Monday, April 26, 2010

New X-Men handbook in July!

X-MEN: PHOENIX FORCE HANDBOOK

Written by JEFF CHRISTIANSEN, MIKE O’SULLIVAN, STUART VANDAL, MICHAEL HOSKIN, KEVIN GARCIA, SEAN MCQUAID, MARKUS RAYMOND, RONALD BYRD, MADISON CARTER, JEPH YORK, CHRIS BIGGS & JACOB ROUGEMONT Cover by TOM RANEY

X-MEN: SECOND COMING tie-in! This year’s chronicling of Marvel blazes on as the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe team brings to you all things Phoenix! Comprehensive biographies of the Phoenix Force and the characters closely tied to it: Jean Grey! Rachel Summers! Madelyne Pryor! The threats they’ve faced: the Scy’ar Tal! The Crazy Gang! Krakoa! Frenzy! Nanny! The allies they’ve fought beside: Lilandra! Rusty Collins! Alistair Stuart! Corsair! Widget! And, of course, the mutant everyone’s watching: Hope Summers! Featuring ALL-NEW profiles and art for dozens of characters! 64 PGS./Handbook/Rated T+ …$4.99

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The handbooks get feminine this July!

WOMEN OF MARVEL: CELEBRATING SEVEN DECADES HANDBOOK TPB

Written by JEFF CHRISTIANSEN, MIKE O'SULLIVAN & THE OFFICIAL HANDBOOK TEAM Cover by TOM RANEY

This is the year of Marvel’s women, and the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe is joining the celebration with this collection of profiles of the brightest female stars in the Marvel firmament! This encyclopedic volume covers the entire span of Marvel Comics and features hundreds of eye-catching characters! Entries include the good (Aurora, Big Bertha, Dazzler, Psylocke, Squirrel Girl), the bad (Hela, Moonstone, Selene, Titania, Viper) and everyone in-between (Gamora, Millie the Model, May Parker, Valeria Richards, Typhoid). This is a vital resource for any fan of the Women of Marvel! 240 PGS./Rated T+ …$19.99

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Get ready for the Thanos Imperative with July's Sourcebook!

The Thanos Imperative event kicks off next month and it's the latest of the Annihilation-Conquest-War of Kings-Realm of Kings cosmic book series. This July, we've got a special book to bring everyone up to speed:

THANOS SOURCEBOOK

Written by MIKE O’SULLIVAN & VARIOUS Cover by ALEX GARNER

The THANOS SOURCEBOOK is an ideal primer for any reader of the latest saga to rock the cosmos! Featuring biographies on Marvel’s intergalactic cast of characters — as written by Earth’s Richard Rider, the Nova Prime! 32 PGS./Handbook/Rated T+ …$3.99

Friday, April 23, 2010

So, you're in Calgary this weekend?

I'm glad to hear it! That means you're going to visit the Calgary Entertainment Expo, right?

As so long as you're there, you're obviously going to drop by Another Dimension at booth #1200. Why? Because I'm there.

Yes, I'll be there Saturday & Sunday for autographs and gabbery. Say hi, all right?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Spider-Man Index: collected this July!

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN: OFFICIAL INDEX TO THE MARVEL UNIVERSE GN-TPB

Get the complete history of Spider-Man from his earliest appearances all the way up to the present day. This book comes packed with synopses of every Spider-Man comic—including back up strips—introducing you to the characters, teams, places and equipment that appeared within, providing vital information about all things Spider-Man! Collecting material from OFFICIAL INDEX TO THE MARVEL UNIVERSE #1-13. 304 PGS./Rated A …$19.99

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Index#3 is out this July!

AVENGERS, THOR & CAPTAIN AMERICA: OFFICIAL INDEX TO THE MARVEL UNIVERSE 3

Written by PAUL BOURCIER, CHRIS BUCHNER, RONALD BYRD, RUSS CHAPPELL, MICHAEL HOSKIN, DARON JENSEN, SEAN MCQUAID, JACOB ROUGEMONT, AL SJOERDSMA, ROBERT J. SODARO, STUART VANDAL & KEVIN WASSER

The chronicle of the Marvel Universe returns as the All-New Official Index to the Marvel Universe delves into the history of three more of Marvel’s most enduring titles! Return with us to the Silver and Golden Ages as we launch our coverage of the Avengers (from AVENGERS #111), Thor (from THOR #161), and Captain America (from both CAPTAIN AMERICA #207 and 1941’s CAPTAIN AMERICA COMICS #11). Watch the Marvel universe’s history unfold month by month as each issue provides synopses for dozens of individual comics, including back-up strips, introducing the characters, teams, places and equipment that appeared within, providing vital information about first appearances, where they last showed up and where they appeared next! 64 PGS./Rated A …$3.99

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Iron Manual Mark 3: tomorrow!

Tomorrow is release day for Iron Manual Mark 3 and you can refresh your memory of the solicitation here! This is a terrific book, featuring lots of new artwork, detailing a number of Iron Man's supporting players, allies & enemies and even bringing classic Handbook creator Peter Sanderson back into the fold! Peter was the 3rd most prolific author in the entire writing team!

