A Beginner’s Guide to Infinity Countdown

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on February 20, 2018.

Infinity Countdown Guide - Cover.jpg

As Marvel Studios approaches their biggest movie in Avengers: Infinity War as all of their combined superheroes battle Thanos to stop him from obtaining the Infinity Stones, Marvel Comics is also building to their next big event featuring these very same stones. If you’re a fan of the movies, this might provide a perfect jumping on point to check out the comics. When Infinity Countdown kicks off in March, they will feature many of Marvel’s best characters in an action-packed story. However, it’s important to have some background when jumping into any comics series based on more than 50 years of history.

That’s what this guide is for: If you’re looking to read Infinity Countdown, then this should provide some much needed information on the key elements of the story. We’ve broken down our jumpstart into three sections. First, there’s the listing of the stones, what they look like and what they do. Second, there are some key players, some are in the movies and others are not, either way they’re important to know for any “Infinity” story at Marvel Comics. Finally, there are some comics worth visiting for reference to better understand the current status quo at Marvel Comics regarding these stones and the universe they occupy.

We’re looking forward to Infinity Countdown a lot and hope anyone can enjoy it with the use of this beginner’s guide.

What Are The Infinity Stones?

The Infinity Stones are six colorful gems which represent different aspects of existence. They each provide any being wielding them absolute control over the very concept they embody. When combined the six stones provides whoever controls with omniscience and omnipotence, essentially transforming them into a god.

Mind Stone: The mind stone is blue in the comics. It provides its wielder with understanding and control over the thoughts, ideas, and dreams of any being in the universe.

Power Stone: The power stone is red in the comics. It provides its wielder with almost unlimited endurance and strength, allowing them to battle and fight for eternity.

Reality Stone: The reality stone is yellow in the comics. It provides its wielder with the ability to fulfill any wish and to undermine the very constants of the universe.

Soul Stone: The soul stone is green in the comics. It provides its wielder with the ability to manipulate the souls of the living and the dead, bringing people back to life and altering their essence. It also contains a pocket dimension in which individual souls can exist.

Space Stone: The space stone is purple in the comics. It provides its wielder absolute control over space, permitting them to alter their own location or that of anything else to an alternate location in space.

Time Stone: The time stone is orange in the comics. It provides its wielder the ability to manipulate time by slowing or speeding its flow, to see into the past and future, and to travel through time itself.

Who Are The Key Players?

Thanos: Thanos is the KEY player in any infinity stone related stories in comics or film. He’s the son of an alien race who was born obsessed with death. This obsession led him to fall in love with the metaphysical embodiment of the concept, and he came to see the stones as the best way to please his lover. Thanos’ quest for absolute control comes from his philosophy of nihilism, as he seeks to prove that nothing matters by changing the very nature of the universe. He does not seek to rule so much as he seeks to change the rules of everything, but that ultimately makes him an existential threat to every living thing.

Adam Warlock: Warlock is an artificially conceived human who represents the ideal genetic form of the species. His intelligence and strength are incredible, only exceeded by his ability to regenerate from any wound or death in a cocoon. Warlock has been the wielder of the soul stone for much of his life and has provided a being capable of holding all of the infinity stones without using them for a self-serving purpose. Check out this guide to learn more.

Gamora: Gamora was raised by Thanos to serve his goals while he was elsewhere. Her entire race was destroyed by her adoptive father who then transformed her into the deadliest woman in existence. Gamora eventually rebelled and joined Adam Warlock in his quest to stop Thanos’ own intentions of controlling and destroying everything.

Nebula: Nebula was another “daughter of Thanos” who served more faithfully than Gamora. However, she was not rewarded and was abused in the worst ways once Thanos obtained all of the Infinity Stones. It was Nebula that helped to stop Thanos the first time though, playing on his overconfidence and making her an uncelebrated hero for all of reality.

Pip the Troll: : Pip is a regular companion to Adam Warlock and Gamora. While he does not have the great abilities or dramatic backstories of his friends, he has served as a humanizing influence on them. Pip can regularly be found smoke a cigar and transporting others across the Marvel universe.

Elders of the Universe: The Elders were the first set of characters to hold the Infinity Stones. They each represented the last member of an extinct species dating to the very beginning of the universe. Their personalities often reflected the powers of the Stones they held, using them to pursue infinitely lifelong goals.

What Are The Important Stories?

The Infinity Gauntlet: This story created by Jim Starlin, George Perez, and Ron Lim is the urtext of all Infinity Stone stories. It is the culmination of years of issues in which Thanos sought the stones when he finally obtains them. If you want to understand any of Starlin’s later “Infinity” comics, Infinity Countdown, or the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War movie, then this is the place to start.

Secret Wars: The recent Marvel event played heavily on the notion of rewriting reality just like the classic The Infinity Gauntlet and original Secret Wars events did. While the story itself is based on the reconstruction of all realities, the Infinity Stones play a key role in its conclusion and offer clues for where several might have gone.

Annihilation: This cosmic crossover doesn’t feature the Infinity Stones, but it does include almost every character to ever interact with them. It is universal carnage as Annihilus invades from the Negative Zone, accompanied by Thanos. This series shows just what Marvel can do in a crossover and how key characters like Adam Warlock and Gamora work outside of their normal context.

These facts and stories should serve you well as Marvel Comics prepares for the start of Infinity Countdown. While there’s no way to know everything when walking into a superhero event, this ought to be enough to make the experience far more enjoyable than confusing. If you love Marvel movies or the concept of Infinity Stones, then don’t hesitate, jump right in and enjoy the experience.

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A Definitive Ranking of Neil Gaiman’s Short Stories at DC Comics

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on February 20, 2018.

Neil Gaiman at DC Comics - Cover.jpg

This week DC Comics is releasing a great new collection titled The DC Universe by Neil Gaiman. Much like the similarly titled collection of work by Alan Moore, this volume pulls together all of the single issues and short stories from a beloved comics writer during their tenure with DC Comics. The likes of Sandman, Death, Black Orchid, and Books of Magic are nowhere to be seen as they’re sprawling epics or mini-series contained in their own collections. The issues found within this new trade paperback have largely remained out of print, only now becoming accessible to readers without extensive diving through back issues.

It’s an exciting combination of work from one of the most celebrated writers in comics and prose today. To celebrate these stories finally being formatted for bookshelves, we’ve looked back through Gaiman’s short stories within the DC universe and ranked them against one another. This ranking includes all 6 of the stories contained in The DC Universe by Neil Gaiman as well as one other found in the Batman: Black and White anthologies. Together they’re the easiest, quickest reads from a writer who normally plays a much longer game (like the 75 issues and multiple mini-series surrounding Sandman). So take a look ahead to see which stories you might want to visit or revisit first when this new collection joins your library.

