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Students of S.H.I.E.L.D Raffle!

Come out to the Penn State Involvement Fair on Monday, August 22nd from 11 AM-4 PM on HUB Lawn and, when you sign up for the Students of S.H.I.E.L.D, you will be entered into a free raffle to win prizes like an Avengers: Age of Ultron Poster and comic books. All drawings will be at the first meeting and you must be present to claim your prize!

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Join the Students of SHIELD Today!

Come out to the Penn State Involvement Fair on Monday, August 22nd, from 11-4 on the HUB Lawn to sign up with the Students of SHIELD. The Students of SHIELD will also be at the Pop Culture and Gaming Fair on Monday, September 12th, from 10:30-4 in 134 HUB. Join the fan club you have been looking for with events like movie night premieres of all your favorite Marvel Movies, Marvel-themed game nights, and plenty of other social events!

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How an Asian-American Iron Fist can work

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has become immensely big since its inception with the first Iron Man film. My fellow Marvel fans, old and new alike are being given the honor of seeing their favorite characters come to life on the big screen. Marvel Studios then branched off into the small screen, with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on ABC and then into Netflix.

With Netflix however, Marvel would use the same formula they used for the Avengers; introduce a few solo heroes then have them team up into one big team.

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Carrying this in mind, Daredevil and Jessica Jones premiered on Netflix starring said heroes; both shows were critically acclaimed. Now the 2nd season of Daredevil will soon premiere, with Luke Cage and Iron Fist set to get their respective series. After these, all four aforementioned heroes will come together in one Avengers-esque team-up show known as the Defenders. But one of these heroes’ shows is getting a certain request from the public; that being Iron Fist.

But before we get in, allow me to answer the question some of you guys might have…

Who is Iron Fist?

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Daniel Thomas Rand-K’ai (Or just Rand depending on who’s writing) aka Iron Fist is a kung-fu/mysticism based superhero created by writers Roy Thomas and Gil Kane in the 70s during the rise of Bruce Lee and Kung Fu movies.

A billionaire blonde, green-eyed Caucasian, Danny travels to the mystical Asian city of K’un-L’un. Once there, he trains in Kung Fu and becomes the city’s champion, earning the dragon Shou-Lao’s chi (aka mystical martial arts energy) and becoming..well, Iron Fist. Danny then returns to America and uses his powers to fight crime, teaming up with his eventual best friend Power Man aka Luke Cage and even becomes an Avenger at one point.

Danny, like most non-ethnic superheroes is a Caucasian American, as superhero comics at the time were primarily being created for white American males.

But as time passed, American society became much more diverse and Marvel Comics followed society’s change; now Falcon, Captain America’s African American right-hand man is now the Star-Spangled Soldier, a Muslim-American teenager Kamala Khlan is the new Ms. Marvel (Carol Danvers became CAPTAIN Marvel) and now Jane Foster (Natalie Portman’s role in the MCU) is the new Thor instead of the ACTUAL Thor. Not to mention Miles Morales, the new Ultimate Spider-Man.

Following this change, many fans have been asking Danny Rand to change with the times and become Asian-American in his upcoming Netflix show. This movement began with Nerds of Color head editor Keith Chow, who began the movement with the hashtag #AAIronFist on Twitter (you can read his article here)

However a recent tweet from Chow cost him some credibility;

Keith Chow....fw

Subsequently Chow lost a lot of followers, with many claiming that Chow only started the trend to attract more attention to his blog, Nerds of Color.

So how about a pro-AAIronFist article from an ACTUAL Iron Fist fan?

As an Asian-American comic book fan, I have loved Marvel comics (and Iron Fist, of course) since my own childhood. And while I never let it influence my love for good ol’ Danny or any of his stories, I always felt that he should have been Asian-American. Or at the very least, an alternate version of him should be Asian-American.

And before we go in, let me make it clear; I’m not just jumping on a bandwagon I think is progressive/cool; I actually believe an Asian-American Iron Fist can work. And here’s the hows and why it can work

Danny being an Asian-American still makes him an outsider

Odds are you have an Asian friend born here in America. And said friend’s parents or grandparents probably either don’t speak English or speak English with a heavy accent or speak English very brokenly. Adding on to that, the aforementioned friend probably has little to no connection with whatever birth culture his/her parents or grandparents were raised with.

I personally being a 2nd-generation Asian-American can attest to this. And with a little re-writing, the same can work with an Asian black haired and brown-eyed (or still green-eyed because power of Shou-Lao) Danny Rand.

Portrait Of Multi-Generation Chinese Family Relaxing In Park Tog

Daniel’s family can be a forgotten lineage of K’un-L’unians who have been in America for quite some time, their mark on history being their successful family company, the Rand Corporation. And because of his upbringing in America, Danny grows up unaware of his mystical heritage. And when he finally arrives in K’un Lun, the native Asians at best only TOLERATE him because of his ancestry, but nothing else. He’s still an outsider in every other way; the way he thinks, acts etc. AKA Looking like us doesn’t mean you are one of us.

A lot of people think this doesn’t work simply because Danny as an Asian would look just like the natives. Like I said above, you don’t have to look different to be an outsider; classifying somebody as an outsider because of their skin tone is just proof that you are racist. This isn’t the 70s anymore.

It gets rid of the white savior trope.

The most problematic element given Danny Rand’s origin story is that when it comes down to it, it plays the old “white savior” cliché; this cliché invokes a Caucasian man going to some foreign land, mastering whatever skill the natives do and becoming their champion.

In fact, in the comics Hazmat of the Avengers Academy lampshades this, calling Danny “Mr. I Wish I Was Asian”

Danny should be Asian

Now, Marvel has somewhat fixed this with writer Ed Brubaker’s Immortal Iron Fist…only to take a few steps back (see down below for what I mean)

Even in today’s society this trope is still seen among movies and TV shows; some prominent examples being 47 Ronin, The Last Samurai and even James Cameron’s Avatar (the Na’vi are all played by oriental American actors)

Having an K’un-L’un/Asian ethnic Danny going to his heritage land to learn from ‘his people’ will turn Iron Fist’s original story of cultural appropriation into that of cultural re-connection; Danny realizes his heritage and learns of his ‘true calling’, which is to be the Iron Fist and thus a hero. thus once his training is complete, he returns to America as a hero and a child of two lands.

And besides, Netflix has already done the “white guy in Asia” story;

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This makes the MCU heroes actually diverse

A lot of mainstream media tends to check “diversity” on their TV show requirements list once one ethnic actor is cast. And in most cases said ethnic actor is more often than not, African-American.

Diversity in media doesn’t just mean one black character among a sea of white characters and that’s the end of it; it means all the ethnicities of one nation/culture all represented. Whether they’re black, Asian, Latino, man, woman, LGBT etc.

While I will admit there hasn’t been a Latino-American Marvel superhero yet (unless you count Joey from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), Angela Del Toro aka White Tiger getting mentioned in Jessica Jones gives us hope that said Latina hero will one day appear (here’s what she looks likes for those curious;)

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You might think “Well, what about Skye aka Daisy Johnson aka Quake, also from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.? She went from white to half-Asian” (well, she’s treated as ‘pure’ Asian but that’s besides the point)

The publicity will work in Marvel’s favor

Disney and Marvel Studios may have started and expanded their Superhero Comic Cinematic Universe way ahead of DC, but as of right now they’re behind DC in one category; the minority heroes. In fact, DC has their female-led film (Wonder Woman in 2017) releasing before Marvel’s (Captain Marvel in 2018).

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Even with Asian superheroes, Katana’s presence in Suicide Squad means DC’s still ahead when it comes to representation. What’s more, she is an Asian woman; historically Asian women have been on screen more than their male counterparts. So that’s why Quake doesn’t really count in the above argument’s stake.

So with all that said, by having the first on-screen Asian-American male superhero, Marvel would have much more publicity and praise. And with the rise of Asian movie markets like China, this will put them in their favor.

 

But no opinion is without disagreeing points. So let’s address the counterarguments, or CAs as they’re abbreviated in this article.

CA 1 – Don’t change Danny; just add Shang-Chi.

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This is one of the main arguments people bring up; instead of race-bending Danny Rand, bring in the Master of Kung Fu, Shang-Chi.

Shang-chi cover

Shang-Chi is another Marvel superhero created in 70s as part of the Kung Fu movie rage. Unlike Danny Rand, Shang-Chi has been Asian (more specifically, Chinese as he’s based on Bruce Lee) since his conception and is stated to be THE best martial artist in the Marvel Universe (as his title. Master of Kung Fu would imply); Black Panther even states so in Black Panther Volume 4, Issue 11;

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While admittedly it wouldn’t be too difficult to change Shang-Chi’s origin from Chinese to Chinese-American, is there a reason why there can’t be more than one heroic ethnic character on screen? If that’s the case, why is there more than one Hispanic character in Modern Family? Why is Fresh Off the Boat still on air and not cancelled? How did Into The Badlands make it past idea-pitching?

