‘Agent Carter’ Season Two Finale: Is it Better to Go out With a Big Bang?

by Agent Alicia Glass (a.k.a. Pandora the Punctuation Horror)

So, we all remember Agent Carter and her wonderful Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. prequel show, right? Peggy runs around as an Agent of the SSR post-war intelligence, aided by Howard Stark, his butler Jarvis, and various and sundry other characters in a 1940’s-style wardrobe with enough moxie to out-do every single one of these men! This season, Agent Carter was sent to Los Angeles and finds herself embroiled in strange miraculous scientific doings, dark cabal murder plots, internal agency corruption and yet there’s still time for some epic slices of romance!

Originally Agent Carter, after showing up all her male counterparts right smartly as she often does in the New York SSR branch, went to L.A. in theory for some enforced vacation time. It turns out Agent Sousa, a kind of love interest from season one, is now Captain of the L.A. offices of the SSR, and of course, Peggy has to go visit him and find out what’s hopping here in California. Unsurprisingly, smart Stark butler and Jarvis of all trades, Edwin Jarvis (James D’Arcy), is out in L.A. keeping Howard Stark’s (Dominic Cooper) ridiculous house with his wife while Howard concerns himself with making movies. Peggy meets very smart scientist Jason Wilkes (Reggie Austin) while hot on the trail of murderers and something scientifically out of this world, called Zero Matter. Secret genius and sultry starlet Whitney Frost gets involved with the Zero Matter too, causing all sorts of ripples in the secret society world of her politician husband Calvin Chadwick (Currie Graham), and thug underworld boyfriend Joseph Manfredi (Ken Marino), too.

So, how does it all stack up against some of the admittedly best ever television series about superheroes, on-going right now? I adore you, Peggy Carter, I really do, but it just  doesn’t seem like enough. The expected popularity of the series was based on two things: the badassery of Agent Carter herself, and the prequel setting-up of S.H.I.E.L.D. back during the original Captain America times. And while Peggy is forever the epitome of togetherness with her smart dresses, perfect makeup and hair, always ready with a witty comeback whenever she’s slighted by her male coworkers, season two of Agent Carter proves, once again, that she simply cannot do it alone. Having Jarvis as a walking, talking helper (as opposed to the dis-embodied voice Tony Stark uses), like Watson to her Sherlock, is always a treat, and does provide a backward continuity of sorts. Jack Thompson (Chad Michael Murray), sent by various good and bad guys from New York to L.A. to keep an eye on whatever the hell Peggy’s up to, plays a good double agent, we’re never quite sure what he’ll respond with. As Ward clearly demonstrated on Agents of SHIELD, just because I help you once, that does not make me an actual good guy. And Daniel Sousa (Enver Gjokaj), well, he tried to make a life out here in the sun, with a pretty little nurse fiancé even, which went all to Hades just as soon as Peggy showed up.

So Whitney Frost is, aside from being your typical diva starlet, a super-secret scientific genius, and as soon as she learns about Zero Matter, oh, she is hot to trot for it and anything, and anyone, else connected to it! Dr. Wilkes manages to get himself infected with Zero Matter during a tussle, too, and now has a bit of a seriously lacking-weight problem. He also has a bit of a troubling attraction to Peggy, who does seem to reciprocate his interest, at least somewhat, but this introduces the unfortunate eggshells part of the show. To “walk on eggshells” basically implies tiptoeing very carefully around mentioning anything that could offend, entice, or otherwise anger other people, right? Well, the fact that Dr. Jason Wilkes is a handsome, intelligent scientist and a black man in 1940s America means his choices for employment are extremely limited, and he’s actually generally considered lower on any totem pole than even Peggy herself. But approaching that unpleasant truth in a superhero show would be tantamount to suicide, so Agent Carter touches this fact lightly, and only once or twice, nor does Peggy for even a moment consider his race a factor in her attraction to him.

And, it does have to be mentioned, they brought back perhaps the best villainess from the first season: Dottie Underwood! Rotting away in prison with her no-longer peroxide-blonde hair, our Peggy comes to spring Dottie because, well, she’s got a snatch-and-grab job that needs help and Dottie (Bridget Regan) is the perfect foil to Peggy’s armor!

The sets used are perfectly serviceable, standard Marvel tropes as far as fighting in abandoned tenement buildings or warehouses, and the show went to great pains to have age-appropriate cars and window shading. Season two even had a 1940s musical number featuring — what else — men, and some women too, fighting over Agent Carter! But it’s the costumes themselves, given to us by designer Gigi Ottobre-Melton, that really truly make Agent Carter seem like it sashayed out of the 1940s. The men’s suits are cut from the finest broadcloth, and the women’s dresses, patterns, and even colors are just to die for. No one wears it better than Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter herself, and the sharp, bold coloring of what she wears makes her stand out nicely against the lighter and occasionally deliberate sepia tones of the surrounding show. Visually, the show is an absolute treat, there’s no question about that.

So will Agent Carter be saving the day, yet again, in season three? What will happen to Jarvis and Stark and company, now that they’ve opened (and hopefully closed) a dimensional portal on a movie studio lot? Will Peggy and Dottie finally sit down and have a Ladies’ Night that doesn’t involve fisticuffs together? What about that epic kiss that Peggy finally planted on Sousa? We’ll just have to hope for the best, but don’t forget to raise your voice and be heard in the desire to bring back Peggy’s iconic red fedora for a third round of epic feminine badassery!

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The ABCs of Horror: G is for Neil Gaiman

by Agent Alicia Glass (a.k.a. Pandora the Punctuation Horror)

Neil Gaiman is a man of many talents, but he’s arguably most well-known for his writings, which have been made into many different forms of entertainment media – comic books, graphic novels, films, television shows, and even video games!

My personal favorites will always be Gaiman’s novels, so that is where will we start. In 1990, Gaiman partnered with the legendary and now-lost Terry Pratchett, to create the end of the world comedy story called Good Omens. I read the story and while it is quite good, for me that simply cannot compare to what came next from Gaiman, an amazing look at the hidden underground life of London, Neverwhere.

The story follows Richard Mayhew, a completely normal Londoner who finds himself embroiled in the underground world of faeries, vampires, monsters, and angels, after he saves a bleeding girl on the street. Neverwhere was incredibly popular and was even made into a BBC television miniseries, starring the astounding Peter Capaldi as the Angel Islington. One of my favorite things to do in October is still binge-watching the whole Neverwhere series, which is laid out nearly exactly like the book, down to the dialogue in some cases.

Next was Stardust, yet another novel that was later made into a large-budget film, again about the hidden world of the faeries, kingdoms of ghosts, witches and fallen stars, and plans to take over the world! The movie does star he would go on to become Daredevil in what is arguably Marvel’s best show to date, Charlie Cox as main character Tristan, plus Henry Cavill, Michelle Pfieffer, Claire Danes and even a cameo from Robert De Niro, but that’s for the films section.

