If you like BLACK PANTHER and AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR...
The AMAZING Dan Malmon and his SUPER friends propose a few humble champions for you to appreciate.
The internet is a crazy place.
A few weeks ago, I had posted an appreciation for Free Comic Book Day (why is this not a national holiday yet) on Facebook. Marietta Miles, author extraordinaire and regular contributor to this storied site, reached out to me to talk comics.
I am always down for that.
Realizing that there is big time crossover between the mystery community and the comic book crowd, Marietta thought it would be cool to ask some notables in the mystery scene to give fans of the Marvel movies some recommendations/ introductions to the comic book realm. Cool, right? So, let’s get to it.
Man, the Avengers movies are so much fun. Watching your favorite Marvel characters come together in one film, crack wise with each other, fight the bad guys, and win the day. (The jury is still out on what happens in Infinity War II.)
But what happens when the Avengers go up against a coordinated threat that they can’t beat? What happens when they lose? And lose BAD? AVENGERS: UNDER SIEGE tells that very tale.
In 1986, just prior to me starting to read comics regularly, Roger Stern (veteran comic book scribe) and John Buscema (my favorite all time comic book artist) were crafting an epic story. Baron Zemo- one of Captain America’s main villains- realized that whenever the Masters of Evil threw down with the Avengers, they always lost. Not because the plan was bad, but they usually had a membership of roughly the same number of Avengers. They built their roster to go man-to-man. Hero-to-villain. Zemo had the realization that, why stop there? Build a bad guy army and just pile on. Don’t let up.
Let evil win the day.
So, over the course of Avengers #264-277, as well as a number of references in other Marvel books at the time, the Masters of Evil launched their plan. And it worked. Captain America is taken prisoner. Hercules is drugged and beaten to a bloody pulp. Jarvis, the Avengers faithful butler, is tortured without mercy. Not even their stately New York mansion is left standing.
This was all very heavy for 1986 Dan, let me tell you.
Roger Stern and John Buscema show the world that being heroes is more than just saying that you are a hero. Everyone takes their licks sometimes. But real heroes get back up again. With or without a fancy New York headquarters.
Dan Malmon is a reviewer for Crimespree Magazine and Writer Types podcast. You can find him every Wednesday at the comic book shop, where he tells everyone who will listen how comics cost .75 when he first started reading them. You could get an issue for .80 with tax.
About a month ago, I had the chance to discuss The Night of the Flood on Michael Pool's "Crime Syndicate" podcast with my co-editor Sarah M. Chen. The conversation, as it occasionally does with crime fiction, turned to the question of vigilantes – the plot of The Night of the Flood is predicated on an act of violent retribution. Michael asked for our thoughts on vigilantism and, given that I was actually wearing a t-shirt with The Punisher on it, I realized that I was somewhat in favor of it.
I understand the irresponsibility and immaturity behind that position, but the popularity of Marvel's The Punisher (in comics, movies and, most recently, television) speaks to the notion that I'm not alone. Frank Castle has gone through any number of reinventions, but certain aspects always remain true – a male loner who prefers to violently solve his problems, something he shares in common with any number of superheroes. Is that characterization dangerous? A remnant of outdated masculine fantasy? Reminiscent of the kind of personality that ends up horrifically involved in a mass shooting? Ultimately problematic?
Absolutely. All of that is true.
And that's why the Punisher MAX run (2004-2009) by Garth Ennis, and The Punisher show (which aired on Netflix in late 2017), are both so fascinating. Both vehicles are aware of the problems that presenting a mass murderer as heroic presents; the Netflix series explores this in more depth, but Ennis (as he typically does) has no qualms with showing his character in a balanced light. The Netflix series is terrific; particularly given the emotional departure that the show's creators and star (Jon Bernthal) took with the character. Castle is typically played with a silent sense of homicidal determination, but Bernthal's Punisher is emotional and volatile. He shouts and roars and stays emotionally naked.
