Comics Are the Cure for the Common Cold (Or, I’m Reading Things)

Grading is done, and I've got a dissertation to complete so I can defend it and get a real person job. And, as with Christmas tradition, I am catching some sort of cold or flu monstrosity. This seems to be the norm for me. It wouldn't be so terrible if the only illnesses I got around Christmas were colds, but as I've mentioned before, I also spent one whole Christmas on my first cycle of chemotherapy for Hodgkin's lymphoma, so there's sort of this added hatred of being ill around the holidays. So, instead of finishing a glorious blog post on why the Galactic Empire from Star Wars has always been about fascism and Nazis, I'm going to read some comic books. Currently, I'm reading the following:
  • Champions (Marvel) This series is actually fantastic. It features Ms. Marvel as the sort-of leader of a group of young superheroes, including Miles Morales' Spiderman, Nova, Viv (Vision's daughter), a young Cyclops (it's a long story), and some new version of the Hulk that is oddly super charming. Unlike the other superhero groups, they are guided by a non-destructive, non-lethal ethos, which makes sense given that Ms. Marvel is at the helm. You should definitely check it out!
  • Jessica Jones (Marvel)
  • I Hate Fairyland (Image) This comic is just batshit crazy.
There are about a dozen others on the list, but those are the main ones. I also tried reading the first issue of the latest Ultimates, but I couldn't stand the art; that's one that will go on the "don't pull anymore" list. So, I'm going to take a nap and wake up tomorrow fresh eyed and weird. In the meantime, a question:
What comics are you all reading?

2016 WISB Awards Long List

It's that time of year:  time for me to release some kind of list of things I loved in 2015.  This year is different, though.  This year, I'm releasing a long list for the WISB Awards, and it is from this list that I'll select the winners of my annual WISB awards, the jury-less, vote-less monstrosity of an award that is only of value to myself. Since I cannot include my own work on the following long list, I'll include those works here:
  • Best Fancast:  The Skiffy and Fanty Show (Shaun Duke, Julia Rios, Paul Weimer, Mike Underwood, Rachael Acks, David Annandale, and Jen Zink); Totally Pretentious (Shaun Duke and David Annandale)
  • Best Non-Fiction Work:  Speculative Fiction 2014:  The Year's Best Online Reviews, Essays, and Commentary edited by Renee Williams and Shaun Duke (Book Smugglers Publishing)
If you feel there's a glaring ommission, let me know in the comments.  I haven't read everything there is to read (obviously), and it's likely I've missed a lot of really great work. Now here's the official 2016 WISB Awards Long List: Read More

Talking About Wonder Woman and Her “Problems”…Again

Some time back, I talked about the path I hope the studios will take for a film adaptation of the Justice.  Since such an adaptation will naturally include popular characters like Wonder Woman and Flash, I felt compelled to talk about why the studios had to approach the whole venture carefully to avoid the pitfalls of camp that continue to plague the characters.  Now, I feel compelled to talk a little bit more about Wonder Woman, and it's all Tansy Rayner Roberts' fault.

Last month, Tansy Rayner Roberts took a stab at the reasons why people think Wonder Woman won't work in film.  I agree with Roberts that most, if not all, of the reasons are pretty dumb, especially the argument that movies with female superheroes are stupid.  Nope.  Nope nope nope nope nope.  There are certainly bad movies which include female superheroes, but those movies suck because they are bad movies, not because you're being asked to root for the ladies.  Not surprisingly, people do actually go to movies involving female superheroes.  Shocking, I know.  I mean, how the frak is that even possible?  It must be witchcraft...or a Kenyan government conspiracy involving the IRS.


Roberts' rightly points out, in agreement with Shoshana Kessock on, that one of the major "problems" with Wonder Woman concerns her explicit feminist nature:

I think Shoshanna at Tor is right on the money with her article – the “problem” with Wonder Woman is that most people don’t know how to deal with an unapologetically feminist character. Writers panic. Executives panic. The way that women in particular are written in Hollywood is so vastly different to the way that superheroes tend to be written, that when the two concepts are combined, fear and cosmetics companies and ice-cream tend to get thrown at the resulting mess until it goes away.
I also agree with this premise, which is why I like the idea of Wonder Woman as a character, even though I think she frequently falls prey (in the public consciousness of her character) to a certain kind of campy optimism.  Done right, she could make for a profitable and, well, qualitatively good franchise of films.  I'd love to see some well-written Wonder Woman movies.  Watch her battle to save the Earth and for equality.

Of course, the character hasn't always had this optimistic feminist view of things.  I don't know if Roberts has read the recent Flashpoint crossover event, but I would certainly like to hear her opinion on the portrayal of Wonder Woman and the Amazons in that particular set of comics.  If any major event in the DC universe has been officially put in the studio's list of "stuff we're not going to put on the screen...ever," it would be Flashpoint.  Well, there are probably other things in there, and some sexist jackass is probably sitting in an office somewhere thinking about ways to kill (in the comic book definition of the word) Wonder Woman after turning her into a "misandrist" villain.  Maybe not...
I actually really liked her costume in Flashpoint...
For those unfamiliar with the comics, I'll briefly explain the main thrust of the Flashpoint event, though I won't tell you how the event got started, as that would ruin the reveal at the end.  Basically, something happens and the entire DC universe is rewritten, changing the entire power structure of the Earth.  From the first few comics, we learn two crucial things:  Wonder Woman and Aquaman had originally agreed to marry in order to unite their kingdoms, but an assassination plot led to the death of Wonder Woman's mother (i.e., the Queen), followed by a massive war between the two kingdoms.  Half of Europe is under water, the United Kingdom has been taken over by the Amazons, and all is chaos.  In the middle of all of this, we learn that an entire faction of the Amazons (enough that Wonder Woman's ignorance of their doings is rather difficult to believe) has been doing two things:  1) enslaving or killing men, and 2) subjecting women to genetic and psychological re-wiring to make them part of the Amazons, too.  Can you see why this wouldn't work all that well on film?

