Marvel’s Marvelous Marvels!

Good day, everyone! For this week’s loose review, I’m going to be switching things up a little bit and looking at a Marvel classic. This particular selection is 1994’s Marvels by Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross.

Marvels is an interesting accomplishment for a number of reasons. The closest analogue I can draw in other comics would be Kingdom Come, but that’s not just because of Alex Ross’s artwork. The book is also a sort of love letter to older comics continuity. Whereas Kingdom Come was an ode to DC’s Golden Age, Marvels is a love letter to Marvel’s Golden and Silver Ages.

I have to say that I was greatly impressed with the book. I’ve heard wonderful things about Marvels for years and have only recently been able to give it a shot. The story is unique (at least in the time that it was written) in that it is told from the perspective of average people. The main character whose point of view the reader shares is a photojournalist named Phil Sheldon, who makes it his life’s work to document the rise of the beings he terms “Marvels.”

The story begins in 1939 when Phil is young and still trying to make a name for himself among the various fictional newspapers in Marvel’s New York City. The earliest stories in Marvels deal with Marvel’s first Golden Age characters, namely the original Human Torch, Namor the Sub-Mariner, and Captain America. Busiek and Ross really capture the helplessness and the ignorance of people witnessing superheroes from the outside for the first time, and this theme is carried throughout the book. From the Human Torch and Namor duking it out across the rooftops of New York, to Captain America’s adventures in World War II, to Galactus‘s invasion of the earth in the 1960s, everything is mysterious to the common onlooker and nothing is explained to them.

Perhaps the most powerful portion of the book is the common person’s viewpoint on mutants entering the public eye during the 1960s. Much as was Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s original intention with the X-Men, parallels between these stories and the Civil Rights Movement cannot be denied. I must say that it was a bold move on the creative team’s part to present hatred of mutants as a sort of bandwagon sport that even Phil Sheldon gets pulled into. Mutant sighting reports go out over the radio like the country is at war with them, and armed mobs hunt them in the streets.

Phil’s own perspective changes when he is forced to interact with a mutant face to face. During all of this mob violence, Phil’s daughters secretly take in a little mutant girl named Maggie who was abandoned by her family because of her appearance. Upon meeting her, Phil looks into her eyes and flashes back to his time as a war correspondent in Europe during World War II and the horrors he saw in the concentration camps the Allies liberated. From this moment forward in the story, Phil is a changed man. I do not wish to spoil what happens after this, but I will tell you that I am not ashamed to admit it left me a bit weepy. That said, the issue’s cover image still gives me hope.

Despite the fact I love period superhero stories like this one (X-Men: First Class, anyone?), I’ll admit that I did expect a bit more from it. Marvels wraps rather suddenly, and we are left at the end with very little aside from scenes of not really understanding what’s going on in the world and an almost self-destructive fascination with the superhero concept.

While these are done rather well, I think they may have lost some of their thunder since the original publication of this book in 1994. I feel that these themes have become a regular part of superhero stories over the past two decades—questioning the superhero and its appeal, and insisting on greater inclusiveness in the perspectives presented in superhero stories, to clarify.

Marvels is my reading recommendation for this week, if you haven’t already experienced it. If you have, let’s have a chat in the comments below. Before I leave you to begin working on my A to Z posts for next month, here’s a bit of hope from the late, great Leonard Nimoy, whose passing I have not yet had the chance to comment on in these blogs. Hang in there, everyone. I’ll see you next time.

IDW Makes Me Long for Baldur’s Gate

Good day, everyone! My post for this week builds off my previous one about IDW. This time around, I want to give a general review and recommendation for one of IDW’s current titles I’m loosely following–the enormously titled Dungeons & Dragons: Legends of Baldur’s Gate – Tyranny of Dragons by Jim Zub and Max Dunbar.

