Welcome to the first SKTCHD edition of my weekly ten things column – newly renamed “Comics Disassembled” – in which I look at ten things I liked or didn’t like from the past week in comics. This could be something in an actual comic, news, art or something super random, like the final point this week. It’s basically your one stop shop for my thoughts on everything comics related during any given week, with perhaps way too many thoughts behind it all.
And while there’s plenty of places to start, let’s go with a happy direction, as the incoming writer on one of the biggest comic franchises unified comics in a positive way, if only for a moment.
1. The HiXMen, Further Revealed
Jonathan Hickman’s first interview about his upcoming X-Men run is in the books, as he chatted with ComicBook.com about how it came together and his plans for it overall. It is, in typical Hickman fashion, incredible and well thought out. So much so that everyone in comics agreed – if only for a brief moment – that maybe superhero comics could be good, as Vulture’s Abraham Riesman noted to me.
There are a number of very interesting tidbits from it, but one of the points that I glommed onto the most is what it effectively took to get him back and how Hickman leveraged that. I had always hypothesized back in my days as a tinfoil hat wearing “Hickman is taking over the X-Men” truther that one of the greatest advantages he had in potentially making this whole thing work was that he didn’t need Marvel. Not like other creators, at least. Hickman could succeed just doing his creator-owned projects and that would be fine. And not needing them meant Marvel would have to come at him with a godfather offer, or at the very least, something different than usual. And for someone like Hickman, my guess was that wouldn’t just mean money, but freedom to do things the way he wanted to (and “vertically-integrated opportunities,” it turns out).
That has manifested itself in one notable way: Hickman successfully lobbied Marvel to cancel the entire X-Men line when he takes over, with only the two weekly titles – Powers of X and House of X – existing from late July to September during that span. As he said, “We wanted to be clear to the fans, to the stores, and just as importantly, to the creators who are going to be staffing these books in the future. We wanted the message to be very clear: This is a whole new era for the X-Men. This is what we’re doing now.”
The rest of the interview is filled with a fine mix of the ideas for POX and HOX (the interplay of the two series and how one takes place over a pivotal month while the other is about the history of mutants is brilliant), his trademark sassiness,1 and his mid to long term plan, which consists of a first wave being announced around San Diego Comic Con and a second wave that will arrive in 2020.2 Even better for some, at least the folks who were concerned Hickman lacked the heart to tackle the mutants, there was this line in his final answer: “Oh, I think the X-Men is about finding the family that you never knew you had. One that accepts you for who you are, who loves you at your best and worst, and who shares your dreams for what the world can be.”
It sounds to me that Hickman has found a new level to Maximum Hickman, which is a shame because I once hypothesized that Black Monday Murders was the pinnacle of Hickman-ness. This is everything I wanted for the X-Men, and a big part of the reason I thought he was such a good fit. They’ve long lacked cohesion and a plan. That’s what Hickman does better than anyone. And he recognizes these weaknesses, as he noted another problem in the interview: “I suspect that last bit also has a lot to do with why we’ve been in a nostalgic feedback loop for quite a while. Where everyone is telling X-Men stories about other X-Men stories.” That’s a very on point take, and one of the many reasons why I’m incredibly excited for what he has in store for us. Well, that and the Eyeboy reference at the end.
2. Marvel Comics, Batting 1.000 (sort of)
The details of Marvel Comics #1000 were revealed last Friday, and they were…pretty much exactly what everyone thought they would be! It’s going to be an 80 page comic with 80 creative teams, with writer Al Ewing taking the lead in a way, tackling nine different pages in the issue to help shepherd it from point A to point…whatever letter we’d be on if we kept cycling through the alphabet to get to 80.3 So what’s my take on this project? Let’s pros and cons this beefy monster of a comic to suss out my initial thoughts.
