Heroes For The Holidays

As we count down the final hours to Christmas, I thought I would just pop up a little post showcasing some Season’s Greetings of the super hero kind. From comic book covers to in-house greeting cards to one-off works of art, the heroes of DC and Marvel can always be counted on to turn it out for holidays!

Holiday Comics

xmas-superheroesDC’s semi-regular tradition of collecting holiday themed stories spanned over many years – and many formats. Christmas With The Super Heroes started out as an oversize tabloid, then went to  paperback digest before finally settling in to the regular comic book format.

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Marvel also knocked out a few of their own Holiday Specials over the years, and these two pin-ups from one of its earliest ones are favourites of mine.

Christmas Cards and Holiday Art

DC and Marvel’s Christmas card game is always on point – whimsical and usually with a welcome touch of humor (I especially love Batman getting beaned with a snowball).

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And artist Chris Giarrusso’s spot-on homage to A Charlie Brown Christmas for one of Marvel’s holiday cards is a pure delight.

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And to conclude this brief little heroic holiday excursion, I thought I would cap it off with this amusing mock-up of a 1950s-era Action Comics, courtesy of Comics Alliance (“No-El” – heh, heh – gets me every time).

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Happy Holidays Everyone!

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Superhero Fashion Emergency!

In the world of superhero costume couture, red/black is the new…EVERYTHING.

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One of the greatest things about comic books is the variety of costumes that the various heroes and villains deck themselves out in. From Batman’s iconic dark cowl and cape to Captain America’s star-spangled super soldier suit to Aquaman’s unconventional vibrant splash of orange and green goodness, costumes are great eye-candy and help to really individualize a character. And aside from teams like the Green Lantern Corps or the X-Men, who are pretty much required by law to wear matching or similar costumes, the majority of Marvel and DC’s collective universes were always awash with character costumes sporting colour combinations as distinct as their powers or skill sets.

And then something happened.

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Once upon a simpler time these were the only Bat-characters who went for the red/black look

Just a few short years ago Batwoman, Batman Beyond, Deadpool and a small handful of other characters were the only comic book headliners who were rocking costumes that solely consisted of red and black material. It was something that didn’t really stick out and wasn’t even worth noting, really. Fast forward to today and suddenly EVERYONE is wearing red and black – to the point where it is so obviously distracting that you can’t HELP but notice it. Comic books – one of the most creative mediums out there – are now sliding into a creativity-free fashion slump due to the over-employment of this restrictive palette. And for this particular comic book fan, there’s only so much red and black, page after page, comic after comic that I can take. It’s a fashion emergency that is dangerously close to putting some of my regularly purchased monthly titles on the critical list.

So, What ACTUALLY Happened?

This rise of the red/black scourge  is easily traceable – and it’s all DC’s fault. Back in 2011, DC Comics launched their highly publicized (albeit ill-conceived and poorly executed) line-wide reboot, “The New 52”. The point behind it was to boost sales and attract new readership with  new #1 issues of all their regular monthly title providing easy “jumping on” points.

So, the masterminds in the DC think tanks were chugging along, thinking of every type of marketing voodoo magic they could employ to pull new readers in. And then someone, somewhere must have read something that indicated that red and black were the colours most likely to catch people eyes or draw their interest or hypnotize them into opening their wallets, because suddenly a number of heroes had inexplicable “New 52” makeovers that  suggested that Batwoman would be facing a lot more competition at the next red and black sample sale.

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It’s also quite obvious that the red/black look has made everyone much more grim n’ growly (except for Hawk – he’s always been that way)

Nightwing, Hawk, Superboy and Wonder Girl were the first out of the gate with their revamped looks (shown to the right, alongside their pre-New 52 looks) which ranged from pointless colour swaps to needless outfit updates that somehow managed to seem both bland and busy at the same time. Nightwing’s blue-on-black ensemble was distinctive but his new red/black look is just derivative of both Batwoman and Batman Beyond, Hawk’s red-on-white garb was meant to complement partner Dove’s similar-looking blue-on-white outfit, but now it just…doesn’t.

