Tag Archives: death of x

Bury Me Furiously: Death of X and The AIDS Epidemic

Death of X #3 cover
Death of X #3 Cover by Aaron Kuder. Written by Charles Soule, Published November 02, 2016, Marvel Comics

I take this discourse on with utter admiration for those who fought to break the silence surrounding the AIDS crisis, some of whom I’ve been honored enough to know, and be mentored by. 

Content Warnings: Police Brutality, Images of Tear Gas, White Supremacy, Transphobia, Workplace Discrimination, AIDS & HIV, Homophobia, Ronald Reagan, the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and, Rayshard Brooks.

“…out of love and rage.”

I’ve been thinking about how the structures of power that we place our trust in are designed to leave us to die. Amidst a global pandemic, we’ve lost many communal assumptions about the security and protection we should expect from “our government”, though many marginalized folks have seen the cracks for ages. It’s not the first time that the United States government has left thousands to die from a virus though. Nor is it the first time that a virus has been then inappropriately politicized by the established right. Marvel’s Death of X (2016) is a comic mini-series that revealed for readers the events that catalyzed a protracted conflict between the Inhumans and the X-Men that defined the books of its time. 

Death of X presents mutants with yet another extinction-level threat, the Terrigen mists, which are both garden of Eden and the grim reaper. This series is not shy about establishing a juxtaposition between Inhuman prosperity and propagation at the cost of mutant annihilation. It’s baked into the art, the dialogue, and even page layouts. In Death of X, mutants aren’t fighting for dominance over the Inhumans, they aren’t even explicitly fighting the Inhumans in this series, they are textually fighting against extinction itself. This isn’t an attempt to vilify the Inhumans or to suggest that the Inhumans don’t deserve to have their story told or see their culture thrive, but it’s simply an untenable and indefensible model of prosperity if it involves the destruction of the mutant race. 

Death of X #4, Jeff Lemire, Charles Soule, and Aaron Kuder, November 23, 2016, Marvel Comics

The imagery of the Terrigen cloud itself feels more politically charged in the summer of 2020 than it did in 2016. The sight of a pale, toxic cloud, rolling over the entire planet, carries an entirely new association for me. It feels like a haunting nod to the world right outside our window, as protests continue to erupt in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and, Rayshard Brooks. While the conversation on how Black communities are asymmetrically subjected to police brutality & murder may be new to some, I want to acknowledge that these are only four of the most recent losses in a long line of deaths that continue to shake Black Communities. 

Tear gas rises above as protesters face off with police during a demonstration outside the White House over the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis Police in Washington, DC, on May 31, 2020. Photo by Samuel Corum AFP

Racist violence is baked into the very DNA of the Amerikkkan police, which grew out of slave-patrols. Now, rallying behind the strength and dedication of the Black Lives Matter movement, many are engaged in a nation-wide protest of white supremacy and police brutality and the intrinsic connections between the two. Nearly every social media platform seems to be flooded with images of protesters, taking to the streets to stand against the history of racist, police brutality, and the white-supremacist government that perpetuates and accelerates this violence and injustice. A massive amount of these images show protesters engulfed in massive clouds of pale tear gas, deployed by militarized police forces, which is known to be lethal, as well as an abortifacient. My implicit image of the streets is no longer full of cars or bicycles but consumed by a cloud of pale toxic gas. The Terrigen cloud now feels tied to the cruel and oppressive police-state we have always lived within. The Terrigen Mists are not only a direct threat to mutants’ lives, but are also a controlling element in how they navigate public spaces. Like the many clouds of tear gas that roll throughout our street, Terrigen Clouds determine who, when, where, and how a person can navigate the world. Mutants have to live in certain places, they need to restrict their travel, Terrigen-proof bunkers are built by the privileged elites; every aspect of public mutant life is impacted by their presence.

A protester tries to talk the police back amid tear gas in downtown Atlanta, Sunday, May 31, 2020. Ben Gray Atlanta Journal

“A Silent War”

Demonstrators from the organization ACT UP protest in front of the headquarters of the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA opened up access to experimental drugs soon after.
J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Death of X  is a story that for me, has been transformed into an allegory for the AIDs and HIV epidemic, and the fierce battle against the institutions who allowed the virus to wreak havoc on marginalized communities. It’s certainly an unexpected interpretation of the story, given that there have been previous attempts to tell similar stories through the use of the Legacy Virus. I could go on for another 2000 words discussing how often the use of the subtextual virus falls shorter than the typical mutant metaphor tends to. But this isn’t that kind of essay. This is my attempt to share some of the internal transformations that this series has taken on for me. This is not an assertion of the hermeneutical veracity of my interpretation, but perhaps an opportunity to provide another facet to your own.

The “ACT-UP” movement, was a “ …diverse, non-partisan group of individuals, united in anger and committed to direct action to end the AIDS crisis.” ACT UP played a crucial role in breaking public and institutional silence surrounding AIDs and HIV, in the process likely saved thousands of lives. At a time where the dominant systems of power wanted to either ignore this epidemic or falsely politicize the virus to support their own bigotry (not much has changed) ACT-UP (short for AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power) led the fight for survival.

Death of X opens with a team of mutants led by Scott Summers, Emma Frost, and Magick, investigating a disturbing distress call from Muir Island, sent by Jamie Madrox. What the reader and the X-Men both quickly learn is that Muir Island has become a graveyard. They stumble upon an abandoned research facility and a dead mutant. It’s not long until the team discovers a mass grave just down the hill from the research facility, filled with the corpses of Jamie Madrox. It’s here that Scott and Emma learn that the Terrigen Mists, the cloud that essentially (re)births an Inhuman, catalyzing the manifestation of their abilities, is deadly to mutants. From this point on Muir Island becomes a geo-political flashpoint for the mutant struggle in this story. Aside from being the base of operations for the Uncanny X-Men throughout the story, Muir Island becomes a place of mourning, a place of loss, as it transforms quite literally into a graveyard. There are a few panels in both the first and second issues that show this quite literally. 

Death of X #1, Jeff Lemire, Charles Soule, and Aaron Kuder, October 5, 2016, Marvel Comics

In the first issue, we confront truly grim images such as a landscape covered by piles of Jamie Madrox’s corpses, who has succumbed to the M-Pox virus. We literally see the landscape of Muir Island itself, covered in death. In the second issue, we see mutants traveling from far and wide to pay their respects to fallen mutants laid to rest in unmarked graves. The somber visual of this pilgrimage to Muir Island, to mourn fallen friends, family, and comrades feel conceptually and visually evocative of Hart Island. Some may be familiar with Hart Island from the second season of FX’s POSE, (season 2, episode 1) when Praytell (Billy Porter) and Blanca Evangelista (MJ Rodriguez) travel to a stark, remote island to pay respects to a friend and lover who died of HIV related pneumonia. The episode accurately depicts Hart Island as it was; a remote island where hundreds of New Yorkers who died of AIDS and HIV related causes were isolated and buried if their bodies were unclaimed or if a burial could not be afforded. 

Hart Island from “Pose” season two (image via FX)
Death of X #2, Jeff Lemire, Charles Soule, and Aaron Kuder, October 19, 2016, Marvel Comics

In 1985, the first 17 bodies were interred in a quarantined location at the southernmost tip of Hart Island. As nonsensical as it may sound, each body was buried in an individual 14-foot deep grave for fear that the disease could “contaminate the other corpses”. Soon after, bodies were buried in mass graves, as the AIDS epidemic reached new heights in the city. The stigma associated with AIDS and the stigma surrounding queerness of the time left many patients prone to being estranged from loved ones, often leading to their burial on Hart Island. Although the precise number remains unknown, it’s estimated that the number of AIDS burials on Hart Island could reach into the thousands, making it perhaps the single largest burial ground in the country for people with AIDS. Tragically, a trip to Hart Island was not nearly as simple as it’s depicted in POSE. It was only in 2015, after a class-action lawsuit, that Hart Island “opened” for public visitation of the gravesites themselves, which was not possible prior. And visitation is still contingent on navigating demoralizing and labyrinthine procedures to arrange for passage of the ferries.

NY Post Archive Photo. Hart Island. June 14, 1979. Photo New York Post staff Frank Leonardo.

The queer community didn’t choose this dreary, remote island to become a part of our history. We didn’t choose this island to become a reminder of our perceived disposability but an oppressive cishet world. Violent institutional neglect on the part of our country’s political elites and the US health-care system forced the queer community to make this island a grim part of our collective history. Mutants too will forever associate Muir Island with a period of tremendous loss and turmoil for their community. And in both cases, this personal, mournful visitation takes place amidst a much larger conflict against the institutions that continue to allow the virus to claim more and more lives. 

