I wanted to do something big for my swan song, and being an all-splash page issue, Thor #380 fit the bill! Plus this gave me an excuse to lavish more praise on Walt Simonson’ Thor (which I’ve previously covered here at Longbox Graveyard in parts one and two). Please visit StashMyComics.com for my review of Thor’s larger-than-life battle with the Midgaard Serpent!
I hope you’ve enjoyed my Dollar Box work this past year. I’ve elected to bring the column to a close as part of a general desire to reduce outside commitments (and more about that in a couple weeks in my two-year anniversary Longbox Soapbox). It is with some regret that I step away as it has been a great experience writing for StashMyComics.com.
Thanks to StashMyComics.com for hosting The Dollar Box this past year! While this concludes my regular posting for SMC I hope you’ll mouse over there and check them out — they’re good guys and they’ve been great friends to Longbox Graveyard!
- First Theatrical Poster Released For ‘Thor: The Dark World’ (comicsalliance.com)
- Thor Dark World UK Trailer (gadgetreview.com)
- Longbox Graveyard Podcast: “Marvel Comics – A Space Odyssey” (longboxgraveyard.com)
- Joe Kubert. Walt Simonson. The senses-shattering origin of Dr. Fate. BE THERE. – 1st Issue Special #9 (blogintomystery.com)
- Get Ready For Thor: The Dark World, Trailer Drops (hot937.cbslocal.com)
- Thor (fight 3 of 4) (gradingfightscenes.com)
- Thor and Apocalypse Bro Down with Vikings in Uncanny Avengers #6 (barelytomson.wordpress.com)
The end of the year is coming into view and with it comes the happy duty of buying gifts for friends, loved ones, bosses, and even arch-enemies. Fear not — the Longbox Graveyard Holiday Comic Book Gift Guide is here!
My selections are idiosyncratic and make no attempt to be comprehensive. Items listed below are things I like and write about here at Longbox Graveyard, and if you like this blog, then chances are you will like them too. In the unlikely event that you have wandered here from some Google search looking for comic book Christmas gifts, then you can get an idea of my ethos by reading this blog’s first entry … or just trust that I know what I am talking about, and that I will point you in the right direction when it comes to comic book gifts, particularly for someone who loves older comics from the 1960s, 70s, and 80s.
(And if you want a more comprehensive and contemporary gift-giving guide, you won’t go far wrong with Tom Spurgeon’s exhaustive survey over at The Comics Reporter).
I don’t care if you’ve been naughty or nice — if you’re a comics fan, you’re bound to be happy finding any of these items beneath your tree (or the non-denominational holiday avatar of your choosing).
Longbox Graveyard is mostly about superheroes, and here are some of my favorite collections.
Simonson’s take on Thor from the 1980s remains my favorite interpretation of one of my favorite characters. In his fifty-odd issue run, Walt took all the classic elements of the Stan Lee and Jack Kirby Thor mythos — Asgard, the gods, Loki, the Destroyer, Thor’s battles with his father, romance, the whole shooting match — and made everything old seem new again. These books are fast-paced, adventurous, sometimes funny, and always full of heart. (You can read my review of the first part of Simonson’s run in two parts, here and here). Simonson’s work has been collected in the Thor by Walter Simonson Omnibus, a beautiful volume that includes the entire run, including the seminal Beta Ray Bill storyline, and the Malekith the Dark Elf arc, which appears to be at the center of 2013′s Thor movie sequel.
Spider-Man is fifty years old but I think the character’s initial Steve Ditko/Stan Lee run has never been bettered (and you can find out why I feel this way, here). The entire Lee/Ditko run is collected in a hard-to-find Omnibus, and you can also get at least part of the saga in a more readily-available Masterwork edition.
It has been awhile since I blogged about Conan’s earliest comics appearances, his romances, and his mishandling in film, but I am still a devoted fan of the Cimmerian, and very fond of the Dark Horse Comics reprints of the Marvel Conan books of the 1970s. The entire Marvel run is available — along with reprints of Savage Sword of Conan and King Conan too, if you are a completest — but I can most recommend the Barry Windsor-Smith reprints in volumes 1-4 of the series, and the following Roy Thomas/John Buscema run that is reprinted up through volume 14. The clarity and color of those reprints is a sight to behold — in many cases it’s like seeing the art for the very first time.
