Just Giblets

The Marvel Comics I’m Enjoying Most Right Now… #’s 1 – 5

29th June 2016
by Michael

The Marvel Comics I’m Enjoying Most Right Now… #’s 1 – 5

Here they are, my top 5 titles from Marvel that are currently being published. Five solo titles… unprecendeted. Four female-led titles… shocking. Four of these titles are brand new, having started publication within the past year. They are titles that I never thought would be published. The fifth has been around for a long time, but has radically changed beyond all my wildest expectations and is more fun than I’ve had with a comic for a long time. Two years ago I never would have predicted any of these titles to be in my Top 5.

Vision#5 – Vision
Tom King, writer
Gabriel Hernandez Walta, artist

As a kid, I loved the Vision. He was cool looking, had original powers, and his romance with the Scarlet Witch was legendary and dramatic. Of course, like most comics, and many written by John Byrne, the Vision (and the Scarlet Witch) were put through the ringer in the 90’s and in my opinion, came out the other end a lot worse for wear. I lost a lot of my interest in the Vision, and few writers have really used him all that effectively since then.

Then along comes Tom King, with an entirely new look at the android Avenger, penning a domestic, suburban, horror story that’s part Frankenstein, part Stepford Wives, and can only lead to misery and heartbreak. Vision want a family; so he creates one. A loving wife, and a pair of teenage siblings; all with the same abilities as his. Their behavior is modeled on a traditional loving, suburban family, but while the Vision has had years to perfect his humanity, the rest of his family is quite new to it, and must rely solely on the programming Vision has provided. Add to that, the very humanity Vision seeks to own, and provide for his family, sometimes results in decisions made form the heart rather than the head. King explores the rich history of the Vision’s past to create a disturbing and powerful examination on the desire to belong. Gabriel Hernandez provides beautiful artwork that conveys both the emotional needs and the horror of the Vision family’s situation.

Hellcat.jpg#4 – Patsy Walker a.k.a. Hellcat
Kate Leth, writer
Brittney Williams, artist

If any character needed to capitalize on the movement Ms. Marvel started at fun comics aimed at teen girls, it’s Patsy Walker. Rich in Marvel history, but with origins in romance comics, Patsy became a superheroine in her own right in the 80’s adopting the costume worn by the feminist heroine, The Cat, to become Hellcat. She’s had a bumpy road to 2016, marrying the Son of Satan, committing suicide, and being rescued from hell, but now she returns to her roots, with a 2016 twist. Patsy, the comic book character, is embracing her past as a romance comic star, although it’s definitely something she’s embarrassed about. She’s also making some new friends to go along with her old friends that give the fun-loving Patsy lots of fun people to interact with.

Squarely aimed at younger girls, in both storylines and artwork, Patsy Walker, a.k.a. Hellcat really launches forward from where Ms. Marvel set things up. Friendships are paramount, whether it’s She-Hulk or her former Defender teammate, Valkyrie, or her new friends and roommates. Gay themes are front and center, reflecting a much more modern social society that lots of younger adults are comfortable with. Patsy has always deserved a fun book, and with her “cheese & crackers” personality, it makes total sense to aim this thoroughly at teens. I don’t know how long this book will last, but I’m hoping for a nice long run.

Scarlet Witch#3 – Scarlet Witch
James Robinson, writer
Various Artists

The Scarlet Witch was always one of my favorite characters through the 70’s and 80’s. Passionate and feisty, with interesting powers, she was a mutant that wasn’t associated with the X-Men. She was a good team player, and her romance with Vision was unique and well played-out. Then Byrne kind of ruined her, Kurt Busiek tried to rehabilitate her in a way I didn’t like, and Bendis utterly destroyed her character. It has taken years for Wanda to recover and become a viable character in the Marvel Universe again, so I was interested to see what James Robinson would be able to do with her character. Especially as the lead in a solo title, which she has never successfully accomplished before.

The result has been weirdly interesting and utterly enjoyable for me. Robinson explores her use of chaos magic, given Wanda a centered, assured demeanor, and sent her on an exotic journey throughout the globe. While using a different artist for each issue is an intriguing idea, it does make the look for the book less cohesive, but the overall design of the book is fairly consistent, thanks to David Aja’s gorgeous covers. For however long Wanda is able to maintain her title, Robinson has created a new, intriguing chapter in her life, one that gives further definition to a long-standing character, and gives her a platform from which to grow. Wanda should have a prominent place in the Marvel Universe, and I’m thrilled to see that coming to pass.

Mockingbird#2 – Mockingbird
Chelsea Cain, writer
Kate Niemczyk, artist

Perhaps it’s too soon for Mockingbird to appear so high on a favorite comics list, but never has a title so quickly provided me with so much enjoyment. After only three issues and a special one-shot, best-selling author Chelsea Cain has given Bobbi Morse a strong, three-dimensional personality, a fascinating story, and a book that’s fun, sexy, and exciting. Delving into her origins as a scientist and S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, and riffing on her period on the television show, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., while deftly acknowledging, but not dwelling on her most definitive history as Hawkeye’s wife and an Avenger, Cain allows Bobbi to soar.

What it comes down to is that Cain has made Bobbi cool. Maybe not as cool as Black widow (yet) but certainly more fun, and just as competent as the Russian super-spy. I’m sure the book will eventually delve further into Bobbi’s past, and I’m looking forward to Cain’s view of her time as a more traditional superhero. The book is smartly written, with gorgeous art by newcomer Kate Niemczyk enhancing the experience. If Mockingbird comes in at #2 this early in its life, I can only hope the quality continues, and possibly even top this list in the months to come.

