I'm never going to turn this into a movie site, but Iron Man 3 is certainly of interest, and my review is live over on Movies.com. Because of sneak previews and an aggressive overseas release, there's already some major fan backlash over the film. Although my review is spoiler-free, I'd recommend as little knowledge as possible going in and avoid the comments section on your favorite sites at all costs. If you simply want to know whether or not I liked it, I did.
A lot of things kind of happened all at once that made me fall in love with Marvel's Daredevil aka blind lawyer Matt Murdock. Up until Mark Waid's run I'd really only followed the book once, more than a decade ago - when Karl Kesel and Cary Nord were the team on the book (though I'd given D.G, Chichester a few issues in the early 90's when Daredevil's costume got all gray and razor-y). I'd certainly read decent Daredevil stories, but he never quite clicked with me as a character. Like Superman, his super-powers (heightened senses) seemed to get him out of any situation that came before him, and, upon initial impression, his personality seemed more defined by who was writing him at the time than who he was as a character. Plus, he always felt like Marvel's Batman knock-off to me - a regular guy who used his fists and smarts to tackle street-level crime and the occasional super-villain.
I enjoyed Waid's run right from its start in 2011. It had a lot of the same qualities that I enjoyed in Kesel's short run (a more free-wheeling sense of fun; not bogged down being grim). Waid's Daredevil is always really good, but some issues reach beyond, up into true greatness (#7 springs to mind), and it's the kind of run you never want to end. I can't speak to Brian Michael Bendis's or David Mack's work on the character or how it compares to Waid's, but a part of me thinks that maybe they'd taken Daredevil about as far down the hard-boiled crime story path as they could, and it was time to reinvent. Daredevil is often my favorite monthly book from Marvel and there's a big pile of awards that it's accumulated to validate my opinion, if it needed validating.
So, while I'm enjoying Waid's take, you might remember that director Joe Carnahan tried desperately to get a rebooted Daredevil film project off the ground for Fox before the cinematic rights to the character reverted back to Marvel Studios and Disney. I cover Marvel news for Movies.com on a regular basis, and was asked by my editor to take a look at "Born Again," the classic Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli collaboration that would inform Carnahan's take. (The project died, by the way, and DD rights returned to Marvel.)
Now, this was not my first experience with Frank Miller on Daredevil. I've read reprints of the classic Elektra storyline, which saw Matt Murdock's college sweetheart returning to the states as a lethal assassin after some years away. The story never really stayed with me, perhaps in part because its shock ending was already common knowledge among fans at the point in time in which I read it. Its outcome may have felt like a thunderclap in monthly bursts, but in one sitting, knowing what would happen and the fall out from it, it definitely lost some of its impact.
"Born Again," on the other hand, felt more like the crackling Frank Miller I knew - prone to lengthy, rich character monologues and a dun-dun-dun rhythm to his fiction that is as deliberate as a beating drum. It's an adult story, one where Daredevil's former lover-turned-druggie-hooker sells him out and the lawyer sees his entire life turned upside down by arch-enemy, the Kingpin. He loses his law practice, his friends, his identity, and his sanity, only to hit a personal rock bottom and rise like a phoenix at the end (albeit a broken one). Liberties would have to be made to adapt it properly to film, but the central conflict is certainly deep enough that it would make a great foundation for a killer DD script.
It was really good. I now started to get a sense of why Daredevil had his fans and what made Daredevil tick, and how Miller's Murdock and Waid's Murdock could be the same guy, but certainly at different points in the lawyer's complicated life. Murdock is defined as a fighter, a lot of times with quite literal symbolism whenever they flashback to anything involving his prize-fighting father. Miller took that will to fight to its extreme in "Born Again;" Waid plays with it as a kind of tenacity. When Murdock is faced with a challenge wherein any logical person would think, "this is too big for me," the thought never seems to enter Murdock's mind. He's going to figure it out, defeat it, solve the problem, or it's just never going to happen at all. Murdock probably doesn't even realize how motivated he is by the old saying, "If you want something done right, you've got to do it yourself." It's an important variation on Spidey's "Great Power" philosophy, (but close enough to ensure that those two heroes get along very well).
