Comics Round-up: The Big Two, now and October…

Comics are big business and, since the acquisitions of Marvel and DC by Disney and Warner Bros if not before, we’ve been deluged with story events and other strategies to get us to part with our hard-earned cash. Sure, many of us have experienced ‘event fatigue’ but that hasn’t stopped the majority buying, so that’s what the Big Two are continuing to do. And characters are brands and both are doing all the brand-building and product diversification they can, especially now with major film properties and their sequels coming out (there are now no less than 7 Avengers titles, and that’s not counting the series of their solo characters).

So where are we at the moment and what’s coming later, circa October 2014?

Marvel Now Right now Jason Aaron’s Original Sin, Marvel’s current event, is in full swing. This is a choice of writer and story that actually avoids the feelings of malaise of endless events by virtue of quirkiness. It’s a cosmic murder mystery, the deceased being the alien Watcher, best known for breaking his oath of non-interference with the coming of the world-devouring Galactus. But the Watcher’s secrets have psychically leaked into the minds of heroes, stirring animosity in their ranks.

Oh and while the Punisher and Doctor Strange (of all combinations) are trying to work out whodunit, others are running around with the dead Watcher’s eyes for whatever power they might bequeath!

It’s also Marvel’s 75th Anniversary (well from its origins as Timely anyway, so we can expect another one in twenty-odd years) so there are various specials and posters coming through to celebrate, including one-shot imaginings of what their key characters might be like on their 100th (on the latter score the recent Kingpin-Venom Spider-Man issue was inspired!)

Original_Sin_1
Marvel 75th Anniversary Spider-Man 100th Anniversary

DC Meanwhile DC, who rebooted their whole universe in 2011, merging in their acquired Wildstorm characters and returning those of their mature readers Vertigo line to the mainstream, have ‘Future’s End’. Set five years in the future, Batman Beyond of the cartoon series has come from the further future to avert the disaster of his own time – only to arrive five years late.

Now if Marvel have gone to town on their Avengers line then DC have thrown their publishing efforts at Batman, it being the Dark Knight’s 75th anniversary year. Aside from three established core titles – Detective Comics, Batman and Batman and Robin, there’s the four per month shipping Batman Eternal, a year-ish long 60 issue mega-series celebrating the anniversary. It’s a collective effort by five writers headed by Scott Snyder, taking in the whole Batman cast and various aspects of the setting of Gotham City. Even then there are some 6+ associated books in the Batman line, and two on top of that coming in October.

And Scottish comic’s legend Grant Morrison is bringing his A-game with the long-planned 8-issue The Multiversity. Beginning in August, it’s the story of a number of parallel worlds in the DC multiverse. It’s a big concept series that makes a big statement and is in part intended to launch new properties from the different worlds in DC’s comics line, the start of something new.

Futures_End_Vol_1-0_Cover-1
Batman Eternal #1

The Multiversity #1

The Multiversity #1

AXIS #1

Looking ahead to October and Marvel have upped their ante yet again. Their second event of the year comes from high-concept writer Rick Remender. Entitled AXIS, it’s the Avengers and the X-Men teaming up to fight the now telepathically empowered uber-Nazi, the Red Skull, and other villains besides; mind, part of the drama will lie in the fact that half of the mutant X-Men are fugitives after the A vs X event of 2012/13.

In other news – actually international news given the profile since the movies – Thor becomes a woman (or perhaps it’s the other way around). There are yawns of ‘gimmick’ amongst longer term fans given that this, in all likelihood, will last a year at most. But it’s a decisive move to appeal to female readers and to have another strong female lead in the canon, and even the most cynical will withhold a bit of judgement given that it’s Jason Aaron on writing duties.

On a similar score we finally have a black Captain America as of October, the original’s sidekick and friend of some years, Sam Wilson – the Falcon.

This Cap won’t be the fighting legend Steve Rogers was (Rogers retiring yet again from the role, this time after aging from the loss of the super-soldier serum) but he’s keeping his powers of flight while taking up the shield. Aside from more inevitable cynicism of what term of investment Marvel is making in this – because the status quo will be restored before too long – is the fact that it wasn’t so long ago someone else stepped in to the Captain’s boots. This was Bucky, the Winter Soldier, brought to the screen in the most recent CA movie. Still, this is a natural progression and Remender is an exceptional writer who carries many fans, much acclaim, and enough brownie points that the jaded will give it a go regardless of their complaints.