  1. Green Lantern/Superman: Legend Of The Green Flame

Art by Eddie Campbell, Mark Buckingham, et al.

Issues: Green Lantern/Superman: Legend of the Green Flame #1

When we discuss Neil Gaiman’s comics, we typically think of the imaginative alterations of reality or radical shifts in perspective. He’s an inventive writer who regularly pushes his stories well beyond expectations of the mainstream. That’s what make this prestige one-shot a bit of a disappointment. It’s a team-up that plays safely within the realm of what superhero readers would expect from Superman and Green Lantern joining forces. At its best the story emphasizes the value of this friendship given Hal Jordan’s rough state in the early 90’s. The pair are also briefly deceased, but when compared to the rest of Gaiman’s work, there’s nothing particularly exciting to be found in this volume.

  1. When Is A Door?

Art by Bernie Mireault

Issues: Secret Origins Special #1

The second Gaiman-penned installment in this special issue, it utilizes the same film crew found in “Original Sins” to interview The Riddler who is camped out amongst aging, villainous Silver Age paraphernalia. The Riddler’s riddles don’t make much sense, but that serves a purpose as he is contrasted with the more violent Batman villains of the modern era. This little bit of commentary on changing standards in comics provides an interesting core to the story, but the story itself doesn’t contain much of a narrative arc. Instead it’s a metaphor for how Batman comics have changed with little to say beyond that.

  1. Whatever Happened To The Caped Crusader?

Art by Andy Kubert

Issues: Batman #686 and Detective Comics #853

This “ending” for Batman purposefully played on the classic Alan Moore and Curt Swan comics “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” about the death of Superman. It’s a comparison that does not hold up well and makes it more difficult to enjoy this story just for what it is. Kubert’s work plays with the many eras and conceptions of Batman during a funeral thrown by his villains. The story attempts to reach some points about the seemingly infinite nature of Batman, but never really land. Instead much of what this story strives to do is accomplished better in the “Batman R.I.P.” comics that ran at the same time. It’s a fine eulogy, but a lesser work of Gaiman’s.

  1. Original Sins

Art by Mike Hoffman

Issues: Secret Origins Special #1

The other Gaiman story from this issue emphasizes the experience of a film crew seeking stories about Batman’s super villains for a documentary. They are disappointed by many of the responses and readers might be as well, but for good reason. The individuals who survive these horrific crimes rarely want to speak about them. An occasional henchman or devastated wife will get on camera, but this juxtaposition just makes the desire for fame among the documentarians more distasteful. There’s a very clever exploration of entertainment in grief here with an even more clever twist ending.

  1. A Black And White World

Art by Simon Bisley

Issues: Batman: Black and White #2

This is the one story you won’t find in The DC Universe by Neil Gaiman, as it’s already part of the “Black and White” collections. Gaiman tells a story of Batman and The Joker with one big twist: they’re both actors performing as the characters. Using this lens Gaiman erases much of the violence or easy moralizing elements from the relationship in order to focus on how these two consistently interact. There’s a notion that the pair needs one another and that they function as much as co-workers as they do adversaries. It puts in an interesting spin on the Batman mythos that has been explored further by later writers like Scott Snyder.

  1. Pavane

Art by Mark Buckingham

Issues: Secret Origins #36

“Pavane” is an example of Gaiman’s best character work as he offers a new perspective on the life of Poison Ivy. He frames the story from an employee of the Suicide Squad who seeks to evaluate Ivy as a potential member, while lying about his own attraction to her. The man is revealed to be an ugly individual, using women and cheating on his wife while lying to everyone about his motives. His actions and motives create sympathy for Ivy as she shares her story and the rage that suddenly makes much more sense. It is a great feminist reading of Poison Ivy that plays on her earliest appearances in comics and has grown into a key part of the character’s future stories.

  1. Metamorpho

Art by Mike Allred

Issues: Wednesday Comics #1-12

Everything about this story evokes invention and creativity. Gaiman’s wild camp writing, Allred’s strange designs and layouts, and even the newsprint format of Wednesday Comics itself all defied expectations. If someone is looking for a short introduction into why Gaiman is revered in comics, then these 12 strips make for a perfect thesis statement. They are all about pushing boundaries and following new ideas wherever they might lead. It manages to be fun while also engaging with genuine pathos. “Metamorpho” is Gaiman at his absolute best and certainly the crown jewel of The DC Universe by Neil Gaiman.

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Why Black Panther Should Lead the MCU in Phase 4

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on February 19, 2018.

Black Panther in MCU - Cover.jpg

Black Panther is staged to change the Marvel Cinematic Universe forever. Pre-sales on tickets show an unprecedented excitement for one of Marvel’s solo adventures and the films has brought together some of today’s greatest talents in acting, directing, and music. There is a real sense that this movie could be as much of a game changer for superhero movies as the upcoming mega-event Avengers: Infinity War. It’s possible that it could even be the start of a major shift in the franchise’s dynamics with Black Panther becoming the leading man at Marvel.

Looking at the past 10 years of Marvel movies and their plans moving ahead, it’s clear that change is coming. Here’s why Black Panther is the character to lead these movies into another decade of exciting adventures.

The MCU Needs a New Leader

Marvel Studios has been led by a core trio of heroes that built to the original Avengers through their solo films: Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor. None of these characters has been more important than Iron Man though. It was Iron Man that launched the franchise and introduced the concept of an Avengers movie. More importantly, it was the character of Iron Man who first provided the glue to connect all of the heroes. He offered resources, influence, and history that made him a natural centerpiece for assembling the team. While Captain America might be the Avengers’ heart, it was Iron Man who was both the brains and the money.

It seems that many of the actors behind this first wave of Marvel heroes are either taking a less active role or retiring altogether. Chris Evans has begun to direct some of his own projects and Robert Downey Jr. is producing many of his own films. Downey Jr. also happens to be one of the most expensive stars in the world, specifically in the context of his Marvel contract. It is unlikely we will see anymore Iron Man films and his cameos may become less prevalent, especially as he continues to age out of action figure status.

Marvel Studios needs a replacement for the Iron Man role in their movies. As new heroes continue to be introduced and the Avengers battle new threats, there has to be a centerpiece to drive the action forward. Even if Iron Man or Nick Fury stick around to some degree, there needs to be a more present hero leading the way. That hero should be Black Panther.

