Speaking of Saga… Apple Bans Issue 12 from Download. UPDATE: Or Maybe not…?

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UPDATE: So I guess there was something of a mix-up in the reporting of this story, and the blogger community overreacted. Whoopsie-doodle. As I understand it now, the fault lies somewhere with Comixology, who simply didn’t submit the issue to apple. Their reasoning (allegedly) is that they didn’t think it would get released based on Apple’s standards and track record. So it’s kind of Apple’s fault… maybe? Little of Column A  little of Column B.

Comixology CEO David Steinberger released this statement explaining the mix-up:

In the last 24 hours there has been a lot of chatter about Apple banning Saga #12 from our Comics App on the Apple App Store due to depictions of gay sex. This is simply not true, and we’d like to clarify.

As a partner of Apple, we have an obligation to respect its policies for apps and the books offered in apps.  Based on our understanding of those policies, we believed that Saga #12 could not be made available in our app, and so we did not release it today.

We did not interpret the content in question as involving any particular sexual orientation, and frankly that would have been a completely irrelevant consideration under any circumstance.

Given this, it should be clear that Apple did not reject Saga #12.

After hearing from Apple this morning, we can say that our interpretation of its policies was mistaken. You’ll be glad to know that Saga #12 will be available on our App Store app soon.

We apologize to Saga creator Brian K. Vaughan and Image Comics for any confusion this may have caused.

And Brian K. Vaughn (who so eloquently told Apple to shove it yesterday) had this to say:
I wanted to apologize to everyone for this entire SAGA #12 kerfuffle.  Yesterday, I was mistakenly led to believe that this issue was solely with Apple, but it’s now clear that it was only ever Comixology too conservatively interpreting Apple’s rules.  I’m truly sorry.  I never thought either company was being homophobic, only weirdly inconsistent about what kind of adult material was permissible.  I’m grateful that the situation was cleared up so quickly, and I’m delighted I can go back to reading smutty comics on my Retina Display iPad.
I for one am going to look on the bright side of this. Yesterday a whole lot of people freaked the hell out because they thought Apple was censoring art because of gay imagery. Even though Apple had nothing to do with this, yesterday’s outrage illustrated to them that they ought to be careful in the future. Their customer base can be a finicky one, and they already have a track record of censoring/not releasing comics with questionable material. Also I’m sure a lot of folk took Vaughn’s advice and hit up the comic shops yesterday giving them a much needed bump in business. So that’s always good.
I’ve retained my original article about this below. Apologies and retractions all around.
ORIGINAL POST 4-10-13
I was just talking about how much I loved Saga wasn’t I? Well I hope you weren’t planning to download it from Apple, because due to the graphic nature of some imagery in issue 12 they have banned it from their online store. That Prince Robot IV guy, what with the TV box on his head, seems he has some gay thoughts on his mind that flash on his head-screen briefly in 2 panels. Apparently Apple just idn’t gonna cotton to that (and yet they will still sell 50 Shades of Grey. WTF?).

So, on the one hand, Apple is a private company and they can make whatever rules they want. On the other, censorship is lame, and if they’re going to sell 50 Shades of Grey, downright hypocritical. I mentioned the 50 Shades thing on another site’s message board and someone had the audacity to say there was no comparison because it was printed media rather than visual. On a comics site no less. Some folks have no taste. And apparently neither do some digital media companies.

Brian K. Vaughn released an excellent statement on the subject, offering his thoughts and suggestions on how to proceed with reading the book:

As has hopefully been clear from the first page of our first issue, SAGA is a series for the proverbial “mature reader.”  Unfortunately, because of two postage stamp-sized images of gay sex, Apple is banning tomorrow’s SAGA #12 from be
ing sold through any iOS apps.  This is a drag, especially because our book has featured what I would consider much more graphic imagery in the past, but there you go.  Fiona and I could always edit the images in question, but everything we put into the book is there to advance our story, not (just) to shock or titillate, so we’re not changing shit.

Apologies to everyone who reads our series on iPads or iPhones, but here are your alternatives for Wednesday:

1) Head over to you friendly neighborhood comics shop and pick up a physical copy of our issue that you can have and hold forever.

2) While you’re at it, don’t forget to support the Comic
Book Legal Defense Fund, which helps protect retailers who are brave enough to carry work that some in their communities might consider offensive.  You can find signed copies of Saga at the CBLDF site right now.

