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Comics

Comic Books Celebrate the Holiday Season

batmanBelieve it or not, even comic books like to get into the holiday spirit. From short stories to reinventions of familiar tales, comic book creators work hard to bring season greetings to fans.

One of the first holiday specials to look at is “Marvel Holiday Special 2011.” Now this isn’t the first time Marvel has produced a special one-shot of stories set around Christmas time. Characters from Spider-Man, the Hulk, and the X-Men have been featured in these tales, fighting trouble while preparing for the holidays.

According to spider-fan.org, “In the early 90’s, Marvel started running a ‘Marvel Holiday Special,’ featuring a few Christmassy…type stories. That ran out of steam after a half-dozen issues, but they started up again in 2004 and have carried on ever since.”

In addition to print publication, “Marvel Holiday Special 2011” was also offered to fans online as a four-part series through Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited.

In “Marvel Holiday Special 2011,” one of the stories involves Wolverine playing hockey (issue #1). Another has Spider-Man in pursuit of a criminal on Christmas (issue #2) while the Thing has his holiday meal interrupted by super powered trouble (issue #4). These stories are a nice break from the heavy melodrama present throughout the year.

While Marvel is busy having fun with their special, things are a bit more serious at DC Comics. Their holiday book in the spotlight this year is “Batman: Noel” by superstar artist Lee Bermejo (who was also written about in last week’s column regarding “Lex Luthor: Man of Steel” and “Joker”). Unlike his previous works, in this original graphic novel Bermejo takes up duties as both writer and artist.

“Batman: Noel” places the Caped Crusader in Ebenezer Scrooge’s shoes from Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol,” as Batman confronts his past, present, and future around Christmas time. Along the way, spirits in the form of characters like Superman and Catwoman visit Batman to discuss his life as Gotham’s crime fighter.

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A Villainous Look at Comic Books

What’s a good comic book without super villains? Sure, they are evil and maniacal but they can be just as fascinating. Writers and artists have recognized this with many series and miniseries spotlighting villains like “Nemesis,” “Carnage,” “Suicide Squad,” and “Books of Doom.” However, to keep this column short, when it comes to scum of the Earth, you can’t go wrong with DC and Marvel Comics.

DC Comics has had comics devoted to evildoers like Ra’s Al Ghul and Deadshot as well as a limited series called “Salvation Run” (Here all of Earth’s villains being exiled to a distant planet where character sided with the brilliantly mad Lex Luthor or the insane Joker).

Now, when it comes to two of the more interesting villain stories from DC, they come courtesy of writer Brian Azzarello and artist Lee Bermejo. Together, they have showcased tales that offer a new perspective on Lex and the Joker than what fans are familiar with.

First there was the miniseries, “Lex Luthor: Man of Steel,” which presented an in depth analysis of this criminal mastermind. Yes, fans have understood that Lex’s hatred of Superman stems from the fact that he sees this extraterrestrial as a threat for mankind, preventing humanity’s own success. Though many have and still show this, hearing Lex’s made the tale creepy and present the feeling of being inside his head.

Azzarello and Bermejo’s next project was the dark and richly entertaining Clown Prince of Crime tale, “Joker.” The graphic novel featured a newcomer to the Joker’s gang who gets a firsthand experience of what it means to run with this insane criminal. Throughout the novel, Azzarello and Bermejo present new, realistic takes on classic Batman villain such as the Penguin and Killer Croc much like the Christopher Nolan films. Bermejo’s artwork also gave the characters and setting a rough, gritty feel. What sets this apart from “Lex Luthor: Man of Steel” is how the reader doesn’t hear the Joker’s thoughts or delve further into his mind. They only observe his actions and hearing his words as they transpire to keep the Joker even more mysterious, distant, and terrifying.

In fact, while talking to newsarama.com about “Joker,” Azzarello explained why he chose to keep the Joker’s thoughts silent. “I firmly believe that trying to write from the Joker’s perspective would be taking power away from that character; part of the power of that character is his unpredictability. Nobody knows what he is going to do next; so, if you’re in his head, you totally take away the unpredictable nature of the character,” the writer said.

