Category Archives: Reviews
Reviews of Marvel and DC Comics.
Digesting The Avengers
I was in the supermarket check-out line the other day, and nestled among the tabloids and the inadequacy mags, what did I see?
Why, it’s the mighty Avengers! Into my cart they went.
I’ve been curious about the Archie Comics Marvel Digest program since it was announced earlier this year. This partnership seems promising. I’ve long wondered why Marvel doesn’t try to better leverage its vast content library in digest form, and with Archie already owning the checkout line thanks to their own long-running digest publications, Marvel couldn’t ask for a better supermarket distributor.
The cover design is clever. At a glance, I was convinced I was buying the very first Marvel Digest, but reading the indicia revealed this was the second issue. (I missed the Spider-Man digest when it streeted two months ago).
The spine design makes clear that this is Marvel Comics Digest #2.
I suppose this is mildly deceptive, but I think it is smart. Technically, this is a first issue, as it is the first time the Avengers have led Marvel Digest, and this volume does reprint Avengers #1. That lets them splash a “#1” on the cover, which can’t hurt sales. Meanwhile, the Digest numbering goes on the spine, where a non-#1 won’t turn off an impulse buy, but collectors will still wish to fill in every number, assuming they store their books spine-out on the shelf.
Less prominent on the cover is the price, which is also wise. At $8.99 Canadian, I thought this was a little expensive. Not because of content — in the weird world of comics, getting 220-odd pages of (mostly) comics for that price is just fine. But out here in the real world, where People Magazine costs about half so much, I imagine Supermarket Mom wincing a little when she sees this little digest rung up. She might not be so quick to reach for Marvel Digest the next time around.
So what do you get in Avengers Digest?
You get a lot of Avengers, from across the ages. The book leads off with Avengers #1-2, and I suppose you kind of have to lead with the origin issues, though I’ve never felt the early Avengers were Stan & Jack’s best work. (Donning my monocle and affecting an Alastair Cooke accent, I’d opine that Avengers doesn’t really find its footing until Hawkeye joins the team in issue #16). As the book launched with golden armor Iron Man, Thor, Ant-Man, Wasp, and Hulk as charter members, this line-up will also prove a little confusing for any kids coming here directly from the movies, but hey, you get the Hulk in clown makeup juggling circus animals, and I find it hard to hate on that.
Next up is a reprint of Avengers #235-237, where the lineup is no less obscure (featuring Star Fox and She Hulk, among others) … but so what, really? She-Hulk is fun.
These are perfectly-serviceable, mid-80s Avengers stories, neither very good nor very bad. I would have reprinted something from the George Perez era, but that’s just me. There’s plenty of action and a whole whack of super-villains, so you get your money’s worth. There’s also a guest turn by Spider-Man, and I expect a bit of Spider-Man is wise for any Marvel Digest.
We also get a reminder that this was the Jim Shooter era, meaning that every issue needed to assume a reader was reading Marvel Comics for the very first time. No Reader Left Behind … even if it meant a ridiculously wordy series of expositional thought balloons …
The Digest rounds out with young reader-specific fare from Marvel Adventures The Avengers #9, #16, Marvel Universe Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes (2012) #6, and Marvel Universe Avengers Assemble #1-2. I didn’t read these, but was pleased to see M.O.D.O.K., even if he was saddled with some crappy non-canonical name.
The rest of the book is cover reproductions and ads, both for Archie comics (such as this back cover) …
… and for Marvel books, such as this subscription ad for the Champions. (Curious choice, the Champions, unless Marvel thinks there is some youth appeal here? Dunno).
What I found more interesting was what was not included.
For instance, there’s no editorial material. No letters columns or “Stan’s Soapbox” — nothing that speaks directly to the reader. Marvel’s editorial “voice” was critical to winning me over as a kid — all those editorial pages and letters column replies made me feel like I was being invited into some cool, exclusive club. There aren’t even any calls to action for the weak sauce 21st century equivalent of editorial outreach (social media hooks) in any of the Marvel material, although the Archie house ads all include website URLs and Facebook & Twitter handles.
