Books You Should Be Reading: Black Widow

It’s not often that I find myself unashamedly praising a mainstream superhero comic book, at least not outside of the safe and comfy perimeters of a superhero comic book blog. In a sea of creator-owned titles and indie comics more than worth the cover price, superhero books are mostly comfort food. While many titles out there are challenging genre convention, narrative structure, and the limitations of commercial art, superheroes, by and large, mostly stay the same. That’s okay: they’re supposed to stick with the standards, because that’s their function. The pages of the average cape book spill over with modern hero mythology, archetypes of classical fiction and folklore dusted off and repurposed every few years to have one more go around.

But sometimes you get a superhero book that does a little more, goes just a little bit further, and pulls off something great. Black Widow from Marvel Comics, helmed by writer Nathan Edmondson and artist Phil Noto, is one of those books. Fresh from the publisher’s successes with solo titles such as Hawkeye and Captain Marvel, Marvel’s applying a similar formula to this book. While Captain Marvel is a traditional hero book with a strong emotional center, about air force pilot turned crime fighter Carol Danvers, the offbeat Hawkeye, following the oft-depressing daily exploits of Avenger Clint Barton, is a little more genre-bending. Black Widow, to its advantage, follows the core principles of these titles with great effectiveness. It’s a superhero book, yes, but in name only, as this title firmly grounds itself in action, espionage, and one woman’s quest for atonement in the face of a blood and tragic past.

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Noto and his stellar artwork and his soft, painterly colors create a beautiful balance with the energy and dynamism of his page layouts.

The title follows Natasha Romanov, known to even the most casual fans as Black Widow, a ruthless ex-KGB assassin, an efficient SHIELD agent, and a cool-as-ice Avenger. She is currently on a meteoric rise into the upper echelon of well-known Marvel properties, thanks to Scarlet Johansson’s portrayal in Iron Man 2, Avengers, and the upcoming Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier. Natasha can also be found in numerous Marvel animated shows and films, and makes notable appearances in recent video games as well. While this book could have tried to play off of the character’s recent mainstream exposure, instead Edmondson and Noto craft a tighter, more personal narrative, focusing on Natasha and her very small circle of associates. If you’re looking for a star-studded supporting cast of Avengers alum, you’re not likely to find it anytime soon. This is actually one of the best parts about the book, as it is small and self-contained, and is carried by the strong partnership between Edmondson and Noto to some visually pleasing results.

There is no shortage of action and adventure in this series, in the same vein as The Bourne Identity or Mission Impossible, with slick and exciting fight sequences, daring escapes, and plenty of spy gadgets. This is the main draw, but I find Edmondson is most successful in that he still keeps the story grounded in Natasha’s personal quest. A former killer with a checkered past, Natasha spends her off-time making up for it, one job at a time. In the first issue she makes a point of telling her manager/accountant Isaiah that she’s not doing contract work for the money, insisting that he transfers her compensation to her network of trusts. Natasha never compromises her ideals in the pursuit of her cause, and is never portrayed as anything but a compelling and capable spy, remaining a very relatable and human character throughout.

As I’ve stated in my reviews of the first two issues, the real star of this book is Noto and his stellar artwork. His soft, painterly colors create a beautiful balance with the energy and dynamism of his page layouts. Moody palettes and lighting techniques establish locales with an effectiveness I don’t often see, creating a distinctive visual tone for the series. The softened filter that Noto applies throughout gives a delicate, gauzy emphasis to key panels, contrasting the brutal efficiency of the character with her inherent femininity. Black Widow is as beautiful as she is deadly, and Noto explores that through graphic narrative without coming off as patronizing or obvious, a feat I rarely see done effectively.

While it’s still early days for this title, Black Widow is a cool book that packs a punch. It’s visually pleasing and fun to read, successfully blending genre conventions to satisfying ends. If you’re not already following this book, I highly recommend that you start.

Magen Cubed –  http://www.eonism.net

The Return of a Marvel: Miracleman #1

One of the most transformative characters in comic book history makes his return to the page in Miracleman #1. Conceived in 1956 by writer-artist Mick Anglo, the previously-titled Marvelman was the United Kingdom’s substitute for DC’s Captain Marvel (not to be confused with Marvel’s various Captains Marvel) and was published by L. Miller & Son. Powered by atomic energy, young reporter Mickey Moran utters the magic word “Kimota” to become the blue-and-red-clad superhero Marvelman. Published until 1963, the original Marvelman series had a healthy run and was reprinted for sale in Italy, Australia and Brazil. Due to copyright issues, legal disputes and struggling sales of reprints, the character eventually disappeared from store shelves entirely.

