Saturday, July 31, 2010

Collected in October: Civil War Files & Battle Damage Report!

Well, I guess there must be someone who hasn't read them yet...



As Civil War is waged between the heroes for and against the Superhuman Registration Act, the X-Men aren’t about to be left out! As Wolverine hunts Nitro, the villain responsible for the Stamford disaster, he comes to blows with the Sentry, S.H.I.E.L.D. and Namor the Sub-Mariner! X-Factor takes a surprising stand against registration! Cable joins the rebels, while Deadpool signs on with the government! Factions within the government have the world’s 198 remaining mutants right where they want them, and Bishop—newly enrolled—is determined to do his part! Collecting WOLVERINE #42-48, X-FACTOR #8-9, CABLE & DEADPOOL #30-32, CW: X-MEN #1-4, BLADE #5, CIVIL WAR FILES and CIVIL WAR: BATTLE DAMAGE REPORT. 520 PGS./Rated T+ …$39.99 ISBN: 978-0-7851-4884-5

Friday, July 30, 2010

Collected in October: Avengers Assemble!


Witness the Marvel Universe triumph over its greatest challenges ever as the Heroic Age ignites! Still lurking in the shadows are forces of evil and cosmic-level threats—but a new spirit of hope, courage and the selflessness at the heart of heroism will rise up. The most extraordinary tales will be told in the Heroic Age of the Marvel Universe. From the tone of the storylines, to the stunning art, the Heroic Age ushers in a dramatic new vision of the Marvel Universe. Featuring Marvel’s most elite characters—including Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, the Avengers and more—as they embark on bold new adventures, this volume is the perfect jumping-on point for the Heroic Age. Collecting ENTER THE HEROIC AGE, ORIGINS OF MARVEL COMICS, AVENGERS ASSEMBLE, AVENGERS #1, SECRET AVENGERS #1, AGE OF HEROES #1, AVENGERS ACADEMY #1, NEW AVENGERS #1, HAWKEYE & MOCKINGBIRD #1, HEROIC AGE: PRINCE OF POWER #1 and ATLAS #1. 304 PGS./Rated T+ …$24.99 ISBN: 978-0-7851-4885-2

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Comics That Changed Me: Imperial Guard#1

The 1990s are considered one of the lowest points in comic book history. Much of this poor reputation has to do with the collapse and near-destruction of the direct market, but it also has a lot to do with the perceived quality of the typical 90s comic. Because there was such a boom in the first half of the 90s - not only increasing the number of titles being published but the very number of publishers themselves - it led to a lot of sub-par material seeing print just to fill up shelf space, all in a misguided belief that the customers had bottomless wallets and infinite forbearance.

However, I don't think enough credit has been given to those titles in the latter half of the 90s which tried to stem the tide and produce quality work. In particular, there was a strong effort from writers like Alan Moore and Kurt Busiek to reexamine old storytelling models and pay homage to the past; it's sometimes referred to as "reconstructionist" super hero comics.

I've already described how I lost interest in comics, but by 1997 I started to cautiously ease myself back into the hobby. This was a little problematic for two reasons: first, the local comic shop went out-of-business during the crash, so outside of scouring local gas stations and convenience stores (which I did), I had to journey to a city (the nearest an hour's drive away) to be certain I kept up with my favorite titles; second, I was saving up for college and for the first time in my life had to be mindful of my bank balance, for before too long, I wouldn't have my parents covering my room & board.

So, with the reconstructionist movement gaining ground by 1997, it was a pretty good time for me to get back into comics and rediscover why I loved the medium. That's why my first great purchase was...Imperial Guard#1?!

Writer: Brian Augustyn. Art: Chuck Wojtkiewicz, Ray Snyder.