These two things - Waid's monthly and "Born Again" - were important, but they weren't the clincher. I've talked about the Sidekick Store before. It's a place here in Austin that offers thousands of back issues for just a buck apiece, and it's a great way for a comic fan on a budget (ME) to feel like a king with just a ten-dollar bill. Over a couple of visits, I picked up a smattering of Daredevil back issues - Denny O'Neil's interesting, relaxed follow-up to Frank Miller's classic run and Ann Nocenti's super-wacko existential Daredevil run with John Romita Jr, on art (a run that teams him up with Gorgon from the Inhumans for several issues and eventually has Daredevil standing up to Marvel's version of Satan, Mephisto). They were never, ever boring. This is important, because when you're just choosing back issues from the 1980s at random from a box, you come across more stinkers than winners. Even as off-putting as Nocenti could get, she was doing stuff that was unpredictable and gonzo (as gonzo as Marvel got in their superhero books, anyway), but never dull. Daredevil quickly became a title that I could feel confident snagging from the discount bins and knowing I'd always be in for a good time.
BUT WAIT - THERE'S MORE! When Comixology did their big "every first issue is free" promotion, I realized I'd never read DD's first issue. I'd read almost every bit of the birth of the Marvel Age of comics, but not Daredevil's. It had somehow managed to escape me over the years, never being as heavily revisited as Spider-Man's or Fantastic Four's or Hulk's. Stan Lee's story, with surprisingly superb art by Bill Everett, turned out to be one of my favorite origin tales. It's a brisk, exciting read, even when Lee gets too heavy with his own concept (a blind superhero! Can you even imagine?!?!). In fact, considering that DD's handicap was the gimmick on which the entire book was built around, it comes across as even better as a first issue just knowing how much rich story mileage they'd be able to get from it. I read it on my iPhone and immediately ordered Essential Daredevil Vol. 1 the next day. It sits by my bed, where I read a bit of it every night before sleep.
And that is how I fell in love with Daredevil. I wasted a lot of time not knowing just how cool DD is, but I'm going to have a lot of fun catching up.
This one's been a long time coming. Long enough, in fact, that both Nova and Guardians of the Galaxy have already seen second issues (and we'll get to those). Soon I'll be running a sort-of Marvel NOW report card, revealing which titles I gave up on, which ones I went back and re-visited, which ones are really great underdogs, and which ones actually improved over time (hint: Superior Spider-Man). I didn't expect Marvel to keep up the new title announcements for Marvel NOW, but they're doing ongoings for Spider-Man's villains and the robot members of the Avengers, so maybe this column will keep going for all-time. Maybe not. Anyway, onward and upward...
Guardians of the Galaxy #0.1
This issue is constructed to introduce readers to the captain of the Guardians team, Peter Quill aka Star-Lord. It's a simple story, and you don't get a good feel for Quill's personality - only where he came from. In this case, where he came from is a deadbeat dad who also happens to be intergalactic royalty, making a pit stop on Earth and bedding an Earthling against his better judgment. Quill grows up aware of his heritage, but raised longing to know more about his father and the stars.
Frankly, I don't remember this being Star-Lord's origin. I have vague recollections of a cocky astronaut who manipulated his way into receiving the mantle of a Star-Lord, but maybe that was from a reprint of one of Marvel's old magazines. I don't know if those are in-continuity anyway.
Writer Brian Michael Bendis is carrying a lot of the Marvel Universe on his shoulders (Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, All-New X-Men, Uncanny X-Men, and this year's big event Age of Ultron), and this series feels a little like he's giving himself a bit of a break. It doesn't hint at the long-term planning of the X-books, nor does it get as particular with characterization as Ultimate Spidey does. It's lighter, and the lightness continues into the first official issue, one which sees Quill as a grown man, caught between defending the Earth and honoring the requests of his scheming dad. Steve McNiven complements Bendis's plotting with clean, effectively modern art that's pleasing to look at and accessible to all.
Will I Be Back for More? After two issues, I'm on the fence. I want to keep reading, because I'm interested in the team and how important they are to Marvel's cinematic plan, but this doesn't quite feel like a team book (yet?). It feels like a Peter Quill book with his Very Special Guest Stars Iron Man and Rocket Raccoon. I'll give this one a few more before I decide. Bendis doesn't seem to be swinging for the fences, and I think I expected him to, considering how all eyes are on this book right now.
Didn't I just get done describing an origin issue in which a kid grows up without a decent father figure because Dad has ties to some larger cosmic adventure? In this one, it's not Peter Quill; it's Sam Alexander - an all-new character created by Jeph Loeb, replacing fan favorite and former New Warriors stalwart Richard Ryder as Nova. The set-up has Sam wondering just how much truth is in his father's stories of exclusive membership in a space-faring group known as the Nova Corp (Marvel's answer to DC's Green Lanterns, no doubt about it). There's a lot of Teen Superhero 101 in here, with Sam getting picked on by bullies, riding a skateboard, and drawing the attention of the school's alt-girl outcast (which comic books almost always predictably depict as a sassy bookworm with funky colored hair and fishnet stockings).