And poor Superboy and Wonder Girl – gone are their refreshing “Causal Friday” jeans-and-t-shirt looks. Now, in their place we get  a Tron Cosplayer and Grumpy Red Riding Hood. (Even Wonder Girl’s lasso has been given an unholy red re-do. Is nothing sacred?)

At this time, DC also launched a new Red Lanterns title (think Green Lanterns with anger issues) and like all Lanterns, their costume colours default to a black base and the colour of their ring, so now we had a whole new team of red and black characters added to the mix. And just recently, Supergirl became the latest Red Lantern recruit (as indicated on the far right of the image at the top of this post) so she has now traded in her traditional blue, red and gold garb to become the latest red/black fashion victim.

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JL 3000’s Bats and Supes on the left and Earth 2’s on the right

And it didn’t stop there. Not content with their makeover madness, DC also introduced a handful of  “new” characters – who are also all decked out in the devil’s colours. And here’s where the creativity crutch is really puzzling to me. With the launch of the titles Earth 2 and Justice League 3000, there came the opportunity to present alternate world and future timeline versions of the World’s Greatest Heroes. So what does DC do? They give us not one, but two different versions of Superman and Batman – and ALL four of them are sporting that cutting edge red/black combo. I mean, come on.

BUT WAIT – THERE’S MORE!

Of course, this red /black onslaught is not all on DC’s shoulders. Because in the world of comic book publishing, whatever trend one of the big two publishers jumps on, the other has to try and top them. And that’s where Marvel came into the ring. It was like someone over at Marvel HQ said, “Well, we can give red and black makeovers too – and we’ll do it to ALL the members of team! No..scratch that – TWO TEAMS!”

So, first they launched the latest iteration of Thunderbolts, now led by Red Hulk. And apparently he had a “red” prerequisite for eligible team members, so while Elektra and Deadpool  aced it, Punisher and Agent Venom had swap out their black and whites for black and reds (see top image, second from left). So cute that they’re all matchy-matchy now, right?

Not content with that, Marvel unleashed what I consider to be the atomic bomb of this whole red/black catastrophe. Marvel’s first family, the Fantastic Four, is an iconic team that has always had an iconic look – matching blue uniforms (except when they’re feeling pretentious, in which case they switch to their “Future Foundation” whites). Well, earlier this year they debuted in the latest of their never-ending string of relaunches. Bold new story! Bold new direction! Bold new…costumes?

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Even Sue Storm thinks the new red/black look for the FF just can’t be taken seriously

Yes, the Fantastic Four has now hopped on the red/black express (see top image, second from the right) This is truly the sign of the Apocalypse – for if a great mind like Reed Richards can succumb to the mind-numbing, eye-searing pull of a red and black makeover, is there really ANY hope for the rest of the comic universes?

We can only stay strong and pray that a brighter, colourful and more aesthically pleasing day will soon come to pull our heroes out of their collective red and black nightmare (and save me from some severe red and black induced headaches).

 

 

 

Avengers Overload

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For many years Marvel Comics was content with having just two monthly Avengers titles. And whether it was the 80s-90s era of Avengers and Avengers West Coast or the 00s era of New Avengers and Mighty Avengers, one thing was certain: no matter which comic you picked up, you could be guaranteed a tale about a true Avengers team made up of  legit, card-carrying super-heroes who each had earned the honour of being called an Avenger.

Nowadays, it’s a much different story. First, Marvel let their creators expand the Avengers ranks by rotating in seemingly EVERY hero who had yet to be called an Avenger. Then came the worldwide, block-busting, record-breaking mega smash film success of Marvel’s Avengers, and suddenly the comic company’s premier super hero team became hotter than ever. So naturally, Marvel has been cashing in on that popularity by peppering their line-up with as many Avengers comics as possible (current count: 12). Now, this wouldn’t be so bad if each of these titles were actual Avengers comics, but branding seems more important to Marvel execs than accuracy right now, and apparently they see no problem with taking their once-exclusive brand and diluting it by slapping “Avengers” onto every new title that comes down the pike, regardless of whether they are actual Avengers comics or not.