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As the decades passed, both Marvelman and his family of kid sidekicks faded away until 1982, when they were revived by Alan Moore, Gary Leach and Alan Davis. Appearing in the monthly British anthology Warrior, Marvelman became Miracleman, a dark deconstructionist work of superhero fiction. This new and different take on the character featured a very adult Michael Moran, plagued by migraines, domestic struggles and feverish dreams of flight, taking genre conventions of 50s and 60s superhero comics head-on. This book would later be taken over by Neil Gaiman and Mark Buckingham, who took the story even further. However, falling again into legal limbo in the 1990s, Miracleman changed hands several times before being secured by Marvel Comics in 2009. As of 2010, Marvel has been reprinting various collected editions of Miracleman’s numerous iterations, and in January 2014 he returned to store shelves in Miracleman #1: A Dream of Flying.

This oversized issue features collected reprints, restored classic Marvelman comics, concept art, and an interview with Anglo. The artwork has been beautifully restored by Michael Kelleher and Gary Leach, with lush digital color work by Steve Oliff. Digicore’s crisp restoration of the classic comics will please nostalgic readers looking to revisit the hero’s early days. #1 opens up with Prologue: 1956 by Angelo and artist Don Lawrence from 1985’s Miracleman #1. On face value, this half-tone piece of 50s action comic nostalgia reads as a kitschy throwback for unfamiliar fans, but ends on a haunting note that paves the way for the stories of Moore and Gaiman. The final page, an unsettling and ever-advancing close-up of Miracleman’s face captioned by a quote from Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra, is one of the eeriest and most satisfying pages I have ever seen in a comic.

Rounding out the issue is the first two collected stories by Moore and Leach from Warrior #1 and #2, Miracleman1featuring the rebirth of Miracleman as we know him today. …A Dream of Flying and its follow-up are dark and uncompromising, exploring Miracleman’s origins, his mysterious fall, and his eventual return from struggling journalist Michael Moran to the hero of his youth. These stories examine the strange and innocent world of 50s superheroes through the lens of modern cynicism and nuclear paranoia of the Cold War-era West. Whereas Anglo’s shiny gleam of scientific inquiry and magical fantasy painted Miracleman’s powers in broad and optimistic strokes, Moore’s vision of the nuclear-powered hero is far more jaded. Similar themes are strong elements in Moore’s later work such as Watchmen, and it is interesting to see how these ideas have developed in different books. In these issues, readers see their first glimpse of the corrupting sway these powers can have over heroes, as Johnny Bates, the original Kid Marvelman, survives into adulthood with his abilities but is rendered a sociopath.

This is an exciting book for fans of comics and comics history, reviving one of the most important characters of the last thirty years. Whether you’re new Miracleman, or you’ve been a longtime reader since his earlier iterations, this book is absolutely worth picking up. It’s an essential work that has informed comics creators for years.

Magen Cubed –  http://www.eonism.net

Review: The Avengers Take to the Stars in Hickman’s Infinity Saga

Helmed by writer Jonathan Hickman, Infinity is the expansive event from Marvel Comics that saw the return of Thanos, the Mad Titan, to Earth. This six-issue series, penciled by rotating artists Jerome Opena, Dustin Weaver and Jim Cheung, is the culmination of three plotlines spanning several titles. The first plotline is the arrival of the Builders, which is the focus of Hickman’s Avengers, a highly-evolved species destroying every life-sustaining planet in their march toward Earth. The second is the wave of mysterious illnesses plaguing the galaxy, as teased in New Avengers and Nova. The third is the political ramifications of these events on the intergalactic community, which Guardians of the Galaxy deals with directly. Alternate perspectives of the event could also be seen in the pages of Avengers Assemble, Thunderbolts, and numerous other tie-ins.

All of these seemingly separate threads come together in Infinity, in an event that promised to forever change the status quo of the Marvel Universe. While the Avengers are off-planet fighting alongside interstellar coalition forces, Thanos comes to Earth to murder his last known living son, Thane, rumored to be living among the Inhumans. The ensuing attack devastates the planet as the superhero community, already scattered across the galaxy, struggles to defend against the Mad Titan’s pirate army of rogues and psychopaths. In the midst of the chaos, Black Bolt, the Inhuman king, destroys the floating citadel Attilan in an attempt to stop Thanos. Unknown to the royal family, he unleashes his Terrigenesis bomb on Earth, causing a violent chain reaction that immediately activates dormant Inhuman genes in the human population. Overnight thousands of people become Inhuman, manifesting strange powers and changing their lives forever, in an act that will lead directly into Marvel’s Inhumanity event.

