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Review: Marvel’s Voices #1

Marvel's Voices #1

Marvel’s Voices is an Experience, capital E. It’s the first comic I know about that adapts the concept of a podcast into a comics anthology collecting stories from black creators giving their take on the Marvel universe.

The book’s title carries over from the podcast it’s based on, which is hosted by Angélique Roché. The list of creators includes Vita Ayala, Damion Scott, Kyle Baker, Brian Stelfreeze, Roxane Gay, Method Man, Alitha Martínez, among other notable industry names. What’s interesting about the project, though, is that it embraces its multimedia roots by featuring essays from other creators accessible via Marvel’s Voices online page.

Two particular essays grabbed my attention: Regine L. Sawyer’s “Growing Up Marvel” and Karama Horne’s “The Legacy of Isaiah Bradley: The First Black Captain America.” (Disclosure: Karama and Regine have both contributed to our site – ed.)

Sawyer’s essay is about her origin story into comics through a less conventional avenue than most other stories of the kind: X-Men trading cards. I don’t want to spoil the essay because it is a fascinating and well-written story, but it is wonderful to get this look at how comics allow for multiple entry points given it’s an entire cultural package. It made me remember my card collecting days growing up, both the same X-Men cards Sawyer collected and the classic Pepsi Cards I religiously hunted down back when they came out in Puerto Rico. I still have them with me and they also helped me embrace comics.

Horne’s essay is about two comics: Truth and The Crew. Each one stands as some of Marvel’s best comic book offerings. They were subversive and hard-hitting, daring enough to give Marvel a black Captain America (in Truth), complete with an exploration of the tragic treatment black heroes get using real-life black history as the basis for the problems each character faces (which is expanded upon in The Crew).

The essay is a great and concise history of these comics, but it also serves as a lesson on visibility. That Marvel hasn’t reprinted these stories or released newer editions of the paperbacks brings up more questions than it should. I think Horne’s essay makes a strong argument as to why we need these comics back on the stands.

On the comic’s side of Marvel’s Voices, we get a strong if a bit uneven set of short stories that are personal, celebratory, and thoughtful as to why Marvel characters mean so much in the struggle for more diverse voices in the industry. Kyle Baker, for instance, produced a one-pager Ant-Man and Nick Fury story titled “Perspective,” about Fury’s problem with depth perception. It’s a quick hit but the art on display here is impressive enough to make anyone want to see Baker do more Marvel work.

Geoffrey Thorne, Khary Randolph, and Emilio López’s “Top of the Key,” on the other hand, is a one-pager on Mosaic story (a character Marvel has severely underused, in my opinion) that would’ve benefited from an additional page or two. It feels more like a setup for a larger story and we only really just get a taste of it.

Rob Markman, Damion Scott, and Dono Sánchez-Almara’s “What a Wonderful World” stands as one of the most impressive stories in the anthology as it offers a well-rounded look at a Marvel character with outstanding art and a clear message to boot. It centers on a troubled Silver Surfer, comparing Marvel’s biggest villains with humanity’s own villainy when it comes to protecting the environment. No panel was spared, no color was misplaced, and no bit of text hung without intent. Just a really good two-page story.

The best story in the book is without question “Inspiration,” by James Monroe Iglehart, Ray-Anthony Height, and Emilio López. This 4-page tale gives the radioactive spider that gave Peter Parker his powers a much-deserved platform to contemplate his role in the grand scheme of things. The script showcases an interesting play on what a superpowered spider is supposed to be and how much of its natural instincts define its actions. It’s simply unforgettable and truly worthy of getting its own comic book series.

Marvel Voices #1 is the type of book Marvel needs to invest more on. It shows just how important it is to bring in other perspectives into this superhero universe and just how different it can all turn out to be. It speaks to the power of voices hungry for diversity in storytelling. And that, in itself, is a beautiful thing.

