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Posts by Daniel:
Nick Fury in a horror story? What is this you say? Well, I have to admit that 1988’s Nick Fury vs. S.H.I.E.L.D. written by Bob Harras and penciled by Paul Neary really does include elements of a creepy Halloween story wrapped up in the wrapper of a spy thriller.
Nick Fury and his team attempt to salvage a downed helicarrier in New Mexico. The power core goes critical and only the actions of Agent Clay Quartermain save the day, in a heroic but fatal act. But from the jaws of victory is defeat as A.I.M. forces steal the power core out from under the S.H.I.E.L.D. team. Fury’s investigations uncover the core in the possession of Roxxon, who is working with A.I.M. and controlling a mysterious group codenamed Delta which is staffed by S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. The Council becomes displeased with Fury’s sleuthing and orders his death! Fury goes on the run and faces off against his closest friends and colleagues as they try to kill him while he tries to find the secrets behind Delta. And Fury discovers a horrible truth: that not everyone in S.H.I.E.L.D. is who they seem to be.
Wait, where is the Halloween element? You might be asking. As mentioned, Agent Quartermain heroically dies in action, or does he? Quartermain re-emerges, and much like Agent Coulson, does not remember any of his death– Tahiti is a magical place! As the reader struggles with the question of how Quartermain survived, one notices that S.H.I.E.L.D.’s new director, Jasper Sitwell, seems to be acting strangely. He is determined to capture Fury, stating that Fury taught him this single-minded focus. But, the reader begins to question why one so loyal to Fury’s teachings would be so adamant in killing Fury with little explanation. Fury’s confidant Agent Jimmy Woo appears to be aging at an unreal place, and also seems determined to kill his friend. After Fury fights and kills a Delta agent, one begins to question who, amongst S.H.I.E.L.D. has not been compromised by Delta. Have S.H.I.E.L.D.’s best and brightest been replaced with aliens, robots, zombies, Life Model Decoys, magical shape shifting demons? I need to know!
The good news is that in the end, it all gets wrapped up and we learn all of Delta’s secrets.
This story has no vampires, no werewolves and no demons, but for me, this is a true story of terror. What if everyone you knew had turned against you? What if you discovered that some of them had been replaced by someone or something else? For Fury, he truly does not know who he can trust. And even those who love him struggle with the question, could I kill Nick? It is a whole different kind of terror as Agent Countess Valentine Allegra dela Fontaine debates if she could kill the man she loves based solely on orders. There is no one that Fury can run to that can provide him relief from the pursuit of those wishing to destroy him.
I really do believe that even if we are not called to marriage, we were not built by God to be alone. We were built to be part of a community. And I call myself lucky to be part of a family, including folks that I am not bonded to by blood or marriage. As it says in Ecclesiastes 4:12, “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken (ESV).” As I think about what I fear, losing my family and friends is likely my greatest fear. Together we do life together, share in burdens and provide assurance of our positions as God’s children. Like Nick Fury, I need this community for me to function. Losing those within my circle is my true fear. And I can imagine that even in an act of fiction that Fury would be unsettled by not being able to reach out to someone like Dum Dum Dugan, an ally since World War II. I do not think that many of you would be shocked to find out that one of Fury’s first tasks in this story is to find a brother to help bear his burdens!
Nick Fury vs. S.H.I.E.L.D. at its core is a James Bond type thriller, but what lies underneath is what truly scares me. What if those who loved you, knew you, cared about you were no longer there for you, and potentially evil. As I see kids dressed as demons, ghosts, Norse gods, Spider-Men and Batmen collect candy, I realize what I truly fear. I fear not sharing in the community I was designed by God to part of. Agents, make sure that your backup knows during this Halloween season, that they know you value and need them.
You can read and hear Daniel’s thoughts on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Marvel Cinematic Universe at www.welcometolevelseven.com.
The Accelerators is a new independent title from Blue Juice comics written by R.F.I. Porto and illustrated by Gavin P. Smith. It has gotten a lot of buzz in the comic book community thanks to the support of AMC’s Comic Book Men. But would Mike and Dan have the same enthusiasm for this time travel story?
Does this issue make a good start for The Accelerators series?
Mike: Well, it does everything a first issue should do. It introduces a high concept: powers unknown are snatching people from throughout history—pirates, cavemen, conquistadores, even someone who looks like Sigmund Freud, you name it—and throwing them together in an arena to fight each other to the death. It identifies our main characters: Lex, the physicist from 1965 who is leap-frogging her way forward in time; Bertram, her antagonist, the Inspector Javert to her Jean Valjean, the Tommy Lee Jones to her Harrison Ford, a no-nonsense military man who also happens to be Lex’s husband; and the as-yet unnamed (I think—I looked back through the issue and saw no moniker) teenage slacker/“closet geek” from 1991 who gets swept up in Lex’s running through the corridors of the time-space continuum. It establishes some of its universe’s rules: Lex’s time travel is accomplished by a device called a “donut,” which can only transport people forward, not backward. The issue does all this—but didn’t really make me care.
Dan: Well, this is an introduction. So I think the question is how does issue #1 work out as a first impression. And I would say it does pretty well. The issue establishes the characters and the problem very quickly. And it gives us good context to the Games which I believe we will see a lot more of in the future, I hope. So I believe the creators do a good job at making it clear what the dynamics of this story will be and sets us up for the future.
Is this issue a good example of the time travel genre?
Dan: Usually we would ask about canon, but with this being a kickoff we don’t need any stinking canon. Really this story is making canon. This is what we know to date. Time travel is possible in one direction, to the future. So unlike time travel in stories like Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure or Heroes, the traveler cannot yet undo past events. The device for time travel is external to the traveler. You do not enter the machine like a TARDIS. But, sometime in the future someone is able to reach backwards and grab individuals to take them into the future present to fight in the Games. But it is not clear if this is a trip backwards or just reaching back to grab the kidnapped.
Mike: I think so. I like the idea that the time travel is one-way only; I haven’t seen that too often. And the idea of warriors drawn from the temporal hither and yon to duke it out is intriguing. The issue has a nice quality of breakneck breathlessness to it, the same tone I associate with that über-time travel adventure, Doctor Who. But it’s just not enough. The characters are flat, easily recognizable stereotypes (at least at this point—I acknowledge it’s just the first issue, but I also get few hints of greater depth to come, beyond the marriage of Lex and Betram); and, without rich characters, no story of any genre can suceeed.
What did you like the most?
Dan: Well, I love the cover. My cover is autographed by the cover penciller Walt Flanagan of AMC’s Comic Book Men. In my order I also got a postcard sized print from the book that shows all four of the Comic Book Men and is signed by Walt, Mike, Ming and Bryan. I have a lot of respect for the large amount of knowledge that Flanagan has about comics and superheroes. So I honestly, really like that and any or all opinions may be slanted due to that cover. Sadly the deal I took advantage of is over. It is probably one of the few pieces of comic book memorabilia I have in the house.
Mike: I’ve indicated above some of the things I liked. I also chuckled to see our teenage protagonist and his friends walking out of a movie theater whose marquis announced not one, not two, but three time travel movies—clever.
Dan: Honestly, I do like the cover. It really does foreshadow what you find in the comic; the three main characters, the doughnut, and a somewhat bloody image of the games with soldiers from different eras battling each other.
Okay, seriously now. I am a trained historian and my expertise is military history. I was the kind of guy who had trouble settling on one topic. So I like to joke that my interest was in Modern Europe and the Ancient World. Those are two pretty big different time periods. But I can tell you that when you take military history classes come up you get questions like who would win a Roman Centurion or a member of the British SAS. So I enjoy the concept of the Games, the gladiator battle between soldiers of every era, because it is like those conversations are coming alive on the page. It cannot be that long before The Accelerators answers the tough question of Ninja vs. Pirate!
What did you like the least?
Dan: This is going to seem weird. I liked the book, but did not love it. So what I did not like is that I was not immediately pulled into the book like I recent was with a title like Astro City which made me quickly want to burn through the entire original series. I have the same reaction with Fables, but with that series the shine did eventually wore off. So I felt about The Accelerators like I did a good but not great issue of Fables. So what I liked least was that I was not in the first issue completely pulled into The Accelerators universe yet.
Mike: I understand! I liked the pacing but somehow, though, it just didn’t all gel for me.
