Comics in My Future, Ever So Slightly

Hawkeye Freefall set!

Those of us who’ve been patiently waiting to complete our sets of Matthew Rosenberg and Otto Schmidt’s five-issue miniseries Hawkeye: Freefall now have a conundrum on our hands. (All cover art by Kim Jacinto and Tamra Bonvillain, presumably including the itty-bitty one for #5.)

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: as a direct result of the ongoing and measurably non-resolved Coronavirus epidemic, Diamond Comics Distributors effectively shut down the comic book industry at the tail end of March, a temporary but unprecedented cessation that has vexed comic book shops worldwide and deprived habitual comics collectors such as myself of their weekly fixes of printed, single-issue graphic storytelling. We understood the decrees and the crisis at hand, but we lamented seeing a large portion of the medium paused in unison.

America’s 2200 remaining retailers, many of whom were already surviving on razor-thin profit margins, were justifiably nervous about their long-term financial stability through this era, whenever they weren’t too busy grappling with pervasive COVID-19 anxiety. Or with literal COVID-19, for all we know. Those shop owners thinking ahead wondered aloud: what happens if our customers’ habits are suspended for too long? What if deprivation begins to feel to them more like liberation? What do we do if the audience that had already been shrinking for years gets even tinier? Especially if too many of them are unemployed and can’t afford comics anymore?

Fantastic questions, those. I’m still mulling over my parts in some of those equations.

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Yes, There’s a Scene During the “Avengers: Age of Ultron” End Credits

Hawkeye!

A rare quiet moment for Hawkeye in between spectacles and explosions and scene-winning.

The short version: I saw Avengers: Age of Ultron on opening weekend. I had a blast. I liked it more than the first Avengers.

I had a few quibbles, but nothing too upsetting. I noticed some themes and formed some thoughts. Y’know, what I usually do before I settle in and crank out 1500-2000 words for my li’l site here. It’s just this thing I do every time I see a film in a theater.

Instead I came home, spent the weekend reading Age of Ultron internet fights between various factions for various reasons, scribbled a few surface thoughts about it, silently tucked them away for a while, and let memory scratch much of the rest. I could retrieve them if I tried, but I worry that everything’s already been written about it, and I know I’m tired of reading about it. But here I am anyway, salvaging the remains because so far, compared to the other two (2) 2015 films I’ve seen so far, technically Midlife Crisis Crossover calls Avengers: Age of Ultron The Best Film of The Year. So it oughta have an entry.

(The other two films were Jupiter Ascending and Chappie. The competition up to now has been far from fierce.)

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C2E2 2015 Photos, Part 4 of 9: Mighty Marvel Costumes

Netflix Daredevil!

Netflix Daredevil makes his Midwest convention cosplay debut.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: my wife and I went to C2E2 and took photos! Other chapters in the series:

Part 1: Costume Contest Winners
Part 2: The Rest of the Costume Contest
Part 3: Edge of Deadpoolverse
Part 5: More Comics Costumes
Part 6: Mystery Science Costume Theater 3000
Part 7: Last Call for Costumes
Part 8: Stars of Comics and Screens
Part 9: Random Acts of C2E2ing

Today’s feature: the publisher, the studio, the universe…it’s Marvel!

Right this way to Make Mine Marvel! Or Make Yours Marvel! Whatever.

Our Dog Lucky vs. Hawkeye’s Dog Lucky: a Companion Comparison

Seven years ago after moving into a new home, our family was joined by a dog named Lucky. Last year when the Avenger known as Hawkeye moved into his own solo series, he was joined by a dog named Lucky. I like to pretend this means something significant in the grand scheme. What are the odds of our dogs having the same name? Sure, it could be wild coincidence, and probably is.