Now, I'm not one to make grand Men's Rights claims about misandry (these claims are, to put it bluntly, brainless).  I don't buy into the idea that feminism is the hatred of men.  I've never met a feminist who hates me because I have a penis; I have met men who hate women because they have vaginas.  But setting aside the motivations for the power games in Flashpoint, the simple fact remains that the Amazons are not portrayed as particularly positive feminists.  If anything, I wouldn't call them feminists at all in this alternate universe.  They actively express their hate of men, engage in activities which involve the oppression of men, and manipulate, destroy, and/or augment women in an attempt to inject new blood into the ranks.  They are, in effect, pretty much frakking evil (Wonder Woman, as I've noted, may not actually know what is going on under her nose; either that or she's naive as hell)(truthfully, there aren't that many "good people" in the Flashpoint universe).  They're kind of like a literal representation of what anti-feminists imagine actual feminists are like.  You know the narrative:  they run around trying to think about ways to oppress men, keep everything for themselves, ruin society, and so on and so forth.  Basically, they're an idiot's wet dream.

I bring all of this up because I think it's important to recognize that Wonder Woman as a character can, as Roberts points out, ruffle feathers, in no small part because she is, largely speaking, an open feminist and advocate for women's rights (in my experience, anyway).  Flashpoint, however, is a terrible deviation from her positive narrative.  And it's canon.  It's part of her development in the modern age of comics.  Studios will avoid it like the plague for what they think are good reasons.
And this costume.  Down with the impractical ones!
But we should be glad they they won't touch it either.  I've not read every Wonder Woman comic, but I can honestly say that I really disliked her character in the Flashpoint crossover.  There are so few glimpses of her apprehensions about certain actions (invasions, etc.) that I found myself actively hoping someone other Aquaman and his people would end it all.  That's not actually a good thing, and somehow I don't think the Flashpoint narrative helped alleviate the sexism embedded in the comics industry.  Then again, I suppose that's painfully obvious.

All this is an attempt to say that any comic book film adaptation is a gamble.  There are narratives in just about every franchise that don't belong on the big screen.  Can you imagine a classic X-Men comic appearing in film form?  In the first five minutes, Jean Grey would have four horny mutants reminding her that she's just there because she has breasts.  Wonder Woman is just as susceptible to bad narrative conventions.  I hope they take her seriously as an individual, but not so seriously as a superhero.  By that I mean this:  her feminist ideals should remain central to her character, but the studios have to tread lightly, as the comic industry has a history of handing the reigns for female characters over to men who couldn't write a female character out of a box without any walls; as a superhero, however, I can only hope that they update her look, drop all the ridiculous invisible airplane stuff, and go right for the meaty camp villains (the comments in Roberts' post suggest some fun Greek monsters, if I recall correctly; those would work quite nicely).

But I'm sort of rambling about all of this.  What do you all think about Wonder Woman?
I ban this forever.

Month of Joy: “Mike’s Favorite Comics” by Mike Underwood @mikerunderwood

I have many favorite comics, like I have many favorite novels, and so on. But the great thing about loving lots of stuff is that it’s much harder to run out of things to talk about. So here are a few of my favorite comics/runs from across my reading history, and a little about my relationship to each.

The Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix (Scott Lobdell and Gene Ha)
This is the oldest of the entries on this list, but one that stood out in my mind. I’ve always been a Cyclops fan, probably largely because I spent a lot of my youth being a Good Kid ™.  I followed the rules, wasn’t a rebel, and so on. Characters like Wolverine or Jubilee didn’t really resonate with me. But Cyclops, the long-suffering earnest leader of the X-Men, he stuck with me.

And in this mini-series, where Cyclops and Jean get catapulted into the future to raise Scott’s son, Nate (who later becomes Cable), I think the thing that really stuck with me was seeing a functional couple having adventures together, as partners.

I’m also endlessly interested by dystopian settings, and the challenges of growing up in harsh circumstances.  Like in many things, my genre education was fairly non-standard, and The Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix was part of it – teaching me about dystopias before I’d even heard of the term, let alone read foundational texts like Brave New World, 1984, or Fahrenheit 451.

Planetary (Warren Ellis and John Cassaday)
In the parallel world where I’m a recently-minted PhD, one of the classes I’d offer is “The Planetary Guide to 20th Century Pop Culture Genres.” The class would use the comic series Planetary as an interpretive lens for examining 20th century pop/pulp genres (pulp, western, supers, golden age sci-fi, super-spy, Hong Kong action, etc.). Because for me, that’s what this series is – a way of re-interpreting a wide swath of 20th C. pop culture.

The series itself ran from 1999 to 2009, and I followed the series month-to-month almost that entire run.