Shang-Chi can still be in the show, and his role could be on the sort of the other angel-on-his-shoulder of Danny; he and Luke can be the two links to Danny’s heritage and home; K’un-L’un and New York City. Also, Shang-Chi can also work as an unintentional “better guy”/friendly rival to Danny, since they’re both chi-wielding martial artists but it’s proven Shang-Chi is better.

CA 2 – Making the one Asian guy a kung fu master is racist and stereotypical.

Newsflash, everyone; Luke Cage aka Power Man is black, born and raised in Harlem, and has a ‘ghetto’ accent. And that’s somehow completely ok?

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That being said, Luke Cage isn’t seen as racist/stereotypical because he’s got an actual character outside of the aforementioned traits + “Danny’s black BFF”.

Actually for that matter, why is everyone saying just get Shang-Chi instead of race-bending Danny when Shang-Chi’s BEEN an Asian kung fu master since his creation?

All that aside, an Asian-ethnic Danny can still work without becoming stereotypical; the series can show Danny actually training and struggling to become the Kung Fu master he’ll one day be, instead of just being a master at Kung Fu because Asian.

AAIC

He can be shocked at finding out his heritage is essentially a living stereotype; and despite his training and being chosen as Iron Fist, he rejects his heritage, not wanting to be a walking racial trope.

Thus a big part of the show can be Danny learning to accept his K’un-Lunian heritage; with his rejections resulting in a destabilized chi and thus exhausting him every time he uses his chi attacks (This is a legitimate plot point in the comics; for a while, Danny couldn’t use his chi attacks that much as it took too much of his stamina)

Some studios think the best way to avoid the potential stereotyping is to just get rid of the ethnic group entirely; perhaps a reason why Tilda Swinton, a white woman was chosen to play the Ancient One in the upcoming Doctor Strange film (traditionally drawn in the comics as a Tibetan man). Buy why not just get the ethnic group? But give them actual character outside so that they’re more than just a supposed stereotype thus giving them a chance to break the image of said stereotype.

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Which is exactly what AMC’s Into the Badlands is doing.

CA 3 – Most of Iron Fist’s supporting cast/villains are Asian, so here’s no need to change Danny

Another popular argument. To address this, let’s take a look at three of the important characters of Iron Fist’s supporting cast and villains, starting with Lei Kung the Thunderer;

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Lei Kung the Thunderer is an immortal martial arts teacher that has taught many students, one of them being Danny. It’s further revealed in the Immortal Iron Fist storyline that he trained many previous Iron Fists.

Next is Jeri Hogarth.

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A straight, middle-aged lawyer, he organizes the day-to-day duties of the Rand Corporation (Danny’s company) from time to time as well as typical legal actions.

Does that name and job sound familiar? well if you’ve watched Jessica Jones, you’ve already met his MCU counterpart; the lesbian lawyer lady, Ms. JERYN “Jeri” Hogarth.

Marvel's Jessica Jones

Now, it’s the guy who’s the closest thing Danny has to a nemesis; Davos aka Steel Serpent.

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Davos is the son of the aforementioned Lei Kung the Thunderer. Davos trained alongside Danny to become the next Iron Fist, only to fail and subsequently exiled when he tried to kill Danny. Fueled by jealousy and hatred, Davos then became a major thorn in Danny’s side.

You might have seen his symbol in the first episode of Daredevil.

Steel Serpent in Daredevil.fw

But those are only descriptions, so what’s my counterargument to this?

As you might have gathered from this short list, only Danny’s Mentor and nemesis are Asian while a friend/co-worker is white.

Unintentional or not, this argument is implying that Asians can never be heroes or their people’s chosen one; instead, they’ll always be playing second fiddle, helping their non-Asian savior to be better than them or be an obstacle to said non-Asian savior. So if this is the case, why is a stereotype that Asians are martial arts masters? Also, Lei Kung and Davos are ‘native-born’ Asians, not Asian-Americans. In case it wasn’t obvious enough, being Asian and Asian-American are two VERY different things.

And if the world can live with a gender and sexuality-flipped character, I think an Asian Danny Rand won’t be the end of said world.

CA 4 – Danny being white is crucial because it accentuates him being an outsider, a rich guy, being in an interracial relationship with Misty Knight and having white privilege.

CA 4-1: Danny being white is crucial because it accentuates him being an outsider

No, it doesn’t. Being an outsider in a different culture doesn’t necessarily have to be him being the one Caucasian among an Asian population. Like I said above; classifying somebody as an outsider because of their skin tone is just proof that the people who say/think/believe this are racist.

But let’s take a scenario; let’s say hypothetically MCU Danny Rand is cast and is an Asian American. Do you still want a white Iron Fist? Lucky for you, there is one; and that’s Orson Randall.

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For those who don’t know, here’s a little background; In Ed Brubaker’s Immortal Iron Fist comic, said writer changed the Iron First mantle from a simple ‘chosen one and only champion’ to ‘chosen legacy passed down throughout time and history’. Thus came many Iron Fists, all who came before Danny Rand.

And here’s where they took a few steps back; Danny’s direct predecessor as Iron Fist is Orson Randall, a veteran of WWI…and another Caucasian man. Despite doing away with most if not all of the potential racial implications, Brubaker making Danny’s predecessor another white guy did raise a few eyebrows.

But there was still something interesting with his origin; Despite being another “white guy among an Asian population”, Orson’s backstory is that his parents crashed in K’un-L’un while his mother was pregnant with him. A month later, Orson was born in K’un-L’un and despite his non-Asian heritage, the people accepted him as a ‘born and raised’ son so to speak. Upon being trained in martial arts by Lei Kung (who was mentioned above), Orson became the Iron Fist and left to fight in WWI. Later in the present day, he came to find Danny to give him the Book of the Iron Fists (a book detailing past Iron Fists and their techniques) and to warn him about the Tournament of the Immortal Weapons.

So considering this aforementioned importance to Danny, he’ll be in the show one way or another. And it can be an interesting take on the ‘white savior’ part of Iron Fist; not only has there been one, Orson can also become a second mentor and a potential future image of Danny since Orson’s stronger. But this time, the white guy (Orson) isn’t better because he’s white; it’s because he’s older, wiser and has seen plenty of s%*+ compared to the younger, less-experienced non-white guy (Danny).

You know, almost like Adonis and Rocky’s relationship in Ryan Coogler’s Creed.

And here’s something to get in your head; Comic Danny will stay white (at least until Marvel says otherwise); the MCU ultimately, is just one more multiverse in the numerous Marvel universes.

CA 4-2: Danny being white is crucial because it accentuates him being a rich guy

Since when can only white people be rich? Please try and enlighten me; my popcorn’s ready.

CA 4-3: Danny being white is crucial because it accentuates him being in an interracial relationship with Misty Knight

To put this in perspective, here’s who Misty Knight is;

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Mercedes “Misty” Knight is one of Marvel’s few black female superheroines. A ‘normal’ superhero like Black Widow and Hawkeye, she has fought alongside many of the Netflix heroes and is set to appear in Luke Cage, portrayed by actress Simone Missick.

But in perspective to this argument, one of the things that stood out for Misty was that she was usually Danny Rand’s girlfriend (and wife in some occasions/stories); it was one of the few times there was an interracial couple in comics, alongside Luke Cage and Jessica Jones.

Danny and Misty.fw

And this argument is saying that Danny HAS to be white for this to work.

So white guys are the only non-black ethnic men that can date black women?

So I guess this never happened between John Cho’s Demetri Noh and Gabrielle Union’s Zoey Andata in FlashForward

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Come on; in today’s society, any ethnic man can date any ethnic woman, least of all an African-American woman.

In short, I think a lot us want to see something different; so how about an AMBW couple as opposed to the usual  WMBW couple we usually see in shows like Scandal?

CA 4-4: Danny being white is crucial because it accentuates him having white privilege

What is your definition of white privilege? It may be different, but let’s go with activist Peggy McIntosh’s definition;

White privilege can be described “an invisible weightless knapsack of assurances, tools, maps, guides, codebooks, passports, visas, clothes, compass, emergency gear, and blank checks”. But for white people only.

Yes most of America is white. And yes, I will admit cases with this quote-unquote “white privilege” happens, but that’s another thing. Comics and Pop culture as a whole have a responsibility to teach the people that many wrong things still exist and how we must change it. Being white doesn’t mean you deserve something more than ethnic people. Our society’s changed since the ‘70s, and it’s time we learn that every race is equal, good AND bad.

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And besides, outside of K’un-L’un there’s BARELY any mention of Danny’s race. In fact, him being a billionaire is brought more attention.Like apparent old times.fw

“Rich Guy Privilege” can be the substitute for “White Privilege”, considering the latter is what gets more focused on anyway. So you really can’t argue that him being white is crucial. Unlike Luke Cage, Shang-Chi, Black Panther or even White Tiger Danny’s race ultimately matters little to his character.

