BackStory: Cosmic Odyssey – A Character Study Part 1

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The first time I read Cosmic Odyssey, I was taken aback by the complexity of the story. It’s one of those go-to books that warrants a re-read every couple of years. And even with a stack of new comics piling up, I decided that now was a good time to revisit the Odyssey.

Written by Jim Starlin and drawn by Mike Mignola, Cosmic Odyssey was originally published as a four-issue series in 1988. What Starlin and Mignola created was truly cosmic in scale. They brought together a group of unlikely characters to deal with a galaxy-ending threat in the Anti-Life Equation: Green Lantern John Stewart, Starfire, Martian Manhunter, Superman, Batman, Jason Blood, and a handful of New Gods.

cosmic_odyssey2Earth’s heroes are summoned to Washington D.C. to speak with an ambassador from New Genesis. From there, they are transported via Boom Tube to a meeting with Highfather and, very unexpectedly, Darkseid.

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BackStory: The Origin of Batman’s T-Rex

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Things are more fun when they’re covered in dinosaurs. So, this week, an army of prehistoric predators is invading Geekparty.com. Every day, we’ll post a handful of dino-themed articles for your enjoyment. You will enjoy them. Because we told you to. Welcome to Dinosaur Week

It’s Dinosaur Week here at GeekParty, which means that this edition of BackStory was written with dinosaurs in mind. There are several dinosaur stories in comics, but nothing really stood out to me… at first. Then I realized that Batman’s T-Rex is probably the most famous dinosaur in comics.

batcave1Batman is famous for his trophy collection, but his mechanical dinosaur has always been a mystery. It’s constantly in the background, but I really didn’t know much about it. Since the title of this column is “Backstory,” I decided it was worth looking into.

The first appearance of the T-Rex was in Batman issue #35. Batman and Robin visit Dinosaur Island, a theme park filled with mechanical dinosaurs and cavemen. Things go wrong, the Dynamic Duo save the day, and Batman throws the T-Rex into the trunk of the Batmobile.

batman_35It’s definitely an odd item to keep in the Batcave, but so is a giant penny. I think Batman needs these trophies to remind him of the more light-hearted adventures he’s been through.

Grant Morrison takes this approach to Batman’s mythology: everything that’s happened in Batman’s comics has actually happened to him. Check out the video below to hear the man himself explain it on Kevin Smith’s “Fat Man on Batman” podcast.

From Morrison’s perspective, the T-Rex is important piece of Batman’s history. Sure, it just sits there, but it’s a chunk of his past. And that’s just as important as anything else he’s accumulated over the years.

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BackStory: The Walking Dead Launched a Phenomenon

It’s an amazing time to be a comic book fan. Not only do we get an abundance of fantastic ink-and-paper stories on Wednesdays, but some of the most anticipated blockbuster movies are drawn straight from comics. Plus, we can turn on the television and see a new comic-based show almost every day of the week.

In the past, there have been attempts at bringing comics – especially superheroes – to the small screen, but they haven’t all been successful.

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I grew up in an age where TV was subpar, yet everything seemed amazing. I looked forward to live-action shows like The Incredible Hulk, Wonder Woman, and The Amazing Spider-Man, but they’re hard to revisit nowadays. As the years went on, there were other attempts, like The Flash, that weren’t horrible, but they also weren’t good enough to leave their mark on pop culture.

Fortunately, we had cartoons.

To this day, Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series, Justice League, Justice League Unlimited, and X-Men don’t feel dated. Go check out Batman: Mask of the Phantasm and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

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However, these dramatic, adult-oriented cartoons always had one fatal flaw: toy sales. Green Lantern: The Animated Series, for example, only aired for one season on Cartoon Network. The show started off a little slow but developed a deep, emotional storyline that could have easily supported a few more seasons. But toy sales were nonexistent and so was a second season. And the rest eventually followed suit.

After that, we had to get our super hero fix during the after-school cartoon blocks or on Saturday morning. But the prime-time TV world was devoid of anything of the sort. Well, I guess we had Lois & Clark, but, quite frankly, that show had very little to do with Superman. It was far more about their relationship. Sure, it was popular, but it didn’t send people to the comic shops for the newest Superman book. Even Smallville was a pretty big hit, but it didn’t generate the interest in comics that retailers and publishers had hoped for.

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Then, everything changed. An unlikely zombie comic, The Walking Dead, found its way to AMC.

As a fan of the books, I was understandably excited for the series. I even got my wife to read some Walking Dead and she got a little excited.

So on October 31st 2010, we set our DVR to record the first episode and took the kids trick-or-treating. We came back home, put the kids to bed, turned out the lights, and watched the first episode. We felt like we did when we were kids, watching comic book shows on TV.

But this time it was different.

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You could feel it after the very first episode; The Walking Dead struck a pop culture nerve. People who had never read the comic were actually conversing about a show based on a comic. And it was  one of he best written comics on the stands.

