin. As George and Nora approach the house with a plate of cookies they argue about what their neighbors are. George refers to them as robots and Nora attempts to correct him without knowing the correct terminology either. To Nora they are “something else. Like a synthe-something.”

Whatever the correct terminology, the couple is in agreement that the Visions are not like them; they are otherly. That distance between ordinary looking people like this mustached man and his cookie-carrying wife and the Visions is obvious from their very first appearance. As a family they are salmon-colored with green hair, each of them possessing a yellow diamond on their forehead and blank, white eyes. Everything from their appearance to their speech (bubbles) to their behavior creates a barrier.

The Visions are not human. This is the lie.

Despite everything that sets them apart on a superficial level, each of the four members of this family are deeply, painfully human. Their depiction in The Vision does not exist simply to make this a story about androids (or synthezoids) or a science fiction tale about artificial intelligence. It is a device used to both distinguish them as individuals and enhance the struggles they encounter. There’s no clean metaphor to be found in their otherness either. It is not simply depression or loneliness or illness; it can certainly encompass these things, but allows for a much broader examination of the life the Visions have chosen.

Reading the first three issues of The Vision published so far, what is most striking about the series is the subtle hints of humanity and everyday life imbued on seemingly fantastical scenes. The comic is firmly set in the Marvel universe, one complete with references to the Silver Surfer, Captain America, and Agatha Harkness. It does not read like a superhero story in genre though, resembling works of magical realism much more closely. That the unreal heightens the reality of the story lends it a deeper connection to the works of Gabriel García Márquez than Jack Kirby.

The Vision - Nice or Kind

The reality of The Vision is provided in dialogue carefully crafted by writer Tom King. Each conversation between members of the family serves at least two purposes, highlighting their unique natures and imparting a sense of something familiar. After George and Nora depart the Vision household in The Vision #1, Virginia says, “They seemed kind.” Vision disputes her phrasing and insists, “It is proper to say they seemed nice.”

This argument is one defined by pedanticism. It is the minor sort of thing couples will argue about when larger issues rest beneath the surface because it is easier to fight about the meaning of “seeming kind” than something more meaningful. Artist Gabriel Walta does an excellent job of downplaying the emotions in this scene as well. Changes in attitude are reflected in eyes and eyebrows, shoulders and how bodies face. There is no grand declaration at the resolution of the argument, despite the discerning agreement made. The Vision and Virginia simply agree upon it as it is the subtext of the ending of so many other mundane arguments made text. If the specifics were removed, this is a conversation that ought to be recognizable to most couples living together.

The Vision - Sex and Seduction

Later in The Vision #3 Virginia approaches her husband to seduce him. The scene is again familiar, but slightly different. Her appearance in the bathroom door wearing a negligee is a familiar trope in both fiction and reality. Virginia’s subsequent approach blurs the line between the two, pieces of the outfit drop from her as she draws closer, phasing through her body instead of simply being removed. Their encounter appears entirely natural with Vision continuing to babble, unsure of Virginia’s change in attitude, as she softly assures him everything is okay.

As the series progresses, King foreshadows an oncoming disaster caused by the Visions resulting in the deaths of their neighbors and many others. These increased stakes defy the unremarkable visits of neighbors, kitchen conversations, and foreplay. They do not defy the human reality of the Visions as a family though. Whenever the welfare of Viv or Vin is threatened, the response from their parents is notable in both how extreme and understandable they are.

These reactions are primarily generated from an inciting event in The Vision #1 in which Viv is badly hurt by the Grim Reaper (a walking metaphor for death in this comic). The most obvious reaction to this is Virginia’s murder of the Grim Reaper and her subsequent cover up. She never doubts her actions and, making love to her husband at the end of The Vision #3, is quite content in the path she has chosen. The fallout of Viv’s injury has pushed the heroic Vision further down a dark path as well.

In The Vision #2 Vin attacks another boy at school for insulting his comatose sister, forcing his parents to be brought in to discuss punishment. When the principal suggests expulsion and calls Vin a weapon, Vision takes control of the situation. He not so subtly threatens the principal, referencing the number of times his actions have saved the Earth, to make it clear that his son will remain in school. In this moment Vision is a protective parent unhinged from the rules of the situation and purely focused on his relationship to his child.

The Vision - Love My Wife

Walta depicts the sequence in which this threat is featured in three panels. The first two are closed, but the third is open on the bottom moving into the bleed of the page. It is not the only time Walta has used this layout. Previously in The Vision #1, Vision watches Virginia sleep and questions the love in their relationship. The final moment of this scene hovers as well as he stands purely focused on what he ought to feel for his wife.