 

I don’t expect everyone who reads this to immediately take my side and tweet #AAIronFist.

And I do understand why some of you guys reading this don’t want the change; a character you’ve loved for so long suddenly changing with the times and you don’t want that; you want the one that you remember growing up with.

But comics are changing to reflect our society; no longer are women and minorities ‘just there’, they can be actually be good heroes in their own right.

I ask you to at least consider the positive effects of an Asian-American Iron Fist. If done right, this can be a great change; in the same veins as Kamala Khan becoming the new Ms. Marvel

So if you agree with me, all the power to you, friends.

And if you don’t agree with me, I hope that you at least now understand why a lot of people, myself included are asking that the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Danny Rand to be an Asian-American.

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Vincent’s 2015 Comics Holiday Gift Guide

Happy holidays! Whether you’re a Catholic, Jew, an observant of Kwanzaa or simply a standard slave to consumerist culture, you’ll be giving gifts to those you love. Is your father a boomer who will tell you how he used to love Thor growing up, but hasn’t picked up a four color page in decades? Is there an obnoxious young cousin in your life that could use some action packed stuff to shut her up? Maybe you treat yourself to some things too – courtesy of Santa perhaps? Well, as this club’s self-professed lord of all things comics, I’ve thrown together a handy holiday gift guide.

If you skip to the end, I have a basic list of all my recommendations if you want to bypass all my fluff. I include Amazon links throughout, but most of these books should also be available at your local comic shop (which you can find here) or run of the mill book store. I also recommend instocktrades.com for saving some money (free shipping on orders over $50).

Movie/TV Fans

Are you a newcomer to the superhero subculture? Maybe you found yourself among us because of Robert Downey Jr.’s undeniable wit, Chris Hemsworth’s luscious locks or Christopher Nolan’s masterful trilogy? The CW is doing some great things with Arrow, Flash and Legends of Tomorrow. Netflix can apparently only hit home runs, with Daredevil and Jessica Jones so far. Maybe you know that the world will be pummeled with over two dozen more superhero flicks by 2020, and you feel that you may as well willfully submit to your new geek overlords before you’re forced to do so. Here are some selections to prepare you for upcoming blockbusters or to delve deeper into some recent gems.

1. Jessica Jones

After Fredric Wertham nearly destroyed the medium with faulty science, the Comics Code Authority was created in 1954 as a self regulatory agency for the comics industry. Marvel remained an adherent of the censorship club until 2001. Jessica Jones was introduced in the series Alias, which served as the flagship title for Marvel’s Max imprint. Max was about leaving creator’s free to use mature/explicit themes as they saw fit. Alias also served as another early stepping stone in the explosive career of Brian Michael Bendis. He had already started his legendary run of Ultimate Spider-Man and was just a few months into his classic Daredevil tale. In 2015, Bendis is a multiple award winning writer and the primary architect of the Marvel Universe. For fans of the Netflix show, the Purple Man/Killgrave isn’t really brought up until the last five issues of the 28 issue run. It’s a slow burn character study and less of a “big bad of the week” kind of feel. Besides Bendis’ quick, natural dialogue and intriguing plotting, Alias is graced by Michael Gaydos’ noirish pencils (uplifted by Matt Hollingsworth’s colors) and David Mack’s iconic painted/collage covers.

Alias is collected across four trade paperbacks titled Jessica Jones: Alias. Volume 1 is herr. The entire series can be grabbed together in a hardcover omnibus edition, with the added bonus of oversized pages. Here it is. To continue Jessica’s story, the next step is The Pulse. Still penned by Bendis, but with a more diversified art cast, the series covers Jessica’s new job at the Daily Bugle and her continuing relationship with Luke Cage. This trade paperback collects the whole series and includes the pair’s adorable wedding as a bonus.

2. Civil War

Whose side are you on? Every Marvel fan will have to make that decision on May 6, 2016 when Captain America: Civil War kicks off Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe by splitting the Avengers down the middle over philosophical and legal quandaries. The anticipated film will be loosely based on Mark Millar’s 2006 mega hit miniseries. For better or worse, Civil War was a huge success for Marvel and would kick off their current summer event strategy that continues to this day. Nearly every single ongoing series being published got drawn into the overall tale, several miniseries popped up to run alongside it, and even series with no connection had no choice but to acknowledge it. I’ll spoil it a bit and say that you will probably hate Tony Stark after reading the series. Civil War is incredibly divisive to this day, but at its core is a fun action romp with some barely noticeable post-9/11 philosophical questions brewing under the surface.

The seven issue mini is collected in an affordable trade. It can work as a purely standalone work.
If you want to flesh out the broader story more, check out the next entry on this list as well as looking into the Iron Man, Spider-Man and Fantastic Four tie in issues. Unfortunately, some of these trades are out of print and harder to find today; but Marvel is literally reprinting everything in time for the movie. If money flows through your veins, you could even splooge for this $500 MSRP box set collecting almost everything remotely relevant to Civil War.

3. The Winter Soldier

Before Steve Rogers was an anti-authoritarian leader in the monolithic Civil War, his long lost best friend and sidekick Bucky Barnes popped back up on the superhero scene. Ed Brubaker was tasked with making Captain America into a hit again after some rocky years in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Right off the bat, Brubaker took a huge gamble by breaking a major rule in comics. People joke about death in superhero comics. It doesn’t matter anymore. Jean Grey has died a dozen times (which granted, is the point of the character). Doomsday killed Superman and he was back in less than a year. Despite all these meaningless deaths, many a comic fan used to claim, “no one stays dead except Bucky, Jason Todd and Uncle Ben.” In 2005,  those first two were made moot. Bucky was retconned from being the creepy Robin-like child sidekick to a badass soldier in his own right. The Soviets saved him from death and turned him into a Cold War killing machine. Captain America: Winter Soldier covered the basics pretty faithfully. The original comic story is one of the greatest stories told in the medium though, and knocks the film out of the water.

Brubaker’s very long Captain America saga is collected across several books. The highlights of the run are all at the beginning though. The Winter Soldier arc is conveniently collected in a thick trade. After the major shakeup with Bucky’s return, Brubaker focuses back on Steve for a while in Red Menace, with Crossbones and Sharon Carter making strong appearances. Then Civil War starts its rumblings and something spoilery happens to Steve directly following its finale. It was heavily promoted and reported on by the New York Timesso you should know by now. The third fat collection of Brubaker’s series collects the seminal death of Steve Rogers and the beginnings of Bucky’s time as Captain America. With those three books, you get a whopping 43 issues of stellar comic storytelling. They also work as perfect bookends to Civil War.

4. Batman vs. Superman

This club is called the Students of S.H.I.E.L.D; but it would be naive to think that many of us aren’t huge fans of DC’s characters and stories. It’s also naive to put your fanboy stake in the dirt and not open yourself up to these fantastic tales. Personally, I love the Marvel Universe just slightly more than the DCU. However, I think that DC has most of the greatest standalone stories in their stable. Also, Batman. With the divisive Man of Steel, Zach Snyder at the helm, an overcrowded cast of cameos, Doomsday showing up for some reason, etc who know how Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice will turn out. If you want to lower your expectations even more, or see where the story can be done right, you should look to comics. Frank Miller revolutionized Batman in 1986/7 by putting out two stories that have since become definitive masterpieces. Batman: Year One showed us Bruce’s fledgling start as the Bat, as well as some juicy Jim Gordon and Selina Kyle backstory. The Dark Knight Returns, on the other hand, was Miller’s stark take on the “end” of Bruce’s life as Batman. The former is blessed by the beautiful art of David Mazzucchelli, while Miller uses his own rough manga/film noir style in DKR. Every single Batman story since has drawn on the influence of this indomitable pair. Both books are absolute must haves for anyone who considers themselves a fan of Batman or the comics medium. I am going to highlight DKR, as it includes a famous showdown with Superman. It also inspired Batfleck’s armored suit.

Dark Knight Returnsalong with Watchmen, is a major cash cow for DC and can be found literally everywhere. If you want to flex your comic book critic mind, I hesitantly recommend trying out The Dark Knight Strikes Again, the incredibly controversial sequel from 2001. Unlike certain other seminal works, DC at least let Miller do the sequel himself (see: Before Watchmen). The thing is, Miller’s work had always had slightly misogynist, racist, xenophobic undertones. But 9/11 happened in the middle of him doing the series, and it noticeably affected the story and his psyche from that point forward. Most comic fans would tell you to completely avoid DK2 and anything he’s done since. Miller’s art is either hideous or esoteric, depending on who you ask. His ex-wife and longtime colorist, Lynn Varley, was also experimenting with digital coloring for the first time. Just like his pencils, some people argue her basic, flat colors are intentional and deconstructionist, whereas others say she did a shitty job. If you want to go balls deep, there is an oversized hardcover collecting both series together. DK3: The Master Race is currently being published. Miller allegedly has minimal involvement in it. As of writing this, there is one issue out and reaction has been mixed.