The Shi'ar Imperial Guard are sent to Earth in an effort to bolster the ranks of Earth's heroes (the Avengers & Fantastic Four having been lost at the end of the Onslaught crossover in '96). The eight-man squad of Guardsmen suffers from internal strife as their blue-skinned Kree warrior conscript Commando isn't happy to be serving the Shi'ar, conquerors of his people. But the Guard quickly finds a menace they're well-suited to combat when the Underground Militia begins waging war on super heroes.

So...the Imperial Guard. They were originally an in-joke, modeled after DC's Legion of Super-Heroes and usually appeared during X-Men stories set around the Shi'ar. Hence, this oddball three-issue mini-series earned an "X" in the above corner box, identifying it as part of the X-Men family.

I liked the idea of an Imperial Guard comic book in part because I liked the Legion of Super-Heroes. I hadn't read DC comics in years, but had fond memories of the Silver Age Legion reprint stories I had owned (and purged in '95) and the few Levitz-Giffen issues I had (also purged).

I was also drawn to the Imperial Guard because I really disliked the "Heroes Reborn" concept which was occurring at the time. Heroes Reborn sent the supposedly-dead Avengers & Fantastic Four to a new world where popular Image creators could reboot their histories. The Guard, however, was set in Marvel's usual continuity and used Onslaught as a way to kick start the series concept; there's even an appearance by three of the Avengers who didn't wind up in Heroes Reborn, firmly planting this in the real Marvel Universe.

I also had a bit of a shock when I saw the way Imperial Guard was coloured; it may not mean much to you now, but the computer colouring process which took over comics in the last half of the 90s was quite striking then, particularly to someone who had skipped a year's worth of the technology's development.

And then, there's Mark Gruenwald; everything comes back to him, eh? Imperial Guard was dedicated to his memory for reasons unclear to me; perhaps he was involved in the series' gestation, perhaps the writer was simply a fan or protégé of Gruenwald. Whatever, that little dedication won me over.

At the end of Imperial Guard#3 there was a house ad for a new Marvel comic book series by Kurt Busiek & Mark Bagley. It was called Thunderbolts and it happened to catch my fancy. Thunderbolts soon became the anchor that held me in comics for years to come; even during periods where I couldn't guarantee making my $400 monthly rent, I still kept to a 4 comic books per month ration as my primary entertainment expense. Quitting comics again? Out of the question.

Next time: how one panel made me rethink an artist's entire body of work.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

New handbook in October!



Our mission to catalog the entire Marvel Multiverse (and beyond!) continues! Includes 64 pages of all-new profiles of many of Marvel’s finest characters, covering every corner of the MU! The World War II-era Red Guardian! Longtime supporting-cast members Wong and Sister Maggie! Alien races Sidri, Nuwali and Golgotha! The Negative Zone’s Prison 42! Mutant-menacing Mister M, Sentinel Squad O*N*E and Tryp! The all-powerful Star Brand! Marvel UK’s Black Axe! And, from the pages of the THANOS IMPERATIVE: Guardians of the Galaxy! Featuring brand-new art for dozens of characters, drawn by Gus Vazquez! 64 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Women of Marvel Handbook - tomorrow!

Tomorrow sees the release of Women of Marvel: Celebrating Seven Decades, a special Official Handbook featuring the best and brightest of Marvel's female characters, part of the year-long Women of Marvel festivities. It includes a number of newly-updated profiles for several characters. Read all about it here, on Marvel's site!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The 10 Second-Best Films Ever Made

There are some movies I've enjoyed so much that I would never hesitate to recommend them. I've blogged about films in the past that meant at least something to me, something I wanted to express to an audience in the hopes that they would seek those films out. Many of those films I would happily number amongst the best of the best.

Then again, you don't need me to tell you that Alfred Hitchcock made a heap of cinematic masterpieces, do you?

And then, you have the second-bests. Movies I don't blog about or even think about that often. Movies that I've never seen on anyone's "best of" list. And yet, films that fascinate me; they aren't perfect, but they are unique. These then, are my top 10 second-best movies of all time (chronological order):

#1: Tales of Manhattan (1942)

Director: Julien Duvivier. Stars: Charles Boyer, Rita Hayworth, Ginger Rogers, Henry Fonda, Charles Laughton, Edward G. Robinson, Paul Robeson.