The Mighty Thor#1 – The Mighty Thor
Jason Aaron, writer
Russell Dauterman, artist

Marvel’s Thor, the Asgardian god of thunder, has been around for a long time. While Thor himself was never a favorite (although I liked him okay), I’ve always had a soft spot for the Asgardians. A few years ago when Sif headlined Journey Into Mystery, it was my favorite title, and remains, to this day, one of my favorite comic runs. Never would I have predicted that The Mighty Thor would top a list of favorite comics. Even when Marvel unexpectedly removed the usual guy wielding Mjolnir and replaced him with a mystery woman, did I expect to love it so much. The fact of the matter is, Jason Aaron has breathed now, vibrant life into Thor and reimagined the character as a kick-ass superheroine to boot!

I was already enjoying the Thor comic before the gender swap occurred. Things Asgardian have been well-handled in recent years, from the afore-mentioned Sif, to the outstanding books involving Loki. I was enjoying the Thor title before Odinson became unworthy and lost the hammer to the new Thor. The stories were interesting and fun; the lead character and supporting cast were entertaining. When the new Thor took hold of the hammer, her interaction with the Odinson was priceless, and her evolving relationship with Thor’s former family and colleagues has been so much fun to watch. Aaron has spent a great deal of time defining and exploring the new Thor, all while keeping the threads from the Odinson’s title percolating in the background, and ready to explode in coming issues. He’s also given us a great mystery and sense of drama with the new Thor’s identity and condition when not wielding Mjolnir. All of this adds up to one fantastic book that leads the charge of what is surely a Marvel renaissance for this particular reader.

And there you have it. My favorite Marvel titles being published right now, and a couple that recently concluded. I may continue this with my favorite DC titles being published right now, but as they’re about to relaunch their entire line, I may take a different look at them. I sure hope Marvel can maintain the quality and diversity of their output. I never would have expected this to be possible ten years ago. Now all we need is the return of the Invisible Woman and someone to fall in love with and use Mantis a bit more, and I will be the happiest comic reader around.

posted in Comics, Favorites | at 8:39 am | 0 Comments
23rd June 2016
by Michael

The Marvel Comics I’m Enjoying Most Right Now… #’s 6 – 10

The final team book shows up to anchor the Top 10, and it’s something of a surprise! Then we’ve got a mix of two male solo titles, and two female solo titles. Also two characters who have been around for a very long time, and two more recent characters. And one of the titles is new characters in long-time roles.

All-New X-Men#10 – All-New X-Men
Dennis Hopeless, writer
Mark Bagley, artist

Despite my checkered past with Brian Michael Bendis, his re-imagination of the all-new X-Men, bringing the original five students from early in their careers into the future in the hopes of convincing the present day Cyclops the error of his ways, turned out to provide some really interesting stories that have evolved into this latest incarnation written by Dennis Hopeless. Now, with Jean Grey off with another faction of the team, and with the all-new Wolverine taking her place, as well as a handful of the other newer mutants in the X-Men stable, we’ve got some “old favorites” mixing it up with newer characters in something that breathes fresh life into a tired Marvel staple.

Some high points include Iceman’s revelation that he’s gay, Cyclops’ struggling not to become the slightly crazy, megalomaniac his older self has turned into, and the burgeoning romance between Angel and the all-new Wolverine. Mark Bagley’s sleek, clean artwork adds a lot to the appeal of the All-New X-Men, and I’m hopeful this title can maintain its high quality even while it gets sucked into some of the larger X-Men series crossovers.

Silver Surfer#9 – Silver Surfer
Dan Slott, writer
Michael Allred, artist

Dan Slott replaces his goofy humor with a sweet simplicity, perfectly matched by Michael Allred’s fun, cartoony art to reimagine the classic Silver Surfer into something fresh and new as seen through the eyes of the human, Dawn Greenwood. This terrific new series started out as a cosmic adventure where Silver Surfer takes Dawn into space to show her the wonders of the universe. Then after providing critical assistance to repairing the universe after it was merged with other multiverses during Secret Wars, Silver Surfer returned to earth with Dawn taking on a new role as earth’s protector after his former love, Shalla Bal, and the people of Zenn-la tried to reimagine Surfer’s adopted home in their image.

Slott usually approaches his titles with considerable humor, and some smart use of continuity. Silver Surfer is fun, and often funny, but there is an underlying sweetness as he and Dawn slowly develop a romantic relationship, all while revisiting past allies and foes on an epic journey through the universe, and then across the globe. Michael Allred, along with his wife, colorist, Laura Allred, create a wild, Ditko-esque tapestry against which the Surfer uses his considerable power to protect those less fortunate. I had difficulty imagining how Slott would maintain his creative storyline, but this title is consistently surprising in its fresh look at a long-time hero.

Ms.Marvel#8 – Ms. Marvel
G. Willow Wilson, writer
Takeshi Miyazawa, artist

G. Willow Wilson’s re-imagination of legacy heroine, Ms. Marvel as a teen, Muslim, Kamala Khan, took Marvel by storm, and opened the floodgates of the superhero comics to young women everywhere. A smash hit, it struck comparisons to Spider-Man and his early appearances, about a young hero trying to learn responsibility, fight crime, keep her identity secret, do well in school, and wrestle with young love all while trying to meet curfew. Ms. Marvel took the comic book world by storm, even becoming a member of the All-New Avengers, and fighting alongside her namesake, idol, Captain Marvel.

While Wilson’s Ms. Marvel retains its appeal, deftly balancing the young heroine’s many challenges, her larger acceptance, as member of the Avengers, has actually dampened my enthusiasm slightly for the title. While still in my Top 10, I think Ms. Marvel would have been higher in the list had I made it a year ago. Takeshi Mayazawa’s art is strong, giving Kamala her unique look, and cartoony appeal. Ms. Marvel has so much potential, and G. Willow Wilson has proven to be a writer that can handle a wide variety of stories. And as a trailblazer for blasting open the doors to mainstream comics to young women, I top my hat to her.

