Tag Archives: al milgrom

Review: X-Factor Epic Collection Vol. 8 X-Aminations

X-Factor: X-Aminations is volume 8 in Marvel’s Epic Collection. It collects issues #84-100 and Annual #8

Story: Peter David, Scott Lobdell, Skip Dietz, J.M. DeMatteis, Shana David, Joe Quesada
Art: Jae Lee, Joe Quesada, Chris Batista, Buzz, Jan Duursema, Terry Schoemaker, Paul Ryan, Greg Luzniak, Cliff Van Meter
Ink: Al Milgrom, Mark McKenna, Andrew Pepoy, Jeff Albrecht, Cliff Van Meter
Color: Brad Vancata, Glynis Oliver, Marie Javins, Ariane Lenshoek, Tom Smith, Joe Rosas, Mike Thomas, Matt Webb, Carlos Lopez
Letterer: Richard Starkings, Steve Dutro, Lois Buhalis, Janice Chiang, Dave Sharpe, Pat Brosseau

Get your copy in comic shops now and bookstores on November 26! To find a comic shop near you, visit www.comicshoplocator.com or call 1-888-comicbook or digitally and online with the links below.

Amazon
Kindle/comiXology
TFAW

Marvel provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review
This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links and make a purchase, we’ll receive a percentage of the sale. Graphic Policy does purchase items from this site. Making purchases through these links helps support the site

Review: X-Men Milestones: X-Cutioner’s Song

Cable has assassinated Professor X! Wait, what!? This “X-Men Milestones” collects the classic story that helped define the 90s X-Men.

X-Men Milestones: X-Cutioner’s Song collects Uncanny X-Men (1991) #294-297, X-Factor (1986) #84-86, X-Men (1991) #14-16, X-Force (1991) #16-18, and Stryfe’s Stryke File.

Story: Peter David, Scott Lobdell, Fabian Nicieza
Art: Greg Capullo, Andy Kubert, Jae Lee, Brandon Peterson, Larry Stroman
Ink: Terry Austin, Harry Candelario, Andy Kubert, Al Milgrom, Jimmy Palmiotti, Dan Panosian, Mark Pennington
Color: Steve Buccellato, Marie Javins, Glynis Oliver, Joe Rosas, Mike Thomas, Brad Vancata
Letterer: Steve Dutro, Chris Eliopoulos, Richard Starkings

Get your copy in comic shops now and in bookstores on November 5! To find a comic shop near you, visit www.comicshoplocator.com or call 1-888-comicbook or digitally and online with the links below.

Amazon
Kindle/comiXology
TFAW

Marvel provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review
This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links and make a purchase, we’ll receive a percentage of the sale. Graphic Policy does purchase items from this site. Making purchases through these links helps support the site

Review: Absolute Carnage: Symbiote Spider-Man

Carnage is hunting down everyone who wore a symbiote in “Absolute Carnage.” What about the person who wore the “black suit” briefly before Peter Parker got it? Absolute Carnage: Symbiote Spider-Man is his story.

Story: Peter David
Art: Francesco Mobili
Color: Java Tartaglia, Rain Beredo
Letterer: Travis Lanham

Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #99 & 100 pages by Al Milgrom, Herb Trimpe, Jim Mooney, Geof Isherwood, Bob Sharen, A. Kaotic, Joe Rosen, and Diana Albers.

Get your copy in comic shops! To find a comic shop near you, visit www.comicshoplocator.com or call 1-888-comicbook or digitally and online with the links below.

Amazon
TFAW

Marvel provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review
This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links and make a purchase, we’ll receive a percentage of the sale. Graphic Policy does purchase items from this site. Making purchases through these links helps support the

All Time Comics Returns with the 5-part Epic: Zerosis Deathscape

All Time Comics returns for a second season with new publisher, Floating World Comics

New series writer, Josh Simmons, scripts Zerosis Deathscape, an epic 5-part event co-written by ATC mastermind, Josh Bayer. Each monthly issue is drawn by Bronze Age maverick, Trevor Von Eeden.

Von Eeden’s unique and powerful style has developed a cult following among genre and underground cartoonists, who celebrate his run on Thriller and his early DC career drawing Batman, Green Arrow, and Black Lightning. He is joined on art duties by indie cartoonists Gabrielle BellJulia GfrörerBenjamin Marra, and Tom Toye, and colorist Daniel Lee.

The series is about space and time meeting anti-time and alternate-space combining Bronze Age adventure genre comics with other comic styles. The massive superhero crossover hearkens to other classic cosmic event comics and brings together all the characters established in season 1 of All Time Comics.

Zerosis Deathscape begins monthly in June and is preceded by a special prologue issue, All Time Comics #0 in April. Written and illustrated by Josh Simmons, with inks by Ken Landgraf, this zero issue is the perfect intro to the new wave of ATC. Features the first appearance of The Red Maniac, and we meet Time Scientist Vampire, who foretells the devastating power of Zerosis!

All Time Comics Zerosis Deathscape #0 cover by Das Pastoras
All Time Comics Zerosis Deathscape #0 incentive cover by Brendan McCarthy

All six issues of All Time Comics Season 1 are finally collected in a massive 240 page trade paperback, coming this June from Floating World Comics.

Atlas – his only weakness is fear!
Blind Justice – the man who walks through bullets!
Bullwhip – here to put a stop to the bullsh*t!
Crime Destroyer – will fight for justice or die trying!

These four heroes face an over-the-top lineup of villains including The Misogynist, Raingod, White Warlock, Krimson Kross, P.S.Y.C.H.O., and the Time Vampire.

All Time Comics features the work of current indie comics creators like Josh BayerBenjamin Marra, and Noah Van Sciver, alongside the work of established artists like Al Milgrom and the last art by legendary artist Herb Trimpe, co-creator of Wolverine.

All Time Comics Season 1

Talking All Time Comics with Josh Bayer and Mixing “Contemporary” with “Old School”

atc-1-crime-destroyer-1-jim-rugg-cover-2In December, Fantagraphics announced a new superhero universe All Time Comics headed up by Josh Bayer. The line will feature a series of six comics featuring stand alone, interconnected adventures with a focus of retro crime fighting bringing together new cartoonists with classic creators.

The line of comics features the creative talents of Bayer, Herb Trimpe, Ben Marra, Jim Rugg, Johnny Ryan, Al Milgrom, Das Pastoras, Tony Millionaire, Rick Buckler, Victor Martinez, and Noah Van Sciver.

I got a chance to ask Josh some questions about the line, its influences, and what we can expect.

Graphic Policy: Where did the idea for All Time Comics come from and how long did it take from the initial idea to the announcement?

Josh Bayer: That’s a good question. It was an incredibly long time, from 2014 ‘til now. Looking back, that three years represents a ton of work under the bridge, writing scripts, editing contacting talent, getting worked lettered, colored, not to mention promoting and getting the work ready to print.

GP: With a shared superhero universe starting from scratch, that has to feel a bit overwhelming. How’d you go about figuring out what to characters to highlight with this initial batch?

JB: Beginning points are always hard. With All Time Comics, we started eating the sandwich from the middle. Not only did we jump into the middle of this endeavor, but we wrote the books as if there was a whole history, as if these are from an alternate universe where All Time Comics were an ongoing thing for decades. I wrote most of the books, or co-wrote them with Ben concurrently with each other, so if one book wasn’t the best beginning point the next one might be. That lessened some of that anxiety.

atc-1-crime-destroyer-1-johnny-ryan-cover-2GP: What were your influences while putting this together? What are some of your favorite shared superhero universe?

JB: I don’t know if they influenced but inspired yes: Alan Moore’s America’s Best Comics, Alan Moore’s 1963 line and some of Mark Grunewald’s Dp7 comics, and a few of the other New Universe books. Definitely, but mostly Mark Grunewald.

GP: One of the big things you hear folks talking about when it comes to shared universes is accessibility. Was that on your mind when you went about creating everything?

JB: Yes, but that’s more like something which makes sense in retrospect rather than something I planned.  I just wanted to make some books with my brother and my friends, and then with my heroes, it got more interesting as it went on.

GP: How much detail have you go into creating all of the characters? Is there years of backstory or is this the “birth” of these characters and universe?

JB: Not all the backstory is present, we really scratch the surface. We show Crime Destroyer’s origin in a one-page montage that is my favorite Herb Trimpe page. We don’t go into the other three heroes’ backstories, so there is a lot of that to delve into in the future, potentially.

At the same time Phil Jimenez was my teacher at SVA, he used to say that the modern comics industry sometimes thinks that everything needs a reason behind it and an explanation, but not everything needs an explanation all the time. So there’s checks and balances, we know the past of the characters, but you don’t necessarily need all that information to make them the best comics they can be.

atc-2-bullwhip-1-das-pastoras-cover-rgbGP: The folks participating on the project is an impressive roster of talent. How’d you go about recruiting everyone and what were some of their initial reactions?

