I’m With the Band

We Are the Danger #1
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Fabian Lelay
Colors: Claudia Aguirre
Letters: Taylor Esposito
Editor: Stephanie Cooke
Publisher: Black Mask Studios
Price: $3.99 US

There’s been a great deal of discussion as of late in comics fandom and in the industry about diversity, about new creative voices and more inclusive interpretations of characters, both new and established. A lot of that discussion has arisen from a push back by a vocal minority who argue that diversity doesn’t sell. They argue about how properties they’ve loved all their lives have been transformed into women or have seen minorities fill those roles, as though if were actually possible the corporate owners of those characters aren’t eventually going to revert them to the status quo. I don’t get it. I don’t get why people are threatened by broadening the talent base and the array of characters to add to and expand the overall tapestry of the medium.

We Are the Danger is a comic book that brings more of that diversity to comics, that invites readers in who might not have otherwise been felt welcome decades ago. But it does so in a way that doesn’t dwell on its pro-diversity elements, and instead just focuses on engaging characters. And it’s a good bit of fun as well.

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The Last Siege #1
Writer: Landry Q. Walker
Artist: Justin Greenwood
Colors: Eric Jones
Letters: Patrick Brosseau
Cover artists: Justin Greenwood (regular)/Nick Dragotta (variant)
Editor: Branwyn Bigglestone
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99 US

Medieval stories — either with sword-and-sorcery elements or now — are from a genre in which I generally don’t have a lot of interest. I haven’t watched a moment of Game of Thrones, for example, and similar fare, such as Conan stories, rarely hold my attention. Nevertheless, I decided to give The Last Siege a glance when a digital preview made its way into my little corner of the world. This story features a number of traits that normally turn me off from such material, from stilted dialogue to reflect the time to hardships and violence that make it next to impossible to relate to the characters. But there was something to the plot and script here that clicked for me. The blend of politics and crude opportunism honestly put me in mind of the political climate in western society today, and specifically in the United States.

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System Restore

Invincible Iron Man #600
“The Search for Tony Stark, Finale”
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artists: Stefano Caselli; Alex Maleev; David Marquez; Daniel Acuna; Leinil Francis Yu & Gerry Alanguilan; Jim Cheung; Mike Deodato Jr.; Mark Bagley, Andrew Hennessy & Scott Hanna; and Andrea Sorrentino
Colors: Marte Gracia, Alex Maleev, Daniel Acuna, Guru-eFX, Romulo Fajardo, Marcelo Maiolo & Rachelle Rosenberg
Letters: Virtual Calligraphy’s Clayton Cowles
Cover artists: Chris Sprouse & Karl Story (regular)/Alex Ross, Olivier Coipel, John Romita Jr. & Bob Layton (variants)
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Publisher: Marvel Entertainment
Price: $5.99 US

This has been celebrated as a major sendoff for writer Brian Michael Bendis, as it’s the last issue he’s written that Marvel has published since he started with the company 18 years ago. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying his Iron Man stories — be it those featuring Tony Stark, Riri Williams or Victor Von Doom — and I was eager to see how Bendis would wrap up the saga. Sadly, the execution here is a far cry from the strong writing we saw from him in the years leading up to this “finale.” At times, the story here is almost unintelligible, and I honestly don’t see what the point of any of it is (other than to restore several characters to their status quos). The constant shifts in art styles doesn’t help matters either. This was a disappointing final moment in Bendis’s Marvel tenure, and really, his far more focused and resonant conclusions to Jessica Jones and Spider-Man (Miles Morales) stand out to me as his true curtain calls.

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Celestial Body Count

Avengers #1
“The Final Host”
Writer: Jason Aaron
Pencils: Ed McGuinness
Inks: Mark Morales
Colors: David Curiel
Letters: Virtual Calligraphy’s Cory Petit
Cover artists: McGuinness & Morales (regular)/Aaron Kuder, Greg Land & Jay Leisten, and Esad Ribic (variants)
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Publisher: Marvel Entertainment
Price: $4.99 US

Here we go again — another relaunched title, coming on the heels of the temporary restoration of the original numbering. I took a peek at a couple of chapters of the “No Surrender” storyline that wrapped the previous Avengers titles, and it didn’t go much for me. When I heard Marvel planned another first-issue cash grab with this latest Avengers run, I figured I’d take a hard pass, but then I saw writer Jason Aaron and penciller Ed McGuinness were involved. McGuinness’s bright, cartoony style has an appealing old-school vibe to it, and Aaron has proven himself to be skilled when it comes to playing with Marvel’s cosmic concepts. This “debut issue,” such as it is, is a lot of fun and feels a bit like a Bronze Age Avengers epic. But at the same time, there’s a certain simplicity to it as well that’s in keeping with its throwback qualities, and ultimately, it doesn’t feel terribly inventive.