Squirrel Girl#7 – The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl
Ryan North, writer
Erica Henderson, artist

Now here’s an unexpected hit about a rather unexpected creation. Squirrel Girl was created as a joke in a back-up Iron Man story where she defeated Dr. Doom. After some notable appearances in the Great Lake Avengers, then as Luke Cage and Jessica Jones’ nanny in the New Avengers, she got her own title for the first time, where Ryan North and Erica Henderson capitalized on the runaway success of Ms. Marvel to create one of the most fun, funny, and original series ever. Taking full advantage of today’s technology (Squirrel Girl and her pals tweet incessantly) Squirrel Girl is a book for the youth of today and an inspiration for young girls everywhere. Optimistic, confident, and powerful, Squirrel Girl takes on all sorts of criminals, from common thugs to Galactus and Thanos, Squirrel Girl takes no prisoners.

North creates an adorable heroine for the ages, and infuses Squirrel Girl with lunatic humor, warmth and girl-power. With heroic friends like Koi Boy and Chipmunk Hunk you can’t help but smile as this plucky crime-fighter works with her sidekick Tippy-Toe to make the world a better place. Erica Henderson’s art is cartoony but accomplished, and Squirrel Girl is one of the few titles that my friends who don’t read comics seek out. This unlikely hit is so deserving, and while the convoluted time-travel, multi-issue arc wasn’t quite as fun as the previous issues of the series, I still look forward to this comic every month.

Doctor Strange#6 – Doctor Strange
Jason Aaron, writer
Chris Bachalo, artist

I’ve always enjoyed comic series revolving around magic, and I’ve usually enjoyed the various incarnations of Doctor Strange that Marvel has published. One of the big draws of Doctor Strange was always Clea, who has not appeared in this new series, but surprisingly, I’m still loving it. The good doctor is facing an otherworldly threat that is destroying all magic in the multiverse, and slaughtering those who use it. With various guest stars such as Scarlet Witch, Magik, Shaman and Talisman, Aaron is bringing in many of the magic users in the Marvel Universe, and creating a compelling, accessible story about the nature of magic. It’s fun, a bit irreverent, steeped in Marvel history, and modern all at the same time. Stephen Strange is updated and kind of cool but still recognizable as the character that has been around since the 60’s.

Then there’s the art… an important consideration for Doctor Strange given his origins and how Steve Ditko defined the Marvel magic universe. Chris Bachalo is more than up to the task. His unorthodox panels, cryptic, insane monsters, and inscrutable faces all work perfectly for Drocto Strange. If Aaron and Bachalo can maintain this quality and pace, Doctor Strange should have a good run leading up to his cinematic debut. And if they bring Clea in, even as a guest star, I’ll be just thrilled.

And we’re down to my Top 5. Anyone have any guesses as to what’s on the top of the list?

posted in Comics, Favorites | at 6:29 am | 0 Comments
22nd June 2016
by Michael

The Marvel Comics I’m Enjoying Most Right Now… #’s 11 – 15

For the next round, we have some insects, a ferocious animal, and a bunch of superheroines. We also start the parade of solo titles that I’ve been loving. Two are titles that I am genuinely surprised that I’m enjoying so much. Let’s get right down to it.

antman#15 – The Astonishing Ant-Man
Nick Spencer, writer
Ramon Rosanas, artist

I’ve always preferred Scott Lang to Hank Pym when it comes to Ant-Man, but I really wasn’t expecting to enjoy Lang’s solo-outing nearly as much as I do. Lang’s Ant-Man is a bit of a screw-up in his first solo title. He has followed his ex-wife and daughter to Miami, started his own shaky security firm populated by ex-super villains, and found himself working for his ex-girlfriend Darla Deering, once a teammate on the Fantastic Four under the identity of Miss Thing. His daughter Cassie, formerly the Young Avengers known as Stature has come back from the dead, lost her powers and his very angry at her father for stalking her. Now she finds herself on the wrong side of the law with a new set of super-powers with her Dad trying to save her.

Nick Spencer hits a fun tone in Astonishing Ant-Man, mixing family drama with pratfall humor. Scott is such a mess that you can’t help root for him. He loves his daughter and tries so hard to be a hero that you just want to shake him every time he makes a questionable decision. Spencer makes Lang a lovable guy who tries really hard but can’t really catch many breaks. He does a great job with Lang’s supporting cast as well. From Cassie, to Darla, to his sad sack security team, to the Beetle, a new incarnation of the super-villain with whom he has slept with a couple times against his better judgement. Ramon Rosanas’ art is sleek and accessible, handle the size changing superheroes with dramatic flair.  Here’s hoping Lang’s bad luck doesn’t cross over into the sales for this title, which deserves a lengthy run.

spiderwoman#14 – Spider-Woman
Dennis Hopeless, writer
Javier Rodriguez, artist

How I loved Spider-Woman in the 70’s. And I do thank Brian Bendis for bringing her back… but didn’t really enjoy his take on her. But now Dennis Hopeless has reimagined Jessica Drew as a pragmatic heroine… who has a baby! What a fun and unexpected twist for our heroine, and one that brings a little mystery and a lot of humor into her life. It’s true, when Spider-Woman first appeared in the 70’s, humor wasn’t really part of her ouevre. Yet it suits her, especially with Hopeless’ quirky take on her, and keeping her large network of heroic (and sometimes villainous) friends. I also enjoy her mentor relationship with the two newest spider-ladies in the Marvel Universe (Spider-Gwen and Silk). It allows Jessica to grapple with her uncertainty around her heroic role, yet tap into the extensive experience she has amassed over the years.

Javier Rodriguez is a great artistic pairing for Jessica’s new style. Her costume has been reimagined, the book has bold, clean lines, and the colors fairly leap off the page. The first arc of Spider-Woman’s title by Hopeless focuses on her pregnancy and her unorthodox labor. I’m looking forward to see where her creative team takes her now that the baby is born, and perhaps the mystery of the father is brought to light. Welcome back, Jessica, it’s been way too long.

