Trading Secrets?

If you were to go back to the very first blog I wrote, it was about Secret Avengers. Well, I guess we are coming full circle now.

At the dawn of Marvel's "Heroic Age", many readers had their interest piqued at the launch of four Avengers titles (the main book, New Avengers, Avengers Academy, and Secret Avengers). The title I most looked forward to was Secret Avengers. It was Steve Rogers' black ops team and the line-up was interesting and impressive: Steve himself (Bucky was Cap at this point), Black Widow, Valkyrie, War Machine, Moon Knight, Nova, Ant-Man (Eric O'Grady version), Sharon Carter and Beast. The thought of this spec ops, off the books team was exciting!

The first arc took us to Mars where we found a sinister organization known as the Shadow Council was attempting to gain control of the Serpent Crown. After this, the Shadow Council becomes like their arch-nemesis. Then, we get plots that drag...and drag...and drag. The Shadow Council throws twists and turns at the heroes ("oh no, is Nick Fury a member of the Shadow Council?!?" and Golden Age hero John Steele (who?) becomes a big threat as a pawn in their hands...sort of, I guess. After a while, the Shadow Council sinks into the...well, shadows and we are given multiple stand alone issues or mini-arcs that are also less then interesting. A strike team takes on a forgotten underground high tech city while another issue has them taking on a possessed semi-truck in Serbia. My excitement had come to an end and I was getting ready to drop this title.

I let myself get swayed by the fact that it had some decent Fear Itself tie-ins that were very character driven and then by the fact that there was going to be a bit of a roster change. Out go Steve, Sharon, War Machine, and Moon Knight (Nova left after issue 5) and now the team gets a new leader in the form of Hawkeye (nice!) and the addition of Captain Britain, Hank Pym, Jim Hammond (the original WWII Human Torch) and most interesting Venom (the Flash Thompson variety). Things were getting interesting again. By around issue 29, we've been through the AvX tie-ins and have introduced a weird race of robotic beings that hamper the team.

We also finally get some resolution with the actions of the Shadow Council, who have put together what could possibly be the largest group of Masters of Evil ever and are going to use their collection of crowns (three total) to bring about an entity known as the Abyss, which will possess all of the people on Earth to act as some sort of hive mind. This stretches out a bit longer than it should. This sets us up for more robotic hi-jinx, as the Descendants (the robot people I mentioned earlier) take center stage as it turns out Max Fury (not Nick, but we learned that a while back) was one of them and that now they are making their move. The robot philosophy of the Descendants and their leader Father makes some sense, at least to make them the villains, but I have tired of them rather quickly.

Now, we approach issue 37, the last issue of this volume to make way for Marvel NOW's Secret Avengers. From the information I've heard so far, this team will be very much under the control of SHIELD. That may or may not be a good thing, as we may be seeing the influence of the hit Avengers movie and the upcoming SHIELD TV series being exerted on this book. While I do love me some Agent Coulson (who will be in this new book), with he, Nick Fury Jr. and Maria Hill as the leadership, will this be a 616 reflection of the cinematic universe. The influence of the X-Men movies were one of the reasons I took a hiatus from comics around the year 2000.

While I don't like being a quitter, it is clear that Marvel suckered me out of money for a title that I was often more disappointed with than not. Yes, that is my own fault. I gave them too much faith and obviously a kick-ass team roster is not always enough. With only one issue left of the first run, I can't stop now, but I do have to ask myself if I can see NOW's volume two being worth my time and money. I'll probably give it a try, after all it is technically an Avengers book and I do like Coulson. Otherwise, I hope I can't just quit the silly thing before it sucks me in again. Pics of Hawkeye and Black Widow with the team don't hurt, but if I do get burned again and I keep buying and reading, can we just keep it our little secret?

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The Polar Ends of Comic-dom this Week

This week, I have observed two opposite extremes that are at least somewhat related to the world of comics.

