Category Archives: Underrated

Underrated: Comics Not In Diamond’s Top 100 For September

This is a column that focuses on something or some things from the comic book sphere of influence that may not get the credit and recognition it deserves. Whether that’s a list of comic book movies, ongoing comics, or a set of stories featuring a certain character. The columns may take the form of a bullet pointed list, or a slightly longer thinkpiece – there’s really no formula for this other than whether the things being covered are Underrated in some way. This week: Comics not in Diamonds top 100 sellers for September.


This week we’re going to be looking at a list of comics that are all fantastic, but don’t get the attention that they deserve. Now I’m not even going to pretend to have a definitively exhaustive list of underrated comics here, because we’re hoping  that you decide to check at least one of these series out next time you’re looking for something new either online or at your LCS, and giving you a huge list to check out would be counter productive to that. Instead, you’ll find four to six comics that are worth your attention that failed to crack the top 100 in sales. You’ll notice that there’s only one comic from a publisher featured – this was done to try and spread the love around, rather than focus exclusively on one publisher.

Where possible, I’ve also avoided comics that have appeared on the last version of this list, but the only hard stipulation for this week: not one of the comics made it into the top 100 for September’s comic sales, according to Comichron, which is why they’re Underrated.

pestilence 4 coverPestilence #4 (Aftershock)
September Sales Rank/Comics Sold: 270 /5,112
What if the Black Death wasn’t the bubonic plague? What if something else was responsible for the mass death of almost a third of Europe in the 1300’s wasn’t a disease, but zombies? Imagine a zombie outbreak where the fastest method of land transportation was a horse, and there weren’t any guns. Frank Tieri’s story is brutal and brilliant and perfect for those who like a bit of sword play with their zombies.

Duck Tales #1 (IDW)
September Sales Rank/Comics Sold: 178 /10,958
Sometimes all you want in a comic is for it to be a trip down nostalgia avenue whilst having a good laugh, and that’s exactly what this is. If, like me, you loved the cartoon in the 90’s, then you’ll enjoy reading this.

XO2017_010_PRE-ORDER-GUEDESX-O Manowar #7 (Valiant)
September Sales Rank/Comics Sold: 168 /11,777
Set in the far reaches of space this gorgeously illustrated series about a reluctant warrior brought into a war that was never his, while struggling to discover if he is more than the sentient armour he wears. I’ve said it numerous times that this is one of  my favourite series currently on the racks, and if you want to check it out then despite the character’s rich history the first issue (or trade) is a great jumping on point.

New Super-Man #14 (DC)
September Sales Rank/Comics Sold: 164 /12,431
The brilliance of this series is that while you need familiarity with the bare bones of Superman’s mythology, the comic has taken on a life of it’s own with the Chinese versions of the Justice League being so much more than the cheap knock-offs that you would expect. New Super-Man is so much more than the Superman-lite story you’d expect, and with Super-Man starting out as an arrogant braggart and bully before gradually becoming the hero whose name he shares, the comic is as rewarding as it is enjoyable.


Unless the comics industry ceases any and all publication look for a future installment of Underrated to cover more comics that aren’t cracking the top 100.

Underrated: The Wolverine

This is a column that focuses on something or some things from the comic book sphere of influence that may not get the credit and recognition it deserves. Whether that’s a list of comic book movies, ongoing comics, or a set of stories featuring a certain character. The columns may take the form of a bullet pointed list, or a slightly longer thinkpiece – there’s really no formula for this other than whether the things being covered are Underrated in some way. This week: The Wolverine.



thewolverineA little while ago on Underrated, I took a look at one of the most reviled movies in the X-Men Franchise, X-Men Origins: Wolverine. This week I wanted to take a look at the sequel to that movie because, ending aside, I think it’s a pretty good movie – no, really, take that cyborg thing out of the equation, and I’d give the movie a sold 8.5 or so out of 10. Obviously the cyborg drops the rating some, but I still really enjoyed the movie. And yes, I did see the movie recently.

The funny thing about The Wolverine, at least for me, is that I only recently realized that people weren’t quite as fond of it as I was. Whether that’s because I was so desperate for a great Wolverine movie that I overlooked a lot of the flaws when I first saw it, or that I just simply enjoyed it more than the folks who had a bone to pick with the film. Obviously, I watched this after having seen Logan, which was exactly the Wolverine movie that I, and many others, have always wanted. Does The Wolverine still hold up after the sequel, or is it really as average as people have been saying?

I genuinely don’t think it is, so allow me to give you a few reasons why.