In the comics, it’s the Inhumans [specifically Medusa and the royals] that allow the Terrigen Cloud to put the mutants of the world at risk. In the real world, it was the negligent and torpid non-response of the homophobic Raegan-era, including Raegan himself who continued to ignore the countless deaths for which he was responsible. It wasn’t until September 1985, four years after the crisis began, that Reagan first publicly mentioned AIDS. But by then, AIDS was already a full-blown epidemic. In truth, US health officials were aware of the AIDS virus, its method of transference, and the nature of the virus’s impact on the body, by late Spring of 1981, when the first “official case” of AIDS was “reported” on June 5, 1981. But the virus existed on the global stage in 1920 and had made the jump to the US by 1970 when cases first began to emerge. But because the virus was largely affecting a “convenient” population, resources were not committed to studying the virus until 1978, and it was only in the fall of 1982 that the CDC released its first definition of the AIDS virus. 

The CDC itself estimated that at the time of this definition’s release, it was likely that 42,000 people had already been living with AIDS and HIV, with an expectancy to see approximately 20,000 new cases within the year. Of course, this definition of AIDS and HIV initially defined the virus as a “syndrome”; a confluence of multiple symptoms and tertiary health impacts, as they were observed in AMAB people (assigned male at birth). For this reason, HIV positive AFAB people were not able to access the same drugs, the same healthcare, the same disability support, and the same social security support, because the definition prevented them from being diagnosed with the virus that they had in an official sense.

Beyond silence in the media, erasure around discussing AIDS was evident during press conferences and among government officials at the time. At a White House press briefing on October 15, 1982, when questioned by right-wing journalist Lester Kinsolving, Raegan’s Press Secretary Larry Speakes went on a cruel string of banter together, referring to the virus as “the gay plague”. By the time that Raegan publicly addressed the virus in 1987, approximately 27,000 people had already died. This weaponized inaction and misinformation resulted in the approximate 40,000 deaths that occurred between 1981 and 1987. It’s because of that many refer to the AIDS epidemic as a genocide, which is defined as defined as the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such”, killing members of the group, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, and/or, deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part to the group. 

Death of X #1, Jeff Lemire, Charles Soule, and Aaron Kuder, October 5, 2016, Marvel Comics

The level of inaction on the part of the Inhumans is certainly several measures less negligent than the Raegan administration, though still worth examining. The comparisons to Raegan are rooted in an evaluation of how figures in positions of power, by their inactivity, can do harm. It would be negligent though to ignore the fact that across this series, Medusa does take steps to attempt to support the mutants, but they’re ultimately plagued by a privileging of Inhuman interests over mutant safety. Far from simply slow-moving, Medusa proposed to Black Bolt in private that they must also begin to consider “how they might win” a war with the X-Men. Make no mistake, for Medusa Inhuman prosperity, is only ever just over the fence from Inhuman supremacy throughout this and some of the ensuing stories. If pushed, she would rather fight the X-Men than compromise the Terrigen Mists. Medusa is first and foremost, considering what is in the best interest of the Inhuman people. It never occurs to her to eliminate the mist, but instead to move the mutants, placing the responsibility on the mutants to not be where the cloud is, rather than taking responsibility for the toxicity of the cloud. The onus is not on the mutants to evade the cloud, the onus should be on Medusa to remove the threat. 

Readers may not have access to the histories of the ACT-UP movement (which are sadly out of the mainstream historical pedagogy) but they can look at this and other X-Men stories to see the way that the Inhumans, or S.H.I.E.L.D., or the Avengers have looked the other way when it comes to the suffering of mutants. That’s a role that stories have always played in our lives, especially during formative periods of our development, to instill values within us that we may not be able to access otherwise. In this case, it’s planting the seeds that may grow into a more rigorous critique of the dominant structures of power that are purported to protect and support us.

“Everytime a shell explodes…”

“ …living with aids is like living through a war which is happening only for those people who happen to be in the trenches. Everytime a shell explodes you look around and you discover that you’ve lost more of your friends but nobody else notices, it isn’t happening to them.

Vito Russo Speech, May 7 1988, Protest at the state capitol in Albany NY 
Death of X #1, Jeff Lemire, Charles Soule, and Aaron Kuder, October 5, 2016, Marvel Comics

Issue 1 of Death of X establishes a juxtaposition between mutant death and the celebration of inhuman prosperity. On one page we see the X-Men stumble upon the horrors of Muir Island and on the next we watch the Inhumans celebrate the Terrigen Cloud as it passes through Japan. In later issues we watch the ranks of the Inhumans grow by minor numbers while we watch droves of mutants being buried on Muir Island. We see one new Inhuman, Daisuke emerge from a pod while countless mutants are buried. This oppositional relationship is in the DNA of the text. It’s this corollary that has led some fans to also interpret the terrigen mists as a metaphor for white-supremacy and/or the violence, erasure, and destruction of culture inherent in colonization. Despite the violence of the story, it feels quiet in a way. The story feels isolating, walling off the mutants from the rest of the world, almost in an attempt to hide their struggle from the world. It’s the kind of silent genocide that ACT-UP organizer Vito Russo’s quote is getting at, a silence that the ACT-UP movements fought so hard to break. 

Perhaps the most accessible manifestation of this work is in ACT-UP’s famous “ Silence=Death” poster, which has gone on to define the iconography of queer liberation to this day. ACT-UP’s mission was to break the silence surrounding the AIDS epidemic. They weaponized the truth against an otherwise unaware and complacent public, whose ignorance opened the door for a bigoted government to deny those affected by AIDS & HIV the resources they needed. 

Getty Images Archive, Bettmann

I’d like to focus on two particular events, where ACT-UP broke the membrane of mainstream ignorance, forcing their plight to be witnessed by the world. The first is a die-in protest at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on December 10, 1989. The action itself was multifaceted, with over 4,000 members of ACT-UP and the WHAM! (Women’s Health Action Mobilization) demonstrating outside of St. Patrick’s, while a smaller contingent of activists entered the church, appearing to members of the church’s congregation and in one or two cases posing as church volunteers. Their larger goal was to highlight the struggles of those living with HIV and AIDS at a time when the government, religious, and public health leaders remained lethargic and ignorant in their response to the epidemic. Activists targeted the church particularly Cardinal John O’Connor for preach abstinence instead of the safe-sex use of condoms while the epidemic ran rampant, and for his insistence that homosexuality was a sin. 

A protester is carried away during an ACT-UP Stop the Church direct action at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on December 10th, 1989. Photography © Brian Palmer

In the middle of mass service protesters staged their die-in, leading chants ranging from “Act Up, Fight Back, Fight AIDS!” to the famed, succinct and visceral cries “ Stop Killing Us!”, while protesters disguised as members of the clergy handed out ACT UP leaflets disguised as mass-pamphlets, providing church-goers with information debunking the lies being perpetuated by church leadership ( John O’Connor) and the government. Some activists cuffed themselves to pews and others lie on the ground, prostrated across the aisle. This is probably among the most famous of the ACT-UP actions, as it was concisely emblematic of their overall mission, to disrupt the quiet status quo that was painting over the thousands of deaths at the hands of this virus.

The second action is known as the Day of Desperation, which began on the evening of January 22, 1991, and continued throughout January 23, 1991. This action was designed to target every aspect of public life in New York City, making the plight and suffering of those with AIDS and those with loved ones with AIDS impossible to ignore. The goal was to ensure that no matter where a New Yorker was or what they did, they could not avoid confronting this grim reality any longer. The “Day of Desperation” as a protracted series of political actions began the night of the 22nd, although the “Day of Desperation” as a is typically said to have taken place on January 23rd. It technically began when activists invaded PBS and CBS Evening News broadcasts on the night of the 22nd. During this action, activists ran into the camera-line and shouted “AIDS is news! Fight aids, not Arabs!”. These invasions of live news were simultaneous disruptions of the public consciousness and breaking the silence surrounding the AIDS epidemic. It was nearly impossible to ignore as once it had aired, as the story was subsequently picked up and reported across a wide range of news outlets within minutes in some cases. This became an international disruption of the public consciousness in less time than the commercial break that followed. This action alone resonates along the same line as Scott/Emma’s telepathic message to the world at the end of the first issue. Which we’ll refer back to shortly.