Tales of Manhattan was considered a minor triumph when it was first released, but it's seldom seen or remebered today; I'm not certain if it's even available on DVD. As you can see above, it boasted an all-star cast. The gimmick behind Tales of Manhattan was that it was an anthology comprising of five separated stories, connected together by a suit of clothes which pass from one owner to another. From the tense romantic drama of Boyer in a deadly lover's triangle it moves to the comedic antics of Rogers and Fonda as a best man tries to play cover up for his groom, then the bittersweet story of Laughton attempting to impress his audience to the bleak tale of Robinson posing as a man beyond his means and finally the joyous ending as Robeson sees a stolen bankroll given to the needy. Whether you're in the mood for comedy or drama, Tales of Manhattan satisfies; but you'll have to hunt hard for a copy.

#2: Journey Into Fear (1943)

Director: Norman Foster. Stars: Joseph Cotten, Orson Welles.

when you put Cotten and Welles together in a film, you expect something wonderful. I'm not quite certain that "wonderful" is the word for Journey into Fear, however. Welles' role is relatively minor, but possibly the most memorable in the picture; he plays a Turkish police officer (with a mustache Stalin would've envied) who tries to protect Cotten when he's marked for death by the Nazis. Cotten always seems out-of-place when he's cast as an action hero and that's the case here - he's an excellent fish-out-of-water and the story sidesteps a few cliches, along the way toying with a number of memorable background characters. I would never call Journey into Fear a great film, but it's memorable.

#3: The Fallen Idol (1948)

Director: Carol Reed. Star: Ralph Richardson.

Carol Reed was the master at adapating Graham Greene's stories to film, best of all with the Third Man. Fallen Idol concerns the son of a French diplomat who befriends the embassy's butler. However, he's on icy terms with the butler's wife and housekeeper. The film takes a sharp turn when the butler's wife turns out dead; the diplomat's son plays a key role in the aftermath, but it's anyone's guess whether he'll clear his friend of murder or unintentionally send him to the gas chamber. It all hangs together because the child is so believable and his inability to understand why and when people lie is so dangerous.

#4: Time After Time (1979)

Director: Nicholas Meyer. Stars: Malcolm McDowell, David Warner, Mary Steenburgen.

The plot: H.G. Wells journeys through time to 1970s San Francisco to save the world of the future from Jack the Ripper. If you aren't already sold on this story, I don't know what else to tell about that it's primarily a romantic comedy? Or that McDowell is the good guy?

#5: The Long Riders (1980)

Director: Walter Hill. Stars: James and Stacy Keach, David, Robert and Keith Carradine, Dennis and Randy Quaid, Christopher and Nicholas Guest.

From what I've been able to gather, this is the most authentic screen depiction of the James-Younger gang ever committed to celluloid. The James brothers are played by the Keach brothers; the Youngers by the Carradines; the Millers by the Quaids; and the Fords by the Guests. This gimmick on its own makes the film interesting; Stacy Keach helped produce it and his enthusiasm for the material is felt in his portrayl of Frank James. As a man who doesn't particularly like the western film genre I'm here to tell you: this is one of the good ones.

#6: A Soldier's Story (1984)

Director: Norman Jewison. Stars: Howard E. Rollins, Jr., Adolph Caesar, David Alan Grier, Denzel Washington.

A somber tale of World War II told in the deep south; after a black sergeant is murdered outside of an army base, a black officer from the north is sent to investigate. The film is something of a murder mystery, something of a courtroom drama; despite originating as a stage play, it translates well to film, in no small part due to the actors. The harshest moments of the film involve flashbacks depicting the murdered man as he grouses about the black men stationed under him; his contempt for his own identity as a black man is far more tragic than his death.