3) Download the issue directly through sites like https://comics.imagecomics.com or on your non-Apple smartphone or tablet.

4) If all else fails, you might be able to find SAGA #12 in Apple’s iBookstore, which apparently sometimes allows more adult material to be sold than through its apps.  Crazy, right?

Anyway, special thanks to Eric Stephenson and
everyone at Image for supporting our decision, and for always being so supportive of creators.  Sorry again to readers for the inconvenience, but I hope everyone will be able to find an issue that Fiona and I are particularly proud of.  And after you do, please check out PanelSyndicate.com, the new digital comics site I own with artist Marcos Martin, which remains 100% uncensored by corporate overlords.

Good stuff, eh? I’d like to echo his sentiment about just picking it up in a Comic shop. Those stores need your business and you’d get to tell Apple to stick it. Kind of a win win right? The best way to make Apple regret this is to help illustrate how much money they lost on this decision. So even if you’re torrenting the series, go out and buy this one. It’s only a couple’a bucks.
I’ve included the images below, as you might imagine they are very NSFW. Once again, click on the image for larger resolution (and don’t let your boss see you!)
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See? Isn’t this ridiculous? I didn’t even notice it the first time I read through it.
Source: Bleedling Cool

Comic Review: Saga by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples (Slightly NSFW images within)

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Brian K. Vaughn is one of my favorite comic writers working today. His Runaways series for Marvel is one of the most poignant and heartbreaking new series in the past decade. Y the Last Man, a truly unique dystopian future epic for Vertigo, is actually probably the best thing I’ve ever read. If you know me you know that’s an assessment I don’t make easily. When I went into the comic shop the other day looking for something new to read, I was happily surprised to discover that he had a new series out from Image Comics. It’s called Saga, and it proves once again that Vaughn is a literary force to be reckoned with. Complimented by striking painted art by Fiona Staples (in what I believe is the Wash method), Saga is a badass yet beautiful space opera about true love in the face of adversity.

The planet Landfall and its moon Wreath are two galactic empires at constant odds with one another. Because orbital bombardment of one would destabilize the orbit of the other, their war is fought across the cosmos on proxy worlds. The natives of Landfall, colloquially referred to as Wings, are a technologically advanced race with an ordered society that more or less resembles human civilization. The Wreath natives, called Horns, are a magically imbued culture who’s peoples have varying forms of antlers horns, and spikes protruding from their skulls. Saga’s main characters are Alana, a reluctant soldier from Landfall and Marko, a prisoner of war from wreath Alana is ordered to guard, who has taken a vow of pacifism. They fall in love and run away from their respective armies to sire a child. Our story begins with the birth of their hybrid child, and the action picks up immediately as both races arrive to capture their AWOL soldiers. Discovering that they’ve coupled, the two opposing factions open fire and, ironically, manage to kill each other, sparing the child and it’s parents.

Marko and Alana run from the massacre and the book’s first storyline covers their escape from war-torn planet Cleave. Along the way they encounter ghosts, bounty hunters, monsters, as well as skirmishing forces from their own civilizations. Eventually they make it off world in a rocket tree (which is exactly what it sounds like).

Saga is freaking great all around. It’s characters are deep and layered, and each and everyone likeable. Because all of the characters of real and understandable motivations you sometimes find yourself rooting for the bad guy (kinda like Game of Thrones: You want the Starks to win, but you can’t help wanting Tyrion to win too). It thematically approaches war, love, lust, innocence and the difficulties of raising a child with horns. The world resembles ours in surprising ways, and really pulls you into the story in ways you would never expect from a space opera. I can’t say enough good things about Fiona Staples art, although my sister (an artist herself) pointed out a few spots where things seemed unfinished or the foreground and background didn’t quite meld).

A defining mark of good space sci-fi is the concept and design of the the story’s  aliens (and/or monsters, mutants and robots). Think about the cantina aliens in Star wars, H.R. Giger’s terrifying xenomorph in Alien, or the energy based Drej in Titan AE (yeah I went there). On this count, Saga delivers in spades. Each obstacle the Marko and Alana encounter is accompanied by a new and bizarre looking creature. Fiona Staples has done a fabulous job of bringing this world to life and constantly surprising the reader with the depth and variation of her creatures. I particularly love her design for the denizens of the Robot Kingdom and the nightmarish dichotomy of beauty and arachnid that is The Stalk.