  • The Opening Sequence
    In this case I’m talking about the entire sequence set in the Canadian wilderness. Hugh Jackman pulls off the broken former hero role incredibly well, and much like the prequel I could have happily watched an entire movie centered around a broken Logan on the outskirts of society. Wait.
  • It’s a great homage to Wolverine’s first solo series
    Look I know that the ending is butchered almost entirely by the mechanized Silver Samurai, but once you get beyond that The Wolverine is a brilliant homage and reinterpretation of the Claremont/Miller series from the 80’s with an updated twist. The hallmarks of the series are there, albeit in a slightly modified form in most cases, as the movie does its level best to pay tribute to that classic four issue miniseries.
  • The choreography
    With this movie having a softer rating than its sequel, you’d be forgiven for wanting more of the brutality from that movie to show up in The Wolverine, but considering the rating I think the choreography of the fight scenes is done very well – yes, a lot is left to your imagination regarding the results of said action, but this is still a movie about a violent mutant and you do get a sense of that… even if it is done in a PG13 way.
  • The story 
    Despite struggling at the final hurdle, the movie’s plot is actually better than a lot of popcorn action flicks. It’s certainly no Logan but it’s a better overall product than both of its immediate prequels.

the-Wolverine-2.jpg

Yes, the movie has its problems, especially with how it fits (or used to fit depending on who you’re talking to) into the X-Men movie franchise, and how it treats certain characters, but when you look at it as a standalone movie that follows one character after the events of X-Men: The Last Stand… it’s actually pretty good; like I said, I’ve always enjoyed this movie, and that’s why it’s the subject of this week’s Underrated. Plus, without this movie then we’d never have had James Mangold back for the sequel

Underrated: Short or Standalone Stories

This is a column that focuses on something or some things from the comic book sphere of influence that may not get the credit and recognition it deserves. Whether that’s a list of comic book movies, ongoing comics, or a set of stories featuring a certain character. The columns may take the form of a bullet pointed list, or a slightly longer thinkpiece – there’s really no formula for this other than whether the things being covered are Underrated in some way. This week: Short or Standalone Stories


I wanted to expand upon the core subject behind last week’s Underrated today – that of self contained or standalone stories – because it’s something that I’ve been thinking about for awhile as the length of story arcs being published by comic companies within their ongoing series these days seems to be lengthening with every passing year.

This may turn into a bit of an angry rant, so buckle up folks.

DetectiveComics-517-End.jpg

I’m aware of the irony of using an older comic for a to be continued image.

Do you remember a time when you decided you wanted to check out a new series, and so you went into your LCS (or newsstand) and picked up the first issue you saw and because it was probably either a one shot story, a two-parter, or a standalone issue of some kind? Honestly, neither do I. I do remember waiting for a new arc and trying to jump on board then only to realize that the Part One that the comic is supposed to be is actually Part Seven in a much longer story that and is nigh on impossible for a new reader to pick up, and subsequently not giving a shit about reading the next issue – that’s part of the reason that I write Graphic Policy’s Rebirth Recap and Review so that those who want to jump into a series have an idea as to whether they’re able to do so with ease or not (although there are some comics that I wish I didn’t have to read for that feature… but that’s neither here nor there).

So why is this week’s Underrated about short or standalone stories specifically?

Because more often than not those are the stories that will help a publisher sink their hooks into fans. While the multi-part epics do have their place, when you’re just getting off the ground in comics they can be pretty intimidating place to start, not to mention a huge money sink if you think you need to get everything related to the story to understand it (and while that proves to be a short term gain for the publisher, it sucks for the new reader). Indeed lately I’ve found myself reading older comics, those from the 70’s to mid 90’s as I find them at flea markets and yard sales, and I realized that much of what I had been reading was either a one issue and done story, or at most a two-parter, which got me thinking; was the prevalence of shorter stories a sign of the times where publishers expected fans to only buy an issue or two or was it the result of the proliferation of comics on the newsstands where a person could never be sure to find any series in sequence?

Or, in other words, with the rise of specialty stores have we also seen the rise in multipart epics? Although that’d be an interesting question to explore, that’s not what we’re here to look at today – and I’ve already taken too long to get to my point.

Wolverine_Vol_2_113.jpgThe reason I love short or standalone stories, whether that’s in the form of a one or two issue comic story or graphic novel (which, I’m aware, may be pushing the “short” aspect but is still self contained) is that you get a full story in one chunk without having to wait almost a year to finish it if you’re reading in single issues. There’s also something impressive in a writer being able to tell a complete story in a single comic that gives you a solid snapshot of the character in a single issue. An example of this is Wolverine Vol 2 #113. Although there is clearly more to the story than we find out in the issue, Larry Hama effectively tells a complete story in a single comic (granted this is basically a series of fight scenes with nods to Wolverine’s at-the-time mysterious past, but it’s still largely self contained). That doesn’t mean you have to wrap up every loose end,  but don’t end on an arbitrary cliffhanger just to convince me to come back for the next issue.