The walls he's built around himself are glass; hard, but ultimately transparent.
Watch the series, and contrast it with Ennis's work. If you don't want to read the entire MAX run, then I recommend simply reading The Punisher: The End, a one-shot graphic novel that brutally, beautifully encapsulates Frank Castle, and perfectly merges the myth into the man.
E.A. Aymar is the author of "I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead" (2013) and "You’re As Good As Dead" (2015), both from Black Opal Books. He also writes a monthly column for the Washington Independent Review of Books, and is the Managing Editor of The Thrill Begins (for the International Thriller Writers). His short fiction and non-fiction have appeared in a number of top crime fiction publications.
If you liked “Captain America: The First Avenger,” run, go read Captain Marvel, Volume 1: Higher, Further, Faster, More (DeConnick and Lopez). I’m a huge fan of Kelly Sue DeConnick’s writing and love her take on the questions (what’s right? what’s lawful? what’s possible?) every superhero should ask. What I love best about Carole Danvers, a/k/a Captain Marvel, is that she keeps looking for solutions to an impossible situation even when faced with the reality that her desire to help isn’t enough—and isn’t particularly welcome. (Bonus: It doesn’t hurt if you also enjoyed “The Guardians of the Galaxy!”)
Dana Cameron's novels and short stories are inspired by her career as an archaeologist. Her crime fiction has won multiple Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity Awards, and has been short-listed for the Edgar Award. HELLBENDER, the third urban fantasy novel set in her Fangborn 'verse, will be published in March 2015. Dana lives in Massachusetts, USA; learn more at www.danacameron.com
Secret organizations? Mass government conspiracies? Mysterious, potentially evil benefactors? Global Frequency will scratch that out of this world espionage itch you never thought you had. The set up: The Global Frequency is an independent intelligence organization headed by one Miranda Zero. The Frequency is made up of 1,001 people, all from different walks of life and with different specialties. When needed, Miranda pulls them in and away we frigging go.
Cut short after 12 spectacular (and standalone) issues and suffering two failed attempts at getting a TV show, Global Frequency is a special kind of comic. Warren Ellis (a personal favorite of mine) goes all-out, building a world filled with bizarre super science and bizarre conspiracies. If you’re a writer in need of a master class in world building and character establishment, this is the comic to read. Readers benefit from having their minds blown on that special level only Warren Ellis can accomplish.
Angel Luis ColÃn is the Anthony and Derringer Award-nominated author of NO HAPPY ENDINGS, the BLACKY JAGUAR series of novellas, the collection MEAT CITY ON FIRE (AND OTHER ASSORTED DEBACLES), and the upcoming PULL & PRAY (July 2018). His fiction has appeared in multiple web and print publications including Thuglit, Literary Orphans, and Great Jones Street. He also hosts the bastard title - an author interview podcast series focused on craft, pop culture, and general rabble-rousing.
Like Ant-Man? Try Las Vegas Repo.
I’m just going to come out and say it. Superman is boring. Don’t @ me. Ninety percent of every Superman story entails somehow making him not Superman. Oh, he’s away from Earth’s yellow sun. Oh, there’s whatever spectrum of kryptonite that conveniently shows up. You always know he is going to win.. And, yes, you know every superhero is eventually going to win, but I like there to be some element of doubt involved.
Give me Ant-Man. In particular the MCU version of Ant-Man. Put aside the fact that he is played by Paul Rudd who is arguably the most charming and likeable guy in this or any other universe. Put aside the fact that Hank Pym is played by Michael Douglas who has a lifetime pass for Romancing the Stone – although that pass was almost revoked for Jewel of the Nile. Put that aside folks, because Ant-Man checks every box on the Shaun Harris Hero Checklist.
Give me a reluctant hero. The first words Scott Lang says after Hank Pym tells him his plans are “I think the first thing we should do is call the Avengers.” I love that. I like a hero who is not only not the best man for the job, but also knows he’s not the best man for the job. It puts some stakes in the story, like maybe this guy is going to screw it all up. Superman never said, “Hey, maybe Aquaman would be better suited for this particular adventure.” Learn some humility, Superman.