The central premise of Planetary is that the 20th Century pop culture genres – pulp, superheroes, atomic horror, kaiju, etc., are all real. And the job of the protagonists, members of Planetary, are “Archaeologists of the Impossible,” discovering the secret history of the 20th century and fighting to keep the world strange and wonderful.

The full story is much larger and more magnificent, taking a knowing, deeply intertextual trip through 20th Century pop culture. Warren Ellis is one of my all-time favorite comics writers, and his partnership with John Cassaday on this series is simply incredible.

I highly recommend this series to any pop culture fan, especially if you are fond of re-interpretations of cultural history like Red Son, Astro City, or Soon I Will Be Invincible.

Y: The Last Man (Brian K. Vaughn and Pia Guerra)
One of the best “change one thing” science fiction comics that I’ve ever read, I also love that Y: The Last Man had a complete 10-volume arc, then ended. The ending works, the character arcs are rich and fulfilling, and then it’s done. One of the criticisms of comics as a medium that I hear and acknowledge most keenly is the fact that its serial nature can make it very impenetrable for a new reader. Where do you start? Will this series ever end? And so on.

Well, Y: The Last Man has been complete for five years now, and still stands out in my memory as one of the best whole comic book stories ever told.

Yorick Brown, the titular last man, is a loser. He’s an amateur magician without much life direction, who is on the phone about to propose to his girlfriend (who is in Australia) when the phone goes dead. The phone goes dead because at that moment, across the world, every other male mammal in the world is dying  grotesque death. Except for Yorick’s pet capuchin monkey.

The story that follows spans across the world, and, by necessity, is full of amazing, complex, dynamic female characters, who largely drive the story. If you or someone you know is put off with the (abysmal) way that women are depicted or treated in comics, this series is a fine contrast to that trend.

Wonder Woman: The Hiketeia (Greg Rucka and J.G. Jones)
Wonder Woman is my favorite mis-used character in DC comics. She’s the least popular member of DC’s Trinity (Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman), despite the fact that I think she’s an incredibly interesting character.

The Hiketeia is one of my examples to people of how awesome Wonder Woman can be when handled well. The Hiketeia was the first time writer Greg Rucka worked with Wonder Woman, and his success with the story is a likely contributing factor to him landing the role as the series’ regular writer for an extended (and very well-received run).

In The Hiketeia, Wonder Woman is honor-bound to protect a young woman who is executing a Greek ritual of vengeance known as the Hiketeia. This puts her in direct opposition with Batman, who is hunting the girl as a criminal and murderer.

The Hiketeia shows the entire conflict from Diana’s perspective, highlights her conflict between honoring tradition and protecting life. It also features a fantastic fight between her and Batman, where she wipes the floor with the Dark Knight, because, well, she can go toe-to-toe with Superman, and WW doesn't have a Kryptonite-analogue for Batman to use against her.

But ultimately, it is the characterization of Wonder Woman as thoughtful, determined, and compassionate that makes this story a winner in my book. It’s one of the best Wonder Woman stories I’ve ever read, and is marvelously stand-alone, which makes it a good book to use when saying “No, really, Wonder Woman is awesome. Read this.”

Marvels (Kurt Busiek, Alex Ross, Marcus McLaurin)
Being a lifelong comics and supers fan, I am a total sucker for stories that let me re-examine familiar tales.

Marvels is all about re-examining huge moments of Marvel comics history from the perspective of the man on the street, casting the heroes as larger-than-life figures, nearly forces of nature.

Also, did I mention that Alex Ross does the art? That his paintings are probably the greatest Fine Art supers images in the business? No? Well, that. Ross’s painting style gives the series an instant feeling of historicity, of being something set a step aside from traditional comics storytelling, which proves an excellent approach for this mini-series.

Marvels follows news journalist Phil Sheldon as he reports on and experiences four iconic moments in Marvel comics history: The battle of The Sub-Mariner and the Human Torch (the first one), The juxtaposition of the wedding of Sue and Reed Richards with an anti-mutant mob, Earth’s first visit by Galactus, and finally, the death of Gwen Stacy. A veteran Marvel reader will have access to the interiority of the main players in these moments, but Sheldon is just an observer, forced to try to come up with his own explanation for the Marvels’ motivations behind their actions in the moments. In changing the frame, and giving one POV character across decades of Marvel history, Marvels is as much a work of self-reflection on the universe’s key moments, a meta-narrative, as it is a story unto itself.


Michael R. Underwood has been reading comics since he was six and living in Brooklyn. His parents would let him handle the recycling, and he took the deposit money to his friendly local comic shop to buy issues of X-Men, Spider-Man, and whatever looked awesome that week.

Mike is the author of GEEKOMANCY and CELEBROMANCY, as well as the forthcoming YOUNGER GODS series. By day he is the North American Sales & Marketing Manager for Angry Robot Books. In his rapidly-vanishing free time, he games, reads, and studies historical martial arts.

You can find Mike on his website and on Twitter @MikeRUnderwood

It Happened (or, Yeah, I’ve Given Up My Life to the Joy of Comic Books) #WeekofJoy

I officially have a pull list with my local comic book retailer.  Stranger yet:  the guy who owns the place now recognizes me when I walk through the door.  Clearly I buy a lot of comics...  And, well, this is actually kind of awesome.  Most of my comics are coming from a local place called All Star Sportscards & Comics.  It's probably the best place in Gainesville to get comic books.  Though it's not as big as the other major comic shop in town -- MegaComics -- the prices are better, the staff seems friendlier and more helpful, and every time I go there, I spend money (which is great for the owner, but not always so good for my bank account -- oh, hell, who am I kidding?  I love comics).