I will begin with the worst and most publicized first. By now, the entire world has probably heard of the tragic events at "The Dark Knight Rises" premiere in Aurora. We currently don't know the gunman's reasoning and we may never know. The only things we do know right now is that it is something that should have never happened. I'm not stepping onto a soapbox regarding violence in the media, gun control, or anything like that. But how dare someone take violent means against an innocent group of people who were there to enjoy a much anticipated film and to take a break from reality. Unfortunately, reality decided to rear its head in the most most terrible way and the lives of so many were shattered that night. This also will leave a black mark on this film for the rest of history. To make matters even worse, reports are that the gunman has referred to himself as the Joker. While the fictional Joker has done many atrocious things, the key word is fictional. The history books will now equate the Joker with being on of the most heinous mass murders in American history.

The opposite end of comics this week happened about two days earlier. This is something that only really impacted a handful of people, but it stuck with me and made me proud to be a fan and reader of comic books. On Wednesday, while stopping at my local store to pick up this week's new issues, I overheard an excited conversation two boys who couldn't have been more than twelve. The were both looking through back issues and the sheer excitment was amazing. Things were being said like "Oh, look at this one! It's got the Hulk and Ghost Rider" and the amusing "This one's old, its from 2005". They were excited, they were awed, and they were able to share this with each other. I remember the excitment that comics can cause (but admittedly, it has not been as often lately), the awe that a great story or art or plot twist can make me feel (again, not as frequent) and how comics can bring people together. One of my best friends in the world, for over fifteen years and I only really got to know each other because we both read comic books. Comics can be a great escape from the ordinary and are a perfect way to combine multiple art forms in the most spectacular ways. No one would even be reading this blog if it wasn't for comic books bringing people together.

So while we are lucky that not every week (thankfully) holds the gut-wrenching events that the Colorado massacre did for this past week, I hope that no matter what reboots, ret-cons, cancellations happen, let's be thankful for the wonder and fellowship that the comic book industry has proved so many people around the world. Let's celebrate creativity, imagination, and the spirit of wonder that we all can enjoy. And please, no matter what your spiritual beliefs are, take a moment to remember those who paid an unfair price for trying to share in that sense of joy and wonder.

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Turning Point for Avengers vs. X-Men?

Well, Marvel you had me going for a while. I was excited about Avengers vs. X-men, I even bought up through issue 4 without reading any of them. And to be honest, I was enjoying. While I wasn't thinking that it would go down as an epic like The Infinity Gauntlet or Onslaught, I was digging it. But as I continued on, some things starting bugging me.

  1. Scarlet Witch's "return" was something that we had been hinting at for years. She was amnesic back when Clint slept with her in New Avengers (I think that was the title it happened in), she was a major player in the Avengers: Children's Crusade, she IS the reason that mutants are facing extinction, and she factored so heavily in issue 0 of A vs. X (not to be confused with AvX). Now, as of issue 5 we've barely seen her. Granted, it looks like she will be doing...something soon, but c'mon already. I was half expecting the Phoenix Force to take her as a host.
  2. Tie ins to a major event tend to do one of three things. First, really help add to and enhance the main story. Second, tie in only in name alone, the contents often have no real impact on the main event. Lastly, and too often, fit together in a hodge-podge way that ignite plots that either detract from the main story or shoot off in directions that don't truly add to the main event. I don't read any of the X-books nor Avengers Academy, so I can only comment on Avengers, New Avengers, and Secret Avengers. But right now, these three books are bugging me with how they are "tying in" to the main Av. vs X-Men story. ***Spoilers follow*** Secret focused on the team of space/science/Asgardian Avengers as they attempted to deal with the Phoenix Force in space. Well, we already know how that winds up, after the events of Av vs. X-Men 5. But, we are now finally having something for the Protector to do. I view the Protector much as I did Sentry. Either too powerful to really be a usable character or one that sits on the sidelines and despite how powerful or cool they are, they aren't ever really included in a real usable way. Regardless, we get him having an inner-turmoil of allegiance to the Avengers or the Kree Empire (which by the way isn't the same to him since isn't he an alternate universe Kree warrior anyway?- again, not really clear because he isn't really used). This seems to me to be used as a catalyst or self-indulgent maneuver to use the classic Captain Marvel character, which by the way has been resurrected thanks to the Phoenix Force. Sheesh! Over in New Avengers, we get a crazy retcon story of how long ago the Phoenix Force came and possessed another young red-head (which was an attempt at misdirection so we would keep thinking Hope was going to be the target) and that the Phoenix and Iron Fist has a long history tied together. Obviously no one ever thought to mention this to Danny Rand. By the way, while I know covers don't have to always include what really happens inside, thanks for putting Iron Fist on covers when he doesn't even appear in these flash back, retcon issues. Oh the retcon, it's possible you should have to apply for a permit before truly using one. Mr. Bendis, you may need to apply for a couple. And the main Avengers book has Cap get mopey, the team easily take down a renegade AIM faction that easily kicked their asses a few issues ago (BTW AIM you still have the DNA samples that you could have been using!!!), and sowed the seeds for Protectors struggle, which had already been happening. At this point, I am so frustrated with the direction these subplots (or lack thereof) are going. I am sure these odd threads will produce something of "value", but what happened to great use of this like Spidey's black costume from the Secret Wars actually having a mind of its own? Stop to read some of the classics you guys, perhaps you will learn a thing or two!
  3. Finally, we have the tipping point that I haven't quite made my mind up about. Issue 5. ***Spoilers follow*** After seeing the group of X-Men on the moon get possessed instead of Hope, I was stunned. But, I can't decide if this turn will be a good thing or not. I must say, I didn't expect it, which seems to be getting less and less common, especially during big events, but at the same token, if not handled well, it will ruin the whole outing.