I was really put off by the gore on the cover, and in the first few pages, in the time-travel Thunderdome sequence. Maybe that’s why I found it hard to respond more positively to the balance of the issue which truly isn’t bad. It’s not especially groundbreaking or provocative, but—apart from characters who feel flat, and that’s a big exception—it’s competent storytelling. But the bloodbath at the beginning put me in a foul mood. Maybe that’s my problem, not the comic’s.
Dan: That cover is pretty bloody! I’m not planning to throw it up on the wall in my kids’ rooms. I would like them to sleep. It is safely stored in a short box, where the cover cannot put terror into the hearts of my children. And where you cannot pilfer it man!
Mike: The fact that what is, on its surface, a semi-intriguing time-travel story seems destined to turn into a gladiatorial bloodbath frankly leaves me cold.”
Dan: I’m holding out for Ninjas!
Do you see spiritual applications in this story?
Mike: No. It is too much the first chapter in an ongoing story. Ask me when the collected edition is published (assuming I remember to read it).
If I had to guess, though, I bet Daniel saw something about salvific sacrifice in here somewhere… assuming he could see past his autographed cover, that is. (Just teasing you, Daniel!)
Dan: The first lesson is that God loves me so much that he delivered to me a Walt Flanagan autograph!
Okay, so here is the deal brother, I see salvation messages everywhere. So I push myself to find spiritual lessons, even if unintended!
So go with me here. Now this is one of the most controversial Bible verses ever. And it has been misused a ton. But let’s go to Paul’s words in Ephesians about husbands and wives:
22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.[a] 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body (Ephesians 5: 22-30, NIV).
Yeah, I went there. My shorthand for this passage is that husbands and wives need to take care of each other, act like a team and fill each other needs. Open communication is usually the best tool to create that team in a marriage. Again, that is just my shorthand.
What we get in The Accelerators is a story of when husbands and wives fail to take care of each other. I have a feeling that the married Lex and Bertram love each other. And I think that both are making decisions based on only the best of intentions. Yet, their inability to love, respect and most of all communicate (Matt Anderson this is some of the best marriage advice you could ever take into account) has led them to make bad decisions and become opponents. I have a feeling that love, respect and communication would have solved their problems pretty easily. But then we would not have a story would we?
Do you plan to stick with the series?
Mike: I might read the collected form from a library, but I wouldn’t pay for it, and I won’t be putting this on my pull list.
Dan: I am considering it. I want to see how this ends, and would typically say I would grab the trade since I did like the story. I tend to limit buying to books I love or have Agent Coulson in them (for example I love Scott Snyder’s Batman run and have only bought one issue from his tenure which you will hear about at a later date). But with this being an independent comic it could be a long time before a trade comes out if ever. And then I have to question if the library will get it. So I am considering looking into a package from the retail source I got this copy from for the next five issues. And you never know they might throw in something extra like they did with this issue!
Maybe in the next package they will certify official friendships with Walt!
The Accelerators has Mike and Dan’s attention. Both are intrigued about the possibilities, but there is concern that an interesting story could turn into a blood bath. And based on first impressions, neither is willing to fully financially commit to following this series…yet!
DC’s New 52 is clicking along as it completed its 19th month last month. Originally, the April issues were slated to be part of a “WTF” month complete with a shared logo and “shocking” covers. Fortunately, DC walked away from the WTF concept but they did retain the planned fold out covers which hinted at shocking events within each issue. In this offering of “Issues of the Day with Mike and Dan” our reviewers breakdown one title from this month of shocks, Supergirl #19.
Do you feel this story represent Supergirl well?
Dan: I really think the Kara’s were both represented well. They came off as very strong women, maybe a little bit quick to punch but strong. And Power Girl definitely felt like an independent woman. I would say if I want my son to be a Batman fan, I would be comfortable with my daughter reading Supergirl books.
I thought the story was fast paced, had some mystery since I did not really have background on why Lex Luthor was attacking the Karas and left me feeling like one chapter has successfully closed while opening another. But I defer to our local “Super” expert for his opinion.
Mike: No. How could it? She is “dead” for the first six pages. For the rest of the issue, she’s presented as just another hard-hitting female superhero. The issue contains very little about what makes Supergirl unique. To be fair, it does focus more on Power Girl, the “Earth 2” version of Kara; even with Power Girl, however, we only learn that she is another “last daughter of Krypton.” We get no insights into her personality, her motivations, her aspirations… If you come to this issue with little knowledge of Power Girl, as I do, you won’t leave it with much more. Supergirl #19 is basically one big fight scene, and while that’s fine as far as it goes—it is a superhero comic, after all, and super-action should be the norm—the previous, pre-“New 52” volume of the title showed readers how a Supergirl series could be, both issue by issue and overall, action-packed and substantive, developing character and theme without skimping on fast-paced entertainment.
Did this story conform to canon?
Dan: Oh wow, it sounds like you had some concerns. So I have only read the first Supergirl trade within the New 52. And I have read some of the other initial super books, but I do not feel like a Super expert. So the fact that Kara has her own Fortress of Solitude like sanctuary, uses the El family S symbol and is a hero all seemed to conform to canon. Also this clearly is a direct sequel to the “H’el on Earth” storyline which I have not read yet. So in general I believe it aligns to the long history of Supergirl and the forming New 52 canon.
I guess my biggest question is how did Power Girl get here? I know that she is a New 52 Earth Two hero, but how she is aware of Supergirl and how she got to Earth 1 is all a mystery to me at the moment. But I do have to give the artist and writer a round of applause for finding an excuse to put Power Girl in her traditional, if not revealing, uniform.
What’s up with Lex Luthor’s face? Lex is bald as he should be. Honestly, I think the have trimmed him down a little bit. But the biggest difference in my mind is his face. Of course this had led me to ask, how did this happen? It is a disease? Is it a Mike Tyson face tattoo? I want to know, but I do not believe it breaks canon.
Mike: Yes, both the immediate past—Kara is “dead” at the start as a consequence of her actions at the end of the “H’El on Earth” crossover that’s occupied the Superman family of titles for the last several months—and the larger “New 52” picture. You wouldn’t really know it from this issue alone, but this Kara is much more the “alien visitor” than her cousin Kal. She is still coming to terms with life on Earth, among human beings; she generally speaks Kryptonian, for example, and is wrestling with a lot of anger about the destruction of her home planet. Since she arrived on Earth much later than Kal-El, she has not had a long time to cope with her grief. That grief and shock gave H’El his hooks into her in the crossover, in fact. While the mini-event was a generally strong story, I was disappointed that DC positioned Kara, so soon out of the “New 52” gate, as the “weak link” in the Super-family chain.
What did you like the most?
Dan: I really do enjoy the pullout cover by Mahmud Asrar. It is full of action and made me want to open the book and rip into the story, especially after I saw the addition of Supergirl. And it did lead me to action. I had planned to purchase the Mad Magazine variant cover for Aquaman #19. But after seeing this Supergirl cover, I very much want the standard, and cheaper, gatefold cover instead.
Mike: What did you think of the Aquaman cover?
Daniel: Honestly, I was disappointed since I felt like that cover really did not line up the action of the story. I sense a trend, but I will have more to say about that later. What did you like Mr. Super Family Fanboy?
Mike: Kara’s underwater Sanctuary—her aquatic equivalent to Kal’s Fortress of Solitude—is one of the coolest superhero hideaways in comics today. As far as I know, Sanctuary is a “New 52” innovation, but I really like it. (It certainly beats Kara hiding out as Linda Lee in the Midvale Orphanage, as she did in Silver Age continuity.) Sanctuary is a bit like Stark Tower in Marvel’s Iron Man movies, run by a JARVIS-like AI ready to cater to its mistress’ needs—as in this issue, for example, when it provides Power Girl (whom it recognizes accurately as equally Kara) with a new costume. (I don’t care for the costume, but more on that in a moment.)
I also enjoyed the cameo appearance by Lex Luthor and his retinue. Since the days of the Matrix Supergirl, this character and Luthor have had a complicated relationship. It seems the “New 52” Supergirl will be tangling with the world’s greatest criminal mind from time to time, as well.
What did you like the least?
Dan: I told you I would get back to this, I disliked the expectation that the cover sets. The cover shows Supergirl and Power Girl brawling, making it seem like Power Girl is bigger threat to the title character than Lex Luthor himself. And despite Stan Lee’s dislike of heroes fighting heroes, let’s be honest the fans love it. So I expected to see at least 3 to 5 pages of Kara battle royale. And it would have been very interesting to see story wise and visually how the two would match up. These two however, spoiler, never land a punch on each other! Instead they combine forces.