In a way, I'm fortunate to live in a town that even has a comic book shop.  Short of buying hardback or trade paperback collections, without a shop, I'd have almost no way to rebirth my interest in the form.  And that, I think, would be a horrible thing for me, as one of the things sustaining me through what is one of the toughest years I've had in a while (in terms of work and intellectual requirement) is this rediscovered passion for comics.  I'm having those little kid moments again.  You know the sort.  You open a book, movie, comic, or pack of collectible cards and you experience some variation of the following:  tingling skin, goose bumps, elevated heart rate, an uncontrollable desire to smile or jump up and down, and just an overall feeling of excited euphoria.  I had those moments when I was a kid only a few times, really.  Video games and movies were part of what helped me survive what I would describe as a relatively shitty
childhood.  Comics were part of that, too, though I certainly moved away from them when I hit my teens (RPGs and video games filled that gap).  In a way, I've always been a geek, so there's something nostalgic and generally pleasurable about rediscovering something that made you happy when you were younger.

That's what it's been like the last few weeks.  With all the things going on in my life at the moment -- most of them stressful, but not necessarily "bad" -- I need something to help me decompress.  Comics are doing just that right now.  And I'm loving every minute!
Anywho.  You may wonder what I put on my pull list.  Well, here you go:

  • Superman Unchained
  • Superman & Batman
  • Justice League of America
  • Cable & X-Force
  • Uncanny X-Force
  • X-Men (Vol. 4)
  • Nova
  • Secret Avengers
  • New Avengers
  • Iron Man
  • The Wake
I also have subscriptions to Batman, Justice League of America (through a donation I made, which is cool), Uncanny X-Men and Uncanny Avengers.  I may switch the last two to the regular pull list when the subscriptions are up; apparently the comics are not properly bagged and boarded when shipped, which means they get a little beat up through the mail.  I'm a bit of a collector now, so I'm not a big fan of slightly-mangled comics.

That list will probably change over time, depending on how the stories progress.  Right now, I am pretty much obsessed with Batman, Uncanny X-Men, and Cable & X-Force, though I'm sure Superman Unchained will join the obsessions list soon (Scott Snyder is writing it, which means I am almost guaranteed to love it).

Needless to say, comics are one of the many things I am grateful for right now.  If ever there was something to discuss during my Week of Joy, comics would be it!

What about you?  What are you reading, watching, or just straight up loving right now?  Let me know in the comments.

A Justice League Movie? (or, Hopefully This Won’t Be a Missed Opportunity)

Since Man of Steel hit theaters, there's been a lot of talk about a potential Justice League movie.  We even mentioned this topic in the latest Shoot the WISB episode on the new Superman film.  Much of the discussion is based on rumors, no doubt supported by this oddly blank IMDB page, which suggests that some sort of Justice League film will hit a screen of some description in 2015.  Now, Henry Cavill, who plays Supes in Man of Steel, has suggested that a Justice League adaptation likely won't happen any time soon.

What does that mean?  I don't know.  In Hollywood time, that could mean 3 minutes or 3 decades, or it could mean a black hole has popped into existence and swallowed DC.  A lot of folks want to see Flash and Wonder Woman in film form before Justice League reaches the big screen.  I,
however, think that would be a bad idea.
I am awesome.  That is all.
First, I don't know how Hollywood will manage to avoid ruining both the Flash and Wonder Woman without completely revamping the characters, and, thus, retconning most of what has defined the character in the last 50 years.  The problem?  Both characters are prone to ridiculousness in the Hollywood world.  After all, the only serious portrayals of either characters in the last two decades have been in cartoons, which I don't think necessarily translate well into live action (in part because the things you can do in a cartoon are difficult to do well with real people -- see every CG hellhole Hollywood has tried to make, hence my concern).  There is also the very real problem embodied in the universe the current film DC adaptations have presented:  a dark, serious universe.  There isn't a lot of room for camp in in a world where Nolan's Batman and Superman exist, and that means any interpretation of the Flash or Wonder Woman has to reject its predecessors quite soundly to make any coherent sense.  That doesn't mean we need a Nolan-style treatment of either character (let alone of the various other members of the JL -- Green Arrow (on TV right now, in fact)*, Aquaman, Hawkman, Green Lantern, and so on and so forth), but it does mean DC and Hollywood have to seriously reconsider how to place these characters within a cinematic universe.