If you're on the Handbooks' Facebook fan page, you've already seen a preview of the book. If you aren't a fan, why not?

With the release of Iron Man 2 only weeks away, it's a great time to dig into Iron Man's past. Enjoy, won't you?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Great Unsung Moments in Comics: Moon Knight#20

Allow me to set the stage...

Doug Moench and Bill Sienkiewicz's Moon Knight#20 (1982) was the conclusion of a four-part storyline which pit Moon Knight against Nimrod Strange, a terrorist leader who murdered one of Moon Knight's old friends in the opening chapter.

By #20, we learn that Nimrod plans to detonate oil tankers at strategic points around Manhattan, setting off an inferno that will surround and ultimately consume the entire island.

Moon Knight goes up against Nimrod, only to be captured and tied up. In true Bond villain fashion, Nimrod doesn't notice Moon Knight's crescent darts weapons, leaving him with a means to escape his bonds.

The problem is, getting the darts off his belt and into his hands proves extremely difficult. By the time Moon Knight finally sets himself free, he has only one crescent dart remaining.

Nimrod and Moon Knight have a climactic battle, but Nimrod realizes the futility of fighting and makes a run for the detonator wired to the tanker's explosives.

Here, Sienkiewicz reinforces the desperation of both men, each physically spent and struggling to meet their goals. Moon Knight is so weakened he can't even stand, yet somehow, he has to stop Nimrod.

Moon Knight realizes he has just one chance: he must throw his last crescent dart at the detonator, cutting its wires.

And he misses! In any other story, the hero's last-second attempt would have succeeded; not here.

Summoning the last of his strength, Moon Knight gets up and beats Nimrod down, halting the detonator.

How does he feel about stopping Nimrod?

Pretty dang good.

It's for scenes like these that I buy comic books. Moench's Moon Knight is filled with great moments like these that play on typical action hero cliches yet find a new take on the situation. Moon Knight first failing to catch his crescent darts while trying to cut through his bonds, then later failing to cut the detonator with his dart are both traditional Marvel Super Hero moments; in both scenes, Moon Knight is the hard-luck hero who can't catch a break.

There is another Moench comic with a very similar situation as the climax of Moon Knight#20 (it's Master of Kung Fu#49), but this story has a very particular tone. Part of me does smile both at Moon Knight's initial failure to stop Nimrod, then again at the image of him spitting on Nimrod's body. It may not be the stuff of heroes, but it is identifiably the stuff of men.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Origins: made of clay

Or, "Sure, you've read Superman's origin before...but this time it's by Geoff Johns!"

Kat Howard remarked:

"I was reading Michael Chabon's essay, "Secret Skin: An Essay in Unitard Theory," the other day, and was completely flummoxed by his assertion that it was the origin stories of costumed superheros that most fascinated people. The fact that there was a supporting footnote, citing the disproportionately large prices paid for Issue #1s among collectors to back up this assertion did nothing to unflummox me. Because for me, origin stories are the least interesting part."

Kat, speaking as someone who has spent most of his life reading comic books (and now writing for them), I can tell you I'm equally flummoxed.

I can understand readers wanting to know the "whys" behind their favorite heroes. When reading super hero comics, it's rare for the reader to be introduced to a character with their origin story. This is why for decades comics have repeatedly revised and retold the origin stories: to bring the audience up to speed.

What I don't understand is why some origin stories are retold in such a short span of time, particularly when major details are altered. To avoid picking on Marvel, allow me to pick on DC: Superman's origin was given a major retelling in 1986 when the character's backstory was rebooted into a new continuity. 1986's Man of Steel made sense insofar as every DC character's history was in the process of revision. Man of Steel was a jumping-on point for new readers, the ground level for the Superman relaunch of '86. In 2003, Superman's origin was retold again in Birthright. This time, the motivation seemed to be rendering the comic book version nearer to the television counterpart seen on Smallville; it also seemed to exist because writer Mark Waid simply wanted to put his stamp on the Superman origin. Most recently, in 2009 Superman's origin was retold yet again in Secret Origin which seems to exist because Geoff Johns wanted to put his stamp on the origin.

The thing of it is, we all know Superman's origin. He may not be the most popular hero in the comics world (seriously, Green Lantern sells more comics than Superman. Green. Lantern.) but between the movies and television programs anyone with an interest in the comics should have a pretty good grounding in who he is, where he came from, what his powers are and even who most of his supporting cast are.

Chabon's "fact" regarding the value of back issues ignores that Batman's first appearance - one of the most valuable comics on the market - does not contain Batman's origin. And yet, so much of the Batman mythos are evident in Detective Comics#27: the costume, the double life as millionaire Bruce Wayne. Batman's origin story which explains his motivation is iconic, but even before his origin Batman was still Batman. Chabon's making a facile argument by pointing to the prices of "first issues" as evidence of our love for origins; Wolverine's most valuable appearance is his first appearance, not his origin. I think the Fantastic Four's first appearance would be their most valuable even if their origins had appeared later on.