The strengths of this event lie with Hickman’s detailed plotting. He laid the groundwork for this event in both Avengers and New Avengers, giving him ample time to develop the Builders as a legitimate threat, and to set the stage for the twists and turns that followed. We see the Avengers off-planet fighting alongside the galactic coalition, as Iron Man, Black Panther and the rest of the Illuminati hold the line against Thanos. In the midst of this is the Inhuman drama of Black Bolt and Maximus destroying Attilan and unleashing their secret bomb, trying to keep Thane’s location a secret and perpetuate their species in the face of genocide at Thanos’ hand. Hickman delivers a great deal of tension through solid scripting and pacing, both in the tight interweaving of his plotlines and in exploring the full scope of the story through rotating character perspectives. From the shocking destruction of Attilan to Thor’s brutal reclamation of Builder-occupied Hala, there are many notable moments that make for an exciting and satisfying read.

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The real burden of this event, however, is shouldered by its artists, Cheung, Opena and Weaver. To their individual credits, all of them rise to the occasion. Cheung, whose pencils bookend the series with issues #1 and #6, carries his portion of the series across planets and solar systems with great success. His panel compositions are highly engaging throughout, his page layouts making the most of the action and narrative tension. Opena and Weaver, who rotate out on the rest of the issues, work together well. Their styles mesh impeccably from segment to segment, solidifying the overall sense of clarity and continuity through eye-catching settings and thoughtful page design. The art maintains a careful balance of action and intrigue, drama and adventure through dynamic panel-to-panel tension and a unifying undercurrent of anticipation. Unified by the color palettes of Justin Ponsor, the artwork maintains a visual cohesion that never feels jarring or inconsistent from artist to artist.

This is an event that makes a lot of promises, living up to most. Even with the strength of Hickman’s detailed plotting and a dynamic creative team to bring his scripts to the page, however, Infinity is defined by its highs as well as its lows. Just like Avengers, which has been criticized for sacrificing character development for the sake of moving the plot, Infinity suffers from similar problems of scope. It does address the stories of key players like Captain America, Iron Man and Black Bolt, and features Captain Marvel and Thor in strong supporting roles, but frequently leaves the rest of the sprawling supporting cast in the dark. Tie-ins and supplementary issues do offer alternative points of view on the event, some more effectively than others, but the men and women on the ground are relegated to the status of prop much of the time. When you have such heavy-hitters as Smasher and Hyperion, and strategically essential characters like Manifold and Captain Universe, drawn out of the main storyline, it feels like a bit of a waste.

As for the execution of the overall plot itself, there are some holes and soft spots. A somewhat convoluted narrative, the respective Builder and Thanos plotlines don’t quite entwine in any fluid or meaningful way. Instead they read as simple coincidences, random events that happened to overlap as Thanos arrived to find the planet defender’s away from home. Moreover, the need for a complete and final conclusion of these plots is ultimately left unfulfilled. By the fact that this event serves to set up the next, an extended preamble for Inhumanity, the story lack any real sense of final resolution. Its conclusion fails to answer many of the title’s own core questions as the heroes simply turn their attentions to the next problem. Yes, it does change the status quo, but it doesn’t give the reader a moment to even enjoy the finale, and leaves one to wonder what, if anything, was really gained.

As a series, Infinity has an exciting storyline and many unforgettable moments, carried by Hickman’s strong scripts and the stellar work of its artists. However, as an event, it does leave an uncomfortable amount of questions unanswered. The lack of satisfying resolution is frustrating, as is the lack of overall character development. If taken in the context of one chapter leading to another, in a larger and more expansive story, this series is much easier to digest and enjoy. It isn’t perfect, but it does what it set out to do. While not completely satisfying for many readers, who want to see more closure in this storyline, it leaves us eager for more, making us come back to see what happens next in Inhumanity. At the end of the day, that’s what Marvel wanted all along.

Magen Cubed –  http://www.eonism.net

Death Rides Again in Pretty Deadly #2

After a successful debut, Image Comics’ supernatural western Pretty Deadly returns for its second issue from writer Kelly Sue DeConnick and artist Emily Rios. Here we see the strange world of Deathface Ginny continue to unfold, seen through the eyes of Sissy as she and Fox ride to escape Big Alice. As their friends suffer at the hands of Alice and her men, Sissy must deal with the consequences of stealing from Johnny Coyote as Ginny arrives to balance the scales. Working together seamlessly, DeConnick and Rios further develop their spellbinding world of revenge and spirits through the strength of their collaborative efforts, making for a unique and engaging read.