JB: The younger cartoonists were mostly people I already knew. For the older artists I asked around. One of my friends Cliff Gailbrath was instrumental in getting me in touchy with Herb, and I think I contacted Al through his commission website. Once Herb vouched for me it opened a lot of doors. Aside from that I was really lucky and worked hard to impress those guys. I had never done as polished as script as I produced for Herb, but I wanted it to be as impressive as I could manage. I have no complaints about how that evolved I look back and I was very fortunate that this thing worked.

GP: How’d it get decided who would work on what project?

JB: I just made lists of my favorite people, made them offers, and shifted teams around based on their needs and availability. Each one was an experiment, and each one worked out. Believe me, I’d love to have 15 more teams of unlikely collaborators working together. It’s just a matter of time, money, and basic resources, not a lack of inspiration.

GP: Diversity seems to be on the mind of so many in the industry. Was that something you thought about when creating the characters and recruiting the talent?

JB: Having older and younger artists working together is a nice step towards representing those older and younger faces, but I’d like All Time Comics to be more diverse. Season one, we had four artists, all from similar backgrounds, even if we’re from different eras.  If there’s a Season Two, you’ll hear from a broader array of voices in some All Time Comics books we have coming out after these first issues.

atc-2-bullwhip-1-tony-millionaire-coverGP: The announcement talks about “old-school comics” and “contemporary storytelling.” What are those things to you?

JB: That’s a good question, since those are broad terms and are meant as a calling card to the public. Old School comics had a texture and an energy I liked. That energy was embodied by people like Al and Herb, and that energy is still around, not just in our books — it’s not like mainstream comics are done by robots. There’s a lot of stuff I’ve seen that I like in other people’s superhero comics. People like Ben and Noah are both contemporary and old school, they are traditionalist, and at the same time are interested in speaking to people in today’s world. And so am I. Old school and contemporary means the combination of all our efforts.

GP: There’s been the initial announcement and launch, can we expect more down the road?

JB: First, we need everyone to go out and dig Crime Destroyer, Bullwhip, Atlas and Blind Justice. After that? To be continued….

GP: Thanks so much for chatting.

Flashback Friday Friday Review: Cable Vol. 1 #4

cable_vol_1_4It felt appropriate for a “Retro Friday” review to check out a comic featuring Marvel’s time-traveling mutant Cable! Cable Vol. 1 #4 stems from 1993 and holy crap does it feel like a product of the time meeting all of the stereotypes of the comics from the time and living up to all that was bad during the time period.

I recognize that I come into the story four issues in so the story arc is well under way, but that’s part of the point of this column, not everything is going to be first issues.

The story involves Cable trying to find the Six Pack and eventually X-Force but first he has to fight G.W. Bridge who thinks is a sell-out for working with SHIELD. There’s also Kane making coffee and watching the fist fight.Then there’s Six Pack featuring Grizzly, Hammer, and Domino, plus there’s Copycat (remember her as fake Domino?) who are looking for Cable and X-Force.

Then there’s Six Pack featuring Grizzly, Hammer, and Domino, plus there’s Copycat (remember her as fake Domino?) who are looking for Cable and X-Force.There’s also this guy named Sinsear that I don’t remember at all being all villain in his secret base.

There’s also this guy named Sinsear that I don’t remember at all being all villain in his secret base.Eventually Cable catches up with the Wild Pack and Hammer attacks Cable for injuring him in the past. It’s the usual hero fighting hero before they team-up story.

Eventually, Cable catches up with the Wild Pack and Hammer attacks Cable for injuring him in the past. It’s the usual hero fighting hero before they team-up story.

Written by Fabian Nicieza, with Art Thibert, Rob Liefeld, Jim Reddington, Bill Wylie, and Scott Koblish all on art, Bart Sears provides the cover, Al Milgrom does inks, Marie Javins and Michael Thomas are colourists and Chris Eliopoulos is the letter. I think fewer people put a man in space than put this comic on the shelves.

From stunted dialogue to a choppy narrative I re-read this comic utterly baffled that I loved the comic when I was younger. What was I thinking that I enjoyed it? But, it also explains how I read so many comics so quickly back then if this is what they were all like. The action sequences are by the numbers laughable, such as Kane getting coffee for Cable and Bridge as the two men fight. There’s the by the numbers hero fights hero before coming to his senses. A bad guy disappears. Another bad guy looms in a secret base. I almost want to dig out the rest of the comics in this story arc to bask in the horribleness of it all.

cablevol1-4-cardfront

The best part of the comic? The trading card still inside it in perfect condition and when I saw it the existence of them came rushing back to me… ah memories. There’s also some retro ads that are amazing like an X-Men/Pizza Hut tie-in (have it!) and a Stridex tie-in (have it too!).

This was “of the time,” I’ll go with that. At the time, it was so cool (ah 14 year old me), but today, holy crap is it bad. Laughable dialogue, inconsistent art (Cable’s hair!!!), and predictable sequences all abound. It’s x-treme and with pouches galore! We’re past this as an industry and reading this, so happy we’ve come to our senses.

Story: Fabian Nicieza Art: Art Thibert, Rob Liefeld, Jim Reddington, Bill Wylie, and Scott Koblish Inks: Al Milgrom Colors: Marie Javins and Michael Thomas
Letters: Chris Eliopoulos Cover: Bart Sears
Story: 2 Art: 3 Overall: 2.5 Recommendation: Pass

Fantagraphics Launches a New Superhero Universe with All Time Comics

atc-1-crime-destroyer-1-jim-rugg-cover-2From Fantagraphics comes All Time Comics, a shared superhero universe featuring the world’s most fanta*stic heroes. Atlas! Blind Justice! Bullwhip! Crime Destroyer!

Each issue of All Time Comics features a mash-up of new cartoonists and classic comic book creators collaborating with writer Josh Bayer to unleash superhero stories that no other publisher would dare to publish: a stunning series of six comic books featuring startling stand alone, interconnected adventures chock-full of retro crime fighting. The launch title, All Time Comics: Crime Destroyer #1, is a 36 page oversized spectacular featuring the wonderful writing of Josh Bayer, the irresistible inks of Ben Marra, and the last art by legendary artist Herb Trimpe, who co-created Wolverine. The first issue also features covers by acclaimed cartoonists Jim Rugg and Johnny Ryan. Upcoming issues of All Time Comics feature art by Rick Buckler, Ben Marra, Al Milgrom, Noah Van Sciver, and more.

All Time Comics is the joint venture of the Bayer brothers: Josh Bayer, an underground comics artist and teacher, and acclaimed mainstream director Samuel Bayer, who launched his career 25 years ago with Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video.

atc-1-crime-destroyer-1-johnny-ryan-cover-2In addition to featuring the last art by Wolverine co-creator Herb Trimpe, All Time Comics features the first work of veteran artist and industry legend Al Milgrom since 2014.

All Time Comics is a shared superhero universe featuring four heroes: Atlas, Blind Justice, Bullwhip, and Crime Destroyer.

The oversized first issue of All Time Comics: Crime Destroyer issue 1 will retail for $4.99, and subsequent standard size issues will retail for $3.99.

Don’t miss the most talked about superhero event not published by a corporate conglomerate when the adventures of the world’s most fanta*stic heroes begin in March 2017!

Check out the full creative teams for the comics below.


All Time Comics: Crime Destroyer #1

Josh Bayer (story); Herb Trimpe (pencils); Ben Marra (inks); Jim Rugg (cover) + Johnny Ryan (cover); MARCH 2017

crime-destroyer-pg-1-rgbAll Time Comics: Bullwhip #1

Josh Bayer (story); Ben Marra (pencils); Al Milgrom (inks); Das Pastoras (cover) + Tony Millionaire (cover); APRIL 2017

All Time Comics: Atlas #1

Josh Bayer (story); Ben Marra (story, pencils, inks); Das Pastoras (cover); MAY 2017

All Time Comics: Blind Justice #1

Josh Bayer (story and pencils); Rick Buckler (pencils); Al Milgrom (inks); Victor Martinez (cover); JUNE 2017

All Time Comics: Crime Destroyer #2

Josh Bayer (story); Ben Marra (story, pencils, inks); Das Pastoras (cover); JULY 2017

All Time Comics: Blind Justice #2

Josh Bayer (story); Ben Marra (story); Noah Van Sciver (pencils); Al Milgrom (inks); Das Pastoras (cover); AUGUST 2017

 

Have Them Fight God: Magneto Without A Cause

I’m reading every Fantastic Four comic and posting four thoughts about each.