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If I was to have negative criticisms for this book it would be that it doesn’t come out twicea month. Given the amount of care and love put into these pages however that would likely require a time machine or Hyperbaric Training Chamber. Hmm that’d be interesting: A world where entire seasons of TV shows come out in a day because the creators are in a time machine. Course this would mean that our artists and writers would age superfast relative to us. Which would make them like, time-slaves or something. Note to self…

Saga is currently 11 issues deep with a 12th coming out on April 10th, so it’s not at all too late to catch up on the first two storylines. Also, rather incredibly, the first trade paperback (collecting issues 1-6) is only 9.99. That’s a steal for a bad comic let alone an amazing one by medium re-defining creators like Vaughn and Staples. I imagine some time in June we’ll see a volume 2 trade, though I wouldn’t keep my hopes up for it being quite so cheap. I know I’ve found a new selection for my pull list.

 

Venture Bros season 5 to begin on May 19th, Pictures and theories

For those uninitiated among you, The Venture Bros. is an American television show created by Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer that airs on Cartoon Network’s adult swim block. It’s also probably the baddest ass cartoon there’s ever been. It draws heavily from classic Hanna-Barbera adventure shows like Johnny Quest as well as Silver Age comics, classic sci-fi, and the music stylings of David Bowie. Each episode toes the line between dramatic adventure and comedic satire. If you’ve really never encountered the phenomenon that is Venture then I highly recommend checking out some of the episodes and clips on http://www.Adultswim.com .

After the straight-up incredible finale to season 4, I cannot truly verbalize how excited I am to see the new episodes. Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer  have released a collection of Teaser images on their website http://www.venturebrosblog.com which have only further whet my palate. And yes, that’s just as dirty as it sounds. I’ve reposted the images here with my thoughts on what clues we can glean from them. Click on the image for a larger size

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The Monarch and his beloved wife Dr. Girlfriend (AKA Dr. Mrs. The Monarch. for simplicity sake however, I’m going to keep calling her Dr. Girlfriend), having a morning chat in their flying cocoon. I can’t decide if she’s sewing or looking into a microscope. Not many clues here. The Monarch seems perturbed about something, but given his propensity to vengeful fury, that could mean just about anything. Based on their view, I’d say they’re in a jungle setting, which could mean this image is from the same episode as a few others below.

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Doc and Billy exploring a Coastal reef. Not quite sure why Doc is naked. This may perhaps be one of the Doc’s chemically induced dreams (hence the lack of breathing gear) or it could just mean that Doc lost his trunks and decided to weather on in the name of science.

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Hank Rocking the bass. If you’ll recall, Shallow Gravy is the name of the band that He and Dermot started. It appears they’ve scored a nursing home gig. Once again, nothing too juicy here. I’m sure this scene will be hilarious.

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And here’s where things get interesting. By all appearances this is Ghost-Robot (who was presumably slain by Hanchman 21/Gary last season) and the Action Man having dinner. They do both look significantly different from their last appearances, Ghost Robot’s design seems to have gone in the direction of Apocalypse (the X-Men villain) and Action Man is looking like he might be a Cyborg. Based on the abundance of Action Man pictures following this, I’m getting the impression that something terrible might happen to him leading to Doc (or maybe Jonas Jr.) rebuilding him a la Robocop. Now what is it that these two previously unconnected characters would have to discuss? Are they hatching a vendetta scheme, or are they just discussing the stigma of being both a ghost and a robot. It’s also possible that I’m wrong and this is neither the Action Man nor Ghost Robot and is in fact two new characters. Important to note is that whether or not this is the Action Man he’s rocking the venture blues and has the V symbol on his chest so he must in some way work for Venture Industries. Another theory to consider is that the Action man becomes a legacy title and this is a new character carrying on the mantle. But if that’s the case, does something happen to the original Action Man? Questions questions and more questions.

Also check out their menus. They’re eating at a place called Chairman Mao‘s Chow House.

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Shallow Gravy in the throes of Rock and Roll Stardom. I do so hope that Dermot is wearing pants beneath the three shirts he has tied around his waist. I presume Doc’s face is one of disgust and as his clone child and bastard son pursue their dreams of musical stardom (Doc, if you haven’t picked up on it yet, is a really damn terrible father). Based on this and the pic of Hank at the nursing home I figure we’re either going to get a very Shallow Gravy-centric episode or that their meteoric rise to stardom is a season long subplot.