Writers: John Jennings, Anthony Piper, Luciano Vecchio, David Betancourt, James Monroe Iglehart, Evan Narcisse, Vita Ayala, Regine L. Sawyer, Brian Stelfreeze, Brandon Montclare, Tatiana King Jones, Karama Horne, Kyle Baker, Roxane Gay, Yona Harvey, Don McGregor, Geoffrey Thorne, Rob Markman, Method Man, Daniel Dominguez, Charlamagne The God, David F. Walker, Chuck Brown
Art: Anthony Piper, Luciano Vecchio, Ray-Anthony Height, Jahnoy Lindsay, Bernard Chang, Brian Stelfreeze, Natacha Bustos, Kyle Baker, Brittney L. Williams, Khary Randolph, Damion Scott, Alitha E. Martinez, JJ Kirby, Sanford Greene
Color: Anthony Piper, Luciano Vecchio, Emilio Lopez, Marcelo Maiolo, Brian Stelfreeze, Tamra Bonvillain, Kyle Baker, Rachelle Rosenberg, Dono Sánchez-Almara, JJ Kirby, Matt Herms
Letterer: Travis Lanham
Writing: 9 Essays: 10 Art: 10 Overall: 10
Recommendation: Buy and make sure to bag and board it.

Review: Superman #43

SM_Cv43“The secret’s out and we’re all friends here”

This issue does finally what we’ve waited for since this “DC You” revamp, and that’s answer just what the hell happened to Superman’s powers? We start the issue off with Lois and Clark in bed. (not to worry, nothing happened, Superman just burned up all his clothes with his new Solar Flare power and Lois put his cape in the wash) Clark realizes he’s back at Lois’s apartment in her bed and she replies “Couldn’t put Superman on the floor, could we?” (Classic Lois, gotta love her) As Clark gets his bearings he sees that more company is there, his best pal Jimmy Olson (Though he likes to be called Jim. Good luck bud, you’ve been Jimmy for over 75 years so deal with it.) and fellow Daily Planet colleague, Condessa.

Jimmy is all sorts of distraught as he thinks he may have inadvertently spilled the beans on Clark’s big secret. Everyone assures him this is not the case, but how can they be sure? Someone knows. One thing is for certain it’s not good. While Condessa consoles Jimmy, Lois gets real with Clark over a microwave meal of Lean Cuisine. (Lois is not the happy homemaker type clearly) She then tells him even though she has reported on him for most of his career, there is still so much she does not know. So she hits him with some hard questions: “Why did he settle in Metropolis?” “Does he have some sort of master plan?” “What if he goes rogue one day?” “Can he control this new Flare power?” (Good questions, that one would expect from the most intrepid reporter on the planet) She tells him that the public deserves the right to know these answers. Clark tries to change the subject but Lois brings up back when Superman was in his early days, she saw her father and Lex Luthor torture him to get answers. Lois tells Clark she is not like them, she will not brutalize him even for the sake of a great story in print. With that being said Lois said she’s decided to keep his secret. He’s always been Clark Kent to her first, and she’s even fell in love with him. Clark puts the brakes on and tells her that he belongs to someone else. (Wonder Woman, duh she sees the news Clark!) Lois in true Lois fashion responds saying she’s got someone too and besides she knows she’s not “mythological” enough for his taste. (Ha! best line of the book) When someone gets Lois and writes her so well, it’s hard not to make a case for these two not to be together. They are just iconically eternal. The name just rings. Lois and Clark. There was even a show about it with the super talented Teri Hatcher and Dean Cain in the 90’s too. I digress, we can’t get what we want in fandom all the time. Sigh.

Just as the two finish up their heart to heart, they realize they are being watched. Lois’s phone has been transformed with robotic tri pod legs and a villain name Hordr (lame name I must admit), is using it to blackmail Superman. Lois instinctively smashes the phone before the demands can be explained and Clark admonishes her. She says he can’t be serious but tells her, he has to play along. At least for now. Then Clark gets ready to rush off to save the day and Lois tells him she’s coming with him. He explains it’s too dangerous, bla, bla, bla and she says she is a part of both his lives. (Good for you Lois, he may wear the cape but you have the backbone)

The remainder of the issue is Lois and Clark setting out to confront Hordr (maybe if I keep saying it, nope the name still sucks) which they do with some surprising results. I won’t ruin the revelations here, but I will say Lois’s reason for what she did with Clark’s secret made me sympathize with her greatly. As for how Superman’s powers are depleted, it was serviceable enough.