Reasons On The Screen

The most obvious reason to see Black Panther as the next leader of the Marvel movies is that he’s a natural leader. T’Challa is a king and earns that title in every possible way. Before even becoming a superhero he has led the political and scientific advancement of an entire nation. His interest lies in the protection and welfare of his people, exactly where a superhero’s focus should be, and he guides thousands of people to achieve those ends within the Wakandan government. Black Panther has the same long-term planning, strategic, and organizational strengths of Nick Fury on top of being a full blown superhero. There’s no better person to guide and coordinate the Avengers as they prepare for future threats that could now include Doctor Doom and Galactus.

Being a great leader isn’t the only key element of filling Iron Man’s shoes. Story-driven reasons must be present too, but that’s no problem for Black Panther. Following the events of Captain America: Civil War, Wakanda has stepped onto the world stage in a big way and T’Challa is the king who will lead it there. The nation is so advanced that it will be an important component of global peace and strategy, and an arguable contender for joining the U.N. Security Council. Wakanda’s end of isolationism now means Black Panther’s interests must expand to protecting all of Earth, so his presence in America during other adventures makes perfect sense.

Leading Wakanda also provides him with the resources necessary to both guide the Avengers and aid new superheroes in their development. Finding a new base or funding a quinjet is a simple matter of asking with the riches of a nation at his disposal. The Vibranium-based technology of Wakanda also means that T’Challa has just as much to offer as Tony Stark in terms of upgrades and gadgets. There’s an entire world of technology that Stark and Banner could only have dreamed of within reach of the Black Panther. Whether he’s leading the Avengers after the events of Infinity War or making a cameo to offer input or a useful device, Black Panther’s presence could naturally extend across Marvel movies very soon.

Reasons Behind The Screen

Black Panther is a great leader on screen. Black Panther is a great model for what Marvel Studios’ films could be in the future. Throughout the first 3 phases of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there have been changes to the model of how they were produced. Some bumps in the road occurred during the first phase as directors and the various studio figures butted heads (see: Iron Man 2). However, these were largely ironed out for the second and third phases as a studio-driven model took shape and it has resulted in a slate of films that were generally successful both with critics and wide audiences. That model has become familiar though and the equation has started to become a bit too apparent in the current scripts. Black Panther is poised to seriously shake things up.

Ryan Coogler appears to have been given more control of the hiring and direction on Black Panther than any director since Jon Favreau led the first Iron Man. Casting, set design, costuming, and music all fall outside of the predictable norms at Marvel Studios. A few years ago the idea of Kendrick Lamar producing an original soundtrack for a superhero movie would have seemed absurd, but it’s not the most anticipated soundtrack of 2018. There’s a clear vision for Black Panther and it really seems to stem from Coogler and his appreciation for the source material.

Black Panther has also embraced diversity within every aspect of its production. The world that is conceived looks entirely unique and the many creators behind-the-scenes have taken influences from Africa to create a unique cultural atmosphere for Wakanda. In spite of other studio’s concerns about casting primarily non-white casts, Black Panther’s pre-sales show that audiences are more than prepared to support a film with a predominantly black cast and crew. Black Panther is the movie that proves diversity isn’t just desirable for its own sake, but profitable for Disney and other entertainment companies.

Both on the big screen and behind the scenes, Black Panther is showing Marvel fans what the future of their favorite film franchise can look like. The brilliance of Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther combined with a director-driven, diverse film reveal that Marvel Studios’ still has a lot of room for growth and exploration. Iron Man set the tone for the first decade of Marvel movies to widespread success, now let Black Panther do the same for the next few phases.

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The 8 Best Black Panther Villains

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on February 19, 2018.

Black Panther Villains - Killmonger Fights Black Panther.jpg

Black Panther is here and it is everything we hoped it would be and more. The first film is packed with antagonists, many of which have defined the character in comics for decades. Whether it’s the vengeful Killmonger, maddening Klaw, or jealous M’Baku, the movie helped offer a definitive take on many of T’Challa’s longest-running adversaries. Watching such a great array of villains take the screen for their very first time is enough to make anyone wonder whether they’re the best Wakanda has to offer and what others might be lurking in wait for a sequel.

That’s why we’ve compiled a list of the 8 greatest Black Panther villains. These are all foes from the comics that can be defined as belonging to King T’Challa’s rogues gallery. While he has had notable fights with the likes of Kraven the Hunter or Doctor Doom, they’re ultimately part of the Spider-Man or Fantastic Four’s stories at Marvel Comics. We wanted to focus on the foes that Black Panther can either claim entirely for himself or shares in a definitive way. So if you’re wondering who might pop up in a sequel or how these new MCU villains stack up, click ahead.

  1. Baron Zemo

Created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee

First Appearance: Avengers (vol. 1) #4

The very second villain Black Panther ever fought in comics was an iteration of Baron Zemo when he met Captain America. While Zemo is normally defined as part of Cap’s rogues gallery, this instance, his connection with Black Panther at Marvel Studios, and everything the character stands for makes him just as much a Black Panther villain. Zemo is a symbol of white supremacy and the callous neglect of a leader. It’s why we hope he will face off against a far better ruler in the form of the Panther again, just to watch Zemo fail.

  1. King Cadaver

Created by Don McGregor and Billy Graham

First Appearance: Jungle Action (vol. 2) #10

King Cadaver has only appeared in a handful of comics, but he’s a real hidden gem amongst the large catalog of Black Panther comics in existence. The foe was warped by radiation from a typical human into a monstrous form with psychic powers. He has served at the behest of Killmonger and commanded some fearsome lieutenants including Baron Macabre and Lord Karnaj. There is a lot of potential in this deformed Wakandan who pursued power above all else and reflects the terrible price of that pursuit.

  1. Achebe

Created by Christopher Priest and Mark Texeira

First Appearance: Black Panther (vol. 3) #3

Achebe offers an almost silly appearance, but his origins and actions reveal a much more fearsome foe. In the Christopher Priest run of Black Panther, Achebe was said to have murdered every human being to ever encounter the wife that betrayed and left him for dead. His dedication and taste for sadism make him a determined and frightening villain. He’s also a more than capable manipulator who can play the role of politician and lead an army to conquer Wakanda, just as well as he can craft devious death traps.