Then, in 2001, Gaiman came out with what I still consider to be his magnum opus (as far as novels go), a far-reaching and thought-provoking story of an impending war between the Old Gods and the New, called American Gods. I absolutely loved American Gods, and have quoted, “You want to see Lucy’s tits?” to fellow readers and made instant fan-friends. In general, I’ve devoured that particular book like it was tree-and-ink crack. Nearly everyone who read American Gods agreed that while it would be an absolutely freaking amazing visual treat, but to get the casting right and getting across some of the more subtle events in the book would be near-impossible. Think this no more, American God-lings, for the Starz channel is shooting the television adaptation of the novel right now.

Soon after that followed Gaiman’s personal take on a children’s book, Coraline, which made any costume with black-button eyes instantly recognizable; Anansi Boys, the unofficial sequel of sorts to American Gods, starring Mr. Nancy’s (the incarnation of the African trickster god Anansi, who often takes the form of a spider) two sons, and what they do with their legacy; and The Graveyard Book, harkening back to Gaiman’s darker world of graveyards and spirits, when Nobody Owens is adopted by ghosts in the nearby graveyard after his parents are brutally murdered. Whew! Gaiman’s also written over a dozen made-for-children books, some with illustrations from his longtime working partner Dave McKean.

From here, we progress, naturally, to comic books and graphic novels, and oh, what a treat for the eyes that has been. Known in particular for the Sandman, and the Death mini-series comic books, Gaiman combines his affinity for mesmerizing and long-reaching storylines with the art of Dave McKean to create a unique style that is incredibly hard to copy, much less describe. Full of the darkling world across the whole expanse of the stars, things that transcend the concept of time and space and life and death, Gaiman gives us in comic book format entire universes we love. I still own and treasure my copies of the The Kindly Ones, that featured the death of Sandman; and The Wake series, where all of the Endless came to attend Morpheus’ funeral; Death: The High Cost of Living, where Death lived a mortal life for one day as Didi, the pretty goth chick in happy love with the life all around her; Death: The Time of Your Life, wherein Death comes to make a deal to stave off impending death and beautifully approaches the idea that Death herself cares about you; even Death: At Death’s Door, a freaking manga-style comic featuring many of the Sandman world, all having a party hosted by Delirium at, you guessed it, Death’s door. These characters and their long-reaching storylines are almost biblical in their scope and yet done in a dreamlike state that is so uniquely Gaiman.

Also for the DC Vertigo brand, Gaiman has done Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader, Black Orchid, Midnight Days, and The Books of Magic. Other titles include Miracleman, Clive Barker’s Hellraiser, Spawn, some Marvel titles, some Dark Horse too, work for Alan Moore and Frank Frazetta too; he’s just been practically everywhere.

It is worth mentioning that two of Gaiman’s novels, Neverwhere, and his collaboration with Terry Pratchett, Good Omens, have been made into radio plays, which were broadcast on BBC Radio Four. No small achievement, the 2013 adaptation of Neverwhere had the likes of Natalie Dormer, Benedict Cumberbatch, Christopher Lee, and James McAvoy for voice talent.

Onward we march right into Gaiman’s movies and television episodes he directed. First is the amazing films: MirrorMask, which is, effectively, one of his and McKean’s comic book collaborations brought to very vivid surreal life; and we’ve already touched on the film adaptation of Stardust, which is always a fun romp. Gaiman wrote the original screenplay for the most recent attempt at Beowulf, you know, the one that starred Angelina Jolie as a naga-queen; he adapted the script for the English version of Princess Mononoke, and let us not forget the Claymation treatment of Coraline, which is a lot like watching a cautionary tale starring the characters of Nightmare Before Christmas.

I’ve seen all of these films, and some I enjoyed more than others, but Gaiman’s underlying excellence at script-writing, at writing in any form, is ever-present. Gaiman’s writings and style is so unique, as a matter of fact, he holds the distinction of being the only guest writer of — count them — three modern Doctor Who episodes. He also wrote the screenplay for Neverwhere, was a guest writer for an episode of Babylon 5, and even guest-starred as himself on an episode of The Simpsons.

Neil Gaiman has numerous well-deserved accolades for his writings: Hugo, Nebula, and Bram Stoker awards, as well as the Newbery and Carnegie medals, both for the same work, The Graveyard Book. Gaiman has three children with his previous wife Mary McGrath, and married the singer and performer Amanda Palmer in 2011, who gave birth to his son in September 2015.

Neil Gaiman’s writings reached me at a rather young age, and have layered their dark fantastical worlds upon life in the most enchanting manner possible. Dive with me into the darkling life of Neil Gaiman and his enduring fantastical writings that earn him a place among the titans of dark fantasy and horror!

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The ABCs of Horror: B is for Clive Barker

by Agent Alicia Glass (a.k.a. Pandora the Punctuation Horror)

Clive Barker is an English artist of multiple talents, considered a Renaissance man of the horror and fantasy world, a titan who shares his pillar with the likes of Wes Craven and John Carpenter.

Clive was born in Liverpool, England, to Joan and Leonard Barker, and studied English and Philosophy at the University of Liverpool. At age four, Barker witnessed the tragic death of skydiver Leo Valentin, and has alluded to Valentin several times in his later writings. Barker began writing in the horror genre early in his career, mostly short stories to be later gathered in collection novels, Books of Blood 1-6.

His next novel, The Damnation Game, was written in a similar style, before Barker began branching out into dark urban modern-day fantasy with the likes of Weaveworld, The Great and Secret Show, Imajica and Sacrament. His writings have a distinct style all their own, which Barker commonly refers to as “dark fantasy” or “the fantastique.” His novels are known for detailed and complex worlds that live hidden but coexisting with our own, the interplay of sex and sexuality in the supernatural, and the blurring of reality-set lines between binary opposites like pleasure and pain.

But that’s very far from all Barker’s known for. He wrote the screenplays for the films Transmutations and Rawhead Rex, and then, unhappy with how those were handled, went on to direct what is considered by many his magnum opus, based on his novella The Hellbound Heart, a little film called Hellraiser. Though Barker wrote and directed the first film, he didn’t write or direct any of the sequels, of which, to date, there are eight freaking films, that’s how long-lasting a story Barker originally wrote. He went on to do Nightbreed, and the somewhat-relevant-to-his-book-universe and widely misunderstood film, Lord of Illusions, then he went on to create another long-lasting epic saga of a now well-known villain, Candyman. In 2005, Barker created the film production company Midnight Picture Show with partner Jorge Saralegui, which went on to produce The Plague, The Midnight Meat Train, Book of Blood and Dread.