Loeb's real hit and miss as a writer. Other fans really have it out for the guy, but I've missed some of his real stinkers (Ultimatum) and enjoyed a lot of his stuff over the years (Spider-Man: Blue comes to mind, as does Superman: For All Seasons). At his worst, when his comics aim for "fun," they sometimes feel as if they're talking down to the reader, and I think some fans react negatively to that. That kind of thing is more evident in Nova #2, a comic that's so decompressed it's basically just Sam putting on the Nova helmet and discovering he can fly. It's a bit like slapping a $2.99 price tag on the montage scene in any given superhero origin film where the hero tests his powers. That's not really a story.
I realize Loeb is aiming a little younger here, and I appreciate Marvel NOW having something that's aimed at that audience, but a kid should get a full story for his dollars, not just a part of a story. Loeb is off the book after this set-up arc (due to a full plate with Marvel's TV properties), so maybe the next writer, Zeb Wells, will squeeze in more bang for the buck. Even Ed McGuinness, so good at drawing oversized heroes, feels restrained here. Not that the art is bad (it isn't), but that it's a minimal effort artistically. It doesn't wow in the way that McGuiness can wow. I'd chalk it up to him trying to work in a style that he can actually consistently produce on a monthly basis, but he's leaving the book as well soon, with Paco Medina batting clean-up.
Will I Be Back for More? I'll give it another go when Wells and Medina take a crack at Sam. He's a likable hero with a cool costume, but this isn't a must-read right now. Again, if you're a parent, this is one of Marvel's more "safe" books while still not being too kiddie, so keep that in mind if you've got a little one around who digs the superheroes.
Wolverine is an odd duck. I don't think Wolverine's solo book has ever felt quite like a straight-forward superhero book; it's always had its own specifically Wolverine flavor. It's a little dirtier, a little meaner, and it typically feels slightly removed from the Marvel U. Paul Cornell and Alan Davis saddle Wolverine with an unusually clean-cut superheroic vibe, with the title character assisting police and flashing his Avengers badge when necessary.
I gripe a lot about books where nothing much seems to happen, and Wolverine is one of those, but...there's something at work here. I was intrigued, even while I was disappointed that the first issue isn't a tale with a beginning, middle, and end. It's a set-up where not even all of the pieces of the set-up are fully fleshed-out. The story begins with Wolverine's healing factor allowing him to take down a mass-murderer at a shopping mall (told you it's a more mundane Wolvie - what's he doing shopping at the mall?) and then getting mixed up in uncovering the motivations for the killings (the killer was using a very high-tech, sci-fi weapon, not your standard assault rifle).
Will I Be Back for More? I'm going to give this one another issue, but I can't strongly recommend it at this point. Wolverine #1 isn't going to appease the more bloodthirsty Wolverine fans, and it's probably too far removed from the X-Men to rope in the X-fans. I've been pretty good about pinpointing where certain comics' appeal lies with me, and honestly can't get a decent grasp on what it was I liked about Wolverine #1 other than the overall New York City superhero vibe. That's a terrible recommendation, but I can't muster up anything stronger than that.
The yearly South By Southwest (SXSW) festival in Austin, TX might be devoted to tech, film, and music, but if you're a comic book fan, there are plenty of ways to make the fest even more special.
1. Hit the local shops!
Austin Books & Comics is a must-see - a mecca for all fans of sequential art, from superhero fanboys to alt press devotees [5002 N Lamar Blvd, (512) 454-4197]. No less a pro than Mark Waid has declared the store as one of the best he's ever seen, and I have to agree. They also keep a surplus store open on the weekends only. Austin Books' Sidekick Store offers tens of thousands of half-off trades and $1 back issues [5555 N Lamar Blvd, behind the Half-Price Books]. You can spend a little and walk out the door with a lot. Dragon's Lair is a respectable comic store, but it has a much heavier focus on hard-to-find board games and RPGs [6111 Burnet Rd, (512) 454-2399]. They keep late hours, which is a big plus. Capstone Comics is where I keep my local subscription service, and while it's slightly out of the way from downtown Austin [2121 W Parmer Ln, (512) 339-4251], they sport the largest collection of high-end statues in town as well as a store-within-a-store devoted entirely to Universal Monsters merch (Monsters Universe).