Or at least, I should be, but here on Graphic Policy an unfortunate counting error has caused the project to start with Tom DeFalco’s Fantastic Five miniseries from 1999. I feel such a silly goose. Too late to go back and fix it now, I suppose. The only way out is through.  

That series was part of the ‘MC2‘, an alternate universe set sixteen years into Marvel’s future, and so before we can even get to it, we’re looking at every prior appearance of the Fantastic Five in that universe. Thus far we’ve considered What If? #105, Spider-Girl #3 and A-Next #5.

Today it’s…

J2: The Son of the Original Juggernaut #6

J26 jpg

…from March 1999. Another comic in which the FF only appear on a screen in the background for one panel. It’s all important context, though. A new Age of Heroes has dawned and, in this issue, it finds its first critic.

ONE

Franklin Richards, a mutant, is the most popular boy in the world. He’s the non-threatening heartthrob of a generation. Usually at Marvel there’s an interesting tension to that sort of thing.

Avengers #400, to pick one of a million examples, has a crowd wild with enthusiasm for the World’s Mightiest Heroes. They’re cheering and chanting about the virtues of the Avengers, and two particular virtues they’ve identified are that they’re not like those creepy mutant teams and that “they’re our kinda people.”

The Scarlet Witch, both a mutant and an Avenger, begins to express discomfort with receiving praise on those terms. The Vision shushes her. “It hardly matters, Wanda” he says, and helpfully goes on to explain that humanity comes from the soul. “We’re all one race; The human race” is a typically Avengersy stance.

That the crowds cheer for superheroes but persecute mutants is something that a lot of readers find awkward about the Marvel Universe, but it seems to me to be one of the very few things about “the mutant metaphor” that totally works as a metaphor. This is a thing that happens. Our culture habitually selects a few individuals from any group we’re oppressing, raises them to celebrity status, and declares them to be National Treasures. The process offers us the emotional reward of not feeling like we’re oppressing the group (because, look… we love that National Treasure) while also bolstering the logic by which we oppress the group (we love that National Treasure because they are exceptional). It’s an old and sneaky trick, and some people get very cross when the likes of Beyonce stop listening to the likes of the Vision and find ways to disrupt it.

Franklin Richards doesn’t have to bother though. In the MC2 universe that he has inherited then the persecution of the fictional minority to which he belongs seems to have stopped. We know this came about through the “efforts and sacrifices” of the X-Men but we’re otherwise light on details. Regardless, halfway through the MC2’s first year as an imprint then this universe has been established as one where all that nasty business has been sorted out.

That might change. This book’s contemporary, Mutant X, presented a different alternate universe where anti-mutant prejudice was over, only to eventually realise that it didn’t know how to tell mutant stories without it. Mutant X swiftly retconned itself to say that, in fact, anti-mutant prejudice was rife, and that our protagonist just hadn’t noticed it because he was busy. The MC2 might end up doing the same somewhere along the line. I don’t know. I just know that if it does, it won’t be as believable as with Mutant X because the MC2’s protagonist isn’t Alex Summers.

Until that day comes, Jubilee’s X-People seem to be keeping themselves busy by fighting crime. We know from dialogue in J2 #4 that the X-People are not continuous with the X-Men. They are not what the X-Men have evolved into. The X-Men have not re-branded. The X-Men have disbanded. And then Jubilee has formed the X-People. To what ends, exactly, is unclear. We know from J2 #2 that they’re responsible for foiling the get-rich-quick schemes of Enthralla, the Niece of the Original Mastermind, and in this issue they’re listed as part of a category of reactive crimefighters. Based on everything we’ve seen, they have no distinctive mission beyond ‘superhero.’

If there’s no distinct role in the MC2 universe for the X-Men, can there be one for a Magneto figure? Magneta, All-New Mistress of Magnetism, certainly hopes so. Otherwise she’s kind of redundant. She really doesn’t want that. Magneta’s the antagonist on this issue and has “dreams of power and glory” that are dependant on her being the Magneto of her generation.

J2, the Son of the Original Juggernaut, questions her on this. He’s fairly unconvinced that his generation needs a Magneto and the strength of his feelings tells us a lot about how the last generation’s Magneto has been remembered.  

“Why pattern yourself after one of the greatest super-villains of all time?” asks the kid dressed as the supervillain who, in 1991, destroyed the World Trade Centre and stood cackling delightedly amidst the carnage. Magneta makes a half-hearted effort at suggesting he might be coming from a somewhat compromised position, but the scene bustles us along past it. The weight of the story is behind the guy dressed as the Juggernaut being the voice of reason when he tells off the woman dressed as Magneto for taking on the identity of “as mass murderer.” Public acceptance of mutants clearly hasn’t come with any reevaluation of Magneto’s radicalism. If anything, this suggests that whoever wrote the history books hardened the line. In J2’s world, Magneto is remembered simply as a monster.

Magneta thinks differently. Her stance is that he was “a victim of poor press management.” She might be onto something there. The one time we’ve seen Magneto make use of a PR specialist, in Kieron Gillen’s Uncanny X-Men run, then she turned out to be Mister Sinister in disguise. That’s not ideal. So far, the facts bear Magneta out.

“Many of his ideas and ideals are quite admirable when stripped of his usual arrogant rhetoric” she goes on to say. Again, uncontroversial. Jay and Miles Xplain the X-Men sell a very amusing t-shirt to that effect. But then she runs into trouble.

Magneta is arguing for herself as a new Magneto and has identified that Magneto’s ideas have something to offer. Okay, but what do they have to offer in a world where mutants aren’t being oppressed? Depending on how much you want to engage with, and how you want to parse, the mutant metaphor then that’s a question that’s certainly eminently answerable in its terms. But that’s not where Magneta goes with it.      

Up on a screen she displays pictures of all the MC2 heroes we have met so far. They all make the same mistake, she tells us. And that mistake is that “they always allow the criminal to make the first move, and only respond after some outrage has been committed. Her plan is to form “a super-team of like-minded individuals — a Brotherhood of Proactive Heroes — who will strike at anyone we regard as a threat!”

This is both remarkable and unremarkable. Contrasting the traditional values of superheroes with the values of the more gung ho types that crashed through your walls in the early nineties Image boom was, by Nineteen Ninety-Nine, a conversation that was well under way, and Nineteen Ninety-Six’s Kingdom Come had already established that alternate futures like the MC2 were the ideal place to stage it. This conversation was under way, but it was far from over; a couple of months before this comic was published then Stormwatch had been destroyed by Aliens, and a couple of months after this comic was published they would return as the Authority. More than one nearby universe would get precisely the Brotherhood of Proactive Heroes that Magneta called for.

The remarkable bit is the idea that this might be Magneto’s legacy. Something that is nothing to do with identity or resistance but just tips on how to catch criminals. That the notions of his that have value are those that are applicable to the business of being a costumed crimefighter. Both the person arguing for and the person arguing against Magneto have no concept of there being any political context for his actions. It’s strikingly absent from either of their considerations. 

The world in which Franklin has entered adulthood is one where being a mutant has been depoliticised, and already we can see how that’s distorted its cultural memory.

TWO

Magneta has a context in which she sees herself. She is, she announces, “the most powerful of the new generation of heroes!” The MC2 characters are developing a sense of themselves as a group. They know that something’s changed. They know that their synchronous emergence is a thing.

She defines that group by displaying them all on her wall o’ monitors.

wall o monitors

There they all are. The Avengers. The X-People. The Fantastic Five. Darkdevil. Whatever the Doctor Strange analogue was called. Spider-Girl. And seeing them all there together like that really brings home what DeFalco’s done, the extent to which this new generation is a recapitulation of the Silver Age. Seeing them all assembled together for the first time truly explicates what the MC2 is. It can sneak past you when you’re just seeing successive introductions of new versions of old concepts, but when you put them together like that then the big picture is clear.

The MC2 is a new start for the Marvel universe because it’s a re-enactment of the start of the Marvel universe. It’s not just a new generation. It’s specifically a new Sixties.

Last week we talked about exactly this happening in 1602. How, in Gaiman’s story then the introduction of Captain America to Ye Olden Days caused Ye Olden Days to contort themselves into the shape of Marvel’s Silver Age. To extrude analogues of its characters.

Since this is a Fantastic Four project then we might be a little grumpy at the notion of Captain America being the trigger for a Silver Age, but I’m afraid that’s what it says. I checked.

What about in the MC2 though? The fiction’s pretend material history offers no explanations within its bounds for why the Silver Age is repeating itself, so we can only assume that a process similar to 1602’s narrative causality is at work. One retro-snowball has caused this retro avalanche, but which?