  1. White Wolf

Created by Christopher Priest and Mark Texeira

First Appearance: Black Panther (vol. 3) #4

There are already hints that some form of the White Wolf will appear in sequels to Black Panther. In the comics this anti-hero is adopted white brother of T’Challa. He was raised by T’Chaka after his parents crashed in Wakanda and is incredibly loyal to the state. However his dedication to militancy leads him to conflict with his step-brother as they believe very different actions will protect Wakanda. It makes for a conflict that’s much more complex than the standard oppositional nature of hero and villain. We hope to see the White Wolf appear in future Marvel movies in some form to explore this relationship.

  1. Namor, the Sub-Mariner

Created by Bill Everett

First Appearance: Motion Picture Funnies Weekly

Over the past 10 years Black Panther and Namor have developed one of the most engaging rivalries in all of superhero comics. They have come into conflict both as kings and teammates, working to serve their own countries and the needs of the secretive Illuminati. The results have been destructive on personal and global levels. Attacks on Wakanda and Atlantis, as well as the complete destruction of alternate Earths have stemmed from their vicious battles. It’s a relationship that focuses on both characters more as rulers than heroes, and does a great job of showing how complex that role is.

  1. Man-Ape

Created by Roy Thomas and John Buscema

First Appearance: Avengers (vol. 1) #62

There’s no greater native rivalry in Wakanda than that between T’Challa and M’Baku. T’Challa’s grace, intelligence, and forethought are given a dark mirror in the strength-focused and blunt nature of M’Baku. In the comics M’Baku became the villainous Man-Ape, transforming his very nature into something animalistic in order to attack Black Panther. The new Black Panther films has helped to redefine the character into a more nuanced ruler and someone we hope to see much more of in future Marvel films.

  1. Klaw

Created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee

First Appearance: Fantastic Four (vol. 1) #53

Klaw is the original Black Panther villain. He is the colonial oppressor who sought to conquer Wakanda and almost succeeded. His actions resulted in the death of King T’Chaka and shaped T’Challa into the man he would become. As the man became a being of pure sound, his psyche was slowly vibrated to pieces and he has become a more dangerous, but less consistent version of the pure villain he once was. Klaw is one of the all-time great Marvel villains both for his importance to Black Panther lore and his versatility over the years.

  1. Erik Killmonger

Created by Don McGregor and Rich Buckler

First Appearance: Jungle Action (vol. 2) #6

As important as Klaw might be, there’s no better Black Panther villain than Erik Killmonger a.k.a. N’Jadaka. Klaw is an outsider while Killmonger is the dark reflection of the Wakandan dream. The enslaved son of a captured Wakandan in the comics, he suffered all the exploitation and fear that T’Challa would never know. These vastly different lives helped shape two very different philosophies, both of which can be understood and sympathized with. The new Black Panther film captures the essence of Killmonger and why he is the greatest Black Panther villain. It’s not because he’s evil, but because he has a point, one that will change both the Panther and Wakanda.

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The 10 Best Black Panther Comics of All Time

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on February 16, 2018.

10 Best Black Panther Comics - Cover.jpg

If you’ve already seen Black Panther, then you certainly want to know where you can find more great stories featuring King T’Challa and his greatest allies and enemies. How do you fill the months before the next Avengers film and the years before the first Black Panther sequel? Go to the source.

Black Panther has been a mainstay at Marvel Comics ever since his introduction in 1966, running through the pages of his own series, multiple Avengers and Fantastic Four titles, and so many other crossovers and events. There are a lot of Black Panther comics out there, which leads to an even more important question: Where do you start?

Have no fear because we’ve done all of the research and reading on Black Panther’s extensive comics history to assemble a comprehensive list of the best Black Panther stories. So click ahead to see where you’ll want to spend your time exploring Wakanda until T’Challa returns to the big screen.

  1. Killmonger’s Rage

Black Panther (vol. 3) #16-20

Written by Christopher Priest

Art by Sal Velluto, Bob Almond, Kyle Hotz, and Eric Powell

Killmonger returned to face Black Panther again almost 25 years after he was first killed in “Panther’s Rage.” Priest not only resurrected, but reinvented the villain in his run. Killmonger contrasted the inherent dignity and selflessness of T’Challa by constructing a city that felt like New York City and took Killmonger’s born name, N’Jadaka. Killmonger’s second appearance was almost as impactful as his first and provided an important building block in Priest’s legendary run on Black Panther.

  1. The Black Panther!

Fantastic Four (vol. 1) #52-53

Written by Stan Lee

Art by Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott

The Black Panther’s first appearance in Fantastic Four came at Kirby and Lee’s peak on the title, but “The Black Panther!” functions better as an FF story and concept outline than a Black Panther tale. What remains astonishing and guarantees it a place in any Black Panther top ten is how well conceived everything is right at the start. Everything from T’Challa’s outfit to the advanced Wakandan technology is already in place and put on display in gorgeous fashion. Even the origin recounted in Fantastic Four #53 has remained almost entirely unaltered. After more than 40 years this is still the essential starting point for any Black Panther fan.

  1. Enemy of the State

Black Panther (vol. 3) #6-12

Written by Christopher Priest

Art by Joe Jusko, Jimmy Palmiotti, Mike Manley, Mark Bright, and Amanda Conner

“Enemy of the State” resolves the first major plot arc of Priest’s run on Black Panther dealing with the coup in Wakanda, while also addressing Black Panther’s origin, history with The Avengers, and a whole lot more. It is a story packed with digressions that never dilute the overall effect, allowing a battle between brothers and Arcade-style deathtrap to coexist. More than anything else, “Enemy of the State” established the scope a Black Panther comic ought to contain dealing with international intrigue and a swath of Marvel’s greatest heroes.

  1. Panther’s Quest

Marvel Comics Presents (vol. 1) #13-37

Written by Don McGregor

Art by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer

McGregor’s return to writing Black Panther also returned the character’s focus to Africa. This time he traveled to South Africa to rescue his adoptive mother Ramonda. Accompanied by Gene Colan’s stunning pencils, the story would tackle the issue or apartheid and the brutality of this changing nation with fast-paced action. Not everything in these pages has aged well, but it stands the test of time far better than many other politically focused superhero stories from its time. There is a great story of a son’s love and the difficulties behind any revolution well worth revisiting in these pages.

  1. The Client

Black Panther (vol. 3) #1-5

Written by Christopher Priest

Art by Mark Texeira and Vince Evans

More than anything else what“The Client” does best is set the table for what’s to come. The initial 5 issues of a 60 issue run written by Priest, this story introduces a swath of new characters and concepts, infuses the story with humor, and prefects its non-linear storytelling. It is the Rosetta Stone for the best Black Panther series ever created, and incredibly entertaining to boot. Whether it’s the introduction of the Dora Milaje or the hilarious, pantsless antics of Everett K. Ross, “The Client” offers everything you might want in a Black Panther or superhero comic.