Bones Bunny and Butterfly return as our narrators, the eerie keepers of this tale, to open the issue to catch up with Johnny Coyote. The scoundrel is where we last left him, healing from his last run-in with Alice as the prostitute Lily tends to his wounds. During this sensuous encounter, Lily asks why Johnny let Sissy pickpocket the stolen binder, letting “her” (presumably Ginny, or another character yet to be introduced) loose to burn the world. Uncertain, Johnny admits he wasn’t sure why he let Sissy take it, but says he doesn’t care what happens.

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Meanwhile, Alice and her men arrive at Sarah’s doorstep, looking for Sissy and the binder. Far away, two sentries watch: The Night Maid, who sits by the campfire with her weapon at her side, and the Day Maid, a shriveled cloaked woman hiding in a cliff-side structure. At Sarah’s, Alice watches as men burn down the house, beating and torturing the family. Crying, Sarah’s son Cyrus begins to sing the song that Sissy taught him, calling on Deathface Ginny. Soon Ginny arrives with her gun and sword at the ready, quickly disposing of Alice’s men and rescuing the family.

Turning her attentions to Alice, the two of them square off. Here we learn that Alice is a bounty hunter sent by Death to retrieve his wayward daughter, and that Ginny has no desire to return. After a lengthy struggle, Ginny takes Alice’s sword and decapitates her, and Alice’s body transforms into a column of butterflies. Riding away from the massacre at Sarah’s, Sissy worries about Sarah and Fox tells her not to look back. She goes on to tell Fox of her encounter with whom we assume to be Ginny, whether in a dream or a memory, where Ginny gave her a key. Asking Fox what these memories mean, he tells her to sleep, and that she’ll soon have the answers she’s looking for.

Beautifully scripted with a strong command of language and imagery, DeConnick’s writing lives up to the standards she’s set for herself with this series. Without giving away any of its secrets, this issue skillfully builds upon the foundations of the first and contributes to the development of this title’s mythology. Who is Alice, and why is she represented by butterflies in death? If Ginny killed the now-skeletal Bunny in the first issue, are Butterfly and Bunny meant to represent Alice and Ginny? Questions like these leave the reader wondering. The introduction of new characters, such as the Day and Night Maids, and hinting at Sissy’s connection to Ginny, add to the growing sense of supernatural intrigue that envelops this book. This is a book that hinges on emotional subtly, and DeConnick’s natural talent for dialogue and character dynamics really flourishes here, serving as an essential counterpoint to the violence and bloodshed inherent to the story.

However, this book is nothing without its artwork. Again Rios rises to the occasion through stunning visual language and an expert sense of storytelling. She crafts a dreamy landscape populated by butterflies and dead rabbits, and ghostly figures like Alice and Ginny. Her characters are delicately rendered, their barely-there forms crafted in wispy lines and a profound sense of dynamic motion. The sense of movement throughout this book is stellar, capturing the wind-swept desert, the arching of flames, the breeze blowing through fine strands of hair, all adding to the ethereal nature of this title.

Overall, this is a solid and intriguing second issue to a compelling if somewhat offbeat series. If you’re not sold on Pretty Deadly yet, hopefully this issue will change your mind. A unique read from cover to cover, this is a visually stunning western fairytale with great writing and artwork to back up its premise.

Magen Cubed  – –  http://www.eonism.net

Captain Marvel #17: Superheroes, Classic Adventure, and a Return to Order

Addressing the fallout of Kelly Sue DeConnick’s five-part Enemy Within storyline, issue #17 of Captain Marvel sees the conclusion of Carol Danvers’ role in the Infinity event. Returning home to New York City after the massive crossover affair, Carol is still grappling with catastrophic memory loss, result of the trauma she suffered while saving the city from the Kree villain Magnitron. She’s lost her apartment in this storyline and soon Carol finds herself without a home, surrounded by the faces of friends and loved ones she no longer recognizes. With nothing to grab onto, she’s struggling to find her place in a strange world. What results is a stellar issue from writer Kelly Sue DeConnick, artist Philipe Andrade, and colorist Jordie Bellaire, serving as a successful launching point for new readers and showing the poignant side of the superhero genre with a reverence for classic action/adventure storytelling.