On the 23rd, the “Day of Desperation” officially* begins with a morning “demo” begins on Wall St. and more than 2000 protesters marched with coffins that were delivered to City, State & Federal officials responsible for perpetuating the AIDS epidemic. An action at the State Office building in Harlem demanded an end to the City homeless shelter system. The housing Committee joins “Stand Up Harlem”, “Emmaus House” and various Harlem religious leaders in protesting the lack of housing and services for people with HIV. A march goes down Martin Luther King Blvd, to the State office building, carrying coffins to a demonstration occurring at the plaza. At 5:07 pm, Grand Central Station was the setting for a spectacular and massive act of civil disobedience as ACT UP took over the station. A banner announcing “One AIDS Death Every Eight Minutes” was hung over the arrivals board. 

These two particular ACT-UP actions are just a few of the many protests and civil disobedience employed in their mission to break the “business as usual” narrative of mainstream society and force the world at large to come to terms with this silent genocide. This mission folds into the sort of telepathic interruption that Emma Frost employs at the end of the first issue of Death of X. The goal is not an overt declaration of war, it’s instead bringing a silent genocide into the forefront of the public consciousness, which would much rather turn a blind eye to the deaths of the mutants, much as the US public & government would have preferred to just let millions die of the AIDS virus. Much like the day of desperation and its inaugural CBS disruption, regardless of who and where you were, you were going to be forced to confront this harsh reality. Emma’s acts can show us the value of an activist tactic that dates back to the Civil Rights Era, to take over the platforms of social-dissemination in order forefront a political struggle that is otherwise being erased in those spaces. There’s of course variance between the two, but it provides a roadmap for the viability of tactics of disruption and deconstruction of access and visibility as strategies of political dissent. 

“Bury Me Furiously”

Death of X #4, Jeff Lemire, Charles Soule, and Aaron Kuder, November 23, 2016, Marvel Comics

Death of X is a story about loss, and burying your dead mid-battle, and how you find the strength to carry on the fight for however long you can. Emma and Scott play out a tragedy that became a heartbreaking norm during the AIDS epidemic, as activists embattled in the fight against this virus and the oppressive structures that allowed it to kill thousands, lost their lives, their lovers, friends, and family to the very disease they were fighting. Emma and Scott’s story is borrowed, stolen even from the many thousands of real people whose relationships were torn apart by the AIDS virus. Emma and Scott’s story will never adequately stand-in for those real experiences, nor should they be expected to. That’s not always the role of the stories we consume, to recount events 1:1, but to repackage their lessons and to make them accessible in the media that we consume. The stories we consume exist for us to unpack deep and complex social and ethical issues through the safety of fiction. They exist for us to relate our own experience to, to feel seen, to inspire, and to repackage events to make them more accessible outside of their normal contexts. 

Allegory is never a substitute for explicit representation and  X-Men stories have a history of skating by on subtext and fan-interpretation, failing to depict the real identities & experiences that the metaphor stands-in for. It’s worth noting that stories about mutants who are explicitly HIV positive and/or have the AIDS virus were rendered impossible by notorious fuck-up Chuck Austen, who “confirmed” in Uncanny X-Men #421 & #427, that mutants are incapable of contracting the AIDS virus. This is yet another example of stories that borrow from the struggles and trauma of queer and trans people for the sake of driving their stories but fail to provide explicit representation for our identities. It’s a trend that’s certainly not exclusive to Austen and is more endemic in cape-comics as a medium (see events like Rosenberg’s flagrant misappropriation and recapitulation of anti-trans slurs and “trans-panic” acts of violence).

Death of X #4, Jeff Lemire, Charles Soule, and Aaron Kuder, November 23, 2016, Marvel Comics

This series arguably pivots on a third act twist that fundamentally recontextualizes Scott and Emma’s story as one not purely about survival, but also about loss. In the final pages of Death of X, the reader alongside Havok (Scott’s brother) learns the truth about the death of Scott Summers. You see, Scott didn’t die in a stand-off against Medusa and Black Bolt. For the sake of accurately and honestly characterizing Black Bolt & Medusa, we should note that  Medusa and Black Bolt made their choices under the impression that Scott really would die then & there. Therefore, from an ethical observation of the situation, Black Bolt still did kill Scott Summers. In “reality” though, Scott died in issue #1. He died unceremoniously and without warning in the arms of his lover, after asking for “help” for possibly the first time (see Cyclops’ defiant declaration that he’s fine in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary). The love of Emma’s life, [who as she says at Scott’s funeral on Muir Island was “…the only man I ever wanted to give a damn about me…”,] dies of the very virus that they will be fighting against. 

Death of X #4, Jeff Lemire, Charles Soule, and Aaron Kuder, November 23, 2016, Marvel Comics

Throughout the rest of the story, the Scott we see is a living monument to the man Emma loved, one defined by her admiration for his tenacity and his uncompromising devotion to the mutant cause. “Scott” becomes a source of strength for Emma, tackling the conversations that she can’t bring herself to have and making the choices that she cannot.  Her characterization of Scott’s tenacity escalates commensurately to Emma’s increasing exhaustion & desperation. She deploys Scott in her weakest moments, drawing the strength he gave her to quite literally handle the challenges in her path. She projects everything onto this “Scott’, even her insecurities regarding Jean surface during his final speech claim he “lost the only person I ever cared for.”  We see “Scott” play out the very moment that Emma comes to terms with his passing, as “Scott” says “ I’m gone. All that’s left is the idea of me. But here’s the nice thing…ideas never die.” 

Scott’s death, like many deaths at the hands of the AIDS virus, was unexpected and unceremonious. Living with AIDS was like “living with a time-bomb but never knowing where the timer is”. It was a cruel reality, you could look healthy as can be one day, and then by the end of the week, they could have passed from the virus. You had to live with the constant looming knowledge that any moment, the virus could claim your life or somebody you cared for. It is a tragic and human story, within a larger battle for the survival of an entire community. The series is not gentle about the comparison and juxtaposition of mutant suffering, with the celebration and prosperity of the Inhumans. It’s the type of framing that comes to mind whenever people refer to “the 80s” as this monolithic era defined by synthesizers, bright colors, big hair, Flock of Seagulls, shoulder pads, members-only jackets, and angsty teen movies. Mainstream pop-culture formulates an image of the 80s as something exciting and kitschy, but for many, the 80’s are a reminder of when our government allowed a virus to kill tens of thousands from marginalized communities, while the world looked the other way. The flashy pop-culture image of the 80s & 90s sits in stark contrast to the silent death of the AIDS epidemic.

Death of X is an Emma Frost story, and I don’t know if we say that enough. It’s the pregnant pause before a heavy and profound punctuation mark on what I consider to be one of Marvel’s strongest relationships. And it’s not the end of Emma’s hurt; she will go on lead a full-scale assault on the Inhumans, yes in the name of all mutants, but deep down she’ll partly be seeking retribution for Scott’s deaths. Within this series at least Emma hopes to give Scott a “fitting death”, ensuring that his death “means something”. Emma’s public memorial is almost a eulogy, both displaying her rage & sorrow and instilling into this living memorial the very political message that his life was devoted to. I can’t help but draw parallels to the many political funerals organized by ACT-UP

David Wojnarowicz’s famous jacket, Act-Up Archives

These actions themselves are often associated with a specific quote by artist and activist David Wojnarowicz, which captures the desperation, love, and rage at work both in these political funerals, and in Emma’s actions.

“I imagine what it would be like if, each time a lover, friend or stranger died of this disease, their friends, lovers or neighbors would take the dead body and drive with it in a car a hundred miles an hour to washington d.c. and blast through the gates of the white house and come to a screeching halt before the entrance and dump their lifeless form on the front steps.”

DAVID WOJNAROWICZ

It’s a famous quote that is often seen presented within a longer speech by Mark Lowe Fisher. Towards the end of the speech, there’s a specific line that best summarizes the impact of these memorials:

“I want my death to be as strong a statement as my life continues to be. I want my own funeral to be fierce and defiant, to make the public statement that my death from AIDS is a form of political assassination.”

Mark Lowe Fisher [Nov 17, 1953 – Oct 29, 1992]
Wednesday, July 29, 1992 8 p.m. , David Wojnarowicz’s Memorial Procession

The goals of these political funerals are so complex and varied that distilling them into something pithy feels ultimately reductive. In a general sense though, they were a simultaneous attempt to pay honor to a beloved individual while using the visibility of their corpse, this unshakably real consequence of the AIDS virus, as a viscerally politicizing image. You see, like Emma, ACT-UP realized that you could maintain a balance between a loving memorial and political action. ACT UP is known to have orchestrated a number of these “political funerals”, which ranged from processions down the streets of New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Washington DC with real caskets, filled with real bodies, to the cathartic scattering of ashes onto the White House lawn.

sA political funeral for Steve Michael was held on Thursday, June 4, 1998 in front of the White House.