Looking at the sequence of these characters emergences sends us cascading backwards. In Spider-Girl’s first story we learn that her superheroic debut is pre-existed by the X-People, the Fantastic Five and the new Avengers. Later events will make it clear that Darkdevil was also on the scene before her. A-Next establishes that the X-People beat the new Avengers to formation, and that that Doctor Strange analogue has been around for a while too.

The Fantastic Five are not a viable trigger for the start of this new Age, since they never went away, but perhaps whatever mysterious catastrophe they have undergone is. Something as yet undiscussed has happened to the team to put Sue out of the picture, put Reed in a cute little robot body, and put metal bits on Ben. Perhaps that mysterious disaster constituted the end of the age they began and prompted the commencement of this one.  

Failing that, then the internal chronology seems to leave the Doctor Strange analogue as the first of the new heroes. That might be interesting, given the antagonistic relationship A-Next has shown him to have with his predecessor. The actual Doctor Strange got fired from the Sorcerer Supreme gig! I sort of love that. If we had more to go on, it would be a lot of fun to consider the two magicians as representatives of two different magical epochs and to account for the two Silver Ages in terms of what they represent. We might keep an eye on that.         

Based on what we have got now though, I think our best bet is to take another close look at What If? #105. No active superheroes are mentioned, shown, or otherwise evidenced anywhere in the comic until May learns of her legacy. As soon as she has…SUPERHEROES EVERYWHERE! It seems most likely that the MC2’s reality has warped around Spider-Girl in the same way 1602’s warped around Rogers.  

THREE

Or it could just be dynasty.

Magneta has got Magneto’s powers, costume, and hair but no apparent personal connection to the chap himself. She’s the new Magneto because she’s mysteriously acquired sufficiently attributes of Magneto-ness and adopted ‘Magneta’ as what she calls her “nom de costume.” Magneta is unusual. Most of the MC2’s analogues have some personal connection to their predecessor.

The Fantastic Four is a family saga, but rarely a dynastic one.

Certainly there have been attempts to interest us in other generations. Sometimes ancestors, sometimes descendants, sometimes ancestors who have time-travelled to the future and sometimes descendants who have time-travelled to the past. It doesn’t matter so long as they’re all called ‘Nathaniel.’ But for all that, the focus is always on Reed and Sue’s generation.

The utterly wonderful Fantastic Four 100th Anniversary Special illustrates the point well. Purporting to be an artefact from forty-seven years ahead of its publication, its recap page gets up up to speed with who the FF will be by then…   

special

Fantasic Four: 100th Anniversary Special #1

We don’t get to spend much time with these kids. We get a fabulous story about Sue and Valeria that I wouldn’t trade for anything, but… damn, I kind of want to know if Vicky and Kirby are gonna kiss again.

But Fantastic Four will never be about Vicky and Kirby. It’s only towards the very end of Fantastic Four, in the Millar and Hickman runs, that Franklin and Valeria finally became viable protagonists.

Here and now, in the MC2, the Fantastic Five stand as part of this “New Generation of Heroes.” Four out of the five of them are from the previous generation.

Elsewhere, there has been a succession and it has mostly been a dynastic one. The new team of Avengers consists of Thunderstrike’s son as Thunderstike, Scott Lang’s daughter as a bug-themed hero, the Juggernaut’s son as J2, and a robot that Tony Stark built (I don’t know if robots that Tony builds count as his children, but I bet that’s explored somewhere). The Spider-Girl comic’s tagline is “the daughter of the true Spider-Man!” which even sounds like a genealogical claim being asserted to oust some pretender from the throne.

A-Next’s ‘Kooky Quartet’ characters inherit their roles by more circuitous routes. The American Dream is the niece of Sharon Carter, who is the niece of Peggy Carter. Association with the person of Captain America is obviously passed along the line of nieces. The Crimson Curse, the Scarlet Witch figure, isn’t the daughter of the Scarlet Witch, but is the daughter of Agatha Harkness, her mentor. Even where the relationship between these characters and their predecessors isn’t quite one of linear descent, it’s still all in the family.

Also, the new Avengers’ reserve member, Coal Tiger, is the son of the Black Panther. We might expect them to act like a royal family, I suppose, since they are one. What’s everyone else’s excuse?

The mainstream Marvel and DC universes have long had to negotiate the fact that they have two broad generations of heroes in their stories, the Golden Age and Silver Age characters. Marvel cheerfully started integrating Nineteen-Forties characters into their universe from Fantastic Four #4 on, while DC have gone back and forth on whether or not their Golden Age and Silver Age characters exist in the same reality or if old people are from another universe. As I write, another swing of that pendulum is scheduled for the end of this month.

On the occasions when the DC universe does house both its ‘forties and ‘sixties casts then there’s a further tension. How is the succession to work? How bound are these roles to the bloodlines of their originators? That’s a massively complex question over there. James Robinson’s Starman gets well over eighty issues worth of drama out of interrogating the intersection of the Knight family and the Starman identity.

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Starman #One Million

Sometimes you’re Black Canary because your mother was. Sometimes you’re Wonder Woman because your daughter was. Sometimes you’re Wonder Woman because your daughter was but then you then went back in time to be Wonder Woman before her. The late nineties and early two-thousands were a wild time for this sort of thing at DC. A reader could readily observe the push and pull between people who thought it’d be cool if Hourman was a colony of intelligent machines apprenticed to a New God and people who thought it would be more cool if Hourman was some generic bloke called Rick, because Rick was the son of the true Hourman.

It is a complex question at DC because it is one with huge implications.

Generation One have titles and powers. The two are associated.

Generation Two have titles and powers, again associated.

How that association of powers and titles is transmitted from one to the other is a big deal. Making those associations and managing their transmission is literally how Rome gets a line of Emperors without formally having Emperors. That’s what defines what a Roman Emperor is and this potentially tells us a lot about what a ‘superhero’ is too. It makes a huge difference to what has been created, within the fiction, when one creates a superhero identity if it’s established as the natural norm for you to have just instituted a dynastic inheritance. It colours any response to the question of how superheroes relate to their power if one of the things they’re expected to do with it is pass it on to their kids.  

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Starman #One Million

This isn’t as inextricable a concern for Marvel as it is for DC. Marvel might tie themselves up in a muddle of retcons as to what exactly the Vision has to do with the Golden Age Human Torch, but it never has to worry about whether or not he’s the son of Marvex the Super-Robot. Whatever relationships may be established between Marvel’s ‘forties and ‘sixties characters, there’s rarely a sense that they share identities to an extant that demands an explanation.

When DC’s ‘forties characters became superheroes, did they found dynasties? Um, it’s complicated. On the days when they exist, then some certainly did.

When Marvel’s ‘forties characters became superheroes, did they found dynasties? No, they categorically did not.

Which makes it interesting when Marvel imagines futures for itself. When it imagines a Generation Three. Because then it has to ask if its ‘sixties characters founded dynasties. If they did what their predecessors did not and made the imperial move when they associated titles with powers.

The MC2’s answer is a definite yes.

They’re not the only ones at it. One of the back-up stories in this issue is an adventure for Wild Thing, the daughter of the original Wolverine.      

FOUR

Here are the credits for this issue –

givethedonkey

“This line was always aimed at a mass market beyond the comic book stores,” Tom DeFalco told the comicboards forum in 2004. It was aimed at “the K-Marts and Targets of the world.”

As we saw when we looked at Universal’s Islands of Adventure, this is what Marvel does in the late nineties. When it reaches outside the direct market, it presents itself as a retro brand. A pastiche of how Stan Lee books were presented in the Nineteen Sixties is what theme park visitors and K-Mart shoppers are thought to be looking for. It’s not clear if they’re expected to recognise the specific reference points for these hokey bits of bullpen buffoonery, but they’re expected to recognise this material as ‘old timey.’

Marvel were publishing two alternate futures in Nineteen Ninety-nine. The project aimed at the direct market, Earth X, traded off the solemnity of Alex Ross pseudo-realism. Readers in the loop were to be sold an idea that ‘Marvel Comics’ are something terribly, terribly serious with the authentic air of adulthood that can only come from all the characters looking like random middle-aged blokes. Meanwhile, the product aimed at the people outside the circle sold an idea of ‘Marvel Comics’ as a happy relic of simpler times. Both were extreme strategies.

The strategy for how the MC2 books were to be sold was a nifty one. Three titles, A-Next, J2 and Spider-Girl, would run in the direct market for a year. Then, when their time was up, they’d be replaced with three new titles on on the comic shop shelves. The twelve issues of each launch title that existed would then be bagged up and sold in the mainstream outlets in packs of four, six or twelve. The process would then repeat, with the second wave of titles enjoying their one year of life before making their way in turn to k-mart’s bundles.  