What’s really upsetting about this is not just the blatant cash-in, but how misleading this is to new comic readers. Anyone drawn to the comics after becoming a fan of the movie now runs the easy risk of being sorely disappointed and surely confused when they see that the Avengers comic they picked up has little or nothing at all to do with the actual team of iconic heroes.

So, how out of control is the Avengers branding? Well, let’s just take a quick look at all the different titles and see for ourselves:

These are the current titles that readers can find tales of the actual Avengers:

Avengers and Avengers World – the core membership of the Avengers now hovers somewhere around 15 and they can all be found making appearances in either of these titles – with Avengers showcasing more traditional-type team action and Avengers World focusing on the team working in conjunction with S.H.I.E.L.D. on adventures with a more worldwide scope. Features traditional, long-time Avengers like Captain America, Iron Man and Thor as well as newer members like Manifold, Smasher, Captain Universe and former X-Men, Cannonball and Sunspot.

Uncanny Avengers – a mostly inclusive title, this one features the “Avengers Unity Squad” which is a team made up of both traditional Avengers (including Wasp, Wonder Man, Scarlet Witch and Thor) and X-Men (including team leader Havok along with Rogue, Wolverine and Sunfire).

Avengers Assemble – the adventures in this title also concentrate on more inclusive tales that generally feature just a handful of the more iconic members of the Avengers like Hulk, Spider-Woman and Captain Marvel. Not to be confused with the younger-readers title Marvel Universe Avengers Assemble, which is inspired by the Avengers movie and based on the current cartoon of the same name)

Now we have the titles that start to stretch things a bit.

Secret Avengers – the focus here is on a small group of Avengers (Hawkeye, Black Widow, Mockingbird) that work with S.H.I.E.L.D.  on covert, espionage missions.

Mighty Avengers and New Avengers – these two are lumped together because they are both examples of one of Marvel’s favourite ploys – repurposing well-known titles to launch (or relaunch) completely different properties. In this case, New Avengers and Mighty Avengers were at one time titles of core Avengers comics. Now, Marvel has made New Avengers the new home of the secret cabal/think tank formerly known as “The Illuminati” – even though the characters within are either not new Avengers (Iron Man, Black Panther) or aren’t Avengers at all (Mister Fantastic, Black Bolt, Namor).  Mighty Avengers is now basically a relaunch of Luke Cage’s original Heroes For Hire title, and  although Cage has officially  left the Avengers, he somehow gets a free pass to call his new ad-hoc, street-level team “The Mighty Avengers” – despite the fact that the current roster features only one other former Avenger (Spectrum, aka Pulsar aka Photon aka Captain Marvel II aka Monica Rambeau) along with new legacy heroes White Tiger, Power Man and Ronin.

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Yep, ’cause nothing says “Avengers” like a Dr. Doom knock-off.

Avengers A.I. – Charter Avengers member Hank Pym (aka the original Ant-Man, the original Giant-Man/Goliath, the original Yellowjacket and the second Wasp) also apparently gets a free pass to call his own team of techie crusaders “Avengers” as well, even though the roster includes just one other Avenger (The Vision) along with one of Dr. Doom’s decommissioned Doombots , former “Runaways” member Victor Mancha and S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Monica Chang.

Next we have a couple off-shoots, which at least don’t pretend to be official “Avengers” titles.

A+X – a team up comic that usually features two short team-up stories each issue. The concept is that team-ups consist of one Avenger (“A”) and one X-Man (“X”), which is a kinda hilarious specification considering that nowadays basically every non-mutant hero has been an Avenger at some point (and even some mutant heroes as well), so it’s more like the “A” in the title can stand for “Any hero” instead of “Avenger”.

Young Avengers –this comic doesn’t feature any actual Avengers,  but they let you that’s the case right off the bat with its name. As it indicates, this title (which just wrapped up its latest run) features young, Avengers-inspired heroes like Wiccan, Hulking, Marvel Boy and the female Hawkeye.