It seems some times as though the origin is the story writers are most interested in tackling, especially if they aren't looking for a long-term commitment to the character in question. When Frank Miller retold Daredevil's origin in Man With No Fear and Batman in Year One, they were each something of a coda to work he had done previously with the characters, not the beginning of a new take on said heroes. John Ostrander didn't go back to write Oracle's origin until many years after he had introduced her in Suicide Squad.

That brings me to characters who didn't start out with an origin. The best example has to be Wolverine, who debuted in 1974 but famously went without an origin until 2001. The thing of it is, Wolverine didn't need an origin. By the time Origin was finally published in 2001, we already knew how he had received his Admantium claws and taken his codename/costume. Origin simply gave us his birth place and real name, it had nothing to do with how he became a super hero. At the time Origin was published, there was concern that revealing Wolverine's secrets would rob him of his sense of mystery; frankly, 1991's Weapon X, the story of how Wolverine got his claws had already proven he could sustain interest even after the cat was out of the bag.

But some characters who are introduced with a mysterious aura and no origin eventually develop their origin...and then we all wish we'd never heard it. I give you Gambit; read Wikipedia's summary of his origin and bear in mind that everything up to the paragraph titled "X-Men" was revealed years after his first appearance. Nowadays, writers try to play down his early life as much as possible.

Comic book writer/editor Mark Gruenwald was not a great fan of updating origins:

"...What do I think of the idea of playing with the backstory for the sake of updating it? To tell you the truth, I'm of two minds. I believe heroes' origin stories are often the weakest, most preposterous aspects of their mythos and are best gotten through with as best as you can and then brought up as little as possible. In this frame of mind, updating an origin is as desirable as giving a public exhibition of one's underwear. The other half of my brain tells me that characters are intimately defined by the forces surrounding their origins, and for truly great characters the origins should be considered clay to be molded by gifted storytellers rather than a brittle, rigid stone tablet."

I'm reminded of a review on Fabian Nicieza & Steve Rude's mini-series Spider-Man: Lifeline. The critic enjoyed Rude's artwork but wished that instead of Lifeline - a story about Spider-Man battling super villains over a mystical clay tablet (huh!) - Rude had drawn a retelling of Spider-Man's origin instead. Then and now it strikes me as a ridiculous declaration. Are we readers so comfortable with the familiar and hostile to the unknown that we don't want new stories, just the same old ones in a new package? Spider-Man's origin is a good one, but it hardly needs to be retold for the sake of every artist with a flare for dynamic figures. It should be enough that Rude is an excellent artist who draws an interesting Spider-Man. Heck, it should be enough that Rude draws comics, be it Spider-Man, Nexus or the Moth.

I think our "fascination" with origin stories has something to do with the tale's familiarity. This was the success of the film Batman Begins, taking advantage of our already knowing the beats of the story so that we get excited at the mere suggestion of Batman's costume. The anticipation of seeing Bruce Wayne dress up as Batman for the first time is more exhilarating than actually seeing Batman in action. Beyond the origin story, you find uncharted territory. There are supporting characters and villains who have relationships to be established with the hero, but there is a perception - real or imagined - that the audience is less interested with each installment. Thus, before the audience's interest has completely depleted, you must go back to the beginning and regain their attention with something familiar, yet different.

This happens a lot, not only in the film adaptations, but the comics themselves. There's the constant effort to regain waning readers by either upping the ante (see Wildstorm's 2007 World's End event), starting from scratch (see Wildstorm's 2006 Worldstorm reboot) or upping the ante again (see Wildstorm's 2008 Armageddon event). I think the principle has something to do with the audience's love for the comics. When creators promote a "shocking new direction," they hope you'll feel the property is threatened and needs your love and support; when the creators promote "back to basics," they hope you'll believe they share your love.

I've read some rebooted origins that I really liked; I've read many more that left me cold. But ultimately, I enjoy stories in media res. That's how it was for me as a child reading comics, never knowing a hero's backstory. It didn't matter that I read Spider-Man comics for years before learning his origin in his television show, knowing his origin was not necessary in the month-to-month adventures he embarked on. I appreciate knowing a hero's origin in the long view, but as guy who buys a lot of comics every week, I most enjoy a gripping adventure yarn that takes the hero somewhere new, takes some risks and keeps me yearning for the next installment. Comic books have infinite possibilities; the finite world of origin stories need not dominate.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Vol.13 tomorrow!

The next-to-last hardcover edition of the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe is finally ready for the street! I blogged about volume 13 here!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Out of the inkwell

Since it's finally been given away on the web, I can blog about it here: I'm serving on the nominations committee of the 2010 Inkwell Awards!

Founded by Bob Almond, since 2008 the Inkwell Awards have been recognizing inkers, those artists whose contributions to comic books are crucial but often overlooked. The ballot for the 2010 awards will go live this August. I'm please that Almond invited me to be part of this year's nominations committee and I'm excited to see where the final ballot and results will lead!