If the writing is good enough or the art captures my imagination, then I’ll be coming back with or without a cliffhanger.

Turns out this wasn’t as angry as I expected.


Unless the comics industry ceases any and all publication look for a future installment of Underrated to cover something else comic book related next week.

Underrated: (The Concept Of) DC’s Earth One Graphic Novels

This is a column that focuses on something or some things from the comic book sphere of influence that may not get the credit and recognition it deserves. Whether that’s a list of comic book movies, ongoing comics, or a set of stories featuring a certain character. The columns may take the form of a bullet pointed list, or a slightly longer thinkpiece – there’s really no formula for this other than whether the things being covered are Underrated in some way. This week: DC’s Earth One graphic novels.


Because I’m currently reading Batman Earth One Vol. 2, this week I wanted to take a look at DC’s standalone graphic novel series Earth One. The series started with Superman in 2010, followed by Batman and a sequel to Superman in 2012, Teen Titans in 2014, two more sequels (Batman and Superman) in 2015, with Wonder Woman and a Teen Titans sequel in 2016. There will also be more released in 2018 and beyond, but that’s not what I’m here to talk about today.

Batman-_Earth_One.jpgEach book in the Earth One brand is, as far as I am aware, unconnected to the others aside from the sequels which means that they’re not bogged down by decades of continuity and the ever present worry of making sure the events in one don’t contradict another.

Full disclosure: I haven’t read them all, or even most of them, so don’t expect this to be an all encompassing review type Underrated. The reason I wanted to shine a light on these books is that in the current comics climate where there’s almost too much to keep track of month to month for some of these characters the Earth One books are a breath of fresh air.

It doesn’t hurt that these hundred and forty odd pages were never written as individual issues so there’s a different flow to the stories as the graphic novel format allows the creative team a little more freedom in building their stories. For the reader this means that you get a full and complete story in one read without having to worry about the other Earth One books (yes, obviously the sequels are designed to be read in order as the story follows the characters on their respective journeys).

And books they are.

The two Batman: Earth One books that I own have a slightly embossed dust jacket free hardcover that look and feel fantastic, but that’s not why I wanted to spotlight the series today. The reason I sat down to write about them is that I had forgotten how wonderful it is to read a self contained story about a character you love without thinking about where it fits in the character’s life.

Sometimes all you want is a story that isn’t weighed down by the constraints of continuity and history – I think that’s why the Elseworlds and What If series are so appealing to fans – so that you can lose yourself in a hundred or so pages of your favourite characters.

There we have it. A much shorter Underrated than usual, but hopefully no less enjoyable.

 


Unless the comics industry ceases any and all publication look for a future installment of Underrated to cover something else comic book related next week.

Underrated: Comics Not In Diamond’s Top 200 Sellers In August

This is a column that focuses on something or some things from the comic book sphere of influence that may not get the credit and recognition it deserves. Whether that’s a list of comic book movies, ongoing comics, or a set of stories featuring a certain character. The columns may take the form of a bullet pointed list, or a slightly longer thinkpiece – there’s really no formula for this other than whether the things being covered are Underrated in some way. This week: Comics not in Diamonds top 100 sellers for June.


This week we’re going to be looking at a list of comics that are all fantastic, but don’t get the attention that they deserve. Now I’m not even going to pretend to have a definitively exhaustive list of underrated comics here, because we’re hoping  that you decide to check at least one of these series out next time you’re looking for something new either online or at your LCS, and giving you a huge list to check out would be counter productive to that. Instead, you’ll find four to six comics that are worth your attention that failed to crack the top 100 in sales. You’ll notice that there’s only one comic from a publisher featured – this was done to try and spread the love around, rather than focus exclusively on one publisher.

Where possible, I’ve also avoided comics that have appeared on the last version of this list, but the only hard stipulation for this week: not one of the comics made it into the top 100 for May’s comic sales, according to Comichron, which is why tresspasser 2they’re Underrated.

Trespasser #2 (Alterna)
August Sales Rank/Comics Sold: Unknown
The series about a father and his daughter struggling to survive in a post plague world on a farm, or in the rural countryside, when they’re visited by a harmless injured alien (a little green man type of alien to be specific). After starving for so long, once the alien leaves the family have some food again… The comic is a psychologically chilling tale that explores how far you would be willing to go to provide for your family, and whether sometimes a short term gain is really worth the anguish it will cause eventually.