There’s yet more?! Of course there is. Clive Barker is known for his artwork and highly original paintings and sketches, and has made his own illustrations for many of his books, including the extra-special YA novel The Thief of Always, a personal favorite of mine, as well as the Abarat series. His paintings were first seen wide on the covers of his ’90s fan club magazine Dread, and have been featured in art galleries in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York. His art has been gathered into collections, such as Clive Barker, Illustrator and Visions of Heaven and Hell, and a comprehensive viewing of his gallery can be found here.

Barker lent his talents to two horror video games, Clive Barker’s Undying, where he voiced the character Ambrose, and Clive Barker’s Jericho. And what about the comics? Oh, man. Barker’s written for Marvel Razorline with five freaking titles; eight titles under Epic Comics including Hellraiser, Pinhead and The Harrowers; and seven titles for Eclipse Books. There’s also his art for Dark Horse Comics, Fantaco Books and Sirius Entertainment. Boy, does he get around!

Barker suffered severe polyps in the throat in 2008, for which he had to undergo two surgeries and give up cigars. Clive Barker has been openly gay since the early 1990s and has had a few long-lasting relationships. Barker is a member of the board of advisors for the hopefully upcoming Hollywood Horror Museum. But really, his personal life pales in comparison to his fantasy life, the universe-spanning imagination that Barker shares with us every single time he introduces something new to our darkling world, in whatever medium. Through his pains and his pleasures, our eyes are opened to possibilities never dreamt (or nightmare’d) of, and we forever love our gravelly-voiced artist, the master of pushing aside the veil between all worlds, Clive Barker!

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Can’t get enough of Clive Barker? Check out Pandora’s review of The Scarlet Gospels, wherein the final battle between the Hell Priest (as he prefers to be called, his name was never Pinhead) and Barker character mainstay Harry D’Amour comes to a head. And another collection of Barker’s short stories and poems, Tonight, Again, is available for pre-order now and out early 2016!

2015 Salt Lake Comic Con Earns Place in Guinness World Record Book

by Agent Sheralyn Pratt (a.k.a. The Sin-sei)

It’s official: Salt Lake Comic Con 2015 is the new Guinness World Record holder for largest gathering of people dressed as comic book characters in a single place. Convention organizers brought together 1,784 cosplayers Friday night to claim the record over China’s Joyland, which set the previous world record in 2011 with 1,530 participants.

A Guinness representative was present at the Salt Lake Comic Con not only to count participants, but to ensure that only qualifying costumes made the cut. Costumes that were disqualified from the count included characters from:

  • Video games
  • Star Wars
  • Star Trek
  • Doctor Who
  • Animated series

Even cartoon characters with strong comic ties, like Harley Quinn, were turned away, leaving only traditional comic book characters to be included in the record attempt.

In the end, Salt Lake Comic Con may have beat the previous record by more than 250 cosplayers, but the event came dangerously close to setting no record at all. After everyone in the hall was counted Friday night, it was discovered that they was actually 100 people shy of breaking the record.

Even worse? Some of the participants who hadn’t planned on the world record attempt taking more than a few minutes started bowing out — deducting from the event’s total.

At first count, not only was Salt Lake Comic Con short of the numbers they needed, but they were breeching.

Unwilling to accept failure as an option, event organizers got on the overhead speakers of the Salt Palace, broadcasting across the nearly 700,000 sq. feet to ask anyone dressed in a costume to head over to Hall E for the world record attempt. Everyone in the building heard the call, including Manu Bennett, who finished his panel in the Main Ballroom, donned an eye patch, and made his way over dressed as Slade Wilson.

How long it took for the other 253 participants to show up and generate the numbers needed to break the record, no one could probably tell you. Everyone was too busy giving Manu Bennett their full attention. Manu kept all the gathered cosplayers entertained until organizers gave him a nod and the Guinness representative stepped forward to request that the area be locked down for five minutes.

No one in, no one out … because those are the rules for setting a world record.

This is when a five-minute dance party began, leading out with “Don’t Stop Believin” by Journey. The countdown to the end of the five minutes was reminiscent of New Year’s Eve, after which the Guinness representative gave Ryan Seacrest a run for his money in drawing out the announcement of the new world record: 1,734. The Guinness official then handed a certificate to event organizers, Dan Farr and Bryan Brandenburg, who held up the certificate with Manu Bennett.

And then, in the words of Monty Python: There was much rejoicing … and a MASSIVE group picture.

It’s worth noting that this record-setting outcome is exactly the reason co-founders Farr and Brandenburg declared Salt Lake Comic Con 2015 to be #EPIC. Farr and Brandenburg know their fans, and they had complete faith that attendees were up to the task of setting a world record. After all, Salt Lake Comic Con may only be in its third year, but it already has some records under its belt.

In its first year, Salt Lake Comic Con set the record for largest inaugural Comic Con, with over 70,000 attendees. Year two brought in about 120,000 attendees, and while the numbers for 2015 have yet to be released, it’s pretty safe to say that they will be impressive by any standards.

But it’s not just the numbers that make Salt Lake Comic Con remarkable. Even more noteworthy is how an event can be so big and genuine at the same time … like a second Disneyland. Somehow the Salt Lake Comic Con manages to perpetuate a friendly and family-like vibe to all those in attendance, and the events leading up this successful world record attempt is a perfect example of the top-to-bottom mood present at Salt Lake Comic Con.

Take Manu Bennett, in this case. He could have finished his panel and been done for the day. It’s 7:00. Why not head out, have dinner, and relax? There’s nothing in Bennett’s agreement that says he needs to entertain 1,500 people while organizers round up more cosplayers to claim a world record. It’s also unlikely that Bennett came to the con intending to dress as Slade Wilson and be part of the official count, but he did both things.

Why? Because he chose to.

And that’s part of the magic of Salt Lake Comic Con: Guests who want to be there, organizers who are involved on a ground level, and attendees who are respectful and enthusiastic in equal measure. All of these things combine with courteous staff, top-notch vendors, and hundreds of fan-focused events to create a geek-fest that is only going to be bigger in 2016 … which begs the question:

With all this positive momentum and good mojo, which record will Salt Lake Comic Con break next?