That said, it's important to realize that a lot of DC's characters have baggage from previous film histories.  Batman and Superman have mostly escaped their own baggage.  Not easily, of course.  Batman made a minor shift in the Tim Burton films, fell into the abyss with Forever and Robin, and then took a huge turn (for the best, I believe) with the Nolan trilogy.  Superman had a similar journey.  My hatred of Returns notwithstanding, the film did at least offer a lead-up to the Nolan-influenced Man of Steel.
The same cannot be said for Wonder Woman or the Flash -- at least, not within the live action franchises.  Wonder Woman, for example, has never seen a big screen adaptation, though many are still quite fond of the 1970s adaptation starring Lynda Carter (not to mention all the love for the various cartoon versions).  She's quite likely to return to the small screen soon, which I think would be a great idea; DC (or one of the studios -- not sure which) has actively been trying to bring her back to TV for several years (a 2011 pilot flopped at NBC, but the CW has expressed interest in pushing their own adaptation called Amazon).  The same is true for the Flash.  He had a TV movie in 1990 and plenty of appearances in cartoons.  But he has yet to make the jump to the big screen, and probably won't (though this IMDB page suggests otherwise).  All of these facts are good reasons for both characters to have their own films...eventually.  I, however, think DC would be better off going another route.
If DC is hell bent on bringing these characters to the big screen, I think the best direction would be to release Man of Steel 2 (whatever it might be called), followed by the first Justice League movie.  In the interim, Wonder Woman and the Flash should have origin narratives put up on the small screen; after Justice League (assuming success), new film narratives can take the limelight (or they can stick with TV).  Doing so will have a few important impacts:

  1. TV adaptations will allow the characters to develop in the sort of depth they deserve.
  2. We'll avoid the uncomfortable mess of 2.5 hour camp-fests (Wonder Woman especially; she's a cool character, but her origin story will not inspire audiences).  I don't think film origins of these characters will do them justice, in part because most of us haven't seen the characters outside of the comic "universes."  If you're not a Flash fan already, you don't know anything about him (and vice versa for Wonder Woman).  And, well, I don't think characters with super-speed work all that well on the big screen (that's my personal hangup, though).
  3. I think starting with the trifecta of TV series (Green Arrow, Wonder Woman, and the Flash) will also give DC's franchise a huge boost in the right direction.  If you create three TV shows that cross over one another, each leading towards a Justice League film, you cross-pollinate your audience quite brilliantly.  A good deal of people will watch all three, some will watch one or two, and some will come from entirely different avenues:  following on the heels of Batman and Superman.  Basically, hitting almost every direction at once seems like a perfect method for making a Justice League movie a success.

Granted, none of this is likely to happen.  If DC is hell bent on releasing a Justice League movie in 2015, then it doesn't really matter what I think.  Two years is hardly enough time to get two new TV series off the ground.  My hope is that a film version of Wonder Woman provides roughly the same tone as Marvel's Thor.  Two parts serious, one part camp.  If you allow the camp to override everything else, the film will be a disaster.

I can dream, of course, but dreaming isn't the same as reality.  Whatever happens, I sincerely hope they get it right.  Marvel's cinematic universe is killing in the box office right now.  Even with Nolan's exceptional Batman films, DC's cinematic universe is one step away from self-destruction.  Batman and Superman movies are wonderful, but we need more.  We need Marvel's level of cinematic pollination in DC's cinematic universe.  It'll be great for DC, great for comic book movies, and great for film overall.

I guess we'll see what happens.**
This is the bad idea I'm talking about...

*Including Green Arrow in a Justice League film might actually make for an interesting crossover.  Assuming the show remains on the air for the next few years, there's ample opportunity to suck in audiences from two different directions and lead up to a Justice League movie in a slow and deliberate manner.  Imagine having an entire season of a TV show leading us up to a film.  You could do so much with this!  The entire season could involve conflicts and events, the climax or conclusion to which could appear in the film version.

**If they cast Megan Fox as Wonder Woman, I will lose my friggin mind.  However, if they bring in Nathan Fillion as the Green Lantern, I will rejoice, for the Lord will have spoken...

A Comic Journey: New Comics, New Reading, and the Happy Shaun

Nothing I'm about to say here will seem cohesive.  I've become obsessed with comics, if you didn't already know.  Gloriously and deliciously obsessed.  You all probably saw it coming, though, particularly after I wrote this post about my first trip to a comic shop in years (and this review I wrote some time back).  What follows will be a rough outline of my journey into this new obsession...thus far -- by way of what I've read.

Since my first trip to the comic store, I have read the following comics or hardcover/softcover collections (in print or digital form)(I've included quick thoughts under each item):