Among the first of these actions was a memorial procession for the body of David Wojnarowicz himself on Wednesday, July 29, 1992 8 p.m. at the intersection of 12th Street & 2nd Avenue [NYC]. From there, including the “White House Ashes Action” of October 11, 1992, ACT-UP accounts for a total of official seven political funerals. It’s notable though, that the exact estimates of how many individuals’ ashes were scattered on October 11, make the exact number of public memorials to victims of AIDs and HIV and governmental neglect, harder to estimate. Aside from the individuals whose ashes were scattered and whose bodies were carried down city streets, many more members of these actions carried banners, signs, and even constructed tombstones for loved ones who were lost to this virus. 

No death has any more value because of its visibility, but there is power in crafting a public memorial to your loved-ones, whom you lost as a consequence of a silent war that the world would rather ignore. The government and the American public alike wanted to ignore this virus, and so ACT-UP made sure this wasn’t possible. They carried their beloved dead through city streets, they scattered the ashes of the people they held dear on the front lawn of the very government that was killing them. They wanted to use these beloved bodies to shake the public and possibly the government out of ignorance and complacency, revealing the grim and human cost of the virus, and the government’s torpid response. 

Closing

I’ve re-written the coda of this piece once a day for  two weeks straight. If you’re expecting that to be a set up for a pithy yet nuanced conclusion to this work, I’m here to disappoint. There is so much to say in closing out this essay. 

I want to recognize the tendency to disproportionately credit ACT-UP with revolutionizing models of socio-political dissent, but ACT-UP drew an immense amount of their tactics and method from the Civil Rights Era. Without the creativity, dedication, and courage of BIPOC activists, ACT UP would not be possible. Not to mention that ACT UP was plagued by internal racism, transphobia, and misogyny that is often painted over and ignored. As much value as there is in recognizing the hard work and dedication of the movement, it was born out of a rage that came from the entitlement of white, cisgender, men and this entitlement would play a major role in the groups’ disillusionment. It’s a reality that is only briefly alluded to at the end of Jimm Hubbard and Sarah Schulman’s documentary, “ United in Anger: A History of ACT UP”. The group’s ferocity would wane, affinity groups would split off and form other organizations such as Housing Works, fighting for equity and access at the intersection of HIV/AIDS and houselessness. And it was the intense concentration of action in the 80s and 90s led to greater public health resources in the US, as well as directly lead to the focussed research that would develop preventative measures such as PrEP and treatment regimens like HAART (HIV & AIDS Anti-Retro-Viral).

I think this story is worth exploring solely for the unexpectedly nuanced characterization of Emma Frost. In a lot of ways, it doesn’t even feel like a superhero comic. It’s grounded and messy, characters make relatable, messy choices with major consequences on the world within which they live. It’s a story about a fight spent entirely on-the-ropes. It’s a story about how you process trauma without the space being held to do so. For that reason, I think it maps to desperate moments of our history such as the AIDS epidemic, to societies built on oppression & violence, and to pandemics.


As a trans person, (who began writing this on June 14, 2020) my interpretation of this story has continued to transform yet again. Only days prior to beginning this essay, amidst a pandemic, the Tr*mp administration finalized a ruling that could effectively strip LGBTQIA2+ people of their health-care rights and protections, placing trans people at greater risk of health care discrimination within a healthcare system already riddled with barriers to care for trans people. This extends well beyond just potentially cutting us off from live-saving gender-affirming related care; all forms of health-care could be refused to queer and trans people, which has grave ramifications for the healthy & safety of our community. 

The US healthcare system is already nightmarish for trans people to navigate, but without the minimal protections that we were afforded by Section 1557 of the ACA, many millions of trans people in the US will likely be refused care, left to die, refused care, and lose coverage for gender-affirmative care. This is but one of the many attacks made against the LGBTQIA2+ community, by the Tr*mp administration. With little time to fully process this attack, we brace for yet another. Just over the horizon, a few days from today  June 14, 2020) the Supreme Court will rule on the case of Aimee Stephens, which will have a massive impact on the employment and workplace rights of trans people in the US. We’re preparing for the horrific possibility that SCOTUS may de-facto legalize discrimination against trans people in the workplace. 

Update: On June 15, 2020, SCOTUS released a decision in the case of BOSTOCK v. CLAYTON COUNTY, GEORGIA which states “: An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender violates Title VII. Pp. 4–33.” I hesitate to call this a “victory” though; these are basic human rights that should never have been the subject of months of deliberation. It’s disturbing that we have to celebrate keeping rights we should never have feared losing.

Death of X  has become a hauntingly adequate allegory for my feelings of helplessness, walking off the wounds of the last attack, as I brace myself to take the next punch. It feels like I’m living between the two terrigen clouds. It feels like a heteronormative society upheld by the royals, is somewhere on the next page dancing over the trans graves that continue to be dug. It feels like each and every trans body will become fertilizer for somebody else’s prosperity. As I write this, I know that the trans community is not alone in feeling this fear, nor is this the first time the LGBTQIA2+ community has felt this level of dread.

Marvel Weekly Graphic Novel Review: Carnage USA, Death of X, and X-Factor

It’s Wednesday which means new comic book day with new releases hitting shelves, both physical and digital, all across the world. We’ve got three volumes from Marvel covering some of their newer releases.

Carnage U.S.A. collecting issues #1-5 by Zeb Wells and Clayton Crain.

Death of X collecting issues #1-4 by Jeff Lemire, Charles Soule, Aaron Kuder, Javier Garron, Jay Leisten, Cam Smith, Scott Hanna, Morry Hollowell, Jay David Ramos, Jason Keith, Wil Quintana, Matt Milla, and Andrew Crossley.

X-Factor Epic Collection: Genesis & Apocalypse collecting Avengers #263, Fantastic Four #286, X-Factor #1-9 & Annual #1, Iron Man Annual #8, Amazing Spider-Man #282, and material from Classic X-Men #8 & #43.

Find out what each trade has in store and whether you should grab yourself a copy. You can find all three in comic stores March 1 and bookstores March 14.

Get your copies now. To find a comic shop near you, visit http://www.comicshoplocator.com or call 1-888-comicbook or digitally and online with the links below.

Carnage U.S.A.
Amazon/Kindle/comiXology or TFAW

Death of X
Amazon/Kindle/comiXology or TFAW

X-Factor Epic Collection: Genesis & Apocalypse
Amazon/Kindle/comiXology or TFAW

 

 

Marvel provided Graphic Policy with FREE copies for review
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The Best Comics Of 2016 – Joe’s List

2016 was a good year for comics. Sure, there was some bad, but overall, it was a good year for the industry. A lot can happen in 365 days, so there is bound to be ups and downs, and this year was no different. As with every year, we saw good series end too soon, bad series go on too long, and new series, whether good or bad, enter the ring.

There were new series like Black Hammer, 4 Kids Walk Into A Bank, and Animosity. Even existing characters were given new and fresh takes like The Vision by Tom King. Doom Patrol returned in a very fun and weird way. Both Detective and Action Comics continued their fantastic legacy. Superman, Wonder Woman and more DC books returned to great storytelling and adventures. We got two new characters taking the mantle of Iron Man in Dr. Doom and Riri Williams, and watched as a few more Marvel legends lost their lives.

Like every year, there were also big events. There were the good like fantastic events like DC Rebirth and disappointing ones in Civil War II. Inhumans fought with X-Men. Spider-Man started having a clone conspiracy. There were major controversies that crossed into mainstream media with Hydra-Cap. Sad moments like Chelsea Cain with Mockingbird.  And to close out the year, the release of the beautiful and emotional Love is Love.

We saw more diversity in comics, both in characters and creative teams. Moon Girl, Riri Williams, and Amadeus Cho all shot up the ranks of Marvel’s brightest heroes. New titles like Alters, and Black were released. Gay superheroes Midnighter and Apollo have a six issue run that is still going. Ta-Nahesi Coates joined Marvel to write Black Panther, as did Roxanne Gay on World of Wakanda. It is apparent the industry is changing, and there’s still a lot that needs to be done, but this year was an improvement, and a step forward.

We also lost famed Preacher and The Punisher artist Steve Dillon. 2016 was a year, like any year that saw comics released in it, so let’s give you another unnecessary ranking list based off of my opinions!

Best Superhero Comic – The Vision

 vision__12This could be in best surprises too. Tom King really took the comic world by storm this year, and this was one of the reasons why. He had other fantastic titles released as well, and they will be mentioned in this article, but The Vision was something so refreshing and so different for Marvel. A perfect run that didn’t feel too short, or too long, is something I don’t always say for Marvel books. The Vision truly felt perfect in almost every way.