There also isn’t any contextual information. There’s no attempt to fit stories into specific eras, or as the work of individual creators. There are no summaries of what came before, or what was going on for the Avengers at this time, or why the roster looks the way it does at any given time. This all strikes me as a missed opportunity, particularly for appealing to new (younger) readers, who in my experience are mad for every detail of their new-found enthusiasms.
But maybe this is good enough. Maybe just putting old stories out there will be enough to entertain readers, new and old. Comics are pretty ubiquitous, now — they have their own section in the bookstores, and they are easy enough to find at Amazon, or on-line. If readers want more, comics aren’t hard to find. Maybe having the Avengers unexpectedly tumbling out of the grocery bag is enough to recruit new readers to whatever passes for today’s Merry Marvel Marching Society. Maybe these Digests are even enormously profitable for Archie, and for Marvel …
… and if that is the case, then maybe Marvel needs to take a look in the mirror. If comic sales really are in a death spiral, and if Archie can provide an outlet for decades of Marvel’s legacy material, then maybe Disney would be well-advised to pull the plug entirely on publishing comics in-house. Even if Disney wants to keep publishing new material, why not shop it out to a Dark Horse or an IDW? I don’t see where telling Marvel stories is inherently tougher than publishing Star Trek or Transformers comics. And even without new material, there’s no shortage of legacy stories for Marvel’s movie divisions to mine for years to come … with the added benefit of not having to sweat it out that Marvel editorial is going to poison the brand with some dumbass stunt that turns Captain America into a Nazi, or something.
Time will tell.
In the meantime, I will toss this digest in the corner someplace, and look forward to discovering it again a time or two. I probably won’t reach for another digest in the checkout line — there’s just not enough here for long-time fans to enjoy — but I applaud this effort, and I am keenly interested to see what publications like Marvel Comics Digest portend for the comics business as we know it today.
What do you think? Is this a tombstone for Marvel, or no big deal? Let me know your thoughts in the comments, below!
Wonder Woman: An All-Star Sensation
I was one among a record crowd that turned out for the Wonder Woman movie last weekend, and I had a fine day at the movies. (You should go). And like a lot of people, I suppose, I walked out of the theater wanting to know more about Wonder Woman. She’s a character that’s been around longer than most of us have been alive, but she was never at the top of my reading stack. It’s a pleasant thing to have new things to explore when you’ve been reading comics since the 1970s!
What better way to begin a Wonder Woman deep dive than to go all the way back to her first appearance? That’s right, I’m talking about … issue #8 of All-Star?
Yep, All-Star. This December, 1941 issue was fronted by a Justice Society story where Starman and Doc Midnight did some damn thing or another. It was probably great! But the reason we remember this book is because of the back-up story … Introducing Wonder Woman!
Now, to be honest, many Golden Age comics can be a tough read. Art can be primitive, the stories can be all over the place, and a modern fan looking for familiar versions of their heroes may come away thoroughly perplexed. Over the years, I’ve come to make peace with Golden Age stories. I previously wrote that Silver Age books feel like musicals to me. Well, Golden Age stories feel more like dreams, where details swim around and odd images stick in your mind. Treating Golden Age books like lucid dreams has opened me up to a whole new world of comics.
And this first appearance of Wonder Woman is no exception. There is a dream-like quality to the story and art. But unlike a lot of books from this era, the story isn’t lacking for storytelling or craftsmanship. Wonder Woman hits the ground running, pretty much fully-formed from the get-go. And small … uh … wonder! Wonder Woman was more than a comic — it was a blueprint for a Utopian society.
Wonder Woman’s origin story hits the tropes you might expect. The “gimmick” here is role reversal, with a woman hero taking care of the men in repudiation of the “damsel in distress” roles served by women in comics (now as then, sadly). No sooner has intrepid airman Steve Trevor crashed on hidden Paradise Island than Princess Diana — the future Wonder Woman — is effortlessly carrying him to safety, while the other inhabitants of that mystical land gather around and shout MAN! MAN!
