Review: Slugfest – Inside the Epic, 50-Year Battle Between Marvel and DC by Reed Tucker

SlugfestAlthough I am longer a Wednesday Warrior, and visits to my local comic book shop have dwindled to maybe once a month, I remain deeply interested in the industry. Working in a bookshop means focusing on prose rather than comics, and the reality is, nobody ever asks my opinion on the latest issue of Spider-Man, but they do value my thoughts on the latest Bosch novel by Michael Connelly. But comics — specifically DC Comics and Superman — initiated my love of reading as a child.

I lost myself in the convoluted world of Superman in the mid-nineties, when he returned from the dead with a mullet after his devastating battle with Doomsday, broke off his engagement with Lois Lane, then married her, then developed new electric powers… Much of it was nonsensical, all of it was ridiculous, but I loved those comics. My father and grandmother would buy me a comic book from the newsagents every weekend, and every school holidays dad would take me to the comic book shop, where I had a $50 spending limit, and got to indulge my habit. I started reading Batman and Justice League, then discovered Marvel’s stuff, and became a regular reader of Spider-Man. The storytelling was soap-operatic and addictive, and from those superhero comics I moved onto Marvel and DC books starring their flagship characters, which in turn propelled me into reading non-superhero related fiction. It’s a safe bet to say I would not be writing this blog, or be working as a bookseller, if it wasn’t for comic books. And the current state of the industry, in terms of the periodicals themselves rather than the cash-cow films, concerns me greatly. There are so many brilliant writers currently crafting brilliant comics, specifically on the creator-owned scene, and it’s terrifying thinking about the limited readership on offer despite the incredible storytelling on offer.

Reed Tucker’s Slugfest – Inside the Epic, 50-Year Battle Between Marvel and DC is a succinct blow-by-blow account of the often-bitter rivalry between the comic book industry’s biggest players. It’s riveting, for those interested in the subject matter, but reads more like a primer than a comprehensive delineation of DC and Marvel’s evolution from ‘funny books’ to intellectual property for multinational entertainment behemoths. Much like Sean Howe’s Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, my favourite sections of Tucker’s book are whenever personnel from the two companies offer their perspective on specific events that transpired; the raw animosity between editorial departments and personnel, their attempts at one-upmanship, and the few times the companies partnered for crossovers. Tucker’s book is impeccably researched and authoritative, but I wanted more.

The book is evenhanded and certainly readable, and for those with even the smallest interest in the industry it’s a great place to start. Those who want more depth and analysis should check out books published by Sequart, who specialise in going deep on everything comics-related.

ISBN: 9780751568974
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 304
Imprint: Sphere
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
Publish Date: 5-Oct-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Avengers – Rage of Ultron

Rage of UltronMarvel’s latest original graphic novel, Avengers: Rage of Ultron, is an unabashed attempt to take advantage of the buzz surrounding the impending release of the destined-to-be-a-mega-blockbuster Avengers: Age of Ultron. Nothing wrong with that. This is business, after all. And it’s not like Marvel just slapped something together. No, they paired two of their headline creators for the project, Rick Remender and Jerome Opeña, who’ve collaborated on critically-acclaimed runs on Uncanny X-Force and the creator-owned series Fear Agent. What’s strange is how imbedded in current Marvel continuity it is; which, for those unaware, is starkly different from their film universe. For example, in Rage of Ultron, Captain America is Sam Wilson, who previously went by Falcon; Hank Pym is Ultron’s creator; the Avengers team consists of Spider-Man, Wasp, Sabretooth (what?!), Thor (now female), Vision, and Scarlet Witch. So those jumping from the film to this OGN are in for a surprise. Not necessarily a bad one by any means, because Avengers: Rage of Ultron is a damn fine story. It just strikes me that Marvel would’ve been better served providing a graphic novel more in tune with the universe they’ve built in their films; particularly as they’re so close to blowing up (or something similar) the comics universe in the looming monumental story arc Secret Wars.

To be fair, Avengers: Rage of Ultron starts with a kick-ass battle scene featuring the classic team up against the mechanized menace of Ultron. There’s something reverent about these first twenty or so; a perfectly rendered depiction of the Avengers taking down a villain threatening Manhattan. Ultron is disposed of – a narrow victory, as the Avengers’ wins often are – and the story flashes forward several years. Cue the ‘new’ Avengers!

Ultron has conquered a new world, Titan, and plans to use its inhabitants to crush Earth; in particular his ‘father,’ Hank Pym, and ‘son’, the Vision. Pym wants to ‘kill’ Ultron, which is obviously against the Avengers code, but brings into question whether his mechanized creation is truly alive. Can a machine have a soul? Does its deactivation equate to murder? Vision – a cyborg entity himself – certainly thinks so, which leads to an interesting conflict. Pym is haunted by his failure, both as a scientist who created a flawed robotic killing machine, and as a father, who couldn’t overturn the beliefs of his son. He’s a man who constantly strives to do the right thing, but inevitably ends up causing more harm than good.

Opeña’s art is stunning, as always; the looming threat of a planet-sized Ultron is suitably terrifying, and few illustrators are better at choreographing epic battles. It’s just a shame he wasn’t able to pencil every page of the book; while Pepe Larraz is a fine substitute, his art lacks Opeña’s spark. Remender’s tale is tightly plotted, utilising the real estate of the graphic novel form. He’s penned several hundred pages of Avengers comics now, so he’s a pro, nailing the character voices, and presenting a fearsome Ultron.

Avengers: Rage of Ultron is a highly satisfying Avengers story. Its open-ended finale begs for a sequel – but with Secret Wars imminent, will we get one?

Review: Avengers Prime by Brian Michael Bendis and Alan Davis

Avengers PrimeNews hit last week that the Marvel Universe is coming to an end in May. As someone who has been reading comics for almost twenty years now, I took the news in my stride: the way I see it, universes on both sides of the fence have undergone minute revamps, as well as massive overhauls, since I became invested in their characters. I have no ownership of them; I’m merely along for the ride. If the powers-that-be choose to reinvent their respective wheels, go for it. I’ll try out the comics when they come out, and if I don’t like them I’ll step away. Such is life.

Until then, I’ve got a bunch of unread collections to get through. And as the MU as we know it will soon cease to exist, it seemed fitting to reminisce on times-gone-by with AVENGERS PRIME by Brian Michael Bendis and Alan Davis; a limited five-series that focuses on the ‘core trio’ of Avengers: Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor.

Chronologically speaking, AVENGERS PRIME takes place after “Dark Reign,” and was the series that welcomed in the “Heroic Age.” What this means, basically, for the uninitiated, is that Norman Osborn’s (aka The Green Goblin) stint as the Director of SHIELD has come to an end with the fall of Asgard, and the Avengers as dysfunctional as ever; their mistrust has increased and fermented ever since the Civil War. AVENGERS PRIME begins right after “Dark Reign’s” final battle, when Cap, Thor and Iron are teleported to mystery mystical, and hostile, land. Separated, the three endure personal challenges, eventually regrouping in a tremendous culminating battle.

As always, Bendis’s dialogue is apropos, and in this instance he completely annuls his perpetual use of captions, allowing Davis’s timeless art the room it needs to shine. The story is a little one-note; little in the way of revelations or gasp-worthy twists. But it’s a fun story that underlines the differences between the team’s key members, and also the ties that bind them. It’s about friendship, and all too often nowadays that gets forgotten, with a greater focus on larger-scale threats and universe-ending apocalypses. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of relationship is forged between the trio in the forthcoming Marvel Universe.

Iron Man Cap Hug