In The Vision #3 Vision is provided with an opportunity to save Viv through a painful and risky maneuver proposed by Tony Stark. Midway through the procedure, Stark threatens to shut down the power in order to save Vision at the cost of Virginia’s recovery. Vision’s response is an assured threat to Stark, his oldest friend in existence. In the realm of the superhero this reads like melodrama, but given the stakes of a parent attempting to save their child, it reads like a sympathetic, almost responsible reaction.

The Vision - Saving Viv

By steeping The Vision in humanity in its simplest and most extreme moments, King and Walta have constructed a nuclear family that feels very understandable no matter what oddities they or their lives may feature. Showing them attempt to relate to one another and the world around them makes them human. That is not purpose of The Vision though; it’s simply the truth that lays the groundwork for everything else the series has to say. It is integral that readers understand the Visions as human so they do not dismiss their separation from humans as a byproduct of inhumanity.

The same scene in which Vision is shown attempting to understand his relationship with his wife also shows the gulf between them. He thinks, “This is my wife. I love her. I must love her.” The determination to love her because of her specific role in connection to him speaks to the dream of normality. It is part of a narrative that says husbands love their wives. The very thought that this could not be so is enough to make him believe something is wrong, “a glitch in myself.” It is a brief sequence that composes the imposition of roles and expectations over actual human connection and feeling. That Vision does not feel a certain way in a certain moment makes him believe there is something wrong with himself.

That tension is carried through the first three issues of the series to the point that he has difficulty connecting to his wife sexually. When she presents her body to him in a scene that Walta makes as sexy as possible, he is baffled rather than aroused. The previous suppression of his actual feelings have left him feeling unsure about what seems to be a certain scenario.

The Vision - R U Normal

Similar small moments find all of the members of the family questioning their roles within their community. On the first day of school Vin finds himself comfortably going through the motions of classes, following a schedule and listening to instructions. It is only when he interacts one-on-one with another human being that this outline is disrupted. The simple act of a classmate asking him “R U Normal?” turns Vin’s assured facial expression into one of existential panic. The structure and rules that compose the normal life he is striving for are discarded as soon as someone else decides to challenge him, even in a teasing manner.

Walta beautifully depicts the ways in which the Visions have found themselves connected and separated through their power of flight. In The Vision #1 he shows Viv and Vin flying down to their first day at school. The panel is looking upward from the point of view of other schoolchildren emphasizing the distance in space between the two Visions and the rest of their classmates. They come from a unique place and are only connected to one another.

The Vision - School

A similar moment exists in a splash in The Vision #2 after the parent-teacher conference in which Vision threatens the principal. Vision and Virginia are flying home separated from the entire city of Alexandria by space and clouds, their shadows dancing on the white surfaces below them. Virginia simply says I love you as they hang together connected in a city where they are the only two people near one another.

As much as both of these images emphasize distance, they do not make it the sole defining characteristic of the moment. In each case there is one other person capable of understanding the experience that each family member is going through, and many more who cannot hope to reach them. In these instances there is a clear balance between loneliness and connection.

The Vision - I Love You

This is what The Vision is about. First comes all of the work to become normal, to be part of society, to be simply human. Then comes the recognition that the dream of normality is ephemeral and being human is never simple. Loneliness is a condition that all four members of the family must confront. They are only relieved of this circumstance when together, as children playing outside or adults in the bedroom. That relief is rare and unique. The children are gawked at and have their pictures taken by others. The adults have slurs of their sex life painted on the garage.

The imminent apocalyptic ending alluded to in the narration seems to be a result not of the Visions nature, but their rejection of it. Each attempt to fit into society, to appease neighbors and work within the definitions of what is an acceptable family places additional stress on each member of the family. They are happy when acting as themselves, but find themselves suffering when striving to be the definition of “husband”, “student”, “wife”, etc.

The Vision - Water Vase of Zenn-La

Like the Floating Water Vase of Zenn-La featured in their living room, the Visions attempting to simply be normal become something that only function in appearance. The vase appears like an instrument to hold water and flowers, but its chemical composition will poison any flowers rested inside of it. Rather than embracing the uniquely beautiful properties of flight that it possesses, it is shaped to be a more mundane object. In that process it is not only rendered useless, but becomes potentially destructive.

At the end of The Vision #3, it is revealed that the portents of doom unveiled in narration have actually been coming from a specific source as opposed to an omnipotent narrator. Agatha Harkness, a witch with ties to Vision’s ex-wife Scarlet Witch, has had a vision of the future and the opening lines of that prophesy mirror the opening captions ofThe Vision #1. This revelation marks a dramatic shift in direction for The Vision. What was once a certainly doomed future is now only a projection, one crafted by another human being left alone in the wilderness. There is no definite future, only the potential for pain and suffering.