SexCriminals_20-1.pngSex Criminals #20 (Image)
August Sales Rank/Comics Sold: 297/5,691
When the two lead characters have sex they freeze time; the first time this happens they decide to rob  a bank (because why not?). The series has developed into a cult following, and it’s quality far exceeds the sales numbers on show here.

Unholy Grail #2 (Aftershock)
August Sales Rank/Comics Sold: 254 /7,340
Set around the legend of King Arthur and Merlyn, this series reimagines the old wizard as a demon inhabiting an old man’s flesh. Kinda creepy, but a whole lot of awesome. If you’re a fan of comics without superheroes you could do a lot worse than checking this series out.

DIVINITY_ZERO_COVER-A_RYPDivinity #0 (Valiant)
August Sales Rank/Comics Sold: 229 /8,692
Valiant’s Divinity is a fantastic story that spans three four issue miniseries, and four tie-in comics, which could be a little intimidating if you were to dive into them all at once (but it’s totally worth doing, however) which is where this zero issue comes into play. By giving you an in-story overview of the event Divinity #0 will both prepare you for the next chapter in this exciting series and refresh (or bring you up to date) with the story so far.

 


Unless the comics industry ceases any and all publication look for a future installment of Underrated to cover more comics that aren’t cracking the top 100.

Underrated: Secret Weapons

This is a column that focuses on something or some things from the comic book sphere of influence that may not get the credit and recognition it deserves. Whether that’s a list of comic book movies, ongoing comics, or a set of stories featuring a certain character. The columns may take the form of a bullet pointed list, or a slightly longer thinkpiece – there’s really no formula for this other than whether the things being covered are Underrated in some way. This week: Valiant’s Secret Weapons.


SW_001_THIRD-PRINTING_COVER_ALLENThis week I wanted to take a look at a series that, while it isn’t quite over yet, is a fantastic representation of the comic book medium. Valiant’s Secret Weapons is written by Eric Heisserer, the Oscar nominated screen writer of Arrival (which is by all accounts a brilliant movie, but I’ve yet to see it so I can’t comment on its quality), with art by Raul Allen with Patricia Martin and focuses on a group of psiots rejected from the Harbinger Foundation for having useless powers.

For those unfamiliar with Valiant, the Harbinger Foundation and psiots, allow me to liken a psiot to a mutant in the Marvel universe. Except a psiot’s power usually won’t emerge on their own (indeed there are only a handful of self-activated psiots in the Valiant universe), and instead in order for their powers to emerge they have to go through an incredibly painful and often fatal activation process in order to discover what their powers will be. The Harbinger Foundation is the primary source of this activation, and will often invest large amounts of capital and time in locating, activating and training psiots in the hopes that they’ll find the next one person army. Activated powers shown thus far have included flight, the ability to talk to and control technology, super strength, pyrokinesis… and various incredible abilities that will have some level of familiarity to Marvel fans.stanchek

But while those are the power levels that the Harbinger Foundation will hope a psiot receives upon activation, what if they end up with something a little less than useful? What if they can make objects appear out of thin air but have no control over what appears? What if the psiot can turn his skin into a statue but can’t move once transformed (what if Colossus couldn’t move in his metal form, basically)?x

That’s where the rejected group of psiots this series focuses on comes in.

Heisserer’s story does reference the past, but one doesn’t need to be any more familiar with the history of the Harbinger Foundation than the above recap – if you even need that as each issue comes with a pretty indepth explanation to get you up to speed anyway.

Although Secret Weapons was originally solicited as a four issue miniseries it has since been expanded with the announcement of a zero issue that will serve as a prequel of sorts, as of this writing only three issues in the series have been released. So why am I writing an entire Underrated on a series that hasn’t ended yet? Isn’t there a risk that despite the quality of the first three issues the creative team will take a sudden dump over the fourth and leave me with egg on my face? Although it’s unlikely, the possibility certainly exists that could happen, but if it did we’d still be left with three comics that are utterly fantastic. SW_003_005

The primary reason I sat down to write this today is the third issue, and whether the fourth is awful or not it won’t change the fact that this comic is one of the best single issues I have read all year.