  • Batman (New 52) Vol. 1:  The Court of Owls (Snyder, Capullo, and Glapion)
    • I freaking loved it!  So much so that I have officially become a Batman nut, and this despite having almost always been a Marvel guy.  Snyder is an amazing writer, in my very humble and ignorant opinion.  If you are interested in superhero comics, I definitely recommend The Court of Owls.  I'm not sure you could get into it if you weren't already familiar with Batman as a character, but if you've seen the Nolan Batman movies and enjoyed them, then I think you'll love The Court of Owls.
  • Green Lantern (New 52) Vol. 1:  Sinestro (Johns and Mahnke)
    • Honestly, I was not impressed.  This collection contains the full narrative arc for the start of the new Green Lantern series, but it moves so quickly that all the character development is shoved to the side.  I love action in comics (see some of the stuff that I'll mention later), but I need something more than thin character conflict amidst lots of fighting and flashy stuff.  I don't know if this is a reflection of the entire set of Green Lantern comics (there are many), but this one didn't impress me enough to check them out.
  • The Avengers Disassembled (trade paperback)(Bendis and Finch)
    • I bought this because it forms the basis for the huge shifts in The New Avengers series.  Unfortunately, so much happens in such a short series that I couldn't get into it.  Essentially, the Scarlet Witch alters all of reality, killing off a lot of characters, turning people against one another, exposing some of her friends' worst fears, etc.  And why does she do this?  Because she's sort of gone insane.  The problem?  None of this is explored in any depth.  We start with action, we continue with action, and we end with action.  Maybe there's more to this that I'm not seeing, as sometimes happens in Marvel (other series might address what occurs here, for example), but considering how good the Avengers vs. X-Men cross-over has been thus far, I don't really see that as an excuse.  Basically, I was not impressed.
  • The New Avengers:  Breakout (Vol. 1, trade paperback) (Bendis and Finch)
    • Following the conclusion of The Avengers Disassembled, this first volume in the new-ish series actually improves upon the flaws of its predecessor.  But it still does not reach the same level as some of the things I'll list here that I actually loved.  Yes, there is a lot more character development (particularly surrounding Stark and Captain America as they deal with trying to make a new response team in a drastically different world), but I found the initial "OMG, all da mutants got out-a-da jail" plot pretty dull.  This stuff happens so often in superhero comics that I honestly can't figure out why humans and mutants alike haven't bothered trying to figure out ways to stop jailbreaks from happening.  That said, I do think this moves things in the right direction.
  • Uncanny X-Men #1 (Marvel NOW) (Bendis, Bachalo, Townsend, Mendoza, Vey, and Caramagna)
    • First, I do not recommend starting with this particular incarnation of the classic series (what is referred to as Uncanny X-Men Vol. 3).  The first issue refers to a number of huge events that occurred in the Avengers vs. X-Men cross-over, which you can find in trade paperback collections.  Basically, you need to read that cross-over before you dive in here, unless you don't care about what happened to some of the classic X-Men characters (deaths, people switched sides, etc. etc. etc.).  However, the first issue is really good.  For some reason, Bendis does an excellent job creating balance between character and the group-focus of the X-Men (something he didn't do all that well in the New Avengers stuff).
  • X-Men #1 and #2 (Stan Lee)
    • That's right, the classic X-Men!  And they are bloody terrible.  Yes, I know they are representative of the time period and that many of the things I can't stand about the classic Stan Lee comics existed for a reason, but I definitely prefer reading newer stuff.  Nostalgia is nice, but I can only take so many sexist jokes at a time...
  • Marvel Point One:  Behold the Watcher (2011) (too many names to list)
    • Everything I have to say about this can be found here.
  • All of the following are part of a narrative sequence -- hence the odd order.  I gave up trying to list all the names (sorry):
    • The Avengers:  Sanction #1 - #4, The Avengers #24.1, Avengers vs. X-Men #0-#1, Wolverine and the X-Men #9, New Avengers #24, Avengers vs. X-Men #2, Avenger #25, AvX:  Versus #1, Uncanny X-Men #11, and AvX #3.
      • Honestly, I'm still neck deep into this particular series, and I'm loving every single issue.  There's a lot of action, of course, but one of the things I really like is the attempt to get into the heads of each character as the action ramps up.  Basically, most of these issues actually explore the personal conflicts of the characters leading up to the physical conflict.  There are a few hiccups here or there, but I think the series is fantastic overall.  If you like group-based superhero stuff, I definitely recommend this one, not just because it's good, but also because it also sets up a lot of the stuff that happens in the Marvel NOW Uncanny X-Men series.

I am currently reading the following (w/ brief thoughts):

  • Batman:  No Man's Land Vol. 1 (trade paperback) (Gale and Maleev)
    • I'm loving this.  It reminds me a lot of Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises in terms of its basic plot (quarantined Gotham -- nobody is allowed in or out, etc.).  I'll definitely finish this one and get started on the second volume soon.
  • Batman:  The Black Mirror (hardcover) (Snyder and Jock)
    • I'm only an issue into this short run by Snyder (which I bought because Snyder's New 52 Batman is genius), but I already love it.  What I find interesting about all the Batman stuff is how many different artistic styles there are at any given time.  The character sort of remains the same (he's much darker today, I think), but the visual Batscape always changes.  Someone should write a paper about this...
  • The New X-Men (Grant Morrison sequence, Vol. 1) (trade paperback)
    • I picked this up on a whim.  I've heard good things about Morrison, so I decided to give his New X-Men series a shot.  So far, I haven't been disappointed.  The first volume is a little weak for me, but I know that the second volume starts with a bit of a bang (I started reading in the middle for some reason).
I think that's it...I'm not sure, though.

Basically, I'm obsessed...and having a damn good time of it!

The Black Guy is Ruining the Fantastic Four Reboot!

