Friday, February 7, 2014

Ms. Marvel #1 Review

Ms. Marvel #1 
G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona 
Marvel Comics 

It seems like lately it’s getting harder and harder to find a Marvel comic that isn’t focused on nonsensical time travel plotlines, characters dying and coming back to life for no reason, or heroes fighting each other instead of actual villains. Maybe that’s why this week’s release of Ms. Marvel #1 was such a relief and a downright fun read to boot. One of the first issues to hit the shelves from the “All New Marvel NOW!” campaign, Ms. Marvel is fresh and original while still maintaining a classic feel.

If you haven’t heard about the series’ re-launch by now, it’s probably safe to say you’ve been marooned somewhere without an internet connection. Since the first teaser image debuted, forums everywhere have been abuzz about how Carol Danvers would be replaced with a new Ms. Marvel, and by a Muslim teenager no less. In an increasingly tolerant society, I was shocked by how many opposed the change. Admittedly, many of Marvel’s attempts to add some diversity to their roster have been little more than a PR stunt, like when Ultimate Nick Fury was transformed into the comic book version of Samuel L. Jackson.  However, I assure you that with the latest incarnation of our hero, Marvel is finally doing it right.

Through Kamala Khan, G. Willow Wilson has created a protagonist who is both familiar and relatable, yet unlike anything we have seen before. A far cry from a bland replacement for Danvers, Kamala’s tale is part spiritual journey, part rise to stardom.  Her strong religious upbringing is ever-present, but not the sole focus of the story; all the usual teenage angst is there as well. It’s an interesting contrast watching Kamala stick to her convictions, while trying to fit in with the popular crowd. She’s a character who loves her family (but wishes they’d give her more freedom), someone who’s never tried a sip of alcohol in her life, and someone who idolizes superheroes as much as we, the readers, do.  For those of us who grew up pretty straight-edge, our noses buried in a comic book more often than not, the story really rings true.

As first issues go, it’s typical to be heavy on character development and low on action. Ms. Marvel #1 is no different, but it’s necessary. Kamala is a complex character who needs to be really fleshed out in order to properly appreciate her. On the sidelines is a supporting cast of friends, family, and frenemies, all of whom you also get a good feel for in a very short amount of time. With Adrian Alphona illustrating, the characters pop right off the page, each with their own unique styles and expressions. Those familiar with Brian K. Vaughan’s Runaways can attest that Alphona does some of his best work on teen books.

What drew me to the Ms. Marvel reboot in the first place was not the progressive choice of a female minority lead, but rather that it felt atypical in every way. Firstly, the story takes place in New Jersey rather than New York City. Still close by, I know, but at least she’s not next-door-neighbors with a thousand other super people. (Regardless, I smell an obligatory Wolverine cameo in the near future.) Second, Kamala’s power set, while not revealed in the first issue, is an unusual choice for a heroine. She’s a polymorph, which means she can change her size and shape at will. When I think of polymorphs I think of Batman’s Clayface: ugly, manipulative and brutal. Giving that power to someone on the right side of the law will be something we’ve rarely seen. And lastly, I love that the book has a strong emphasis on the religious aspect. It’s an unbiased view into a faith that few Americans understand well, and will hopefully build some enlightenment and tolerance for.

I know it’s sometimes hard to give a first issue a chance. Nine out of ten new titles seem to fail within the first dozen or so issues, especially when you introduce a new character that breaks the status quo. But please, I urge you to give Ms. Marvel a try. For me, it reawakened a child-like feeling that maybe I too could inherit superpowers and go out and fight crime. And really, is there any better reaction to reading a comic book than that? I think not.

Jack of All Trade Paperbacks
Contributing Writer

Friday, August 16, 2013

Wreck-It Ralph Gets Real

On a recent trip to the absolutely amazing Strong Museum of Play and National Toy Hall of Fame in Rochester, NY, my son stumbled across this bad boy.

To the average museum-goer, it may look like just another beat up old arcade game, but those with the good sense to watch Wreck-It Ralph 2-3 times a week (like us) know that this is the famous Fix-It Felix Jr. game featured in the movie. Despite its 8-bit graphics, ragged appearance and vintage design, it's actually relatively new – released to promote the film.

Between this, a retro YouTube commercial and a print advertisement like what you'd find in an old comic (both featured below), whatever race of aliens that eventually decides to take over our planet will no doubt be convinced that Fix-It Felix Jr. was as ubiquitous to early 80's arcades as Pac-Man and Dig Dug.

If you can't make it to the Strong Museum to see it for yourself, you can play the game on Disney's website - no quarters required!

p.s. There's still no release date for the candy racing game over by the whack-a-mole. Can somebody kickstart that or something?