(more or less)
But this isn’t just to drive home the fact that Paradise Island is home to an all-female society. As creator William Moulton Marston would later say, “Frankly, Wonder Woman is psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who, I believe, should rule the world.” Marston wasn’t writing a one-off adventure story, intended to quickly thrill and then just as quickly be forgotten. Marston was using a comic book to write for the ages.
Marston had a vision of a world rules by strong, benevolent women. He’d worked out the details and backstory of how this society came about, and we wanted us to know the details:
don’t see many text info-dumps in current comics — used sparingly, I kinda like it
Marston was a fascinating character — an academic, a writer, and a bit of a crackpot who might reasonably be said to have invented a lie detector (insert your own Lasso of Truth insights here). Years after creating Wonder Woman, it would be learned that Marston was in a polyamorous relationship with his wife and a former student (herself a niece of birth control activist Margaret Sanger), and Marston had children by both of them. All of which is between Marston and his partners, of course, but when juxtaposed against the social mores of the 1940s, and the ethos evinced in these early Wonder Woman stories about the benevolent superiority of powerful women, then, well … Marston was talking the talk and walking the walk (or at least in close proximity to women who were).
All of which lends a little more punch to a tale that sees the Queen of Paradise Island heed the advice of her gods to send one of her number into the wide world to “fight for liberty and freedom for all womankind!”
I blew up that panel of Queen Hippolyta, above, because it is, frankly, beautiful. Marston’s uncredited co-creator in these early Wonder Woman tales was Harry G. Peter, who brought a lifetime of illustrating experience to this work. Unlike many Golden Age artists — who often seemed to be teens or very young men learning how to draw as they went along — Peter was an accomplished artist. In his sixties when he did this work, Peter brought an austere, Art Deco quality to the book. To use a banal term, Peter’s world of Wonder Woman is pretty, something that couldn’t be said about the contemporary comic adventures of Superman, Batman, or Captain America (though Bill Everett’s Sub-Mariner might be in the conversation).
Wonder Woman’s origin is told in two parts. In All-Star, we see Princess Diana rescue Steve Trevor, learn the story of Paradise Island, and watch Diana enter a contest to choose an emissary to take Trevor back to the United States. Sporting one of those disguises that only fools characters in Golden Age comics, Diana runs the table in a series of skill and strength contests, and takes the laurels in a bullets-and-bracelets showdown.
The story continues in Sensation Comics #1, where Wonder Woman rated the cover, repurposing her original splash page appearance, with a couple bullets bouncing offer her bracelets to make it clear that, hey, there’s some action here, and not just a call for equality and enlightenment in a world ruined by men who wish only to possess and destroy.
Wonder Woman transports the still-recuperating Steve Trevor back to the world in her nifty “transparent plane” …
… and with Steve dropped off at the hospital, Diana does what any tourist would do in an American big city — she checks out the latest fashions. I love how she’s utterly indifferent to society’s scorn and catcalls.
Of course, this being a comic book, it’s only a matter of moments before Diana happens on a bank robbery, which our hero foils with casual aplomb.
Leaving the scene of her heroics, Wonder Woman is clocked running at 80 MPH (in heels!) by a theatrical agent interested in a quick buck.
Wonder Woman is a sensation (ahem), playing to packed houses with her bullets-and-bracelets routine, and I guess she’s good enough with that trick to ensure ricochets don’t deflect into the crowd!
There are some shenanigans with profits, but Diana makes certain she gets her share.
But why does Diana need money, anyway? It isn’t to buy those clothes she was admiring. No, Diana uses the cash to buy an identity — as unique a civilian origin as I believe I’ve ever encountered in comics.
With her cover story in place, Wonder Woman has the full Superhero Starter Pack — a name, a costume, a secret identity, a love interest infatuated with her hero identity while she’s standing right next to him in her secret identity, and a barn with an invisible airplane. Not bad for the new Amazon princess in town.