Av vs. X-Men is at a crossroads for me and while I am sure Marvel will get the money out of me, I hope that they in turn pleasantly surprise me with the events unlike major events of the recent past. But they will not get my hard earned cash for the AvX spin off title!

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My Favorite Animated Super Hero Comic Book Shows

There is no doubt that the world of animation is one of the best places for the super heroes we love to come to life. Colorful and easy on the budget (at least compared to big blockbuster films), the animated versions of some of our favorite heroes have existed almost as long as the comic books themselves. I present to you here, my top ten favorite animated super hero, comic book inspired shows.

10- Challenge of the Super Friends (1978-1979)

While by far not the best there is out there, I remember watching reruns of this show growing up. And the two things that made it so cool? First- the Legion of Doom! While these guys were not as intimidating as we know they can be, they were a collection of bad guys working together and hiding out in a swamp in a headquaters that looked like Darth Vader. Awesome! Second- the phrase "Meanwhile, Back at the Hall of Justice." This show helped lay the foundation for my future interest in the world of comics.

9- The Tick (1994-1996)

While I have never read a Tick comic, I have to admit that I was a huge fan of this show. The sheer ridiculousness of it was great, while the Tick and Arthur faced off against some pretty original and often hilarious villains. Who else remembesr the Mother of Invention and the Ottoman Empress? Plus, kudos for a show to be made that wasn't from one of the "Big Two" comic houses!

8- Batman Beyond (1999-2001)

How cool was it to get a glimpse into the future of Batman? The Dark Knight's legacy lived on AND he could also fly and cloak himself. Terry McGuiness hit the scene as the protege of a old and injured Bruce Wayne. In a way it was the blend of Batman and Spider-Man as Terry also had the ups and downs of being a teenager. It was so cool, that BB has not only popped up in other shows but has even landed several series of comic books.

7- X-Men: Evolution (2000-2003)

While skeptical at first, in syndication I grew to really enjoy this series. A creative reimagining of the X-Men and other characters from their mythos, but making a majority of the characters (including villains) teenagers. In the end it really worked and helped introduce more people to Kitty Pryde, which I believe to be a good thing.

6- X-Men (1992-1997)

This show really helped get the ball rolling for the genre in the 1990s. A different style of animation than many of the previous super hero shows out there as well as being a bit more edgy. Even better, we were given a decent range of both X-Men and villains over the show's 76 episode run. And who can forget Gambit's classic line "First you charge d'card. Den, you trow the card."

5- Spider-Man (1994-1998)

Another one of the shows of the 90s that really seemed to help the genre was Spider-Man. Currently, the longest running TV show featuring the Web-Head, it offered plenty of Spidey's rogue's gallery and was able to cross over with the X-Men, Captain America, and others. A catchy theme song and a decent action figure line didn't hurt either.