It wasn’t just King that made this title so great, as Gabriel Hernandez Walta provided some wonderful art that captured some horrific and heartbreaking moments. It is amazing to realize that a book about synths had some of the most human moments of the year. That’s the power of an amazing creative team, and I bow to the both of them, and to Marvel for taking a chance on such an odd and awesome book.

Runners Up:

  • Detective Comics – As good as The Vision is, and as many lists it will sit at the top of, I was almost the guy to pick another title for my top superhero book. That book is Detective Comics. James Tynion IV has created a fantastic and classic run on the long running title. The way he captures the bat family is perfect. There was so many moments. Tim Drake. Batwoman and her father. Clayface being just awesome. Spoiler and her recent moment. Batman and his role as a leader and mentor. We also got some great art from Alvaro Martinez and others. What a fantastic book, and it just keeps getting better.
  • Wonder Woman – This is one of DC’s most consistent comics, and it does so by juggling two alternating storylines in different time periods. Greg Rucka writes a fantastic Diana. I have enjoyed going through the range of emotions she has been put through as we watch her learn of man and our world in one time period, and the lies she is being faced with and the struggle to keep her sanity in the other. Also her relationships with both Steve and Barbara are some of the best I have seen yet in her comic. The art by Nicola Scott, Liam Sharp and others was consistently awesome.
  • Superman – This is one of the other most consistent comics from DC. In my top 5 superhero books, I have three from DC, and there is a good reason. Honestly, Action Comics almost made it’s way into the list as well. Like the other books, this is another return to greatness after Rebirth for DC. Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason have proven before they know Supes, Jon, and others as they write them so well. There has been so much great art by talents like Doug Mahnke, and so many good moments throughout the series.  Yes, to one of my good friends, even Krypto being pulled from the chest of The Eradicator counts as one of those moments, that was awesome too.
  • Power Man and Iron Fist – I can say without hesitation that David Walker has done an amazing job on this series. Even when he had to do a Civil War II tie in, he made it work. What amazes me most is that the series just keeps getting better. Sanford Greene has such an incredible and original art style that you instantly recognize, and together these two creative powerhouses have easily made this one of my favorite comics of 2016. The return of that certain Runaways character as the big bad makes it even better!

Best Non-Superhero Comic – Saga

 saga_33-1While I struggled with picking my top comics since I love all of these, Saga takes the cake due to consistency, most memorable moments, and my deep investment Saga takes the cake due to consistency, most memorable moments, and my deep investment to this incredible series. This comic is the one I constantly cannot wait to read, and that is due to the amazing work by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples. We all know how good they both are, but they just kept the ball rolling in my opinion this year. Sure we had some slower arcs, but the overall big picture to this book just keeps getting bigger, and crazier.

There were so many moments that made me smile, tear up, and cliffhangers that left me with my mouth hanging open. Not a lot of comics do that to me, and Saga did it countless times. There is a reason this series is so popular, and is still going. It is just fantastic storytelling, with awesome world building. You don’t just care about the mother, father, and daughter, but the prince, his child, the lying cat, and so many others. You truly feel invested in these people, their actions, and their lives. I cannot wait to see where it goes next.

Runners Up:

  • Animosity – This is such a brilliant comic. The premise seems simple. Have animals take over the world and dominate humanity. But it’s the execution and creativeness behind this title by Marguerite Bennett and Rafael de Latorre that blows me away. The art is great, and the storytelling is brilliant. Sandor and Jesse have a fantastic and loving relationship, and each issue packs a ton of suspense. A great title from Aftershock Comics.
  • The Wicked + The Divine – What an original book, with fantastic art. I am a sucker for Jamie McKelvie on art and Kieron Gillen is no slouch on writing either. Together they have crafted a beautifully looking yet chaotic tale of vanity, arroagance, obsession, love, power, and so much more. When you have a book filled with pop star icon gods and godesses, I guess anything is possible.
  • Black Science – It is no secret that I am a big Rick Remender fan. He has done so much great work, and is only getting better in my opinion. This year alone he had so many good books going on at the same time, and delivered on every one. Black Science was the most consistent, and best work in my opinion. This is a crazy book that moves at a fast pace, and you truly never know what happens next. Now that is something you can say for any Remender book, but with the element of time and dimension hopping, he really goes there in this book. Fantastic series.
  • The Sheriff of Babylon – What a refreshing comic, and a reminder to people that no, comics aren’t just superheroes. Tom King had an amazing year this year, and is one of the best writers in general, and like The Vision, this is one of the reasons why. This is a gritty, violent, hard to look at book with some great art by Mitch Gerads. These two creators tell a tale of corruption, war, politics, and much more in a book that feels so deep and something that you’d see on tv or in the movies. This is a definite recommendation of mine.

Best Limited Series or One Shot – 4 Kids Walk Into A Bank

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You know you’ve got something good on your hands when you’ve released three issues in 2016 and you’re making this much of a splash. Matt Rosenberg and Tyler Boss gave us those three issues and they were packed with awesome adventures and incredible nostalgia to my childhood era. This book is already a classic to me, and there’s a few issues still to come.

I have reviewed the comic, and gave it a ten across the board, and I am sure the final issues will earn those scores as well. Hats off to Black Mask Studios, to Matt Rosenberg, and to Tyler Boss for making something so special, so raw, and so damn good. Remember, this is just about 4 kids who catch one of their fathers doing sketchy stuff with sketchy people. This isn’t some deep time travel plot, or fantasy adventure. It is a simple premise executed with brilliant creative fashion. It is in the writing, the panels, and the lettering. I cannot wait for the last few issues!

Runners Up:

  • Civil War II: Kingpin – Yes, another Matt Rosenberg book, and for good reason. He has three Marvel series coming, with one, Rocket Raccoon, already beginning. This book was violent, raw, gritty, over the top, and featured Frank Castle. Every issue was fantastic, and I felt like he really gets Fisk’s character so well. The art by Ricardo Lopez Ortiz was loosely sketched and fit the series violent and chaotic tones so well. I cannot wait to read the ongoing beginning in February written by the man who wrote this miniseries so well.
  • AD: After Death – Two books into this fantastic series, and I am already crowning it one of the best of 2016. There is one book left, but remember, when I say book, I mean just that. The second book comes close to one hundred pages, and they are beautifully written by Scott Snyder and beautifully painted by Jeff Lemire. I still do not know all of the answers to the cure of death, and the world below, but I know enough to say this is one fantastic series, and something truly special for the medium.
  • Minighter and Apollo – Another series that only is halfway done, but that halfway point has been fantastic. Not only is it fantastic that we are getting a different kind of superhero book where the two male protagonists are lovers, but they aren’t cliche, or stereotypical, or offensive. They are three dimensional, like real gay people actually are, except one has a computer in his head and can take on an army, and the other is a god. Steve Orlando has done a fantastic job on this, and so has Fernando Blanco on art. I hope we get an ongoing after this!
  • Superman: American Alien – This was a really fun book. We get different chapters of Superman’s life, from his childhood where he is trying to understand who he is and what these powers are, to him meeting Lois and being a reporter. We get some fantastic moments with him hanging out with his friends, getting drunk, and learning how to live as a god among men. I love the parts with his parents, and seeing not just their stress, but their overwhelming love. Max Landis and a who’s who of amazing artists like Jock, Joelle Jones, Francis Manipul, and more make this one of the best books of the year.

Best Writer – Rick Remender

img_0408I could have gone with Tom King, or the other three excellent writers on my list, and none of them would have been wrong. Even someone like Rosenberg who made two of my favorite limited series could have been here. None of these lists are easy, as you see I keep saying, but if I had to pick just one writer this year, it would be Rick Remender. It isn’t just the quality of the content he made, which is very high, but the volume of it as well.

This year, we saw Black Science, Deadly Class, Low, Seven to Eternity, and Tokyo Ghost. The crazy part, is all of those comics were fantastic. You constantly hear that so many writers are taking on too many titles, and that their writing takes a major hit. I do not think that was the case this year for Remender, and actually, I think it was one his best years, which is saying a lot. The beautiful thing is that all of these series will still be going into 2017, as even Tokyo Ghost which will be returning.

