We at PUNI talk about gaming, we talk about movies, we talk about our jobs in the IT world…let’s face it, it’s time to talk about one of the most Amazing, Spectacular, Uncanny (okay, we get it) staples of nerd/geek culture: Comic Books.
I’m not talking about graphic novels that force us to reconsider reality or our personal standpoints on heavy social issues, no Sir/Ma’am. I’m talking about straight-up comic books, with weird characters and impossible continuity and fantastic settings and abilities that somehow blend the right amount of believable and unbelievable to keep us reading. If you have no idea about any of what I’m writing here, allow me to introduce you to some of the Marvel titles that I’ve been reading lately:
This isn’t a comic book, but I reference this a lot. The Marvel NOW! Initiative was intended as a “jumping-on point”, a place where all comic books and storylines would come to a place where a reader could introduce themselves to the Marvel Universe and not feel completely alienated by the many years of continuity. DC Comics tried a similar thing with “The New 52” but the difference is that they completely rebooted their entire continuity, meaning every Superman and Batman comic that ever happened…didn’t happen. Marvel NOW! Is just a good refocus of the brand and a jumping-on point for readers, not a reboot of the entire brand.
Thor: God Of Thunder
This series has been nothing but spectacular since its birth from the Marvel NOW! Initiative began about a year ago. The first eleven issues deal with a long, glorious story arc involving the rivalry between Thor and a new villain named Gorr The God-Butcher. The story spans a long length of time…no, really, the story starts with a young pre-Mjolnir Thor meeting Gorr for the first time and it involves a very old (and cranky) King Thor, the last God of Asgard due to Gorr’s butchering of all the Gods. The main protagonist, however, is present-day Thor the Avenger and his quest to solve the mystery of what, or who, can kill a God. It is probably one of the best comics I have read, and one reason I love it so much is because it has an end. So many comic book story arcs have consequences to actions but no definitive ending, and this one does. You don’t need any knowledge of Thor except for what you probably already know: He’s a God from a wonderful place called Asgard who has an awesome hammer named Mjolnir for which he had to work hard to earn. And he’s part of the Avengers team. A brief cameo by Iron Man is the only tie-in to any other Marvel books, making it a very contained story so that you don’t need to buy three Thor-related books to get it all. If you like Thor, you’ll love this comic. The 12th issue starts a new arc that will be wildly different from the previous one, introduces a new character I believe will be Thor’s next love interest, and hopefully proves that Thor: God of Thunder is not a one-trick pony.
Assessment: With fantastic art and a story that will blow you away, this is my favorite Marvel comic right now. With the God-Butcher storyline behind us, however, there's no telling what's ahead for the God of Thunder. Pretty sure it's gonna be good, though.
Peter Parker is dead. There, I said it. That would come as a shock to all of Peter’s family and friends, because they still see him every day. Heck, Peter Parker even went back to college to get his doctorate! But don’t be fooled, Peter Parker is actually dead. In his body is the mind of Spider-Man’s arch-nemesis, Otto Octavius! The dastardly Doctor Octopus was dying, but refused to go down while never having defeated the meddling Spider-Man. In Amazing Spider-Man #700, Otto takes over Parker’s body, sticking Peter’s mind in his dying body. Adding insult to injury, “Spider-Man” (With Doc Ock’s brain) defeats “Doctor Octopus” (with Peter Parker’s brain) for good! Right before dying, though, Peter told Otto that if he was going to take all of Spider-Man’s power he would also have to take on all of the responsibility. Seriously, read ASM #700, the last few pages I found to be heartbreaking and exciting all at the same time. It all ends with Octavius promising Peter that he will be a “Superior” Spider-Man! This has been a wild ride ever since Marvel NOW!, and Superior is now reaching issue #17 with a good-ish Otto Octavius at the Spider-helm! He still falls into the stereotypical villain tropes, occasionally: Over-bloated ego, raising an army of henchmen to do his work for him (seriously, the Spider-Army is pretty sweet), and not playing very fair with his opponents.