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Comic Books That Enter the Third Dimension

Superman BeyondNowadays, 3-D has been and continues to make waves in movie theaters across the country as shown with last week’s new releases, Arthur Christmas, Hugo, and Immortals

Now, while 3-D is slowly coming to home theaters with the advent of 3-D TV’s and Blu-Rays, one might be surprised to learn that comics have also taken the venture into 3-D technology.

Although not as sophisticated as RealD 3-D or IMAX 3-D by using the old red and blue shaded glasses, comics have and continue to use this unique angle to have characters and dialogue bubbles pop out of the page.

The genesis of the 3-D comic book began in the 1950’s when 3-D was first being used in movie theaters to attract audiences. 

According to tvtropes.org, “The first 3-D comic book was Three Dimension Comics and starred Mighty Mouse. After that, many different comics came out, but they only lasted one or a few issues; the comics were expensive (25 cents when others were 10 cents) and sold mostly as novelties, which got old quickly. By the end of the year, the fad was dead.”

However, just because this trend ended early didn’t mean it left comic books altogether. Much like the death and return of heroes like Superman, Batman, Captain America, to name some, 3-D comics would find its way back to readers at different times.

In the 1980’s, 3-D returned to comic books via Eclipse Comics, now defunct, which experimented with 3-D by using it in certain series like “Miracleman” and “DNAgents.” 

Today, comic book publishers don’t print as many 3-D adventures as movies do, but they still like to play around with this unique aspect occasionally. Although the continuation of Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neil’s “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier,” only featured selected pages that brought the 2-D artwork toward the reader, it showed how this technique is being utilized by the comic industry.

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Comics Team-Up Offers Superhero Combinations

What’s better than one superhero in a comic book? That would be two heroes in a comic, which is where the idea of team-up books thrives. Unlike a team book where heroes work together issue in and out, team-up comics focus on different characters working together for one or two issues max.

Last week, Marvel released their newest team-up book with “Avenging Spider-Man” #1 by writer Zeb Wells and artist Joe Mauderia. The premiere issue focused on Spider-Man and Red Hulk (Rulk) dealing with monsters overrunning New York City. However, superhero team-ups are nothing new for Marvel.

The first “Marvel Team-Up” began in 1972 and featured Spider-Man working with the Human Torch against Sandman. In fact, Spider-Man was featured throughout most of the series alongside heroes like Thor, She-Hulk, and Captain America. Volume One lasted for 150 issues, ending in 1985.

“Marvel Team-Up” Volume Two arrived in 1997 and while Spider-Man was featured in many issues, other characters were presented as well like Namor, the Sub Mariner, Blade, Doctor Strange, and the Thing. Writer Robert Kirkman took over “Marvel Team-Up” Volume Three in 2005 and presented his own unique hero combinations.

Looking back at past “Marvel Team-Up” volumes in preparation for “Avenging Spider-Man” #1, newsarama.com said about Volume Three, “While this MTU wasn’t strictly limited to Spider-Man stories, it started and ended with the character playing a prominent role, and he even teamed up in issue #14 with Kirkman’s Image Comics creation, Invincible.”

The site continued to report that less familiar characters like Darkhawk and Sleepwalker also returned to the Marvel Universe in this series.

There was also an Ultimate Marvel Team-Up book titled, “Ultimate Marvel Team-Up.”

Now, although “Avenging Spider-Man” #1 does not carry the “Marvel Team-Up” banner on the book, readers should see that it’s a new interpretation of this iconic series.

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Norman Osborn Gathers New Dark Avengers

In the Marvel Universe, the Avengers team is composed of superheroes who work together in order to save the world from dire threats. Although this group has been comprised of heroes over the years, some villains have entered into the fold, too, only to come out as heroes in the end. Some examples include Hawkeye, Quicksilver, the Scarlet Witch, and most recently, Red Hulk (or Rulk).