- The creators involved are who’s who of writers and artists from Marvel history
- This list includes Stuart and Kathryn Immonen, which is an immediate and immense plus, as well as others like George Perez, Roy Thomas (!!), John Cassaday, Goran Parlov, Mark Buckingham and, obviously, a lot of others
- Al Ewing is fronting the whole thing, which is about as ideal as you could ask for in a project like this
- The amount of women working on the project is almost preposterously low, as Rosie Knight charted out in a piece at Women Write About Comics (quick detail from that: there are more men who were born in Spain working on the issue than women, which is a tough look). It feels like you’d almost accidentally have to have more women creators just to have 80 creative teams, but apparently not
- As much as I appreciate Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, the Skyhook and “I Gotta Feeling,” having Phil Lord and Chris Miller, Kareem Abdul-Jabaar and Taboo (from the Black Eyed Peas) featured instead of any of the very talented women making comics in this world (like former Marvel writers Marjorie Liu and Ann Nocenti,4 for two) makes it an even more difficult move to defend
- It is very hard to imagine a world where an 80 page comic with 80 creative teams will be a worthwhile read. Best of luck to Marvel Executive Editor Tom Brevoort in this endeavor, as I have to believe this will be very editorially driven
- Marvel did not reveal a price, which likely means it’s going to cost a lot
So it’s a mixed bag! This is one of those situations where it feels like Marvel is snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, as this should have been a cool project that would be easy to get behind. Sure, the numbering is extremely fuzzy and an obvious play to capitalize off the giant success DC had with Action Comics and Detective Comics #1000, but the tour of names and history this project promises to be is an attractive prospect. However, the optics of it muddle what should be a slam dunk, changing the narrative from a triumph to controversy within the release of just a few teasers. That often feels like the Marvel way, unfortunately.
Will I buy it? More than likely. I’m genuinely curious how Brevoort and Ewing will manage this beast, and if they can make it work, it’s a monumental achievement. Combine that with the list of creators involved and you have a high end curiosity with the potential for more. If it’s reasonably priced, it’s all the more appealing.5 But when you’re a comic company that often sells yourself as the one that reflects the world outside your window, it makes you wonder what kind of window they’re looking out when you see that gender split.
3. Comic Favorites, Returning
A couple favorites from my youth are making brief returns, and boy, could they not be any different. Let’s go chronologically based off my personal history, as we’ll head back to the early days of my comic reading: the Power Pack is back! Not only are the kids from the squad returning, but so are the original creators that worked with them, as writer Louise Simonson (Weezy!) and artist June Brigman are tackling this one-shot, which is titled Power Pack: Grow Up! The great Gurihiru will be drawing a back up, as well, but the main story is from Simonson and Brigman, as the Power Pack teams up with some of the X-Men to square off against The Brood.
On one hand, huzzah! The original team with the Power Pack telling a quick, one-off story is fun. On the other, this kind of feels like Marvel responding to the X-Men line being cleared out because of Hickman’s maneuvers, as they quickly scramble to put together titles to fill those gaps. I’m guessing a whole lot of shops looked at this announcement and threw their hands up, wondering what they were going to do with a one-shot starring the Power Pack. My guess? Not much. It does sound like a charmer, though!
Next in the world of brief returns, the first follow-up to the soon to end The Wild Storm has been announced, as the greatest C.A.T. of them all – WildCATS – are returning for a six issue mini-series from writer Warren Ellis, artist Ramon Villalobos and colorist Tamra Bonvillain. As a ride or die member of Team Wildstorm, I am very in on this, especially because my boy Grifter is prominently featured and because the premise is the very Ellis-ian “Saving the human race from the human race.” Sounds about right. I’ve seen some of Ramon’s pages from this already, and it’s going to be dynamite. Ramon and Tamra were specifically asked for by Warren, and from what I’ve seen, that was with good reason. It, like the Power Pack one-shot, arrives on August 28th.
4. American Carnage, Recalling Greats
While the vaunted Vertigo Comics relaunch has not exactly gone to plan, what with the behavior of Border Town’s writer leading to its cancellation and Second Coming being canceled before it was even released, it hasn’t all been bad. In fact, there’s one title from the line that has quickly earned comparisons from me to giants of yesteryear at Vertigo. That’s Bryan Edward Hill and Leandro Fernandez’s excellent crime series, American Carnage.