CAPTAINMARVEL1Kit, the young daughter of one of Carol’s neighbors, immediately emerges as a key figure in this issue. As Carol’s self-appointed sidekick, seen in previous issues as a kind of fangirl in-training, we see Kit and the neighborhood children reenacting the heroic exploits of their favorite Avengers. When a skirmish with some other children leaves Kit and her friends a bit disheartened, Carol arrives to comfort them, applauding the suit-making efforts of Kit’s friend Gilbert in his attempts to emulate Iron Man. This scene establishes Carol’s role in the neighborhood, as well as her relationship with the children, in a way readers don’t often see in comics anymore. While many heroes are far removed from the communities they protect, Carol is in her element among the common people. Walking the streets in her Captain Marvel uniform, Carol is a representative of the superhero community, in direct engagement with the regular people in her neighborhood. She protects them, but she also interacts with them in everyday social circumstances, serving as a pertinent and relatable role model to the children who admire her.

However, this scene also rings quite poignantly, as we discover that Carol is simply trying to comfort the children. She doesn’t remember much of her life before Enemy Within, and what she does remember is vague, fragmented and uncertain. Telling Gilbert that his suit was just as good as Tony Stark’s Mark I Iron Man armor is a lie, having only seen photos of it now that she no longer remembers this part of her life. Even as some of Carol’s dearest friends arrive at her apartment to help her move, she doesn’t remember them, just going through the motions. When she does reach out to Frank, urged by her romantic feelings toward him, this innate vulnerability compounds Carol’s frustration, even as Frank returns the sentiment. Carol’s struggle with identity and memory, while a reoccurring theme throughout much of her history, is made very real and intimate.

The villain subplot deals with the larger unintended social implications of Carol’s public visibility as Captain Marvel. Scorned businesswoman Grace Valentine loses an important feature in Beat Magazine to a piece on Captain Marvel, setting her down on a violent path as she lashes out at New Yorkers. Despising their naiveté for placing all their hopes in the hero, Grace orchestrates a plan to undermine and assassinate Captain Marvel during a public ceremony. While Grace’s plot is straightforward and unremarkable, as revenge is a go-to trope in superhero fiction, it serves to propel Carol back into the spotlight as Grace commandeers all the screens in Times Square to expound her plan. Even with hijacked military attack drones trained on Captain Marvel, the crowd of New Yorkers rallies behind her, refusing to back down in the face of violence, and bolstered by this support Carol puts an end to Grace’s theatrics.

The closing scene sees Carol and Kit in Carol’s new apartment in the crown of the Statue of Liberty (as it was rented to her by the city). There Carols tries to apologize to Kit for being unable to teach her how to be Captain Marvel, only to be met with Kit’s real role as her sidekick. Kit shows Carol the comic book that she made documenting Carol’s history as Captain Marvel, who she is and why she’s so important, to teach Carol everything she needs to know. As Kit sits down with Carol to read it to her, the focus shifts to Jersey City to the bedroom of Kamala Khan. A sixteen-year-old girl who, like Kit, looks up to Captain Marvel, Kamala offers the readers a hopeful glimpse of the future as Carol’s successor, taking up her old title as Ms. Marvel.

What begins as a stock superhero action story takes a step forward to become something so much more meaningful. This issue really serves as the best the genre has to offer: The hero struggling with personal obstacles, her support network coming together to buoy her along, and the community rallying behind her as a symbol of hope. DeConnick deftly balances the intimate microcosm of Carol’s injuries with the macrocosm of her role as an Avenger, and the inadvertent consequences that spring up along the way. While many books have done this throughout the history of the genre, few come to mind as recent examples of this successful kind of composed storytelling, touching on so many different issues at once with both clarity and resonance. Helping to further achieve this balance is the character Kit. In a clever decision on DeConnick’s part, Kit steps in to function in the role of the nostalgic reader, the child who grew up on superheroes and comic books. This use of the character as the self-declared sidekick, helping Carol come to terms with her memory loss, grounds the story in a sense of realism and brings Carol’s story home for the reader.

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Beyond its function in the story, the use of Kit as the sidekick is important in the history of the genre, as Captain Marvel symbolically passes the torch to a young girl. This intergenerational female hero/sidekick relationship is something not often seen in a genre populated by male heroes, who regularly transfer titles and powers to the boys and young men serving as their sidekicks and heirs. While we do see this exchange occurring in books like Hawkeye, as Clint Barton shares his title with protégé Kate Bishop, and between Batman and the numerous Batgirls, it’s rarely seen specifically between women. This is echoed in Kamala’s introduction, who we will see again when her title debuts in February, as the future successor to Carol’s old title as Ms. Marvel. It poignantly sets up a mythology for this title and hero, and invites young women to openly share in this heroic fantasy as they rarely have in the past.