Originally this was part of DC’s “WTF” themed month. I was going to rail against that concept, not the fact they were trying to shock us but using the WTF moniker for books that kids might be interested in. This is DC and not Vertigo! Kids read these books. But Krutack (yeah, I’m still running with that) if it made me mad that I never had Supergirl on Power Girl fist of fury (something seems very wrong about that statement).
Mike: So the task of issue #19 seems to be this: Let’s get Power Girl back in the “boob window.” The Flashpoint event changed many things about the DC multiverse, but it did not, apparently, given Power Girl a reasonably proportioned, non-objectified body. Granted, the costume Power Girl is wearing when she crosses over into Kara’s reality isn’t exactly modest—it’s form-fitting, to say the least—but the “reveal” (in more than one sense) of the “new” (read: same old, same old) Power Girl costume feels like a disappointing step backward—a ready-made pin-up poster.
Dan: I guess I did not put that much thought into the uniform. I guess after seeing Starfire in the Red Hood book I guess I accepted the fact that anything goes.
Mike: Also, I also disliked the generic nature of the big bad monster against whom Power Girl and Kara battle. “Consider me a test,” he tells them—as if writer Mike Johnson is admitting, “I couldn’t come up with an original threat this month, gang, so let’s just get through this, okay?” Again, strong but boring bruisers are part of the superhero territory; still, that doesn’t mean readers have to enjoy all of them.
Do you see spiritual applications in this story?
Mike: The bottom panel on page 6 references Michelangelo’s iconic painting in the Sistine Chapel of God reaching out to touch Adam’s similarly extended hand, granting humanity the spark of life. A nice (if somewhat predictable) moment in itself, it doesn’t seem to have implications for the rest of the issue.
While issue #19 doesn’t offer any particular spiritual or theological material, Kara’s story as a whole may speak to the tension Christians feel of living as strangers and aliens in this world. (Gee, that phrase would make a good name for a podcast…) Of course, Kara’s alienation is driven by her anger and grief at Krypton’s destruction. Our alienation is driven by our desire for a better country, the new home that God has promised us. It might be interesting to see if Kara can learn to be “in” but not “of” this world, as Christians must learn to be.
Dan: I went a very different direction on this one. I think this story is a good illustration of that the fact that two are better than one when struggling. I know this lesson is often used around marriage, but I think it could easily also be applied to comradeship. In this story, Supergirl and Power Girl need each other to both overcome the Kyrponite poison in their system and to defeat Luthor’s henchman Apex. And being the same person, the ladies work really well together.
This to me really is a wisdom teaching, and as we recklessly open up the big book we find in Ecclesiastes:
Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
10 If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.
11 Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?
12 Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, NIV).
This story really shows that even for a hero, two locked together against one foe is better than one serving alone.
Do you plan to stick with the series?
Mike: I may look at some trades when they are released but, alas, no, I am dropping Supergirl from my monthly pull list. I was enjoying the previous, Igle-Gates incarnation so much; but Johnson and artist Mahmud Asrar, while they have introduced some rich characters into the mix—particularly the “New 52” version of the Silver Banshee—just aren’t telling all that compelling a story.
Dan: What, that could be as big as me dropping Aquaman. No, I won’t be here again next month. And I am looking forward to future Supergirl trades for me to check out from the library since the first New 52 Supergirl trade was a real surprise to me.
I did hand my copy over to my daughter to see if she would have a interest in it.
Mike: Did she like it?
Dan: No! She did not understand why Kara was green in the opening scenes, how she was poisoned and most of all why were there two Karas. I think I would have done better if I had given her a Supergirl trade with a full story arc than dropping her straight into issue 19.
Supergirl #19 appears to have received a mixed review from Mike and Dan. They expressed concerns over skimpy outfits and a lack of story context. But both really enjoyed the use of Kara’s sanctuary and other pieces of the Super mythos. And both are more than willing to read more from this franchise, but preferably in a collected trade format.
Many disparage comic books as being low brow literature that plays to the lowest denominator. Others look at comic books as a truly unique American art form. I tend to be part of the later, and have used comic book stories to teach Biblical truth lifetimes ago as a youth pastor.
The Book of God: How We Got the Bible takes this a step forward sharing truth about the Bible in a very intelligent way. The Book of God written by Ben Avery and illustrated by Javier Saltares provides readers with an overview of the Bible, a history of its development, and evidence to the accuracy and truth of the Bible. The book is divided into four main parts: the Production of the Bible, the Process of the Bible, the Preservation of the Bible, and the Proof the Bible. The topics are discussed by the book’s narrator who stands in front of scenes that illustrate the topic he discusses. In effect, readers are given both text and illustration to drive home the points of the story of the Bible.
Ben Avery’s script for The Book of God is well researched, well written and highly enlightening. Avery clearly deeply researched his topic, though he does not claim to be a scholar. He provides accurate context to the books of the Bible and makes it clear where issues like authorship are in debate. I had hoped to catch him falling into the trap of reporting that the Jewish historian Josephus claimed that Jesus was the Christ. Instead he pointed out the issue and the inaccuracy of any Christian claims that Josephus would have made this statement. Additionally, it is well written. The text is concise but accurate and informative. He weaves in terms from non-English languages seamlessly and educates his audience to their use. I have read much longer volumes that have presented similar content, and I appreciated how much information Avery was able to convey with such few words.
I enjoyed Saltares’ images, which mix a modern man, the narrator, into the historical images. I was never distracted by this mixing of eras. Additionally, he depicts multiple eras successfully from ancient history to our modern era. I continually came back to the representation of the narrator. The image of the African-American narrator added to the text for me. He is dressed and represented in a balanced fashion where he both felt authoritative and “cool”. The narrator is the younger professor that you probably wanted to hang out with during your college days. I think that this depiction would have an impact on teens and young adults, who likely would not want to preached at by an older professor figure.
The big question I asked myself is how would I use The Book of God? Back in my youth pastor days I was often asked to provide youth centered studies as alterative programming. One of those was a Bible Basics study. If I had The Book of God available I would have selected this title, instead of whatever I actually used. Additionally, I can think of adult friends who do not enjoy reading that this title could be a good suggestion for, since it is concise, has multiple means of communicating its message and is an intelligent read.
I really enjoyed The Book of God. It is not my typical comic title, being Ninja free, but it is very successful of fulfilling its goal of providing truth about the Bible. It is well written, well researched and well presented. And it helps show how comic books can help intellectually stimulate readers. Like me, you will probably forgive Ben Avery for a lack of ninjas and appreciate the message that it does present.
The announcement that Marvel’s Cinematic Universe Phase 2 movies would include Guardians of the Galaxy was surprising to many. Unlike Thor, Iron Man and Captain America, the Guardians are a relatively obscure Marvel team-up. As part of the Marvel NOW! initiative, Marvel has recently introduced a Guardians of the Galaxy title, and our reviewers look into issue 1 with this “Issues of the Day with Mike and Day” asking who are the Guardians?
Do you feel this story represents the Guardians of the Galaxy well?
Mike: Yes. When I say that, understand that I came to this issue with absolutely no previous knowledge of the team. No kidding, the only thing I knew about the Guardians before reading this issue was that they will be the subject of Marvel’s next big superhero movie. I came to this issue with no preconceptions or expectations, simply hoping to enjoy myself and end up liking the characters. I enjoyed myself for about half the time (more on that in a moment), but I am happy to report I ended up liking the Guardians, especially Peter Quill and Gamora.
Peter is (at least as Brian Michael Bendis writes him here) a Han Solo-esque adventurer, confident and impulsive. He’s forward with the fairer sex and frank in his frustration with his father. Peter’s father, the King of the Spartax planetary system, is enforcing the decision of an enigmatic alien council (enigmatic to this uninitiated reader, anyway) and orders Peter to stay away from Earth, as all aliens have been ordered to do. Peter, however, is half-human, and feels he has a right and an obligation to help protect his home planet from intergalactic threats. As far as I can gather, he’s assembled a team of folks his father dismisses as “broken friends” to assist him in that task.
I suppose Peter treads close to some cliché territory as a character, but Bendis imbues a spark of genuine likeability in the guy that makes it easy to set such objections aside. I wouldn’t want to be Peter Quill—he’s boastful and hot-headed (not to say I’ve never been those things myself)—but I don’t think I’d mind hanging around him, and I certainly wouldn’t mind having him on the planet’s side when aliens have it in their crosshairs (as they do London on the issue’s closing splash page). Peter seems a hero at heart.