You know what I’ve always wondered? When and how did Hank learn to play the Bass? He doesn’t seem to show aptitude for much else and there aren’t many people in his world who could have taught it to him. Even Dermot -though clearly the driving force behind them starting a band- shows no musical talent beyond wannabe hardcore yelling. Is this something Hank taught himself? Maybe Jonas Sr. left behind a machine to teach him.

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I believe that’s Hector that’s either loading or unloading something onto/off of the X-1. Just a hunch, but i think this might connect to the jungle pics further down. It seems far more likely that Doc would steal a beast from the jungle than actually invent something that big (although I guess a Walking Eye might fit the bill). Could be we’re about to see a parody of the opening scene of Jurassic Park (“SHOOT HER! SHOOOOOT HERRRRR!”).

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All right here we are, finally at those jungle pictures I was talking about above. It would appear that Doc takes the team to a lost world in what is no doubt a King Kong style attempt at cashing in on a mysterious creature. As I theorized above, I’m thinking the Monarch might follow him to this mysterious land and of course shenanigans will ensue. Also giant lobsters.

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Sgt. Hatred (or is it Vatred now?) drives his jeep off a cliff. I’m actually not positive this is a new image because it looks strikingly familiar to the opening scene of The Diving Bell vs. the Butter Glider. Regardless, not much to say here. Hatred is obviously driving, but there;s no indication of who his passengers are or what malevolent force is chasing them.

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Well Dean is still looking pretty emo. I’m going to take this as an indication that he’s not over Triana Orpheus. Ah poor Dean. Your world is one of constant stress, your father is an awful role-model, and your only friend is your brother. I’m on the fence if this emo thing is going to lead to positive growth for Dean. It might be a sign of  him finally rebelling against the ridiculous expectations his father has for him, or it could just be another stunted attempt at being something he doesn’t really understand (which is definitely a theme for Dean).

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More Jungle shots. Rusty still hasn’t learned his lesson about wearing polyester in the jungle. Also Hatred is peeing. Yeah, not too much going on here.

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Hunter Gathers and his right hand man Brock. If you’ll recall, season 4 ended with General Traister handing the reins of the OSI to Gathers and it seems he’s convinced Brock to stay with his team. Based on Gathers’ hat and the stars on his shoulders it would appear he’s been promoted from Colonel to General. I love how Brock is donning his knife in a shoulder holster. Not so sure where they are right now. I think they’re at the Venture compound, but given the Skyline it could even be Unterland. The Crane in the background might indicate that Gathers is expanding what was Sphynx HQ and bringing Venture Industries into the purview of the OSI (A decision I’m sure Brock would have had a hand in).

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Action Man getting a little action. Based on the earlier image, and the fact that this is reminding me of the opening scene of You Only Live Twice, I’m thinking that this might end badly for the Action Man. Whether or not that’s the case, the abundance of Action Man images implies his role will be much bigger in this season. You’ll notice this is definitely old Action Man, and not a flashback.

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Doc all of a sudden has a new staff with different suits and everything. Clones?

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A party at the Guild of Calamitous Intent. No clue what this could mean (if anything, they probably just picked this image because it had so many of the villainous background players). What’s interesting to me is that most of these characters, although we’ve seen them many times, have never been named. I know Scorpio, Kurth, and Joseph and his amazing Technicolor Nightmare Coat, but I don’t think plugface or fish-dude or any of the others have been given official names in canon. Anyhoo, looks like they’re all having a good time. This gathering could mean anything, but the fact that it’s in Guild HQ rather than at a house in Malice means it’s probably a reception for something pretty important.

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Monarch and Dr. Girlfriend in the throes of ecstacy. Why? Well they’re next to their thrones  with their clothes on so I’m thinking it’s not a carnal thing. Maybe they’re on mushrooms.

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Doc, Hatred and Hank on their way to the Lost World. I assume this based on their outfits. Doc and Hatred are certainly wearing the same things as in the previous picture and Dean wore this outfit in the family’s last jungle excursion. Wonder why Dean didn’t come along.

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Dean looking very serious. Also still Emo. Those appear to be cloning vats behind him. In the Halloween special he learned the truth of his cloned heritage and it appears he’s still coming to grips with it. Also I think that clone’s dong is sticking out.