Runners Up:

  • Tom King – What a phenomenal year Tom King had. The Sherrif of Babylon, The Vision, and Batman. Most writers would be proud writing one of those titles, and while his run on Batman isn’t everyone’s favorite, I am enjoying it quite a bit. I enjoy a different take on a character, and he is playing with the caped crusaders weaknesses, and making him human. As mentioned previously, both Sheriff and Vision are absolutely incredible, and I cannot wait to see what we get from him next.
  • Jason Aaron – I feel like Jason Aaron needs more love when it comes to the best writers of 2016. He was a beast this year. Southern Bastards, The Mighty Thor, The Unworthy Thor, Doctor Strange, Star Wars, and The Goddamned. I wish we got more Southern Bastards, but again as this list shows, you can see the guy is busy. He had a fantastic year, and because of that as a reader, so did I.
  • Brian K. Vaughn – There should be no shock that this name is on anyone’s list. He will probably be on most lists until the day he decides to stop writing. Both Saga and Paper Girls continue to be fantastic. I expect big things as these titles move forward, and hopefully we get another book. The more Vaughn, the better.
  • Jeff Lemire – Here is another writer that was a beast in 2016. Moon Knight, Old Man Logan, Descender, Bloodshot Reborn, Bloodshot U.S.A., Black Hammer, AD: After Death, and more. I am amazed at not only Lemire as a writer, but his work as an artist as well. I don’t know how he had time to do anything else this year but write and make art. A truly fantastic year for one of my favorite creators.

Best Artist –  Russel Dauterman

img_0409For the longest time, the background of my phone was The Mighty Thor #1. Now that I am typing this, I will be putting it back to that amazing artwork, because it is that good. Russel Dauterman is one of those artists in comics that you can just stare at his panels and pages for so long and see tiny details that just blow your mind. You will see me say things in reviews like, you are getting some real art here, as in pieces you could hang on your wall, and that is true of Dauterman’s work. The work is that good. Every panel could probably be framed and catch someone’s eye every time.

The way he draws his characters with such emotion is fantastic. Not to mention the way he draws frost giants, or the more modern version of Loki, or Jane, or Odinson, or Odin, or everyone in this comic! His work is fantastic, and he deserves to have it recognized. This is one of those artists, that when they take an issue or two off, you get sad. It’s that good.

Runners Up:

  • Andrew Maclean – Head Lopper was one of my favorite comics this year, and while the fun story was a lot of it, the art by Maclean was what caught my eye. It’s simultaneously violent and graphic, yet beautiful. The colors pop as our hero cuts the heads off of giant beasts.
  • FIona Staples – As I said early, Fiona captures her characters so well. Their emotions pour from the pages in her artwork, and I cannot imagine Saga without her. From Marko to Prince Robot to Hazel, she conveys who they are as people so well, as she always has with this excellent series. Also, her style is so original, that is is recognizable right away.
  • Jamie McKelvie – One of my favorite artists in general, and I would be happy if he drew ten more titles. The way he draws the Pantheon is so damn good. There is so much attitude and personality in The Wicked + The Divine, and McKelvie is a big reason why. Every character is drawn with such detail and life that they feel real, even if they are shallow pop star deities.
  • Andreas Sorrentino – Perhaps more than any artist this year, Sorrentino on Old Man Logan made my jaw hang open at the way he used splash pages. He is one of the most creative artists in the medium, and his work is dark and unique. There were so many breathtaking panels that he used this year on Logan, and it is one of the reasons that comic is as good as it is. Like Dauterman, I get sad when he isn’t on an issue or two.

Best New Series – Animosity

 bookanimosityMarguerite Bennett wrote one hell of a story this year in Animosity. This awesome title from Aftershock had one of the best first issues of the year, and the issues that followed kept that momentum up every time. Sandor is a hound protecting his owner, Jesse, a little girl who is scared when all of the other pets and animals in the world begin killing and targeting humans. We are only four issues in, and I feel like so much has happened. There is no doubt that this is one of the best new series of the year, and in my opinion, the best.

The art by Rafael de Latorre is fantastic, and the scenes in the book are filled with action, and keep you on the edge of your seat. The first issue alone had me yelling expletives in excitement, and the art as well as the storytelling is a big reason why. When a much scarier animal is trying to hurt Jesse, I love how protective Sandor is. He pulls no punches to protector his girl, and has the personality of an old and wise man mentor type. I think this is one everyone should check out, even if you have to wait for the trade, as it is hard to come by in many local comic shops.

Runners Up:

  • Seven to Eternity – What an awesome fantasy story from Rick Remender and Jerome Opeña. Already we’ve seen some fantastic characters, an awesome big bad, an interesting protagonist with a deep legacy to his family name, and a plot that promises some crazy things will happen. Oh, and it’s only getting started.
  • Briggs Land – The comic that AMC wanted optioned as a show before most people had even heard about it. Brian Wood and Mack Chatter have given us a very raw and real look at a family that ran 100 acres of land the way they wanted to for years. Well now that the father is in prison, the mother, Grace, is taking things over, but has to deal with a few of her sons. It has been a realty good slow burn so far, with some intense scenes, and I bet it only gets better from here.
  • Dept. H – Matt Kindt is a very unique storyteller, and artist. His work is some of the most original in the business, and I always get excited when he works on a new title, especially when he does the art as well. This time he brings Sharlene Kindt in on watercolors and the final product is fantastic. They both do an excellent job bring this fantastic underwater claustrophobic adventure to life. This is an awesome whodunit comic and I cannot wait to see where it goes from here.
  • Kill Or Be Killed – This is a comic that is always at the top of my read list when it comes out. It shouldn’t be a shock that Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips made an amazing pulp crime comic, but it is amazing that they make such a different one each time. This one follows a guy who is cursed with having to kill people, or lose his life in a deal he made with a demon who spared his life after an attempted suicide. I love this comic, and cannot wait to see where these creators take us.

Best Graphic Novel or Trade Paperback  – Love is Love

loveislovefi1.jpg

Moments like these are why I love this medium. Comic books are just a platform. Just like television, books, movies, etc. You can make whatever you’d like, and this is a fantastic example of that. After the horrible Orlando Pulse shootings, getting a book like this where the proceeds are donated to the families of those lost that day won’t fix the horrors, but maybe it can help us grieve and understand a little better. It can put a face not to the evil person who did this to these people just living their lives, but it can be a voice for the people who died that day.

In this anthology book we get so many amazing creators, not just in the comic industry, but from other mediums as well. This book choked me up more than once while reading these beautiful stories, or the powerful images in them. I don’t want to single any of them out, as there are too many to mention that are fabulous, and Logan from our site already did a fantastic job of that in his review, but as a whole, this book is so important, and so incredible, and while it makes me sad it has to exist, it is necessary that it does.

Runners Up:

  • Dark Night: A Batman Story – What a painful yet beautiful telling of such a horrific true event in Paul Dini’s life. We get to see Dini working on Batman: The Animated Series, and help narrate the tale himself with the help from Batman, Harley, Two Face, Joker, and more as we get a very personal look at his life. This was a very sad, very brave, and very good book.
  • The Prince of Cats – Romeo and Juliet in a 1980s block party. That is basically what this book is, and it is a lot of fun. It is filled with hip hop, bright clothing, sword fights, love, and more. It captures the spirit of the Shakespeare classic, as Ronald Wimberly puts his own creative spin on it. This was a very cool retelling of a story most people already know, but told in a new way.
  • Muhammad Ali – This was an enjoyable way to look at the life of an American icon, and sports legend. Sybil Le Titeux and Amazing Ameziane give us Ali as a child, his work with Islam, his fighting techniques, and so much more throughout his life. The art varies as it uses the pages and panels wisely, and we get some fantastic cameos from important people throughout the champs life.
  • Wonder Woman: The True Amazon – We saw a lot of Wonder Woman stories this year, and that is never a bad thing. Jill Thompson does such a beautiful job on art in this book. Everything looks hand painted and we get another origin story, but an enjoyable one. This is a good book to recommend to any fan of Diana, as it does it justice.

Best Genre – Fallen societies

briggs-land-1Now while this may not be defined as a genre, I read many fantastic comics this year that dealt with societies that had fallen to different degrees. There are groups of people that live on their self governed 100 acres in Briggs Land from Dark Horse by Brian Wood and Mack Chatter. The animals took over the world from the humans in Animosity from Aftershock by Marguerite Bennett and Rafael de Latorre.  And there was the land of Zhal that was taken over and run by the God of Whispers in Seven to Eternity from Image Comics by Rick Remender and Jerome Opeña. We also saw titles like Shipwreck from Aftershock by Warren Ellis and Phil Hester, and Warlords of Appalachia from BOOM! Studios by Phillip Kennedy Johnson and Jonas Scharf.

Maybe I am cynical, but I really enjoyed spending times in worlds that fell in some form. Some of these stories had the people choose to live off the land and govern themselves, saw their animals take their society from them, or saw them rise up against their government as their own militia. Either way, they provided some of my favorite moments in comics this year, and these were just a few of them.