Black Widow#13 – Black Widow
Chris Samnee & Mark Waid, writers
Chris Samnee, artist

Natasha Romanoff, aka, The Black Widow, is finally getting the attend she deserves, thanks possibly in part, because of the high profile nature of her role in the Avengers films. Natasha has such a long, complicated history with so many appearances in so many team and solo books since her debut in the pages of Iron Man in the 60’s. Taking up the threads established by Marjorie Liu and Nathan Edmondson in her previous series, Black Widow’s solo adventures are much more of the spy variety than standard superheroics. Mark Waid and Chris Samnee just completed a very successful run on Daredevil, and their style suits the Widow nicely. They kick the series off with a full-throttle, suspenseful opener that never lets up the pace. They’ve put Natasha in a very dangerous situation, one that she overcomes in her own deadly style.

I have thoroughly enjoyed the last two Widow series over the past few years. And I suspect this one will also be great. So far it hasn’t matched the outstanding work Edmondson had been delivering, thus it’s double digit appearance on this list. I’m hoping that once Waid and Samnee get deeper into their story, that this title might move up on my list.

A-Force#12 – A-Force
Kelly Thompson w/ G. Willow Wilson, writers
Jorge Malina, artist

After Cullen Bunn’s ambitious, yet failed attempt at an all-super-heroine team in Fearless Defenders, I was worried that A-Force, an all-super-heroine team of Avengers that got its debut as a miniseries during the Secret Wars arc, might fare the same. Yet, G. Willow Wilson hot off her work with Ms. Marvel, seems to have a success on her hands so far. Now in their own series, the kick-ass heroines of Earth 616 – She-Hulk, Medusa, Captain Marvel, Dazzler, Nico Minoru and Singlarity –  band together again for the very first time. What’s that you say? Together again for the first time? Well the characters in the A-Force limited series were plucked from various realities and weren’t the heroines that are getting together here, but when one of your members is a sentient pocket universe, these things are possible.

Even without one of my favorites, Medusa, prominently featured, it’s a no-brainer that I would be interested in a team of super-heroines, but A-Force shows promise regardless of my pre-disposition to love it. Thompson and Wilson are taking their time developing the group into a team and fleshing out the individual members. They plan to have a variety of characters guest star, which will be a lot of fun. The tension/dynamic between three strong leaders, Medusa, Captain Marvel and She-Hulk, is fun. Malina’s artwork is good, clean and attractive, but doesn’t wow me. I suppose this would be much closer to the top of the list if it didn’t feel a little rushed, or dig a little deeper. Hopefully once A-Force settles into its groove, that will happen.

All-New Wolverine#11 – All-New Wolverine
Tom Taylor, writer
David Lopez & David Navarrot, artists

Never in my wildest imagination did I ever think a Wolverine comic would end up hovering around the bottom of my top 10 Marvel books being published. Even with Laura Kinney, the former X-23, now acting as the All-New Wolverine did I ever expect a Wolverine title to be so darn enjoyable! Tom Taylor has breathed new life into the tired Wolverine mythos by creating stories about a young, female clone of Wolverine, struggling with her humanity, and basically invulnerable due to her healing factor. In her new solo title, Laura has partnered with such unlikely heroes as Dr. Strange and Janet Van Dyne, the Wasp, as well as her boyfriend, Angel, from the all-new X-Men already, and seeing her work with these disparate heroes has been a lot of fun. Now she has taken an even younger clone of herself under her wing, forcing her to make even more responsible choices in an effort to set a good example.

Taylor has developed a strong character in Laura Kinney, someone who hasn’t been around all that long, yet has already amassed significant experience in the Marvel Universe. She carries on a legacy of the lost Logan, and seeks to honor him by adopting his identity. he art by David Lopez and David Navarrot has an intensity that matches the young heroine. Now it’s time to see some of Wolverine’s rogues gallery to make an appearance to square off against the “all-new Wolverine.”

See you soon with the Top 10!

posted in Comics, Favorites | at 6:03 pm | 0 Comments
16th June 2016
by Michael

The Marvel Comics I’m Enjoying Most Right Now… #’s 15 – 20

After being inspired by this article in Past Magazine, I started assembling my Top 10 list of Marvel Comics that I’m currently enjoying. What I discovered is, I’m actually really digging about 20 of their titles (and reading about 30 — not a bad ratio). I made a couple of surprising discoveries when compiling this list. I’ve always been a big fan of team books. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that our of my Top 20 reads, 14 were solo titles! And of the seven team books I am enjoying, only one is in the Top 10. The reason for this leads to my next surprising discovery. I’ve always enjoyed team books more than solo books because, as you all know, I read comics mainly for the superheroines. Historically, you’d only find superheroines in team books like the X-Men or the Avengers. You might find one or two solo titles about a superhoine, but they usually didn’t last too long. Shockingly, 10 of my Top 20 Marvel titles I’m enjoying right now are solo books about superheroines! It’s really unprecedented, and I am thrilled. I guess Marvel finally figured out that girls read comics too.

captainmarvel#20 – Captain Marvel
Michele Fazekas & Tara Butters, writers
Kris Anka & Felipe Smith, artists

As a superheroine-loving, comic-reading youth, I was very excited when Marvel clumsily embraced the women’s liberation movement in the 70’s, publishing titles like The Cat, Night Nurse, and somewhat more successfully, Spider-Woman and Ms. Marvel. Carol Danvers, a/k/a/ Ms. Marvel, was an interesting character, and fit right in the mold of what a big comic book company thought a 70’s liberated woman should be. After her title was cancelled, she showed up in the Avengers and the X-Men, and proceeded to have her life ripped apart and over the decades, put back together. And while I’ve always liked her okay, I’ve never really taken to Ms. Marvel. Except for her first run in The Avengers, when she was actually kind of playful — flirting with Wonder Man, teasing Captain America — she always came across as a little flat. Chris Claremont did some work with her after she had her powers stripped from her and her memories wiped by Rogue in a classic Avengers Annual, subsequently boosting her powers to cosmic levels and changing her name to Binary. Kurt Busiek tried to mix it up a little by having her struggle with alcohol when he brought the Avengers back to popularity. Then Marvel decided that Carol, now called Captain Marvel, needed to be their flagship heroine; a character to rival Wonder Woman, and they started pushing her in solo titles again.