However, for a time in the Marvel Universe, there was a team of Avengers who looked like heroes but were really evildoers in the series, “Dark Avengers.” While this team was broken up following “Siege,” it appears a new group of Dark Avengers are forming to wreak havoc for the Marvel heroes and will be revealed in “New Avengers” Vol. 2 #18.

For those unfamiliar with “Dark Avengers,” this was the series following “Secret Invasion,” where Norman Osborn was in charge of global security along with his H.A.M.M.E.R. division replacing S.H.I.E.L.D.

At the same time, he was also gathering villains to pose as heroes for his own Avengers team led by himself as the Iron Patriot. They included Wolverine (Daken), Spider-Man (Marc Gargan), Ms. Marvel (Moonstone), Hawkeye (Bullseye), the Sentry, Captain Marvel (Noh-Var), and Ares.

In an interview with comicbookresources.com, series writer Brian Michael Bendis explained what the idea was for Dark Avengers as the first issue was approaching. “Norman feels the Avengers need to be a team of unapologetic ass-kicker-y. Plus his team serves a dual purpose: he gets to have these colorful mascots of freedom, but at the same time -- whew! Is he pissing off all the right people! He gets to mock Spider-Man. And if God forbid Mac Gargan does something stupid, Osborn can blame it on Spider-Man,” he said.

The team offered the guise of heroism but underneath still acted like villains with double-crosses, selflessness, and conflict as they dealt with issues like Morganne Le Fay’s magic and the San Francisco mutant crisis in the crossover tale, “Utopia.” They were the main focal point of the Marvel Universe during the Dark Reign storyline that ran in most of the House of Ideas series. “Dark Avengers” ran for 16 issues with one annual included.

Since the “Siege” aftermath, the team dispersed through the Marvel Universe or to the great beyond. Ares and the Sentry both died in the “Siege” miniseries while Bullseye met his end from Daredevil in “Shadowland” #1.

Noh-Var joined the newly established main Avengers team, Daken went off on his own journey, Marc Gargan became the Scorpion again, and Moonstone went back to the Thunderbolts.

As for Osborn, he went to a super maximum security prison where he slowly worked his way out. Now, it seems like he has a new mission to accomplish with the help of a new Dark Avengers team.

The synopsis for “New Avengers” #18 on comixology.com leaves much to the imagination with a tagline that reads: “Norman Osborn and H.A.M.M.E.R. return! Witness the new Avengers line-up in action!” It is being written by Bendis (who has written “New Avengers” since Volume 1 and drawn by his “Dark Avengers” artist, Mike Deodato, Jr).

In addition to some preview pages for the issue with what seems to be Osborn in the Savage Land looking for something, the cover pays homage to the famous Uncle Sam poster as he points his index finger to the reader saying, “I want you!” as individuals covered in shadows stand in the distance.

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‘30 Days of Night’ Has Year-Round Horror

By the time this article gets published, Halloween will be over. However, when it comes to comic books, the ghouls, monsters and frights of Halloween are nonstop. For example, within DC Comics’ relaunch, they are presenting new tales of their Frankenstein monster in “Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E.,” developing distinct bloodsuckers in “I, Vampire,” and bringing together their magical heroes and anti-heroes in “Justice League Dark.”

Marvel is also having a monster bash with their new miniseries “Legion of Monsters,” which features creatures like Morbius, the Living Vampire and Manphibian uniting with Elsa Bloodstone to deal with the supernatural horrors of their world.

Yet, if there was only one comic that could be picked to keep the Halloween spirit alive in the comic book community, it would have to be “30 Days of Night” from IDW.

Created by writer Steve Niles and artist Ben Templesmith in 2002, “30 Days of Night” was a three issue miniseries that focused on the fictional town of Barrow, Alaska, which experiences a month of darkness every year. However, this year, some unexpected vampires came to town to enjoy a smorgasbord of human blood. While the book offered a strong, original, and terrifying take on the vampire mythos, Niles also helped to reinvent horror comics for a new generation.