5. The Fantastic Four Aren’t Terrible?

Fox’s most recent mess of a Fantastic Four movie, or “Fan4stic” as people love to call it, may have tarnished the IP for mainstream moviegoers for the indefinite future. However, the first family of comics has a storied history in the medium they helped to bring back from the dead. Fantastic Four Vol 1 #1 from November, 1961 may be the most important comic of all time. Spider-Man, Thor, Tony Stark, Hulk, Hawkeye, Black Widow, Ant-Man wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for Reed Richards, Ben Grimm and Susan and Johnny Storm. It would be easy to thank the family for their influence and then dismiss them as archaic and irrelevant. But, that would be a major mistake. Some of the greatest Marvel stories have come from the F4. From Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s mindblowing 102 issue run literally built the Marvel Universe from planet to planet, John Byrne really built up Sue and brought She-Hulk into the extended family, even Jake’s fabled Walter Simonson did some great stuff on the book. I’m going to focus on too pretty different takes.

Jonathan Hickman wrote Fantastic Four for three years. Hickman is known for his slow burning, epic storylines that build off one another. In 2015, Hickman is infamous for the insane Secret Wars, which is the closest thing Marvel has ever had to a reboot. Secret Wars features Dr. Doom as a godlike figure and ostensibly features Reed Richards as the main character. Longtime Hickman readers will notice developments in the series introduced all the way back in his F4 run. Hickman introduced the FF, or Future Foundation, to the world of Fantastic Four, so the reading order can be a little confusing. A quick google search can help you out. The trades you would need would be this one, this one, this one, this one, then this one, this one, this one, this one, this one, and finally this one. If this seems intimidating, it is. I can say with complete confidence that it is worth it though, especially if you dig crazy science fiction. You can also get it all in one fell swoop across two omnibus volumes here and here. That first one is out of print though and may be an arm and a leg in the secondary market. Good thing I got it while it was available, muahaha. If you come across it at a store though, you’ll score a gem (or an investment to flip on eBay).

So…that Jonathan Hickman guy sounds kind of scary. If you were looking for some Fantastic Four stories with a little bit less emphasis on saving the multiverse, there’s something for you too. Mark Waid wrote the book for a while in the early 2000s. Waid is known for the classic Kingdom Come, as well as classic runs on Captain America, Daredevil, Hulk, Justice League, the Legion of Super-Heroes and the Flash. He brought one of his Flash collaborators, Mike Wieringo with him to work on the first family. Wieringo was known for his cartoony, manga inspired style that made everything he drew fun. Waid and Wieringo truly captured the family dynamic of the team. Jack Kirby shows up as a representation of God. Doom does some truly devilish shit. It’s all wonderful. You can get it across four trades. Tragically, the industry lost Mike Wieringo at a young age. His work will continue to inspire readers and creators for years though and show that, first and foremost, superheroes should be fun.

6. The Flash

The Flash is probably the hottest superhero property on Television (neatly excluding Daredevil and Jessica Jones since they aren’t technically on TV). The CW hit a home run with Arrow and they’ve since birthed a little universe replete with spinoffs and crossovers. When you think about it, The CW’s shows are the closest parallel to the format of comics. The shows are also going places that a multi-million dollar blockbuster wouldn’t dare, with parallel universes and such. Along with showrunners Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg, another major player in The Flash is Geoff Johns. Johns is currently the Chief Creative Officer at DC Comics. Starting as an intern for Richard Donner (of The Goonies, Superman 1 and 2 fame), Geoff shifted over to the comics industry and had a meteoric rise. Though he wrote The Avengers for twenty issues, he is most associated with DC’s stable. He’s done character defining work on the Teen Titans, Aquaman, Superman, Booster Gold, Hawkman and the Justice Society. He presently has been writing Justice League since the start of the New 52. Among his prolific bibliography, Green Lantern and the Flash stick out the most. Johns brought Hal Jordan back from the grave and turned the Lantern books into DC’s biggest sellers for several years, with smash hits like The Sinestro Corps War and Blackest Night. He also resurrected Barry Allen (after a legendary 23 year absence) during a second stint writing the franchise. It’s his early work with Wally West that really stands out though. After Mark Waid built up the Speed Force and the legacy aspect of the characters in the 1990s, Johns brought a smile inducing optimism to the book and fleshed out the infamous Rogues. Despite featuring a different lead character, much of the show’s characterization and tone is lifted directly from Johns’ Flash. 

Johns’ first Flash run was originally collected across a buttload of slim trade paperbacks. Most of those are out of print. Then DC collected the whole thing across three big omnibus volumes. These are also out of print, but they had crappy tight binding anyway. Starting this year, the material is being recollected again in meaty trades. Here is the first volume that just came out. The second doesn’t come out until May, but will start collecting some of the truly legendary arcs. There will probably be about four of them total. If you absolutely need some Barry Allen in your life, you may as well go to Johns’ rebirth of the hero. He followed it up with a short second run that lead right into Flashpoint, the harbinger of the New 52, for better or worse. The New 52 is controversial for longtime DC fans, and hit The Flash particularly hard by wiping out the prominent elements of family and history from the title. Barry has never been married to Iris. He never sacrificed himself in Crisis. Wally and Bart are bastardized versions of themselves. Max Mercury and Johnny Quick simply don’t exist. The first 25 issues of the title are worthwhile though, if only for the absolutely beautiful art of Francis Manapul. Those issues are split across the first four trades. Here’s the first one.

7. Doctor Strange

After the destined smash hit Captain America: Civil War, the next piece of the Marvel Cinematic Universe puzzle is Doctor Strange. Sherlock fans should be hype for Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of the Sorcerer Supreme. Strange is an interesting character in the Marvel Universe. He dates back to the early days of silver age Marvel in the 1960s. He’s always been a cult favorite B level hero throughout the years. He started out sharing a title (Strange Tales) with Nick Fury. The book was the ultimate treat for art nerd comic fans. Fury benefited from both Jack Kirby and Jim Steranko and had a brilliant mix of sleek James Bond style and 60s pop art sensibilities. Strange, on the other hand, was one of only a handful of books to get the Steve Ditko treatment. Ditko is the elusive, objectivist, visionary creator of not just Strange, but the Amazing Spider-Man himself. Whereas Peter’s scrawny, dorky physique and his creepy movement were the marks of Steve’s style on Spidey, he used Strange to go completely out there with psychedelia. The ultra conservative Ditko ironically grew to be a major inspiration to a generation of hippies. Strange has always kept that otherworldly edge in the years since.

A Lee/Ditko Dr. Strange omnibus is coming out at some point to tie into the movie. However, there are two fantastic titles that have come out closer to our own lifetimes. The most approachable and mainstream book is The Oath by Brian K. Vaughan. Vaughan is a big name in comics for writing the classic Y: The Last Man. He also has acclaim from Marvel heads for creating the cult teenage book Runaways. He is currently the number one indie darling (outside of maybe the mainstay Kirkman) with his and Fiona Staples’ Saga. Many consider The Oath to be the defining story for Stephen.

The other standout in the sparse Doctor Strange collection library is 1989’s Dr. Strange and Dr. Doom: Triumph & TormentWritten by Roger Stern, who had extensive experience with the character, and drawn by Mike Mignola, this is a true gem. Mignola is most known for founding the Hellboy/BPRD empire of independent comics over at Dark Horse. His early work at Marvel and DC is not quite as stylized and focused as Hellboy, but still features stunning art from a master of the medium. Doom goes to Stephen for help in freeing his mother’s soul from Hell. The story truly encapsulates why Strange will always be the Sorcerer Supreme at the end of the day, even if Brother Voodoo, Wanda Maximoff or Viktor seem like threats to the title. It’s also one of the best Doom tales, for fans of his.

8. Star Wars

Before the industry revolutionizing Star Wars came out in May, 1977, George Lucas went to Marvel Comics to try and shop a comic licensing deal. Stan Lee infamously turned him away, before Roy Thomas convinced him otherwise (having previously seen success with the Conan the Barbarian license). Marvel went on to produce 107 issues and change over ten years. They were experiencing some financial and creative trouble in the late 1970s and early 80s, with many of their star artists gone and franchises flailing. Some critics attribute the success of the Star Wars comic (among other licenses like GI Joe and Transformers) to saving the company. Marvel stopped publishing the book years before the next big wave of Star Wars interest peaked in the 1990s. By this time, the license had moved to Dark Horse, where huge swaths of the now-killed Expanded Universe were built. In the 2010s, the license has returned to the house of ideas in the wake of Disney gobbling up every entertainment corporation in sight. Both LucasFilm and Marvel are now under the house of mouse. Marvel has since started pumping out Star Wars comics like it’s all they do. It seems to be paying off so far. Star Wars #1 was the best selling comic in twenty years, reaching over a million copies sold (yes, this is a tiny industry). The Star Wars line is basically paying for any weird experiments Marvel wants to try in the MU. If only DC could get a cash cow like this (besides Batman). An important note is that every Star Wars issue published by Marvel since January 2014 is completely canon.