That’s not how it turned out though. A-Next and J2 made it to their allotted twelve issues according to plan, but Spider-Girl made no sense to cancel. So only two new books were introduced in the second wave, Wild Thing and Fantastic Five, and neither made it past their fifth issue. The K-Mart and Target deals had fallen through, and we were spared the strangeness of a continuation of DeFalco’s Hyperstorm saga being presented as an ideal way in to comics.  

I wonder how study those retailer deals were looking when this issue was written, as there’s a paranoid note to many of the frequent metafictional lines of dialogue. “I will be surprised if they survive a full year” says Magneta of the A-Next Avengers, obviously aware that that’s the specific finish line they’re racing to. She’s not sure about the branding either, telling J2 that his battlecry is “a little too Silver Age for today’s audience.”

Gone is the confidence we saw in Spider-Girl that this fictional universe can stand on its own rather than in relation to someone else’s. J2 begins his opening monologue with “In case you’re new to this particular plane of reality…” and so from the moment we begin to engage with this issue’s world, we’re asked to take a step back and remember that it is just one of many. Even to our viewpoint character, his reality is only provisional.

Then a flying car shows up and someone says “we must be living in someone’s future!”

With that, the MC2 characters abandon their claim to their own present. The world in which they live isn’t their now. It’s someone else’s future. It belongs to those someones and they just live in it. The line asserts that this world derives its meaning from its relation to another. Of the five characters who speak in this story, three of them make moves to downplay the extent to which the MC2 universe matters.

While the way in which the dialogue and the branding address the reader is often confused, J2 is a comic very certain as to whose needs its main character is to serve.

DeFalco’s teenagers are all about the nerd/jock binary. Spider-Girl’s social problems arise from her being equally successful in both groups and having to deal with the fallout of constantly crossing the streams. J2 offers the more traditional power fantasy of a nerd who is, secretly, bigger and stronger than all those mean jocks that pick on him. This is complicated by race. As Zane Yama, our hero experiences life as the son of his Asian mother. As J2 he experiences life as the son of his white father. The way this interacts with the standard male empowerment fantasy isn’t something the comic yet seems prepared to talk about out loud.

What it is really hyped to talk about is how J2 feels about large men. The comic appears to offer the consolatory pleasure of letting young men who feel disempowered imagine how cool it would be if you could transform into what it terms a “beef muffin.” Then you’d show them, you’d show them all.

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That Charles Atlas Ad

There’s a lot of that about. But what makes J2 interesting is that it runs with the idea that even if you did suddenly change from the kid who gets sand kicked in his face to the hero of the beach, you’d probably retain negative associations with large men.

J2 is a comic about a weedy kid who can transform into a large man, but is really, really unsure how he feels about large men. The primary relationship the book keeps returning to is between J2 and his Flash Thompson figure. His every night is filled with terrifying dreams of his enormous father looming over him in pursuit. One issue of J2 is an expansion of a scene in A-Next that exists so we can watch him bond with the Incredible Hulk. He is terrified of his own naked body.

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Panels from J2 #1

To the standard, if racially inflected, power fantasy and been added bucketfuls of paranoia and ambivalent sexual anxiety. If you could turn into a beef muffin, this book tells its hero, I’m afraid that would not resolve all your feelings about beef muffins.

This issue is about J2’s feelings towards women though. “Sure, I know some major lookers.” he complains,  “But they usually ignore me — or shove me into the best friend/faithful confidant role. There’s gotta be a girl for me somewhere!”

The character’s friendzone narrative is somewhat challenged by the story, since it turns out that when women do make advances towards him that doesn’t resolve all his feelings about women. But only somewhat. We’re still expected to have some sympathy for his viewpoint by the end. As I say, this comic has a very clear idea of the sort of person it was addressing, even if it was unsure of how to reach them outside of comic shops.

Have Them Fight God: The Second Time Doom was Santa

I’m reading every Fantastic Four comic and posting four thoughts about each.  This one’s a little dry at the start, to be honest, but I promise we’ll all be having fun by the end.

Today it’s…

A-Next #5

cover

… supposedly from February 1998, but since it’s a Christmas issue I wouldn’t be at all surprised if you told me that cover date was a tissue of lies. This is the comic in which the MC2 begins to directly sequalise material from Tom DeFalco’s Fantastic Four run.

Words/Plot/Pencils by Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz. Finishes by Al Milgrom. Letters by Dave Sharpe. Colours by Bob Sharen.

GLOSSARY

The MC2:  A Tom DeFalco-written late nineties imprint. It dealt with a new generation of Marvel heroes and, with its fresh start and its gestures at Silver Age storytelling, offered relief from the hellscape of narrative convolution and misapplied EXTREME aesthetics that had constituted much of mid-nineties Marvel.

Tom DeFalco’s Fantastic Four Run: A  hellscape of narrative convolution and misapplied EXTREME aesthetics such as constituted much of mid-nineties Marvel.

ONE

Across the three MC2 launch books, Spider-Girl, A-Next and J2: The Son of the Original Juggernaut, DeFalco constructed a new future for the Marvel universe. As we saw in What If? #105 and Spider-Girl #3 then this universe came to exist on the scale it did because of a creative drive towards worldbuilding, while many of its eccentricities came to exist because of the areas where DeFalco resisted that drive. From the perspective of Spider-Girl, we’ve looked at the culture and society of the America that Spider-Girl inhabits. This comic lets us go bigger.

How does this new world work on a global level? How do the Great Houses of the Superheroes relate to each other, to their governments, and to international political institutions? Now we’ve got an idea of what this world is like, we need to have a think about who’s in charge.How does power work around here? Where are the swells who run this show?

A-Next #3 provides a case study in exactly that by showing us how the international and superheroic establishment deals with one specific humanitarian crisis; the reconstruction of Latveria.

Let’s briefly run through the agencies involved:

Doctor Doom was the former monarch of Latveria. He disappeared several years ago, following the horrific devastation of his kingdom.   

Namor was the one who devastated Latveria. Typical. Absolutely typical. In A-Next #3 this ‘devastation’ was presented as having been a massacre, but this issue paints him less harshly. Here it just seems that the infrastructure of the country got smashed up a bit in a scrap between him and Doom.

Whatever it was Namor did, it caused him to regrow his hair and beard to his old soup kitchen look, team some frayed green rags with some jumbo gold accessories and mope around the coast of Hawaii in a big smelly sulk. Or, as he puts it, “alone with my torment.”

A-Next #3 saw him brought out of this torpor by Doctor Strange, who employed a moderately complex series of psychological manipulations to “prod Namor back into proactivity.” We often see Strange take on the role of Namor’s therapist, sometimes even with Namor’s consent, but his actions seem ill advised here. If literally the last proactive thing someone did was destroy a country then I’m not sure I’d have returning that person to proactivity at the top of my To Do list of unsolicited meddling. Nevertheless, Namor doesn’t do anything in the issue at hand. I just mention this stuff because it’s fun.     

SHIELD appear here in two aspects; As peacekeeping troops on the ground and as an agency capable of calling in superheroes to act on their behalf. They are either maintaining a persistent presence in post-Namor Latveria or have gone there on a specific mission to look for one missing child. The first seems the more plausible but you never know.

The United Nations is the framework through which the world powers are approaching the Latverian reconstruction, seemingly ineffectively. The UN is described as having been “bickering over it for years, debating the best way to rebuild.”

The Great Houses now all stand active. We know little yet of ‘the X-People’ except that members seem to be able to move freely between them and the Avengers, so they are likely not considered a criminal organisation. The Fantastic Five have remained continuously operational since they were the Fantastic Four. A new team calling themselves ‘The Avengers’  has formed and been legitimised as indeed being the actual Avengers by dint of the approval of the old team’s butler and the nonprofit that funded them. Their relationship to the state has yet to be formalised, all official Avengers clearances having long expired according to A-Next #2.

The US government has an interest in Latveria evidenced by its tight control over the conditions under which its citizens may travel there. It is implicitly one of the parties using “the poor country [as] a political football.”

Those are our players.  How do they relate to each other, how do they interact, and how do those interactions shape the response to the Latveria situation?

SHIELD is always slippery. Dependant on the needs of the story, it swings between being an international organisation and being subject to unilateral whims of the US executive. We should never take for granted that we know what SHIELD is, what they’re doing, or who they work for. Even before you start using the concept to tell stories about conspiracies, infiltrators and inter-agency rivalries, SHIELD is a conceptual muddle due to successive writers treating ‘the US’ and ‘some vague notion of a world government’ as effectively interchangeable. The version in the films, for example, ends up as a  global organisation where nobody minds the ‘H’ standing for ‘Homeland.’