Does the need for normality prevent meaningful connection? Is it possible to find understanding outside of a few people? Is there ever such a thing as a happy ending? What does it mean to be human? These are the questions that rest at the heart of The Vision and their answers are uncertain. It is only clear that these are questions not posed to the Visions alone. They are questions each of us must confront as well.

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Leading Questions: 10 Questions for 10 Columns

This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on January 21, 2016.

Leading Questions - Happy Birthday Superheroes

Every two weeks in a new installment of “Leading Questions”, the young, lantern jawed Mark Stack will ask Comics Bulletin’s very own Chase Magnett a question he must answer. However, Mark doesn’t plan on taking it easy on Chase. He’ll be setting him up with questions that are anything but fair and balanced to see how this once overconfident comics critic can make a cogent case for what another one obviously wants to hear.

This week the format is changing a little bit for two reasons. First, it is the tenth installment of Leading Questions and while that may not be a huge anniversary it’s not nothing either. Second, Mark just turned 21 years old and we wanted to let him do something to celebrate. This time Mark will be asking Chase ten questions in a lightning round format, where Chase must answer all ten in a succinct manner, even if the questions might get him in trouble.

So without any further ado…

1. What makes Flash Thompson a more dynamic character than Peter Parker?

By dynamic do you mean traumatized? I’m going to assume so because that makes this easier and I only have 1-2 paragraphs.

Peter has been dealt a really shabby hand by the Ol’ Parker Luck with his dead Uncle, dead girlfriend, and other accumulated bodies. Yet that still doesn’t quite match up to what’s happened to his high school bully Flash Thompson. Flash missed out on Peter’s healthy childhood, suffering abuse at the hands of his father instead. He missed out on Peter’s Spidey Senses, losing his legs instead. He missed out on Peter’s other powers, gaining an insane symbiote instead. And he missed out on Peter’s generally happy life, existing with a broken marriage, dead parents, and a tarnished reputation instead. Peter may have it bad at times, but he only has to look at Flash to feel like the luckiest man in the world.

Now Peter is a billionaire trotting around the world like Tony Stark, and Flash is jetting around space with the Guardians of the Galaxy. They’re both doing pretty well, but we know it’s only a matter of time until the status quo resumes. That’s not too bad for Peter, but it means the bottom of the bottle and more misery for Flash. I suppose that’s what you kids call dynamic these days.

2. Translated from Urdu: <Comic book editors: what do they know? Do they know things?>

I’m sure comic book editors have to know something, right? Look at what folks like Steve Wacker, Mark Doyle, Sana Amanat, and Andy Khouri have done with their respective lines of comics at Marvel and DC. They seem to have helped produce some pretty great comics, so they must know a thing or two about making great comics. As a part time editor myself, I like to think I know a few things. Eddie Berganza knows how to get away with things.

So I guess what I’m saying is that some comic book editors definitely know things, different things depending on the editor. We should probably start a game show to find out if comic book editors know things and what things they know. Do you think we could get Bill Watterson to host?

3. Comic Book Movies are stupid: Y/N

There are lots of great movies based on comics. I’m not going to make a comprehensive list of movies based on comics that aren’t stupid, but I’ll name two that I think are really great. Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World is a story I adore in both comics and film. Edgar Wright’s adaptation is different enough to really make it its own thing, and his style and skill craft something that may share plot and characters, but could only work as a film. A History of Violence is another, and that’s just grade-A Cronenberg ugliness. I could watch Viggo Mortensen horribly murder thugs all day.

4. Casanova: he looks like Mick Jagger but all I see is Daniel Elkin mentioning Bowie when writing about that comic. What gives?

There’s a technical definition for, it’s called “Reading Good Comics Criticism Syndrome.” You’ll find that when reading excellent comics criticism the writer both elevates the work by providing thoughtful analysis and alters your perception of it by placing a bit of themselves into the writing. Like any form of creation, criticism is a personal act and at its best doesn’t just provide insight into the subjects the creator wants to touch upon, but into the artist as well.

So why do you think of Bowie when reading Casanova? Well, that’s simple. Daniel Elkin is a man who loves David Bowie, and he’s a man who loves Casanova, and he’s a man who puts those two things together layering his analysis with lyrics while being the damn fine comics critic that he is. So the better question is: how could you not get visions of Bowie in your head after reading Elkin on Casanova?