SW_002_003Without delving too deeply into spoiler territory, the comic focuses on a Sikh psiot who is attending college in the US. Heisserer uses the story to explore prejudices that we as a society have, and how those we discriminate against are treated. The psiot in question is Avichal Malakar, a young man who wants nothing more than to attend school and to be left alone; we follow him as he is faced with hostile glares from those in his school which he attributes to the fact he wears a turban, and not because he’s actually a psiot. Indeed it becomes apparent throughout the issue that those who hate and fear him don’t care that he bears a slight resemblance to a Muslim at all – only that he’s a super powered freak. The beauty of this comic is that you can honestly read it almost as a standalone issue just for this sequence, but then you’d be missing out on some fantastic character moments with a group of young misfits learning about their abilities in a world that hates and fears them… yeah. This series is ideal for those who want to read an updated homage to the Lee/Kirby era of the X-Men, and it holds up incredibly well against those comics.

You may have noticed already that the art is very distinctive. That’s because Raul Allen and Patricia Martin have a wonderfully unique style that is more than capable of telling a story without any of the words on the page. They use the traditional grid quite a lot in the run of an issue and by doing so they’re able to really show a character’s reactions to the events unfolding on the pages. I’m going to leave a few more randomly selected pages here from various issues in the series, deliberately out of order, so you can get an idea of the comic without really revealing too much about the story. Because I can describe the art all day, but you know what they say about a picture’s worth, right?

If you’re reading this and have made it this far an you’re thinking to yourself that this sounds awesome then you’re not wrong. If your local shop has the issues then I highly recommend you picking them up – even though I have review copies I’m still buying the series – but if they don’t then hold out for the trade. Valiant are usually pretty quick to turn a miniseries into a trade, especially one that’s generating as much love as this one is.

Why is it Underrated? Because it’s better than anything I’ve read from Marvel or DC in months and the sales don’t reflect that.

 


Unless the comics industry ceases to exist this week, Underrated will return next week.

Underrated: Voracious

This is a column that focuses on something or some things from the comic book sphere of influence that may not get the credit and recognition it deserves. Whether that’s a list of Voracious_TPB_Cover_Vol1comic book movies, ongoing comics, or a set of stories featuring a certain character. The columns may take the form of a bullet pointed list, or a slightly longer thinkpiece – there’s really no formula for this other than whether the things being covered are Underrated in some way. This week: Voracious.


This week I wanted to take a look at a series that I think epitomizes what this column is about: a great comic book series or story that too few people have read. Published by Action Lab, Voracious is written by Markisan Naso and drawn by Jason Muhr, with the co-creators being joined by colourist Andrei Tabucaru, and can usually grab your attention with the shortest of descriptions: “time travelling chef makes dinosaur sandwiches.”

It sounds awesome, right? Well, that’s because it is.

In an ideal world, that’s really all you would need to rush out and buy the two trade paper back collections (Diners, Dinosaurs & Dives and Feeding Time), but it can be tough to buy two trades wholly on those words – I get that. I really do. Look, it’s no secret that Voracious is one of my favourite series to come out in the last couple of years (you can find the reviews for most of the comics in the two miniseries under this search),  and it’s one of the few that I’ll buy in floppy form after reading the review copies – and it’s the Voracious_TPB_Cover_Vol1only one that I also buy the TPBs as well.

You see, I put my money where my mouth is because Voracious is a wonderful breath of fresh air in an industry that has been choking on relaunches and rehashes; the five issues that make up Feeding Time are some of the highest scored comics that I have reviewed for Graphic Policy. Voracious does have an awesome elevator pitch, but that’s not what draws me into the series (though it certainly helped).

After only nine comics (technically ten, but the first issue was a double sized comic) Markisan Naso has become one of Those writers who has earned my complete and utter trust; I will probably buy anything that he puts out from this point on. Aside from having an excellent music taste, Naso has an ability to give a unique voice to his characters that when combined with Jason Muhr’s artistic ability allows you to understand all you need to know about a character within a page or two at most. Yes, there are deeper layers to the people you’re watching navigate their lives on the page, and they’re expertly revealed as the series progresses in a way that you’re never really subjected to an-out-of-left-field moment that takes you out of the story because of a character’s actions because of how well developed they are; you won’t be shocked at the actions of the people in the comic because it all seems so in character for them once you understand their motivations.

As with any well written story featuring time travel you hope the visuals measure up to the intricacies of the story, and oh boy do they ever.Voracious_02-8

Jason Muhr is a brilliant visual story teller; there are so many brilliant double page spreads where his talents shine, and yet some of my favourite moments are the ones where Muhr focuses in on the emotions playing across the face of the character he is drawing; obviously I want to avoid significant spoilers so I’m not showing you as many pages from later issues, which is a disservice to both you and Muhr because as the series progressed he really found his groove.