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A Sketchy Character

Frank Quitely: Drawings + Sketches hardcover art book
Writer/Artist: Frank Quitely
Editor: Nicola Love
Publisher: BHP Comics
Price: $26.99 US/£18.99 UK

I’ve been reading comics for almost 40 years now, and it’s without a doubt my favorite entertainment medium. As I’ve matured, I’ve become more and more interested in the creative process, and this art book takes us into the inventive art of highly regarded comic artist Frank Quitely. He’s offered some of the more inventive and challenging comics visuals, especially in the super-hero genre, in recent memory, and this book offers insight, directly from the artist, of how those medium-expanding moments came to be. This book will be a must for any Quitely devotee, but readers should bear in mind it’s far from a comprehensive look at his career.

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Elemental, My Dear

A Girl in the Himalayas original graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: David Jesus Vignolli
Editors: Cameron Chittock & Sierra Hahn
Publisher: Boom! Studios
Price: $16.99 US

Promotional material released in advance of this book indicates this is writer/artist David Jesus Vignolli’s debut graphic novel, but I just can’t believe. This is a fully realized fable, and it’s a hauntingly beautiful and touching tale. The deceptively simple title of A Girl in the Himalayas is actually quite fitting, because while it doesn’t touch on the literal magic that imbues almost every panel of this graphic novel, it focuses the reader’s attention on the spiritual magic of innocence that represents the ultimate redemption of humanity. And yes, while there’s a larger plot that examines mankind’s penchant for self-destruction, the core strength of Vignolli’s story is how it examines the notion of family, no matter how unconventional the circumstances that brings it together.

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He’s Like Michael Jackson, but More Nihilistic

Avengers | Infinity War
Actors: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Josh Brolin, Dave Bautista, Don Cheadle, Tom Holland, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Shaw, Dania Gurira, Letitia Wright, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Karen Gillan, Tom Hiddleston, Idris Elba, Peter Dinklage, Benedict Wong, Pom Klementieff & Tom Vaughan-Lawlor
Directors: Anthony Russo & Joe Russo
Writers: Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely
Studio: Marvel Studios
Rating: PG-13

Fear not, for I’m endeavouring to omit spoilers (to the best of my ability).

Avengers: Infinity War is epic, it’s funny and it’s surprisingly well balanced, given all of the moving parts included from 10 years of flicks from Marvel Studios. It’s a good movie — not a great one, but a good one — and the real reason for that isn’t the iconic nature of the characters or actors, the action, the jokes or the effects. The reason is the writing, and specifically, the skeleton that holds the parts of this pop-culture Frankenstein monster together. The underlying theme here — one of sacrifice — recurs throughout the movie, even for Thanos, and it belies a thoughtfulness that was prioritized ahead of action and goofiness and sheer coolness.

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Credit Report

When it comes to other-media adaptations of notable (and more obscure) Marvel and DC characters, there’s a growing push toward providing creator credits with such movies and television shows. Marvel’s movie and television arms seem to have settled on an opening credit of “Based on the comics by XX and YY,” generally referring to the writer and penciller who worked on a titular character’s first appearance, with a “special thanks to…” closing credit for creators whose characters and/or stories were included or mined to construct the filmed fare. Those credits, while a positive step forward, nevertheless still fall short, given their non-specificity (and one could easily argue a real acknowledgement of such past creative efforts should come in a monetary form).

When it comes to DC Comics characters on the big and small screens, character-creation credits have definitely gone a bit further. The list of comics creator credits showing up in the closing credits of DC films, live-action TV shows and animated productions has been growing steadily in recent years. I recently watched the direct-to-video Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay animated movie, and I was struck by the creators listed in the closing credits, giving a nod to those who conceived of and introduced a dozen characters in DC (and even Charlton) comics in years past.

Though initially impressed by these acknowledgements, I quickly realized it was sadly lacking as well.