I really wanted to love her first solo outing written by the talented Kelly Sue DeConnick but could never really fully embrace it. Part of that was Dexter Soy’s unconventional, and in my eyes, unattractive artwork. So after a while, I stopped reading it. Recently she got a new creative team, Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters who relaunched her series with Carol as the commander of Alpha Flight, housed on a space station and protecting the earth from interstellar threats. Her supporting cast includes Sasquatch, Aurora and Puck, former members of the Canadian team, Alpha Flight, with some lovely, streamlined art by Kris Anka and Felipe Smith. The combination is working. The stories are fun, Carol in getting more interesting to me again, and hopefully, this trend will continue. I really want to love Captain Marvel. maybe soon I will.

#1ultimates9 – Ultimates
Al Ewing, writer
Kenneth Rocafort, artist

After the universe reshaping that took place in Secret Wars, the Ultimates came together to monitor and protect the earth from major cosmic disturbances. Their first mission was to stop the planet-destroying habits of Galactus, so you know they mean business. With that in mind, the team packs some major power with a membership that includes Blue Marvel, Black Panther, Spectrum, Captain Marvel and Ms. America, with Galactus as a sort of unofficial member. It’s also an amazingly diverse team with not a single caucasian man in sight. Much of my enjoyment of Ultimates comes from this unconventional line-up. Female-heavy, and featuring Monica Rambeau, aka Spectrum, was also a major-enticement. But Ewing does a great job in thinking big in terms of storyline and is creative in his solutions.

Take his first storyline, when the Ultimates decide to tackle the problem of Galactus. Their solution isn’t to destroy him, or stop his insatiable hunger. Instead, they use their brains and their considerable power to change his fundamental nature from world-destroyer to life-bringer. It’s a bold, and surprising move in comics, and has made for some pretty damn entertaining stories.

squadron#18 – Squadron Supreme
James Robinson, writer
Leonard Kirk, artist

Originally created as Marvel’s version of the Justice League and hailing from a parallel earth, James Robinson has reimagined the team as a band of heroes assembled from multiple parallel earths that have all been destroyed. The team holds the Illuminati responsible, and their primary mission, when not helping humanity, is revenge against those who destroyed their homeworlds. In fact, in one of their first missions, they successfully kill Namor, the Sub Mariner. Each member represents the core team of the original Squadron Supreme, including Hyperion, Nighthawk, Doctor Spectrum, Whizzer, and Power Princess. I’ve always enjoyed the Squadron Supreme, but it was the inclusion of Thundra, who hooked up with the team after a few issues, that inspired me to follow the book.

Fortunately, Robinson has set the team up with an intriguing mission, one that is justified, if misguided, and also puts them into opposition of the heroes on our earth. It’s difficult to know how long he will be able to maintain this mission, and how things will evolve longer-term, but with early revelations of a team-traitor, and the addition of Thundra, things are already starting to evolve.

uinhumans#17 – Uncanny Inhumans
Charles Soule, writer
Steve McNiven, Brandon Petersen, Kev Walker, artists

I’ve always been a big fan of the Inhuman Royal Family, particularly Medusa, who is my second favorite super-heroine after the Invisible Woman. Medusa has gotten a lot of play in the past few years, which I really appreciate, but now that Black Bolt is back, I feared Medusa would be taking a back seat to her hubby. Fortunately, so far, that’s not happening. While Uncanny Inhumans hasn’t quite lived up to my hopes for the title; it’s a pretty standard book, it is resolving some dropped threads from the past: like what ever happened to Medusa and Black Bolt’s son, Ahura. That opening arc, which also involved Kang the Conqueror, was a great start, but the book has been floundering a bit since then with a few transitional issues that will hopefully lead into something big coming up. The addition of the Human Torch as the human liaison to the Inhumans is intriguing, but his relationship with Medusa seems a bit more like a plot device.

Still, I have high hopes for this ongoing spotlight on one of Marvel’s quirkier ideas from the 60’s. Marvel Entertainment has put the Inhumans movie on hold, which is a shame, but they’re getting commercial time on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and Medusa is certainly getting a lot of face time between this title and A-Force, which will appear a little bit later on this list. So my hopes remain high, and I am enjoying the Inhumans time in the spotlight.

aninhumans#16 – All-New Inhumans
James Asmus & Charles Soule, writers
Stefano Caselli, artist

Speaking of the Inhumans, what about all those other Inhumans, including all the new ones created by the Terrigen mists, that don’t fit into Uncanny Inhumans? Marvel has created a second team, this one led by Crystal, arguably one of the most popular of the Royal Family, who is occasionally forgotten about when dealing with the Inhumans. Surprisingly, I’m enjoying All-New Inhumans a little more than the Uncanny version. This group of Inhumans has a very targeted mission — protecting all the new Inhumans created by the Terrigen Cloud that has now having affects worldwide. All-New Inhumans covers some interesting moral ground as the team, nominally on a diplomatic mission wherever they go, uncover all sorts of disturbing behavior around the explosion of new Inhumans.

Marvel has always had a tough time creating new Inhumans beyond the Royal Family and having them stick. Both All-New and Uncanny Inhumans is doing a pretty good job with this, giving them some strong characterization and more to do (Sean McKeever’s brief series in the early 2000’s about a younger group of Inhumans being an exception. Would love to see some of those characters again.) The fact that Charles Soule is involved with both Inhumans’ series is good, allowing for strong continuity and interplay. I just hope that Marvel isn’t going to continue with the idea of Inhumans replacing mutants in their universe, because those stories have already been written for decades. It’s time to try something new.