Our Lucky’s previous owners were relatives who found that raising three kids was all the daily stress test they could handle. Due to a combination of the newborn’s safety issues and the oldest child’s apathy onset, Lucky had been spending most of his days caged and ignored, with nothing to occupy his time except storing energy so that every time he was released, he became a furry little whirling dervish. My wife’s previous dog had passed away several months before, leaving a dog-shaped hole in our hearts. We proposed a win-win exchange: we would accept Lucky into our home, and they would be free to replace him with a pocket-sized rodent more in line with the oldest child’s pet preferences. We decided not to change his name since he was already used to it.

At first glance, Lucky’s feisty demeanor seemed harmless.

young Lucky, dog

Hawkeye’s Lucky was owned by tracksuit-wearing gangsters from eastern Europe who had called him Arrow for reasons unknown, possibly because they were fans of American weapons terminology. Lucky was abused, surely taken for granted, and probably fed the nastiest, mealiest dog food around. Something with bits of vermin added for flavor, I’d bet. During a fracas between Hawkeye and the dogs, “Arrow” ended up on the losing side of a car collision. After sending the goons packing, Hawkeye rushed the dog in for emergency treatment, effectively took custody, and eventually renamed him Lucky. He’s sometimes referred to by the affectionate nickname “Pizza Dog” because the cast keeps giving him people food.

At first sight, Lucky’s grievous bodily harm appeared alarming.

Hawkeye, Hawkguy, Lucky, Pizza Dog

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My 2012 Comic Books in Retrospect: the All-Stars and the Abandoned

Kid Loki and Leah in "Journey into Mystery" #639, story page 11, panels 1-22012 was my worst year for comic book enjoyment in the last fifteen years. I’ve collected them for thirty-four years, ever since the well-stocked spinner racks at Marsh Supermarket caught my eye at age six and opened new worlds of imagination and heroism. For the majority of my life they’ve been my primary hobby among all my hobbies. Once upon a time, friends could count on me to spout the occasional essay about a particular series, event, historical recollection, or rage-filled response to an aesthetic offense. When I launched Midlife Crisis Crossover last April, I thought the topic of comic books would inspire a lot more posts than they have so far.

I have no plans to wave farewell to the medium altogether, but my personal backlash started during the last half of 2011, when DC Comics purged their continuity yet again and rebooted their entire universe with the “New 52” initiative. The first time they rebooted after Crisis on Infinite Earths, I was fourteen and the combined talents of John Byrne, George Perez, Marv Wolfman, Mike Baron, and others were more than enough to convince me that this new direction was right up my alley. Twenty-six years and countless post-Crisis emendations later, DC and I are no longer the same entities under the same conditions. I can handle reboots to a certain extent, but when the new versions are poorly thought out — or worse, prone to twice as many crossovers as they used to be — I exercise my right as a consumer to opt out.

Marvel’s response was to concentrate on crossovers for a while longer, then roll out their own restarts without rebooting. I’ve found their results a little less alienating, but they’re still leaving some of my money on the table. Image stepped up mightily for a while and snatched some of my leftover Big Two bucks, but their titles have varied in quality and performance. I was glad to see other publishers continue earning attention from me as well — Dark Horse, BOOM!, IDW, Red 5, Valiant, and even Aspen. Again, results varied, but I appreciated the alternatives they offered.

Even though I’m increasingly disappointed with the current majority readership’s predilection for overspending on prequels, crossovers, and do-overs, my year had several bright spots in the world of monthly titles. (For purposes of personal categorization, I treat original graphic novels and trade paperback collections as “Books”, which are grouped and ranked separately from “Comic Books” in my head. Those might be fodder for a separate MCC list.)

The following were my favorite comic book series throughout 2012:

* Journey into Mystery — Kieron Gillen, Rich Elson, and other artists delivered one of the very few series that inspired any MCC thoughts at all, and ended their two-year storyline on a note of epic tragedy. After seeing the reincarnated Kid Loki and his best frenemy Leah through so many misadventures (not to mention the only A-plus crossover tie-ins of any crossover by any company in the last two years), I felt helpless and bereaved to see it all coming crashing down ’round his ears. Marvel’s formerly unrepentant trickster god was so close to redeeming himself for his previous lifetime of treachery and lies, albeit by finding clever ways to wield treachery and lies as forces for Good, only to see everything fall apart because of the lies he told himself and us. I wish every series aspired to thematic examinations this complex and riveting. More fire-breathing angry puppies like lethal li’l Thori would also be welcome.