4- Justice League & Justice League Unlimited (2001-2004 & 2004-2006 respectively)

I had to combine these two series, because I just don't see them as separate. Granted, JLU introduced us to more characters, but essentially JLU was just the continuing adventures of the characters that were firmly established in the previous series as well as prior DC animated universe shows. It really helped make a team series work well on the small screen and also helped introduce lots of great characters that had previously not been on any of the series.

3- Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes (2010- present)

While a relative newcomer, I have been nothing but impressed with A:EMH so far. We have a solid core team and they seem to be making it work. Add in great foes like Zemo and his Masters of Evil, Loki, and Graviton and it's even better. We even have our very own version of Secret Invasion going on, so I say keep bringing it! I should also note that I am a bit biased as the Avengers are my favorite comic book team.

2- Young Justice (2011-present)

Another relative newby nabs another top spot, but this series has been great! I was leary at first becaue I figured it was a rehash of Teen Titans, but it really proved to be its own vehicle and has combined some classic and more modern teen heroes from the DCU. Storylines have been great and featured a nice assortment of foes. We have even had a pretty successful time jump which has answered some questions while raising many more. If you are not watching this, you may want to start.

1- Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1995)

Let's face it, what other show could take the top spot? Paul Dini's masterpiece is basically the bar that all other animated super hero shows should be measured against. It brought a gritty edge to a "kids' show" while staying very true to its source material. Batman was the intimidating, nocturnal instrument of justice and his colorful rogue's gallery was brought to life as never before. Between fantastic writing, art, and acting it reshaped how characters like Mr. Freeze and Clayface were seen so much that it actually changed them in continuity. Not to mention it introduced the world to Harley Quinn who became such a fan favorite that she eventually made her way into the Batman books. Hands down this show will remain in my top spot indefinitely.

Some honorable mentions...

There have been many great super hero cartoons, here's a couple that I debated about and depending on the day, may have put them on the list.

Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends (1981-1983)- Another show that brings back fond childhood memories. And like Batman:TAS, Firestar started on the show and became a mainstay in the Marvel U. Remember when Spidey and the X-Men took on Cyberiad or when the Chameleon was impersonating multiple heroes and the dog saved the day?

Spectacular Spider-Man (2008-2009)- Another great retelling of the Spider-Man story, featuring a fantastic line-up of many of Spidey's best foes, some with certain look or original make-overs. Unfortunately, this show cancelled before its time.

Teen Titans (2003-2006)- A perfect blend of camp and action. Slade (aka Deathstroke) was a formidable foe and the Japanese inspired animation and storytelling was a fresh take on the genre.

Wolverine and the X-Men (2009)- Another great reimagining of the X-Men, but like Spectacular Spidey, it was gone too soon (thanks Disney!!!).

Ultimate Spider-Man (2012-present)- The newest of them all, but so far it has a lot of promise. A variety of villains (yea Taskmaster!!!) and a clever reimagining of Venom and other characters is helping this series out. A nice blend of humor and breaking the 4th wall is nice too. Not too mention, more Agent Coulson (voiced by Clark Gregg himself).

So here's my list, if you like it...awesome. If you hate it...that's awesome too. To each their own, but any constructive feedback [nicely phrased is preferred] is welcome. Thanks!


Pick Your Joker

I have no doubt that I am not the first person to ask this question and will by far not be the last, but who has played the best Joker throughout all the various mediums the Clown Prince of Crime has been portrayed?

One could make a case for many of them and obviously personal choice is the ultimate deciding factor.

I am a die hard Marvel fan, but just because I don't read any DC titles regularly, doesn't mean that I don't have a great deal of respect for many of the DC characters. By far, Batman is one of the best characters in all of comicdom and in my opinion, a lot of that has to do with the quality of his rogue's gallery. And when you think Batman, how can you not almost automatically think of the Joker?

While showing up in countless animated series, video games, and movies I think we can all agree that four people really have been stand outs as the Joker. All have their good points, while some have their drawbacks as well.

Cesar Romero- While obviously not the most deranged Joker out there (besides not shaving his mustache making it visible under his make-up), Romero brought a certain fun to the campy 1960's Batman TV show. Being the anti-Batman in a way, Romero's over-the-top cackling added a certain charm to a campy, but loveable TV classic.