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The inevitable return of the great white dope (sorry, Bloodhound Gang reference, couldn’t resist). Well here’s Rusty doing what Rusty does best: being a jackass. Given the onlookers vests and and Rusty’s wineglass, I’m going to go ahead and say that he’s ruining someone’s Star Wars wedding. Maybe Al and Shore Leave tie the knot.

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Shore Leave and a cadre of OSI agents. Not sure who the rest of them are yet, but I’m getting kind of an Avengers Vibe. The old guy in the back looks like a hobo so he could be a D-Man reference (10 points to whoever gets that one). I think the guy with the headband is an Iron Fist parody, the next picture down shows more of his costume supporting this theory. I’m thinking the tank guy is meant to satire War Machine. Not sure what the Astronaut’s deal is (or why he has a tennis racquet).

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Gathers Inspects his troops. In addition to the ones in the prior picture we also see that Hobo-guy has a guy in a dog costume in a shopping cart (I bet the explanation for that is going to be GREAT), and a Snake-Eyes lookin’ fella. You’ll also notice Dean hovering in the background. I’m thinking more and more that Venture Industries gets folded into the OSI which might explain why Dean isn’t part of the jungle adventure. Perhaps he’s have found a new family with the misfits and freaks that make up the Office of Secret Intelligence.

I should acknowledge that given the nature fo the show it’s just as likely that he’s simply along for the ride but there’s something about his expression that makes me think it’s more than that. Prior to this season, when Dean is just along for the ride he’s either scared shitless or has a shit-eating grin on his face. Here he seems, I don’t know, almost normal. It’s damned peculiar.

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Futuro versus Colonel Gentleman, Humongoloid, and the Action Man in a flashback. Looks like they killed the shit out of some Karate Lizards too. I imagine this is connected to the other Action Man images and this particular caper may factor into Action Man’s evolution into a cyborg. Perhaps Futuro (or maybe just his technology) plays a part in his transformation. UPDATE: It’s just occurred to me that the Robot above I figured was Ghost Robot has the same color scheme as Futuro. Coincidence?

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The X-1 being attacked by a pterodactyl. Maybe it’s a descendent of the one Rusty “took down himself” (referenced in Return to the House of Mummies part 2). Once again, another Lost World image. Apparently some real shit goes down in this place.

Well thats that. 23 images and my thoughts on all of them. Strangely there’s no sign of Dr. Orpheus or Gary/Henchman 21. I don’t take this as a bad sign, quite the opposite really. It’s probably indicative of major growth in the characters that Doc and Jackson want to surprise us with.

As I mentioned above, the new season begins on May 19th but if you need something to sate your appetite until then, check out the specials that aired since Season 4’s finale. There’s From the Ladle to the Grave: The Story of Shallow Gravy viewable here for free–> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G8cgePd3zeI  and A Very Venture Halloween viewable for $3.00 here –> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tlAiM_Qe8MA  Also check out http://www.adultswim.com for more videos. If you have cable you can sign up for adult swim gold and access more episodes (except for some asinine reason it doesn’t work with Time Warner Cable. You know, Time Warner, the company that owns Adult Swim….). It’s kinda like HBO Go except you don’t have to pay for it, just prove you’re already paying for cable or satellite service.

Comic/TV News: Uncle Alice Presents

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I freaking love Alice Cooper. I love his music. I love his radio show. I’ll even watch him play golf. A couple years ago I was fortunate enough to see him live (or was it undead?) and he freaking killed. Came to find out that just weeks before the show he had broken a few ribs doing a stunt, but let me tell you, you couldn’t even tell. I had seen Ozzie Osbourne a few years prior to this show and was pretty let down by his wooden performance which made me nervous that I would be similarly let down by Alice. Man was I ever wrong. Alice had full choreography for every song. He did all the classic stunts, and he sang his brains out. He is an American legend and we’re all so fortunate to have him.

So what’s he up to now? Well, teamed with Annoying Orange co-creator Tom Sheppard, he’s looking to break back into comic books. And they’ve turned to Kickstarter to fund it. Their concept is a Horror Anthology series called Uncle Alice presents. From what I can tell, Alice will be our host (Cryptkeeper style) as well as being depicted as characters within the stories. If you’re unsure about the concept then I highly recommend checking out The Last Temptation by Neil Gaiman. It’s a graphic novel that ties in with the Cooper album of the same name and it is incredible.