And the grand prize for the most blatant cash-in/branding misuse/non-Avengers Avengers title:

The cast of Avengers Arena. Not pictured - any actual Avengers.

The cast of Avengers Arena. Not pictured: any actual Avengers.

Avengers Arena/Avengers Undercover – Oy, where to begin with this one. Avengers Arena represents everything that is wrong with Marvel’s Avengers branding overload. It took an unoriginal concept (lifted directly from The Hunger Games and Battle Royale) and featured a cast of 16 young heroes – none of whom were Avengers – who were kidnapped and forced to compete in an island-based deathmatch where it was “kill or be killed”.  Avengers Arena ended at issue #18 and now those who survived get to move on to Avengers Undercover (again: none of them are actual Avengers) where they will try to infiltrate the villainous Masters of Evil. Whee.

So, as you can see, there are really very few legitimate Avengers titles out there today. But will this excessive branding ever stop? Actually, I think it will – because outside of those core titles, none of the other Avengers books are actually heating up the sales charts (the most recent issues of A+X, Secret Avengers, Avengers A.I. and Young Avengers could all be found hovering around the bottom of the Top 100). Even more telling is the fact that they all seem to start off strong and then plummet with each subsequent issue – which gives strong support to the idea that the comic-buying public gets lured in by a new Avengers title and then quickly start turning away when they realize they’ve been duped. Case in point – Mighty Avengers #1 sold over 100,000 copies while its most recent issue (#4) barely broke sales of 35,000. So, hopefully Marvel will figure out sooner rather than later that the only Avengers titles that the public wants are ones that actually feature the Avengers.

Be Dazzled!

PROBLEM: Can a former roller-skating mutant/disco diva ever become regarded as a serious, credible super hero?dazz1

You have to feel a little sorry for Dazzler. She’s had a rough go of it even before she made her official superhero debut in 1980. Originally created by Marvel Comics as a multimedia tie-in with Casablanca Records, Dazzler was to be a first – a comic book singing super heroine with a real-life recording artist counterpart. As Marvel made a big push to establish Dazzler as a presence in the Marvel universe (with high profile guest appearances in The Uncanny X-Men and Spider-Man) Casablanca Records was supposed to be developing an actual disco diva counterpart. But, after numerous delays, Casablanca Records suddenly withdrew from the project.

Despite this setback, the groundwork had been laid and ignoring the fact that disco had all but died, Marvel went ahead with their plans to launch  Dazzler as an ongoing series. Telling the story of Alison Blaire – a disco singer with the onstage persona of “The Dazzler” – who discovers she has the mutant ability to transduce sound into light, it was initially a success and practically every big-name hero and villain popped up in the book’s first year. Dazzler seemed to be on her way to making it a credible super hero, working with the likes of the X-Men, Fantastic Four and Spider-Man and going toe-to-toe with heavyweights like Dr. Doom, The Hulk and even Galactus.

Unfortunately, the series began to focus more on Alison Blaire than Dazzler and even went so far as having her throw in the towel on her singing career, ditch her kitschy yet iconic disco duds and leave New York for an L.A. acting career. Now being portrayed as the ultimate reluctant super-hero, even the fans couldn’t get behind her (letter columns from these issues contain a number of comments  lamenting how boring, dull and downbeat Dazzler had become – and these were the fans!). And how can you expect for a super hero to seem credible when she doesn’t even want to be a super hero?

dazzlermarvel-graphic-novel-12After a well-received graphic novel – Dazzler: The Movie – in which Alison comes out as a mutant, then quickly becomes a scapegoat, Marvel finally stepped in line by giving Dazzler an actual costume, amplified powers and some training with the X-Men. But it was too little, too late and Dazzler was cancelled at issue #42. But Dazzler’s rocky road to rebirth had already started, so let’s take a look at some notable points on her journey and see if Dazzler was able weather the ups and down to come her way (as both a property and a character) and emerge as something more than “former disco diva”.