2. See Neil Gaiman!
In an "odd couple" pairing, the acclaimed writer of Sandman, Neil Gaiman, will be having a public discussion with TV creator Chuck Lorre (Two and a Half Men) on the creative process. The panel is named "What Doesn't Kill Us Makes Us Bitter," and you can catch it at the Long Center on Saturday, March 9 at 3:30pm.
3. Attend the Marvel panel!
Last year at SXSW, Marvel unveiled their Marvel AR technology which allows app users to get DVD-like special features from their favorite monthlies. This year, they've been teasing a few more things, bigger and more mysterious. They've got five big projects to announce, and they've dropped a few hints along the way.
There's the two unusual "Number One" images. There's the cheeky 52 scratch marks which seem to hint at Wolverine clawing away at DC's New 52. Then, there's Project Gamma, which no one knows a single thing about other than the name (it might, maybe be video game related). You'll have to attend the Marvel House of Ideas panel, located in the Palmer Auditorium, at 1pm on Sunday, March 10 to get all of the skinny (as well as the chance to nab a variant Age of Ultron #1, which will be handed out at the festival).
This is news many of us were hoping for - it was just a matter of time. Gizmodo reports that Marvel Comics will now begin offering their digital catalog of back issues for use on iOS (iPhone and iPad, with Android coming soon) for a flat subscription rate. Prices start at $10 a month, or limited-time offer of $60 for a year of service, which will allow access to over 13,000 digitally-scanned comics from Marvel's extensive history.
The app uses an HTML 5 reader, making it somewhat slower than Comixology and other readers, according to the piece, but Marvel promises to continue to update the tech (and the catalog) over time. Your subscription lets you browse through Marvel's books, read them, and save them to your personal library (up to six issues can be stored in-app for offline reading). Waiting for new issues will be similar to waiting for collected trade paperbacks, with Marvel eyeing a six-month window between the comic rack and the subscription service.
This is a continuation of the Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited model that began a couple of years ago, and allowed fans access to key issues on their browser only, through a paid subscription. This clearly opens up a whole new world in terms of monthly value, and it will be fascinating to see how the other companies respond to such a forward-thinking initiative.
You can download the Marvel Unlimited app on iTunes.
This post was inspired by two things: Brett White and a grocery bag. Brett White is a writer for Comic Book Resources and Marvel.com as well as the host of the Matt & Brett Love Comics podcast; grocery bags are bags you use to carry groceries. White tweeted a question of whether Black Widow or Carol Danvers (now Captain Marvel) were as identifiable as the X-Men Storm, Rogue or Jean Grey. I responded that I think Black Widow is more a part of the public consciousness than Jean Grey, but White's larger point is that Marvel doesn't seem to have their own Wonder Woman - a female character at the forefront of their company identity.
The night before this conversation, I bought a grocery bag. Austin is doing away with plastic bags, so I snagged a reusable one from a display filled with licensed character bags. The Marvel Heroes bag I bought features brightly-colored images of Spider-Man, Wolverine, and Hulk. If I'm going to lug milk and bread around, why not do it in the geekiest possible way?
There's no women on that bag, and I started to wonder - had I ever seen a woman on Marvel's Marvel Heroes licensed merch? Marvel Heroes is the "catch-all" branding Marvel uses for electric toothbrushes and bubble gum, typically featuring a quartet of heroes (the ones I mentioned above and usually Iron Man) posing against a non-descript blue background. If this were a "DC Heroes" bag featuring three characters, the probability of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman would've been pretty high.
In the 70s, Marvel made an effort to include Spider-Woman in a lot of their licensing, but since then, no female superhero has had that kind of profile. Storm is a fantastic candidate, due to her iconic look and general recognizability, but the character I saw pop-up the most often on Marvel Heroes licensing through a Google search (and not that often, really) was Black Cat (and on a different topic, is the unusual choice of Black Cat a way to add sex appeal to merchandise aimed at boys? That's disturbing, if so).
If Marvel wants their own Wonder Woman, they've got to put a face front-and-center in the world of licensing, and they've got to do it consistently. Pick a flagship female character (or two) and make sure they always show up on everything, every nightlight, pajama set, and party hat, right alongside Spider-Man and Wolverine. DC works hard to make sure that Wonder Woman is a viable licensing draw, so what's keeping Marvel from creating their own?