1734 cosplayers gathered at Salt Lake Comic Con

1734 cosplayers gathered at Salt Lake Comic Con. Photo credit: Sheralyn Pratt

Family-ish Photo: Deathstrokes and Deadpools with Manu Bennett

Family-ish Photo: Deathstrokes and Deadpools with Manu Bennett.  Photo credit: Sheralyn Pratt

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Agent Captain Logan’s Comic Directive #17: Star Trek #48

by Agent Captain Logan (a.k.a. Agent Captain Logan)

Star Trek #48

Writer: Mike Johnson

Art: Tony Shasteen

The ongoing Star Trek series from IDW has been pretty hit-and-miss since it launched four years ago. It’s been often-mired in mediocre plotting and characterization and has difficulty striking that delicate balance between idea-driven and action-driven stories. And I sympathize, because there are a few kinds of rope tying Johnson’s hands behind his back. He’s trying to add to a new Trek mythology without stepping on what the film series is doing — not as much of an issue post-Star Trek: Into Darkness, but I’m sure he’s not allowed to shake up the status quo of Starfleet and the Federation too much. He’s trying to tell solid, classic Star Trek stories, but in the fast-paced, high-octane spirit of the reboot. And he’s trying to stay true to the new characterizations of the original series crew, which, try as he might, he’s struggling to make as charming and endearing as their previous counterparts.

In all fairness, I’ve only casually kept up with this series since it moved away from re-tellings of original episodes in the rebooted continuity, but every time I’ve returned, it’s always read like something’s holding it back from greatness. Every now and again, there’s a re-tooling of something from the Prime universe that strikes me as a stroke of genius, but it’s usually just a run-of-the-mill, standard Trek tale that isn’t especially memorable, and never becomes any more than the sum of its parts. And some of that, I think, is because too many of these story arcs are just too short. They vary in length but a lot of them, like this one, are only two issues long, and they come off like a truncated Animated Series episode. This one shows some promise, but I’ll be surprised if the next issue isn’t mostly action, five-minute wrap-up style, sprinting to the finish instead of using this curious situation to explore its protagonist and allow him to shine.

The set-up is intriguing enough. Captain Kirk is giving Sulu his first taste of command, assigning him to lead an away team to observe a pre-warp civilization, because, Kirk says, “one thing I’m sure of is that you’ll be the captain of a starship one day.” That’s an allusion, of course, to Sulu captaining the Excelsior in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Wow, there’s a scene you never would have seen between Shatner and Takei. Allegedly, there was supposed to be a promotion ceremony for Sulu in one of the early movies, but Shatner sabotaged it because he felt upstaged. At least, according to George Takei. Having heard that story over the years, I found this opening scene almost surreal. It’s nice to see some of the rest of the cast getting their own stories. We’ve moved away from the traditional TOS triad for Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, the format here is a little more like The Next Generation and there’s room for that.

Scotty has invented a technology that serves as a precursor for the holographic duck blind used to keep tabs on alien races up close in the Next Generation episode “Who Watches the Watchers.” His is a crude energy wall that camouflages whatever is behind it, and also masks sound. Kirk decides to let him try it out on Sulu’s mission. Sulu brings Scotty and three other people we’ve never heard of — none of them are dead yet, so I’m expecting to lose all of them by next issue, or at the very least, the girl in red. She is not dressed for success.

It’s a very original series situation: a quiet, ominous planes environment with several giant, foreboding pillars looming over our heroes with alien writing on them, and no intelligent life around. Suddenly, a storm is billowing on the horizon and Sulu decides to find cover and wait it out. He’s there to observe the civilization there and he hasn’t seen one alien yet — why not beam back to the ship and come back later? But that point is immediately rendered moot when several enormous turkey-type creatures show up, spew a bunch of sounds that apparently the universal translator is picking up as gibberish, and the team hides behind Scotty’s holo-wall. Sulu thinks the turkeys are sacrificing their young to the obelisks, and we see an enormous crescent-shaped blade ship next to the Enterprise feeding off the lightning storm. There’s a cool bit of forshadowing a couple pages earlier, when the lead turkey man arrives holding a stick with a blade of that very crescent shape attached to it. I noticed that instantly and thought it was a striking image. That made the appearance of the gargantuan vessel more jaw-dropping.

I like this situation. The somewhat green and naïve Sulu is taking a dose of reality as he’s faced with a horrifying predicament, responsible for the lives of four other people and forced to figure out how to salvage the Prime Directive as much as he can when the lightning storm is interfering with the energy wall and the aliens are going to detect them. Really large, dangerous, savage-looking aliens. I like that Shasteen has creatively designed a weird race that would be difficult to put on screen, taking advantage of the comic medium where money is no object in rendering elaborate creatures, allowing the Enterprise to encounter “new life” that isn’t always just humans with bumps on their heads. And there’s a legitimately interesting mystery here. Who are these savages? Are they really this primitive or do they control the obelisks and know exactly what they are? Do they worship the blade ship? What’s the ceremonial sacrifice all about?

The only problem I have with this one, again, is that I know it’s only a two-issue story and what I’ve read here feels like a five-minute teaser for an hour-long episode. Perhaps Sulu will go through a perfectly satisfying character arc by the end of next issue, but that seems unlikely, given that Johnson has to pay off all the elements of this alien mystery and get the away team back to the Enterprise (or, at least, the survivors) in just twenty pages, so it’s hard to imagine how he’ll also have room to really explore Sulu as an untested leader. At the end of the issue, Sulu laments in his log (which, comically, he can’t possibly be making, just then) that “everything that could go wrong on my first away mission has.” And that’s fine for an opening act — how will he deal with this dilemma? How will he handle things differently than Kirk — who’s dealt with this sort of scenario a dozen times — would? That’s an especially neat idea because the arc is called “Deity,” and how often does Kirk go up against some civilization’s god? Although, the “god” in question here is hovering right next to the Enterprise, so I guess Kirk is sort of dealing with this one himself, too.

We’re already halfway through the story, and that makes the character stuff feel like the catalyst for a plot-driven story, instead of being at the heart of it. I suppose I’ll see next issue, but this is pretty par-for-the-course for this series. I appreciate some of the limitations Johnson faces in adapting the Abramsverse to comics, but why must these stories be so truncated? Fun, fast, engaging read, but I think it may need more real-estate to be anything more substantial than that.

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Captain Logan’s Comic Directive #15: ‘Ant Man Annual’ #1

by Agent Captain Logan (a.k.a. Agent Captain Logan)

Ant-Man Annual #1

Writer: Nick Spencer

Artists: Brend Schoonover and Ramon Rosanas

Publisher: Marvel

This is a really informative and hilariously entertaining self-contained story that’s perfect for anyone largely unfamiliar with Ant-Man. It’s especially fun if you just saw and enjoyed the movie and want to know how it compares to the comics. It seems tailor-made to be compared to the film; you’ll find it has the same the quirky and often goofball tone. The movie is very faithful to the source material in terms of how ant man’s suit works and the notion of Ant-Man as a legacy character, but you’ll also notice a lot of deviation from Scott Lang’s origin and, of course, the reason Hank Pym berates himself for being a failure, namely that he created Ultron. Odd that Ant-Man and Age of Ultron were both released this year and, yet, that version of Hank Pym has nothing to do with Ultron’s creation. If you’re like me, it’ll make you appreciate some aspects of the movie more (specifically, for me, the witty banter) and others less (like I said, I’m not real in love with the convulted and unbelievable way Scott Lang and Hank Pym are brought together in the movie and, reviewing the comic book origin here, I think it would have suited the movie better and made Scott’s motivations a little clearer and maybe even made him more sympathetic). But, I digress.