The series already has a few story ideas posted on the kickstarter page, and promises contributions from talent like Zeb Wells, Brendan Hay, Andrea Portes David Beauchene, Nate Watson and Tom Sheppard himself. The initial goal is to create a 12 issue series and then convert the best of it into a TV show hosted by Alice. In addition, if you are to pledge a mere ten dollars, you can submit a story idea of your own, to be adapted by Tom Sheppard. Additional rewards include signed copies of the graphic novel, A pimp looking Alice maquette created by the Chiodo Bros (of Killer Klowns from Outer Space fame) the opportunity to be drawn into the comics, a chance to pitch a television script to Tom Sheppard, and even the opportunity to play Golf with Alice himself.

The kickstarter is, as of the time of this writing, at about 40 thousand towards it’s 200 thousand goal. But with the prizes they’re offering, I’m sure they’ll have no trouble picking up the rest of it. If you’d like to contribute, or just want more information, check out the kickstarter here à  http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/82503277/uncle-alice-presents-a-shock-rock-horror-anthology

TV Review: The Walking Dead episode 3:16 Welcome to the Tombs

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“In this world you kill or you die. Or you die and you kill.” –The Governor

Whew, what a ride. And how appropriate is it that on Easter Sunday a TV show makes me take the lord’s name in vain seven times. Seriously, I kept a tally: Five times for the Governor and twice for Carl. Oh Carl, all traces of your innocence have been obliterated.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, Let’s start from the beginning. Slight spoilers lie ahead so be warned. This season finale’s theme was all about transformation. We see the Governor complete his journey to psychopathic murderer. We witness Carl come full circle to hardened badass. Milton, the wormy science guy, finally grows a pair and refuses to assist in any further atrocities for his leader. Andrea’s arc reaches its bitter conclusion and even Rick lifts his “no new members policy” by the end (much to young Carl’s disapproval).

While not quite as bombastic as last season’s finale (or even Season 3’s midway finale for that matter) I found this to be an excellent episode. Plenty of blood, plenty of zombies, Couple expensive looking explosions, Michonne decapitates 2 zombies with one katana-swing.  This was certainly a fitting conclusion to what has easily been the best season of this show. It kept us on our toes and defied expectations (I really expected Andrea to make it out of that room, or at least for Tyrese to save her at the last minute).

If I’m being fair (and don’t be fooled, I’m rarely fair) there were certainly a few criticisms I had. For one, as I mentioned above this was not nearly as action-packed as I was expecting. The battle at the prison was decent, but I was expecting it to be longer and more layered. Also, Andrea’s attempted escape from the Governor’s dungeon seemed very long and drawn out. It took her an exceptionally long time to pick up those damn pliers off the floor and almost no time at all to cut through the handcuffs. Now I’m no expert on this sort of thing, but I would think the picking up part would take much longer than the cutting through metal part. Additionally, the scene where the Governor mows down his followers and not a single one shoots back seemed a little far fetched. His army was HUGE and it’s not like they were all lined up. You’d think at least one or two would start shooting at him as he casually blows them away. Maybe that’s nitpicky of me but it took me out of the moment in what were pretty major moments.

Lastly, WTF mate? Why was there not more Daryl and Michonne kicking ass and taking names? They both just lost important members of their lives to the governor and we barely saw them do anything this episode.

Nonetheless, this was a great finale overall. Chad Coleman’s Tyrese is finally in the group. Fans of either The Wire or the Walking Dead comics will know why that’s awesome. Season 4 can’t come fast enough.

B T Dubs, what a freaking weekend for television, eh? This, Dr. Who started back up AND Game of Thrones???

In Defense of Avengers Arena

In Defense of Avengers Arena

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One of my favorite sub-types of the Superhero genre is that of the teen hero. Whether this is the classic X-Men (or the subsequent New Mutants, Generation X et. al.), the protégé team-ups such as Teen Titans or Young Avengers, or original standalone super-teen books like Runaways or Young Allies, I’ve always enjoyed the dynamics inherent in stories about super-powered kids. In books centering on adult heroes we take their goodliness for granted. Generally their origin stories tell it all (great power=great responsibility and all that). They’re good because being a superhero is their job. They’re adults who have made their decisions and learnt the necessary lessons from life already. We can respect and look up to them (hence hero). With books about youngsters all of that is thrown out the window. We get to see them develop and grow. We feel their anguish more strongly because for most of us non-heroic types there are remnants of teen trauma rolling around our subconscious. When a young hero makes a bad decision we can usually identify where they’re coming from. When they make the right decision we feel overwhelming fondness. From the youth comes the greatest purity and the deepest vulnerability. When they grow up and earn a place with the big boys (such as Dick Grayson’s ascent from Robin to Nightwing) we couldn’t be more proud.