Oh, what?  He isn't?  Are you sure?  I mean.  He's black.  That means, like, Sue has to be black, right?  She doesn't?  Johnny or Sue could be adopted?  Or they could be children of different mothers or fathers or maybe they're interracial or something?  But I thought if you're half black and half white you just look almost white?  That's not true?  Really?  Well, the original Johnny was a white guy, so he has to stay white.  What about Idris Elba?  Oh, yeah, he was cool in Thor?  The original character wasn't a black guy?  Oh, well, then that's OK because he's not a major character.  Besides, this doesn't have anything to do about race.  I know I keep talking about it.  But just because I talk about race doesn't mean what we're talking about is actually about race, even if the only reason we're talking about it is because a black guy might be the Human Torch.  It's just not about race, OK?
That pretty much sums up the stupidity you'll find online about the rumor of Michael B. Jordan's (of Chronicle fame) possible casting as the Human Torch in the reboot of The Fantastic Four. has a brilliant take-down here.  Read the comments on the first link at your own risk (I'll post some gems below).
Let's call this for what it is:  soft racism.  For example, here is this amazing quote from The Wrap (linked in the previous paragraph):
This is a horrible idea. Johnny Storm is an iconic Marvel character, a blonde, blue-eyed, party boy daredevil. He's not a second string character, he's a principal team member of one of Marvel's flagship series. As a long-time comic book collector, it would completely distract from any story to change Johnny's ethnicity. (It was bad enough that Jessica Alba was such an awful, awful blonde). Johnny once dated a Skrull - an African American could play her, or She-Hulk is an ancillary FF character - her ethnicity could be changed with little distraction, even Ben Grimm would be less distracting as another commenter suggested, although that would raise the question of whether Ben would stay Jewish (there are far less Jews in Marvel Comics than African Americans). But Johnny Storm? Comic book fans take "canon" very seriously, and this idea just smells like disaster.
Translation:  Johnny Storm was white in the comics, and if you made him black, we'd all get distracted because he's black; if you're going to have black people in this, let them play aliens or green rage monsters who are secondary to the plot, but don't you dare put a black guy as a main character, because I'll just be so distracted guys.

Clearly, none of this has anything to do with race, am I right?  If you're distracted by black people, you're not distracted because they're black; you're distracted because they...are...look at the beautiful sunset!  There are a lot of people arguing variations of this type.  The irony is that in throwing a hissy fit over this topic, these commenters have inadvertently punched themselves in the face.  It's not possible to wiggle out of a soft racism charge when your main argument is "black people are distracting when they are in my movies about white people."

Some, however, have taken a different strategy, such as this fellow over at IGN:
The whole "defined by whiteness" arguement is stupid (by that same standard many black heroes should easily be recast as white as they're not "defined by blackness"), the guy is wrong for the role plain and simple, it's about race because that's where he's wrong for the role...if he was a 300 pound white guy that could nail Torch's personality exactly, he'd still be wrong for the role. Rather than taking the time to proper cast the movie the guy is trying to go with an associate wrong for the role, it doesn't matter how good he can act, Johnny Storm is white, and people are looking for proper adaptations for things of this sort...try creating or utilizing the existing black super heroes if it's that important rather than lazily shoehorning bad choices for the sake of it.
i.e., even though the Human Torch is not defined by his whiteness, he can't be played by a black guy because he's not black.  If you can see the circles going around and around here, you deserve a pat on the back.

The irony with statements like these is that they often not only refute themselves, but they also fall for the typical anti-racist-is-code-for-anti-white rhetoric that assumes that because you can't do the same thing to other races, it is just as racist to do it to white people.  Let's set aside the fact that changing the Human Torch's race isn't really an insult to white people (after all, it's not like we don't have a shitload of white superheroes in film already *coughWolverineCaptainAmericaCyclopsProfXBatmanGreenLanternOnAndOnAndOncough*).  What is alarming about arguments like this is the bizarre amnesia to which their proponents have succumbed.  Not to beat a dead horse, but racism is alive and well in this country.  This is why I find historical amnesia on this subject disturbing, since it allows people of any race to make arguments that are counterproductive and, in some cases, damaging.  The two positions are not equal:  casting a white guy as Luke Cage is not the same as casting a black guy as the Human Torch.  There is no history of white people being denied entry based on their race (especially in American comics).  Isolated cases may exist, but one cannot rationally argue that whites are discriminated against at the same level as blacks (today and in the past -- see here) -- it's an absurd claim.
None of this is new to the world of film adaptations, though.  We saw something similar when Idris Elba was cast as Heimdall.  Not surprisingly, when the film came and went, it didn't seem to have that much of an impact on, well, anything.  Are people still throwing a hissy fit about it?  Not really.  It turned out that casting a black guy for a role previously written as white really didn't matter (and let's admit:  Elba was pretty awesome as Heimdall).  If Michael B. Jordan is officially cast as the Human Torch, I doubt anyone but the fervently racist will really care.  The only difference, of course, is that the Human Torch is a larger role than Heimdall, which has some people in a tizzy -- hence the "just cast some black folks as secondary characters" argument.

There are also comments like this:
honestly I am not racist..but I am a die hard fan of the fantatisc four..and I dont want them to just cast a black guy because...of whatever reason.its like they are not even trying at this point. He was white for petes sake ..if this is real i am not watching it
The infamous "I'm not a racist, but..." phrase.  I suppose the historical absence of black superheroes in the classic Marvel canon has remained unknown to this author.  There are a lot of them in terms of gross numbers, but most of them have remained relatively obscure (or firmly as secondary characters).  Few can name many black superheroes who have been around since the Silver Age who have the same staying power as the Fantastic Four.  Luke Cage and the Black Panther are about it (and you'll never get a movie about the latter because of the name)(please correct me if I'm wrong about this).  I don't actually know why there are so few black superheroes who have the same "fame" as the Fantastic Four or the Avengers or X-Men.  Maybe we need something along those lines one of these days...
Of course, I'm sure this person also doesn't know that another always-has-been-white character was fairly recently replaced by a black guy.  Also, a latino.  Both in alternate Marvel universes (Ultimates and 2099 respectively).  Somehow, those changes didn't destroy Marvel forever!