Their connection to the UN is probably the most useful thing to watch, and there are a few clues here as to how that connection works in the MC2. The request for the Fantastic Five to intervene in Latveria is made by “the UN and SHIELD” which suggests a functional distinction; A request from one is not automatically understood to be a request from the other. We also see that the UN is capable of putting restrictions on SHIELD, who are permitted to operate in Latveria but not to go near the spooky ruins of Doom’s castle. That particular restriction is telling as it seems to come not from a concern for the safety of SHIELD personnel but from a desire to stop them obtaining the castle’s dark secrets. The picture we come away with is that SHIELD aren’t understood as a fully integrated arm of the United Nations but that they act in concert, are subject to their authority, and are not entirely trusted by them. The dark secrets of Castle Doom can’t be protected by having them taken into SHIELD custody. The dark secrets of Castle Doom can only be protected by keeping SHIELD away.

How do these organisations interface with superheroes? Well, the thing that obligates the Fantastic Five to act is that they were asked to directly by “the big guy.” That could mean anyone, I suppose, but contextually it makes most sense that it be the Director of SHIELD. It’s written as if the reader is supposed to know who this big guy is, and ‘the director of SHIELD’ is the slot which we immediately have a ‘big guy’ character in mind to fill. So SHIELD can exert a level of compulsion on the Fantastic Five. That they have been asked means that they have to go.

They don’t though. They pass the mission on to the new Avengers at their request. That needs squaring, certainly, but not with SHIELD. The Fantastic Five need to have the transfer of the mission to the Avengers approved by the UN. It’s one organisation that mandated the mission, but another with whom the details must be resolved.    

One further authority needs to give their approval; the US Government. They have a stipulation. They’ll only allow the mission if the American Dream is part of the team that goes. At this point the motivations and position on the team of Shannon Carter, the American Dream, are still a source of mystery and drama. So it’s unclear to the reader why the US are adamant that she must be deployed. Are they briefing her and she reporting to them? Or is it merely for propagandistic value? We don’t know. We just know that the Avengers can’t go to Latveria unless someone goes with them dressed in the US flag.

The Avengers, who have still to arrive at a sense of their overall mission, have no shared interest in Latveria. One of them is motivated by the financial opportunity; a successful mission there would enhance their reputations in ways that could be commercially exploited. Another is concerned for the individual child whose disappearance prompted the mission. One, the Avenger who requested the mission, is using it as a pretext to get into Latveria, something she’s been trying to do for years. ‘The Avengers’ here is an entity that acts as a single agency but shares no common purpose.

The Fantastic Five’s common purpose, under its new leadership, remains ambiguous. The real function of the FF is always to meet the emotional needs of its members, but its strategy for doing so necessitates more outward-looking mission statements. The FF are the FF so they can be the FF, but to be the FF they need something to do all day. How, in the MC2, do they keep themselves busy?

We’re no closer here to answering that than we were in Spider-Girl #3, but at least here we get a sense of what the Fantastic Five consider the limits of their sphere of interest. According to their leader there is “no good reason” for the FF to go to Latveria as “No way is Doom back.” That’s the circumstance that would make their involvement appropriate. The search for the missing child and the wider plight of the Latverian people are taken to be inappropriate organisational concerns for the Fantastic Five.      

So, acting on Latveria we’ve got individual governments operating through the United Nations, a SHIELD that’s answerable to the UN but understood as an interest in it’s own right, and the superheroic Great Houses who have no real agenda but are willing to act at the behest of the UN/SHIELD and answer to their own governments.

We’ve also got a figure who, for now, we’ll call Santa Claus.  

Santa Claus is the one person in the story in possession of all the information. Towards the end of the issue he asks the Avengers a question. “Do you know why the politicians have not rushed to rebuild Latveria?” he asks.

He answers his own question by revealing a dark secret. But it is illuminating that that question needs a dark secret to answer it, because that presupposes that without one the world’s politicians would have rushed to rebuild Latveria. Foreign powers wouldn’t just have rebuilt a nation levelled by Namor the Sub-Mariner, they’d have rushed to do so. They’d have been keen as mustard.  Sadly we don’t get much evidence as to why they’d have been in such a rush, be it from altruism, to stabilise the region, to cash in on construction contracts, or to mitigate a refugee crisis, because they didn’t. Because of the dark secret.

Castle Doom is full of Doom’s “nightmarish weapons of mass destruction” and everyone wants a bit of that action. It’s also full of Doombots though, all set to ‘patrol/destroy intruders’ mode. The interested powers are all waiting for the Doombots to run out of batteries so that they can divide the spoils. Latveria’s reconstruction has not begun because the world’s governments are waiting for killer robots to run out of batteries.   

The MC2 presents a Silver Age face to the world – the first page of A-Next’s first issue cautioned us not to turn it over unless we felt “FULLY PREPARED TO EMBARK ON THE WILDEST THRILL RIDE IN THE HISTORY OF COMICS!” – but a huge distinction between these comics and the comics they’re impersonating is to be found in how they view authority. The MC2 is a long way from Smilin’ Stan’s Cold War paternalism. People would be very quick to talk about how post-9/11 this comic was if it wasn’t from Nineteen Ninety-Eight.     

Power in the MC2, as it acts to prolong and to eventually resolve the situation in Latveria, is about self-interest, sentimentality, and waiting for Doombots to run out of batteries.

TWO

This issue’s cover promises a “Don’t blink appearance by the Fantastic Five!” That’s what we’re here for. Though the appearance is two pages long. By the standards of this project, that’s practically Cerberus. We’ll be back to looking at a silent one panel glimpse next week.

Those two pages are mostly given over to a conversation between Scott Lang and the character we’ve been told is now called John Storm. It’s our first clear look at John in his not-on-fire form., which we’d previously only seen for a couple of panels in Spider-Girl #3, where the colouring and lack of an introduction kind of made him look like Ozymandias.  

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Spider-Girl #3

While we now have a definitive visual for adult John Storm, one that’s had him change to a red costume and abandon his fleeting regal pretensions, what we still don’t have is any evidence of a single person in this universe ever calling him ‘John.’ He’s been ‘Johnny’ to everyone who has addressed him so far and is ‘Johnny’ here to Scott and ‘Uncle Johnny’ to Cassie Lang.

Then again, Scott here is ‘Scotty’ to both John and Ben. That’s unusual for Scott and unlike how we’ve previously seen those characters address him. It seems that the sixteen or so years between the DeFalco Fantastic Four run and the MC2 have seen a more relaxed affability develop between between the Fantastic Five and the Langs.

Relaxed affability is very much the tone of Johnny and Scotty’s conversation, as Scott wants to do a sort of “I can’t believe how much my little angel has grown” dadchat. Myself, I find it a little insensitive for him to be listing the Joys of Fatherhood at someone whose only child was a laser-powered alien egg, but Johnny seems happy enough to indulge it. He is visibly enjoying the conversation so perhaps his forestalled experience of fatherhood didn’t leave any scars. After all, his sister has never been seen to worry about that time she gave birth to a clutch of brain-eating parasites. The Storms, as a family, might just not be that stressed about occasionally begetting sinister eggs.     

John alludes to Peter Parker in a way that lets us know that they’ve been in touch and that Peter went for a similar dadchat. I really want to see the three of them down the pub together now.

PETEY: So, Scotty, how’s your daughter doing?

SCOTTY: Good, good. They grow up so fast don’t they? She’s a superhero now. Where do the years go, eh?

PETEY: Best not think about it.

SCOTTY: And how’s May?

PETEY: Good, good. They grow up so fast don’t they? She’s a superhero now.

SCOTTY: What about your little one, Johnny? Not so little now, I expect!

JOHN: Good, good. Still a laser-powered egg not spoken of since 1994. They grow up so fast don’t they?

SCOTTY: And how’re your sister’s three?

JOHN: Good, good. Yeah. Really good, yeah. Valeria still doesn’t exist in this continuity and the brain-eating parasite has still not been spoken of since 1981. They grow up so fast don’t they?

PETEY: Franklin still calling himself ‘Psi-Lord’?

JOHN: Yeah.

Also calling Franklin ‘Psi-lord’ is Lyja, his aunt. Just while they go about their day-to-day business around their home. ‘Psi-Lord’ she calls him. “Don’t strain yourself, Psi-lord!” she says.

Now, this sort of thing is perfectly normal in the Silver and Bronze Age styles that the MC2 books intermittently affect. When reading pre-Claremont X-Men material we’d be wasting our time stressing about why people are calling their family members by superhero names over breakfast. Pass the butter, Human Torch.That’s just how they live their lives. Even it if it seems weird to revisit after so many years of modern Marvel that read like…

CAPTAIN AMERICA: Tony?

IRON MAN: Steve.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: Tony.

IRON MAN: Steve.  