This is an oversized, five-dollar comic that gives you plenty of bang for your buck. While the comprehensive history of both Ant-Mans (Ant-Men?) is at the heart of this story, it’s not a flashback or a reprint issue. Spencer expertly weaves in the recap material so that isn’t intrusive for those in the know, and it feels like a necessary part of the story that’s being told so the uninitiated can be caught up to speed without feeling like the story keeps stopping to explain things.

The art is a faithful-yet-modern homage to the ’60s comics it references throughout, and it reminds me a lot of Chris Samnee’s work on Mark Waid’s Daredevil. It’s a hysterical throwback to silver age Marvel that tastefully and cleverly lampoons comic book motifs from that period as well as specific Marvel tropes. One of my favorites is when the apparently-classic but long forgotten Ant-Man villain, Egghead (not to be confused with Vincent Price), complains that the phrase “Avengers assemble!” makes no sense. “What does he mean by that, anyway? They’re already there! Pointless.” But, in keeping with the traditional Marvel method of storytelling, there’s a good, human story at the center of the comedy, as Scott tries to live up to his mentor’s legacy. The point, by the end, is that Ant-Man is a mantle for screw-ups on a path to redemption, men who did bad things with the best of intentions and hope to do good things, having learned from their mistakes, to make up for them.

Egghead returns, cheesy monologues and melodramatic blustering and all, with the brilliant and ridiculous plan to destroy the Avengers with old robots he stole from Hank Pym, which Pym created in his pre-Ultron days that Egghead calls the A.I.-vengers. It’s a laugh every panel. Egghead recruits an unwitting lackey whom Pym accidentally forced out of a prestigious research position due to corporate politics, so he ends up a lowly I.T. guy at a Geek Squad-esque service called Techbusters (and yes, Spencer gets some Ghostbusters reference mileage out of it). Egghead assumes the tech guy will want revenge and he indifferently agrees, after it takes him a full page to realize that his being there has nothing to do with fixing Egghead’s Macbook.

One of the best gags is the tech guy questioning Egghead’s plot, saying that he can’t replace the Avengers with these silver age-looking versions because, in the current Marvel status quo (pre-Secret Wars, of course), Captain America is a black guy and Thor is a woman. So, Egghead settles for just using the robots to kill the Avengers instead. I also love Pym’s embarrassment when the past comes back to haunt him and the A.I.-vengers start talking about how he’s the best scientist in the world and how much they love working with him. “All right, all right,” he says. “I built them for … positive affirmation.” There was a time when Hank Pym was just movie Tony Stark. And while this situation is wonderfully absurd, I like how it gets to the core of what Hank Pym is all about — he’s a throwback from another age, who’s learned his big lesson but who caused so much damage back in the day, he’s still cleaning up his old messes.

There’s also a neat surprise at the end as this title gears up to finish its run and kill off the original 616 versions of these characters to transition to Battleworld that furthers the strange and counter-intuitive tradition of the Ant-Man mantle.

I’m going to miss all these callbacks to in-continuity stories told fifty years ago as the Marvel Universe is being rebooted. I’m sure writers who want to get in their time machines and revisit the Merry Marvel Marching days will find clever excuses to do it even past Secret Wars, and I’d be very surprised if there weren’t some untold tales from before the multiverse’s implosion sprinkled throughout the new spread of books. But, even if you’ve never read Ant-Man and couldn’t care less (and I would have counted myself among you a year ago), if you’re a fan of the Stan Lee and Jack Kirby days of Marvel, this issue is bound to put a smile on your face. And if you saw the movie and you’re curious about where in the world this wacky character came from, this is an easily accessible and engaging way to catch up on the character’s history.

XXX

Agent Captain Logan’s Comic Directive #12: ‘X-Men ’92’

by Agent Captain Logan (a.k.a. Agent Captain Logan)

X-Men ’92 #1

Writers: Chris Sims and Chad Bowers

Artist: Scott Koblish

Publisher: Marvel Comics

X-Men owes a lot of the uncanny success it’s enjoyed over the last couple decades to the 1990s Fox cartoon. It’s the version that introduced me and a lot of my generation to the property, and while it was full of racial stereotypes, goofy dialogue, and hilariously bad fake accents all across the board, it had an undeniable moody atmosphere and edginess to it. The tone was ultra-serious and it felt like an adult drama, even if, when I’ve looked back at it years later, it’s a lot sillier than I ever realized. It was unlike anything else on television and the allegories for racism and intolerance, not to mention the sheer coolness of that version of Wolverine, hold up today. It was so faithful to the spirit and even a lot of specific stories of the comics, adapting a lot of Chris Claremont’s most famous work, that you could watch that show religiously, never pick up a comic, and confidentially call yourself an X-Men fan. I was astonished to hear Marvel was bringing back this incarnation in comic book form, and after appreciating what DC has done both with Batman ’66 and the Wonder Woman ’77 one-shot, I had high hopes for this, and oh, my stars and garters, I was not disappointed.

The Secret Wars tie-ins have mostly been about capitalizing on readers’ nostalgia for their favorite Marvel crossover events and eras, while putting fresh spins on them. Initially, I was a little concerned that a lot of these would just be quick cash-ins, re-hashing the same stories in a shorter form, but I’ve been following a number of these, and they’ve all been about making the old new again, in the spirit of Marvel’s classic What-If line. They’re all “what if this particular event was happening in this new surreality Doctor Doom created after the multiverse imploded,” and when put all together, it’s this fascinating, fully-realized bizzaro-world, held together by the few characters who can see beyond the barriers God-Doom has placed on each of the separate domains. Sure, it’s pretty contrived that every single major Marvel event is represented — and even a bunch of other status quos that weren’t crossovers, but just things people are nostalgic for — but as conceits go, it’s been handled remarkably well.

While I’m hoping to get more material in the X-Men cartoon style that’s not associated with Secret Wars, this series is rooted in an interesting status quo that lends itself well to this material; the mutants are dangerously close to their goal of peaceful cohabitation with humans as Baron Kelly (an acolyte of God-Doom) is ruling his land with a firm rhetoric of tolerance and understanding. There’s just not much for the X-Men to do right now (they spend the first few pages playing laser tag at a mall) so naturally, all hell is about to break loose, a classic calm-before-the-storm scenario so often seen in X-Men stories. There’s a mysterious island where evil mutants are being rehabilitated, another TV series trope, and naturally, there’s a creepy, shifty-eyed leader who’s not what she seems and something a lot more sinister going on beneath the surface.