Gamora is “the most dangerous woman in the universe,” and (at least he implies to his father) Peter’s lover (if she actually is, why is Peter coming on so strong to a female Kree in the opening sequence—is he a hero on the battlefield but a bum in personal relationships?). Judging from the impressive Steve McNiven splash page that introduces her, she’s an epic sword-swinger. She’s also kind of sweet: when Peter objects to her bursting onto the scene in such violent fashion, she simply says, “I thought you were in trouble.”
By far she was the most interesting of this issue’s supporting players. To be fair, the others didn’t get much space; but I can’t see myself becoming devotees of Drax (a cross between Conan the Barbarian and Martian Manhunter), Groot (an outer-space Ent) or Rocket Raccoon (I know, comics can get away with some stupid stuff, but, come on… a raccoon space ranger?). At the same time, the team as a team seems to function fairly well, so, yes, I think this first issue presents them in a positive light. (In contrast to some other recent superhero team books I could name…JLA #1, cough, cough!)
Dan: Now I feel a little bit on the spot. It’s true confessions time. So when I heard that Marvel was going to roll out a Guardians of the Galaxy movie I thought, “Wow, Corsair and the Guardians is really an obscure team to base a movie on.” This was followed by, “Since Corsair is Cyclops’ father do they even have the rights to those characters.” So yeah, I was a little confused, especially since Corsair leads the Starjammers.
I’m pretty sure I don’t have any vintage Guardians of the Galaxy stories in my basement.
So I guess I am saying, yeah the issue represents the Guardians great since I have no idea what good or bad really means for this hero team. So, due to pure ignorance, we have agreement sir!
Does this story conform to canon?
Mike: I leave that to Daniel to discuss, but I presume so.
Dan: I guess I really need to quit claiming to be a Marvel guy!
So my motivation to read the issue was tied to me wanting to know more about the team a future Disney/Marvel feature was based on. My experience with them has been limited to an episode of The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes which had me wondering why a talking raccoon had joined the Starjammers (you see a trend here) and the free digital Guardians of the Galaxy Infinity comics that Marvel has offered which help establish who Rocket, Drax and Gamora are. In fact the Gamora issue shows that Gamora has a close relationship with Thanos, which could have an impact on Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe! Likewise I was pleased they did name drop Thanos in this issue. I think it is a great idea to clearly establish the Guardians are tied to Thanos as a villain and that canon.
I had heard chatter that some questioned a title featuring Peter since the last time he was seen in comics he died. But I have not read that storyline or the 0 issue which I assume brought his comic book death full circle. And so I was not committed to Star-Lord’s death! They could have told me he was a clone, robot, or resurrected Quill and I would have not have complained.
So, yes I feel like this story confirms to 3 free comics and a 22 minute cartoon!
What did you like the most?
Mike: Peter’s interaction with his father. Bendis quickly establishes a real conflict that promises to have lasting, story-driven consequences.
Dan: Wow, that is really not a lot to work with here! Let’s see I liked we reviewed a Marvel book!
I could sound a little cynical here. But I see this as a movie tie-in. August 2014 is not that far away and I want Guardians of the Galaxy to both be a quality film and fare well in the box office. But I find them to be a fairly obscure group, see my earlier belief that they were the Starjammers, and I think Marvel will actually have to work harder to market the movie than they had to with The Avengers which was full of heroes and actors that the public was familiar with. So I really like Marvel getting ahead of the film publicity and getting the comic fan base ready and mobilized for hopefully a very good movie. Honestly, the fact that Iron Man is included in this storyline to me is a clear indicator that they are trying to get the movie fans who have wandered into the books educated to who the Guardians are.
I really wish that my favorite things included the story. But much like Star Wars #1 this is really chapter one of a bigger story. And I find it hard to evaluate without seeing the sum of its parts. There is a lot of setup in this first issue so I just don’t feel like they in the flow of the story yet.
I really liked my Deadpool variant cover.
What did you like the least?
Dan: I disliked that Deadpool is not in this story! Talk about false advertising! No Deadpool and no tacos, I felt scammed! And I don’t think I am the only one. When you glance through the variant cover gallery it becomes clear that adding Deadpool is the most popular variant. But do not be fooled, Deadpool is not in the building. Clearly Marvel is playing on the huge celebrity of Deadpool to bring readers to this Guardians plus Iron Man book. Now is the time for Ryan Reynolds to give Deadpool the proper big screen portrayal he needs! No Deadpool I feel dirty!
Mike: Iron Man’s inclusion in the action felt incredibly forced, motivated only by the fact that (if I understand correctly) Iron Man will figure into the on-screen version of the team. Readers like myself who don’t follow Tony Stark’s current print adventures or who (also like myself) frankly have little interest in the character will find his intrusion into the book half-way through a confusing distraction. (Why is the in-suit computerized guidance system now named after Pepper Potts? Is she still among the living, or is Gwyneth Paltrow out of a job?)
Dan: Apparently since 1963, Tony Stark has never thought it might be cool to joyride in space. It seems it takes Peter Quill to give him the idea, even though Stark has had adventures in spaces. So despite being one of the smartest guys in the world, he needs someone else to tell him what every 5 year old knows. If you can fly in space, fly in space! Who’s the futurist now? Mind Blown!
Mike: Also, a minor quibble: not that I’m really in favor of profanity, but if one is going to invent an extraterrestrial curse word, surely one can do better than “krutack.” All the most satisfying profanity is monosyllabic. I’m just sayin’.
Dan: Krutack you make a good point!
Do you see spiritual applications in this story?
Mike: Not especially, although I feel that Peter’s conflict with his father may bear some, if not spiritual, at least moral grist for someone’s theological mill down the road. The two men spend some time arguing over whether Peter should quit “gallivanting all over the galaxy” in order to claim his birthright as “the star-lord of Spartax… the firstborn of the Spartax Empire.” I know nothing about the Spartax, but I now know, their king, Peter’s father, is something of a villain. Peter is forsaking a chance at personal aggrandizement in favor of a higher calling. I am reminded of Moses, whom the letter to the Hebrews tells us chose “rather to share ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin” (11.25, NRSV). Don’t get me wrong: Peter seems to enjoy pleasures, including those of the “fleeting” variety. But he isn’t, it seems, a fundamentally immoral character, as his father appears to be. Like Moses, Peter is focused on a “greater wealth”—the wealth of freedom, for Earth and for himself. He might understand Jesus’ question, “Why would people gain the whole world but lose their lives?” (Mark 8.36, CEB).
Dan: Congratulations to you sir, congratulations. I am a big fan of teaching truth through superhero stories. But since this story really just sets up future action it does take a lot of work to find a spiritual application. As I reread this issue specifically to find that spiritual truth, I did get a Saul and Jonathan vibe as Peter and his father interacted. The King and Saul both made foolish vows that impacted their sons. But it began to break down as Peter’s father is clearly setting Peter up potentially for death and Saul was simply being foolish.
Do you plan to stick with the series?
Mike: If money and time were no objects, I would at least try to for a few months. I’d like to see how Peter’s conflict with his father resolves, and I’d like to learn more about Gamora. Who knows? Maybe even the raccoon would grow on me after a while.
Dan: Seriously, I don’t even think he really is a raccoon! Honestly, I think I’m out of here for now. I look forward to checking out the collected first trade from the library. But I don’t think I will keep up month after month. It simply did not get me excited like I hoped it would.
Mike and Dan have come to agreement. They really had no idea who the Guardians, Star-Lord and Rocket Raccoon were and still need a lot more preparation for the 2014 film. The movie’s inclusion does make more sense now thanks to the connections with Thanos, but the team is still one somewhat shaded in mystery. The first issue of the new series caught the interest of Mike and Dan, but not enough to follow the series on a monthly basis. But perhaps some (cough cough Mike) are simply not ready for a raccoon space warrior!
I have been slowly reading through Marvel’s Ultimate Universe in the last few years. This universe is gritty, politically charged, realistic, and often has impactful consequences for its members. In mainline Marvel lore, characters that die tend to quickly come back to life, whereas this is typically not the case in the Ultimate Universe: if someone dies, they are not coming back. The realism of the Ultimate Universe often leads to a fair amount of reflection, something that honestly shocks me when I read comic books. This week, an Ultimate title hit my book bag that I found challenging to my beliefs about faith.