Its seventh issue dropped this week, and it continues to be a complicated and riveting read, with its story of a disgraced FBI agent going undercover in a group of white supremacists that’s quietly fronted by an ascendant politician reminding me of other crime titles from the line like 100 Bullets and Scalped. I don’t use those comparisons lightly. Scalped in particular is precious to me. But Hill and Fernandez are delivering on the same brutal yet nuanced, potent yet quiet storytelling Jason Aaron and R.M. Guera once excelled at as well. If you’re a fan of the crime stories of Vertigo past, American Carnage may very well be for you.
5. Great Comics, Tweeted
Twitter and comics have a complicated relationship, but I find the controversial social media platform to be a nice outlet for actual comic work if only for one reason: its media upload limits. Only allowing four images reduces what can be put into the world, and that to me can lead to some very interesting and exciting decision making by comic creators who use the platform. And this week, we have two wonderful examples.
First up is a lovely little two screen (page?) comic from cartoonist Paul Reinwand, which you can see a bit of above, but really underlines how effective and malleable a medium comics can be. It depicts communication between Reinwand and someone else on the other end of a text, and it shows the joys the little things can bring to our lives. As Reinwand noted in a later tweet, once there was dialogue in the place of the icons he ended up using, but the usage of iconography both fit how the piece was built around communication over text and made it more impactful because it both feels more special and open to interpretation. Reinwand’s not the first to ever use these types of icons in a comic, but his usage is excellent, and it’s something I imagine we’ll see more and more of as newer generations make their presence felt in the comics world.
And the other comic we have is from cartoonist Kate Beaton. It’s a wonderful little two pager that finds her paralleling an oft repeated phrase her mother used to say with Beaton sitting with her recently born child as her mother walks in to check on her. Beaton has long excelled at representing her familial relationships in her comics, no matter the situation they’re facing. This one shows the rarefied levels of subtlety and nuance Beaton can deliver on a page, underlining that in reality, some of the best comics are the most simple. It’s just a wondrous comic, and a standard reminder that Beaton is one of the best in the business. Oh, and a hearty congratulations to Beaton on the birth of her child!
6. Stumptown, Roasting
The adaptation of Greg Rucka, Matthew Southworth and Justin Greenwood’s Stumptown feels like it has been on the fastest of fast tracks. One day it was announced as being optioned, then it being put up at ABC, then it was greenlit and now…we have a trailer. It feels like that happened in fast forward, but I’m not complaining. Cobie Smulders as Dex Parios is about as good of a match between a comic character and thespian I can think of, and her presence dramatically increases the potential of me watching the series.
The trailer itself was…pretty fun! It’s amusing, they use the Portland location well (when it isn’t Vancouver, in reality) and Smulders naturally does her thing very well. It does feel a bit generic in that special network drama sort of way, but the combination of Smulders and Michael Ealy make this an easier sell for me. My hope – and it’s way too early to make a judgment about this – is that they will keep Dex’s edge beyond being sassy and driving a crummy car. I am heartened by the fact that her brother Ansel will be in the show (he didn’t show up in the trailer), and they even cast Cole Sibus – a performer with Down Syndrome – in the role. That makes it feel like they’re really trying to match the comic in a real way, as Ansel’s presence is essential to humanizing Dex, and it would have been very easy for them to have cut the character. But his inclusion makes sense, as Rucka, Southworth and Greenwood are producing. They know what makes Dex and the story work.
Of course, the show recasting Dex’s best friend already is not ideal – for not being handsome enough, according to him? – but hey, the history of film and TV is filled with recastings that dramatically improved a production. We’ll see what side things land on in the fall!
7. Chip Zdarsky, Dropping Tears, Knowledge
Chip Zdarsky’s a favorite around these parts, whether that’s as an artist, writer or man of the internets. That said, even I have my limits.
His current Marvel series Spider-Man Life Story is a monstrosity.
But what a monstrosity! The third issue of this series – which tracks Peter Parker’s life as if it was a real one, following him from the 1960s to now as he ages like an actual person in the process – dropped this week, and man, that was a heck of a thing. I joked on Twitter that it makes an excellent case for the illusion of change because in reality, the lives of superheroes would be horrible like Peter’s is in this one. It truly is the darkest timeline.