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How Will “Marvel NOW” Affect My Marvel Now?

Comics readers are well aware of Marvel Comics’ new initiative, “Marvel NOW”, which will see many of their current series ending and restarting by year’s end with new #1s. Obviously this creative/financial decision wasn’t borne in a complete vacuum, separate and unaware of DC’s New 52 relaunch stunt in 2011. However, the Marvel titles on my current pull-list number twice as many as the DC titles that were on my pull-list prior to the New 52. Marvel NOW, then, stands to have a more noticeable effect on my buying habits. This time, though, I’m not yet feeling as grumpy as I should.

One of the most important differences between the New 52 and Marvel NOW is that the latter won’t reset all histories and character developments to square one. The Marvel Universe will continue forward in time and space, though I’m sure new events will rock some foundations. Another important difference: I’m excited about a few of the new creative teams. When weighing the entertainment viability of new comics, artists’ names don’t factor into my decision-making process as heavily as they used to. I follow writers more than artists or characters nowadays. I realize a majority of fans will remain flocked around their favorite hero regardless of whether or not the creative team can form complete sentences or depict more than two facial expressions. That’s just not how I manage my buying habits anymore. I was a hardcore Spider-Man fan for all of childhood, but no way will you convince me today to buy a comic just because Spidey’s in it and no other reason.

When I perused the list of New 52 teams last year, at least two-thirds of the writers fell somewhere between “Meh” and “Who?” for me. Marvel NOW, on the other hand, has a few choice names on deck. I don’t think all the new titles and creative teams have been announced yet, but I’ve seen glimmers or promise in the announcements to date. (Mark Waid writing the Hulk? SOLD.)

As of June 2012 I was collecting five Marvel series and one miniseries. In the past two weeks I’ve added two new series to my pull-list on a probationary basis. My current Marvel monthly experience is comprised of the following titles:

Journey into Mystery: Kieron Gillen’s final issue will be October’s #645. The solicitation copy doesn’t say it’s the final issue. Either that’s an oversight or Gillen is handing the reins to someone else. I should’ve known that something would happen to the series after I went on record and proclaimed it my favorite Marvel series of the moment. The innocuously devious Kid Loki and Hela’s bitter handmaiden Leah have made a great not-couple throughout their misadventures in godhood and questing…at least until the events of #641 ended in quiet tragedy and shattered the status quo. Whenever I express happiness about a title, this is exactly what happens. Clearly I have only myself to blame for this. We’ll see what happens in the November solicitations, I suppose.

Invincible Iron Man: Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca will conclude their four-year run (or is it five?) and the series with #527. I was more blown away in the early days when Fraction brought the noise with hard-SF sensibilities and real-world tech developments that appear just about never in any other comics today. (I blame Warren Ellis for allowing other mediums to lure him away with cash and booze.) Over the last few arcs it’s become increasingly more and more about watching Tony struggle with demons he didn’t know he had, but in the context of (a) Marvel’s big crossover events, and (b) the kind of scenario I hate hate HATE where all the hero’s villains team up against him. It’s a personal pet peeve that would take too long to explain here.

That being said, it’s still above-average for super-heroics, and I like to think that the remaining issues will continue tying all those years’ worth of strands together into one neat, eye-popping bow as Tony and his amazing armored friends work up to their final showdown with the Mandarin and his Iron Man Revenge Squad. The best is yet to come, though: with Marvel NOW, the writing reins will be passed to the aforementioned Kieron Gillen. I’m pleased and thinking about camping out at my comic shop in November. (Well, not really. Still eager to see it, though.)