However, “30 Days of Night” was not always planned out as a comic book but originally set to be a movie that was continuously turned down (“30 Days of Night” finally become a movie in 2007 with a DVD sequel in 2010). “I pitched it to just blank faces. And they’d say, ‘It sounds like Buffy, it sounds like Buffy.’ And honestly I had just about given up,” Niles told IGN.com in 2007. Things changed, though, when Niles got a call from IDW and he presented them with the “30 Days of Night” story.

Niles continued to tell IGN.com, “And the day the ad for the first issue hit, we started getting calls from every studio, every producer, even people I had pitched before. People to this day deny that they rejected it, and I love it! Even one of the producers on the movie had originally rejected it.”

Since then, IDW has published sequels to “30 Days of Night” to establish a trilogy with “30 Days of Night: Dark Days” and “30 Days of Night: Return to Barrow.” (There was also “30 Days of Night: Eben and Stella,” which continued from “Dark Days”).

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Zombies Acquire a Taste For Comics

Back in 1968, filmmaker George A. Romero redefined zombies from mindless slaves to eternally hungry flesh eaters with Night of the Living Dead (NOTLD) and its sequels. However, Romero’s horror tales didn’t stay confined to celluloid and have transitioned into comics. IDW has adapted Dawn of the Dead and Land of the Dead while Avatar Press keeps Romero’s vision alive with its own “NOTLD” series and specials like “NOTD: Back from the Grave.”

John A. Russo, co-writer of NOTLD, has used his dark imagination to continue offering tales of humans evading the zombie plague. He co-wrote a prequel tale to the 1968 film with writer Mike Wolfer and even created his own NOTLD sequel with the miniseries, “Escape of the Living Dead,” three follow-up tales, and an annual.

In an interview with comicbookresources.com, Wolfer explained what it was like working with Russo to deepen this classic story. “And as I always mention, I’m a fanboy, too, so just the fact that I’ve been given this opportunity to help carve-out new chunks of unwritten history in such a prestigious franchise is incredible,” he said.

While Romero’s night of terror still lingers, other comic publishers have thrown their heads, hands, and feet into the zombie genre. Dynamite Entertainment has two volumes of “Raise the Dead,” horror comic writer and “30 Days of Night” co-creator, Steve Niles, developed a zombie tale set in Reno, Nevada with “Remains” (soon to be a TV movie), and Vertigo features “iZombie” about an undead investigator who eats brains once in a while to survive.

However, the most notable of series has been “The Walking Dead” from Image Comics. Created and written by Robert Kirkman with art from Tony Moore (issues one to six) and Charlie Adlard (issue seven to present), the comic is a dramatic, sophisticated, and unpredictable narrative about humans surviving in a world overrun by the dead. The series was recognized for its achievements in 2010 with an Eisner Award for Best Continuing Series.

Kirkman has never lost his beat from issue to issue as he puts protagonist Rick Grimes, his wife Lori, son Carl, and fellow survivors through the ringer repeatedly, offering salvation only for it to turn into damnation.

While talking with newsarama.com, Kirkman said where the main focus of this series tends to lie. Kirkman said, “In a sense, Carl is the heart and soul of the comic series. He started out as a true innocent, and it’s been a fun exploration to watch the world change around him and for him to see the things he has had to go through. Carl’s had to do a lot to survive. In general, to watch characters deal with hardship and overcoming obstacles shows how it can change them.”

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Heroes That Have Animal Instincts

When it comes to animals in comic books, you can never be too careful. Throughout the Marvel and DC Universes, animals exist with amazing abilities who demonstrate as much courage and determination as their two-legged counter parts when defending Earth.

In the DC Universe there are a number of examples of super animals like B’dg, a squirrel from outer space who is Green Lantern of Sector 1014. Another creature from the “Green Lantern” franchise is the Red Lantern, Dex-Starr. Dex-Starr was a common Earth cat until the Red Lantern ring hooked onto their rage and turned him into a blood-thirsty (literally) animal who could use the power of rage to his whim.