But it’s an expertly crafted one, as Zdarsky and artist Mark Bagley pair to turn what could be darkness we could get lost in into a tragedy that’s impossible to resist. Someone noted to me on Twitter that a big part of why this story hits so hard is because of, effectively, the subconscious connection to 616 Peter through Bagley’s art, making it really feel like this is what is happening. That’s a big part in it, as is just how real all of the things Peter is facing – an aunt dealing with age related problems, dependency issues, animosity and guilt, and the weight of memories that the “real” Peter Parker rarely gets to face – but all in all, it’s a very good comic.
But hey, Chip’s a great writer! That’s what we get from him. And if you’re an aspiring comic book writer, you could learn from him, as he recently shared seven tips for people like you in a little chat with CBC Books. There’s a lot of people out there who want to make comics but lack some of the knowledge on what it takes to do just that, and this provides a nice foundation. It’s a quick piece, but for the aspiring writers out there, they might find some gems. I for one know I should do much better at point number two, as I spend way too much time reading comics and not other types of writing. Someday!
8. Production Value, Making a Difference
A little thought and care on the production side of things goes a long way for me as a reader. I’m someone who still primarily reads everything in print – unfortunately for my nightstand and its surrounding area – and when a comic is well put together, it makes all the difference in the world. That’s why I’m ride or die for First Second and Nobrow Press, two publishers who make sure their comics aren’t just good, but well-made objects.
With that in mind, I wanted to tout a couple recent pick-ups I made with some coupons I earned at my local shop’s Free Comic Book Day: the first two Paper Girls hardcovers. I’m on record as already loving the production value and design of the floppy comics – its solid color covers are iconic and influential, with more of that influence yet to be seen – but dang, these hardcovers are the real deal. From the paper quality and foil printing on both volumes to the space in the front where you can write in your name and address (in case you lose them!) and copious amounts of bonus materials, everything about these books is perfect. If you’re a production value junkie like me who is in the market for a look at books done right, keep an eye out for these bad boys. They’re the business.
9. Comics News, Aggregated Further
Before we go, there were naturally a lot of other stories that popped up in the past week. I can’t cover everything, but there are some I wanted to address. So let’s quickly look at those in a little aggregation within the aggregation.
- The Spider-Man video game is getting a spin-off comic, as Dennis “Hopeless” Hallum and Emilio Laiso are teaming up for a series of…some…length that tells the story of how and why Spider-Man ended up making his Velocity suit in the game. It’s called Marvel’s Spider-Man: Velocity, fittingly, although I do think it’s funny that a) they still – or ever, really! – called this “Marvel’s Spider-Man” (as if we didn’t know who Spider-Man is and they need to be specific) and b) they are making a comic about how Peter made a suit. That’s pretty soft, but hey, I guess it worked for the symbiote suit and Secret Wars, right?
- Speaking of Marvel, my beloved Future Foundation is returning for real this time, as Jeremy Whitley and Will Robson are teaming up for a series that presumably spins out of (or at least is set up by) the back-ups they’re doing in Fantastic Four right now. I find the idea charming, as it’s about the Future Foundation kids teaming up to piece The Molecule Man back together after he died helping them put the Multiverse back together. It apparently also features Yondu, because why not? I’m intrigued by this, especially with Whitley writing. It’s a promising one.
- And now speaking of the Fantastic Four, first we couldn’t get FF comics from Marvel, now they can’t stop expanding on their list of releases. Following on the heels of the Future Foundation announcement, Marvel announced a new quarterly series (I think? The press release was weirdly written) in the vein of the “wildly popular” Web of Venom series (??) starring the FF. The first issue of these series of one-shots is Fantastic Four: Yancy Street, and it finds the team taking on…VANDALISM. Naturally, there will be some The Thing vs. the Yancy Street Gang call outs, but the reason to be interested in this at all is the team of writer Gerry Duggan and art god Greg Smallwood. My guy Greg is pretty close to an instant sell for me. So it’s a weird project, but one with great art. Plusses and minuses.
- Shouts to good writer and good dude Michael Moreci, as he signed a multi-project deal with Vault Comics. That’s good, but I do find it especially interesting that he’s going to not only write comics for them – including the really fun sounding comic Mall he’s co-writing with IT screenwriter Gary Dauberman, which sounds like Dawn of the Dead meets Lazarus – but also create an audio drama adaptation of his series Wasted Space, amongst other things. It feels like every comic publisher these days is going the multimedia route to a degree, so sure, why not Vault as well.