Leading Questions - Rob Liefeld Youngblood

5. What’s your favorite Rob Liefeld comic and why is it better than Saga?

Youngblood, without a doubt. Don’t get me wrong; I adore Saga. It has taken one of the top few slots on my end of year list ever since I started making one, but there are some ways in which I think Youngblood is a better comic. While it might not be as technically proficient or thematically rich, Youngblood is pure Rob Liefeld. It is an example of an artist putting all of himself on the page. Even if that self is juvenile and crude, it’s pure. I like Youngblood for many of the same reasons I prefer The Dark Knight Strikes Again over The Dark Knight III, like we discussed last year.

Youngblood also has the benefit of having an esteemed legacy. It’s thanks to Youngblood that we have Supreme as written by Alan Moore, Glory as written by Joe Keatinge and drawn by Sophie Campbell, and (most importantly, in my opinion) Prophet as written by Brandon Graham and drawn by some of the absolute best comics artists of today. So many truly great comics have spun out from the existence of Youngblood, that it’s impossible not to be grateful for its creation.

6. Which comics creator do you think you could most easily take in a fight?

Greg Capullo.

7. And how would you beat him or her?

It’s not a matter of how, but of why. Have you paid any attention to Greg Capullo? Outside of being one of the single best pencilers to come out of the 1990s, the guy is ridiculously ripped. Just take a look on Twitter and you’ll see what I mean. He’s an absolute beefcake. So why would I think I, a lily livered comics critic, could take this man in a fight?

Because there’s no way it’s real. Have you ever met a comics art who was anywhere close to being that ripped? Who has time to work out when drawing that many excellent pages of Batman wailing on villains and hopping into Millarworld? I think it’s all Photoshop, a good defense making for the best offense. Capullo is supposed to be at C2E2 this year, so I’ll even get a chance to see for myself whether he’s pre- or post-super serum Captain America this spring. If this fight comes true, I’m really hoping for the former. Otherwise I’m going to get chewed up and spit out.

8. You’re trapped on a desert island with all of your comics; which one do you eat first?

There’s a lot to consider with this question because the act of eating a comic has a variety of repercussions. In this scenario, I’m trapped alone on the island with comics meaning that once one has been eaten I have removed one piece of my limited options for entertainment and engagement. Whichever comic I choose will be lost to me forever. I also probably won’t have time to read it or flip through it either since my first few days will be driven by survival needs and finding alternative food sources. Furthermore, whichever comic I choose will be transformed into a thick, fibrous poop that will most likely cause a great deal of intestinal and sphincter-related displeasure before becoming a stinking turd profaning my new home. So keeping in mind that this act will forever remove something from my world and come at great personal cost, the answer is pretty obvious.

Identity Crisis.

9. Name a recent comic that is worse than Young Terrorists #1. No question here. Just name it. I fucking dare you.

Huck #1.

Leading Questions - David Finch Wonder Woman

10. Which female superhero received an updated costume that you think is worse than their previously, barely-there costume?

Wonder Woman. She probably deserves better than a bikini bottom and bronze bra, but have you seen the David Finch redesign? That costume is not great. In fact, it’s quite bad. That thing is busier than Jack Kirby in his heyday. Unlike the King’s groovy Fourth World costumes, the various elements of this outfit never cohere into a cohesive whole. It’s over designed like a steampunk cosplay. The pauldrons, cuffs, body armor, and belt all draw attention to themselves, but none of them really work together. There are multiple concepts that could work as a uniting theme here, but none of them really jive. Instead we see elements of camp (the two sets of golden twins W’s and stars), realism (pants and leather-like armor for the torso), and a heightened god-like armor (overly large pauldrons and cuffs). Then you can top all of that off with a big V-for-vagina crotch shield that makes no sense.

As nice as it might be to see this iconic heroine in pants for once, I’d rather it didn’t come at the cost of visual coherency and style.

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5 Best Storylines from The Walking Dead

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

The Walking Dead Stories

The Walking Dead has hit a monumental landmark this week: 150 issues. That’s nothing to scoff at no matter what the circumstances, but The Walking Dead doesn’t require any asterices next to this achievement. It has been going strong since issue one without a single reboot or renumbering. Even more impressive is that 144 of those issues have featured the same creative team, since Charlie Adlard joined Robert Kirkman as the new series artist at The Walking Dead #7. Perhaps the most incredible thing about reaching #150 is that The Walking Dead is a creator-owned comic, making it one of only a handful of such series to run this long and this consistently.