For people who haven’t been reading the last few years of Spider-Man there will be a little bit of a disconnect on who certain people are or what they are doing. New York City’s Mayor is none other than Jonah J. Jameson (wha?), Robbie is the head of the Daily Bugle with a few new additions to the crew that I didn’t recognize, there’s some girl at the police station named Carly that seems to know Peter Parker and Spider-Man pretty well, and Peter Parker apparently works at some place called Horizon Labs. You can imagine the new tensions with Otto taking over Peter’s mind…imagine how Peter Parker might treat someone who is not as smart as him but is his supervisor at work, and then imagine how Otto Octavius might treat that same person. Yeah, they go there. Also, when Otto finds out that Peter never got his doctorate he becomes enraged. How can he refer to himself as “Doctor” Octopus when no one is around if he isn’t actually a doctor? Hilarity ensues, and Parker/Octavius even finds himself with a new (but decidedly underused) love interest.
Unlike Thor, Spider-Man does tend to spill over into other books. There is a team-up book called Superior Spider-Man Team-up, where Spidey collaborates with other Marvel heroes. There is also a new title called Mighty Avengers where Spidey teams up with other heroes while the big-name Avengers are off fighting Thanos and/or Galactus in space…again. Neither of these are necessary to Superior Spider-Man readers, but if you want more Otto Octavius then there is an outlet. One thing that Marvel does a lot is bring low-selling characters into big-name books in an attempt at garnering interest in that low-selling character. One arc involving the Scarlet Spider, a clone of Peter Parker (But not the original Scarlet Spider, Ben Reilly…it’s a long story), does span the pages of Superior and Superior Team-Up. It was a really good story and did catch my interest in Scarlet Spider, but I hate it when I have to buy comics I don’t usually buy to get the full story from a comic I DO usually buy. This is the only instance so far, though, so let’s hope the frequency of such things stays at this level.
Assessment: The artwork is functional, but the story and characters are what makes this comic shine. A great shake-up on the classic Spider-Man story, but the future is undecided with the recent return of Spider-Man 2099 and the impending inclusion of Miles Morales, the Ultimate Spider-Man. Things look to get crazier than they have been, and I can't help but wonder if they plan on bringing Peter Parker back at some point.
Uncanny X-Men, All New X-Men
Okay, so you probably have to be an X-Men fan in order to put up with this wacky story, but here it goes: Jean Grey died several years back…twice. The daughter of Jean Grey and Scott Summers (Cyclops the douche), Rachel Grey, is from an alternate future and lives in our time now. Cyclops, a douche, is not happy about his wife Jean Grey’s death. Meanwhile, Scarlet Witch (a witch…she’s not a mutant per se, but is the daughter of Magneto so she is, but whatever) uses her powers to clear the mutant gene from the world so that no NEW mutants would be born. The many years of desperate attempts at getting humans and mutants to co-exist by Charles Xavier proven futile, the X-Men were now the last mutants and they didn’t know what to do.
Cyclops has this great idea that the Phoenix, an otherworldly entity that has never caused anything but trouble and death(*cough*JeanGrey*cough*) for everyone in the Marvel Universe, could be used to undo Scarlet Witch’s witchery and cause the reemergence of mutation in humanity. Suddenly, Cyclops found a way to be a douche AND a tragic villain. He infuses the Phoenix Force into himself, Emma Frost, Magik, Colossus and Magneto because the Avengers were all “The government told us to stop you, so we will.” This starts an event called Avengers vs X-Men, or AvX. This event basically serves as one of those reference points for “Who would win in a fight, Iron Man or Magneto? Spider-Man or Colossus? Gambit or Captain America?” and gives it a story that ends in Cyclops killing Professor X and forcing everyone to team up against his douchey Phoenix-possessed ass. There’s a funeral for Professor X, and Cyclops goes to jail. Wolverine runs the “Jean Grey School for Mutants” and, with the help of Magneto, Cyclops breaks out of jail and starts the “Charles Xavier School for Gifted Mutants or whatever” school at a secret location. His problem is that he doesn’t have any students.