- There’s a new Doctor Mirage series coming at Valiant, which definitely feels like it’s at least the second if not the third run the character has had since Valiant relaunched earlier this decade. I’d have nodded in this book’s direction and moved on if it weren’t for the creative team: Magdalene Visaggio and, perhaps most notably, Nick Robles. Robles is high on my “artists to watch” list, and the preview pages look phenomenal (which is especially unsurprising when you consider that Jordie Bellaire colored them). This is went from a book that was a likely pass to a maybe buy because of that team. Good casting there, Valiant.
- This preview for Superman: Year One from Frank Miller, John Romita, Jr., Danny Miki and Alex Sinclair is beautiful. I love how Miki inks JRJR, and their combination feels like a dialed back version of his art, gaining clarity without losing energy. Big fan. Looking forward to this book.
- Lastly, Matthew Rosenberg may not be writing Uncanny X-Men soon but he is writing an adaptation of his own Black Mask series, 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank. That’s rad, and also a pretty perfect comic to become a movie. Sure, casting the kids might be tough, but if they do it right, it’s going to be killer.
10. Speculation, Being a Thing Still
To close, I wanted to talk about a recent quandary I found myself in that reflected something I wasn’t entirely sure to be a major thing anymore.
Two Wednesdays ago, I walked into my local comic book shop after work ready to buy some comics. A little after five, the aisles were filled with post work comic fans holding court and grabbing titles. I did my usual jaunt, starting on one side and slowly going through the titles on the Image/Dark Horse/BOOM!/Valiant, etc. half of the racks, before taking my turn into Marvel and DC’s realm. About halfway through, I’m met with an atypical sight: there’s a white board already, indicating that a comic was sold out. It was Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #6, a comic I very much enjoy and was looking forward to buying.
I went to the front counter and asked whether they sold out or if they were shorted by Diamond (that happens on occasion). “The Spider-Bite issue? Yeah, that sold out.” Surprised, I went on my way and put a reminder in my brain to reach out to some other shops from around the country to see if I could acquire it from them. Later on, I did that and, to my surprise, they too were sold out. It was a title that wasn’t getting ordered too deep on by any of these shops, and what little they had was quickly bought up.
It turns out that comic speculator apps and sites were quick on the first appearance of Spider-Bite, a new sidekick of sorts for Spider-Man that was debuting in this issue. Like a swarm of locusts, they cleared out shops presumably for the purpose of reselling it, most likely to other speculators or people like me who just wanted to read it.
Now, I’m not going to say I’m surprised speculators are still a thing, as the whole Batman Damned #1 situation underlined that in the right situation, they very, very much are a real thing. But I will say I was surprised by how quickly and effectively they act on even a modest first appearance like Spider-Bite. This experience revealed to me how easy it would be to almost corner a market on something like this when a title isn’t garnering substantial orders by comic shops. And it also showed me how impactful apps like Key Collector Comics are at mobilizing speculators, as my shop over orders on Marvel like crazy and this issue was cleared out in just over five hours. That’s wild. Unfortunately for speculators, it doesn’t appear to me working out, as there are currently 140 copies of this book on eBay and very few of them are garnering much heat. Alas. Maybe the next one will work out for you, speculators of the world.
This phenomenon must be tough for shops too, as Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man is already a hard book to predict orders on, and now it has this artificial spike that likely chased actual readers away from the book because they couldn’t buy #6. That’s a tough spot. I will say, though, I did manage to track down a copy. Shout out to Bruno Batista at Big Bang Comics for letting me order one from them. That’s right: I had to buy from a shop in another country to get this comic.
His sassiest bit involves a reference to the Kardashev scale, which is a way to measure technological advancement that I’d wager has never been uttered in an interview about the X-Men before.↩
I’ve heard about the direction he has aimed for some of the titles and it sounds like he certainly doesn’t lack for specificity.↩
I think it would be B4, which feels very fitting.↩
The latter of whom even worked on Marvel Comics Presents for them recently↩
I’m not holding my breath for that.↩