Writer Dennis Hopeless knows that we love these kids. That’s why he’s killing them all. Today I’d like to talk about the controversial Marvel Now series Avengers Arena, and why, despite it lining some of my favorite characters up to the chopping block, I think it’s actually quite good.

So for the comic world virgins amongst ya’ll I’ll try and summarize this as simplistically as possible. Avengers Arena is about a Super-Villain from the 80’s kidnapping a bunch of superkids, trapping them on an island, and forcing them to play a deadly game of last-teen-standing. Now, I know what you’re thinking. That sounds just like the plot to The Hunger Games. To which I would reply “well yeah, but the Hunger games is totally ripping off Battle Royale. And for that matter, isn’t Battle Royale just an amalgamation of Lord of the Flies and Enders Game?” And then we’ll digress to the subject of Orson Scott Card being a gay-hating bigot, and by that point we’ve stopped talking about comics. And no one wants that.

Anyhoo, the whole rip-off discussion is a moot point to begin with. Arcade (the aforementioned 80’s Super-Villain) admits to stealing the idea in issue 1. What’s more discussable is the fact that Marvel has seemingly lined up 16 of their pubescent characters to off one another. And these aren’t just lame characters no one cares about (for the most part). This series picks up where the fan favorite series Avengers Academy ended and has already killed or disfigured several characters from that. This has (of course) lead to a sizable dosage of fan-bitching. Mettle, a very likeable and important character from Avengers Academy died to protect his girlfriend, Hazmat. It was shocking and bloody in a way so few comics from the big two dare. This was no Death of Superman where Mettle dies defeating a powerful villain. No siree, this kid went down like a punk. And this is where the fan-bitchiness began.

Now, I followed Mettle’s arc from shiny beginning to messy end and I will admit, it was sad to see him go. Some folks however have taken things a little too far, sending death threats to series writer Dennis Hopeless and even starting an online poll to get the series cancelled and all the events within retconned. These sadsacks seem to be of the opinion that Marvel is sacrificing their young and less developed characters for the sake of sales. I, for one, would like to take the opposing position. It’s all too rare in super hero comics that we get to see real drama like this. Is it a shame that Mettle is dead? Of course it is. That’s what makes it captivating and exciting. That’s what makes it dramatic.

Immediately after Mettle’s demise, Red Raven (who if memory serves is from an early 2000’s Captain Marvel arc) attempts to fly off the island and snaps her neck on what appears to be a forcefield. So that’s 2 down, one much loved young hero and one sorta forgotten young heroine (and I might note that nobody raised any sort of ruckus about her dying. Come on Comic fans! Where’s the gender equality at?). So this leaves us with a couple survivors from Avengers Academy, Some newly created characters from the England’s Braddock Academy, A 13-year-old cold-as-ice Space pirate named Cammi (who some may remember from the Drax the Destroyer and Annihilation mini-series), a couple punks from Brian K. Vaughn’s magnificent series Runaways, a pre-pubescent cyborg of the Deathlok variety, and for some reason Darkhawk.

As I mentioned before, the fan-hatred this series is getting seems to stem from the idea that Marvel is writing off these characters (note how there’s no X-kids in the bunch. According to Arcade, Wolverine’s school simply had better locks). The real bitterness I think comes from the inclusion of the Runaways, a series that was most certainly a cut above most things Marvel. But as I said before, this is the meat of what makes this series so dang dramatic. On top of that, this is the Marvel Universe we’re talking about. Even if every kid on this island dies, some other writer will find a convoluted reason to bring them back down the line. And on that note part of what made Runaways so excellent was the vulnerability and mortality of it’s cast. Vaughn himself killed several of them, making this fan backlash both immature and unfounded.