Not only has this phenomenon led to merchandise sales and increased book sales, but it did something even better; it gave the Hollywood bigwigs a reason to take a gamble on other comic book properties. And they’ve been gambling ever since.

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Currently, you can watch The Flash, Arrow, S.H.I.E.L.D., Agent Carter, Gotham and Constantine. And several new shows are scheduled to hit networks and other platforms, such as Sony’s PlayStation Network and Netflix, in the very near future. The possibilities seem endless.

Thanks to a TV show based on a comic book about Zombies – or, more importantly, the survivors – comic book fans are now able to regularly experience some of their favorite characters on the small screen.

And if one of these shows inspires someone to check out a comic book, we all benefit.

BackStory: Death, Resurrection, and Immortality in Comics

Warning: This article contains spoilers for Batman #38, as well as spoilers for some older story lines.

Back in 1992, DC Comics published an ambitious storyline titled The Death of Superman. Because Superman was such a huge cultural icon, the mere idea of his death caused a media frenzy. You could find people talking about it in newspapers, magazines, and even on television news programs all across the world.

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BackStory: Free Comic Book Day Changed the Way I Read Comics

The other day, I received an email informing me that Free Comic Book Day was only 100 days away. Some people might think that a notification for something that far off is overkill. Those people probably haven’t experienced Free Comic Book Day.

FCBDFCBD is an event that takes place on the first Saturday of May. On that auspicious day, comic shops give out free comics, merchandise, and sometimes much more.

My first FCBD took place shortly after I started reading comics again. On the morning of May 5th, 2007, I packed up the family and headed over to 4 Color Fantasies. When we arrived, I didn’t know what to expect, and I was completely blown away.

Almost all comic shops participate in FCBD, but certain stores go out of their way to create something truly special. 4 Color Fantasies was one of those stores. They had artists, writers, the 501st Legion, vendors, cosplayers, free food, raffles, and most importantly, free comic books. It was almost like a mini Comic-Con.

We had to wait in line for quite a while – back then, we didn’t know you needed to arrive early – but it was more than worth it.

Around that time, I was really only reading Marvel books. Marvel’s stories felt dark and serious, while DC’s books looked like goofy kids stuff. Normally, I would have passed on a comic like Justice League of America #0, but since it was free, I decided to give it a try.

What I read in those pages was somewhat confusing — publishers aren’t as good at creating jumping on points as they think they are — yet extremely interesting at the same time.

JLA0I wanted to know how the JLA wound up in their current situation, which spurred me to pick up back issues and trades. I started researching unfamiliar characters online, and even picked up a DC encyclopedia.

One free comic book convinced me to broaden my horizons. No longer was I a champion of Marvel and a hater of DC; I was a comic book fan in general. I started picking up any book that looked interesting, regardless of the publishing company.

Every year, thousands of people experience the same thing I did back in 2007. FCBC convinces people to check out  a book they wouldn’t normally try, or even pick up a comic for the very first time. A future artist could very well be standing in line this year, and the books they read could help shape their career.

This year, Free Comic Book Day takes place on Saturday, May 5th. As usual, publishers are doing their best to convince readers to give their books a shot. Marvel’s kicking off a universe-changing event with Secret Wars, and DC keeping their big book completely under wraps.

secretwars1Whether you’re interested in following major events, want to discover new books from smaller publishers, or just want to score some free stuff, Free Comic Book Day is an event you don’t want to miss. If you want to see what FCBD is all about, go ahead and find a participating store near you. Just make sure you get there nice and early.

BackStory: Grant Morrison, Mad Creator of Worlds

we3My first exposure to Grant Morrison was with his mini-series We3. The story, which involved weaponized cyborg animals, was one of the most interesting things I had ever read. The writing was impressive, and the art by Frank Quitely was unlike anything I’d ever seen before. I loved everything about it.

 

Back then, I didn’t buy comics based on their artists or writers; I was more interested in characters. However, that changed the moment I picked up Morrison’s All-Star Superman.

One Wednesday, while flipping through new releases, a bright-colored comic caught my eye. A new Superman book from Morrison and Quitely? Yes please. I had to catch up and read the back issues, but it was absolutely worth it.

AllStarSupermanFrom that point on, I began to seek out the works of individual creators, especially Morrison. Suddenly, I cared about more than what was happening in the latest books, and I was inspired to dive deeper into comics history.

For years, Morrison was the ongoing writer of Batman, and his tales were some of the most exciting books on the shelves. Morrison utilized long-forgotten elements of Batman’s history, drawing from old stories like The Batman of Zur-En-Arrh. While I was already a big Batman fan, he helped me to appreciate the character on a deeper level.

ZurEnArrhSoon, I was obsessed with Morrison’s writing, and started building a collection of trades. I purchased New X-Men, Seven Soldiers, 52, Flex Mentallo, and many more. I even started downloading out of print books when I couldn’t find them anywhere else.

Every book I read drew me deeper into the mind of Morrison, and that’s a crazy place to be.