  1. See Wakanda And Die

Black Panther (vol. 4) #39-41

Written by Jason Aaron

Art by Jefte Palo

The 4th volume of Black Panther is generally best left forgotten, but it managed to end on an incredibly strong final story in a crossover with the “Secret Invasion” event. Aaron and Palo were new creators to the series and abandoned the previous 38 issues in order to tell a standalone story in which Black Panther and Storm repel a Skrull invasion of Wakanda. It is an absolutely brutal war that shows the resolve of the entire nation of Wakanda. Black Panther is a hero in his own right and a potent symbol that leads and rallies a people who have never accepted defeat. In just a few issues this comic will make you fall in love with Wakanda and make you never want to visit without an invitation.

  1. Panther’s Rage

Jungle Action #6-18

Written by Don McGregor

Art by Rich Buckler, Billy Graham, and various others

“Panther’s Rage” is the story that established Black Panther as a great hero in his own right. After years spent in the pages of Fantastic Four, Tales of Suspense, and The Avengers, McGregor returned T’Challa to Wakanda, focusing on that country and its king for his entire run. The initial story is regarded to be the first “graphic novel” at Marvel Comics utilizing chapters in a long-form story with cohesive core themes. It’s an exploration of rebellion and duty that is populated with wild character designs and some of the best superhero action of the 1970s. “Panther’s Rage” still stands out as one of the best comics of its era.

  1. Enemy of the State II

Black Panther (vol. 3) #41-45

Written by Christopher Priest

Art by Sal Velluto, Bob Almond, and Steve Geiger

No story makes it clearer how formidable Black Panther is. “Enemy of the State II” focuses on T’Challa’s intellectual and political strength just as much as his physical strength, and it reveals him to be almost peerless. Even when matching wits with Tony Stark in the midst of an international incident, Black Panther is able to create his own luck and deliver on the best possible outcomes for himself and his people. No story makes it more obvious that Black Panther is one of the greatest Marvel heroes of all time, and it does so in an incredibly entertaining fashion.

  1. A Nation Under Our Feet

Black Panther (vol. 6) #1-12

Written by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Art by Brian Stelfreeze, Chris Sprouse, and Karl Story

Coates’ first story on the newest volume of Black Panther reads like a fusion of superhero adventure and political treatise when taken as a whole. The story introduces a wide swath of new characters that manage to provide plenty of action along with strong moral arguments about self-governance. It’s an incredibly smart story that has also redefined the aesthetic of Wakanda. Stelfreeze’s designs have provided the isolationist nation their own architecture and technology that is sleek and beautiful. This is the comic that many new Black Panther fans will soon discover and it’s one of the best told to date.

  1. Sturm und Drang

Black Panther (vol. 3) #26-29

Written by Christopher Priest

Art by Sal Velluto, Bob Almond, and Mark McKenna

One of the most important elements of Black Panther is that superhero is just one of his many important roles. In “Sturm und Drang” Preist provides context for T’Challa’s role using other Marvel characters like Namor, Doctor Doom, and Magneto. He is just as much a politician, ruler, and symbol as he is a hero, perhaps even moreso. This story distills the incredible pressures and powers that weigh on Black Panther and how he manages to handle all of it with honor, grace, and nobility beyond any reasonable expectation. It is a statement that shows heroism comes not only from combat, but from who we are in the world, and it makes it clear Black Panther is one of the most heroic figures in or out of comics.

Honorable Mention: Everything Dies

New Avengers (vol. 3) #1-6

Written by Jonathan Hickman

Art by Steve Epting and Rick Magyar

Hickman’s New Avengers was about the Illuminati in premise, but it quickly became apparent the focus of the title was on Black Panther, and Namor to a lesser degree. Hickman and his collaborators interrogate what it means to be a king and whether that stature changes the demands of morality. It’s a great Avengers story, one that lays the groundwork for Ta-Nehisi Coates’ initial story in the newest volume of Black Panther.

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10 Reasons We Will Miss Invincible

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on February 15, 2018.

Invincible Finale - Cover.jpg

One of the longest running superhero series reaches its conclusion this week. Invincible may not have hit the 600’s or 700’s like Amazing Spider-Man or Detective Comics, but it’s notable for two very big reasons. First, it’s one of the longest running creator-owned series. Only a handful of other series, like The Walking Dead and Cerebus rival the complete collection of 144 issue under the Invincible banner. It is also one of the longest running superhero comics from a single creator. Robert Kirkman has written every issue of Invincible and the indomitable duo of Cory Walker and Ryan Ottley have drawn every issue between the two of them. Even the famed run of Kirby and Lee on Fantastic Four only ran about two-thirds as long as Invincible.

This series departure from comics is a massive moment. It’s a historic accomplishment and one that has been adored both on a commercial and critical level. While Invincible never hit the sales heights of The Walking Dead, it remains one of the best-selling superhero comics outside of the DC and Marvel Comics. It has also garnered a variety of recognition over the years, including an Eisner nomination. As we prepare to read the very final installment of Invincible, we are reminded of why this series has mattered so much to comics fans for more than a decade.

These are the top ten reason why we will miss Invincible.

Change Was A Constant

Every fan of Invincible agrees on the moment the series changed forever. At the end of its second volume, the concept was flipped on its head when Mark Grayson’s father was revealed to be an alien conqueror, not the Superman analog promised so far. A bloody battle followed and the direction of the series was changed forever. Invincible has never backed away from changing its status quo and that has made it a consistently surprising force in superhero comics. Unlike many series that always return to their baseline, Invincible’s only promise has been that things will really never be the same.

Violence Had An Impact

Superhero comics have a funny way of making violence seem safe. When two titans like Superman and Zod duke it out, there’s typically very little blood or collateral damage. That was never the case in the pages of Invincible. Every action had an opposite and equal reaction, when the strongest man on Earth landed a punch, cities shook and blood was shed. This is a comic that understood fights should come with consequences and made them felt in each issue. It was a refreshing take on a genre that normally ignores the costs of violence.

An Ever-Expanding World

As the world of Invincible changed, so did its status quo. It wasn’t enough that characters left, plans changed, and new organizations took power. The scope of the series grew on a regular basis. What began with an emphasis on a small team of teenagers eventually became devoted to intergalactic struggles. An expansion of conflict was never a temporary diversion or event, but a permanent and important alteration. The world got bigger as Invincible got older, and it never shrunk back down.