If you’re not reading Captain Marvel, you should be. Issue #17 is an engaging and emotionally satisfying read from start to finish, full of heart as well as good old-fashioned superheroism. A great starting point for new readers, and a wonderful return to order for longtime fans, this title looks to have a bright future ahead of it.

Magen Cubed  – –  http://www.eonism.net

Brandon Seifert: Hellraiser, Seekers of the Weird, and Beyond

First introduced to comic book readers in 2007 for his work on The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe and World War Hulk: Gamma Files from Marvel Comics, writer Brandon Seifert has made a name for himself in recent years. Brought to my attention for his issues of IDW’s Doctor Who and co-writing Boom! Studios’ Hellraiser: The Dark Watch with Clive Barker, Seifert has also garnered a dedicated following for Witch Doctor. A kind of House, M.D. meets H.P. Lovecraft, this original medical/horror series from Image Comics is illustrated by Lukas Ketner and employs an interesting blend of horror, fantasy and comedy. Known for his due diligence as a researcher, his use of fascinating imagery, and his keen attention to detail, Seifert has amassed a unique body of work, receiving its rightful share of critical praise.

With the recent announcement of his upcoming title from Marvel Comics, Disney Kingdoms: Seekers of the Weird, there’s a lot of buzz surrounding this high profile book. Created in partnership with Walt Disney Imagineering, Seekers of the Weird will serve as the launch for a series of books under the Disney Kingdoms brand, exploring the characters, worlds and attractions of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. What else is coming from this Marvel-Imagineer partnership is still unknown at the moment, but the topic is certainly stirring a lot of interest from eager fans. All of that said, I recently got a chance to catch up with Seifert, to talk about his new project, horror comics, and his plans for future books.

SeifertInterview1Q. At New York Comic Con, Marvel announced the release of your upcoming five-part series, Disney Kingdoms: Seekers of the Weird. How did you get involved in this project, and can you tell us a little bit about it?

A. I got involved in Disney Kingdoms: Seekers of the Weird because Marvel editor Bill Rosemann hit me up and asked if I wanted to be involved!

Seekers of the Weird is about two teenagers named Maxwell and Melody Keep. Their parents get kidnapped by a dark supernatural force — which leads the kids to discover that their family’s involved with something call the Museum of the Weird, a repository for the world’s most dangerous magical artifacts. The kids have seven days to find one artifact in particular in the Museum… or they’ll never see their parents again! Seekers has a bit of an Indiana Jones vibe, but also a pretty strong Harry Potter influence too. The whole project is based on the actual Museum of the Weird, which was originally going to be part of the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland but got shelved when Walt Disney passed away.

Q. What has been your favorite part of working on this title so far?

A. The series artist is Karl Moline. I’ve been a fan of Karl’s work since he did Fray with Joss Whedon at Dark Horse, so I was super excited to work with him. But as good as I expected Karl’s work to be — it’s turned out to be way better! His stuff is so good that I’ve been working on “leveling up” the ideas I bring to the table, because I know if I bring an amazing idea for something like a monster or weapon to Karl, he’ll make it even more amazing when he draws it!

Q. Will this title be family-friendly, as the Disney association might imply, or did you write with a more mature audience in mind? Does this title appeal to Marvel’s action-oriented readers and Disney fans alike?

A. It’s designed to be “all-ages” in the same way as something like Doctor Who, Star Wars or the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Fun for kids — but fun for adults, too!

It’s definitely going to have a broad appeal. The project started with the Disney Imagineers. They’re very involved, and very interested in making sure we live up to the history that the project is based on. But Marvel’s also making sure it’s very much got a Marvel kind of vibe to it. I don’t know what people are expecting from this series — but I think they’re going to be really blown away when it comes out!

Q. You’re known to many readers for your issues of Doctor Who and Hellraiser: The Dark Watch, as well as your own original project Witch Doctor. As a writer, is it difficult to switch gears from genre to genre, or is Seekers of the Weird in the same thematic wheelhouse as some of your other work?