This title (along with the fact that I just recently finished Dragon Age Inquisition, which I may address in another post) really brings my nostalgia for Baldur’s Gate to the forefront of my mind. Though I never completed it or its sequel (Shadows of Amn, which I still consider one of my all-time favorite role-playing games, along with Planescape: Torment–on a side note, Will still has one of my old copies of the game, which seems to be working out for him these days), I still have fond memories of adventuring and questing across the Forgotten Realms with a unique and nuanced team of characters, not the least of whom was the (probably) brain-damaged ranger named Minsc.

Legends of Baldur’s Gate begins about a century or so after the events of the Baldur’s Gate games, and likely several decades after the deaths of many of the games’ main characters, Minsc included. The story begins with an Elven wild mage (D&D, y’all!) named Delina on a personal quest to the city of Baldur’s Gate on the run from some powerful enemies. During her flight, she enters a pavilion filled with the statues of great heroes from the city’s history. Included among them is a statue of Minsc, called the Legendary Ranger at this point.

While using her wild magic to defend herself, Delina accidentally animates the statue of Minsc, complete with his miniature giant space hamster companion, Boo. There’s a bit of existential horror boiling beneath the surface here that never gets its due in the story. Given that this Minsc seems to have all the memories that the real Minsc would have, does this mean that Minsc was stuck as a statue for nearly a century? If not, does this mean that Delina somehow creates a perfect replica of Minsc using the statue as a template? Is the answer somewhere between these questions? As of the end of the second issue of the series, this bit of the story has not yet been told.

Though it’s far from the best fantasy comic out right now, this one is worth a look , if for no other reason than to sate your Baldur’s Gate nostalgia. Also, I do think it has a lot of potential on its own, so try it out if you’re interested in anything I talked about today. The fifth issue of the series will likely be out by the time you read this, so you’ll have quite the stack of material to work through if you choose to follow it.

As has become the norm, this series is my reading recommendation for this week. Check it out on comiXology or go out and support your local comic shops. I’ll see you all next time.

Minsc and Boo stand ready! Swords for everyone!

Worth a Look — IDW Publishing

Good day, everyone! For this entry in my newly revamped season two here at Sourcerer, I want to take a step back and have a look at one of the larger comics publishers that isn’t one of the big boys, and isn’t quite indie, but has a lot of potential—IDW. The company originally arose in 1999 as a ploy to capitalize on popular merchandising, but it has grown into a fairly strong competitor in the comics market in the years since. True, it doesn’t have a lot of its own unique properties currently, but as I said, it has a lot of potential.

IDW’s first unique comic series was 30 Days of Night in 2002, which many of you probably remember foremost as that vampire movie set in Alaska that starred Josh Hartnett. Aside from this, most of IDW’s most recognizable properties have all been older licensed intellectual properties including Star Trek, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Transformers, G.I. Joe, Ghostbusters, and even (shudder) My Little Pony. They’ll also be launching a new Jem and the Holograms series this year.

30 Days of Night cover image by Ben Templesmith

Among those licensed properties, the Star Trek line has some of the most interesting stories currently running. The ongoing Star Trek series launched shortly after the 2009 reboot film and actually operates with some input from the movies’ writers. Further, some of its material has even influenced the direction the movies take, making it an intriguing (and canonical) print foray into this newer growing Star Trek universe. One storyline I must read and review one day for Sourcerer is the one currently running—the crew of Kirk’s Enterprise encounter Q (of Next Generation infamy), who, aware of the changes in the timeline brought on at the beginning of the 2009 film, actually sends the Enterprise into the future of the old timeline to Deep Space Nine during the Dominion War. If you can’t see how awesome this concept potentially is, there’s no help for you.

IDW has also been stepping it up with its imported line of comics, particularly its European forays. Most notable is a series that begins its US publication in April called The Infinite Loop, a French science fiction comic book about time travel and same-sex love. It looks pretty interesting and I’ll definitely be checking it out when I’m able.