X-Men ’92 is an oversized, five dollar comic that’s worth every penny. It’s a dense issue with plenty going on and it took me a good 25-30 minutes to finish. A lot of that is because it’s such an authentically ’90s Marvel comic; it’s really wordy, there are a lot of melodramatic speeches, there are a ton of characters, and everybody has to keep reminding us of whatever their trademark character trait is. A lot of the charm is all that silly stuff we’ve mostly moved beyond in comics today, which are typically a lot more streamlined, give the reader a little more credit, rely more on the action to tell the story than narration and expository dialogue, and give characters more natural-sounding things to say than the theatrical, often-stilted dialogue we see here.

That’s not to say this is a badly written comic — a lot of the exchanges are clever and hysterical — but these guys are fully embracing some of the out-moded conventions of both early ’90s comics and the TV show. This is the supernatural, action-packed soap opera I remember, and it’s not even a little exaggerated. Wolverine and Cyclops are at each others’ throats, Gambit is constantly hitting on Rogue and she’s constantly deflecting his advances, and Jubillee is incessantly wining that she’s not treated like an adult while clearly naive and immature. These traits define these characters and they never move beyond the same conflicts and arguments, like there’s a series bible that forces them not to change or grow too much, just as it was in the show. It’s irritating in all the right ways and reads so much as the genuine article, that’s all part of the fun. I have all of the original voices in my head as I’m reading, and I can’t stop humming the theme song.

But there’s also a thought-provoking situation at the heart of the story that is already taking some of these characters into uncharted territory and potentially move them beyond the typical. Having helped bring the world so close to Xavier’s goal, Cyclops is ready to move on and start a normal life, but Professor X is suspicious of this island of misfit mutants and, in Scott’s eyes, is using that as an excuse to continue on like it’s business as usual for the X-Men. He asks Cyclops to take his team and investigate, and Cyclops agrees, but he’s angry with Xavier for his continual fight-the-good-fight attitude. Xavier might be holding on to his glory days, not ready to see his dream realized; perhaps, deep down, it was always more about the journey for him and less about the destination. Oh, he believed in his dream and was ever the eternal optimist, but it seems he might have been so used to fighting that he doesn’t know how to do anything else. Cyclops, on the other hand, might be too ready to accept victory, ignoring, at first, clear signs that their work is not yet done. I like how each man’s deepest desires influence his judgement and how both of them have a point, but their positions are each inherently flawed.

Visually, the book is as faithful to that early ’90s style as the writing is; the action is dynamic, the colors are vibrant, and we’re sometimes treated to absolutely stunning poses, like Rogue taking out a Sentinel mid-air with a single punch to the nose. It’s also sometimes wildly inconsistent, with weird, totally unnecessarily silly facial expressions every so often, oddly haphazard panel layouts, and lazy, solid-color backgrounds. Again, we’ve mostly moved past a lot of this corner-cutting and dated art but it’s fun to see this story realized not only with the same character models from the show but in the same comic style from that period. It also creates some misdirection; when the story takes a surprising turn in the end regarding Xavier and Cassandra Nova, I don’t expect it because I’m so comfortable with this throw-back presentation I think I know exactly what to expect, and those expectations are subverted.

There is one aspect of the comic where I think the retro approach steps over a line, and that’s in the editor’s notes the writers have intentionally added to create a mock sense of censorship. It’s a bizarre and intrusive move that takes me out of the story and makes me scratch my head because I’m a little unclear on what the joke is supposed to be. I appreciate the idea of being so authentically “1992” that even the editorial choices are what they might have been at the time. I sometimes see this in throwback Silver Age comics that include humorous editor’s notes all over the place or interrupt the story with an intrusive narrator to manufacture an added sense of suspense. But in just a couple places, this issue has a line crossed out and a note in red that says it’s inappropriate and needs to be changed, followed by the correction. That’s not a thing I can recall ever seeing in comics of this period, a hand-written correction intentionally left in the comic, so you can see what was considered too risque or offensive and what it was replaced with. Did that sometimes happen and I just never ran into it? Or is that a commentary on the censorship of the Fox cartoon? Famously, both this show and the Spider-Man animated series made a lot of strange choices based on strict censorship that were often blatant and hilarious. But the lines crossed out here, like “when has not being invited ever stopped a strapping beast like yourself from going where he wants,” don’t really strike me as any more controversial than a lot of what made it into that show. It’s not clear enough why those are here for me to appreciate the joke.

X-Men ’92 in this Battleworld scenario might allow some of those rules to be broken; this is, after all, a mini-series set in a world that can’t last forever. Might there be some eventual wish fulfillment here, the grand finale the X-Men animated series never had? Perhaps Gambit and Rogue will get together in the end? Maybe Jubilee will become a full-fledged X-Man. It’s a story that can go anywhere and do anything it wants to, which is a lot of the fun of these limited, practically out-of-continuity stories. As I said, I hope this series does well because I’d love to read a bona-fide X-Men ’92 ongoing set squarely in the universe this is based on. But what’s here is a thoroughly entertaining blast from the past with plenty of surprises to keep me engaged past the nostalgic novelty.

XXX

If you can’t get enough of Agent Captain Logan’s comic book analysis, here’s a bonus! Check out the latest episode of The Comic Book Vault: Rapid Fire Comic Reviews! This episode includes:

  • Batman #41 & Detective Comics #41 ( time stamp 01:21)
  • Batman Beyond #1 (11:56)
  • Gotham By Midnight #6 (16:58)
  • We Are Robin #1 (18:51)
  • Batman ’66 #24 (23:29)
  • Superman #41 (25:20)
  • Midnighter #1 (31:27)
  • Doomed #1 (36:24)
  • Constantine: The Hellblazer #1 (39:19)
  • Casey and April #1 (42:44)
  • X-Men ’92 #1 (47:17)
  • Infinity Gauntlet #2 (53:10)
  • Daredevil #16 (54:36)
  • MODOK #1 & #2 (57:09)
  • Book & Cover of the Week (1:00:42)

‘The Midwest in Panels’: Comics Will Never Die!

by Agent Alicia Glass (a.k.a. Pandora the Punctuation Horror)

You know what they say, fans and fan-atics alike, that print is dying if not dead already, and that majorly affects the comics industry, most of all. But that can’t be true, given all the films and TV shows blowing up screens big and small, based on those beloved comic books that gave us these timeless characters; they’re still around and more prevalent than ever! Join Super Villain Network’s own Agent Captain Logan and friends as they explore the Midwest, looking for the last bastions of comic-book enjoyment!