Here’s my problem with the whole story: All this happened BEFORE Uncanny X-Men and All New X-Men came out with the Marvel NOW! initiative. This is all stuff you kind of have to know, or you’ll be completely lost. My biggest problem with the X-Men story is that if one hadn’t been following it since just before Avengers vs X-Men a reader would need to know all of this. You, however, are in luck because I just told you most of it.
Okay, so getting to the main plot of these two oft-intertwined books: Beast goes back in time for two reasons. The first reason is because he’s dying, and the second is that he thinks that the young and idealistic Cyclops of the past will be able to talk some sense into the tragically burdened Cyclops of the present. He brings back Cyclops, Jean Grey, a young Iceman, a pre-blue Beast and a young Angel. There is very little time spent on “Wow, things have gotten expensive since the 60’s” and “Is this what you call music?” and a lot of time spent on contemplating what the implications of their time travel will be. As a matter of fact, now there is an EVENT (Multi-Comic story arc that will change everything) going on called Battle of the Atom where there are accusations from the future that the past X-Men need to go home or bad things will happen. This isn’t just a re-hash of Days of Future Past, I think it’s much smarter than that. Also, seeing three versions of Beast and Iceman at different stages in their lives in the same room is kind of cool. There is one thing I feel that I must get off my chest: The young Cyclops…is not a douche. In the latest issues…he’s actually pretty cool. There’s something about these X-Men books that calls to me from my X-Childhood, when I read comics so many years ago.
That being said, present-day and super-douchey Cyclops also has an X-Team called the Uncanny X-Men and he’s recruiting new mutants for it. Himself, Magneto, Emma Frost and Magik are all dealing with the fact that tampering with the Phoenix Force broke their powers while trying to train new members of the Uncanny X-Men. It’s a very fun read, and the story intersects with All New X-Men quite often.
The semi-related X-Books don’t matter as much to this current storyline, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t good. Wolverine And The X-Men deals with the mutant school itself and some decent characters. X-Men came out a few months ago and deals with an all-female team of mutants…and a baby that belongs to none of them. Battle of the Atom is going to span all of these books, but if you get Battle of the Atom #1 it will tell you which issues matter for the event. Without giving away any more of the story than I already have, Battle of the Atom will involve pretty much all of the X-Men characters and a team of alternate-future X-Men trying to decide whether the past X-Men need to go home or not…sometimes in a violent manner.
Assessment: The art ranges from decent to amazing, depending on the title. The characters in both Uncanny X-Men and All New X-Men are worth the price of the comic alone, and just like with Spider-Man Marvel plans on continuously shaking up everything we think we know about our favorite characters.
I labeled this section “Everything Else”, but in Marvel if you aren’t talking a title that deals with Spider-Man or X-Men you are dealing with the Avengers in some capacity. Currently there is a very popular event going on called Infinity, though I tire of Avengers oversaturation and thus do not partake of that event. It involves Thanos and Galactus, I believe. I have this feeling like everything Avengers-related is being handled very carefully right now due to the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, though, and that is another reason I don’t really go with it. The last event, Age of Ultron, had to do with Ultron taking over the world and the Avengers using time-travel to stop him. This use of Time Travel, combined with all of the other times Time Travel has been used in Marvel (it’s gotta be in the triple digits, seriously), has messed up the time stream or something like that. This event is supposed to end with the destruction of the “Ultimate” Universe brand of Marvel comics. If you’re a fan of the Ultimate Spider-Man, Miles Morales, then have no fear because he will be web-slinging his ass over to the regular Marvel Universe. I don’t know in what capacity he will be doing so and if he will be affecting the Superior Spider-Man, but that’s the current news out of Marvel.
There is also stuff like Daredevil and Fantastic Four out there, and a bunch of other stuff I didn’t mention either. Get the free Marvel Comics app and check out the new comics there, as well as the ability to catch up by reading all the old ones.
If you have any questions or comments about current Marvel shenanigans, don’t be hesitant to use the COMMENTS SECTION. It’s there. For comments. And you can use it. I give you permission.
I think if I write 2000+ words about the Marvel Universe and don’t once type Wolverine I should get a prize…doh!