File this one under new classics — while the original Stan Lee/Jack Kirby tales are collected in an omnibus of their own, author Ed Brubaker’s take on Cap from 2004-2012 is my favorite interpretation of my favorite character. Mr. Brubaker has wrapped up his run but his tales are collected in several volumes, beginning with his Captain America Omnibus Volume 1, and continuing with the Death of Captain America, and others. A bit of these tales were mined for 2011′s Captain America movie, and Brubaker’s Winter Soldier arc is reported to be the basis of 2014′s movie sequel.
And since we’re talking about movies … if you want a look ahead to future Marvel movies, you could do worse than to read the recent Infinity Gauntlet collection. This mini-series by Jim Starlin, George Perez, and Ron Lim tells of the tale of the mad Death God of Titan taking on the entire Marvel Universe and (almost) killing them all. It is a cosmic fist opera of the first order (and you can read my review here), but it’s most worth reading to give yourself a crash course in the series’ central villain, Thanos — otherwise known as that mysterious purple guy from the end credits of The Avengers, who promises to loom large in the Marvel movies to come.
There’s an embarrassment of riches when it comes to superhero movies, and you don’t need me to tell you that Avengers and Dark Knight Rises should be on your shopping list. But don’t overlook the charms of superhero animation, which tell a broader range of stories and introduce more obscure, weird, and wonderful characters than you will ever see in a live action move.
My favorite comic-that-isn’t-a-comic got a full review here, and with Cartoon Network yanking this title off the air without warning, the best way to watch it now is through these DVD sets. Young Justice is a serious, straight-ahead superhero series about insecure young heroes facing a monstrous super-conspiracy, full of action, surprises, and some sophisticated characterization that lends punch to a couple genuinely surprising cliffhanger twists. There’s a good chance this is the best superhero series you’ve never seen, and I’d put it up against some of the second-tier live action superhero films of recent years in terms of entertainment value. These DVDs are an inexpensive and very cool gift for comics fans.
A distinct departure from the grim-and-gritty screen Batman of today, Batman: Brave & The Bold is a throwback to the silly Silver Age Batman of the 1960s, and will also be familiar to anyone who enjoyed the Adam West television show of that era. Taking its name from Batman’s legendary team-up book, the series sees Batman paired with a different DC hero each week. It is a breathlessly inventive show, with musical episodes, surrealistic dream episodes, and the BEST depiction of Aquaman, anywhere (yes, Aquaman). This series will connect with hipster adults (who don’t need to be mind-altered to enjoy it) and kids alike, and it’s a great series for adults to watch with their children, truly a show with something for everyone.
BOOKS ABOUT COMICS
The perfect gift for the comics fan who has everything may not be comics but instead book about comics — tomes that provide insight on the history and development of the comic book form. Here are a few of the essential volumes you’ll find on my shelf, which I think any devoted fan would enjoy.
Sean Howe’s unauthorized history of the most important company in comics is a terrific read — and I enthused about it at length here. Far from a fawning fan history, this book is for those who want to see how the sausage is made, and for anyone who wants to know more about the larger-than-life personalities in Marvel’s creative “bullpen” (spoiler: some of these people aren’t very nice). This was my favorite book of 2012 and I recommend it even to non-comics fans for its look at a unique business, and for its chronicle of how Marvel rose from bankruptcy to become one of the most powerful companies in modern media.
Scott McCloud’s book isn’t a history of comics so much as a guide to understanding what makes comics a unique storytelling form, revealing the unexpectedly complicated wheels-within-wheels that make a comic tick. The book is scholarly but very approachable thanks to being a comic book itself, and it’s a good choice for convincing your on-the-fence friends that there may be more to these funny books than meets the eye. Confirmed comics fans will also enjoy McCloud’s insights on how the form of comics has changed through the years, and will also be exposed to greater breadths in the medium than we sometimes perceive when we’re locked into the monthly adventures of Captain Whatsisname.
Will Eisner’s instruction manual on his singular way of telling a tale in words and pictures is intended for artists but still contains insights for fans and laymen. I go back to it every couple years just to remind myself how angry I am that I can’t draw a lick — Eisner lays out a grammar for comics that definitely favors the role of the artist/writer, but everyone will enjoy looking at the way Eisner breaks down a page, conveys emotion, and (most famously) depicts the passage of time. A master work from a master creator that modern comics authors and artists would do well to read.
I do read contemporary comics, even if I don’t blog about them here at Longbox Graveyard, and if you want stories from the present century I can offer some guidance. For the most part these collections have the same storytelling values as those older books that I cherish, but they are dressed up for a modern sensibility. Some are revisionist takes on classic superheroes while others are new tales for a new age. Most of them will even stand up to critical scrutiny, meaning you can leave them out on your coffee table with only (minimal) fear of derision and embarrassment!