Overall: I wanted answers, and this issue (and writer Gene Luen Yang) gave them to me. What it also did is remind me that Lois and Clark should be together. Sure the Wonder Woman thing is cool, but he belongs with Lois. Aside from the complications of a possible human/ Kryptonian pregnancy, I don’t see any reason to keep them apart. I’m not a fan of the new villain either but it is better than writers rehashing old storylines and getting overused villains out of the sandbox all the time. This was definitely the best chapter of this story yet. I even thought Romita Jr’s, art was above what it’s been the past year. (Truth be told, I am a life time fan of the Romitas and both John Sr. and John Jr. are my favorite all time Spider-Man artists.) Now that the genie is out, it’s going to be hard to get the cape back on it. I sure know they will try their best though, and after this month I can’t wait to follow along. Remember kids to beware your phone because once something is in cyberspace it never dies. Also it could secretly be a super villain’s robotic booby trap to blackmail you too. Till next month, if you need me I will be watching Lois and Clark reruns remembering what was.

Story: Gene Luen Yang Art: John Romita Jr.
Story: 9 Art: 8 Overall: 8.5 Recommendation: Buy

Review: Batman/Superman #22

bmsm022This series is at the crossroads of one of the strangest meetings in comic history.  While the history of comic books has evolved since its early days, two of the constants in the medium have always been Superman and Batman, the two two characters, who along with the later addition of Spider-Man can be said to be the ones which transcend the medium and enter into general public knowledge.  As the two characters that are held by DC, it has made sense to put these two together, even if they are massively different in terms of powers and abilities.  One complements the others and the pairing focuses more on their strengths than on their weaknesses.  At the moment though the two characters are in a state of flux.  Superman is depowered to a degree, and Batman is replaced.  As the series which used to focus on the relationship of these two working together, it now focuses on the two heroes trying to pick up the pieces of the changes in their lives.

The action picks up where it left off in the previous issue, with Superman and Batman in a standoff, with Batman going so far as wanting to arrest him.  It doesn’t come to pass, especially as Superman reveals his reasons for being in Gotham City.  It is soon also revealed that Lucius has been hiding a secret, one that is of great interest to Ukur, Beastlord of Subterranea, who subsequently tries to acquire this device.  With Superman taking the lead in the fight, it soon becomes evident that there is a big difference between the old and the new relationship between these two heroes, especially as Clark is trying an approach which would work with Bruce Wayne but apparently not with Jim Gordon.

As a continuation of the Truth and Justice story arcs for the new Superman, this is perhaps the best issue yet, although it still leaves a lot of room for improvement.  At the same time, the Jim Gordon Batman is still a little out-of-sorts here as elsewhere, with his first reaction to any superhero is to try to arrest them, a characteristic which would not have been true with either Batman or Jim Gordon, yet is supposed to be different here for some reason.  Thus while there are signs of improvement, there are also still flaws here, and it remains to be seen if the story will reach where it needs to be for this to work before the fans start grumbling for the return of their heroes how they like them.

Story: Greg Pak  Art: Ardian Syaf
Story: 7.7 Art: 7.7  Overall: 7.7  Recommendation: Read



Review: Action Comics #42

ac042With the Truth segment of this Superman crossover finished after one month, the story now moves on to Justice, a change of some sort which is not immediately evident to the reader.   The move to deconstruct Superman to show that he is super beyond his powers is an intriguing venture, but thus far there has been very little of a unified approach as to how he is being portrayed.  The somewhat directionless approach has spilled over into four different series, but with each one set in a different time and place with different stakes on the line, and so it makes what is going on a bit hard to grasp.

The heart of the story line can be likely tied to Action Comics.  Superman-Wonder Woman and Superman-Batman looked at his relationship with those two heroes, and the main Superman book seemed a bit hesitant to get into the new Superman, Action Comics has thus far been responsible for the setup and delivery of most of the differences.  AS was previously shown, Superman returns to Metropolis, mostly powerless and faces against a police force that is tired of cleaning up after him, and yet also a group of citizens who stand by him for all that he has done.  As a shadow beast attacked the neighborhood, he was forced to intervene, and the two groups, both pro- and anti- faced off.  This is the followup to the first issue of this arc, where Superman attacks the shadow beast, and where the citizens face off against the police.  The battle with the shadow beast is fun enough, especially as Superman realizes that he can’t do everything that he used to, but the protests of the citizens come up a bit empty.  In a story with a superpowered alien fighting a shadow beast, it is the protest which comes off as the most unlikely part of the story.