A Colorful Cast Of Characters

If you were to gather ten fans of Invincible in the same room, odds are that none of them share the same favorite character. The series expansive cast provides too many options to make picking a favorite an easy decision. From far out alien leaders like Allen to absurdly humorous villains like the Mauler Twins, Invincible loved to expand its cast with colorful characters. Looking back on 144 issues, it seems a veritable embarrassment of riches, one that fans will continue to relish for many re-reads to come.

It Focused On Its Artists

Both Cory Walker and Ryan Ottler have brought a very special charm to Invincible. Walker’s sense of character design helped to make the world of this comic stand out from the very start, while Ottley’s richly detailed panels have made the epic battles of recent issues feel appropriately climactic. In both cases the series has allowed artists to shape an entire universe and elevated their work to wider audiences. If you have followed Invincible, then you know this is a creator-owned title that cares for both halves of the writer-artist equation, and that has made all of the difference.

Death Mattered

Death has become a passing matter in superhero comics, but not in the pages of Invincible. While there were still a few outs over the years, when a character was killed on page that has almost always been the end. It has come in climactic battles and surprising, unadorned moments. But no matter how death has arrived, it has always made an impact in this series and left readers and the story changed because of it.

Plots Lasted For Years

Examining Robert Kirkman’s plotting on Invincible reveals a love for Marvel Comics in the 1980s. Much like the best X-Men comics written by Chris Claremont, Invincible would keep a dozen plot threads spinning at once, before unleashing each one into an epic story. Silly characters like Dinosaurus would come to reshape the both the titular hero and the world of this comic after years of development. It’s a great success for comic book plotting.

It Was A Family Affair

Invincible began with Mark Grayson as a teenager and now features him as a husband and father. Throughout the series, the focus has remained on Mark’s family in its many forms. That has provided a real heart to the story and allowed readers to track the growth of the story through the growth of a single family. This has allowed superhero antics and intergalactic struggles to remain rooted in the most essentially human context.

Space Was The Final Frontier

As the world of Invincible grew it became clear that future stories all pointed towards space. From Mark Grayson’s Viltrumite roots to the empire led by Allen the Alien, space held far more potential than Earth alone ever could. Rather than allowing for an occasional spacebound story, Kirkman and his collaborators made the universe the setting of the series. Space wasn’t just a distraction, but the eventual focus of this growing series.

It Knew When To End

As much as it pains us to see Invincible go, we also recognize the value of a good ending. Many series either lose track of themselves or repeat like a beaten record after too much time passes. That has never been the case with Invincible. Every issue has offered a step forward and it’s ready to end as it reaches the limits of its universe. The hero has reached an ultimate level of attainment and the setting has been fully explored. Rather than pushing for diminishing returns, Invincible is prepared to end on a high note. That’s a smart decision and one that will help ensure its legacy for a long time to come.

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Review: Invincible #144 Is A Love Letter To Superhero Comics

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on February 14, 2018.

Invincible #144 Review - Cover.jpg

“What is a legacy? It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.” – Hamilton

Invincible has been many things to many people over the course of 15 years. It has been a coming of age story, a family saga, a sci-fi war war epic, but, above all else, it has been a superhero comic. In the very first few issues of Invincible co-creators Robert Kirkman and Cory Walker embraced the tropes of the genre and made them their own. Superpowers, costumes, teams, secret government organizations, all of it was quickly introduced and explored. Soon these integral elements were reshaped and occasionally subverted as the story grew far beyond its original scope. Now 144 issues and various mini-series later, it is time for Kirkman, Walker, and Ryan Ottley to grapple with one last question: What is their legacy?

It is a question that answers itself in the pages of Invincible #144. The notion of legacy has been a fundamental aspect of superhero comics for a very long time. It’s the name of one superhero publisher’s newest initiative and defines more than half of the major characters at another. As time moves on superheroes persist, altered by shifts in culture and values, but they persist nonetheless. This issue frames the story of Mark Grayson and his family in that long view of history. It segments itself into multiple chapters, delineated by art and approach. There is a recap, distinct focuses on the children Terra and Markus, and the redefinition of the Viltrumite Empire, along with a few other brief surprises. It’s a lot of ground to cover, but it’s all very necessary in providing a conclusion to this series.

143 issues of connections with these characters makes it easy to distill each storyline into key elements though. An entire war can be shown in a splash page and two conversations because readers of Invincible understand how these interstellar conflicts function in the series. The important bits are no longer raging action sequences that could fill an issue or delicate back-and-forths that felt every bit as gripping; the important thing here is a sense that life goes on. Perhaps the single boldest choice of Invincible #144 is to fill the future of the world with strife as well as the promise that it will last for a very long time.

While Invincible addressed many of its greatest antagonists in a permanent fashion during “The End of All Things”, it has always been a series that understands there are more problems just around the corner. So that remains true as it treks far into the future, revealing moments of happiness and sorrow. Melodrama does not overtake the series’ regular brand of bombastic, yet decidedly human, drama as creators say goodbye. Both of the series’ artists are given halves of the book in which to emphasize the skills that defined their contributions. Ottley makes final displays of blood and offers the briefest glimpse of one bold new design. Walker spends time exploring space and family. If there is a sense of lingering or sadness, it comes here as readers (and likely Kirkman) recognize it’s the last time they’ll be doing this particular form of exceptional work.

Invincible #144 is far from flawless, just as Invincible was. Narration drags at times and there is stilted dialogue. It speaks to the strength of the series art and the emotional bonds of its characters that even when these are acutely noticeable, they’re easily ignored. Like many favorite superhero comics, it’s strength lies in its resiliency and boldness, forming an imperfect metaphor between Invincible and its protagonist.

The final issue casts itself far into the future and offers a dream of a thousand adventures that might have been. It’s a promise of a story that never really ends. It’s the seed for imagining favorite characters continuing to exist. Even as Invincible concludes, it embraces the notion of legacy in superhero comics. The creators of the series must move on, but they desire for their vibrant and violent world to continue. So they deliver an issue in which it does just that. It’s a gift to themselves and to readers, a winking goodbye that promises to see you later. The perfect conclusion to a superhero comic is “To Be Continued” and that is exactly what Invincible #144 delivers.

Published by Image Comics

On February 14, 2018

Written by Robert Kirkman

Art by Ryan Ottley, Cory Walker, and Mark Morales

Colors by Nathan Fairbairn

Rating: 4 out of 5

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Review: Kick-Ass #1 Fail to Understand What It’s About

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on February 14, 2018.