Agent Captain Logan and his co-conspirator, Vince Haskins, who host Geekvolution together, amongst many other things, decided they simply had to cross the making of this beloved movie documentary project off their proverbial bucket list. Midwest In Panels took over a year to film and about six months to edit and make great, with Logan doing the entire editing process by himself. Why the Midwest, you ask? That’s where Logan and Haskins both grew up, it’s their backyard, and even with the Kickstarter-raised money, touring the high-end comic book stores of the Midwest is what they could afford.

Your roving reporter here was fortunate to get an interview with Logan and get some fun behind-the-scenes information on what it took to make the film. Logan talked about wanting to do the movie with all kinds of perspectives on the comic book industry, and centering on the stores themselves. “It’s not a fluff piece!” Logan explained to one of the interviewees who was getting out of the business and is rather jaded about the whole thing.

Logan gave me a rundown of the hardest day of filming of the entire trip:

“So that building in downtown Des Moines [Mayhem Comics, Cards & Games], it’s for like young social hangouts. They have all these rooms where they do a bazillion different things, it’s like a cultural epicenter. Their shop is in the bottom in this big lobby area, [we] went upstairs to find a place to do the interview. It was too loud downstairs, they’ve got this big band playing. And we had this really cool setup, with a big room with huge windows; we could see a really great preview of downtown Des Moines through the windows. And we had shot like fifteen minutes of the interview, when this giant wedding rehearsal party comes in! So we had to vacate that nice room and we’re looking all over the place for somewhere else to record, and we finally settle on this dinky classroom kind of thing, that had one section in the back with a set of freestanding lockers. It wasn’t even a locker room, just the lockers you see in there are the only lockers in the room! At first, we just set him up in front of a blank wall and I’m like, you can’t be interviewed in front of just a blank wall, so he says, ‘Let’s have it in front of these lockers!’ At this point, it’s starting to look like some sort of odd college experiment, and I think the lockers just aren’t enough, so he’s all, ‘Let’s spruce it up some!’ and he finds this tiny table and a plant, and parks them next to him. And we ended up shooting him just like that.”

The fellows wander all over the Midwest, visiting ten separate comic book stores: Astrokitty Comics & More in Lawrence, Kansas; Krypton Comics in Omaha, Nebraska, the biggest in the area and there for 20+ years; Acme Comics in Greensboro, North Carolina, winner of the 2004 Will Eisner Spirits of Comic Retailing Award, the last to be given by Eisner himself; Source Comics & Games in Roseville Minnesota, “ten thousand square feet of pure awesome”; Limited Edition Comics & Collectibles in Cedar Falls, Iowa that also houses a barber shop; Mayhem Comics, Cards & Games, the main store in Ames, Iowa, and not the branch store they opened in Des Moines (the fellows didn’t have time for that); Capes Kafe, a combination comic book store and coffee bar in Des Moines; Comic Book Relief in St. Charles Missouri; Star Clipper, St. Louis’ Premier Pop Culture Shop, where they actually offer classes on the everything of comics, and promote small press and self-published comics; Elite Comics in Overland Park, Kansas, where every Wednesday there is a party to come hang out at; even a visit to the Super Museum of all things Superman in Metropolis, Illinois!

Join these pioneers of geekdom, as they explore the comic book stores out there in middle America, these bastions that have lasted for more than a decade for most of them, always clean and well-lit and (mostly) family friendly, never again will we live down to the TV and movie reputation of the comic book store being a seedy dungeon-esque half-step above the porno theater down the block. Hear the store owners talk about their trials and tribulations of trying to keep up with the times and still lovingly offer comic books to the masses, with as much variety as humanly possible. Their legendary tales of ‘the first free comic book day’, or the receiving of the coveted Will Eisner Comics Industry Award, or the free offered classes of all things comics (everything from The History of Superman to religion, how to begin figure drawing, and more), plus everyone’s garnered opinion on the single titan of comics distribution, Diamond Comic Distributors Inc., all make for fascinating behind-the-scenes glimpses into the world of comics you only think you know. Join the Super Villain Network’s very own Agent Captain Logan and his geek-tastic pals as they traverse the Midwest and bring us the hidden life of comics in, say it with me, panels!

The Midwest In Panels will be screened at the Superman Celebration in Metropolis, Illinois, on Sunday June 14, 2015 at 11:00 a.m.!

 

https://youtu.be/9rpLP1n7Auk

‘Daredevil’ Season Two Casting News: The Punisher Comes to Hell’s Kitchen!

by Agent Alicia Glass (a.k.a. Pandora the Punctuation Horror) 

Marvel Entertainment announced today that Jon Bernthal has landed the role of The Punisher in Marvel’s breakout Netflix series, Daredevil, season two!

Bernthal is perhaps most well known for his stint of two whole seasons as the man with the best hate-love-hate fan relationship, Shane Walsh on AMC’s zombie drama The Walking Dead. He’s also starred in Eastwick, Mob City, Grudge Match and The Wolf of Wall Street. Bernthal is also set a pivotal role in the upcoming Show Me a Hero, a TV mini-series based on the Mayor Wasicsko crisis in Yonkers, New York in 1987, set to air in August 2015.

For the Daredevil version, The Punisher is a violent vigilante who aims to clean up New York’s Hell’s Kitchen by any means necessary, with vengeance delivered Biblical-style. The character is also privately known as Frank Castle, a martial arts master and U.S. military veteran who is an expert with a variety of weapons and guerrilla warfare.

Previous incarnations of Punisher included Dolph Lungren (1989), Thomas Jane (2004), and Ray Stevenson (2008). “Jon Bernthal brings an unmatched intensity to every role he takes on, with a potent blend of power, motivation and vulnerability that will connect with audiences,” Marvel head of TV department Jeph Loeb said. “Castle’s appearance will bring dramatic changes to the world of Matt Murdock and nothing will be the same.”

I fully expect to see the iconic white death-skull on the black background that is Punisher’s sigil interlaced with the fiery double D’s that denote Daredevil in season two somewhere, that would be awesome-sauce. We here at the Super Villain Network, while greatly pleased at this news, cannot be held responsible for any real damage occurred to Punisher, or Daredevil for that matter, as they take on our villainous brethren  in the bowels of Hell’s Kitchen!

Sadly, we won’t be graced with this kind of combined ass-kickery until 2016. Until then, enjoy a video of arguably one of the best fight scenes of Daredevil season one.