Okay, things start to get really interesting from here. You can see that most of the team books are in this group, surprising, as they tend to be my favorites. Also notable about those teams is that they’re all pretty much led by women (except for Ultimates, and the leadership there is debatable.)  Lots of good stuff from Marvel these days. Hope the quality continues.

posted in Comics, Favorites | at 10:15 am | 0 Comments
14th June 2016
by Michael

The Marvel Comics I’m Enjoying Most Right Now – Or Was…

Both Marvel and DC are transforming again. It’s something they do every nine months or so. Sometimes more. It gets old. But at the same time, I read a post on some comics site that listed the best Marvel comics out right now, and I realized that I agreed with many of the picks on this list, and that there were actually quite a few Marvel Comics being published at the moment that I was really enjoying. Since I don’t really use this blog anymore except for my year-end best books list, I thought why not share my mid-year best comics list? And here we are…

But before I launch into this list, I had to mention two titles that are not currently being published, so it would be against the rules to include them on my list. That said, when they were being published, they were definitely in my Top 6 or 7 Marvel books out there. The good news, is that one will be coming back… transformed a bit… very soon, and the other will turn up again in the near future as well.

lokiLoki: Agent of Asgard
Al Ewing, writer
Lee Garbett, Artist

I’m not generally a fan of comic titles centered around “villains.” I came late to Loki’s starring role. In the pages of Thor, the heroes arch-nemesis, his half-brother Loki, god of lies, ends up being reborn. His tales as a pre-teen were told in Kieron Gillen’s Journey Into Mystery title. After reading consistent great reviews of the comic, I picked it up, fell in love, and have been reading about Loki’s adventures in various titles ever since. Now aged to a young adult, befriended by a mortal named Verity, who can see through lies, acting more as an anti-hero… or even (gasp) a hero, than the traditional villain he has always played, and now working as an agent of Asgard, his mystical homeworld on command by the all-Mother, rulers of the gods, he wrestles with his future self, that traditional, purveyor of evil that whose shadow all his actions fall beneath.

Ewing’s Loki is conflicted and charming, smart and cunning, but not so trustworthy when it all comes down to it. His journey has him evolving from a god of lies, to a god of stories, which is a lot less judgmental, but still has the ability to swing both ways… morality-wise. Sadly, Loki got caught up in the whole rebirth of the Marvel Universe business and his title was suspended. The good news, is that this week, Loki returns in a new title called Vote Loki, where the god of stories take on the role that he was born to embrace… political candidate for President of the United States.

hawkeyeAll-New Hawkeye
Jeff Lemire, writer
Ramón Pérez, artist

After writer David Aja’s ongoing Hawkeye series turned Clint Barton, the avenging archer from an heroic superhero, to a down-on-his-luck hero of the people, and paired him up with the younger, better(?) Hawkeye, Kate Bishop Jeff Lemire followed up with a story that combined a future adventure with the present, when the two estranged Hawkeyes meet up after years on their own to correct a mistake they made around three powerfully mutated children who kill with their minds.

Both Aja and Lemire knew how to make Barton and Bishop unique and fascinating, with their two heroes sharing both a mutual admiration and attraction that was sweet without being icky. They tackled serious subjects with a hefty dose of tongue-in-cheek, dry humor that suited their protagonists perfectly. Both Hawkeyes found themselves rising up from B-list cult favorites, to A-list cult favorites and proved once again, that you don’t need super powers to be a true hero.

posted in Comics, Favorites | at 11:03 pm | 0 Comments
22nd August 2013
by Michael

Tusk!

Fleetwood Mac circa 1979I periodically go on a Fleetwood Mac jag, where I can’t get enough of their albums.  And not being a Stevie Nicks sycophant (although I do enjoy a lot of her work) but a Christine McVie fanatic, my Fleetwood Mac listening is not limited to their 1975 white album on, but goes back to the early 70’s, pre-Buckingham Nicks, when the likes of Bob Welch and Danny Kirwan were members.  My latest obsession from the last couple of weeks has been Tusk, their 1979 follow-up to the phenomenally successful, life-changing Rumours.

tuskTusk was a curious album.  There was no way the band was going to repeat the magic that emerged out of their personal break-ups and formed Rumours, number 10 on the list of best-selling albums of all time.  (You can see that list at http://www.celebritynetworth.com/articles/entertainment-articles/whats-the-biggest-selling-album-of-all-time/).  I’m sure the pressure from their label, Warner Bros. was pretty intense to do just that, but the band went in a completely different direction.  While it seems that Lindsey Buckingham was the driving force between the pseudo-punk, vaguely country tone of Tusk, certainly throughout all of his, the majority, contributions, his quirky production served Christine and Stevie’s compositions well.  Back in 1979, when Tusk was released, it was a rather shocking turn from Fleetwood Mac.  When listened to today, it seems even more incomprehensible juxtaposed with Rumours, but it works all the better for it.  The double album cost $1M to record, an exorbitant amount at the time, and with it only reaching #4 on the U.S. Billboard charts it is considered a disappointment.  Still, it did sell over 2M copies, earning a double platinum certification.

The title track was released as a single in advance of the album, and should have been a good indication that this was not going to be a Fleetwood Mac album like anything we’d expected.  From the jungle beat of the drums, the bizarre lyrics mumbled, then half-shrieked, and the overlay of the USC marching band, this was something visceral and different.  I was transfixed.  I ran around my high school (I was a senior) shouting Tusk!  I even included it as one of my quotes in the yearbook.