AXIS #2

AXIS #2

female-thor-cover Female Thor Image

Sam Wilson: Captain America

Sam Wilson: Captain America

"Bucky" Barnes: The Winter Soldier

“Bucky” Barnes: The Winter Soldier

Death of Wolverine (September)

Death of Wolverine (September)

Well death in comics has proved to be a major money-spinner and it’s been reported that Marvel have adopted a policy of killing two characters a year to bring back later, giving double if not triple spikes of sales op’s. It was Cap’s turn to bite the bullet after the landmark Civil War (which was when Bucky stepped up). The ‘Death’ and ‘Return’ of spikes are inevitable, but there’s also a good chance of a serious ‘world without’ / ‘who will take up the mantle’ sales peak as well. Inevitably the bigger the character the larger the sales; and they don’t come much bigger than Wolverine.

Yes, the four issue Death of Wolverine happens in September, to be followed in October with Death of Wolverine: The Logan Legacy. And regardless of the eye-rolling of this and other deaths and policies thereof, the books are going to sell.

Meanwhile, with imminent release of the Guardians of the Galaxy movie, Marvel have got busy expanding that line. This month, aside from the solo spin-offs Star Lord and Rocket Raccoon, British writer Dan Abnett – the man who (along with Andy Lanning) made the GOTG cool enough to turn into a movie – returns to the property.

This is Guardians 3000, and jumps a millennium into the future to chronicle the adventures of the time-travelling original team. There is scepticism on the art side, the kinetic but exaggerated pencils of Gerardo Sandoval (and some Guardians who look more angry then we’ve seen since they debuted in ’69).

But for those who appreciate or can get past his visuals Abnett will doubtless serve up something interesting…

Guardians of the Galaxy 3000 #1

Guardians of the Galaxy 3000 #1

Deathlok-1 Another aspect of the Movie / TV age of comics is how characters are changing to be more in line with their big and small screen counterparts. This month there’s a new Deathlok series, tying into the version established in Joss Whedon’s SHIELD. The character has antecedents in the Marvel U and the TV version hardly seems to have blown the audience away; but it’ll be interesting to see whether Nathan Edmondson can bring him to life in a bigger way on the comic world.
On the other side of the impact of movies there were reports that Marvel mainstay the Fantastic Four comic may be cancelled due to the problematic relationship between Marvel / Disney and Fox who grabbed the film rights cheap when Marvel was headed toward bankruptcy in the late 90’s. I believe I’m right in saying that it would have been an unprecedented move; but in this era of film and corporate ownership new rules are being learned all the time.

[POST SAN DIEGO UPDATE  – Marvel have been explicit in saying that there are no plans to cancel or restrict any property whose film rights reside with Fox, those being the Fantastic Four and the X-Men]

And finally on the big news on the Marvel front, their anniversary celebration continues with the Marvel 75th Anniversary Celebration #1, a super-size one-shot comic of shorts by writing luminaries from the course of Marvel’s history, including Tom DeFalco and of course ‘The Man’ himself Stan Lee. Excelsior!

Fantastic Four #11 - there's at least one more issue to come...

Fantastic Four #11 – there’s at least one more issue to come…

New 52 Futures End #22

New 52 Futures End #22

DC are rather in the middle of their big efforts. The weekly shipping Futures End approaches a mid-point with issues 23 to 26. Meanwhile in the alternate universe comic Earth 2, the also weekly World’s End begins, written by Daniel H Wilson, the bestselling author of Robopocalypse; remaining on the parallel world front, Morrison’s Multiversity continues with ‘The Just’.

On the Batman side there are two additions to the line with Arkham Manor, in which Wayne Manor is used to house the inmates of Arkham Asylum, and Gotham Academy, about Gotham’s most prestigious prep school and the weird pupils and building thereof…

And, from DC’s Vertigo imprint, we finally get issue four of the Sandman Overture. This is the 6-issue prequel to Neil Gaiman’s massively and justifiably acclaimed mature readers sequence, released for the 25th anniversary of the series. Due to Gaiman’s giant signing tour and doubtless his many other writings, the planned bimonthly schedule has been drawn out to an average of one issue every three months. Still we’ve had the first two already and they’ve been gorgeous: the unfolding metaphysical drama is as sublime as ever it was and the art sumptuous. It’s a treat we have to wait for, but an absolute treat nonetheless.

On a related note Dead Boy Detectives is still on the go, coming from the pages of Sandman and delivered by novelist Toby Litt and comics art stalwart Mark Buckingham: it’s certainly worth a look.

And Pete Milligan, one of the original writers who launched the Vertigo imprint along with Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison and others, has the second issue of The Names this month, described as “The Wolf of Wall Street” meets “Kill Bill”.

Earth 2 #27

Earth 2 #27

 Arkham Manor

Sandman Overture #4

Sandman Overture #4

Dead Boy Detectives

Dead Boy Detectives

The Names #2

The Names #2

Overall it strikes me that DC have the stronger scheme with their year-long mega series and the Batman anniversary but that Marvel are going to recoup any lost ground in October if not earlier. Either way I’ve always kept an eye on what’s coming down the line from the Big Two – but I’m not sure if we’ve ever seen an October quite like this.