Besides the fact that people would probably buy them anyway, Marvel’s Star Wars books are actually pretty great. The key to this success is putting top tier talent on the book, instead of the obscure D-listers and science fiction authors that Dark Horse used (no disrespect to those stories, which are great). The main title, Star Warsis written by Jason Aaron. Aaron is one of the hottest writers of the era, with a long running indie hit (Scalped), an ongoing indie gem (Southern Bastards) and time put into Marvel on Wolverine, Ghost Rider, Punisher and several X-Men titles. He also has a instant classic under his belt (Thor: God of Thunder). Aaron’s Star Wars has a revolving door all-star of artists that switch out each arc. So far, John Cassaday and Stuart Immonen have done their time on the book. Darth Vader features the talent of Kieron Gillen (Wicked and the Divine, Phonogram, Young Avengers) and the photo realistic Salvador Larroca. Lots of comics peeps prefer Vader as the true standout in the line. For the Rebels fans out there, Kanan is another book. That book has no names on it though, but if you look on the brightside, they’re rising stars being given a chance to shine. Besides those three current ongoings, Marvel utilizes a miniseries format to tell one and done stories. Princess Leia herself got one by Mark Waid and Terry Dodson (another top tier team). Greg Rucka and Marco Chechetto did Journey to Force Awakens, which serves as a prequel to the film. Marvel will literally keep printing these books until the world ends I think. Chewbacca and Lando minis have wrapped up, with collections down the line. For the deranged prequel fans out there, an Obi-Wan and Anakin book is coming. If you want a taste of Marvel’s 1970s output, there is a nice hardcover of the first six issues, which served as a New Hope adaptation. Their old adaptations of the rest of the trilogy are available as well. If you want to read the whole series, there are three omnibi collecting it all. An omnibus of Marvel’s dubious Ewok and droids spinoffs is coming out too. They also have the distribution rights to the Dark Horse material and are reprinting it in Epic Collection volumes. STAR WARS IS TAKING OVER!

9. Walking Dead

The Walking Dead is one of the hottest shows on television. I think it and its new spinoff actually get ratings up there with Modern Family and The Big Bang Theory, only below football programming of course. For the first few seasons, it was the “cool” thing to know that it is based on a comic book. Kind of like people boasting about knowing the plot of Game of Thrones ahead of time due to reading Martin’s novels. Everyone knows The Walking Dead is a comic by now. However, if you enjoy the show and still haven’t tried the book, you need to fix that ASAP. The book is written by Robert Kirkman, a major sentinel of creator’s rights. Kirkman is the poster child of the late 2000s mentality that creators don’t need to toil away at Marvel and DC for name recognition before doing their own thing. He and Brian Michael Bendis had a great debate about creator-owned comics that is worth watching for people interested in how money works in art. Kirkman is the only partner of Image Comics who is not a founder of the company. TWD remains the only indie comic to rank in the top twenty selling monthly books with consistency. Fun fact: his son is named Peter Parker Kirkman.

Along with his staunch views on creator rights, Kirkman is a big fan of format diversity. The Walking Dead comes in all shapes and sizes. Of course, you can buy the monthly single issues that come out monthly. Those are up to the monolithic #150 though (still trailing Savage Dragon #210 and Spawn #259 though). So, even if you are down to hop on the Wednesdays train, you have some catching up to do. The most simple way to read the book is through the trade paperbacks, which are up to volume 24 at this point. The most cost efficient method is the fat paperback compendiums. There are three so far, and they encompass eight trade paperbacks each (48 issues). If you are looking for something sexy to put on your shelf, you have even more options. There are hardcovers that collect twelve issues each with a trim size of 7.5 x 11 inches (compared to 6.8 x 10.2 paperbacks). Going even bigger, for maximum art appreciation, are the omnibus editions which are 8.2 x 12 and collect 24 issues each. All of the various formats collect up to issue 144 so far. If you intend to continue following the series, another thing to keep in mind is how often your format comes out.

Something for Everyone

Everyone loves Marvel and DC’s movies and television shows. But maybe you’re looking for something different. Not simply some source material (all the sources are better though, just like novel to film adaptations), but something wholly original that you can’t get anywhere else. Comics are a singular medium with its own advantages and disadvantages in conveying art and telling a story, just like prose, music, film, video games, etc. If you ask a creator or fan of comics, the motto is that this is the medium with an infinite budget. On a surface level, the only constraints are an artist’s illustration abilities. The special effects are free. Superheroes can fight aliens in space. Dragons can romp around a battlefield of thousands of soldiers. There are no bounds, only as far as imagination can push us. Here are some more colorful suggestions to show off how comic books work, the heights they can reach, imaginative independent books and some low key Marvel gems.

10. Understanding Comics

You love the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Nolan’s Batman films. You would love to get into comic books. The only problem is you don’t fully understand how to read these weird picture books. What do you do with double stacked left side panels? Are Bendis’ dozen speech bubbles confusing you? Are you always hung up on figuring out the progression of time in comics storytelling? I don’t fault you. Comics can be incredibly intimidating, even putting aside the “volume 6 issue 21” and crossover/tie-in messes that plague superhero books. You need to pick up Scott McCloud’s Understanding ComicsThink of the most fun and informative textbook you’ve ever used in school. Then add character to it and make it about a topic you give a shit about. That is Understanding Comics. McCloud’s book is the go to for both industry newcomers and veteran academics. It belongs on everyone’s shelf. McCloud wrote two sequels, Reinventing Comics and Making ComicsThey’re just as informative and interesting as the original. However, they are less of a 101 and delve into the specific advances of their respective times. Reinventing attempts to cover digital comics, but from the perspective of 2000 when it was written. Some of it doesn’t hold up as well.

11. All-Star Superman

Do you think Superman is boring? He’s an alien that we can’t even relate to. He has dozens of powers that would be sufficient by themselves on any other superhero. He wears underwear over his tights. His secret identity concealing glasses are dumb. He reversed time by flying around the planet. He’s in a shitty Zach Snyder movie. Not even Bryan Singer could make him work. He belongs in the past where he comes from. He isn’t cool like Batman and Spider-Man. Well, guess what? You are objectively wrong. Superman is the forefather to all modern superheroes. He was the big leap (literally) that fused Greek mythic heroes and early 1900s pulp heroes. Hercules and Odysseus meets The Shadow and The Phantom. And he isn’t an archaic idea that should have been left in the 1940s. One of the greatest comic writers of all time, Grant Morrison, said this about the big blue boy scout, “Because it all derived from Superman. I mean, I love all the characters, but Superman is just this perfect human pop-culture distillation of a really basic idea. He’s a good guy. He loves us. He will not stop in defending us. How beautiful is that? He’s like a sci-fi Jesus. He’ll never let you down. And only in fiction can that guy actually exist, because real guys will always let you down one way or another. We actually made up an idea that beautiful. That’s just cool to me. We made a little paper universe where all of the above is true.” Supes is about our idealism, everything we can and should be. He’s an alien stronger than all of us, but he chooses to serve us and desperately wants to be one of us. Morrison wrote a twelve issue deconstruction of The Man of Steel called All-Star Superman. Each issue covers another part of his character, whether it’s his love life or his villains. It is a nearly immaculate piece of comic book storytelling. Morrison’s meta writing is complimented perfectly by Frank Quitely’s pencils. If you read this book and still think Superman is dumb, fine. The sad thing is that for whatever reason, DC has struggled with putting out solid Superman stories in his ongoing titles for the past fifteen or twenty years. I attribute it to them not understanding the essence of their own character. They’re constantly trying to make him edgy or tear him down. He currently is missing his powers in one book. Why?

12. Multiversity

Whaaaaaaaat? All-Star Superman is actually one of Grant Morrison’s more approachable works. He is more known for metafictional stories that make your mind hurt. He does a lot of drugs. Allegedly he was abducted by aliens. Or contacted by a spiritual force. I don’t really know and neither does he. His art is usually better for it though. In 1990, he had Animal Man acknowledge the readers and freak out. The readers freaked the hell out too. I almost wish I had not said that and spoiled the moment. But I kind of don’t care. It’s also a “I am your father” kind of moment that everyone in comics knows about whether they’ve read it. His most recent big metafictional piece is called The MultiversityHere’s the concept: each issue is an individual done-in-one story presenting a different alternate dimension, all drawn by different artists. The issues are book ended by The Multiversity #1 and 2, connecting the story. At some point in one issue, a character will be reading a comic book that showcases the adventures of the previous issue. The Just is about a generation of spoiled superhero grandchildren obsessed with fame. Pax Americana is Morrison’s take on Alan Moore’s Watchmen, which is to say a deconstruction of the Charlton Comics characters DC bought in the 80s. Mastermen is an alternate history Earth where Superman (now called Overman) lands in Nazi Germany and is raised by Hitler. Ultra Comics is the most meta of them all, covering a fictional superhero created by “memesmiths” to defeat a “Hostile Independent Thought-Form.” Yes. It is that weird. It all works though. And by the end, an inter-dimensional team of heroes defends the entire multiverse.