The reasons why the Fantastic Five are all talking to each other so impersonally in this comic are stylistic and expository. But the thing is… they’re all doing this off to the side in the same panel as the ongoing chat between Johnny and ‘Scotty.’

chatsThe contrast between the naturalism-lite of one conversation and the genre tropes of the other forces you to think about why these people might be calling each other these things.

Let’s run through them.

Ben is lifting a heavy object for Reed. This happens so often I honestly suspect that Reed occasionally constructs heavy objects for no reason other than for Ben to lift, that he may feel special and proud.

“My telekinesis will help lighten your load, Uncle Ben” says Franklin. The conversation then begins with use of given names set as the default. Whoever now uses anything else will be conspicuously breaking that precedent.   

“Don’t strain yourself, Psi-lord!” says Lyja. Whoa! Whoa, whoa, whoa! Formalising the mode of address at the same time as admonishing really turbo-charges the admonition. What’re you doing there, Lyja? What’s your relationship with your nephew like? It comes across as protective but weirdly hostile and I wish to learn more.

Once Lyja’s established that action names are the appropriate mode of address to use while lifting heavy objects, everyone else follows suit. Though Ben subverts it slightly by calling her ‘Ms Fantastic’ and Franklin ‘Franklin.’

Reed, who let us not forget is now a brain inside a little flying robot, says “Careful, Thing! That generator is very delicate!” which is typical Reed behaviour. It reads as fussier than normal though just because he’s now a little flying robot, buzzing about the place impotently. The shadow of C3P0 falls upon all fussy robots, and you’re as likely to read that line in his voice as any you’ve previously imagined for Reed. Also, there’s a new weight to hearing him urge caution and care given that we don’t yet know why Reed is a brain inside a robot or what life is like for him now.  

You can imagine it involves a real struggle to hang on to a sense of self. The climactic drama of the then-current Chris Claremont Fantastic Four run was Reed Richards’ fight to understand that he was still Richard Richards despite having to cosplay Doctor Doom for a bit. That proved difficult for him. In the Earth X continuity it proved impossible, as a different Reed fully became Doctor Doom while cosplaying him for different reasons. The late Nineties teemed with versions of Reed Richards forgetting that they were Reed Richards because they were wearing someone else’s clothes. I put it to you that caring for the mental health of a Reed Richards who is just a disembodied brain probably requires a delicate touch.

So, anyway, Ben addresses him as “Big Brain.”

This is his new action name. Big Brain. Its adoption at first seems like a terrible strategy. Abandoning the action name “Mister Fantastic” seems like conceding that you are no longer fantastic, and adopting any name other than your own at a point where you need to be reminded of who you are seems like emotional risk without prospect of reward. Everything about ‘Big Brain’ feels defeatist. Why would Reed call himself this, and why (when ‘Reed’ is still an acceptable alternative) would anyone else go along with it?  

Then you remember that Ben has always called Reed ‘Big Brain.’ And that’s what Reed, in his current circumstances, needs to hear. That something that was previously true about him  remains true. That something that was true about his friendship with Ben remains true. Reed needs something to connect the identity he has now with the identity he had before. What he’s using is his most stable relationship. Reed knows he is still himself because he is still who his best friend always said he was.  

THREE

History works differently for the Avengers.

Spider-Girl takes Amazing Spider-Man #418 as its starting point, rewrites it, and then imagines a future sixteen years hence. ‘The Fantastic Five’ takes Fantastic Four #414 and imagines the characters and concerns of that issue not being swept clean by Onslaught and Heroes Reborn, but rather continuing to matter for a further sixteen years. The FF and the Spider-Families get futures based on them having been allowed to progress invisibly forwards through time without a reset. Peter has been allowed to take off the costume and leave it off, without external market forces forcing him to fish it out of a dumpster. Ben, free of the pull that always snaps him back to his classic design, has been allowed to keep any metal bits he’s acquired.

Whatever Matt Murdock may get up to in main continuity then something will always happen to snap him back to being a Hell’s Kitchen lawyer. Come death or disbarment, there’ll always be something to eventually restore him to that status quo, no matter how vast a leap backwards must be made to reach that Point A from whatever Point C,D, or E he has advanced to.

In the MC2,  Matt Murdock has been allowed to die. He is now some sort of ghost who co-habits with the demon Zathros inside the body of Peter Parker’s clone’s son.

SCOTTY: And how’s the rest of the family?

PETEY: Good, good.  

 

Most MC2 characters we’ve met so far have histories that have been seen to function something like this:

  • Things happen.
  • Those things stay happened.
  • Subsequent things happen as a consequence.

This is a popular idea of how a reality might function. Many have even suggested that ours is a little bit like that. It’s unusual for superhero universes though.

And even in the MC2 it is not consistent. The FF and the Spider-Family might be inhabiting personal futures generated by supposing that their lives have ticked along sequentially from a given point, but the Avengers are not.        

The first, and least spooky, thing to note is that the Avengers have undergone a reset. The premise of A-Next is that the original Avengers disbanded ages ago, and now a new team have come together to give it whirl. The Avengers haven’t trundled along like the FF. This is a punctuated history.  

One effect of this is to make A-Next a sequel to a non-specific idea of ‘the Avengers’. Amazing Spider-Man #418 and Fantastic Four #414 are the effective end points of the Spider-Man and Fantastic Four to which Spider-Girl and Fantastic Five provide sequels, but there is no interest in being so precise here. This doesn’t “come after” the Avengers of the then current Busiek/Perez run. This doesn’t “come after” the pre-Heroes Reborn Avengers that were contemporaries of the departure points for Spidey and the FF. This just comes after ‘The Avengers.’ We’re not dealing with the legacy of a specific iteration. We’re dealing with the legacy of the concept. Events are not proceeding from previous events but from ideas.   

That has implications for the spookier way in which A-Next’s history works differently.

Nowadays we all think of Neil Gaiman’s 1602 miniseries as depicting an alternate universe. We’ve seen later miniseries set there. It’s got its own special number. It was part of Secret Wars IV. It’s an alternate universe, right?

Well, certainly. It is now.

But back when it was originally being promoted then Marvel were very keen for us to know that it was neither dream, hoax nor imaginary story but that the 1602 in which it was set was the actual honest-to-gosh 1602 of the main Marvel universe. The comic bears that out. Its conceit is that a Captain America from the future falls back into history and that his presence there distorts reality such as to cause it to grow its own Tudor versions of the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, Daredevil, Doctor Strange, et al. The addition of one element of Marvel’s superhero mythos to a different period causes that period to rewrite itself and produce its own version of the Silver Age.

That represents a conception of history on the other end of a spectrum from “things happen, those things stay happened, and then subsequent things happen as a result.” 1602’s 1602 doesn’t have a Matt Murdock because of a succession of material events within a universe but because reality has shaped itself to tell a story. In the work of Gaiman’s friend and collaborator Terry Pratchett this is called ‘narrative causality’, and narrative causality is a very apt description of the model 1602 proposes for superhero universes.     

Locked in Doom’s darkest dungeons, with no distractions and plenty of time to think, 1602’s Reed Richards rejects atoms as the fundamental constituents of his universe. He proposes ‘stories’ instead. “I posit we are in a universe which favours stories. A universe in which no story can ever truly end; in which there can be only continuances.”

This is a very superhero-specific version of narrative causality. In the universes where there’s a Granny Weatherwax then there’s no suggestion that the principle works to eternally prolong stories, only that it works to tell them. But in the universes where there’s a Reed Richards then a story is something with a beginning, a middle and a cosmological prohibition against ends.       

It’s a metafictional move, taking a fact that’s true about the fiction and asserting it as true within the fiction, but it is one almost necessitated by the strangeness of superhero narratives. Any conventional causal model would collapse if forced to account for Matt Murdock’s ability to revert to being a Hell’s Kitchen lawyer whenever required, but a model that can account for that being the natural resting point of his story is onto a winner.

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1602 #7

It is materially possible for Ben to stop being a monster, but the reality of narrative trumps the illusion of materiality.

Back in the MC2, our new Avengers are tightly in the grip of narrative causality. Reforming the Avengers is causing the Avengers story to retell itself through them. Jubilee and Speedball are supposed to be members of the team according to what we saw in What If? #105, but when A-Next #1 tells the story of the team’s formation then they are quickly dropped and the continuity fudged, so that the new founding members are analogues of the Hulk, Iron Man, Thor and Ant Man/The Wasp (Stinger covers both of those). The story literally rearranges itself in from of our eyes so that these founders can directly correspond to the founders of the Nineteen Sixty-three team.

“Stories etch grooves deep enough for people to follow in the same way that water follows certain paths down a mountainside. And every time fresh actors tread the path of the story, the groove runs deeper” writes Pratchett in Witches Abroad. “Stories don’t care who takes part in them. All that matters is that the story gets told, that the story repeats. Or, if you prefer to think of it like this: stories are a parasitical life form, warping lives in the service only of the story itself.”