Jack Nicholson- Nicholson, a fantastic actor, brought the true essence of the Joker's deranged mind to the screen in Tim Burton's 1989 film "Batman". Combining the ruthless mob-boss, psychopathic killer, and deadly humor, this Joker set the bar high for future actors. Besides also being the thug that killed Thomas and Martha Wayne, this Joker brought us the often quoted line "Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?"

Mark Hamill- Luke Skywalker took on the voice of the Clown Prince during the 1990's beginning in the amazingly done "Batman: The Animated Series". While not able to fully explore the depths of the Joker's twisted psyche, Hamill was able to still bring forth an amazing blend of crazed madman and calculating mastermind. No wonder he continued voicing the character in many more animated DC shows.

Heath Ledger- The Academy Award winning performance by the late Ledger is considered by many to be the best portray of the Joker ever. Ledger by far was able to capture the twisted anarchist that the Joker is even without the over the top use of gimicky "toys". He was able to bring his own brand of chaos to Gotham City that truly tested the Dark Knight to his limits. The only unfortunate thing about Ledger's Joker is that we will never again be able to enjoy it.

So, while I know that many others have played the Joker and played him well (I personally enjoyed Jeff Bennett on "Batman: The Brave and the Bold"), these four actors to me are some of the best. Depending on my mood, I could easily pick either Mark Hamill or Heath Ledger as my favorite (or occasionally Nicholson, but probably not Romero). I only hope that we continue to see actors, writers, and directors who pay the proper respect to one of the greatest villains of all time!


Who the Comic Industry Should Be Focusing On...

There has been a lot of buzz lately about why comic sales are down, especially now that Hollywood is doing justice to so many of our favorite characters and with the massive inter-company, multi-title crossover events.   
In my honest opinion, comic companies (at least the "Big Two") have lost sight of their most important clientele: existing readers. 
It may sound really simple to say, but here's my reasoning.  First off, we are already customers.  In most businesses you want to retain your current customers and also bring in new ones as well.  I think DC and Marvel might be missing out on both because of the word of mouth factor.  If they aren't going to push advertising in other media, then aren't current readers the best way to recruit more readers?  Word of mouth is free advirtising, but the thing is it often feels that the writers/publishers are more interested in making a book a "perfect jump on point for new readers".  What about the current readers?  If a jump on point is redundant, dumbed down, or too simplistic in order to attract new customers, you run the risk of losing your current ones. 
My second point dovetails onto the first.  If the companies want us as current readers to talk up their product, then they need to keep consistant, quality writing and art in their books.  There is no way that I would recommend something that just isn't good to my friends or others.  If there is a book that I myself as a long haul reader is beginning to have reservations on, then why would I suggest others read it.  I think it is fair to say also that just because Wolverine is an easily recognizable character to newbies, we veterans are getting pretty sick of him.  We don't need Wolverine, Spidey, or other big names to show up in EVERY book we read.  If it legitimately moves along a great story, then I have a feeling we would welcome them with open arms.  If we have a tired, dragging storyline than their appearance only drags it down more versus giving it the shot in the arm that it needs.  If Marvel can't get a consistant team for a character like Daredevil, for instance, than perhaps what we need is a string of quality minis.  This allows quality stories for popular characters that often have trouble maintaining a monthly book, for various reasons.  Minis can also create those "perfect jumping on points for new readers". 
My final point is that the big events are becoming so common place that there is nothing special left for them, at least many times.  Yearly events that have not only their own mini, but countless tie-in minis, as well as tie-ins in almost every title are bogging down the industry.  Big changes rarely stick, many readers don't care how the events are affecting characters they aren't invested in or titles that they don't read.  I rarely find myself picking up an issue just because of a tie-in.  And when I have, that odds of me continuing with it are pretty slim because it isn't a character I care about or the consistancy of the storytelling just isn't there.  So current readers dont' want to read and wny would new readers want to invest all the time and money that is needed to jump into the big events.  In an area where back issues are a big business, you would think that companies would realize that not only are we compulsed to collect titles, but we also respect the stories of the past.  Back when characters didn't do things out of character just to boast sales, story arcs were usually only two or three issues long, and there seemed to be an overall greater respect for readers.  There is no reason the industry couldn't or shouldn't look at doing this.  If Goldeneye can be reissued for the Wii or Ocarina of Time can be made for the 3-DS, why can't the comic book publishers realize that when you have something that works people will always come back to it. 
So, there it is.  I may be right, I may be wrong, but I think if at least the "Big Two" would remember the people who made them who they are today and look at what they did to make us want to read their products and like their characters to the level that we do (or maybe used to). 