13. Batman: Noel

Not much to say here. Batman: Noel is fitting for the season. Something with a theme to actually fit the Christmas spirit for those who are Christian or enjoy the celebration and aesthetic regardless. Lee Bermejo writes and draws this story loosely based on Charles Dickens’ evergreen novel A Christmas Carol. Catwoman, Superman and the Joker all play the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future respectively. Bermejo’s art is really pretty. He’s otherwise known for original graphic novels on the Joker and Lex Luthor. Both worth looking into if you like Noel. 

14. Saga

Brian K. Vaughan already got a spot earlier in the list for Doctor Strange: The Oath. Here is his mega hit Saga, mentioned in that entry as well. Saga just hit a magic vein in the industry that catapulted it to stardom. All the pieces are fabulous. Brian K. Vaughan is a gifted writer that can flesh out worlds as seen in Y, Ex Machina and Lost. Fiona Staples came from relative obscurity and turned into a top three artist overnight on the book (and she colors it too!). It’s ultimately a love story. Alana and Marko are from opposing races that have been at war forever. To complicate things further, they have a baby they have to take care of. Part of its appeal is the crazy shit they get into. A race of aliens have televisions for heads. There is an infamous splash page of a dragon fellating itself. You can get the first trade here. There is an oversized hardcover that collects the first 18 issues (three trades). It’s worth it for Fiona’s beautiful art. However, you are going to want to keep reading the series as soon as you finish it and the second hardcover probably won’t drop for a while. So here are volumes 2, 3, 4, and 5.

15. Ms. Marvel

Media representation and diversity have increasingly become a focus in media studies and the discussion has becomes and increasingly mainstream topic every day. Comic books have unfortunately been pretty lackluster on these fronts for decades. In the 1930s through mid 1950s, creative diversity in comics was diverse. Girls read Supergirl as much as boys read Superman. Romance comics were popular with women, while Archie, Betty and Veronica were a teenage sensation. There were some problems from the start, like most things in the naive post-war era. A lot of the different genres, books, etc were explicitly gendered. The audience was there though. Fredric Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent and the subsequent hysteria not only drastically shrunk the market. It also censored entire genres and pushed entire demographics out of the medium. For comparison, Japanese comics never experienced this censorship rallying cry and people of all genders, ages, etc read a wide array of manga. The lack of a significant female audience and the infatilization of the medium (no drugs, no sex, no suicide, no race issues, no vampires, etc) led to a “young male” stigma in the medium. Comics were “for boys.” The late 1980s and 1990s was probably the worst point of this, when artists ruled the industry and just wanted to draw scantily clad women. The late 2000s/early 2010s second (or third? 1. Cerebus, Usagi 2. 90s Image) explosion of independent comics has led to a diversification on both sides of the dollar. Marvel and DC have been trying to catch up in the past few years. Marvel particularly has made major strides with characters like Miles Morales. Sam Wilson, Jessica Drew and Carol Danvers have also exploded in popularity and exposure. The breakout new character of this trend by far is Kamala Khan. When Carol Danvers gave up her Ms. Marvel moniker to become Captain Marvel, the Muslim, Pakistani-American, Jersey City fangirl Kamala took up her idol’s old title after being exposed to the terrigen mists. Her writer, G. Willow Wilson, is a Muslim herself who has been praised for her believable teenage dialogue. Kamala’s signature artist, Adrian Alphona, made his name doing BKV’s teenage superhero book Runaways. Marvel and DC have introduced fairly few long term successful characters in the past decade or two. New superheroes cropped up every week in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Kamala may be the biggest breakout for Marvel. You can read her series across, four, trade, paperbacks. There are also two oversized hardcovers collecting the same material. Her series has continued post-Secret Wars and hopefully will for a long time.

16. Noir Comics

Ed Brubaker wrote Captain America for years (as detailed in this list). He also did other work for Marvel and DC on Iron Fist, Batman, etc. All of those stories are great and I’m sure he enjoyed doing them. However, Brubaker’s treu calling are independent noir comics. Hollywood doesn’t make many noir movies anymore. There are some neo-noir films that capture similar tones and aesthetics – a personal favorite of mine being Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive. However, if you want sultry broads, men in suits and that dark, expressionist look, you’ll need to turn to comic books for your fix. That’s not a bad thing though because Brubaker and a small circle of artist buddies have pumped out a healthy library of noir comics.  I’m going to highlight Velvet because it reunites Brubaker with Steve Epting, the primary artist from his early Cap work. Velvet is a simple secretary on the surface. But she’s secretly the most dangerous woman alive. Isn’t that a juicy premise? There are two volumes of Velvet out. Brubaker’s usual collaborator on these books is Sean Phillips. The pair have produced straight classics together. The Fade Out is a highlight of their oeuvre. It covers the seedy side of Golden Age Hollywood.

17. Hawkguy

Hawkeye is a character with a deep history in the Marvel Universe. He started off as a villain of Iron Man’s under the influence of Black Widow. He later joined the Avengers as part of the famous “Quirky Quartet” when Iron Man, Thor, Ant-Man and Wasp ditched the team, leaving Cap with the responsibility of drafting a squad from scratch. Clint Barton for many years was seen (and saw himself) as a B-rate Captain America, always under his shadow. In the 1980s, Barton split off and led the West Coast Avengers brand extension. Around this time he interrupted his serial bachelor streak and got married to Bobbi Morse aka Mockingbird. This pairing is basically a parody/homage of Oliver Queen and Dinah Lance (aka Green Arrow and Black Canary). Hawkeye led the Thunderbolts in the late 1990s for a while. In the revolutionary Avengers Disassembled storyline, Scarlet Witch goes cuckoo and in the process Hawkeye sacrifices his life to save others. He comes back to life, but audiences aren’t aware of this for a while. He flips back and forth between the aliases of Echo and Ronin. Oh, and while he was dead a teenage hero named Kate Bishop takes on the Hawkeye mantle as a Young Avenger. In 2012, Matt Fraction and David Aja start a Hawkeye solo title. But, it’s not a solo book. The story tracks the street level adventures of Clint and Kate as the Hawkeyes. Mostly due to Aja’s simplistic art, their tenure is already a classic and the best thing to come out of Marvel in years. Issue 11, Pizza is My Business, is one of the greatest single issues of all time. It is entirely silent and told through the perspective of Lucky, Clint and Kate’s dog. For whatever reason, Marvel is offering a bunch of different formats to read the book in. You can get four trade paperbacks, two hardcovers or one omnibus.

18. Bitch Planet

With Ms. Marvel, I talked about media representation. Kamala tackles these problems by simply existing. Young Muslim girls, and anyone else who doesn’t fit the typical cookie cut out of “comic fan,” can see people that look like them in comics and feel more welcome in the community. There are scientific studies that show that representation affects ones self-esteem and other factors. However, some of the best media directly critiques and tears down these kinds of problems. In comic books, an example of this is Kelly Sue Deconnick’s Bitch PlanetDeconnick is the writer responsible for evolving Carol Danvers from Ms. Marvel to Captain Marvel. Carol’s getting a MCU film with her new moniker, so something worked there. Her stint on Captain Marvel gave rise to the Carol Corps, what Deconnick and Danvers’ new fans call themselves.  Part of Deconnick’s success is her extensive self promotion and audience interaction on Tumblr. By the way, she’s married to Matt Fraction. Just like her husband, KSD has left Marvel behind to work on more personal endeavors (and ones she gets to actually make quality money from).  Her other series, Pretty Deadlyhas also been well received. It’s Bitch Planet though which has people getting tattoos inspired by it though. It’s set in a dystopian future where misogyny is rampant and ingrained in the laws. “Noncompliant” women get sent to a giant prison in space. Deconnick uses this send up of 1970s women in prison expoitation films to examine and critique issues of gender, sexuality, race, body image, etc.

19. Silver Surfer

#BasedMikeAllred. Mike Allred is known for his 1960s pop art style comic art. Here he is doing his thing on Silver Surfer, a character that complements the style well. He gets to draw Galactus’ funky helmet, aliens and weird intergalactic tidbits. Dan Slott, the longtime writer of Amazing Spider-Man, handles the writing and essentially does his spin on the Doctor Who formula. Norin Radd serves as the good Doctor, while he gets Dawn Greenwood as his companion. They explore space together. It’s a great little series. There are fifteen issues and three trades. You can fine them here, here and here. This series is also continuing with the same team in the new Marvel relaunch.