A. I dunno, I sort of think the idea of “genre” lumps together a bunch of things that don’t really go together. Some genres are all about the kinds of tropes you use — science fiction needs some kind of fictional science thing in it, whereas, like, “urban fantasy” needs magic in a city setting — a kind of trope in a specific setting. Then on the other hand, you have genres like “comedy” or “horror.” And those aren’t about the setting you use or the trappings you play with as much as they are about evoking a specific emotional response from an audience. In comedy, you’re trying to make the audience laugh. In horror, you’re trying to scare them, or disturb them. So, when you have “science fiction” — stories about fictional science — and “comedy” — stories that make you laugh — and you call them both “genres”… I dunno. That doesn’t make a huge amount of sense to me.

So if you’re doing a “genre” like “science fiction,” it’s easy to mix other genres in. Most of my favorite fiction is stuff that mixes different genres. Doctor Who is science fiction, but also action, adventure, horror, mystery, comedy, drama… it varies from episode to episode. With Witch Doctor we were doing horror and medical drama… but also comedy, action, drama, urban fantasy, lots of stuff. So doing a series like Seekers of the Weird, which also has a bunch of genres mixed into it, is a pretty easy transition. I find it a lot harder to do a book like Hellraiser, which is supposed to be pretty straight-up supernatural horror with some urban fantasy/dark fantasy stuff mixed in. I can’t do a lot of comedy in that book, or even a lot of “action genre” stuff, because it’s antithetical to what the series is supposed to be about. And since I’m someone who doesn’t like sticking to one tone in a story, that’s much harder for me.

Q. As mentioned above, you’ve had success both with franchise titles as well as your own original series. Do you find yourself looking to create more original works in the future?

A. Oh, yeah! Doing franchise work definitely has a lot of benefits you don’t get when originating a new project. For one thing, franchises like Doctor Who and Hellraiser have been big, important parts of my life, so working on them is much more of a “dream come true” thing than working on something like Witch Doctor, which I originated myself. But working on franchises has pointed out to me that I’m definitely happiest and most creatively fulfilled when I’m working on projects I made up myself. And I really do my best work on projects that I came up with. So going forward with my career, original projects are going to be more and more my focus.

Q. You’re known for your distinctive way of approaching the horror genre in your work. Do you find yourself drawn to horror in particular? If so, is that an aesthetic choice, as vehicle for other narratives, or do you feel that horror comics can be elevated?

A. Honestly, I think part of what people are finding distinctive about my work in horror is that most of my influences SeiferInterview2come from outside horror. Look at Witch Doctor, #1, that’s a good example. WD #1 is an exorcism/demonic possession story. But it’s not inspired by stuff like The Exorcist, let alone other exorcism movies. It’s inspired, on the one hand, by a whole bunch of research I did into actual exorcism and possession beliefs, especially stuff in the Vatican. I read several books about Vatican exorcists, the things they believe and the training they go through to become exorcists. So that was one side of it. The other side was, it was inspired by the whole biology metaphor we use in Witch Doctor, where we cross classic monsters with really disturbing stuff from medicine and biology. So in Witch Doctor, “demonic possession” is actually infection by the parasitic larval stage of the demon life cycle. So I did a whole bunch of research into parasitic insects, especially stuff like botflies and applied that to demons.

Really, I think horror can be “elevated” by bringing in influences from outside of horror. But that’s the same thing that’s true of every genre. Star Wars elevated science fiction at the time because it pulled in all this stuff that wasn’t being used in science fiction. Action/adventure tropes, World War 2 dogfighting movies, samurai movies, metaphysics, Joseph Campbell, Kurosawa. I’d never say I’m trying to “elevate” horror, because that implies that I think horror needs to be “elevated,” like there’s something wrong with that. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the horror genre. But I do think my approach to horror interests people because I’m not looking at horror for my inspiration — I’m looking at all kinds of other stuff.

Q. Are there any other franchises/genres you’d like to tackle someday, if given the chance?

A. Oh, lots of them! I haven’t gotten to do much science fiction, and that’s always been my big love. I also want to be doing superhero comics. They’re what got me into the medium in the first place. Besides those, there’s a bunch of other genres I’d like to do. Westerns are one. And Wuxia is another — the whole Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon strain of martial arts movies from China.

As for other franchise I’d like to do… I’m a huge fan of Marvel Comics, so there’s lots more stuff I’d like to do there. I’m also a big fan of Ghostbusters, and Aliens, and Buffy. All those are things I’d love to try writing someday.

Thanks so much to Brandon for taking the time to talk. Be on the lookout for Disney Kingdoms: Seekers of the Weird coming out in January. We hope to hear from him again soon.