Robert Kirkman’s harrowing tale of our inevitable zombie-haunted future is both a television and publishing phenomenon, and my review of the first fifty-odd issues of this series headlined my Halloween column here at Longbox Graveyard. These books are well-written and approachable — a little slow at times, but taken together make for a terrific (and sometimes difficult) long read. Nearly every issue printed to date have been collected in Walking Dead Compendium One and the newly-released Walking Dead Compendium Two. For fans of a less literary bent, box set collections of seasons one, two, and three are also good viewing, but even fans intimately familiar with the television series are likely to enjoy the original graphic novels, which provide more in-depth characterization and also offer some twists and turns not (entirely) in line with how the show has developed.
A little over a year ago, DC Comics hit the “reset” button on their superhero comics line, with the intent of making their comic book universe more inviting for new and lapsed readers. The “New 52″ is DC’s line of 52 monthly comic books covering everything from Superman to Frankenstein, fitting everything into a (more-or-less) editorially cohesive whole.
Now that DC is several months into their reboot, the first issues of the New 52 are appearing as trade paperback collections, and I’ve liked most of the few that I’ve read. You can’t go far wrong with any of these titles (except the Rob Liefeld ones!), and if you have a lapsed Superman reader on your shopping list, or know a fan of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight film trilogy, then grab one of the many titles featuring those characters and you are good to go. If you’d like something a little further afield, then I recommend the New 52 collections of Aquaman (yes, Aquaman!) and Supergirl, as well as the continuing story of Batwoman (though new readers would be wise to begin with her pre-New 52 adventures).
I also enjoyed the medieval superhero adventures of the Demon Knights, the secret undead war of I, Vampire, and the gonzo monster-fighting exploits of Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E.(since sadly cancelled, so this first collection might be the only stories we’ll get). Wonder Woman, Animal Man, and Swamp Thing all come highly-recommended, too, but I haven’t yet read them myself, so maybe thumb them in the store before buying.
Ed Brubaker’s Crime Stories
I’ve already enthused about Ed Brubaker’s take on Captain America, but his original crime stories are also well worth reading. There are echoes of Pulp Fiction in the multiple, interweaving narratives of Brubaker’s Criminal, a gritty look at street-level crime without a cape in sight. If you want a little more superheroics in your Brubaker crime drama, his Incognito is worth a look, about the trials of an irredeemable supervillian in the witness protection program. And even though they feature mainstream superheroes, Brubaker’s take on Daredevil and Catwoman owe more to crime books than they do capes and masks, so give them a look, too.
If the best gift is something a person would love while never buying it for themselves, then a year’s subscription of Marvel’s library of digital comics may be the best option on this list. The service has its strengths and weaknesses, but the content is without peer, particularly for fans of older Marvel books. Recent titles run about a year behind their street publication but the back catalog is impressive and growing every week. This was the gift my family gave me last year and a renewed subscription is printed in bold crayon in my own letter to Santa this season.
Finally we have Saga, the “it” book of 2012. This Image Comics space fantasy from Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples is just getting started, and the recently-released first trade collection is a great place to jump into a difficult-to-summarize story that features a rocketship forest, TV-headed spacefaring noblemen, bounty hunters with complicated moral compasses, Lying Cat, a breastfeeding narrator, and … well, just go with it. Saga is a fast-paced, inventive, and surprising story and you can get in on the fun before most people even know it exists (or before the wheels come off of this ambitious tale). Plus, as a special bonus, reading this story will give you instant comics shop credibility, and may be the key to winning a date with that mousy comics girl behind the register who only reads cool stuff you’ve never heard about. Check it out!
So there you have it … a sack so stuffed full of comic book goodness that even Ben Grimm in a Santa suit would have a hard time carrying it through the door. I hope you’ve found a book or two for someone on your list (even if that someone is you), and if you do purchase something based on my recommendation, I hope you will write and let me know how it turned out. I also welcome your holiday gift suggestions in my comments, below.
Happy Holidays from Longbox Graveyard!
NEXT WEDNESDAY: #78 Longbox Soapbox
- Longbox Graveyard Podcast: “The Curse of the Marvel Value Stamp” (longboxgraveyard.com)
- Longbox Graveyard Podcast: “Form Follows Function” (longboxgraveyard.com)
- #71 Guide To Comic Books On Instagram (longboxgraveyard.com)
- #67 Guide To Comic Books On Pinterest (longboxgraveyard.com)
- #69 Marvel Comics: The Untold Story (longboxgraveyard.com)
- Super Tuesday: Direct Currents (longboxgraveyard.com)
- #70 Reopening The Tomb of Dracula (longboxgraveyard.com)
- #72 The Walking Dead (longboxgraveyard.com)
- Super Tuesday: Marvel Horror Triple Feature (longboxgraveyard.com)
- Freakout Friday! (longboxgraveyard.com)
You have to grow old, but you don’t have to grow up.