Stories from the big two comic publishers often have a problem of avoiding controversy.  Four years ago the Occupy Wall Street movement took off and caused some people to reconsider what they took for granted as the system in place in North America for economics, and now finally DC has gotten around to its own demonstration, though this one is seemingly self-aware.  It should be said that the plot point of superheroes getting sued is one which should probably never be breached in comics.  Just like their fantastical powers which defy most of what we know of science, it is a state of being in the superhero world that superheroes are not responsible for their damage, otherwise most superhero books would turn into one lawsuit after another.  While the action here did a decent job of living up to the name of the titular series, the setup does not, nor does it really do justice to any comics.  This new direction for Superman is still trying to change the boundaries of what defines the hero, it is just not really clear if it is going about it the right way.

Story: Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder Art: Aaron Kuder
Story: 7.0 Art: 7.0 Overall: 7.0 Recommendation: Pass

Review: Superman #41

superman041So far since the end of DC’s Convergence company wide crossover, a different direction has been taken for Superman.  As told through the loosely connected Truth story line, Superman has been depowered to a relative degree and seemingly repurposed as something closer a street level character.  The implementation of this new direction has been a bit clunky across various titles as it has affected Action Comics, Superman/Batman and Superman/Wonder Woman.  As this story line returns to the titular series for the hero, it goes back a bit to explain just what has happened to the hero to turn him from super-everything to more like an enhanced street fighter.

This issue starts off with the new Superman, presumably to remind us that he is in fact depowered, but then quickly flashes us back to the time before (though to be fair almost right before.)  Clark and Jimmy are on a story, trying to figure out what is going on with a suspected arms deal, and Superman is forced to intervene after the arms deal goes bad.  More troubling, there is someone behind the scenes that is playing the two of them, including the fact that they have figured out that Clark and Superman are one and the same.  In pursuing this story, Superman almost inadvertently exposes his secret to Lois as well as he is forced into saving a hostage.

The Truth story line has been a bit disappointing thus far, as it has attempted to take a different look at the hero, and mostly has come up a bit short.  This carries on here, but inexplicably this is not so much of a look at the new hero, but rather gives us what is basically the old Superman back, save for a few panels mixed in with the newer version.  As opposed to the story line which can’t seem to find a good direction in which to take the character, this newest installment instead can’t decide whether to give fans the new version or the old version.  There are likely still fans clamoring for answers as to what exactly happened to Superman to get him where he presently is, but aside from those readers, this issue comes off as a bit too ordinary.

Story: Gene Luen Yang Art: John RomitaJr.
Story: 6.7 Art: 6.7 Overall: 6.7 Recommendation: Pass

Review: Superman/Wonder Woman #18

sww018After a fairly mediocre turnout elsewhere, Truth finally arrives to this title.  This story arc/crossover is one which takes everything that we know about Superman and turns it on its side, as the still super Superman has to learn to deal with powers that aren’t as impressive as they once were.  Looking a lot more like the character from Action Comics #1 (the original), the character is seemingly meant to appeal more to the street level fans of comic books as he can now bleed and be hurt, and as his super strength is not quite what it once was.  At the same time it helps to highlight just what Superman does as a hero, that he won’t stop despite the odds, and while the story has been a bit cliched in this manner, it also hasn’t been a complete disappointment.

This issue is perhaps one of the weirdest as to how this all works out.  Superman has confronted Lois elsewhere as well as the stand-in Batman, but this issue is the first to show this non-powered Superman with Wonder Woman, who is arguably at her most powerful level ever in her publication.  Six months ago she was arguably more powerful than Superman, now it is without question, at least until he inevitably goes back to full strength.  This changes the dynamic a little bit for this series, but also surprisingly doesn’t as Wonder Woman as usual in this series takes the passenger seat to Clark’s adventures as they are drawn into a government cover-up/mystery in Smallville.  The reader is introduced to things which would likely have been part of the Superman mythos if they actually did exist before in comics, but the way in which they are introduced here is kind of sloppy as plot developments that don’t really follow, and as the cover-up gets to be weirder and weirder.

There are those that like the idea behind this series as they have always wanted to see what Superman and Wonder Woman would look like together, but in order for this to be more than a stunt and fanboy service they would also need to provide a story line that is worthy of the union, and so far in this series there hasn’t been one.  That this series is thrown into the mostly mediocre Truth crossover from Superman doesn’t help much either as it once again doesn’t give this series much to build on.  Instead the story here is about par for the course for this series, if not a bit worse, as Truth drags down a little bit what has mostly been an average series.