While Superman has an array of powerful creatures like Bippo the monkey, the top pet first has been a dog, Krypto. Although his origin has evolved over the years, this super dog first appeared in “Adventures Comics” #210.

Here it was explained that Krypto was a test subject for the rocket that Jor-El would later use to save his son from Krypton’s destruction. However, plans changed when Krypto’s ship veered off course and traveled through space until he reached Earth. There he reunited with his owner, a young Clark Kent/Superboy.

Since then, Krypto has been involved in crises like “Crisis on Infinite Earths” and “The Sinestro Corps War.” Krypto remained a key part of the Superman legacy and last appeared in Jeff Lemire’s “Superboy” before the DC New 52 reboot.

In a comicbookresources.com interview with Lemire before his previous “Superboy” series premiered, he explained his intentions for this superdog. “Oh yeah, Krypto is the best. I love Krypto. I think, and I’m not joking about this at all, I really want to write the first really great Krypto story. I want to give him a really serious and a really meaty character arc over the first year just as much as Conner,” Lemire said.

Beyond the mainstream DC Universe, Krypto also appeared in his own animated series and comic book miniseries, “Krypto, the Superdog,” which was geared toward a younger audience. He was also joined by Streaky the Cat and Ace the Bat-Hound (Ace was also a featured character in the “Batman Beyond” animated series albeit more serious).

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‘Dark Horse Presents’ a New Anthology Volume

Comic books are all about telling new, interesting, and/or other worldly stories. However, sometimes one issue isn’t enough, which is where anthology comics come into play. Here, readers are able to enjoy a handle of stories from different writer and artist combinations about virtually anything.

Throughout the years anthology comics have come and gone with old series like EC Comics’ “Tales from the Crypt” and “Suspense Stories” to new titles like Marvel’s “Strange Tales I and II.” Today, readers get another anthology with the relaunch of “Dark Horse Presents.”

“Dark Horse Presents” first entered the comic book industry in 1986 and ran until 2000. During this time, new comic book characters like Concrete appeared and became an icon for Dark Horse Comics. The series by writer/artist Paul Chadwick featured a man who is abducted by aliens and has his mind transferred into the body of a concrete hulking. However, in a world where super heroes and villains don’t exit, he’s left to ponder his new existence.

Another concept that began in “Dark Horse Presents” #51 and has gain notoriety was the “The Hard Goodbye,” the first story in Frank Miller’s “Sin City” series.

After the cancellation of “Dark Horse Presents” Volume One, another volume appeared for readers online called MDHP (MySpace Dark Horse Presents). From 2007 to 2010, comic book creators posted their work on MySpace for free as readers got a glimpse at what these creative writers and artists had to offer fans.

The tradition of anthological stories continued with tales featuring Dr. Horrible (from the musical blog) written by Joss Whedon, a Guild comic by its creator Felicia Day, and an “Umbrella Academy” tale by Gerald Way.

As the series ended in 2010, Scott Allie, a Dark Horse editor, spoke to newsarama.com about what this venture meant to the publisher and the series.

“Part of the gimmick with MDHP was that we didn’t ask for money. It’s hard to sell an anthology, blah blah blah, that’s the common wisdom. But we wanted to do an anthology, so we said, hell with it, we won’t try to sell it, we’ll give it away. At the time, I felt a sense of urgency to get content online, but I felt like no one had cracked the nut of how to monetize comics online. Things have changed, so it’s time to change our strategy,” he said.

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Comics Fans Enter a New DC Universe

The number 52 has been a significant figure for DC Comics. Back in 2006, miniseries, “52,” presented a world without Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman and featured the return of 52 parallel worlds. Today, 52 stands for something new and bold in the comic book industry.