And A-Next’s Avengers continued to follow the Silver Age team’s groove downhill to ‘Cap’s Kooky Quartet’…  

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…Where the A-Next founders are displaced by analogues of the Quicksilver, the Scarlet Witch and Hawkeye, all summoned into being by the same logic that caused the Elizabethan age to grow a Matt Murdock. Add Captain America to 1602 and that’s how history responds. Reform the Avengers in the MC2 and this is how history responds. By reshaping lives to fit the patterns.  

Somewhere laughing at all this is the God that the 1963 Avengers formed to fight. The same God that the A-Next Avengers, in their cycle of the pattern, formed to fight. The God that always makes them Avengers.

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Loki: Agent of Asgard #13

FOUR

Where things get interesting is where the MC2’s idea of history as continuous lived experience intersects with the MC2’s idea of history as repeated patterns subject to narrative causality. Where the world that’s a linear continuation of the Fantastic Four intersects with the world that’s a cyclical retelling of the Avengers. The name for that intersection is ‘Cassie Lang.’

The Cassie Lang of the MC2 is a superhero called Stinger. I’ve got people in my ear right now telling me that the Cassie Lang in the current main Marvel continuity is also a superhero called Stinger. That sounds fascinating in terms of pre-existing patterns imposing themselves on lives, but sadly I think that happened after Secret Wars IV and so is outside the bounds of the comics that Have Them Fight God considers. I ask that this paragraph be stricken from the record.

The Cassie Lang of the MC2 is a superhero called Stinger. She’s our viewpoint character for A-Next and our direct through-line from DeFalco’s Fantastic Four run. She was there for its final scene, an epilogue in Tales of the Marvel Universe. If you go from DeFalco’s Fantastic Four to A-Next then the curtain falls and rises on Cassie Lang. As with the Fantastic Five, what mattered to her then is what matters to her now.

What mattered to the young Cassie of Fantastic Four was Kristoff Vernard, the other kid living in Four Freedoms Plaza at the time. She was staying there with her scientist dad. He was the estranged ward of Doom. Could I make it any more obvious? The DeFalco run was loathe to leave any possible heterosexual pairing unpaired; Five adult men lived in that building and the only one who wasn’t actively trying to cop off with Sue was her brother. So Cassie developed a crush on Kristoff. He was twelve and her age was a sometimes uncomfortable matter of disagreement between the writing and the art.

Shortly before the time came for the vaudeville hook of Onslaught to drag DeFalco’s cast off-stage, the ballad of Cassie and Kristy had reached an interesting verse. Their story became about her teaching Kristoff to integrate with the world, from a position hindered by her being very much his junior and helped by her very much not have been raised by Doom and imprinted with his brainwaves.

The test case for both Cassie’s attempts to get Kristoff to behave reasonably, and for how Cassie was to see herself in relation to him, was their differing approaches to Donny, a boy from Cassie’s school. Donny was concealing the physical abuse he was suffering at the hands of his father. Cassie’s solution was to gently encourage him to talk to a teacher and have the school orchestrate a process that would see him and his mother taken into a shelter and the father provided with counselling. Kristoff’s solution was to unleash the wrath of the Von Doom’s upon the lying whelp until he was compelled to speak true. A rushed conclusion revealed that Cassie’s strategy was probably most helpful for Donny. It also saw her reach the settled opinion that Kristoff was kinda cute but a bit of a dweeb.      

By the time of the MC2’s “sixteen years later” present then Kristoff seems to be understood as the great love of Cassie’s life. It is to find him that she’s been trying to get into Latveria, and Ben judges that anyone who knows her will know that nothing can stop her. They were in a relationship when Namor attacked Latveria  and have not seen each other since. As with almost everything related to the Fantastic Five that we’ve seen so far, it’s a concept from the DeFalco Fantastic Four run allowed to grow in timelapsed soil. Lyja is Ms Fantastic. Ben has more metal bits. Cassie and Kristoff are war torn lovers.  

The other thing that Cassie has been doing in between where DeFalco left her and now is becoming a superhero, a process she has approached eccentrically. A-Next #1 sees her and her father working on ‘Project Stinger,’ a propulsion unit based on Hank Pym’s old designs. She’s got a super-costume, super-powers and a super-name good to go, but what doesn’t seem to be in place is any expectation that what she’s becoming is a superhero. She decides to become one impulsively and Scott is mortified when he finds out.

What, I wonder, did he think ‘Project Stinger’ was for if not to produce a superhero called Stinger? Project Stinger involved building superhero stuff and having Cassie fly around in it. What was its goal if not to help Cassie become someone who flies around calling herself Stinger? My suspicion, based on Cassie’s dialogue in A-Next #2 about stepping out from Scott’s shadow, is that ‘Project Stinger’ was about developing new tech for him to use as Ant-Man.

Anyway, she’s not having that. And Scott’s initially not having her decision. In his indignation he brings up an old argument and produces my favourite line in any DeFalco comic I’ve read ever.

“I don’t like this, Cassie! It was bad enough when you employed Dr Pym’s work to implant wings on yourself — but now you expect me to sit back while you play at being a super hero!”

Think through the sequence of events here and you, like me, will love Cassie Lang more than you ever have before.

She develops her superhero tech before there’s an expectation or resolution for her to become a superhero. But BEFORE EVEN THAT then she grafts wings to herself. This is a separate matter from her being a superhero. Cassie Lang has not grafted wings to herself for the sake of fighting crime, she has done so for the sake of grafting wings to herself. How cool is that?

So the formula for MC2 Cassie is very much “Where DeFalco left the material + Imaginary Time.” She has been subject to the sequential model of history but, on joining the new Avengers in a format slot that combines the role of Wasp and Ant Man, she has stepped into the cyclical model. It’s an interesting position to be in. The son of Thunderstrike is in sort of the same boat, but I don’t care about him. What’s Cassie going to do? Is her story still as much her own as when she was making weird offscreen body mod choices, or has stepping into the Avengers myth handed her over to Pratchett’s parasites?

She and Kristoff have a lot to talk about. This sort of shit is very much the central dilemma of his life. Adopted by Doom and neurologically rewritten by Doom, the purpose that has been foisted upon his life is to replicate Doom. To be a retelling of a story. He goes back and forth on how he feels about that.

In this comic Kristoff is especially ambivalent in how he responds to what he calls the “mixed blessing” of being Doom Two. He’s voluntarily wearing the mask and the robe. He’s stepped into his role as heir to the throne of Latveria. Kristoff is committed to being the Doctor Doom of this comic that promises Doctor Doom.

His projects are at odds with that identity however. We see him destroy Doom’s arsenal, breaking the political deadlock and allowing the reconstruction of Latveria to begin. We see him sensitively working to protect vulnerable children, the very thing we saw Baby Cassie teaching him to do the last time DeFalco wrote them. What are we to make of this man who both is and is not trapped inside Doom’s story?   

The bonny moppet whose disappearance precipitated this adventure proposes an answer. Who was Kristoff?

A-Next 005-022

The Avengers, perhaps endeared by her lack of exposure to Coca-Cola’s marketing, agree. “Like the kid says,” American Dream reports, “Santa Claus!”

Kristoff has managed to escape being a repetition of Victor von Doom’s story by becoming a repetition of an older one.  The paths may run down the mountainside, but at least one may switch tracks.

And this path, at least, is one Doctor Doom has surely never walked.

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What The!? #10

Oh. Except that one time.

Preview: Pep Digital Vol. #180 – Archie vs Reggie

PEP DIGITAL VOL #180 – ARCHIE VS REGGIE

DIGITAL EXCLUSIVE
Script/Art: John Albano, Carlos Antunes, Jon D’Agostino, Frank Doyle, Marty Epp, George Frese, George Gladir, Stan Goldberg, Bill Golliher, Barry Grossman, Rudy Lapick, Harry Lucey, Dick Malmgren, Al Milgrom, Jack Morelli, Dan Parent, John Rose, Fernando Ruiz, Jim Ruth, Henry Scarpelli, Bill Vigoda, Vickie Williams, Bill Yoshida
Cover: Harry Lucey, Rosario “Tito” Peña
On Sale Date: 3/11
107-page, digital exclusive comic
$3.99 U.S.

This means WAR! Archie and long-time rival Reggie have been on good terms lately, but that’s about to change! The constant double-crosses and sabotages have taken their toll, and the two teens are ready for the ultimate prank battle! Can Archie withstand Reggie’s dirty tricks? Will Reggie ruin Archie’s reputation once and for all? Will their friendship ever be the same?

PepDigital-180-ArchieVsReggie-0

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