#7: Mean Machine (2001)

Director: Barry Skolnick. Stars: Vinnie Jones, Jason Statham.

This remake of the Longest Yard uses British football rather than US football. Vinnie Jones plays...well, Vinnie Jones, essentially. Sent to a rough prison, Jones is coerced into training the prisoners to play football against the guards. The genius of the movie is the casting of Statham (this was the first place I saw Statham) as the terrifying inmate Monk; Monk's ability to intimidate the prisoners and guards alike leads to the funniest moments of the film, especially when the game begins...and Monk keeps leaving goal to attack the guards! This film will not cure cancer, but it can cure depression.

#8: Shaolin Soccer (2001)

Director: Stephen Chow. Star: Stephen Chow.

Speaking of football and anti-depressants, take on Shaolin Soccer, my favorite of Stephen Chow's films. Although this is reasonably well-known among foreign film fans, I think it's still obscure enough (and fun enough) to bear listing. Chow is a master of shaolin kung fu who thinks all people should use kung fu in their daily lives; he gets an opportunity to make his point by enlisting his equally-adept brothers as a soccer team, unleashing their kung fu prowess on the field. This is flat-out slapstick and fun. You can live without seeing it...if you call that living.

#9: District B13 (2004)

Director: Pierre Morel. Stars: David Belle, Cyril Raffaelli.

Produced by Luc Besson, which is a good earmark out of the gate. Belle and Raffaelli are only the stars in a nominal sense; the real star of the film is le parkour, photographed beautifully in a series of frentic action scenes where Belle leaps and bounds from rooftops, through open windows and down balconies. Oh, it has a plot, dealing with nuclear weapons being used to wipe out an embarrasing barrio, but the plot is an excuse to set up stunts; Besson's films make the action movie formula look easier than it is.

#10: Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning (2005)

Director: Timo Vuorensola. Star: Samuli Torssonen.

I believe this is still available as a download on the internet, which is probably the only way to see it. This is a fan-produced parody film in which parody versions of Star Trek characters go to war with parody versions of Babylon 5 characters. Oh, and it's in Finnish. If you can make it through the first half hour, you will be rewarded, especially if you're fond of Trek or B5 (maybe especially if you like one but not the other). The special effects are very impressive for a home-made film and it's surprising how many of the jokes hit the target, given that it's, well, from Finland. My favorite line: "The day I joined the military, my father told me - 'Son,you're none too bright, and won't be marrying into money either, but you're human, Earth to Earth and all that. So show some spine and come out and stop being a shame on your old man."

There you have it; what are your favorite second-best movies?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

This wednesday: Phoenix Force handbook!

The X-Men: Phoenix Force Handbook is due to ship tomorrow! It's the latest X-Men handbook, this time tying together a theme of characters connected to the Phoenix. We may have strayed a little further than you'd suspect, but enjoy it anyway; you can read more about it here!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Comics That Changed Me: Fantastic Four Annual #3

In the previous Comics That Changed Me I left off in 1995, the year in which I dropped comics books supposedly forever after the disappointment of Captain America#445-446. So naturally we pick up with Fantastic Four Annual #3 in 1965.

Bear with me. It all makes sense.

People who know I'm a comic book fan sometimes make certain assumptions about my tastes, particularly when it comes to buying me a birthday/Christmas present. It's like mentioning to a relative how much you liked eating chocolate cake and for your birthday receiving...your own cake pan. Friends and relations have seldom given me comic books as presents, even when I was young enough that the odds of me having any particular comic were negligible. These days I'm more likely to receive a book about comics...or tangentially related to comics.

This being the case, it's always a pleasant surprise when I receive a real comic book as a gift, especially when it matches my taste (and collection) perfectly. Christmas of 1996 was such an occasion and I owe it to my Uncle Ted; he gave me a copy of Fantastic Four Annual #3.

Writers: Stan Lee, Jack Kirby. Art: Jack Kirby, Vince Colletta, Dick Ayers.