After Steve gets out of the hospital, there’s finally a bit of action wrapping up the business of aerial saboteurs that led to Trevor blundering onto Paradise Island in the first place. My antenna went up when the story mentioned the bad guys were brewing a deadly kind of gas that would corrode right through a gas mask — a plot point wrapped into the new Wonder Woman film, seven decades later. And my antenna went right again down when, a couple pages later, the gas is set off and our heroes are saved by their gas masks (Golden Age stories are like a dream, remember?).
Along the way, true to form, Diana needs to save impetuous Steve Trevor. Again!
The story ends with our heroes surviving the explosion of the illicit gas warehouse — and another one of those elegant, beautiful panels by Peter, with enough motion even Jack Kirby might take notice.
And with that, the legend is born, replete with the promise to to best “the world’s most villainous men at their own game!”
And so Wonder Woman is launched, with pure intentions, and pure results, in a beautifully-crafted two-part story that entertains and enchants with its dream-like simplicity. It’s a purity that would take a beating in years to come. Wonder Woman herself would become iconic, but her book would see ups and downs, with as many reboots and retcons as any superhero out there — her book moved from the contemporary era to World War 2; her powers stripped away so she could become some kind of Mod avenger; and several times starting over fresh as DC wiped their continuity (and don’t even get me started about Wonder Girl).
Through it all, Wonder Woman’s popularity has endured. I guess she really was built to last, and if we haven’t yet attained the female-dominated Utopia her creator envisioned … well, the new century is still young! Here’s hoping we survive to the end of it, with Wonder Woman there to guide us.
- Title: Wonder Woman
- Published By: DC Comics
- All-Star #8 (December 1941) and Sensation Comics #1 (Janurary 1942)
- LBG Letter Grade For This Run: A
NEXT MONTH: #169 The Death of Captain Marvel
Time for a Longbox Graveyard guest blog, as Kris Peterson of the Gravy Age podcast joins us with a favorable review of a comic that I casually dismissed at first impression … and maybe you did, too! Take it away, Kris!
Making a snap decision based on little to no information is the name of the game these days, things are hated from the moment they are announced, meaningless petitions are signed, online battles rage over the merits of taking an existing property and changing things for a new generation. I try (and fail) not to get too worked up over things, despite my sentimental attachment to movies or whatever the case may be. Scooby Apocalypse, from the first time I saw the name, was something I immediately wrote off as stupid, based on nothing but the title. Scooby. Apocalypse. Seeing the cover with Hipster Shaggy didn’t do anything but make me feel completely justified in hating this book.
Growing up, Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? was an after school staple of my day. I was always crazy about old sci-fi and horror movies, which my mom always was happy to talk about with me. I loved the ghosts, werewolves, aliens, all of it. My dad was a detective, and until my first draft of this, and then talking to Paul over a couple emails, I had a weird realization. My parents divorced when I was very young, young enough that I honestly can’t picture them as a couple.
What does that have to do with Scooby-Doo? Even though the monsters always turned out to be some creep, dressing up like monsters or a ghost, there was also a mystery to be solved. Maybe back in the day, I associated the campiness and weird “monsters” with my mom, and solving mysteries with my dad. It was basically kids (or teens) solving mysteries. There is probably something in there I can wring for some emotional content. Something about latching onto something from each parent. And like most of the cases my dad worked, these were financial crimes. His cases leaned more towards embezzlement, and less towards, Old Man Smitty is dressing up like a Yeti to scare potential buyers away from the abandoned ski lodge, because there is a silver mine under it. Or whatever the heck any particular episode of Scooby-Doo was about. Even as a kid though I had problems with a cartoon with a laugh track.
Since my kids were out of school, we were heading up to the mountains for a week. I stopped by the comic book store and grabbed a pile of books to read. I picked up Scooby Apocalypse with no other thought than, “If this sucks I can make fun of it on the blog or podcast,” and pat myself on the back for being the super awesome prognosticator that I am. My record is flawless, in that I’m wrong far more often than I’m right.