Story: Peter J. Tomasi Art: Doug Mahnke
Story: 6.5 Art: 7.5 Overall: 6.5 Recommendation: Pass

Review: Batman/Superman #21

bmsm021Since the advent of superhero comics, there is no stronger and dissimilar team-up than Superman and Batman.  One represents the hope that is possible for all humanity, and the other deals with the sometimes sad truth that is the human condition.  One is a superpowered alien, the other a regular man driven to perfection.  In the history of the characters, they have often been played against each other for a specific effect as the differences between the two are highlighted by the same underlying sacrifice for humanity.  While this dynamic is therefor both characters, at the moment both of them are in flux as well.  Superman is undergoing fundamental changes under the Truth story arc and no one is quite sure what has happened to Batman since the end of End Game.  In this case the differences between the two characters exists to show that no one really knows what is going on with them any more.

The action follows Superman as he is cleaning up the streets of Metropolis.  Lex Luthor intervenes and informs him that there is a connection to Gotham City, to which Superman quickly goes to investigate.  His own issues being pressing enough, he must now deal with the disappearance of Bruce Wayne and the introduction of a new armored Batman in his place.  Without his greatest ally to assist him he still searches for the answers as the newly depowered Superman and the mysterious new Batman face off head-to-head in the search for some answers.

While the Truth story arc for Superman is interesting from a certain perspective as it allows the character to be explored for some of his fundamental characteristics as opposed to his powers, there is also the lack of feeling of permanence to it.  This is maybe the most evident here as both Batman and Superman are a little lost at the moment, both absent in one way or another.  As these are DC’s big two, it seems unlikely that these changes are permanent, and so this issue in a way kind of feels like filler.  At the same time it does a good job examining the importance of the two characters for one another, especially as they are at relative lows, but these two do not stay low for long, and so it raises the question of just how relevant this story is?

Story: Greg Pak  Art: Ardian Syaf
Story: 6.5 Art: 7.5  Overall: 6.5  Recommendation: Pass

NYCC 2012 – Truth Heads to New York With Five New Levels for the Flavor Monsters

truth, the nation’s largest youth smoking prevention Flavor Monsters ss 4 campaign, announced that five new levels have been released for the mobile game Flavor Monsters. The game is available for free download on select Apple and Android devices, and was developed as part of a comprehensive campaign to reach teens and young people about the dangers of flavored tobacco products.

The game transports users into a not-too-distant future where “Flavor Monsters” are attacking Earth. The “Flavor Monsters” are creatures that represent the added flavorings in tobacco. Players work to defeat these monsters, thereby stopping the monster invasion. The game features multiple skill levels, each of which features  a different series of colorful, flavored monsters to be defeated. An accompanying field manual contains data on all the monsters, along with relevant tobacco-related facts, and details on the tools that can be used to defeat the monsters.

truth also announced that specially-produced Flavor Monsters’ collectible vinyl toys are now FM Honey Toy available online. In conjunction with the release of the Flavor Monsters game, truth partnered with Luke Rook of Lulubell Toy Bodega to develop a line of custom vinyl toys. Best known for his ‘Grody Shogun’ line of toys, Luke is a well-known toy designer who designs, sculpts and paints toys out of his Arizona studio and store. For more information, visit http://www.lulubelltoys.com.

This August, truth embarked on its first ever gaming tour in an effort to connect the Flavor Monsters game experience to gamers in a tangible, interactive way. At each stop, truth‘s crew of young adult “tour riders” speak directly with teens and young adults – educating them about the marketing tactics of the tobacco industry and the health effects, addictiveness and social consequences of tobacco. At gaming conventions, an interactive booth called “45 Flavors” allows attendees to play the game onsite, get their picture taken with a Flavor Monster, both sample and buy truth-related gear and products, and take part in a special video virtual simulation that will give attendees the experience of being part of the actual Flavor Monsters game. All of the activities around the booth experience are geared toward ‘recruiting’ future monster hunters, and educating people about flavor monsters, as a way to reinforce messaging about the tobacco industry’s use of flavorings in tobacco products.

The truth’s “45 Flavors” booth will be at New York Comic Con, October 11-14, 2012 at the Javits Center in New York City, booth #1820.

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