Kirkman and Adlard have brought Rick Grimes a very long way from the hospital he woke up in in The Walking Dead #1, and it doesn’t look like they plan to let his story end any time soon as his greatest battle yet continues to grow worse both inside and outside his community. 150 issues still represents a lot of comics though. At this new turning point inThe Walking Dead, it’s worth taking a look back at the greatest story arcs of the series so far. These are the five that we feel represent The Walking Dead at its absolute best.

The Walking Dead Tony Moore

1. “Days Gone Bye”

The Walking Dead #1-6

There’s a reason that The Walking Dead was able to find success at Image Comics before Image Comics was the hit-producing comics publisher we know it as today. The first six issues of the series are fantastic. In addition to introducing many readers to the gloriously gross artwork of Tony Moore, it packed a lot of story into its pages and ended on a truly fantastic twist.

It’s possible that if The Walking Dead had simply ended after #6, it might still be very fondly remembered and could have easily been adapted into a movie. That it continued for so long after speaks to the idea machine that is Robert Kirkman. All of the long-term success can be traced back here though to a story that was packed with loads of different characters and simmering subplots, plenty of creepy situations and creepy kills, and the best ending of any story arc of The Walking Dead yet. It’s still a sad, sickening reminder that killing the living is something far worse than killing the dead.

The Walking Dead Fear the Hunters

2. “Fear the Hunters”

The Walking Dead #61-66

It took The Walking Dead some time to recover from the events of The Walking Dead #48where more than half of the cast was killed. “Fear the Hunters” is the story where the series became the zombie comic to follow again. Beginning with a horrible issue featuring a pair of shocking deaths amidst the recently reformed survivors, it quickly went somewhere even darker: cannibalism.

This wasn’t the first or last time Rick and his comrades would encounter an opposing group of truly heinous humans, but this one feels unique. Not only were the Hunters crossing a new taboo, but they were defined by their humanity. Rather than being a refined machine of evil, they were weak, pathetic, and entirely sympathetic. What that, in turn, reflects about the heroes is even more terrifying. Atop this fascinating new set of antagonists, “Fear the Hunters” features a truly heartbreaking goodbye that The Walking Dead has yet to top.

The Walking Dead Made to Suffer

3. “Made to Suffer”

The Walking Dead #43-48

“Made to Suffer” was the story that took The Walking Dead a full year to recover from; it was the story that truly exploded the comic. There’s no more memorable villain in the series than The Governor and these six issues compose his return and last stand. Beginning with the story of his survival and recovery from Michonne’s attack, “Made to Suffer” turned the meanest villain of The Walking Dead even meaner as he seeks vengeance.

What follows the return of The Governor was a bloodbath. Bodies stacked upon one another as reader’s jaws dropped ever lower. Many characters who seemed untouchable were laid low, including a final moment that would forever alter the path of Rick Grimes.The Walking Dead was changed permanently by this story arc, making it an even darker series, one where anything was possible and no one was safe.

The Walking Dead This Sorrowful Life

4. “This Sorrowful Life”

The Walking Dead #27-33

Seeing The Governor return was shocking because readers already knew who he was and what he had put multiple characters through. Those events occurred when Rick, Michonne, and Glenn discovered Woodbury between two volumes of the series. Their experience with the first large group they had encountered outside of their own was anything but peaceful. It resulted in the rape, torture, and maiming of the characters by a sadist who fed people to the undead.

“This Sorrowful Life” is the first time in The Walking Dead when the concept of conflict between two large groups was raised. This spectre of war was made to be every bit as daunting as its results would prove to be harrowing. It’s the point in the series where Kirkman revealed he knew how to create a memorable villain and build tension for conflicts that were more than a year away. It’s a scary introduction leading to some of the series darkest moments.

The Walking Dead All Out War

5. “All Out War”

The Walking Dead #115-126

If The Governor set the bar for villains in The Walking Dead, Neegan has come closer than any character to topping him. His brutal antics and style of leadership led to an inevitable conflict between not only two, but four communities in the biggest story arc ofThe Walking Dead yet. Everything from the scope and stakes of the story to its entailing body count felt like that too. “All Out War” was every bit as big as its title promised.

The most fascinating thing about “All Out War” though was how it moved The Walking Dead into a new stage of development. It finally moved Rick Grimes from being a leader of a group into being a leader of a society. By taking a look at how multiple leaders and peoples worked together to accomplish and endure terrible things, it set up The Walking Dead to be a series about not only the destruction of humanity, but how it would be rebuilt. The series has continued to focus on the concept of society in the wake of “All Out War” marking this as a watershed storyline in a series filled with very big moments.

What are your favorite story arcs in The Walking Dead? Share them in the comments below.

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