Agent Captain Logan’s Comic Directive #10: ‘Amazing Spider-Man Renew Your Vows’ #1

by Agent Captain Logan (a.k.a. Agent Captain Logan)

The Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows #1

Writer: Dan Slott

Artist: Adam Kubert

Publisher: Marvel

This post-universe implosion Battleworld scenario is a blatant conceit to return to any status quo Marvel thinks readers will be nostalgic for, and they’re milking it for all it’s worth. I was trepidatious about returning to all these events and old time periods because the whole thing sounded like a quick cash-in gimmick to me, but so far, these returns to times past have read like really inventive What-If stories and I can’t get enough of them. So, after Secret Wars got my attention, and now that I’ve read and enjoyed the first issue of some of these events inside the main event, I had higher hopes for this one. Of all of the myriad tie-ins to Secret Wars, this has been one of the most-anticipated because a lot of Spider-Man fans still seem as burned up about One More Day as they were back in 2007. Think about that: if there’s an eight-year-old reading current Spider-Man, he’s never lived in a world where Peter and Mary-Jane were married.

I fully expected this to be, “What If Peter Had Never Made That Deal With Mephisto and Stayed Married?” And while it’s clearly appealing to those of us that loved the marriage and thought Peter’s character was hugely regressed by retconning it, this seems to be going back to a mid-’90s status quo, circa Maximum Carnage, and if it were a What-If story, the title would be something more like, “What If Peter and Mary-Jane Had a Child While They Were Still Married.” As one of my faithful viewers pointed out when I discussed this on the Geekvolution YouTube channel, Mary-Jane had a miscarriage once, and this is perhaps the daughter she would have had if that hadn’t happened. The title Renew Your Vows doesn’t have any real bearing on the story so far and seems to be just an attention-grabber for folks who miss that family dynamic, unless that title ends up having more to do with the actual events of the book before the series is over. Dan Slott is using this opportunity both to fulfill that wish for Peter/Mary-Jane ‘shippers for a minute, but also to explore the complexities of who Spider-Man is with the responsibility of having his own child, and whether or not that’s a status quo that’s believably sustainable.

I love the opening line of internal monologue from Peter: “In a perfect world, this is how it was always meant to be.” That’s inset in a panel filled with Parker family photos, with Peter and Mary-Jane’s wedding portrait in the center. It’s an acknowledgment of what a lot of the fans wanted that Joe Quesada, in the mid-2000s, decided wasn’t a manageable situation to keep Peter in long-term. At first, I thought Slott was just attacking that decision head-on and taking the fans’ side, but on a second read, I realize that he’s trying to illustrate the difficulties moving forward with the marriage because of Peter’s values. There’s a hint of commentary about the real-world, commercial nature of serialized superhero comics, the nigh-impossible task of publishing monthly comics for decades about a character like Peter who is, from his inception, a hero meant to change and develop, to grow like a character in a novel would, not stay stagnant so he can be featured in the same kind of butt-kicking adventures for a gazillion issues. But I like that Slott examines that through a moral lens; this doesn’t read as simply a defense of or an apology for One More Day, but rather one writer’s take on who Spider-Man is and what he’d do if he had a child to provide for.

That line about a “perfect world” bookends the issue, as Slott creates an extreme situation where Peter is forced to choose between being Spider-Man and upholding all the values he’s always stood for, and the father, who makes his child his whole world and the “great responsibility” that trumps all others. Non-powered superheroes are being slaughtered right and left, while a lot of the super-powered heroes are mysteriously disappearing, so Spider-Man is having to take up a lot of slack in crime fighting and finds himself in a world that’s about as far from his perfect version as possible. Captain America (the ’90s version with the silly giant “A” on his chest) and the Avengers offer to put Spider-Man and his family up in Avengers Mansion to keep them safe. That would, of course, force Peter to reveal his secret identity, the one thing that’s prevented him from becoming an Avenger. Peter is suddenly torn between his superhero duties and his family, discovering that it might not be possible to keep them separate forever. But once he starts blurring those worlds, how can he possibly insure the safety of his family?

Then a telepathic villain called Regent lets all the bad guys out of Rykers, and all hell breaks loose. Venom comes for Peter’s baby girl, and suddenly Peter’s fighting harder and with less restraint than he ever has. Venom is relentless, saying that even if Peter beats him this time, he won’t rest until he’s eaten the little girl’s brains. I like how Slott emphasizes how different a dilemma this is from having a spouse or a parent who’s in danger; those are adults, capable of making their own choices. Once Mary-Jane knows who Spider-Man is, it’s her decision to stick around and take the risk in order to be with the man she loves. But a toddler doesn’t have that choice. Peter’s daughter, Annie, didn’t ask to be born, and she certainly didn’t ask to be the daughter of a man who gets in street brawls every night with deadly supervillains. Peter’s sense of responsibility sometimes goes to the extreme; he has a tendency to take responsibility for things and people that aren’t always his. But a little girl that depends on him to ensure that she grows up happy and healthy and with every opportunity to succeed has to take precedent over stopping a random purse snatcher.

Not everyone will agree with the choice Slott gets Peter to at the end of this issue, but I think he makes a good case for it. Peter has a clear, solid character-arc here and the choice he makes in the moment is shocking. It stands alone as a good character study on its own but I’m especially interested in that concrete moral place he gets to moving forward and whether it will stick. It’s unclear whether Peter will really be capable of putting his family in front of wall-crawling forever, just by virtue of this being only the first issue of an ongoing story.

I generally don’t care for Slott’s relationship stories– I often find his romances a little juvenile and his women sounding like men who haven’t lived enough struggling to write believable women– but he does okay in that department here. His banter between Peter and Mary-Jane at the beginning is a little typical: You just have to go to diaper jokes immediately if there’s a baby involved. But his Peter and Mary-Jane are charming together and I really like how strong-willed and courageous Mary-Jane is here. Far from playing the helpless damsel, she knows who she’s married to and nothing surprises her. She’s ready at a moment’s notice to pull the kind of heroics her husband would if he was there, even without powers.

While I appreciate the angle Slott’s coming at the marriage from, and I like that he’s making me think about Peter’s sense of duty and responsibility in a different way, I don’t mean to imply that I appreciate the choice to retcon the marriage back in One More Day. If it had to happen, it could have been handled with care and thoughtfulness, like Slott is trying to deal with it here, instead of contriving a situation so Peter can be de-aged a decade because he’s getting too far from what he was in the Lee/Ditko days. Now that the Marvel Universe is being totally overhauled, Peter can be reset to any age and be in any status quo the Marvel editors want him to be, and at least he doesn’t have to make a really forced, bizarre, morally-ambiguous decision to get there. I only hope that we won’t see a lot of re-hashed stories, treading all the same ground, and that this time, Peter will be allowed to just go wherever the character would naturally take himself.

XXX

Can’t get enough of Agent Captain Logan’s comic book reviews? Check out The Comic Vault: Rapid Fire Comic Reviews!