Ultimate Comics: Captain America collects the limited series of the same name by Jason Aaron and illustrated by Ron Garney. Captain America, Steve Rogers, joins a Special Forces team to discover the source of Super Soldiers being developed in North Korea. Consequently, Cap uncovers a conspiracy orchestrated by his successor, Frank Simpson, the Captain America of the Vietnam War who disappeared during that conflict. Simpson, having seen the horrors of war and questioning the motives of American political leadership, has decided to provide the enemies of the United States with the Super Soldier technology for self-defense. Rogers tracks down and is captured by Simpson, leading to a confrontation by two Captain Americas: one who believes in the flag, apple pie, and God; and another who believes the United States has been corrupted in a Godless world. Which Captain America will prevail in this epic battle of body and mind?
Captain America, Steve Rogers, is one hero who wears his faith on his sleeve. He stands firmly behind God and the United States of America. Even in the recent film adaptation of The Avengers, he affirms his faith upon meeting the Norse gods, Thor and Loki, stating, “There’s only one God, ma’am and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t dress like that.” Still, this storyline clearly tests that faith. Frank Simpson’s goal is to convince Steve Rogers that what he believes in is false. He starts with his beliefs in country, focusing on the historical facts and excesses from American history that led to his own disillusionment. As Simpson proceeds with his “educational” rant, he is dismayed with Rogers’ continued belief in God and his use of prayer. Simpson arranges an age old confrontation with God: a five minute period for Rogers to petition his Lord before he kills the hero. Simpson dares God to provide a timely miracle. Of course he expects no miracle and a broken Rogers to abandon his false faith. While I refuse to spoil the story by revealing if a miracle emerges, I will say the conclusion of the five minute challenge is interesting and will likely lead to reflection on the contrast of man’s ways versus God’s ways.
Despite Simpson’s immoral action, he does leave Rogers with something to consider. Captain America in the Ultimate Universe is a soldier. He believes in his country and he believes in God; but he is sometimes used as a covert killer that could be labeled an assassin. Captain America’s motivations are to benefit the greater good, but do his actions merit support from God? Cap is asked if his actions are supported by God or by Satan. Jason Aaron never provides us with an answer and I am glad that he does not. Though Ultimate Comics: Captain America is not meant to be a religious tome, it leaves those of us with faith to grapple with our views towards righteous war and violence as a tool for moral justification. How do we reconcile the warrior King David battling his neighbors under God’s authority, with the divine Jesus who tells us to turn the other cheek? It is not just superheroes who need to tackle this dilemma, but also us Christians as we face a world that challenges us to understand what we believe. And like Aaron, I leave you to that struggle on your own. I just hope that if faced with a similar real life situation that I could have the grace and moral fiber to respond to these questions in a practical manner matching the final frame of this title. A man comfortable with himself, Rogers moves forward both as a soldier and a believer.
I suggest you pick up a copy, and use this superhero story to kick off the internal struggle within yourself.
I have been a fairly outspoken supporter of Andrew Stantons’ 2012 John Carter. The marketing campaign stole some of my excitement before I saw the film, but the finished product pushed itself into my top five movies of 2012. I am someone who would love a sequel and further exploration of Barsoom. And it is because of the movie that I picked up the original A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs and found myself entranced by a really well developed world in the midst of romantic adventure. I would say due to the film, I am a new convert to Barsoom, and I think there are others like me.
Michael D. Sellers however is part of the pre-movie fan base. For Sellers, awaiting John Carter, was a dream come true where his beloved franchise would finally get its proper due on the big screen. Sellers may have found the final product on the screen satisfactory, but the support given it by Disney was a clear disappointment. For a movie that was budgeted to be a tentpole movie for Disney, the movie was never given the support its $250 million budget should have warranted. The fact that this blockbuster in waiting became either invisible or misunderstood by the potential audience largely led to the label as Disney’s Ishtar.
Sellers in John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood examines the historical development of the film from the Edgar Rice Boroughs decision to write his first short story to the home video release of John Carter. He examines the multiple attempts to bring Barsoom, or Mars, to the big screen including failed efforts by Disney and Paramount. With the Pixar acquisition of Disney just finalized and the John Carter rights being released from Paramount, Carter fan and director Andrew Stanton suggested that Disney studio head Dick Cook pursue the franchise. Cook wishing to please a key member of the Pixar team and a proven director agreed to purchase the rights, despite an earlier Disney failed attempt to develop a Carter film. Stanton, who became a John Carter fan through the 1970s Marvel comics, diligently worked with fellow Carter fans and a supportive producing staff to bring the century old story to a modern audience while staying under the enormous budget. But with the replacement of Cook by Rich Ross, the corporate enthusiasm for Stanton’s first live action release ended. Ross would never give his full support to this project green lighted under the old regime. Ross’ newly hired marketing head, MT Carney, a new voice in movie marketing, was focused on a backlog of projects releasing before John Carter and departmental reorganization. These priorities were placed before the marketing of the potential tentpole film. Additionally, Carney’s research led Disney to remove the phrase “of Mars”, a change that generally meant much of the potential audience was not aware the film was a science-fiction offering. And Disney CEO Bob Iger, while not actively sabotaging the film was interested in acquiring LucasFilm, a desire which could have been hindered by a successful film. The lack of enthusiasm, and marketing, lead the movie to underperformed and be labeled a failure by Disney within ten days of release and before entering the world’s two largest film markets (China and Japan). Sellers finishes his story by discussing a real win for John Carter, being ranked number one in DVD sales upon release. He closes by discussing the possibility of future Carter movies and the circumstances under which a sequel could be made. And Sellers reviews the various personalities in the real life story of John Carter’s failure and identifies their role in the movie’s bust label.
John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood is probably one of the best corporate history titles I have read since Disney War. Sellers does an excellent of job of trying to understand the politics of Disney and why decisions were made. And I think it is fair. For example, as a hardcore Burroughs fan it would be easy for him to paint a picture of Carney that is, well, evil. Many have lambasted her efforts in marketing the film including the decision to remove “of Mars”. Instead Sellers attempts to paint a picture where readers can understand what Carney had to overcome and the competing priorities of her short lived Disney posting. One can understand the pressures and blind spots that Carney was not able to overcome. Still he is honest in showing how the social media campaign failed, and was lacking, for this expert in new media. Additionally, he could have painted Iger as a villain killing the Carter film. Instead, Sellers explains Iger’s acquisition strategy, making it clear why he may have lacked excitement for a film that could have hindered his ability to bring Star Wars fully into the Disney family. Additionally, Sellers deeply analyses the Disney marketing strategy for the film including its poor poor results, especially when compared to The Avengers and The Hunger Games.
Sellers as an author is not just analyzing this story but is also part of it. Sellers was a proactive member of the Burroughs fan community who attempted to move the needle in support of the film. He discusses how he built the fan site www.thejohncarterfiles.com and edited his own fan trailer, one that Andrew Stanton declared was the only trailer that got the movie. Sellers is realistic about the obstacles that a John Carter film had to overcome and looked to the fan community to help Disney overcome them. For example, the number of Burroughs fans had declined severally and the Barsoom stories were a century old. So it did not have an active fan base as vocal as more recent The Hunger Games to bolster the film and other films such as Star Wars and Avatar had strip-mined the film of key story elements. Sellers as a character in the book had sought to convince Disney and the fan base that the fan community should be actively seeking new members and explaining that John Carter was the inspiration for many popular movies, not a cheap carbon copy of them. Sellers’ attempts were not supported on many sides. While Stanton may have supported his fan trailer, Disney was not interested in seeking inroads with fans. And even the fan community spoke with negative voices expressing concerns about Stanton’s movie and story changes. Some did not see as Sellers predicted that the movie could bring new fans to the Burroughs’ library, like myself.
John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood is a fair, factual and enlightening assessment of what went wrong with the development, marketing and release of John Carter. The book is well written and clear, and has a personal touch as Sellers enters the story describing his own efforts to support a movie sight unseen. Sellers closes with the belief that there could still be life in the Carter franchise, just not with Disney, and for fellow Carter fans I hope he is right. John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood is a tragedy, showing us the blockbuster that could have been and how the efforts, or lack of, made it one of the most ridiculed movies of 2012.