Now as I listen to Tusk some 34 years later, I am struck by how forward thinking it was, and how I think it might be Fleetwood Mac’s best album.  Okay, maybe not their best, but certainly Lindsey Buckingham does his best work ever with the band, or at least, most original.  Stevie Nicks turns in some pretty interesting work as well, and while Christine McVie has always been, in my opinion, the most reliable of the Mac songwriters, she doesn’t disappoint on Tusk.  While Tusk is arguably Lindsey’s album, it’s the way he pushes Christine and Stevie to the far reaches of what could be their comfort zones that really shines on Tusk.  (Although, part of me hopes that they all had fun trying out stuff they’d never usually perform – just take another listen to ‘The Ledge.’)

My current obsession is Christine McVie’s ‘Think About Me.’ It was a third single off the album, and is considered a minor hit for the band, only reaching #20 on the Billboard singles chart.  When I first heard ‘Think About Me’ it seemed a typical McVie single, reminiscent of ‘Don’t Stop’ and ‘Say You Love Me.’ Listening to it today, I am struck by the rock ‘n roll and punk influences, and the sparse, powerful mix of the song.  Lyrically, McVie injects a little wry sarcasm into the song, something she is not usually known for.  ‘Think About Me’ really features the power of McVie’s piano driving the song rhythmically forward, and Buckingham’s chunky guitar blends to create something truly rollicking.  Once again, McVie choses to alternate vocals with Buckingham, the former taking the lead on the vocals, the latter leading the bands trademark sublime harmonies on the choruses.  The vocal mix is perfect, with each of the unique voices easily picked out when they sing together.  Add to that the solid foundation of Fleetwood’s drums and McVie’s surprisingly flashy bass and it thrills me every time I listen to it.  McVie’s other contributions include the album opener, ‘Over & Over,’ the haunting ‘Brown Eyes,’ the gorgeously simple and heartfelt ‘Never Make Me Cry,’ the intricate confection ‘Honey Hi,’ and one of the best album closers ever, ‘Never Forget.’

Stevie Nicks’ most memorable song on Tusk for most people is ‘Sara,’ the second single from the album, and the highest charting, climbing to #7 on the Billboard charts.  I’ve always found ‘Sara’ to be rather uninspired, overlong and little boring.  The fourth single from Tusk was Stevie’s ‘Sisters of the Moon,’ a dark, pseudo-sequel to ‘Rhiannon.’  Nice enough, but pretty standard Stevie-fare.  Her other three compositions for Tusk are some of her finest work.  ‘Storms’ is a gently rumbling lament, beautifully constructed, and more complex than much of her Fleetwood Mac work.  ‘Angel’ is probably my favorite song Nicks wrote for Fleetwood Mac.  It’s got a bouncy, bluesy chord progression that makes it sound like a Christine McVie composition sung by Nicks.  The hauntingly lovely ‘Beautiful Child’ closes out Nicks’ contributions to Tusk.  Powered by McVie’s gentle piano and flush with the vocal interplay Fleetwood Mac is known for ‘Beautiful Child’ is a heartfelt ballad that highlights Stevie’s strength as a songwriter.  While Nicks’ songs are possibly the least affected by Tusk’s strangeness, Buckingham keeps the arrangements sparse and raw lending an urgency even to her most gentle numbers.

But it’s true, Tusk is really Lindsey Buckingham’s album, and his creativity and originality really show through on his songs.  Penning nine of Tusk’s twenty songs, Lindsey’s short, energetic numbers are like exclamatory punctuation marks sprinkled through the narrative.  His songs burst with heavy, distorted guitars and raucous vocal shrieks that convey frustration, anxiety and anger.  In some cases the bizarre lyrics seem interchangeable (and in fact, listening to the demo tracks included on the 25th anniversary release, snippets of lyrics are used on various songs).  The first of Lindsey’s songs you experience is the punk/country hybrid called ‘The Ledge.’  You might think, ‘he’s lost his mind, what the heck is this?’ but it’s a powerful locomotive of a song with the three vocalists harmonizing with wails and whispers the likes of which Fleetwood Mac had never explored before.  ‘Not That Funny’ is Buckingham’s punk response to Rumours’ ‘Never Going Back Again.’  It’s a bouncy pop ditty that leaps off the record with a high-pitched acoustic guidtar part that sticks in your head.  Along with ‘That’s Enough for Me’ and ‘I Know I’m Not Wrong’ these are three musical outbursts that highlight Lindsey’s new musical direction and his frantic energy.  ‘What Makes You Think You’re the One’ is almost traditional anchored by a pounding piano line that McVie once said made here wrists hurt after a day of recording.  ‘Save Me a Place’ and ‘That’s All for Everyone’ are lush, dreamy tracks that retain the quirky sensibilities of Lindsey’s current vision, but are less confrontational and again, use the trio’s vocal interplay to maximum affect.   Buckingham’s most beautiful number is yearning falsetto-powered ‘Walk a Thin Line.’  It highlights his adept vocals but it once again takes the expected Mac oohs and aahs and pushes them slightly left of center to remind us that we’re not listening to Rumours.

The first time I saw Fleetwood Mac live was during the Tusk tour at the Boston Garden.  It was a glorious show, and was the first of three (or maybe four times) that I was able to see them live.  I know they have had a bit of a return in the past few years, but without Christine McVie, it’s just not the same for me.  There was some sort of magic when those five made music together, and Christine McVie is one of my all time musical heroes.  I’m just glad the band has a long history of music to which I can return.

posted in Favorites, Fleetwood Mac, Music, Nostalgia | at 9:52 pm | 0 Comments
4th January 2013
by Michael

Favorite Books Read in 2012 – #’s 16 & 15

As I mentioned previously, it was a good year for books.  I read a lot of really good books last year, and I couldn’t quite stop at a top 15… I had to squeeze one more on there.  So here we go, #’s 16 & 15 of my favorite books read in 2012!  And what do they have in common?  They’re both geared toward teen readers.  #16 is a newcomer to this list, and #15 made the list last year at #10.