THE X-MEN YEARS

After her title is cancelled, Dazzler resurfaces and officially joins the X-Men after taking on Juggernaut all by xmen218herself.  She ends up sacrificing herself (along with the rest of the X-Men) fighting the villainous Adversary, (but they are all resurrected because, comics).

Dazzler is chosen as one of the core characters in the 1989 X-Men animated pilot “Pryde of the X-Men”. Unfortunately, the pilot isn’t well received and undergoes massive retooling. When X-Men: The Animated Series finally debuts in 1992, Dazzler is noticeably absent.

Due in part to her role in the animated pilot, Dazzler becomes a playable character in Konami’s classic side-scrolling X-Men Arcade game. However, being in a video game where the other playable characters are Cyclops, Wolverine, Storm, Colossus and Nightcrawler pretty much means Dazzler never makes the 4-player short list.

Dazzler falls in love with fellow X-Man, Longshot, and they eventually the leave the team to become rebellion fighters in Longshot’s home dimension (the Mojoverse). Dazzler is only seen sporadically over the next decade.

NEW EXCALIBUR

Dazzler resurfaces again, but without Longshot, and it is revealed that she suffered a miscarriage in her time away.new excalibur

She finally reconnects with Longshot…but he has comics-amnesia and can’t remember much – if anything – about their time together.

Dazzler tries to jump-start her singing career in the UK – sporting a tougher look and an ill-advised short pink hairstyle. She ends up joining Captain Britain and others as part of the team New Excalibur (who launch in a comic book of the same name).

As a member of New Excalibur, Dazzler gets killed – TWICE! But she’s okay because she has somehow developed new resurrection-based powers (?!).

New Excalibur is cancelled after 18 issues. Dazzler returns to the U.S. (and her resurrection powers and pink hair are never spoken of or alluded to again – yay comics!).

X-MAN, AGAIN

Dazzler resurfaces yet again, this time at the X-Men’s new base, Utopia. She’s almost unrecognizable, now with long blonde hair and a completely new costume.

She becomes a supporting member of the now-sprawling X-Men roster, occasionally taking part in an adventure or two while also pursuing singing gigs in nearby San Francisco.

Dazzler is chosen by Cyclops to head up the X-Men’s unseen “Street Team” to help foster relations between humans and mutants.

X-TREME X-MEN

A statuesque Classic Dazzler (via Bowen Designs).

A statuesque classic Dazzler (via Bowen Designs)

So, now we’re pretty much back to square one, with Alison Blaire making her way via singing gigs and taking part in the occasional heroic exploit. And even though her power set has greatly increased over the years and despite the fact that she has sported three distinct looks since her white-jumpsuit days, it’s still “Disco Dazzler” that gets the most love and recognition (both in the comics and in the real world – see right) – everyone loves that Dazzler – the now retro-cool, sparkling, roller-skating human mirror ball.

So it would have to take something drastic, something unexpected to shake up everyone’s preconceptions of Dazzler. Something where she could prove once and for all that she was not a frivolous lightweight but xtreme12that she has what it takes to be one of the top guns. Fortunately, that something came along in the form of X-Treme X-men.

In this series, Dazzler gets sucked through a portal to an alternate Earth and ends up taking charge of a rag-tag group of alternate reality X-men as they race against enormous odds to prevent the destruction of the multiverse. This is where Dazzler finally gets to shine. And while the series only lasted for 13 issues, it was enough to make a mark for Dazzler. It showed this new, empowered and powered-up Dazzler stepping up to the plate, gaining confidence in herself and becoming a steadfast (not to mention quite good) leader. She even gains the respect of Wolverine after she returned home and joined forces with her former teammates for her final mission with the X-Treme X-men.

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Dazzler has no doubt now proved to both readers and naysayers that she can be taken seriously as a hero, but the effects of  how this new take-charge Dazzler will fit it with the rest of the Marvel Universe proper has yet be seen. However, if this teaser page from a recent Uncanny X-Men is any indication, it looks like she’s about ready to shake things up.

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