Daredevil: Unaffected by Marvel NOW. Mark Waid and his rotating artists (all ranging from above-average to brilliant) will be allowed to continue uninterrupted with their portrayal of the most optimistic Man Without Fear I’ve ever seen. In a hobby with so many sullen, grimacing heroes, the new Matt Murdock borders on revolutionary.

Venom: Current symbiote host Flash Thompson has become my go-to when I want a sullen, grimacing antihero. Though the series is presently mid-transition as outgoing writer Rick Remender passes the torch to Cullen Bunn, so far it hasn’t lost its stride. It’s been alternately inspiring and tragic to follow Flash’s struggles with his family, his new Avengers teammates, and his general unease with super-powered heroics after losing his legs at war. The original Eddie Brock version was anathema to me, too emblematic of all that went wrong with Marvel in the 1990s, but I’ve been surprised at the damage control this series has managed so far. This is especially unusual for me because I’m otherwise not too keen on antiheroes anymore.

Venom won’t be a Marvel NOW do-over, but there is a crossover on the way that threatens my reading pleasure called “Minimum Carnage”. The concept sounds cute (Venom Goes to the Microverse), but I’m leery after my disappointment with comics crossovers in general and last year’s unwanted “Circle of Four” six-part fiasco in particular. I’ll give it a chance, but my expectations are low.

Dark Avengers: Someone felt my rollicking Thunderbolts saga had to be refitted with some other team’s name in order for it to continue. The team had already been split in twain for the last several months — one half in the present carrying on the good fight, the other half traveling uncontrollably backwards through time. The present-day good-guys half has now been usurped by the return of the government-run Dark Avengers, populated by members I don’t recognize and don’t feel like looking up. Since this technically already relaunched while retaining the original Thunderbolts numbering, Marvel NOW apparently won’t be intruding here. I’m still debating whether or not I’ll be standing by this till then to confirm if it does.

Captain Marvel: Carol Danvers’ promotion from Ms. Marvel to full-fledged captain is a demotion from her previous rank of colonel in her military career, but the new series, which just launched in July, is a step up from what few Ms. Marvel comics I’ve sampled before now. I only bought #1 because I sort-of distantly know one of the four fan artists who contributed pin-ups on the back page, but the comic itself ended up commanding my attention, too, with a lead character who’s strong-willed without being hateful, fiercely independent without being an angry loner (some male heroes should try this sometime), and mostly avoiding the kind of embarrassing fan-service art and costuming that precludes me from buying most other super-heroine titles. Great start.

Hawkeye: The arrogant archer’s new solo series kicked off this week under the reunited Iron Fist team of Matt Fraction and David Aja. I’m a little underwhelmed at Hawkeye playing the same kind of ill-fitting urban-hero premise that previously sank Herc and Black Panther. I’m even less impressed that the denouement in the first issue involved Our Hero saving the day with lots of Avengers cash. If only the White Tiger had been a multimillionaire, perhaps Marvel editors could have tuned that instrument a little more finely, instead of trying to turn established heroes into their answer to Batman. On the plus side, I do love the Daredevil: Born Again look, Fractions’s typically sharp dialogue, and Hawkeye’s new canine pal. #2 might be worth a look-see.

The Muppets: I know it’s only a four-issue miniseries and not remotely connected to Earth-616. I don’t care. Marvel is supplying me with more Roger Langridge funnies. I doubt we’ll see more Muppet work from him ever again, so I’m savoring this while I can and mentioning it to anyone who’ll listen.

…and that’s it. Initial prognosis: Marvel NOW may not hurt me after all. Its timing may coincide with other changes in my buying habits, though. Reply hazy, try again later.

This PR stunt might rock my world more uncomfortably if I were following more Avengers or X-Men titles. Luckily I’m not. The short answers about that are: I’ve never been enthusiastic about paying four bucks a pop for multiple Avengers titles per month; and I pretty much gave up on any hope of returning to full-time X-fandom sometime back in the late ’80s while Chris Claremont was still at the helm.

(I’ll admit I was tempted to see how Kieron Gillen might play in the X-Men sandbox. I resisted the temptation anyway.)

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