The Importance of Gender in Commercials

We have a two month old daughter that we adopted back in March and this has lead to some major changes in our house, especially since she is our first child (my wife is due on Halloween with our second).  One of these changes is that the TV in our bedroom doesn't get the volume above "1".  Our little girl, up until a few days ago when we were finally able to transition her to her crib, was sleeping in our room so we didn't want the TV to wake her up.  In order to help make sure we were getting the "full effect" my wife turned on the Closed Captioning.  What a useful tool to help the hearing impaired watch television.  While not perfect, the people and/or machines in charge of transcripting shows and most commercials do a decent job.  One thing has me raising my eyebrow however. 
When a person does a voice over on a commercial, in brackets it states [male announcer] or [female voice] or vice versa.  My question is why?  I know enough about advertising to know that many things are done strategically to make consumers what to purchase the goods or services being offered, but what about those watching who are hearing impaired, have a little one around, or might be watching TV at a bar, waiting room, or some other public place?  Does it really make a difference if the announcer is a man or woman?  I find it a bit funny that the distinction is made.  I certainly don't have any disrespect for these people, but it is not like they are usually given credit for their work.  Unless it is a celebrity that is commonly recognized, it's not like we even know the true names of people in commercials, let alone the names of the narrators.  I guess I see it as unnecessary.  It doesn't hurt anyone, but I just wonder if it wastes someone's time or if advertisers actually feel or have the research to back up that what they are trying to sell will indeed sell better if we know if a man or woman is informing us about, whether we can hear them or not.  
Any thoughts?

Spidey as Team Player?

Since the New Avengers first hit the scene pre-Civil War, post Avengers Disassembled, Spider-Man has become more and more a team player.  He is now on both the Avengers and the New Avengers plus the Future Foundation.  My big question is Spidey made to be on a team? 
While I haven't bought any Spider-Man title for a good long while, hasn't the Wall-Crawler been best when he was on his own?  Back against the wall, no one has his back (with the exception of some rag-tag other New York loners),  struggling to make ends meet...isn't that the Peter that so many of us have grown up with and know and love?  In the Free Comic Book Day issue of Spider-Man, Jessica Drew helps point out to some of the NYPD that Spidey is an Avenger and so they need to let him be.  It felt weird for Peter to not be having to scoot away because of his vigilante label. 
So a character that always seemed to be at his best when he was in solidarity, is now on three different teams.  With the different events going on in his life and the Spider Island event looming on the horizon, how will this affect Pete and the teams he is on?  Will it even be mentioned in the Avengers or FF?   
Perhaps the people at the House of Ideas decided to give ultimate loner Wolverine a run for his money on how many different teams one character can be on at once. 

Is Secret Avengers a Secret Worth Sharing?

When Dark Reign ended and the Heroic Age dawned, I was super excited to see who made the cut of the new Avengers teams. When I saw the line-up for Secret Avengers, I was stoked! Beast (one of my all time faves), Moon Knight, Black Widow, and even Steve Rogers himself, this was the perfect grouping to act as the "off the books" Avengers. And then the first issue came out... Okay, Serpent Crown on mars, okay I can handle that. However, for me, the honeymoon has been over for quite some time. The story arcs to me have just been dragging, not only in pace but in how they're executed. I like that we have had the enigmatic Shadow Council in the background for the past year, but I feel like we are creeping at a snail's pace. And enough with John Steele already! I must say that out of the three Avengers books I read (sorry to Academy fans out there) I anticipated Secret being my favorite, but find it the one I am least excited to read. I'm holding out for now, hoping beyond hope that we pick up the pace sometime soon...but I'm not going to hold my breath.

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