#16 – Will Grayson Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

I read two teen novels with gay characters/themes in them, and while I enjoyed them both, both had flaws as well.  Will Grayson Will Grayson‘s conceit about two characters named Will Grayson, one straight, and one gay, written by two authors handling alternating chapters is both a strength and a weakness.  The two writers have noticeably different writing styles, which I found distracting.  There is also an element of over-simplification that can often mars feel-good novels.  However the book is hilarious, unabashedly moving, and a nice look at the variety of personalities embodying high school life today.

 

 

#15 – Pirate Cinema by Cory Doctorow

Cory’s latest book tackles a subject he is passionate about: copyright and the internet. In Pirate Cinema, a boy runs away to London after his cinema mash-ups cause his family to lose internet access for a month. While living on the streets, he hooks up with a Dickensian band of pals who show him how to live on his own and educate him about the draconian nature of the laws created by big entertainment industry that struggle to hang on to the establishment, but stifle the artistic creativity of a new generation. (He also finds a pretty amazing girlfriend.)  While the novelty of this book for me was seeing my husband’s name appear throughout in a very pivotal role (Scot won naming rights at an auction) about halfway through  Cory had hooked me with a compelling read, strong characters, and a message that is so relevant to the world we live in today.  Cory’s last novel, the epic For the Win was my #10 favorite book read in 2011.

7th May 2009
by Scot

Visit from the Golden Pony

Last night, the golden pony came to Springfield, MA and pooped out a lovely evening for Michael and  I  me. (Thanks, Max.) We’re here for the Massachusetts Library Association annual conference and Michael, being Michael, lined up a truly stupendous array of guests to speak. So, last night we spent the late night hours closing down the hotel bar with:

I am so lucky that my husband is so fearless and is such a big dreamer. He gave me the wonderful gift of the opportunity to chat with Lynda and Thrity about menopause and to smoke with Talia and Michael Cunningham in the rain. Does that rock or what?

28th June 2008
by Michael

Neil Gaiman’s THE GRAVEYARD BOOK is a winner!

Cover Art for Neil Gaiman\'s The Graveyard BookThe Graveyard Book is Neil Gaiman’s latest work for children coming out in September. Now I don’t remember what it was like to be 10 or 11, but his man in his forties loved this novel. No one writes books with appeal to all ages as well as Neil Gaiman. Borrowing a concept from Kipling’s The Jungle Book, which tells the story of an orphan raised in the jungle, The Graveyard Book features a toddler who wanders out of the house and into the graveyard after his family is brutally murdered, and is raised by the spirits and others beings who live there.

Young Bod (short for Nobody) is adopted by Mr. and Mrs. Owens, a kindly couple who died childless, and watched over by Silas, a mysterious and powerful being who is neither alive nor dead. Bod learns the secrets of the graveyard, and things no living beings know. As he grows up, he begins to encounter the living from time to time, and a curiosity is sparked. All the while, Jack, the man who murdered his family, is hoping to correct his failure by finding and finishing of Bod as well.

Gaiman populates The Graveyard Book with all the sorts of mystical and fantastic creatures he is known for. Silas’ wonderful, Eastern European substitute guardian Miss Luprescu is surely my favorite, but from ghouls to witches and other denizens of the dead, there is something to astound and capture everyone’s imagination. Watch for this one when it’s published in September.

Me and Neil Gaiman at a HarperCollins PartyOf course, friends of mine will know I’ve got a long-standing admiration for Mr. Gaiman, and about a month ago, while attending BookExpo America in Los Angeles, I was able to meet and hang out with Mr. Gaiman not once, but twice!  The second time I even was so bold as to ask to have my picture taken with him.  It was a geeky thing to do, and I’m smiling way too hard in the photo, but at least I hvae it.  I’ve been reading Neil’s work since the 80’s when he broke into comics at DC with the Black Orchid miniseries.  Shortly after that Neil began what has become arguably his most popular work, The Sandman.  His work as a novelist began with the riotously fun Good Omens, co-written by Terry Pratchett.  He has since hit the NYT bestsellers’ list on his own with the titles American Gods and The Anansi Boys.   He has done screenplay work for such films as PRINCESS MONONOKE, MIRRORMASK, and BEOWULF.  His young adult novel Coraline has been adapted for the screen and is due out later this year.

posted in Authors, Books, Comics, Fantasy, Favorites, Reviews | at 8:49 am | 1 Comment
10th November 2007
by Michael

Who I Listen To

The other night we were having a conversation about music and our respective relationships with it. We had just seen A.J. Schnack‘s well-made but slightly difficult new documentary, KURT COBAIN ABOUT A SON, and I was saying that Kurt and Nirvana were so popular that they defined an entire era of music. Sadly for me, that era (grunge and the 1990s) more or less signaled the end of that portion of my life where I defined my interests musically and I moved to the world of film. Not that I don’t like music anymore, I just don’t live and breathe it the way I did before.

The music I do listen to tends to be dominated by female singer/songwriters, many of whom I now discover through an online community called Ecto. One in particular, has risen to the top to claim the coveted position of favorite musical act which was once held by the likes of Kate Bush and Jane Siberry. Her name is Emm Gryner, and I’ve been a great admirer of her work for several years now. She hails from Canada (surprise, surprise) and is a rocker-bassist-chick who plays gorgeous melodies on her piano that make me cry. I’ve seen her perform live a few times, and turned some friends on to her music, but since she’s not all that widely known among my circle of acquaintances, I thought I’d post her latest video here. There’s something unique about Emm’s voice, and she is a master of the pop hook. “Blackwinged Bird” is a good representation of her ballad work, but she’s not some Tori-wannabe. If you like what you hear, check her out.

posted in Favorites, Music | at 8:00 am | 0 Comments
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