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Infinity #1 Review

Infinity #1 
Jonathan Hickman, Jim Cheung 
Marvel Comics 
$4.99 (oversized issue)

I’m a lifelong Marvelite and I almost didn’t buy this.

Why? Well, when it comes to Hickman’s writing I’m very fickle. I loved his run on Fantastic Four and FF, but lost interest in his Avengers titles very early on and I have no desire to read East of West or The Manhattan Projects. I find he’s great at coming up with a very strong premise, but he usually loses me in a delivery that’s bogged down by pseudoscience and convoluted dialogue. Maybe I’m still just having a hard time seeing the Avengers without Bendis’ words behind them.

Even though I’m not reading Avengers or New Avengers, I found the story to be mostly accessible and self-contained. To his credit, the lush, broad, sci-fi scope Hickman employs really does make it feel pretty epic. Cheung’s art is nothing less than stunning in many places. Truly excellent. He even sneaks in a few familiar faces from the Star Wars universe into the background. That always earns you points in my book.

I hope that this issue, with its unfamiliar characters and concepts, serves to set the stage and that the focus will turn to the characters that we know and love as they face Thanos’ latest end-of-the-world scenario. I have my doubts that Hickman will deliver that, but I’m going to be along for the ride to find out either way and I just might enjoy it regardless.

Oh, and that 4.99 price tag? That accounts for it being a pretty thick funnybook, but it’s only longer because it includes the Free Comic Book Day Infinity teaser. So, if you already have it, you’ll be getting it again. It just costs more this time. 

Rating: 3 .5 out of 5 infinity gems

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Walking Dead #113 Review

The Walking Dead #113
Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard
Image Comics (Skybound Imprint)
No comic book gives me a heavier dose of anxiety than Walking Dead. This month, Kirkman puts three of the main characters in mortal danger and keeps them there in ways that keep your stomach in knots the entire issue. I’ll go on the record and say that Negan is the officially the scariest villain going in the comic world right now. If you read issue 100 you know he’s a cold-hearted killer, but it’s the restraint and intelligence that he’s shown since then that show that he’s much more than that. The WD creative team may not always hit the mark, but when they get it right - boy do they ever.

If you’re a lapsed reader or a fan of the show and want to catch up, go back and start with the “A Larger World” arc, beginning in issue 95 (available in trade as well). With a little bit of Wikipedia research, it’s a great place to jump on.

Rating: 5 out of 5 reanimated corpses

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A Handy, Anti-Troll Guide to Marvel NOW!

It’s no big revelation that the online comic book community is overpopulated with trolls. The combination of online anonymity and staunch viewpoints can turn ordinarily timid, shrinking violet fanboys into raging, foaming-at-the-mouth lunatics at the very mention of a change of the status quo in their favorite funnybook. I use the word "favorite" lightly, because you'd be hard-pressed to get one of these jokers to name something they actually enjoy.

And to a certain extent, that’s OK. We all have opinions. Some of us are just better at voicing them without opining about our childhoods being “raped” while our Dorito taco shell crumbles into the keyboard and Mom yells downstairs about that Code Red Mountain Dew stain on the couch.

The biggest problem with trolls is that they are very often just plain wrong. Despite the wealth of knowledge available on the net, some people reach conclusions based on whatever first impression their Hot Pocket-fueled brain manages to muster.

Such is the case with Marvel NOW!. There’s been a great deal of speculation about what it’s really all about. There’s a common assumption that this is basically Marvel’s version of DC’s New 52 reboot – a reset button for the entire Marvel Universe. The scope of the event is also somewhat unclear to some. Which books with this affect? How long it will last? Will Emma Frost still have a big rack?

So, to combat the misinformation, I’ve compiled this handy, dandy Marvel NOW! overview. Next time you encounter an anti-Marvel troll, feel free to throw this link at them, tell them to defog their coke-bottle glasses and read a few facts for once.

Or, you know, just tell them that every character in the Marvel Universe is getting adamantium claws and watch their heads explode.

So, what is Marvel NOW?
In essence, it’s a new jumping-on point for current and potential readers wherein Marvel’s creative teams have been shaken up and the characters enter the next great chapter of the Marvel Universe.

Axel Alonso, Marvel’s editor-in-chief, offers this concise, informative response on Marvel NOW! is the next chapter in the ongoing saga of the Marvel Universe. From October through February, we’ll provide at least one great reason for readers—old, lapsed or new—to go into a comic store each week: a new issue #1, featuring an exciting new creative team and driving concept, that’s an easy entry-point into the Marvel Universe. Each and every one of these launches is built to last”

Like I need another reason to go the comic shop every week.