This is the landmark story of Mr. Fantastic's wedding to the Invisible Girl. It set a trend in super hero weddings as nearly every Marvel hero made an appearance in the tale for a fight with about as many Marvel villains. Just about every super hero wedding since has either involved a host of guest stars and a big fight or has intentionally eschewed the trend and held a quiet affair.

I knew of Fantastic Four Annual#3, but hadn't seen so much as a reprint of it; I didn't even have the issue of Marvel Age where Peter Sanderson recapped the story. In terms of actual Silver Age Marvel comic books, my collection was very weak; I bought reprints when I could find & afford them, that was it. Even though I had dismantled much of my collection, this annual was something special and it rekindled some of my love for comics. 30 years does very little damage to Lee and Kirby's finest.

Along with the comic my uncle included a copy of Comic Shop News, a free tabloid-like periodical offered by some stores. The local store had stopped offering CSN years before it went out of business, so the thrill of seeing an issue of CSN again meant almost as much as the comic book. Back then, I wasn't on the internet and even if you followed comic books it was difficult to keep track of what was going on because there was simply so much being published. CSN had a multitude of tiny articles describing much of what I'd missed and some of what was yet to come.

One article caught my eye.

I can't find the issue now to reproduce it exactly, but the text was something like this:

"Marvel has cancelled the Official Timeline of the Marvel Universe due to the death of Mark Gruenwald."

Laying aside that such a project was ever considered (and to this day remains unpublished), the second half of the article was like a dagger in my heart. Mark Gruenwald was dead (had been dead for four months). His death wasn't even the subject of the article!

I don't know what it would have meant to me if I had still been reading comics when Gruenwald died; he would have died all the same, whether I had been reading his work or not. Regardless, it stung me to think I had given up on my personal favorite creator less than a year before he was lost to the world.

Melancholy aside, Fantastic Four Annual#3 reminded me why I had loved comics; now I was ready to buy another and I'll relate that tale next time.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Index then, index now

Being away on vacation for the last two weeks, I missed that last wednesday was the release day for Avengers, Thor & Captain America: Official Index to the Marvel Universe#3. You can read more about it here. Tomorrow is the release date for another index, this time the trade paperback edition of the Official Index entries to the Amazing Spider-Man. This will be in the same cool format as the Iron Man Index collection. You can learn more about tomorrow's index here!

Monday, July 12, 2010

The 2010 Harvey Awards

The ballot for the 2010 Harvey Awards was just announced. I don't normally pay attention to the Harveys (which have come up as a distant second compared to the glitz of the Eisners) but I will be paying attention this year; after all, this is the first year they invited me to the ballot! Checking the list I all, 12 items I submitted to the ballot. YES! My opinions have been heard! May fortune favour you, 2010 Harvey nominees!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Missed it: Mountaineer write-up

The Mountaineer, local newspaper of Rocky Mountain House, ran an article on me back in Christmas 2009, written by the paper's own publisher. The article focuses on my career as a comic book writer, focusing on my work for the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe. Unfortunately, it was only today that I finally obtained a copy of the feature.

Rocky Mountain House was my hometown for 10 years of my life and I spent a few of my last years there working at the Mountaineer in various drudge jobs (which I appreciated then and still do now). It was nice to have an opportunity to ponder how my life has changed since those years and how it is that I wound up being a Marvel Comics freelancer, which is certainly my dream job but not an obvious destination. It's also something to see how far the Mountaineer has come, presenting its pages in full colour instead of black & white.

But man, my old high school has been torn down and replaced with a Tim Horton's. You can't go home again.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Earlier this week: Thanos Sourcebook!

This past wednesday was the release day for the Thanos Imperative Sourcebook, a beautiful saga-meets-files tome designed to gear up fans for the Thanos Imperative event, currently hitting stores. I hope you have your copy; if not, make tracks to your local comic shop! Read more about it here!