Review Copy Provided by Author
Orginally Posted at www.betweendisney.com
It is safe to say that The Sci-Fi Christian established Aquaman as the greatest superhero ever in the first “Superhero Spotlight”! Seriously, in DC’s New 52 new life is being brought to the character in exciting ways. With solid writing supporting the title, Aquaman is a key title in the New 52. With a storyline that has been crossing over with Justice League, now is the perfect time for Mike and Dan to dissect the Sea King in Aquaman #16 which is also part 4 of the Throne of Atlantis.
Do you feel this story represents Aquaman well?
Mike: Absolutely not. In fact, I’m more convinced than ever that Aquaman is the lamest superhero ever.
Actually, I’m just kidding. I was somewhat surprised, however, at how little “screen time” our title hero actually occupies in Aquaman #16. I understand this is the fourth chapter of a longer story, and I’m jumping in in medias res. But much of the issue—and, frankly, its more interesting pages—are focused on either other superheroes (the subplot involving Cyborg, who seems to be lamenting the loss of his non-technologically enhanced life, was especially compelling) or [NAME RETRACTED], whom I gather is a long-running Aquaman supporting cast member (and whose part in the plot, I gather, is causing long-time Aquaman fans some consternation!).
When he’s around, Aquaman is—well, he’s fine. He’s all right. He’s doing the things I think of Aquaman as doing, mostly a lot of swimming and telepathic communication with ocean life. He’s obviously strong, and a natural leader. But he seems more reactive than pro-active (though I suspect I only think that because I am reading one issue out of context), and for a few pages he plays second fiddle to The-Always-Awesome-Even-Not-In-His-Own-Book Batman (how tiresome). At least Aquaman and Mera get a nice, spotlight moment near the end in which they rescue Superman and Wonder Woman. I trust that, as a whole, Throne of Atlantis is a suitable showcase for the DCU’s aquatic King Arthur.
Dan: What lamest, I just got really sick for a few minutes!
I really think that this title is one of the real victories of the New 52 is the manner Aquaman has been treated. Here he continues to be a key hero in the DC Universe, especially since he will likely be the key in ending a war between Atlantis and the surface world. He is treated seriously, almost on par with DC’s superstar Batman, which is the type of Aquaman story I like best, unless it’s as part of Batman Brave and the Bold!
What did you like the most?
Mike: In addition to the subplot about Cyborg, I liked the mid-issue battle led by Hawkman the best. It was not only full of bright color and fast-paced movement, but also had an unexpected but welcome touch of humor when Element Woman gushes to Black Lightning how exciting she finds the fracas. The fight scene also seems to get close to one of the story’s thematic nerves, at least to my uninitiated eye (more on that in a bit). Are these pages helping to set up the upcoming, new JLA ongoing book, I wonder?
I also enjoyed the art overall. Paul Pelletier’s pencils, Sean Parsons’ inks, and Rod Reis’ colors convincingly convey a sense of underwater action, complete with surprisingly realistic blood in the water. It’s a small detail, but it helps “sell” the scenes.
Dan: Now Mike claims that Aquaman has to play second fiddle to the great and powerful Batman in this issue. But see things a little different. I secretly enjoy that Batman is somewhat helpless for this entire story. Now, that does not mean he is not helpful, because he is. In fact he is more helpful to Aquaman for much of the story than Superman and Wonder Woman, who could have guessed. But Batman is completely dependent on Aquaman to survive this adventure. If he survived!
In general I really enjoy this story, story arc and artwork. It’s the first “Issue of the Day” we have examined where I did not find myself with major complaints about.
What did you like the least?
Dan: What I like the least is I opened the book and Cyborg was there and this is an Aquaman book! Okay, let me explain. I read Aquaman #15 and jumped straight into issue #16. So I completely missed Justice League #16, which I assume both resolved the ending of Aquaman #15 and placed Cyborg into the story in the spot we find him in this issue. Cyborg was not even in Aquaman #15, so I was pretty confused for a few pages. I have ordered the Justice League issues I missed in this storyline so I can get the full scope of the story. Since I was somewhat prepared for the action in issued #16, I would look to Mike to describe the feeling when jumping completely into the middle of this story. But despite being the middle of a story I do believe this issue can stand alone with an interesting story with the Trench largely resolved.
Mike: Again, I didn’t like the relative lack of attention to Aquaman. If it didn’t have his name and picture on the cover, I would think this issue was part of a larger Justice League adventure (as opposed, for instance, to the current “H’El on Earth” crossover event in the Superman titles: each chapter focuses squarely on either Superman, Superboy, or Supergirl).
Do you feel this story conforms to canon?
Mike: I have no idea. Given that The New 52 isn’t that old, I certainly hope so. If it doesn’t, then DC has bigger fish than Aquaman to fry. (Thank you, thank you, I’m here all week.)
Dan: Yes and no. I recognize that this is part of DC’s New 52, so canon is somewhat out of the window. But for fans of pre-52 Aquaman stories there is plenty to enjoy with the orange costume, Mera, Vulko, and Ocean Master as a key villain. The Throne of Atlantis is introducing key Aquafamily characters to the New 52 with new canon. This issue and storyline builds on the New 52 canon with the return of the Trench, no matter how weak of a villain Matt Anderson believes they are!
So for me, this story is reintroducing Aquaman canon, reshaping classic canon and building new canon.
Do you see spiritual applications in this story?
Mike: Not without some major reaches, but I’d be willing to bet sand dollars that there are some to be found in Throne of Atlantis as a whole. As far as I can tell, it’s a story that revolves around sibling rivalry, which is a recurring theme in the book of Genesis. At least Esau, say, never set off a missile attack that threatened to wipe Boston off the face of the map, as Orm has done here! Aquaman at one point laments, “It was a mistake to try to talk to my brother.” If true, that’s really a shame, since the possibility of reconciliation is one for which the Bible always holds out hope. My favorite part of the Jacob and Esau story, in fact, is when Esau meets his returning brother, who swindled him out of both his birthright and their father’s blessing, by embracing him. Clearly moved, Jacob tells Esau, “[T]ruly, to see your face is like seeing the face of God” (Gen. 33.10, NRSV). When we forgive others, our face can reflect God’s face to them; when we receive forgiveness, we can see God in the face of our forgiver.
During the fight with the Justice League backups, Orm hints at what I take as another of the storyline’s overarching thematic concerns. He states his goal as retribution, “retribution for all those tortured, poisoned and murdered over the centuries by the surface dwellers.” Throne of Atlantis seems to have something to say about whether we human beings have or haven’t fulfilled our God-given mission of exercising dominion—not domination—over the earth, including its oceans and the creatures who live in them. I can only assume Aquaman and the other heroes will save Boston and the day, when all is said and done; but will a reprieve from Orm’s revenge plot lead to surface dwellers’ repentance for abusing this world’s waters?
Dan: I wanted to find something other than the reoccurring theme of in the world but not of it found throughout Aquaman and instead note the power of forgiveness. When I put down Aquaman #14, the Justice League and Aquaman were of opposing opinions of how to address the attack by Atlantis. I mean violently, there will be blood, opposed. In this story the majority of Aquaman’s decisions are based around how to protect and free Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman (saving not being second banana). In his actions there is little sign of resentment. It is as if he has truly forgiven his colleagues, especially Batman, for standing against his choices. There is a moment where Aquaman and Batman basically say I’m sorry. And it’s clear that this moment frees each from the baggage of their choices to stand apart instead of together an issue earlier.
Do you plan to stick with the series?
Mike: No, but I’m sufficiently satisfied that, if I ever have the chance to read Throne of Atlantis in trade form for cheap or for free, I will do so.
Dan: I am definitely more excited about Aquaman. The twist at the end of this issue immediately leads me to ask me what will happen next. The ending fundamentally changes a character that has been around the DC universe since the 1960’s. In many ways for me this is refreshing that they have taken this risk in the New 52 reboot.
So, I have already ordered the issues of Justice League that I missed that contain half of this story arc. And I have started to look back and order back issues of Aquaman that are not part of my meager collection. I have been considering finding a title that I read on a monthly basis, and Aquaman has won. As long as Geoff Johns is writing the sea sleuth, I am probably going to pick up the title. So enthusiastically yes!
Overall, Aquaman 16 appears to have a strong story while it may not have enough Aquaman for some readers. The Throne of Atlantis storyline seems to have caught the interest of both Mike and Dan to different levels, one showing willingness to read the collected story and one jumping onboard to the monthly title. Based on past “Issues of the Day”, DC should consider this a success.
Are you swimming into Aquaman?
In Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, Yoda taught moviegoers something new about the Sith. There can be only two! Yoda explained that the Sith model was to have a Master and an Apprentice within their order, in contrast with the Jedi model of multiple Jedi Masters, Jedi Knights and apprentices along with support staff. In short, compared to the Jedi, the Sith were lean and mean!
Some have expressed confusion about the Rule of Two, like the Sci-Fi Christian’s own Matt Anderson; however, a reading of the Darth Bane trilogy by author Drew Karpyshyn can clarify the Sith Order. The full trilogy Darth Bane: Path of Destruction, Darth Bane: Rule of Two and Darth Bane: Dynasty of Evil outlines the life and legacy of a key Sith Lord a thousand years before the Battle of Yavin. It focuses on his understanding of the Dark Side of the Force that led him to the establishment of his order, which defeats the Jedi in Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. And though it at times it is questionable if Expanded Universe novels should be considered canon, this trilogy provides insight into the Sith and the nature of evil which can also be found in the book of Proverbs.
Evil Lacks Unity
Darth Bane was indentified and trained to be a Sith Lord by the Sith Brotherhood of Darkness. The Brotherhood supported equality between Sith Lords and equal voice in their struggle against the Jedi. As Bane was drawn further and further into the Brotherhood, he began to see some errors he believed in their philosophy. First, equality meant that the weakest among the Sith Lords were holding back the strongest. The most powerful Sith had to take into account the weakest Lord’s opinion and could act within their own free will. Second, equality proved to be a lie as the strongest Sith Lords were able to dominate the debates of the Brotherhood. Third, the power of the Sith and the Dark Side was weakened as more practitioners of the Dark Side were trained. In effect, the Dark Side was being watered down by too many wielders of its power. Finally, Bane’s study of Sith history uncovered a troubling trend: with numerous Sith, the weak toppled the strong. The weaker Sith began to gather to kill and depose the strongest. Thus, the united Sith Masters were always weaker than the Jedi.
In light of this realization, Darth Bane did something drastic: he destroyed the Brotherhood and established his own Sith Order guided by the Rule of Two. In the Rule of Two, the power of the Dark Side would be limited to two practitioners. One would be a Master to wield the power, and the other an Apprentice to crave the power. The goal of Bane’s order would be for the apprentice to kill the Master when he/she was weak and take on their own Apprentice. Bane’s new paradigm reversed past Sith patterns as the strongest would always be the Master and the weakest Sith would not be able to dominate the strongest.
The Rule of Two and the Order of Bane was established as just one flavor of Sith. It is not the only pattern of Sith orders found within the Star Wars universe, with the Brotherhood showing us a Sith model of many Masters as well. So we should not be shocked if, in the future, we see multiple Sith on the big screen.
In short, it was impossible for collected evil to be united, and in Bane’s mind, that was an obstacle to overcome by limiting the players involved. Bane’s own order also played up on disunity and mistrust. Proverbs notes several times the chaotic and unstable ways of the wicked.
The house of the wicked will be destroyed,
but the tent of the upright will flourish (Proverbs 14:11, NIV).
The house of the righteous contains great treasure,
but the income of the wicked brings ruin (Proverbs 15:6, NIV).
Do not envy the wicked,
do not desire their company;
for their hearts plot violence,
and their lips talk about making trouble (Proverbs 24: 1-2, NIV).
In short, in the company of Sith is not a place most of us would want to be because whether there are many Sith or a few, death is sure to follow evil.
Evil is Self Destructive
Before he was Darth Bane, he was Dessel. Dessel was a miner enslaved to a corporate entity who suffered through a childhood of abuse at the hands of his father and fellow miners. Dessel was a man of his word. He was extroverted but fiercely loyal to a few friends. Honestly, he was the kind of man many of us would like to have as a friend. Those qualities stood out after he entered the Sith army as a common Non-Commissioned Officer. His unit, the Gloom Walkers, counted on him and knew he looked out for their best interests. But after he was inducted into the Brotherhood, the newly named Bane looked into himself and wallowed in his pain. He used the fact that his life had not been fair to increase his dark power and he became a man who only cared for himself. Those who died in his wake were simply unworthy and those he would have protected before would be left to their own devices.
In the founding of the Rule of Two, Darth Bane selected another damaged individual, Darth Zannah, to be his apprentice. We are shown the destructive relationship that emerges between two individuals who are deeply selfish. In many ways, we would hope and expect their relationship to be a caring mentoring relationship as Bane teaches all he knows of the Dark Side. Instead, it is a relationship of tension as Bane raises Zannah from childhood to attempt to kill him, with his goal of showing his dominance by stopping her in single combat. Perhaps Zannah’s plan to kill Bane truly shows her appreciation of him, in a destructive manner, by remaining true to Bane’s ideals.
By the end of the trilogy, Bane truly has nothing because his descent into evil has been self destructive. He has credits and power, but no one to care for him. A Gloom Walker who spent a lifetime worshipping Dessel is destroyed by his own actions and the one person who should care for him and his legacy the most is determined to destroy him. In short, Bane is left with a legacy of destruction for choosing to glorify his pain instead of moving past it.
Proverbs’ most prominent warning against the destructive nature of evil is:
The wages of the righteous is life,
but the earnings of the wicked are sin and death (Proverbs 10:16, NIV)
The story of Darth Bane plays out this warning. His choices leave him alone and hunted! And should he expect anything else, since he established a rule in which has the logical outcome is his own death or the death of his student?
As strong as Bane becomes within the Force, Proverbs would point out the error of his ways:
The righteousness of the blameless makes their paths straight,
but the wicked are brought down by their own wickedness (Proverbs 11:5, NIV).
For Bane, what he has built for himself is a house of cards that can only end when he no longer proves worthy of his Sith throne. If and when he falls, Bane would prove to be the architect of his own destruction.
In a galaxy far far away, there was a good young man named Dessel. He was wronged and focused on the wrongs done to him. This inward look led to him becoming a Sith Lord–maybe one of the most powerful Sith ever. But, his descent into evil as warned by the book of Proverbs could only lead to a life of disunity and destruction. Have you heard the tale of Darth Bane?
Some contributions to fandom cannot be summarized properly by one voice. The Sci-Fi Christian recognizes that one such contribution may be Dark Horse Comics Star Wars number 1. With characters from the original trilogy including Luke, Leia, and Han and the simple Star Wars name, one cannot help but be reminded of the Marvel series, which ran from 1977 to 1986. And there is speculation that this could be the last new series that Dark Horse offers if Disney moves the rights to their own comic publisher Marvel at the conclusion of the current contract. The name, the characters, and the real life drama have all made Star Wars a highly anticipated new series, but will it pass the test of the Sci-Fi Christians, in “Issues of the Day with Mike and Dan.”
Do you feel this story is a good representation of the original trilogy?
Mike: With reservations, yes. The characters are clearly recognizable as the heroes and villains who first commanded our attention in 1977. The dialogue rings truer in some cases than in others—Han’s seems spot-on, for example, while Luke seems a little too fond of Star Trek-esque technobabble at points (I can’t quite hear 1977 Mark Hamill talking about a cold start of ship’s engines)—and some of the visual designs stylize the appearances we’re used to (most notably, Darth Vader on page 24 resembles Ralph McQuarrie’s original, highly angular, samurai-like design more than the body armor David Prowse wore on screen). All in all, however, there’s no mistaking this story for anything but what it is: a fairly straightforward space opera in a galaxy long ago and far away, still pristine and uncluttered with three decades’ worth of prequel and expanded universe accretions.
I especially think this issue does well by Princess Leia. We see her in action as an X-wing pilot, and even taking out an Imperial pilot with a blaster at close range. I don’t think a gun is any automatic symbol of strength, but I appreciate this issue’s reminder that Leia is a strong woman. Pages 10-11 show us the fiery princess we fell in love with in Episode IV, who has (I would argue) unfortunately been diminished in a geek culture that still can’t seem to get past the metal bikini in Return of the Jedi. Don’t get me wrong: I was 11 years old in 1983, so I get the appeal. But when dozens of women (and, worse, young girls) choose to cosplay “Slave Leia” at cons, and when the otherwise fantastic new Star Wars Kinect video game features a disturbingly svelte and scantily clad Leia willingly defending her status as “dance champion” in Jabber’s court, it’s great to see this issue putting Leia front and center as Rebel leader par excellence, not only militarily but also strategically and emotionally. As Luke says to an apparently chauvinistic male pilot, “She’s not like us. She’s better. Tougher” (page 17). Preach it, brother Luke!