Magen Cubed

http://www.eonism.net/

Graphic Novel Review: Avengers: Endless Wartime

AvengersEW1Warren Ellis returns to the Marvel Universe in this first of an all-new series of graphic novels, attempting to bridge the gap between the 616 continuity of the monthly comics and the new continuity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Illustrated by Mike McKone, this novel is a pan-generational mash-up of storylines, a kind of unofficial sequel to the events of the MCU films, as well as an interesting introduction for readers lured by the success of the franchise on-screen. With its intriguing reimagining of these well-known characters and blending of Asgardian magic with Ellis’ characteristic dystopic super-science, Avengers: Endless Wartime is a well-scripted adventure with plenty to offer readers both new and old.

An ancient threat rises from the past, a past more recent for some than others, hiding behind the face of American militarization. What emerges is an intersection of science and magic as Thor and Captain America realize they’ve both tousled with this once before, in different forms and at different times, drawing an interesting parallel between both characters. Mounting a response, the adventure that follows is largely well-plotted, throwing out some pointed questions about the nature of industrialized, privatized warfare. The action that buoys that novel is suitably exciting, as executed by McKone, as the team encounters hordes of formidable techno-organic baddies straight from Norse mythology. While impressive, there are some moments of disconnect from page to page during these action scenes that feel a little disjointed, ultimately culminating in a climax that suffers from this same fragmentation.

The novel is carried by the familiar MCU Avengers roster of Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Black Widow and AvengersEW2Hawkeye, with the inclusion of Wolverine and Captain Marvel to round out the lineup. Ellis argues an interesting case for his characterizations, which make for a newly-formed team of heroes and all the growing pains one would expect. Even for it, this novel is neither strictly comic-verse nor movie-verse, blending them in a hybrid of timelines and interpretations that sometimes feels a little muddled. Captain America is strongly defined by his temporal displacement, distant but not unkind, still struggling as a man “living in a foreign country called the Future.” Iron Man serves as his counterpoint, tempered by a more movie-friendly handling, an introspective reflection of his father’s war-mongering as he attempts to reach out to Cap and make the team work. Thor is still very much an alien, trying to reconcile his own past with his place in the human world. The appearance of Captain Marvel (in her 616 uniform) serves as a nice touch-stone for comic book continuity, while Wolverine, influenced more by his appearances in his own movie franchises, fills an antagonistic role in questioning Cap’s authority and moral platitudes.

The Avengers aren’t the friends we’re used to from the comics, instead a collection of uneasy alliances and clashing personalities with a common goal. Informed by several stories and sources, and groomed by the MCU, these characters do stand in departure from both film and comic. While this won’t bother new fans, it will probably irk seasoned readers, who are aware they’re not the target audience of the book. For all of this friction, the formula works here, exploring interesting character dynamics despite the occasional discrepancy Ellis encounters along the way. As long as you’re willing to leave your presumptions at the door and accept this as its own separate entity, it’s a successful addition to the Marvel Universe at large.

AvengersEW4McKone sells the script in a balance of appealing splash pages and energetic action sequences. His panel transitions create useful tension with some solid page design throughout, aping cinematic framing to varying degrees of success. The repetition of static character close-ups breaks up the narrative for me more than I would like, but McKone’s sense of motion and scale during fight scenes makes up for it. From a design standpoint, the back end of the book is particularly lovely, marked by a fascinating use of techno-organic forms and dense futuristic settings. He’s very successful in rendering the baddies as otherworldly and alien, with their fluid compositions and seemingly endless ranges of movement and shape. The moody color palettes of Jason Keith with Rain Beredo make the most of these scenes, establishing an ominous tone in dark pages peppered by the light of our heroes’ gunfire or energy blasts. Overall the effect is appropriately dramatic, foreboding, and occasionally creepy, capturing the weight of Ellis’ pessimistic scenario as well the internal struggles within the team itself.

While not a perfect hybrid, Avengers: Endless Wartime is a solid graphic novel that bridges the gap between comic and film in some interesting ways. Ellis’ script sheds intriguing light on characters we know and love, exploring their ideologies when faced with a world they find themselves struggling to protect.

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McKone’s illustrations carry that burden well, and create some unique and engaging imagery along the way. If you’re new to Marvel and looking for a good read to get your feet wet, it’s definitely worth picking up. If you’re a Marvel fan looking for a well-written side adventure, I suggest you put your potential biases aside and take this book for what it is.

Magen Cubed

You could check Magen’s website at: http://www.eonism.net/