Kick-Ass #1 Review - Cover.jpg

Kick-Ass has always nominally been focused on what superheroes might look like in the real world. It’s a premise that even the first series never entirely held onto though, with extraordinary levels of guns and violence offering an 80s action movie conclusion. Restraint isn’t within the vocabulary of Mark Millar, which is not an inherently good or bad thing. However, given the context, ideas, and premise of Kick-Ass, some restraint and nuance are required. Millar and co-creator John Romita Jr. are “rebooting” the series with a new protagonist and location. These new elements don’t improve on the original concept; they only make the multi-faceted flaws of this series more obvious.

Patience is an Afghan war vet who returns to the United States with limited opportunities or support. Her choice to become a superhero is driven by financial need and anger, whereas Dave Lizewski’s was driven by absurd fantasy. That origin might sound more realistic, but it’s borders upon being farcical as presented. An opening sequence features Patience and her team, the Night Stalkers, facing down impossible odds to escape a hostage situation. The violence and actions taken are so extreme that it’s difficult to imagine them even in a film directed by Peter Berg or Michael Bay. What is accomplished by soldiers rests far outside the realm of reason and the scenario itself steers Kick-Ass into the realm of propaganda.

Image

These soldiers are unstoppable killing machines facing down a never-ending horde of unreasonable, turban-clad men. The ugliness that predicates this “exciting action sequence” makes it difficult to appreciate some of Romita Jr.’s best recent work. Steigerwald on inks and colors refines the bold faces and frames of his characters, while reaffirming the impact. His cast of action is all about the big moment, and both bullets and fists land in successive panels to impressive results. Taken in a vacuum, this battle is an impressive new sequence from Romita Jr. and Steigerwald. Their artwork does not exist in a vacuum though, and it portrays an ugly simplification of a complex conflict, one that removes all trace of humanity from war. The end result remains an ugly depiction of Islamophobia that destroys the realistic premise of Kick-Ass before the story really begins.

That degree of simplification continues throughout Kick-Ass #1. The issue focuses on a variety of issues including a lack of support for veterans and single parent families, the American drug war, and sexism. Any of these topics is difficult to address and Kick-Ass #1 makes a point of placing them all at the forefront of this new story. This is not an accident, but a purposeful centering of challenging material. All of that material is addressed as superficially as possible though. Problems are raised by characters who can only offer cliches in their dialogue and no real understanding of the challenges they are facing. The core themes of Kick-Ass appear to have been gleaned through scanning the front page of USA Today before being transformed into bloody, pop entertainment.

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At its best the first issue engages with a grindhouse aesthetic. Loosely defined characters seek excuses to enter bad situations and deliver mean results. There’s a joy to be found in watching Patience single-handedly destroy a group of bad guys. Romita Jr. finds that odd balance where every broken limb and missing eye offers both a cringe and the hint of a smile. As a vehicle for mayhem, Kick-Ass #1 is more than capable of delivering. That is not how this series is presented and there’s a lack of self-awareness regarding its love for carnage.

There’s a conflict at the heart of Kick-Ass #1. It pushes the realism of its superhero narrative at face value. The comic continually raises problems in the real world and makes violence appear as ugly and painful as it ought to be when no one is invulnerable. Yet this intent is undermined at every turn by the matter in which it is presented. Kick-Ass #1 does not exhibit any real understanding of the subject matter it addresses, and often distills these topics into ugly caricatures of life. In a world where we seek both escapism and understanding through narratives, Kick-Ass manages to deliver neither.

Published by Image Comics

On February 14, 2018

Written by Mark Millar

Art by John Romita Jr. (pencils) and Peter Steigerwald (inks)

Colors by Peter Steigerwald

Rating: 1 out of 5

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The Essential Black Panther: Ta-Nehisi Coates

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on February 14, 2018.

Ta-Nehisi Coates Black Panther - Cover.jpg

In the long history of Marvel Comics, most characters have come into contact with at least dozens, if not hundreds, of writers and artists. They are a collection of vast influences ranging from a singular issue to titanic multi-year runs. When considering the essence of a single hero (or villain) it becomes clear that some creators had a larger impact than others. In celebration of the Black Panther movie, we are looking at the essential Black Panther creators. These are the comics artisans who have left an indelible mark on T’Challa, Wakanda, and his immense supporting cast. You can see their influence both on the movie and across Marvel Comics today. Black Panther would not be the character we love without their contributions and their comics provide the best path to understanding this incredible hero.

Here we take a look at the current writer of Black Panther, a much heralded newcomer to comics: Ta-Nehisi Coates.

The Creator

In the past decade Ta-Nehisi Coates has emerged as one of the most influential and eloquent voices in American culture. He is a journalist and writer who has extensively examined cultural conditions and issues of race in the pages of The Atlantic, The Washington Post, Time, as well as many other institutions, and was awarded the MacArthur “Genius Grant” in 2015 for his work. Coates only recently came to write comics with the debut of the sixth volume of Black Panther in 2016. In the past 2 years, Coates has continued writing Black Panther as well as various spinoffs like Black Panther and The Crew, World of Wakanda, and Rise of the Black Panther. He has also helped to discover many more new comics writers from the worlds of journalism and literature, including Roxane Gay, Yona Harvey, and Evan Narcisse.

What Coates Added

In Coates’ first 12-issue arc, “A Nation Under Our Feet”, he introduces a slew of new characters, almost all of whom have stuck around. Wakanda faces rebellions in the North and South, both led by new characters. In the North are the Midnight Angels, rebellious Dora Milaje with superpowered suits. In the South are Zeni and Tetu, an empath and sorcerer fomenting violent rebellion. The greatest change within “A Nation Under Our Feet” is the alteration of Wakanda from a monarchy to constitutional monarchy. There are more subtle additions as well. Coates has delved into Black Panther’s motives throughout the decades, redefining him as a man who wants to be a hero, but must be a king. There is an emphasis on making all past actions coherent with current ones as so much change takes place.

Perhaps the most exciting element of Coates’ run is that he’s still actively adding to the Black Panther mythos. His current storyline, “Avengers of the New World”, is reshaping the origin of Klaw and assembling a core rogues gallery for future Panther stories. Klaw, alongside the Fenris Twins, Zenzi, and Doctor Faustus, is preparing to retake Wakanda via their modern colonial cabal. Coates is also expanding on the religious traditions of Wakanda. He has defined the country’s 5 central gods, and is in the midst of unpacking their history and predecessors. In addition to explaining their were earlier gods, Coates has also created 5 humanoid races that predated modern Wakandan society and who were banished from reality by them.