For over a month, DC Comics has relaunched all their comics and presented readers with 52 new #1 issues for old and new heroes alike. This event has been referred to as DCnU (DC New Universe) as every title from long-running series (“Action Comics”) to short-lived ones ( “Batman: The Dark Knight”) are getting this reboot treatment. So, past continuity is a thing of the past as these characters are being presented with a modern perspective.

On “The Source,” DC Comics’ Blog, a viral video featuring individuals like co-publishers Dan Didio and Jim Lee and Editor-in-Chief Bob Harras explained what this venture means for DC. “This is a great opportunity for readers who aren’t familiar with our character to jump aboard, to come join the party that is the DC universe,” Harras said.

The catalyst for this game-changer was “Flashpoint” #5. “Flashpoint” followed Barry Allen/The Flash as he entered a world that was turned upside down, where Batman was Thomas Wayne (Bruce Wayne’s father) and Wonder Woman fought with Aquaman through their kingdoms. At the conclusion of “Flashpoint,” the world didn’t look the same, and that same week, “Justice League” #1 ushered in the age of the DC 52.

Since then, other titles have rolled off the printing presses to the eagerness of fans. Series like “Action Comics” are retelling the origin of these icons while titles like “I, Vampire” and “Resurrection Man” are bringing back characters that have been absent for a while. A few titles have even integrated the fallen Wildstorm heroes into their own titles (“Grifter) or team books (“Stormwatch”). However for other series, major changes have occurred in what was the status quo like with “Batman” for example.

Before DCnU, Dick Grayson and Bruce Wayne shared duties by both being Batman while Damian Wayne acted as Robin and Stephanie Brown was Batgirl. In this new universe, Bruce Wayne is back as the one and only Dark Knight while Damian is still Robin. Meanwhile, Dick is Nightwing (his first post-Robin identity) again and the paralyzed computer hacker, Barbara Gordon, has returned to her first calling as Batgirl.

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Ultimate Spider-Man Webs New Wallcrawler

Superheroes come and go, but their legacies can live on. The latest example of this is the death of Ultimate Peter Parker/Spider-Man and the rise of a new friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. However, this isn’t the traditional Spider-Man but the version from the Ultimate Universe and outside of the main universe and continuity.

Starting in 2000, the Ultimate Universe helps to tell stories of Marvel heroes from a modern day perspective and defer from having to deal with much continuity. For example, instead of the Avengers, Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man are part of the S.H.I.E.L.D. sanctioned team known as the Ultimates.
Toward the end of the summer, Peter Parker met his fate in “Ultimate Comics Spider-Man” #160 at the hands of his arch nemesis, Norman Osborn/Green Goblin. The Ultimate Universe explored the aftermath of this death in the limited series, “Ultimate Comics Fallout,” but soon a mysterious individual was seen wearing Spidey’s red and blue costume in issue #4. This character was later identified as Miles Morales, a half-Hispanic and half-African American youth.

On USAToday.com, “Ultimate Spider-Man” writer Brian Michael Bendis discussed how Miles as the new Spider-Man won’t change the ideals Peter held. “The theme is the same: With great power comes great responsibility… He’s going to learn that. Then he has to figure out what that means.”

Oddly enough, Community star Donald Glover was campaigning to be Peter Parker/Spidey in the reboot. According to popwatch.ew.com, Bendis looked at Glover’s campaign as “a classic case of what-might-have-been.” In fact, Glover even wore a Spider-Man t-shirt in the opening scene of Community’s second season.

Since Miles’ first appearance in August, the character had room to grow and finally appeared in his solo series the new “Ultimate Comics Spider-Man.”

In addition to this new title, Miles will also be donning a new costume to uphold this new character. Instead of the traditional red and blue Spider-Man outfit, Miles’ wardrobe is black with red covering the torso and mask.

Now, while Bendis has the task of developing and writing dialogue for Miles and company, artist Sara Pichelli has the task of designing this new hero and his costume. However, with the costume design, Pichelli worked to show this is Spider-Man for a new decade.

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