20. Fun Home

Most everything on this list was superheroes or “genre” fiction. What if I want something based in reality? Something autobiographical? Something that will make me feel empty inside? Then you are looking for Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. Independent comics have a long history with personal stories. “Autobio” books exploded in the late 1980s in the first boom of indie comics interest. Names like Robert Crumb and Harvey Pekar stand out from this era. Hell, Paul Giamatti played Pekar in the Oscar nominated American Splendor biopic. There’s something about someone letting you into their life that is so captivating. Especially if their life fucking sucks. These are often told in black and white, with deceivingly simple cartooning. Art Spiegelman, Eddie Campbell, Phoebe Gloeckner, David B, Marjane Satrapi, Jeffrey Brown, Craig Thompson and others have all made their livings telling their peculiar personal tales. Alison Bechdel started her career doing a strip called Dykes to Watch Out For. It was a mix of soap drama and topical commentary featuring a bunch of lesbians (as the name implies). Bechdel’s strip has been overshadowed by the “Bechdel test” A proposed test to test gender biases in media, particularly film. The test asks whether a work has at least two women who talk about something together other than a man. Theoretically, whether a film passes or fails has a judgment on whether it is in a way sexist. Unfortunately, the test has been broadly applied to label works as sexist or even make value/quality judgments. Bechdel has transitioned from strip cartooning to an author of autobio graphic novels. Fun Home parallels her coming of age and coming out story with her father’s homosexuality, pedophilia and suicide. It sounds tragic and twisted. It is. And it is one of the best graphic novels of all time. It has also been adapted as a Broadway musical, which is currently running. Bechdel has put out a sequel of sorts, Are You My Mother?which covers her mother instead of her father. It’s still her work and spectacular, but doesn’t stand up to Fun Home. 

Straight to the List and Links

I highly recommend www.instocktrades.com. They will offer almost all of these books cheaper than Amazon or brick and mortar stores will. Some of them might not be in stock on Amazon, or more obscure and harder to find in stores, and IST will also be more likely to have them available. Over fifty bucks, free shipping.

1. Jessica Jones – Alias Volume 1, 2, 3, 4 / Omnibus, The Pulse
2. Civil War, Mega Expensive Box Set
3. The Winter Soldier – Brubaker Captain America Vol 1, 2, 3
4. Batman v. Superman – DKR, DKSA / Deluxe HC
5. Fantastic Four – Hickman Vol 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, FF Vol 1, 2, 3, 4, Waid Vol 1, 2, 3, 4
6. The Flash – Geoff Johns Vol 1, Rebirth, Flashpoint, N52 Vol 1
7. Doctor Strange – The Oath, Triumph & Torment
8. Star Wars – Star Wars Vol 1, Darth Vader Vol 1, Kanan Vol 1, Leia, Journey to Force Awakens, A New Hope
9. Walking Dead – TPB Vol 1 / Compendium Vol 1 / HC Vol 1 / Omnibus Vol 1
10. Understanding ComicsReinventing Comics,  Making Comics
11. All-Star Superman
12. Multiversity 
13. Batman: Noel
14. Saga – Vol 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 / HC Vol 1
15. Ms. Marvel – Vol 1, 2, 3, 4 / HC Vol 1, 2
16. Noir Comics – Velvet Vol 12, The Fade Out Vol 1, 2, 3
17. Hawkeye Vol 1, 2, 3, 4 / HC Vol 1, 2 / Omnibus
18. Bitch PlanetPretty Deadly
19. Silver Surfer – Vol 1, 2, 3
20. Fun Home, Are You My Mother?

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Scrumptious Tidbits from Comics Past and Present: Steve Rogers the Indiehead

 

steve rogers radiohead

From Captain America: Man Out of Time #5, written by Mark Waid and drawn by Jorge Molina (2011)

Man Out of Time came out to coincide with The First Avenger hitting theaters. It’s a beautiful tale that serves as an origin story and tribute to the good captain. It focuses on Steve getting caught up to speed with American and world history that took place between getting frozen in ice and thawed out in Avengers #4. The five issue miniseries easily ranks up there as one of the best Cap stories ever told. On this page we see Steve Rogers trying out some modern music with Radiohead’s Kid A. I’ve included the album (via Spotify) below so that you can listen to a classic album alongside Captain America.

And here is an Amazon link to delve into the story yourself

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Comic Books are Awesome 101: Happy Birthday to the King, Jack Kirby

This was originally written on August 28th, 2015. Excuse the delay in publishing. There are some odd formatting ticks in this article. Either don’t know how or don’t feel like fixing them.

Self portrait title picture

 

Today is Jack Kirby’s birthday (as well as our wonderful Secretary Matt’s). Everyone with a remote interest in Marvel, superheroes and comics as an art form should be intimately familiar with this name.

The man was born Jacob Kurtzberg on the Lower East Side of New York in 1917. Jack was Jewish, like the majority of prominent early cartoonists. He got his first break in the industry working with writer Joe Simon throughout the 1940s and ’50s. This was interrupted by Kirby getting drafted for World War II, in which he was tasked Captain America Comics 1with going ahead of friendly lines and drawing reconnaissance maps. Simon and Kirby’s most famous creation of that period was Captain America for Timely Comics, what we know today as Marvel Comics, who famously punched Adolf Hitler in the face on his first cover, nearly an entire year before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. At the time, many powerful New Yorkers were supporters of the Nazi regime. Granted, to cut them a bit of slack, most of the Jewish Holocaust was not known of at that point in time. Many sent angry letters and protested outside the Timely offices, prompting the mayor to provide police protection. The comic was selling a million copies an issue, having an even greater circulation than the magazine Time. During this era, the duo also did work for National Comics (DC) on Sandman and practically created the “kid gang” genre which consisted of orphans running around doing things like delivering newspapers and helping fight the Nazis. They also created the first comic issue that was solely dedicated to Captain Marvel (aka Shazam) stories for Fawcett Comics.

Young RomanceFor decades people have thought of comics as being primarily about superheroes, but prior to the establishment of the Comics Code Authority many genres flourished. Jack Kirby innovated in every single one of them. One of his most notable works is his extensive romance comics oeuvre, which were popular with teenage girls at the time. Simon and Kirby also did tons of science fiction, western, crime and horror stories. Their relationship ended amicably when Simon decided to go into advertising, which left Kirby floating around doing freelance work wherever he could get it. At least until he would end up working somewhere he had earlier, achieving his creative peak and cementing himself as a legend in the process.

That place in question would of course be Tales to Astonish 3Marvel Comics, at the time known as Atlas Comics. He forged an incredibly fruitful creative relationship with one Stanley Lieber (Stan Lee). They worked together on titles like Tales to Astonish, Tales of Suspense, Journey into Mystery and Strange Tales. Most of these were over the top, twist ending stories with tinges of science fiction and horror, usually involving aliens, robots or giant monsters. They were pretty much cashing in on Godzilla and King Kong parallels.

November 1961, Fantastic Four #1 hits the shelves and revolutionizes an entire industry and popular culture as a whole. The story (likely a myth) goes that Martin
Goodman, the publisher of Marvel was out golfing with Jack Liebowitz, the owner of DC. Liebowitz bragged about the success his company was seeing with the Fantastic Four 1recently launched Justice League of America. Goodman came back to the offices and asked Stan Lee to print him some of that superhero money. Lee was harboring aspirations of becoming the next great American writer. Rather than Jacob Kurtzberg, who changed his name to sound more all-American (translation: less Jewish), Stanley Lieber used a pseudonym so that his “immature” and “pedestrian” comics work would not soil his eventual epic novel. One can imagine being tasked to write about men in bright colorful tights would make such a man feel a certain way. On suggestion from his wife Lee set forth with the mission to, for just once, write a comic story that he himself, in all his snobbish glory, could enjoy reading. He planned to write up his resignation letter after it hit the newsstands. The issue amazed its audience and played a major part in jumpstarting what is referred to as the Silver Age of Comic Books (though worth noting the start of the Silver Age is usually noted as Showcase #4, the debut of Barry Allen, the second Flash).

Lee and Kirby, among other men and women like Steve Ditko, Don Heck, John and Sal Buscema, Roy Thomas, Gene Colan, John Romita, Joe Sinnott, Marie Severin, and Jim Steranko (it’s hard to stop the list when every potential entry is such a legend) would go on to create blockbuster superhero after superhero. There was a stark difference between the Marvel Universe and its contemporaries. Peter Parker was a dorky kid living in Queens, New York not the fabricated Metropolis or Gotham. He dealt with insecurities and pressures steeped in reality. Iron Man traded bullets with the Viet Cong, Reed Richards stared down Communist astronauts. Superman stories of the time still involved Jimmy Olsen getting tricked into marrying a gorilla. This wasn’t so much escapist entertainment as much as it was truly connecting with the characters on the page. The bizarre blend of Stan’s soap opera melodrama dialogue and Jack’s dynamic, often psychedelic art struck a major chord. Spider-Man and the Hulk were listed alongside Bob Dylan and JFK as American heroes. Dr. Strange sold most of its copies to college students, whereas Batman, the “dark” knight, was still being primarily read by ten year olds.