That’s about it for this week. As a reading recommendation, I’d suggest digging something up that’s been published by IDW and giving it a shot, especially given its recent (and promising) move to San Diego. Given the span of IDW’s licenses, you stand a good chance of finding something you’ll like. See you all again soon. Go out and support your local comic shops!

Batman: In Darkest Knight — A Review

Good day, everyone! It’s good to be back from my hiatus, and I’m hoping to keep a regular second season on my column here at Sourcerer. So, thanks for reading and please do keep coming back. This first entry is a review of a work I have touched on before–DC’s Elseworlds story Batman: In Darkest Knight by Mike W. Barr and Jerry Bingham, in which Bruce Wayne becomes a Green Lantern instead of Hal Jordan and instead of becoming Batman.

The story begins with a moment familiar to fans of Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One. Young Bruce, wounded and delirious from blood loss following his first vigilante outing, is in the process of simultaneously apologizing to and demanding a life purpose from a bust of his deceased father, Thomas Wayne. In this iteration, however, the familiar giant bat that sets Bruce on his life path as Batman is vaporized by Abin Sur‘s Green Lantern ring seeking a new wielder.

At this stage, I feel I need to step back to say a few things about this work as a comic, as a Green Lantern story, and as an entry in the Batman mythos. I’m going to be completely honest with you; this is not a particularly well done story. Though the artwork also has its weaknesses, the writing, especially, feels uninspired and contrived to force the story into being more than elegantly shaping it into something worthwhile. The best example of this is in the story’s treatment of Sinestro.

As many readers know, I am a huge fan of Sinestro. I hate to see him misused. Sinestro’s role in In Darkest Knight is a hodgepodge of altered earlier Green Lantern stories, such as his expulsion from the Corps (originally the fault of Hal Jordan). This series of convenient events continues with Sinestro coming to Earth to attempt to uncover his new arch-enemy’s greatest secrets. In furtherance of this, Sinestro hunts down Joe Chill, somehow fuses minds with him through his yellow ring, and then inexplicably begins wearing a purple suit identical to that of the Joker.

The next odd narrative choice is the establishment of a Green Lantern-themed Justice League by the Corps’s Guardians of the Universe. The Guardians approach Clark Kent, Diana of Themyscira, and Barry Allen individually in order to recruit them all into a defense force for the Earth that would allow Bruce Wayne more free time to pursue his Green Lantern duties around Sector 2814. Needless to say at this point, many of the characters’ motivations and the convenient results (such as the costumes) that follow are never satisfactorily explained.

Image of Superman, Wonder Woman, and the Flash taken from https://sourcererblog.files.wordpress.com/2015/02/7d637-reign075.jpg

There are a couple of other gripes I have with the story, and those are the sudden and useless murder of Commissioner Jim Gordon by Sinestro and the Green Lantern Batman costume. Seriously, look at it up above. He looks like a lame facsimile of Space Ghost.

Complaints aside, the story does contain some redeeming qualities. Chief among these is a line following Sinestro’s attack on Bruce that ends with Alfred’s death. When asked whether or not he would step down from his duties to take an appropriate time to mourn his loss, Bruce simply replies that his entire life is an act of mourning. If through nothing else and at no other time, the creative team truly expresses their grasp of Batman’s essential narrative here.

And that’s my Season Two premiere. I hope you all enjoyed it, or at least got a chuckle out of it. As a reading recommendation to start things off, I suggest reading this comic and drawing your own conclusions. The entire story is available on comiXology for $1.99. Let me know what you think in the comments below.

For at least the first few posts of this season, I’d like to do more reviews of comics I’m currently reading. I’ll admit I’m a bit behind the industry these days because of past financial difficulties, but I am trying to get ahead in my consumption with trade paperbacks. Future reviews will likely include the first volume of Sinestro (so I can finally finish out what I started last year) and a recently reprinted Marvel classic called Dr. Strange & Dr. Doom: Triumph & Torment. Look for more from me in coming weeks.

It’s good to be back! Now go out and support your local comic shops.