Runners Up:

  • Fantasy – What a great year for fantasy titles. We saw Saga, Seven to Eternity, Lake of Fire, Green Valley, Reborn, The Mighty Thor, Klaus, Head Lopper, Monstress, and so many more. Most important, many of these were fantasy, but not in the traditional sense. We saw the fantasy genre mix with others, and it was a lot of fun. Keep them coming!
  • Crime drama – Another strong genre this year with Kill or Be Killed, Violent Love, Triggerman, and more. I love reading pulp crime stories, and this year brought some very solid entries.
  • MagicSure we got Doctor Strange which has been fantastic, but we also saw Ether, The Wicked + The Divine, Seven to Eternity, and more. Magic is always a fun story element, and we saw some good use of it this year.
  • The 1980s – Everything that was always comes back, and that is true of the 1980s. Whether it was popular properties like He-Man vs Thundercats, IDW’s Revolution event featuring Transformers, GI Joe and more, Escape From NY/Big Trouble in Little China, or The Lost Boys, we saw quite a bit of that generation this year. Even one of my favorite titles, 4 Kids Walk Into A Bank felt so reminiscent of The Goonies or Stand by Me, while still feeling original. 2016 was a great representation of the 1980s.

Biggest Disappointment – Civil War II

civil_war_ii__8

I tried to defend the event after the first few issues, and the art by David Marquez is fantastic, but I can no longer defend this series. I like Brian Michael Bendis, even if I don’t like every series he has written lately. I think that Infamous Iron Man is very promising, and it was odd to me that one of my least favorite comics that released the week of Civil War #8 was written by the same person that wrote one of my favorites in Infamous Iron Man #3. So I don’t want to just make this about Bendis as a writer, because I know he is a good one.

But for whatever reason, be it delays, lack of editorial work or poor planning, this event did not do it for me. The way it ended felt wrong on so many notes, and leaves so much not settled. I also scratch my head at Captain Marvel being loved for what she did, and how they depicted her. I like her as a character, but I felt that this book really messed with who she was, and made her look horrible. While I enjoyed many things Marvel did this year, like Moon Knight, Power Man and Iron Fist, and Old Man Logan, this would be one of my least favorite.

Runners Up:

  • Death of X – If not for the awesome art by Aaron Kuder, this event is mostly forgettable. I didn’t hate the ending, I actually quite liked it, but the event as a whole felt so unnecessary, and a lesser version of the actual event that has had a really good first issue, Inhumans vs. X-Men. This could have been a one shot, but was hyped as something major for a long time.
  • Nighthawk/Mockingbird cancelled – Great books from great creators saw their run end way too soon. At least David Walker got Occupy Avengers and will be bringing Nighthawk into that book. Nighthawk was a gritty and fantastic book with a really interesting character. I look forward to seeing how he is used going forward. For Chelsea Cain, she got to issue 8 with a fun and original take on Bobbi Morse, but then chose to leave Twitter due to everyone getting upset over a comic book cover. Both of these things disappointed me quite a bit. Don’t get me wrong, I understand this is a business, I just wish there was a better way to support books like these aside from pre-orders at local comic shops.
  • Fanboyism – I know this is an every year thing, but as time goes on, I truly scratch my head over the constant fight between fans of the big two. We got some great comics from both publishers, and many others this year as well. It’s silly, and the growth of social media, clickbait journalism, and memes have only made it worse. It was one thing when it was kids busting each other’s chops as friends, but now it has taken on a whole new level of ridiculousness. Stahp!
  • Marvel legacy characters – While I am happy that Marvel has done a great job on adding diverse characters, I am not sure what they are doing with so many of their legacy characters. We saw three of them fall in eight issues of a comic alone. Another is now a super evil double agent. And more are dead or in some sort of coma. I am all for these new heroes, I just prefer the way DC is doing it with Rebirth. Bring the new characters in under the old ones and have them mentor them. Or at least give some balance. I am hopefully this improves in the new year, or at least soon.

Best Publisher – DC 

 DC_Logo_RGB_031816It is hard to give this award to one publisher, as multiple publishers had so many great books this year. Though I will pick one, and that is DC. From the fantastic launch of DC Rebirth as a title, and then the great books that came out of it, to Young Animal, and Vertigo, their imprints and the books that came out of those, they have had one hell of a year. Detective Comics, Action Comics, Superman, Wonder Woman, Doom Patrol, The Sheriff of Babylon, and so on were all such fantastic and consistent titles for them, and while they have always been producing get content, it is great to see them get back to such focus.

They signed some amazing talent with writers Tom King, Tim Seeley, James Tynion IV, and artists like Liam Sharp, and Mitch Gerads to exclusive contracts. Not that they are the only talented people working on their books, because there are definitely more. Mikel Janin and Riley Rossmo both blew me away with their art this year. I was pleasantly surprised by DC this year, and I hope that trend to continue. I hope Marvel is paying attention to them, and while I do not want them to copy them, I would like to see somewhat of a Rebirth type event that can tie their legacy characters to their newer characters a little better, and give fans the best of both worlds.

Runners Up:

  • Dark Horse – They nearly took my top spot with such fantastic books as Black Hammer, Briggs Land, Dept. H, Ether, Hellboy, Harrow County, Lady Killer, Aliens and so much more. Very impressive year.
  • Image – So many titles, and they just keep adding more. Even Skybound has expanded with a few new titles. Image just keeps getting better with age.
  • Aftershock – With Animosity, Shipwreck, American Monster and more, Aftershock has proven it can hang with the best of them. Even with the start of 2017 we are seeing more promising titles like Blood Blister and The Lifespanners coming from some top talent.
  • BOOM! Studios – This year we saw BOOM! really expand its horizons with titles like Klaus, Warlords of Appalachia, Slam, and more while continuing to release their all ages comics that so many love like Goldie Vance, Adventure Time, and more. I expect we will see more serious titles like the Matt Kindt and Tyler Jenkins project, Grass Kings coming in 2017, and I am excited.

Around the Tubes

venom__1-1It’s a new week and we’re still recovering from Thanksgiving! It’s a fifth week for comics which means not a whole lot coming out, but we’re not slowing down! Stay tuned for reviews, interviews, and more!

While you await that, here’s some comic news and reviews from around the web in our morning roundup.

Around the Tubes

Comics Alliance – Pablo Hidalgo Reveals ‘Star Wars: The Clone Wars’ Spinoff That Almost Was – More please!!!

DC Comics – What You Need to Know About DC’s Invasion – For those that need a primer.

 

Around the Tubes Reviews

Talking Comics – Death of X #4

Talking Comics – Masked #1

Talking Comics – Venom #1

Around the Tubes

bm66mww77_ch01-d_sfcoverIt’s turkey day here in the US so Happy Thanksgiving to all of you! For those in the rest of the world, here’s some comic news and reviews from around the web in our morning roundup.

Around the Tubes

Kotaku – Even the Joker Can’t Save an Underwhelming Episode of Telltale’s Batman Game – Anyone playing this?

MIT Technology – AI Machine Attempts to Understand Comic Books … and Fails – A failure of the writing…

Chicago Tribune – Movie adaptation of graphic novel ‘The Empty Man’ to film in Chicago – Heads up Chicago readers.

 

Around the Tubes Reviews

Newsarama – Batman ’66 Meets Wonder Woman ’77 Chapter 1

Newsarama – Captain Marvel #10

Newsarama – Civil War II #7

Talking Comics – Civil War II #7

Newsarama – Death of X #4

Newsarama – Detective Comics #945

Comic Attack – Horizon #5

Atomic Junk Shop – Paper Girls #1

Newsarama – Wonder Woman #11

Preview: Death of X #4

Death of X #4

(W) Jeff Lemire, Charles Soule (A/CA) Aaron Kuder
Rated T+
In Shops: Nov 23, 2016
SRP: $3.99

The first true battle in the Inhumans/X-Men war!

Cyclops isn’t the only one who doesn’t make it out alive…

death_of_x__4

Review: Death of X #4

death_of_x__4It’s the first true battle in the upcoming war between the Inhumans and Mutants this issue finally reveals the fate of Scott Summers aka Cyclops!

I’ve generally been down on a lot of Death of X which overall still feels like it’s a very small part of a story as opposed to something that’s really self-contained. And in some ways it is that small part. The story is what happened in the gap from when the Marvel Universe was reset again.

Since that kick-off fans have been left wondering the fate of Cyclops which has been hinted at and teased but never fully explained. We knew he wasn’t around and it was pretty clear he died, but there was enough leeway another fate might have befallen him.

And we get our answer here in a story that has enough twists to keep things interesting.