DC's New 52 was a very mixed bag of cats for me, but I really enjoyed its launch. There were many, many books that piqued my interest and I loved being able to finally “jump on” DC books with great characters, writers and artists at a new #1. The problem was, when I picked up those new numero unos, I discovered that they didn’t play by the same rules. Batman kept most of his continuity, Green Lantern kept it all, Superman kept none. Action Comics focused on a different time period that Superman. Now there’s Earth 2. This was meant to simplify the DCU? It wasn’t a complete and clear reboot and I’m sure it lost new comic readers quickly. I mean, it lost me and I love comics more than any other media. Marvel NOW! will accomplish all of the fun of the New 52 launch without the confusion of mixed continuity. To top it off, we’ll get all the fun of the launch for over four months!

Time will tell if “each and everyone” is built to last. I have little doubt that Avengers and X-Men will thrive due to their fan-base and new creative teams (Rick Remender and John Cassaday on Uncanny Avengers, Brian Bendis and Stuart Immonen on All-New X-Men and Jonathan Hickman and Jerome Opena on Avengers). However, there are smaller books focusing on more obscure characters with less established writers and artists that will struggle to find an audience that can sustain them. I’m looking at you Journey Into Mystery (starring Lady Sif by Kathryn Immonen and Valerio Schiti) and X-Men Legacy (starring Professor X’s jerk son Legion by Simon Spurrier & Tan Eng Huat).

So, this is a total reboot of the Marvel Universe, right?
Nope. No. Not at all. But you might think so if you get all your info from your tweeps. If you trust what Marvel says, then it’s clear:

Marvel NOW! is the next step in Marvel story evolution and character evolution. It’s not a reboot.”  - Joe Quesada, Marvel’s Chief Creative Officer.

“… because we are not wiping the slate clean—we’re just trying to tell these stories from a clean point of view and allowing a good jumping-off point for new readers.” – Joe Quesada,

"Everything's going to be one nice melting pot of Marvel Universe goodness," says (Tom) Brevoort (Marvel’s executive editor), who insists that Marvel NOW! is not a reboot. "This is the same Marvel Universe you were reading about the month before and the same characters. They haven't gone back to square one — all of that history isn't out the window."USAToday

"With Marvel NOW! everything that happened yesterday and the year before STILL happened. – Dan Slott, Amazing Spider-Man writer via Twitter.

 It is not a reboot.”  - Axel Alonso,

If you don’t trust what Marvel says, it’s still clear. Just check out the October and November solicitations for the first round of Marvel NOW! Nary an origin story in sight. It’s all new stories for well-established characters, with a lot of new elements mixed in. In short, IT’S NOT A REBOOT, DUDE!

Will this affect the entire line of Marvel Comics?
Yes. Well, OK, just the Marvel Universe proper (i.e. 616). Starting in October and running until February of next year, another Marvel book will be assimilated into Marvel NOW! every week. Many of the titles focusing on Marvel’s bigger characters (i.e. Avengers, Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Hulk, X-Men) have been announced for October and November releases.

Interestingly, Daredevil and Spider-Man are noticeably absent from that list. With the popularity and critical acclaim of Mark Waid and Dan Slott’s runs, it will be interesting to see if they keep them on those titles once they become part of the event. I would not be surprised if Daredevil and Amazing are some of the few titles that won’t get the “creative team shake-up” part of Marvel NOW!, but you never know. The precedence that has been set thus far is new creators on every new title, so maybe Mr. Slott and Mr. Waid will be moving on.

What’s important is that this event does not start off strong and go out with a fizzle. Marvel’s “architects” have already staked their claims on one, if not more, big Marvel titles. Will there be enough talent to go around? This remains to be seen.

Here’s a list of Marvel NOW! titles that have been confirmed as of August 21: 


MARVEL NOW! POINT ONE (64-page one-shot)
Various Writers and Artists








A+X  (A book that I’d imagine will rotate artists and writers in and out every month)
Various Writers and Artists





JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY (The only book mysteriously retaining its current numbering …)




I’m salivating for the release of Uncanny Avengers, Hulk, X-Men, Thor and Captain America. Fantastic Four will most likely be necessary since I’m a sucker for a new take on Marvel’s first family and with the brilliant comedian Brian Posehn on Deadpool, I may finally become a fan of the merc with a mouth. I’ll admit that I have very little interest in the others, but the good looks to far outweigh the bad.

No doubt Marvel has more up its sleeve, but this first round of books is pretty damn impressive.

The Wrap
So there you have it, a brief summary of all things Marvel NOW! with a little color commentary thrown in for good measure. I hope this goes a little way to give you a better understanding of just what Marvel is up to with this relaunch (not a reboot).

Remember, this article makes the perfect gift for the online, anti-Marvel, mouthbreathers in your life. Maybe we can make Marvel NOW! into a kind of 12-step troll recovery process. Hmmm … that sounds like another article entirely ...

‘Til next time, loyal reader. In the meantime, make mine Marvel (NOW!)!