However, I think the more humorous comments fall in the "you can't change things" category, such as:
Make a movie for actual black characters from the comic books. The background is already there why change it up. A Luke Cage and a Black Panther movie and a Storm movie I would watch. Changing Nick Furry (sic) black actually made him better but making Johnny Storm Black well then you have to make Sue Storm black as well and honestly I wouldn't watch it if you paid me.
Of course, this individual is oblivious to the myriad of ways that Sue and Johnny could be different races (adoption, different mothers/fathers, or, you know, maybe Sue ends up mixed race and the entire universe collapses).  The commenter even makes the amusing argument that it was OK for Nick Fury to end up black, but you can't blackify Johnny because...err...Mr. Angry Comment just won't pay to see it.  In other words, he'll pay to see black characters if they are secondary to the narrative OR if we are talking about imaginary film adaptations, but if you screw with a major character, well, no money for you.

But what is truly amusing about this is this individual's profound ignorance about the Marvel universe.  Marvel has already changed characters.  Most famously, and not without controversy, they completely rebooted a sea of characters when they created the Ultimates imprint -- they changed background stories, updated the settings, and so on (and, yes, switched some characters' races).  There are numerous instances in the Marvel universe where alternate worlds have come into existence, characters have been completely rewritten, and so on and so forth.  The Marvel universe is called a multiverse for a reason:  it's full of pocket universes, external realities, and so on.  Ultimates literally occurs in a different continuity -- a different "universe," if you will.  And since the film universe is already completely different from the comics, it is no less ridiculous to change Nick Fury's character than it is to change the Human Torch's (or Heimdall's, for that matter).  These film incarnations of the classic heroes are not the same heroes from your comics.  They aren't even the same heroes from the updated Ultimates line.  They're not the same heroes from any of the other side universes either (except, perhaps, the Marvel Now universe, though I haven't read my Iron Man comics yet, so I can't say whether this is true or not).  They are completely different versions of our favorite heroes, and even more so now that Columbia has rebooted Spider-man and, now, The Fantastic Four.
Lastly, I think the only thing that really matters is whether Michael B. Jordan can perform the role well.  Having seen his work in Chronicles, I think there's potential.  Whether he will have the same cocky attitude as Chris Evans in the first two Fantastic Four movies, I cannot say (assuming that's what we're looking for, here).  But I can say that all of this hubbub about how wrong it is to have a black guy as the Human Torch has made me realize that I really shouldn't care if Idris Elba becomes the next 007.  Anyone who has heard me argue against Elba's casting in that franchise can officially toss out everything I said as nonsense.  If Idris Elba brings something to the table as a possible future Bond, then let him have a stab at it.  And that means we should all support him for no other reason than whether you think he, as an actor, can play the role.  Who cares if James Bond has always been a white guy?  Not me.  Not anymore.

(Idealistic Shaun for the win.)

My Trip to the Comic Shop (or, How I Started My Journey Back to Comic Books)

(Note:  I am still open to comic/graphic novel suggestions.  Feel free to leave them here.)

Yesterday, I went to the comic book shop.  It has been close to a decade since I last went into one, and longer since went shopping for comic books (or graphic novels -- manga excluded).  And so, I took the bus out to MEGA Gaming and Comics in Gainesville, FL expecting to find a few interesting things in that tiny shop by the gas station.  Little did I know what I was getting myself into.  MGC is not so tiny after all.  Unlike the place in Placerville, CA, where I would sometimes buy Magic: the Gathering cards and what not, MGC seemed enormous in comparison.

The fellow running the place was also quite helpful.  The greatest fear I have as a new comics reader (or renewed, if you will) is jumping into the middle of a series and getting hopelessly lost (DC and Marvel in particular).  While I think some of my selections will require some backwards reading, the staff member (whose name I didn't catch) was kind enough to point me in the direction of a number of renewed properties that would be less alarming to a new reader.  Apparently DC and Marvel have recently tried to reboot some of their characters/series (the New 52 for DC and Marvel Now! for, well, Marvel), and I wouldn't have known that if MGC's staff hadn't told me.

As the list below will indicate, I didn't get that many things that were suggested by you readers.  Part of this was because the store simply didn't have some of them or were missing book #1.  The other part was that I forgot to write some of the titles down on my way out, and subsequently forgot the titles.  I've since added them to my Amazon Wishlist.  Since I have already read two of the books I purchased (yeah, that fast), I expect I'll buy a lot more stuff in the future, which means that my Amazon Wishlist is going to fill up with comics and graphic novels.

In any case, I won't hold off telling you what I got anymore.  Here goes (large pictures ahead):

And there you go!

Comic and Graphic Novel Suggestions: First Comic Book Shop Trip…in a While!

I'm going to run off to the comic book shop at some point this week.  And that means I'm going to buy me some comics...which is where you lot come in.  Since I haven't been in the comic/graphic novel world in a while (aside from some manga here or there), I really don't know what's interesting and what's not.  I'd like to know what kind of stuff you have enjoyed that you think I might enjoy too.

What I'm looking for:

  • SF/F-ish stuff (broadly speaking)
  • Things that won't require me to be overly familiar with preceding material (so don't drop me flat in the middle of a story arc if I need to have read the previous two to figure out what the hell is going on)
  • Graphic novels OR standard comics (or collections/omnibuses)
  • No "universe" restrictions (you can throw me into DC, Marvel, or whatever)
Pretty basic wants, no?  Superheroes, space stuff, dragons, whatever.  I'll take my list of suggestions and go play around.

So have at it!