Throughout both of these stories, Coates has revealed himself to be a comics fan based on his love for continuity. He is actively engaged with refining the long history of Black Panther stories within his new additions. Everything from Killmonger’s initial insurrection in Jungle Action to Shuri’s death in New Avengers have been shaped into the current storylines. He is engaged with the many disparate threads of story left by creators like Kirby, McGregor, and Priest, and is assembling them into a cohesive metamyth.

Why It Matters

Coates’ run has not only revitalized Black Panther, but it has treated the character with a level of respect and intelligence not seen since Christopher Priest left the title in 2003. Since Black Panther was first introduced in Fantastic Four #52, there’s has been an inherent hypocrisy between the character’s role and his values. Coates has addressed the issue of a modern monarchy directly and altered Wakanda’s form of government rather than hand waving the issue. More importantly, Coates addressed the complexities found in revolution, forming a new government, and admitting guilt. The problem presented was far greater than any superhero spectacle could resolve and Coates emphasized that enjoyable spectacle could be wed to far more difficult work.

The significance of history has not been a simple matter of appreciating Marvel continuity either. There are obvious connections to Coates’ interest in Wakanda’s past and his non-fiction writing. The past is a constant force in his narrative, forming the basis of each new problem, whether it’s a new villain or systemic flaw. There are really no obvious villains within “A Nation Under Our Feet”, as Tetu’s grievance is moral, even if his methods are not. Coates has struck a balance between philosophy and action, in which characters fights are given additional meaning by the debates between T’Challa, Shuri, Changamire, and others. Black Panther has risen to the role of philosopher-warrior-king, as his ruling duties are assumed by democratically elected leaders. It is a significant reminder that the history of superhero comics can be fertile soil for change and reflection.

Coates’ run thus far is important both for Black Panther and superhero comics. He has shaken some of the core assumptions about what makes the Black Panther work—transforming it into a much more philosophical comic that addresses issues of history and government. These changes could easily work their way into future films and other adaptations. The level of thought he has brought to the series also shows the potential support for superhero comics that strive for more than action and drama. Some of the individual lines in his opening arc are as smart as anything Coates has published in The Atlantic, making it clear that good writing is good writing no matter what medium it occurs in.

The Complete Black Panther by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Black Panther (vol. 6) #1-18, 166-171 (ongoing)

Black Panther Annual (vol. 6) #1

Black Panther: World of Wakanda #1-6

Black Panther and The Crew #1-6

Rise of the Black Panther #1-6

First Appearances

Zenzi: Black Panther (vol. 6) #1

Midnight Angels: Black Panther (vol. 6) #1

Changamire: Black Panther (vol. 6) #2

Tetu: Black Panther (vol. 6) #1

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Mini Reviews for 02/14

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on February 14, 2018.

Action Comics #997

With only 3 issues until the milestone Action Comics #1000, the series seems to be stalling for time. The newest installment in “Booster Shot” offers the illusion of action with very little actually occurring. The status quo in both plots changes ever so slightly, but the majority of pages are filled with characters restating their motives and feelings. If this were being sold as a jumping on point, that might make more sense, but as the fifth chapter in a story it makes for protracted pacing. Character inconsistencies (Skeets doing the exact opposite of what he just advised between pages) and ample clichés (a villain explaining their plan in excruciating detail) make for a tedious issue of filler that leaves us looking for to Action Comics #1000 as a light at the end of this tunnel.

Rating: 2 out of 5

New Super-Man and The Justice League of China #20

The Justice League of China takes a first look at a potential new member from a country to the south in an introductory issue. Like most initial chapters, this issue reestablishes the status quo just in time for a last page reveal that is certain to shake things up. It’s pleasant to watch the team interact and fight a villain whose perfectly fit for no more than one issue. Nothing in the small interactions or big fight of the issue will offer awe, but they’re all adequately told. Most of the potential here lies in the future though. A new power set and showdown with forces from North Korea both spark a lot of interest. That’s not the story here, but it does offer a great jumping on point for what comes next.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Shade the Changing Girl / Wonder Woman Special #1

The newest installment of “Milk Wars” functions more as a self-contained story than a continuation of the ongoing narrative. The homogenization of DC Comics serves primarily as setting for an exploration of gender roles and emotional clichés in modern society. Wonder Woman serves as an excellent central hero, contrasting her chosen heroism with other’s ideas of what women should be. Psychedelic artwork from Shade The Changing Girl slowly leaks into panels and layouts throughout the story as the manufactured world is continually questioned. While there’s nothing earth-shaking in this story, it makes for a pleasant and smart diversion using the strengths of both its lead heroines.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Despicable Deadpool #294

Casting Madcap as a Deadpool villain provides a great point of contrast in The Despicable Deadpool #294. He highlights everything Deadpool used to be as a non-stop gag machine focused on juvenile humor. In turn Deadpool reads as a much more tragic human figure, which pays off at the end of the issue. The journey to that twist is less than inspired though. Most jokes fall flat and the action is standard-issue, give or take a horse. Even a clever solution plays out as perfunctory. While this showdown helps to clarify what has made Duggan’s long run with Deadpool transformative, it’s ultimately stalling for time between more substantial issues.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Falcon #5

The conclusion of the first story arc in Falcon offers as many good concepts as the start, but fails to execute on almost any of them. Combining street level issues with Marvel’s supernatural side is intriguing and results in a handful of dynamic panels. Most of the story falls flat though, interminably slowed by exposition and clunky dialogue. Characters repeatedly state their relationships and motivations in the most unnatural of matters. Clichés rule the day, even in hell where demons speak just like men in the streets of Chicago. Falcon #5 stumbles across the finish line as a disappointment that doesn’t provide many reasons to keep reading.

Rating: 2 out of 5

Marvel Two-in-One #3

Chip Zdarsky is revealing himself to be a savant at juggling plots in the classic Marvel style of superhero comics. A short battle with a B-list supervillain, new revelations about Johnny and Ben’s ongoing quest, several simmering subplots, and a few guest stars all comfortably cohabitate in the new installment of Marvel Two-in-One. It’s reminiscent of the best bronze age issues with an updated style from Valerio Schiti. A short-lived tussle is fun, but this issue lives in how it slowly alters the status quo. While the title only refers to two, it’s really a story about the original four and offers plenty of love for them in direct and metaphorical terms. Wherever the background elements are leading, this issue suggests the series is being prepared as an epic love letter to the Fantastic Four.

Rating: 4 out of 5

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