If you’re tired of reading about superheroes fighting each other and you want a story to take you across the emotional spectrum without the use of glowing rings then you need look no further. While the comic is about a time traveling, dinosaur hunting chef, it’s also a powerful look into what makes us who we are and how. It’s a story about mistakes and loss, and most importantly coping with those things.

Voracious is the best comic you’ve never read, so change that. I haven’t heard a singe person I’ve made read the book complain in anyway. This story is what comics are all about; a masterpiece of visual story telling that couldn’t be told any other way even half as effectively as it is in comic form.

Now, excuse me while I go and read both trades again.

If you want more Voracious, then you can check out the episode of GP Radio where we talked all about the dinosaur sandwiches with both Markisan Naso and Jason Muhr.


Unless the comics industry ceases to exist this week, Underrated will return next week.

Underrated: Comics not in Diamonds top 100 sellers for July

This is a column that focuses on something or some things from the comic book sphere of influence that may not get the credit and recognition it deserves. Whether that’s a list of comic book movies, ongoing comics, or a set of stories featuring a certain character. The columns may take the form of a bullet pointed list, or a slightly longer thinkpiece – there’s really no formula for this other than whether the things being covered are Underrated in some way. This week: Comics not in Diamonds top 100 sellers for June.


This week we’re going to be looking at a list of comics that are all fantastic, but don’t get the attention that they deserve. Now I’m not even going to pretend to have a definitively exhaustive list of underrated comics here, because we’re hoping  that you decide to check at least one of these series out next time you’re looking for something new either online or at your LCS, and giving you a huge list to check out would be counter productive to that. Instead, you’ll find four to six comics that are worth your attention that failed to crack the top 100 in sales. You’ll notice that there’s only one comic from a publisher featured – this was done to try and spread the love around, rather than focus exclusively on one publisher.

Where possible, I’ve also avoided comics that have appeared on the last version of this list, but the only hard stipulation for this week: not one of the comics made it into the top 100 for May’s comic sales, according to Comichron, which is why they’re Underrated.

 

croak 2Croak #2 (Alterna)
July Sales Rank/Comics Sold: Unknown
Alterna’s range of newsprint comics have been a fantastic addition to my pull list, with the stories on offer crossing numerous different genres and styles, and each one easily being worth the price of admission (sometimes several times over). This campfire horror story style comic is creepy, atmospheric and really well written; priced at a buck and a half you can’t go wrong at all.

Pestilence #3 (Aftershock)
July Sales Rank/Comics Sold: 250 /5,771
What if the Black Death wasn’t the bubonic plague? What if something else was responsible for the mass death of almost a third of Europe in the 1300’s wasn’t a disease, but zombies? Yup, more medieval zombies – and they’re great.

Wicked + Divine #29 (Image)
July Sales Rank/Comics Sold: 149 /13,910
You’ve all heard about this series one way or another, but judging by the sales numbers… This contemporary fantasy story focuses on a group of people with superhuman powers known as “The Pantheon”. Each member of The Pantheon was at one point a normal person before being chosen to merge with the spirit of a deity, and will – apparently – die within two years. Check this series out and learn why there’s such  a strong cult following.

SW_002_SECOND-PRINT_COVER_ALLENSecret Weapons #2 (Valiant)
July Sales Rank/Comics Sold: 224 /7,910
You’ll notice this series makes a repeat appearance, and that’s because it keeps getting better issue after issue. Seriously, check this out. Last week I said that this is “an offbeat series about a group of rejects with powers that are basically useless (think turning your skin into a statue like hardness… but then being unable to move, just like a literal statue) have to band together in order to face off against a killer who is much better equipped to take them down. Beyond this, the sense of camaraderie and family among the rejects echoes back to the early X-Men comics; this miniseries did better in the sales charts than I expected, but it’s still an underrated gem.” I still stand by that.

 


Unless the comics industry ceases any and all publication look for a future installment of Underrated to cover more comics that aren’t cracking the top 100.

Underrated: Maverick #1-12

This is a column that focuses on something or some things from the comic book sphere of influence that may not get the credit and recognition it deserves. Whether that’s a list of comic book movies, ongoing comics, or a set of stories featuring a certain character. The columns may take the form of a bullet pointed list, or a slightly longer thinkpiece – there’s really no formula for this other than whether the things being covered are Underrated in some way. This week something a little different as we take a look at one of my favourite characters, and his twelve issue solo series from the late 90’s: Maverick.


maverick 4.jpgOne of the first non-Wolverine comics I ever picked up was Maverick #4. Of course, the reason I picked it up was because Wolverine was on the front cover, so technically, the first non-Wolverine comic I picked up was Maverick #5.  As it turns out, I’d end up reading a lot about Maverick through the years because of Wolverine; Marvel UK’s Wolverine Unleashed was reprinting the original American comics.