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Reaction Re: Action

Action Comics #1000
Writers: Dan Jurgens, Peter J. Tomasi, Marv Wolfman, Geoff Johns and Richard Donner, Scott Snyder, Tom King, Louise Simonson, Paul Dini, Brad Meltzer & Brian Michael Bendis
Artists: Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund; Patrick Gleason; Curt Swan, Butch Guice & Kurt Schaffenberger; Olivier Coipel; Rafael Albuquerque; Clay Mann; Jerry Ordway; Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez & Kevin Nowlan; John Cassaday; and Jim Lee & Scott Williams
Colors: Hi-Fi, Alejandro Sanchez, Dave McCaig, Jordie Bellaire, Trish Mulvihill, Laura Martin & Alex Sinclair
Letters: Rob Leigh, Tom Napolitano, Nick Napolitano, John Workman, Carlos M. Mangual, Josh Reed, Chris Eliopoulos & Cory Petit
Cover artists: Jim Lee & Scott Williams (regular)/Steve Rude, Michael Cho, Dave Gibbons, Michael Allred, Jim Steranko, Joshua Middleton, Dan Jurgens & Kevin Nowlan, and Lee Bermejo
Editor: Paul Kaminski & Brian Cunningham
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $7.99 US

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Gravity Fails

Skyward #1
“My Low-G Life, Part One”
Writer: Joe Henderson
Artist: Lee Garbett
Colors: Antonio Fabela
Letters: Simon Bowland
Editor: Rick Lopez Jr.
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99 US

Normally, it’s characterization that makes or breaks a comic-book title for me. If I can relate to the characters, if they really feel like they live and breathe beyond the two-dimensional confines of the page, that’s often what resonates with me. Skyward offers some strong characterization, but with this first issue, it’s the premise that grabs the reader’s attention. The notion of a world that loses its gravity is presented as both a horrific tragedy and a heaven-sent miracle, and both perspectives are true. What makes this presentation of such an immense idea work, though, is how focused it is. Writer Joe Henderson takes us into just one small corner of a world without gravity, with a small cast of characters — which just happens to include a pivotal player in the story.

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Superman Isn’t the Only Action Hero

The comics industry — at least the one in North America — achieves a significant milestone this week with the release of Action Comics #1000. It’s not just that it’s the first title in this marketplace to achieve that long a run, but it’s also because of what that title represents. Action Comics #1 in 1938 introduced Superman and spawned an entire genre of fiction, one that now dominates pop culture. Sure, Superman wasn’t necessarily the first costumed hero — there were others in the pulps before him — but the Man of Steel resonated with an audience in a way no other adventure hero had before.

But as we celebrate this moment 80 years in the making, it’s worthy to note Superman didn’t lead us on this cultural journey alone. Action Comics #1 also introduced Zatara the Magician, and that character’s legacy lives on in Zatanna, who’s broken through in pop culture as well, albeit to a lesser degree than Superman. Other characters joined them in the initial anthology issue: Chuck Dawson; Pep Morgan; Sticky-Mitt Stimson; Scoop Scanlon, five-star reporter; and Tex Thomson (later Mr. America and the Americommando) among them.

As I looked back on my four decades of memories of Action (half of its unprecedented run), it occurred to me my favorite stints weren’t linked exclusively to Superman stories, but rather to issues that included and involved a diverse array of DC characters.

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Discovering Treasures of Bronze

Used-book stores and flea markets were key for this small-town kid who loved comics and didn’t have access to a comic-book store until his high-school years. But even with a great local shop these days and the availability of just about anything a comic collector could want online, I still like to hit a flea market from time to time in search of treasures.

The problem I’ve encountered, though, is that many vendors at these markets and even at used-book stores are turning to price guides — both printed and online ones — to guide them in pricing comics. Often, they don’t know how to grade or interpret those guides — I saw one flea-market vendor offering a copy of Freedom Fighters #1 that looked as though it had been run through the wash for $10; it wasn’t worth a quarter, though I would’ve paid 50 cents to read that bit of comics history from 1976. Other vendors don’t completely understand the marketplace, such as those who feel Superman #75 from late 1992, featuring the “death” of the Man of Steel, should be worth big bucks, but they don’t understand just how many copies of the first printing are out there and how many other ways there are to read that story.

But once in a while, you happen upon a vendor at a flea market who knows what a flea market is about: haggling and clearing out stuff he or she doesn’t want lying around anymore. And this weekend, at the weekly Sunday flea market in a school gym, I happened upon just such a vendor. In addition to many non-comics related flea-market fare, he had a small stack of Bronze Age comics, all bagged and boarded, most with sticker prices ranging from $14 up to $40. Definitely pricier than what I was looking for, but the array of these 1970s and 1980s books were just so appealing.

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