Jack Kirby can be credited with so much of the Marvel pantheon. Everyone under the sun knows Stan Lee, and he is a genuine legend, but Kirby pretty much did all the heavy lifting. Lee invented the “Marvel method” of writing, which involves laying out the basic story in a paragraph or bullets. The artist would then ostensibly create the actual plot through their cartooning. This left Lee with the job of simply going back in and writing dialogue and captions to match the panels. The entire Marvel style was based on Kirby’s look, or at least other artists would try their damnedest to imitate the master. He would even design costumes for characters and sketch layouts for stories he wouldn’t go on to pencil.

Take a deep breath. Jack Kirby created/designed the Fantastic Four, Dr. Doom, Galactus, Silver Surfer, the Skrulls, the Kree, the Inhumans, Black Panther, Ant-Man, Hulk, Spider-Man (a touchy one, as Kirby did the initial sketch, then Steve Ditko redid and finalized the design), Thor, Loki, Iron Man, Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D, the original five X-Men, Professor X, Magneto, Juggernaut, the Sentinels, M.O.D.O.K, H.Y.D.R.A, Kang, Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch-I could go on and on and on here. All of this brilliant work falls within the short span of 9 years at the company.

60s marvel blockbusters

Kirby left Marvel in 1970 due to a combination of what he saw as too little creative control and too little money for his immense work. He took his talents to rival DC and promptly created The Fourth World, a legendary meta series depicting wars between races of gods, oh and Jimmy Olsen. For the villain of his epic saga, Kirby created Darkseid (who Jim Starlin would later ripoff for Thanos back over at Marvel three years later). His other notable creations at DC in this era include O.M.A.C, Kamandi and Etrigan the Demon.

Lord of LightOnce again, he left DC due to creative differences (yes there is a pattern here and it is a constant in the industry) and came back to Marvel where he did some Captain America and some Black Panther. At this point, Jack was hailed by the entire industry as a living legend, and Marvel was willing to let him create such crazy concepts as Machine Man, Devil Dinosaur and the Eternals. During this tenure at Marvel he also attempted to adapt Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey to the comics medium. Another highlight of Kirby’s career around this time is his role creating the concept art for Argo, the fake film used as a cover by the C.I.A. to rescue American citizens in the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979.Lord of Light 2

In his later years, Kirby was one of the first crusaders for creator’s rights in the 1980s, notably ten years before the exodus of artists from Marvel to form Image comics. One of Kirby’s later projects was the satirical Destroyer Duck with Steve Gerber, the creator of Howard the Duck. The title existed to raise funds to pay Gerber’s legal fees from fighting Marvel in court over ownership of his characters. The story involves Duke Duck’s friend “The Little Guy” getting exploited and killed by “Godcorp.”

Besides the sheer quantity and cultural significance of his creations, Jack Kirby is admired for the countless innovations he made in the medium and specific aspects of his style. Kirby was among the first in the medium to experiment with collage. It’s said he would request that guests to his house bring newspapers and magazines, in case they may prove useful for a future collage. However it should not be understated, Kirby was just as famous for his quantity. He was famously able to produce over four pages a day, a feat unheard of in today’s landscape of frequent fill-in artists and delays.

Collage example 1 FF Annual 6Collage example 2 FF 37

Something every Kirby fan loves is the “Kirby krackle.” The Kirby krackle is arguably his most signature element in his work, and is used for everything from explosions, smoke, any kind of energy and simply outer space. I really have no clue how to clearly explain the krackle, so let’s see what a philosophy professor from Rice thinks about it-

“For Kirby, the human body is a manifestation or crystallization of finally inexplicable energies-a superbody. What Mesmer called animal magnetism, Reichenbach knew as the blue od, and Reich saw as a radiating blue cosmic orgone becomes in Jack Kirby a trademark energetics signaled by ‘burst lines’ and a unique energy field of black, blobby dots that has come to be affectionately known as the ‘Kirby Krackle.’ The final result was a vision of the human being as a body of frozen energy that, like an atomic bomb, could be released with stunning effects, for good or for evil. These metaphysical energies, I want to suggest constitute the secret Source of Kirby’s art” (Jeffrey J. Kripal)

Yeah, I’m having a bit of trouble understanding what the hell that means. The krackle is cool. ‘Nuff said. How about I just stick some examples here, that would work.

Krackle 1Krackle 2Krackle 3

Jack Kirby’s influence reaches all corners of comics. Most of the Silver Age greats owe debt to Kirby, simply because everyone else was instructed to revolve around his style. Jim Steranko, Neal Adams and many others developed themselves while trying to mirror Kirby. When Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo were working on their celebrated Fantastic Four run, a story included the four meeting “God.” This god turned out to of course be Jack Kirby and his pencil, dictating the world of the Marvel Universe on his drawing table. It’s a great tribute and instance of metafiction. The are certain modern artists like Tom Scioli, whose art can be directly linked to the genetics Kirby created in the industry.  

Wieringo FF 511Tom Scioli Godland

I think many would agree that Jack Kirby is one of the most influential and important figures in the comics medium. Just as many would argue that he is the greatest comics artist of all time, myself included. Next time you pick up a comic, buy a Captain America tee shirt, or go to the next MCU mega hit, remember that Jack Kirby made that possible.

Here is an imgur album I threw together compiling a wild array of Jack Kirby art for you to pour your eyes over (including completed panels, pencils, sketches, collages, etc).

Here is a radio interview with Kirby from his 70th birthday in 1987, in which Stan Lee calls in as a surprise. There are some sweet moments of them praising each other and some slightly tense bits.

Radio host, “Are there things that you look at with interest these days?”
Lee, “Oh sure, now there’s a DC series called the Watchmen which I think was absolutely superb, the work that John Byrne has been doing [likely referring to his The Man of Steel Superman reboot and subsequent ongoing series], the work that Frank Miller has been doing [likely referring to both Batman: Year One and The Dark Knight Returns].”

And for something off the beaten path, here is a tribute jazz album inspired by the King

 

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My Ant-Man Movie Review: A Breath of Fresh Air

ANT MAN

Well, the weekend has ended and yet another MCU movie is in the books, this time it is Marvel’s Ant-Man, the 12th movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While only clocking in at 65 million dollars for its opening weekend, Ant-Man breathes new life into the MCU with its all new ensemble of characters and its focused story on the Lang and Pym families.

Without getting into any spoilers, the first thing I noticed with this movie was the very heavy family element that was prevalent from the logo crawl all the way up until the second post-credits scene. Hank Pym and his daughter Hope have a deep relationship that reaches back to her childhood while Scott Lang’s parallel story with his daughter Cassie make Hank and Scott more alike than you would think.

The action in this movie is very comedic at times, especially when Scott is first learning how to use the suit. Even my dad, who isn’t the biggest Marvel movie buff, said that Ant-Man can kick some serious butt. A lot of people thought his shrinking ability was a little gimmicky but I can tell you, having the ability to shrink can be a very powerful thing, and the movie does a good job emphasizing that.

Corey Stoll’s Darren Cross is very believable and towards the end of the movie, you start to emphasize with him and what drives him to do the things he does.

The humor in this movie really ramps up towards the third act of the movie but very subtly. This movie doesn’t have the quips and one-liners of Guardians of the Galaxy, but it certainly has it’s own style of humor. Michael Douglas’s Hank Pym throws in a few funny lines and the banter from Michael Pena’s Luis is always very entertaining.

I said earlier that I wouldn’t post spoilers but I can’t help my self so SPOILER WARNING AHEAD!

 

 

First off, I am so ecstatic that the Wasp is now in the MCU. Hopefully she will stand alongside Black Widow, Scarlet Witch, and Gamora as the major female leads in the two part Avengers: Infinity War movie. The design of the suit is even more amazing with the dominant navy blue and the splash of orange thrown in. Just another comment related to the wasp; Evangeline Lily was probably the perfect choice to play Hope Van Dyne. The chemistry that she has with Paul Rudd on screen was prevalent and I loved it.

 

The second post-credit scene was somewhat expected but nonetheless amazing. I can now finally understand why Cap wouldn’t want to show Tony that he found Bucky since Bucky was responsible for killing Tony Stark’s parents. That movie is going to be even more epic than Age of Ultron, and that is certainly saying something!

 

What did you guys think of Ant-Man? I don’t know about you guys but I thought it was fANTastic! hahaha comment below and let me know!

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Students of S.H.I.E.L.D Spring 2015 Video

Here is a look back at the pictures of this club’s very first semester at Penn State University Park!

YouTube Clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jF4rWh609hI

 

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Hello Marvelites!

This is your president Daniel McNamara for Students of S.H.I.E.L.D. Welcome to a club solely created for the enjoyment of all things Marvel! Come out and visit us for the Fall 2015 Involvement Fair on August 25th, 2015 from 11 AM to 4 PM in the Alumni Hall at the HUB-Robeson Center and the Pollock Organization Fair on August 27th, 2015 from 7-9 PM at the Pollock Commons.

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