Maverick is a product of the 90’s; his  first appearance in 1992’s X-Men #5 had all the hallmarks of the time;  giant shoulder pads, heavy guns, and  a half face mask that allowed his hair to fly free. Maverick would end the decade with a more streamlined version of his armour; sleeker and slightly less bulky for his solo series that ran for twelve issues beginning in 1997.  Although he’s had numerous guest appearances in a few X-Men based comics, Maverick has never really reached the level of popularity of certain other characters introduced during the same time frame, but he does have a very fond place in  this comic lovers heart.

Although Maverick is almost always featured in X-Men related titles, he is most closely associated with everybody’s favourite dead Canadian mutant, having been a significant part of Wolverine’s life before his skeleton was coated in adamantium. But it wouldn’t be fair to Maverick, though, to just write him off as that  mercenary friend of Wolverine’s; Maverick’s own history is a rich bed of potential, and it’s explored within this series.

Born in East Germany to parents who were either Nazi sympathizers or full blown Nazi’s, Christoph Nord was self-described idealist, and fought against the communist regime during the height of the Cold War, joining a West German black ops unit named Cell Six. During this time Nord met and fell in love with a nurse Ginetta Barsalini, whom he fell in love with and married. Not realizing he was a spy until it was too late, Nord was forced to shoot her inn self defense (unwittingly killing his unborn child in the process). Shortly after this Nord was recruited by the CIA, changed his name to David North and ended up on a team with Victor Creed and Logan.

When the team was sent on a mission in East Germany, both Creed and Logan were badly injured. Rather than follow protocol and leave them, North dragged them to the extraction point where he was cornered by Andreas Nord, now an assassin, North saved his teammates the only way he could; killing his own brother in cold blood.

Maverick is a character rooted in tragedy; from his early years already recapped to his contracting a slow acting deadly disease that took his powers before killing him slowly (he was brought back to life moments after his death with some inventive CPR which also returned his powers), before becoming an executioner for a shady government organisation by way of brainwashing before losing his powers (again).

maverick spreadOne of the most enjoyable twelve issue series I’ve ever read was Maverick Vol. 2; this run had me from the moment the protagonist died in the opening pages to the very end. It’s a series that has never been, and probably never will be collected into a trade paperback, which means that to read it you’ll need to track down the floppies. The series deals with some suddenly relevant again issues surrounding anti mutant attitudes, Russian gangsters and the struggle of being born to Nazi sympathizing parents, as well as what it’s like for a young facing certain death at the hands of the Legacy Virus. On top of that there’s a few guest stars, some pretty fantastic enemies (some new and some old), and some really great art and writing. Honestly, I tend to read this series on an almost yearly basis.

maverick03.jpgOther than appearing in a few Wolverine stories that have been released as TPB’s and being a part of the ensemble cast of the 2002 Weapon X series that’s also been at least partly collected into TPB’s, finding Maverick comic appearances is largely a case of scouring the back issue bins at your local comic shop anyway. If you do that, and I highly recommend you do, then hunting for the Maverick #1-12 comics could be an easier (and cheaper) task than hunting for key issues of Deadpool or Wolverine because not many people are looking for them – which is a shame, but could work out to your benefit.

Do yourself a favour; find Maverick. You’ll not be disappointed.

So Who Are The Best Spider-Man Movie Villains?

We’re taking a break from Underrated this week because sometimes a thought comes to you that you can’t quite shake, and this is one of them. Was Topher Grace as shitty as a shitty thing? Has Michael Keaton stolen his way to the top spot? Join me as I take a completely unobjective look back at the last twenty odd years of Spider-Man movies and proceed to rank the villains in a completely serious and professional manner.

Yeah, I’m being a wee bit sarcastic. This entire list is based on my opinion and nothing more.

Anyway. These villains have all appeared in one of the live action movies from Spider-Man right up until Spider-Man Homecoming, and this post will contain spoilers for all of these movies to some degree (though I’ll try to limit the  Homecoming specific ones). I’ve deliberately avoided villains that appear as cameo appearances (such as Rhino is ASM2 because they’re not exactly fleshed out enough to be more than scenery).