But, beyond the death of Cyclops, and a few other characters throughout this series,  what I think is most important is that by the end of this comic the X-Men are being positioned back to where they work best a philosophical idea as much as characters and action. While I don’t want to spoil things there’s an interesting back to basics feel about this comic which gets things back to “ideas.” When the X-Men began it was a series about the idea that mutants and humans could live side by side in peace. Over the years that has ebbed and flowed and by the end of this comic the declaration is made we’re getting back to the philosophy at their core. It’s a declaration as much to the reader as it is a foreshadow of things to come.

death_of_x__4-4The comic is good in that it answers at least one of my questions, why haven’t the X-Men just destroyed the clouds, but it also leaves some things open like why there isn’t even more of a fallout from the events in this series. It feels like things are a bit short and not resolved enough. For instance, another character sacrifices himself here for the greater good of mutants. You’d think that might come up somehow? Maybe things will now that the cat’s out of the bag?

But, for the issues I had with the storytelling the art is just a complete slide from what we had been seeing (which already had issues). There’s one panel in particular that has Emma Frost looking more like Beak. Artist Aaron Kuder had some troubles with character design that’s not consistent and at times atrocious. It’s one where I’m actually scratching my head trying to figure out what happened and what went wrong. But the art had me struggling.

The comic answers questions and foreshadows things to come, but it also leaves a lot of unanswered questions (how has Magneto not seen more of a backlash?). I have no idea if those holes will be filled, but the four issue series does what it set out to do, set up the conflict to come in the next big even, tell else who has died, and provide the fate of Cyclops. It does all of that, I just wish it did a bit more too.

Story: Jeff Lemire, Charles Soule Art: Aaron Kuder
Story: 6.65 Art: 5 Overall: 5.8 Recommendation: Pass

Marvel provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Graphic Policy’s Top Comic Picks this Week!

adbook01_coverartWednesdays are new comic book day! Each week hundreds of comics are released, and that can be pretty daunting to go over and choose what to buy. That’s where we come in!

We’re bringing back something we haven’t done for a while, what the team thinks. Our contributors are choosing up to five books each week and why they’re choosing the books.

Find out what folks think below, and what comics you should be looking out for this Wednesday.

Joe

Top Pick: AD: After Death #1 (Image Comics) – Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire are two of my favorite people in comics. Now they will be together with Lemire doing some fantastic art (one of his talents that is very underrated) on a book that they call part comic and part prose. This book asks the question, what if we could cure death? I am sure not everything will go well, but time will tell. What would a world with no death be like? Would it be as great as we think? The previews I have seen so far are beautiful, and I am very excited for the story this oversized book will tell.

The Mighty Thor #13 (Marvel) – After an excellent first issue of The Unworthy Thor that saw the return of Odinson, we will return to the current and actual holder of the Thor title. This issue will see the start of a massive war, and it will be interesting to see how this affects not only Thor, but Odinson as well. What will Odin do? Or Loki? This series has been fantastic all the way back to the last run. The story is great, the art is some of the best in comics, so yes, this is definitely high on my list.

Dept. H #8 (Dark Horse) – Who did it!? That’s the question we are all asking along with our protagonist, while everyone tries to avoid drowning to death. The water is rising and so are tensions. As they search for answers, they also have to search for a way to survive. Did someone sabotage the base? It would sure seem it. Matt and Sharlene Kindt have been doing such a fantastic job on this book and I expect that to continue.

Detective Comics #945 (DC Comics) – The Victim Syndicate continues, and I want to find out more about these characters. We basically know they want to make Batman hurt for what they think he did to them, but how far will they take things? It definitely seems like pretty far if the last issue is any sign. This is one of the best DC books, and probably my favorite bat book each month, so I am definitely looking forward to this.

bsusa_002_cover-a_braithwaiteWonder Woman #11 (DC Comics) – Speaking of the best DC book, this just may be it. Wonder Woman is probably their most consistent title, and Greg Rucka is writing a heck of a tale, well two tales each month. I love the going back and forth between the year one and the current storyline, and seeing how they tie together. Will we finally get some big answers this issue? This is a book everyone should be reading every month. Highly recommended.

 

Alex

Bloodshot U.S.A. #2 (Valiant) – I’ve recent been reading the earlier issues of Bloodshot from a few years ago, which has gotten me incredibly excited to get my hands on this issue with a new found appreciation for the character.

Venom #1 (Marvel) – Knowing next to nothing about this series, or Venom’s history since the symbiote was bonded to Flash Thompson, this is going to be an interesting read. Hopefully, it’s a little more than half decent.

Ninjak #21 (Valiant) – I’m looking forward to this more for the end of the arc than anything else. I’ve been pretty underwhelmed by The Fist And The Steel arc, although it was a perfectly serviceable story, it just didn’t do it for me. I’m hoping the next arc will be different, but we have to read this first.

 

warlords_of_appalachia_002_a_mainBrett

Top Pick: AD: After Death Book 1 (Image Comics) – Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire. Those two names alone should give you enough reason to pick up this first issue. The concept is interesting and Joe covered that above, but these are creators who I expect quality when I see their names and they consistently deliver. I don’t flinch at recommending this one and it’s near the top of my reading list.

Civil War II #7 (Marvel) – I’ll be the first to say this event has been a disaster from the beginning, but it’s a trainwreck where I want to see what happens next.

Death of X #4 (Marvel) – Filling in the gaps post-Secret Wars we finally find out what happened to Cyclops and a few others. That’s enough to get me to check out this final issue of the miniseries and also to see what happens next with the next event IVX.

Captain Canuck #10 (Chapterhouse Comics) – Comics should be fun and Captain Canuck consistently delivers that without the grim and dark that so many others rely on.

Warlords of Appalachia #2 (BOOM! Studios) – Might as well get ahead of the curve in what very well may be a prescient series. The story involves an uprising from Kentucky post second Civil War… entertainment is feeling a bit too real here.

Around the Tubes

avengers__1Doctor Strange is opening up this weekend! Who’s heading out to go see it? While you decide whether or not you will, here’s some comic news and reviews from around the web in our morning roundup.

Around the Tubes

CBR – DC Comics TV Series Generate $1 Billion a Year in Revenue – That’s some serious change.

Comics Alliance – ‘Deadpool 2’ Just Lost Composer Junkie XL – Well that’s one more person to hire.

CBR – FBI Offers $10K Reward For Info on Missing Comic Artist Norman Lee – If anyone has information.

ICv2 – Paramount Options Rob Liefeld’s ‘Avengelyne’ – This should be interesting. Expect more Liefeld movies with Deadpool being a hit.

Newsarama – New Line’s SANDMAN Screenwriter Drops Out… Because He Thinks It Should Be On TV – Tell us what you really think.

The Beat – Comics publisher Double Take is shutting down at the end of the month – That’s a shame. Especially after their NYCC showing.

 

Around the Tubes Reviews

Talking Comics – Avengers #1

Talking Comics – Death of X #3

Comic Vine – The Unworthy Thor #1

Review: Death of X #3

death_of_x__3In Death of X #3, Cyclops and Emma Frost start to hatch their plan and The Inhumans cross a line with the mutants.

With one more issue to go we’re getting closer to the answer as to what exactly happened that drove such a schism between the Inhumans and Mutants.

Death of X #3 continues to stretch out the story which so far feels like it could have been completed in a tighter two issues. Written by Charles Soule and Jeff Lemire, the issue balances a decent amount as forces are gathered and moves are made by the players.

There are some good things in the issue as it all flows really well and the missteps and actions feel natural. But, that’s part of the issue too, in that those missteps feel like they’ve been played out so many times in so many different media. The miscommunication ups the stress of the situation and someone accidently pulls a trigger that sets things off. It’s a pretty simple setup, but it’s done pretty well with a lot of small moments really making up the stronger whole.

Aaron Kuder and Javier Gorgón handle the pencils which I think have been pretty weak for the event. None of it is bad, but the characters feel like they’re stretched out a bit. It’s the artist’s style and my take is just a personal one. I do dig some of the panel layouts. There’s actually some really cool things that get me to take notice of the page and spend time looking at all of the small details.

I said it with the first issue, I’m waiting for the end to really see how it all ends. This has been a rather odd miniseries to read as we know where things are and this fills in the gap. Who lives? Who dies? That’s the questions this answers and the main draw for me. And in the end, it’s all prequel for the event series to come next.

Story: Charles Soule, Jeff Lemire Art: Aaron Kuder, Javier Gorgón
Story: 6.85 Art: 7.0 Overall: 6.90 Recommendation: Read

Marvel provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

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