Can we talk about redemption? Redemption is my all-time favorite theme. This may be because I’m pretty sure I’m a terrible person and I like the idea that someday I won’t be. Maybe not. Scott Lang is an ex-con who can’t even get a job at Baskin Robins and he ends up saving the world. I like the idea of someone who is good at bad things and uses those bad things to do good. Did everybody follow that? I likes me some good-hearted capers is what I’m saying. Superman never had a good-hearted caper. Screw you, Superman.
And let’s not forget that Ant-man is played by Paul Rudd who is arguably the most charming and likeable guy in this or any other universe.
So, yeah, there are only three boxes on the Shaun Harris Hero Checklist, but Ant-Man checks all three. Superman doesn’t check any. You lose, Superman.
Are you picking up what I’m laying down? Can you dig a hero like Ant-man? Do you like the Seventies and possibly defunct slang from said Seventies? You do? Then maybe you should check out Las Vegas Repo due out this July from IDW Publishing. It’s the story of Floyd Burbank, a disgraced magician turned con man turned repo man working in Las Vegas in 1976. While trying to earn some scratch working for a PI buddy, Floyd ends up embroiled in a conspiracy involving the Russians, the CIA, a secret society of proto-foodies, and Mr. Howard Hughes himself. Also, there is a boxing kangaroo. It’s got everything. Reluctant hero? Check. Redemption? Check. Paul Rudd? Well, we’ll see.
Also, I personally know the writer and he’s a good guy.
Shaun Harris grew up the son of a homicide detective in Southern New England. He graduated from the University of Notre Dame with degrees in both American Studies and Film and Television. As such he has a crippling obsession with Fighting Irish Football. He lives in Wisconsin with his wife, two kids, and a dog. Jim Rockford is his spirit guide. The Hemingway Thief is his first novel.
If You Liked Spider-man: Homecoming check out “Nothing Can Stop the Juggernaut.”
The MCU did teen Parker really, really well. But what stuck with me this whole time after watching the film, was another aspect of Spidey’s character the MCU got right. His tenacity. In Homecoming, Peter never gives up, whether that means ditching his dance date or pushing his way out from under a ton of rubble. He does what he needs to to take out the bad guy.
And he never gives up.
That personality trait is evident in a lot of Spider-man comics, but the most famous moment (at least to me) came in a two issue “arc” in the eighties by Roger Stern. During issues 229-230 of The Amazing Spider-man, the usual X-man villain and unstoppable bear of a man in armor called the Juggernaut is rampaging through New York City for, uh, well… reasons. (It’s been a while since I’ve read it, and forgive me, I don’t think I can accurate describe Madam Web’s involvement here.)
Anyways, the Juggernaut is rampaging, and it’s up to Spider-man to stop him. The Juggernaut is hard to stop… I mean nothing can stop him. It says so in the title. The Juggernaut beats the every living crap out of Spidey. Everything Spidey throws at the Juggernaut does nothing…including a gas tanker truck! Most of it, the Juggernaut just shrugs off. Meanwhile, Spider-man keeps getting worn down. Beaten. His costume torn.
There’s no way to save New York, and Madam Web. No way to slow the beast of a man.
But Spider-man does. Not. Give. Up.
He keeps trying.
Stern keeps the action moving at a brisk pace and you really feel Spider-man getting warn down because of brilliant art by John Romita, Jr. If there’s ever a brief two-issue story that really nails Spider-man to his core without re-doing the Uncle Ben drama, it’s this one. There’s action, pathos, and suspense. Everything you want in a comic book.
Dave White is the Shamus Award Nominated author of the Jackson Donne series and thriller WITNESS TO DEATH, available from Polis Books. He has been nominated for multiple awards for both his novels and short stories. In his spare time, he's a middle school teacher.