Actually, you do.
Even fifty-year-old guys who write comics blogs can’t hold real life entirely at bay. I have a career, and kids. Aches and pains and the usual worries. (Some unusual worries, too.) For all that I indulge myself with Longbox Graveyard I’m actually a pretty sober, normal adult. Not that I like it much. I’d rather be twelve again. Or nineteen. I’d settle for forty!
There’s real value in turning back the hands of time for a night or a day. Dim the lights. Face the mirrors to the wall. Recover some boyish enthusiasm for lost geek loves. That impulse is a big part of this blog — reading comics from thirty-five years ago helps recapture a bit of what it felt like to be thirty-five years younger.
If I were twelve again I’d be all in for the Ultimate Marvel Marathon.
(And let’s pause here and consider the absurdity of calling these things “marathons” in the first place. That the pinnacle of Olympic sport has become the term for sitting on your ass for an entire day watching movies is beyond bizarre.)
Five of my favorite superhero movies, in a day-long sitting, followed by a midnight debut of The Avengers! Seventeen hours in a movie theater, ninety minutes in the car each way getting there, a day off work to do it and another day off to recover. Great for a twelve-year-old, not-so-great if you’re half a century old.
So I found a couple twelve-year-olds and went anyway.
Jack & Erin, resident twelve-year olds
And I was not alone. There were plenty of adults interested in this particular childish pursuit …
Rory, Sarge, & Tyson, in Real 3D
… a whole theater-full of them, in fact. Hundreds and hundreds of theaters around the world, packed to the rafters, just a fraction opting for the whole Marvel Marathon but plenty more eating all the Avengers they could get, to the tune of about a gazillion dollars in worldwide box office.
a largely-full house for the 11:30 AM start of the marathon
I don’t need a lot of excuse to act like a child, but I still wouldn’t have attended this crazy thing if my friend and occasional Longbox Graveyard collaborator Chris Ulm hadn’t insisted, roping in a big gang of us to play hookey. It was Ulm’s birthday, and he needed to defy time even more than I did.
As fate would have it, several of our number were caught on film in the promotional video AMC Theaters did for the event. Zip to the :20 second mark and you’ll see The Ulm explaining how fast he got his tickets to the event, followed by Dave Olbrich (aka The DWO, comics personality and author of Funny Book Fanatic) making his own enthusiastic claims. Then, at 1:20, you’ll see the Dwo’s lovely daughter, Maggie, identifying her favorite Avenger.
The Ulm brought his daughter, too, and having Erin and Jack there reminded me of when I really WAS twelve years old, and went to the Planets of the Apes marathon with my old man.
It’s been almost forty years since that Ape day with my dad, and I still remember it; hopefully Jack will remember our Marvel day just as long. And it was a fine day. For all that I dreaded the length and the logistics of the thing, the event itself was smooth and energizing and even refreshing. There was more legroom at the Downtown Disney 12 than in my own house, and the theater staff was friendly and indulgent and encouraging of a festival mood. The theater was mostly full of Marvel fans who cheered for the right stuff at the right times, and didn’t step on too many of the laugh lines in Avengers. The comfort of the theater, the clarity of the image and the sound, the circulation in the auditorium all helped power me through the marathon — I didn’t feel my first fatigue until Thor (the fourth movie of the day), and while I was yawning a good bit during the midnight showing of Avengers, I was still pumped up and ready for that particular picture. There’s nowhere else I’d rather have been when those opening credits rolled.
I was surprised how well those first five films held up. I’ve seen them all, multiple times, but they were fresh and still entertaining on the big screen.
Iron Man is still the best of the Marvel movies, anchored by a pitch-perfect performance from Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark. Downey has the rare quality of being able to walk through a scene while still seeming a part of the movie — his indifferent otherworldliness perfectly communicates that here is a man who has enough power and wealth to do anything he pleases. The effects are strong and of all the Marvel movies, the Iron Man experience has the strongest element of wish fulfillment — unlike the lost gods, tortured scientists, and earnest patriots of later films, there’s no one who wouldn’t want to be Tony Stark, bad ticker and all.