I knew so little going in, that when I finally sat down to read it and saw the names Giffen, DeMatteis, and Porter on the cover, I was actually surprised. Surprised, and willing to give it a shot. Your milage may vary with those names, but I think they can make fun of things (I’m guessing Giffen’s doing), while also adding a surprising amount of depth and humanity to things (DeMatteis solo, and with Giffen can get deep in unexpected places). If nothing else, I figured it would be entertaining. Maybe because the bar in my head was set so low, that it didn’t have to do much more than not be awful for it not to be a waste of money. The thing is though, I enjoyed it. I really enjoyed it.
The first issue is the setup of the world, and our introduction to the gang. Velma is a scientist in some sort of shadowy cabal that was trying to manipulate the world’s population through a nanite plague. Shaggy is a dog-walker at the secret research lab Velma works at. Daphne is the host of Daphne Blake’s Mysterious Mysteries, a late night, cable television show. Fred is her loyal, if not particularly brave camera man. And Scooby Doo himself, a failed smart-dog experiment designed to help soldiers in the field. They are basically the characters I knew, although in all honesty they weren’t really deep characters to begin with.
Fred and Daphne especially, were almost non-characters. They are expanded upon here, enough to fit them into this world without changing them. There is a bit with Daphne punching Fred that feels kind of mean spirited. Fred gets the best panel of the issue, after being startled and throwing his camera, because he’s scared it could be, “Mole people,” which my son and I now just randomly scream at each other. We get some hints at a bit of backstory, at least for Daphne, in that she was once a well respected reporter, though why she left real journalism for the likes of her show haven’t been touched on yet.
The nanites, as originally conceived by Velma were supposed to be beneficial, removing greed, and anger. Unfortunately, the others in the project wanted to turn the rest of humanity into docile slaves. Velma wanted to alert the world to the plague, choosing Daphne, because she is languishing in deep cable, conspiracy, weirdo television that she wouldn’t even be on the radar of the others in the project as a threat to expose them. Before she can do that though, the lab goes into lock-down and the plague is unleashed, turning humanity into actual monsters.
There is also a back-up story about Shaggy meeting Scooby for the first time that fills us in that Shaggy has a special connection with dogs, and shows that Scooby lacks the killer instinct to be effective in combat, and is scheduled to be destroyed. In a show of bravery, Shaggy steps between Scooby and the other dogs to protect Scooby from being killed. Two of the dogs seem to be nods to Scooby-Dum, and Scrappy-Doo in size and coloration. Hopefully we don’t really get into Scooby-Dum or Scrappy Doo in this world though. Ugh.
The second issue gets to the actual apocalypse, with the gang trying to figure out what happened outside and how to escape the facility. It would be pretty easy to turn this into a gritty, kill ’em all, excuse to mow down monsters, and turn the gang into gun-toting bad-asses. Thankfully (and wisely) Giffen and DeMatteis don’t do that. These monsters aren’t mindless, they retain memories of who they were. The gang take no pleasure in having to kill them. I appreciate that the violence in the book has consequence, I appreciate that the characters are sickened by what they have to do to to survive. Daphne gets another punch in on another one of the gang that feels a lot more justified.
I hope I’m not selling this as too dark a book, it’s still a fun read. The humor is in there, in fact this book is not just the team from Justice League 3001, it’s almost a spiritual successor to the book. It takes different versions of existing characters and places them in a new world, and allows the creative team to have fun with ideas, they couldn’t get away with in a regular Scooby Doo book. The only real issue I have, (aside from Daphne’s punch) with the series so far is Scooby’s pointless, emoji projecting headset. Yes, Scooby can project emoji’s into Shaggy’s contact lenses. What purpose it would serve, I’m not entirely sure.
Like I said at the beginning, maybe I set the bar too low at the start, but Scooby Apocalypse caught me completely off guard with how much I dug it. And I’m pretty proud of myself for getting through this without a single, “Zoinks,” “Jinkies,” or “Ruh-Roh!”
Thanks for the review, Kris! It sound like Scooby Apocalypse might have caught some of the same magic that made Afterlife With Archie an unexpectedly great read. I hope Longbox Graveyard’s readers will check it out … and be sure to listen to Kris at the Gravy Age, and follow him on Twitter, too!
NEXT: Doctor Strange vs. Dracula!