In reverse order:

venom_grace.jpgNine: Topher Grace as Venom (Spider-Man 3)
Did you really expect anybody else to hover around here? I mean… I’m already willing to say that Tom Hardy is a better Venom than Topher Grace – and they haven’t started filming that movie yet. If you’ve seen the movie, you know exactly what I mean. If you haven’t, save yourself the trouble. Grace was horribly miscast, and  has taken some serious flack for his role in what is widely considered the weakest movie in the franchise.

franco goblin.jpgEight: James Franco as New Goblin (Spider-Man 3)
What was the point? Honestly? What was the bloody point. If even you want to see a film waste the potential of an actor who could have carried the movie as the main villain, then this is it. Harry Osborne’s arc seems to have a rushed conclusion as he the butler confesses the truth after years of watching Harry tear himself apart… the potential for a great showdown was wasted in the same movie that turned Venom into a joke. The New Goblin could have been a fantastic foil to Spider-Man, as evidenced by the rooftop fight, and their verbal sparring throughout… but alas it was not to be.

dehaan goblin.gifSeven: Dane Dehaan as Green Goblin (Amazing Spider-Man 2)
It’s not that Dane Dehaan was a bad actor, but his Green Goblin paled in comparison to Willem Dafoe’s, and every bugger who saw the movie was painfully aware of that. The threat level seemed forced, and the character was much more sinister as Harry Osborne just before he cracked into the Goblin than at any point after the transformation – which is why he edged Franco here.

Electro-Spider-ManSix: Jamie Foxx as Electro (Amazing Spider-Man 2)
Another character where the actor wasn’t bad, indeed Foxx’s performance was really interesting, and by having the character’s insecurities play off against Spider-Man’s confidence allowed the hero/villain relationship to take a direction that we hadn’t seen in a Spider-Man movie before. Personally, I wasn’t fond of the look of the character, but I enjoyed Foxx’s performance.

Thomas_Haden_Church_Spider-Man_3.jpgFive: Thomas Haden Church as Sandman (Spider-Man 3)
Perhaps  the one redeeming villainous performance in this movie came at the gritty hands of Flint Marko, played by Thoma Haden Church. Sandman became an oddly sympathetic character doing the wrong things for the right reasons who ended up a victim of the plot more than the performance; it was a decent, almost Batman 66 style  performance in a movie that was trying to be too edgy. The two just didn’t quite go together.

rhys-ifans-the-lizard.jpgFour: Rhys Ifans as The Lizard (Amazing Spider-Man) Alright so the computer generated face wasn’t exactly as comic accurate as a lot of us would hope, and the sense of menace wasn’t exactly there, but Ifans’ Lizard isn’t bad… but it’s not great either.

dafoe goblin.PNGThree: Willem Dafoe as Green Goblin (Spider-Man) And here’s where the jump from the fourth spot to the third spot seems to be an image and a text break, but in reality it’s a lot larger. Willem Dafoe embodied everything you could ever want in a comic book movie villain, from his elastic facial expressions to the genuinely psychopathic gleam in his eyes. Whether he was Norman Osborne or the Green Goblin, Dafoe exuded a sense of menace that left viewers at the time feeling a genuine sense of unease. Shame about the costume, though.

vulture keaton.jpgTwo: Michael Keaton as the Vulture (Spider-Man: Homecoming)
If you haven’t seen this movie, then this won’t spoil anything. Keaton does the unthinable and makes the Vulture feel like a genuine, credible threat; he’s sinister when he needs to be, charming when he needs to be and has a screen dominating presence that will have you wanting so much more from Keaton and his Vulture. After only seeing this movie once, I was stunned that I was watching a performance as rich as I was, and I think there’s a genuine possibility that in a couple of years the Vulture will have stolen the top spot – as it is, he’s easily one of the best comic book movie villains, but he just wasn’t quite as good as….

molina doc ock.jpgOne: Alfred Molina as Doctor Octopus (Spider-Man 2)
For my money, this is not only the definitive portrayal of Doc Ock, but also one of the best antagonists in any superhero movie. Molina was able to make you care about Octavious, by giving a phenomenal performance as a sympathetic accidental villain that has yet to be equaled in any Spider-Man movie since.

raimi spiderman.jpgBonus: Sam Raimi as The Director (Spider-Man 3)
The only explanation I can think of for the massive drop off in quality from Spider-Man 2 to Spider-Man 3 is that Sam Raimi had cast himself in an absurdly meta role where,  at the behest of his evil employers, The Studio (also under the control of the symbiote, possibly?) he created the antithesis of his Spider-Man 2 masterpiece: a movie of such horrifically bad scenes that weren’t bad enough for the movie to become a cult classic Bad Movie, and instead they took a middling movie that had some bright spots down into the nether regions of the franchise. This was a well-played joke, right? Right…?


Underrated will return next week!

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