Aside from an off-hand reference to MySpace, the movie has aged well. The movie isn’t perfect — Jeff Bridges is very good as Obidiah Stane, but his battlesuited superpowered alter-ego is instantly forgettable, and while Gwyennth Paltrow is cute, there isn’t a straight man alive who thinks she’s hot. That Tony would pick her as “the one” with all those other women falling at his feet strains credulity more than creating an armored battlesuit in an Afghan cave. By hooking up with Paltrow’s Pepper Potts, Tony Stark marries his mother — which kind of fits with the Oedipal vibe of the picture, but I don’t grant the filmmakers that kind of insight.
Incredible Hulk was a little dour, about what I remembered, and Iron Man 2 was let down by a middle act in which Iron Man essentially goes missing from his own movie. Thor and Captain America retain strong appeal, and not just because they are my favorite Marvel heroes — like Iron Man, these pictures benefit from a strong narrative arc that onboards the audience for a thrill ride origin tale as full of meaningful character transformation as they are filled with superheroic action.
It was in the onboarding that I felt Avengers stumbled a bit, and not only because I was getting foggy after more than a dozen hours watching these crazy movies. The opening of the movie — with a lot of B-characters flapping their arms as a S.H.I.E.L.D. base is overrun — felt hollow and for a moment I thought … uh oh, is Avengers going to be another one of those empty summer effects spectaculars? But the movie eventually finds its footing, and while I found the first two acts more a collection of clever scenes than a movie, it all comes together in a third act that might be the finest action movie I’ve ever seen. It’s like a Transformers movie where you actually care about the characters, and I mean that as much higher praise than it sounds.
There were a few bits I didn’t like, particularly the handling of Agent Coulson, who felt an especially close presence for those of us attending the Marathon, given that he introduced each movie of the day with a little interstitial S.H.I.E.L.D. briefing …
… and I think I would have found the picture overlong, even if I didn’t start it after midnight. But on balance, I still loved the film, especially Mark Ruffalo’s understated Hulk, and Tom Hiddleston as the scenery-chewing Loki.
3:00 AM, Marathon Complete!
Sitting in the dark all day with one of my kids and some of my closest friends was an unexpectedly emotional experience. I feel like we went on a shared journey, and the day after the event, I felt not only exhausted but also emotionally let down. Real life paled compared to that four-color filmic realm! It really was unexpected fun to plug into a billion dollars worth of superhero entertainment in a single day — to set aside all mundane concerns and fully drink in the realization that I live in a world where the question isn’t if The Avengers will be a successful movie, or even if it will exist at all, but if it will be more successful than the Spider-Man and Batman pictures coming out the same summer! For comics fans, it is Revenge of the Nerds, indeed!
I daresay that … I’d even do it again! (Maybe).
Some statistics from the day:
- Time my alarm went off: 6:45 AM Thursday
- Time my head hit the pillow back at home: 4:45 AM Friday
- Estimated production budget for all six films: $1 Billion USD
- Cost of tickets for Jack & I: $80 USD
- 150 miles roundtrip to the movies and back
- 12 hours 23 minutes total runtime for the six movies
- 17 total hours in the theater itself
- 2 buckets of popcorn consumed, 1 big diet soda, and 2 hot dogs downed (actually I had good discipline here, and the theater was cool with the healthy snacks I packed)
Everyone reading this blog should see Avengers immediately (or see it a second time, if you’ve already gone). And everyone reading this blog should seriously consider attending a Marvel Movie Marathon if it ever comes around again. It will wreck your back, disrupt your sleep, and cost you time at work, but it’s a small price to pay for being twelve years old again … if just for a too-quick twelve hours and twenty-three minutes!
NEXT WEDNESDAY: #48 Super-Diva Team-Up
- What Is More Nerdy Than Comic-con? The Marvel Movie Marathon! (fresh1027.radio.com)
- Marvel at marathon of superhero flicks (bostonherald.com)
- Ultimate Marvel Marathon at AMC theaters (boston.com)
- Post-’Avengers’: What’s Next for the Marvel Heroes (hollywood.com)
- AMC Theaters brings us The Ultimate Marvel Marathon (comicbooked.com)
- We Have Always Been Living in the Marvel NOW! (newsarama.com)
- IRON MAN 3 Has Joss Whedon Worried About THE AVENGERS 2 (geektyrant.com)
- Movie Review – The Avengers aka Avengers Assemble (2012) (lukeowritesstuff.wordpress.com)
- ‘Iron Man 3′ Preview: 12 Things to Know About the Marvel Movie, Plus a New Trailer (news.moviefone.com)
- Product placement in superhero movies: The Avengers vs The Amazing Spider-Man (brandsandfilms.com)