But that’s enough name-calling from me. Right now I ‘d like to talk about the aspects of this book that has made it one of my favorites. First of all, the Braddock Academy kids are all interesting and provocative additions to the Marvel Universe.  At first (seeing as they’re the kids created for this series) they seemed to be more or less cannon fodder. Issues 5 and 6 however brought us into their world, and I have to admit to wanting to see more of them in future projects.  You know, if they don’t all die by the series’ conclusion. We’ve got a young version of Captain Britain (long story short, there’s a Captain Britain in every universe, and this dude is the angry teen version), an angry Atlantean chick named Nala, Cullen Bloodstone (of the monster-huntin’ Bloodstones don’cha’know), the enigmatic flight-powered Apex, and a geek in the body of a Celtic Barbarian named Anachronism. By issue 2, Apex convinces this alliance to accept the scared little cyborg girl, whom they dub Deathlocket. As the series progresses, our perception of who is to be reckoned with in this group changes dramatically. Because these characters have no prior backstory, their actions and reactions to Arcade’s tormenting have kept me on my toes and surprised me in wonderful ways.

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Secondly, I’d like to speak about how this series turns the crossover concept on it’s head. Like many superhero fans, I’ve always loved a good crossover. There’s just something great about seeing the X-Men and the Avengers team up. Whether it’s seeing how different power-sets can be combined or just seeing which girls (or guys for that matter) swoon when they meet Thor, there’s just something intrinsically kick-ass about a good crossover. The generic super-hero crossover goes a little like this: Hero A meets Hero B, they fight each other for a minute because the story’s villain tricked them, reconciliation occurs, and they combine forces to take down the devious villain. In Avengers Arena we have the opposite of this. The various teen heroes, most of whom have not met one another, immediately identify Arcade as the villain and try to team up to stop him. Arcade  knocks them on their collective asses and tells them that that shit is not gonna fly (in the case of Red Raven quite literally). They then reluctantly split into their respective groups and mostly keep to themselves. It’s only when hunger and paranoia sets in that they begin to turn against one another. They go from a position of unified strength to a state of distrust and temporary alliances that puts Survivor to shame. The various corners of the Marvel U these characters represent is also well balanced. The Marvel universe is delightfully varied and it is nice to see a book that acknowledges this.

Thirdly, I simply love Kev Walkers art. The dark gritty style this series has been drawn in fully compliments its dismal concept. He does this great thing when characters first appear in each issue where he displays a videogame-esque life bar next to their name, keeping you appraised of how each character is doing. The desperation and tension between the characters is palpable and engaging. Best of all unlike some artists (COUGH* ROB LIEFIELD*COUGH COUGH), Walker keeps the characters looking believably young and realistic (excepting of course Kid Briton, Mettle, and Anacronism who’s powers beef them up beyond normal teenager size). I can’t stress enough how much I hate it when artists make teenagers look like 30-year-old cover girls.

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Lastly, I simply love what Dennis Hopeless has done with Arcade. Although a neat concept, he has been a historically lame character. Arcade was created in the late 70’s by the great Chris Claremont as an international assassin who specializes in creating intricate death traps, much like The Man with the Golden Gun’s Scaramanga. His modus operandi is to construct a giant obstacle course (dubbed Murderworld) and force heroes to attempt to survive it. Sure this sounds cool and all, except for the fact that since his first appearance, we’ve rarely seen anyone die in any of his various incarnations of Murderworld. On top of that he’s a slight little dandy who rarely deigns to throw down when the hero inevitably escapes his traps. Now I know it’s sacrosanct to ponder the financial woes of a supervillain, but one has to wonder when this guy might try simplifying his approach. Well Dennis Hopeless appreciates this sort of question, and has had Arcade finally up his game. He kidnaps these kids not to fulfill a contract, but to restore his fractured reputation by murdering the hero community’s young protégés. Murderworld, instead of being a giant pinball machine, is a deadly domed island with a climate control system allowing for bordering desert and snow regions. Additionally, he displays new powers of the telekinetic (or something) variety, easily trouncing the 16 young heroes in the first issue. Theories abound that this might not actually be Arcade (something that would make me a sad panda) but nonetheless, we finally have a good use for this colorful and interesting madman.

In conclusion and summation, Avengers Arena is an interesting and provocative series that presents dramatic and powerful moments between Marvel’s youngest and most vulnerable characters. I would definitely classify it as new reader friendly so if you’ve never read a comic or it’s been a while, this is something I recommend trying out. It is this writer’s opinion that the controversy surrounding the series is unfounded and silly and that fans of Marvel should most certainly give it a try. It not only introduces new characters but brings existing characters to dark places we’ve yet to see them explore. It is published bi-weekly, the first 6 issues are already available and issue 7 shall be out April the 10th. As a long time Marvel comics fan, I highly recommend checking it out.