Dan: Overall yes. And if anything this book really builds on the character of Leia as we know her in the movies. She is the smart political mind we expect and a true leader. But this series shows us that she is tough and resourceful. They put her into a X-Wing at the beginning of the story and she expertly uses a blaster when facing stormtroopers head on. If anything this book may have strengthened my feelings about Leia, who for me in the expanded universe reads more like a wife and mother than a warrior. Honestly, the expanded universe depictions of her even as a Jedi read like she is the lesser Skywalker who lucked into a portion of the force. Here, Leia is a strong backbone. I think Leia also shows us how close we are to Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope as she casually mentions Obi-Wan as General Kenobi. Old Ben is still in her eyes a military hero of the Clone Wars, and not the spiritual mentor of Luke. She has not yet made the switch mentally that he is a different kind of leader than she expected.
I was a little disappointed with how Han Solo and Chewbacca were presented. They appear as distractions from the main arc. I understand this could be for story reasons and an inability to work them cleanly into the main arc. But I have a hard time believing that if the Rebels are looking for a new secluded home that they would ignore the advice of the smuggler in their midst, who would know a thing or two about hideouts.
What did you like the most?
Mike: My favorite moment was the reveal of the Star Destroyer unleashing a full squadron of TIE fighters (spearheaded by a really sweet TIE interceptor) on pages 4-5. It may be the most perfectly placed beat in Wood’s script, injecting a sudden and much-needed shock of drama into a pretty placid first few pages; and D’Anda’s art captures the visual excitement so well I could almost hear the “scream” TIE fighters make in the films in my head.
Dan: My favorite part was seeing my childhood heroes dog fighting in my favorite fighter of all time the X-Wing. And luckily for me they started that sequence in the opening pages. After reading more and more Star Wars comic titles in the last few months that have Skywalker grandchildren and Jedi Padawans centuries before the Battle of Yavin, it is also nice to have a comic home for the characters that originally ignited my fandom.
Along with the X-Wings I was thrilled that the opening sequence included a personal favorite, Wedge Antilles. I do like to remind my children that Wedge got part of two Death Stars where Luke only got one! This inclusion early told me that writers would be using the entire scope of original characters and not just the big three. I loved seeing them recognize the entire cast has much to bring to the table.
What did you like the least?
Mike: I didn’t care for the political maneuvering at play. To be fair, Mon Mothma doesn’t care for it, either: “This sort of secretive ‘shadow council’ is not something I am comfortable with… It reeks of the worst of the Empire, and we should be moving towards the light, not deeper into darkness” (page 19). The scene in which she gives Leia a secret mission to uncover the spy in the Rebels’ ranks is well-written enough, but it feels like a plot that would be more at home in the prequels than in the original trilogy. Ditto Mothma’s remark about how the economy of supply and demand regulates Imperial life as well as the Alliance’s—I mean, sure; but stopping to think about it throws cold bacta tank water on any fun readers might have been having. Remember how you felt when Episode I’s opening crawl talked about disputes over the taxation of trade routes? Yeah.
I also didn’t like the Emperor’s “dressing down” of Vader over the destruction of the Death Star—not so much because it didn’t make sense, but because it only reminded me of the crude but hysterical “Robot Chicken” sketch on the same subject. Just because some things in the Star Wars universe can be treated realistically—political machinations, supply and demand, consequences for Darth Vader—doesn’t mean they must be.
Dan: I really wanted a comic that anyone who had watched the original trilogy could pick up and jump into. I think they are trying, but there are still hints at the Expanded Universe that could keep some readers from fully enjoying the title. One example for me is the use of the word “squints” for TIE Fighters. For readers who have just read one of the Rogue Squadron stories, this fighter jockey term will seem like second nature. But for those that have not, squint is likely a nonsense word since they have only heard TIE Fighters in the movies referred to by their proper name.
I also felt the story felt flat. I am willing to acknowledge they have much to establish for future stories. But if George Lucas was directing this story he would be calling out for faster and more intense! In the same way that I would never suggest a new viewer not start Star Wars: The Clone Wars with the poison iced tea arc, I would really liked this start to be page to page action packed.
Do you feel this story conforms to canon?
Mike: I admit I’m still learning to love the prequels, and I have very limited knowledge of the EU; but I didn’t spot any canonical contradictions. I appreciated the minor ways this story is taking some first steps into a larger world: Han’s mention of Coruscant, for instance, and particularly Vader’s growing, still not fully formed fascination with the name “Skywalker.” I anticipate the series will let the original trilogy illumine the later developments—not, as often seems the case, vice versa. And that, in my judgment, is as it should be.
Dan: Being a fan of Star Wars: The Clone Wars I have gotten used to stories that contradict “canon” built in the Expanded Universe. But I did not see anything that fans of the Expanded Universe would complain about, though that would not have been a concern for me. My concern is does anything contradict the movies, which I would say no.
Do you see spiritual applications in this story?
Mike: Not immediately; not without really “reaching.” I did note with interest, however, that the Rebel cruiser from which Han Solo departs is christened the Redemption. Perhaps we are to think that Han has, as it appeared by Episode IV’s conclusion, redeemed himself? Or, given the subplot about Han’s apparent temptation to misappropriate Rebel Alliance funds, are we being told that more redemption lies in Han’s future, perhaps after a (temporary) fall from the Alliance’s good graces?
In addition, the Emperor sets Darth Vader the task of redeeming himself for his disgrace at Yavin. It seems this arc, at least, will pay some attention to what redemption is, and how we can achieve it. As Christians, of course, we believe redemption is God’s free gift—but grace never absolves us of ongoing personal responsibility: “Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound?” asks the apostle Paul. “By no means!” (Rom. 6.1-2, NRSV). I am intrigued to see whether and how Wood navigates that tension in his story.
Dan: What you talking about Willis? I think you would really need to dig to find spiritual lessons in this issue. I love stories of redemption, in fact I’m a sucker for them, and even Han’s limited storyline does not seem to place him fully on that road yet. Unless of course you take into account he has not run away from the Alliance, yet.
Does this make you more or less excited about more Star Wars?
Mike: I was psyched about Star Wars the day this issue hit the stands, to the point of streaming John Williams’ scores for the films on Spotify while at work. As that eminent comic strip philosopher Snoopy once said, however, “The anticipation far outweighed the actual event.” The idea of new Star Wars in the original trilogy era excites me; however, we do know nothing can really change, given the “upper limit” of Episode VI. I think the announcement of Episodes VII and beyond , where everything in the GFFA really could be up for grabs, is where true excitement about Star Wars is now to be found.
Dan: For me, I was excited about this new series because of episode VII. It did not take away my enthusiasm for this future theatrical release, but it also did not get me more frenzied for it.
Do you plan to stick with the series?
Mike: I will read through at least issue 3, the conclusion of the first arc, and then re-evaluate. It’s a promising start to the series, but (a) I wonder how long it will last, given the rumors that Marvel may regain the franchise’s comic book license; and (b) my Republic credits are limited, and my pull list is still in need of pruning. There’s a new Superman ongoing due out this year, after all…
Dan: I am still not decided on this question. I have not bought a single issue in the last 10 to 15 years. I do read a lot of comics, as trades borrowed from a public library with an extensive collection. And if my library had this as a trade I would check it out immediately. But with this and another “historic” issue I broke my rule. Last time I bought a comic, I had a nearby comic shop that was easy to get to. Since my nearest bookstore which does carry comics had yet to put out any issues of Star Wars, I had to make a 40 minute round trip to pick this up. In many ways I wish I had waited for the trade on this story arc so I could have read the entire storyline at once. I like to complete stories, so I will probably go ahead and pick up the next two issues and give Star Wars another chance. But I may purchase the issues as digital copies and not in a physical format. I did not hate this issue, but I enjoyed Star Wars: Agent of the Empire much more, which I did read as a trade.
My expectations were probably too high, as I have been preparing myself for weeks to read this issue. I probably made it bigger than I should have!
Honestly, I am now considering collecting the old Marvel issues instead.
The final verdict of today’s “Issues of the Day with Mike and Dan” appears to be the series has potential, but has yet to win over the reviewers. Hard core Star Wars fans, especially those that partake in Expanded Universe offerings, may wish to pick this issue up especially with it being a #1. But casual fans may wish to wait for a trade version or find other outlets for this fandom.