I started following several other prolific writers, but there was something about Morrison’s approach that felt different. I just couldn’t put my finger on what that something was. I read interviews, which gave me some insight, but it wasn’t until I read Supergods that I finally understood what Morrison was doing.

He was creating actual realities.

Sure, it sounds crazy – because it absolutely is – but it feels like there’s an actual supernatural element to his storytelling. It’s completely insane, but it also makes a weird sort of sense. His strange approach to writing has caused a big divide amongst the comic world, but to me, it only makes it more exciting to pick up a Morrison book.

morrisonMorrison believes that a thought can become reality. Every character he’s created or written about is a living, breathing being that now exists in a different dimension. Once the thought is put down on paper, it exists forever.

Whether buy into his theory or not, there’s some definite truth behind it. Superman, a fictional character, is now a living idea in our minds, and he’s not going anywhere anytime soon.

Think about mankind’s own myths and legends. At one time the Greek Gods “existed,” and their stories were  handed down from generation to generation. Morrison is not only creating stories that will be read for generations; he’s creating a mythology that we can call our own.

Long after we’re gone, Superman and Batman will continue to have adventures. They’ll live on in the hearts and minds of those who are reading their stories.

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Morrison is currently writing a limited series called The Multiversity, which is built around the creation of living universes. Each issue tells a stand-alone story, and each tale is set on a different Earth. However, these tales are all interconnected in some way. Multiversity been phenomenal so far, and it looks like it will have a lasting impact on the comics world.

Once again, this mad creator of worlds is creating life before our very eyes. The universes he’s creating will be with us forever.

BackStory – Star Wars and Dark Horse: The End of an Era

As a kid, I wasn’t a big comic reader; my parents never bought them and they were hard for me to get. Occasionally, though, I’d spend the night at my cousin’s house, we’d hit the local 7-Eleven, and I’d purchase a comic or two. There were a couple of books I would always pick up if I could: Green Lantern Corps and Marvel’s Star Wars. I’d read those books inside and out till they fell apart.

As time went on, I gave up and didn’t pick up a comic for years (unless it was laying around on a coffee table somewhere).

sw1coverBut even though I wasn’t into comics, my love for Star Wars continued to grow. My dad took me to see A New Hope in the theater when I was 4, and I’ve been a die-hard fan ever since.

By 1991, I’d become an avid Star Wars memorabilia collector, and I started reading the Expanded Universe books after I found out about Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire. I was blown away by the stories that were being told beyond the trilogy.

In 1993, when I found out that Dark Horse Comics was publishing Star Wars comics, I instantly found a comic shop close to me and bought what I could. Soon, I discovered one of the greatest Star Wars stories I’ve ever experienced: Tales of the Jedi.

totjI was instantly sold on Star Wars comic books, and I started to buy them monthly. I then started to pick up books like Dark Empire from the back issue boxes, as well as the reissues of the classic Star Wars comics. This love of Star Wars comics grew into a love of comics in general, and I started to collect many different books. Still, it was Dark Horse’s Star Wars that originally sucked me in.

darkempireFor more than 20 years, Dark Horse was synonymous with Star Wars comics. Some books were phenomenal, while others were sub-par, but their impact on the Star Wars franchise can’t be denied.

Some of the best comic book stories – or best stories period – came from this union. From the tales of Ulic Qul-Droma in Tales of the Jedi to the story of Luke turning to the Dark Side in order to defeat the post-ROTJ cloned Emperor (yeah it sounds crazy, but it’s mind-blowing) to the graphic novelization of the Thrawn Trilogy, these stories allowed my imagination to run wild. The landscapes created in these stories rivaled those of Marvel and DC.

Shortly after Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm, it was announced that the Star Wars comics license would be returning to Marvel (which is also owned by Disney). It’s likely that Dark Horse books will never be published again, save for a few books that fall into Marvel’s Star Wars canon.

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It’s unfortunate that so many amazing stories will be going out of print. Dark Horse’s Star Wars books have a rich history, and many, myself included, have enjoyed them since childhood. Don’t get me wrong –I’m excited about the new movies — but it’s frustrating to see so many great stories thrown away.

Still, Dark Horse went out strong. Brian Wood told a Star Wars tale set in a universe where only A New Hope was canon. And there was a terrific Darth Maul story that took place after the phenomenal Clone Wars cartoon. It’s sad that Dark Horse had to end their run, but at least they went out with a bang.

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On January 14th, Marvel is launching their new line of Star Wars books.  With more than 100 variant covers, it’s clear that Marvel is going all in. Hopefully, they’ll prove that they can create a new canon that readers will love.

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As a Marvel fan, I have no doubt that they will be able to pull this off, and I’m definitely looking forward to this. Still, I can’t help but wish that those Dark Horse stories I love were a part of the canon.

No matter what happens, I’ll always carry those stories close to my heart. To me, they’re just as important as A New Hope was when I was a young boy.

BackStory: Continuity, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Reboot

In comics, continuity means everything — until it means nothing. After years of stories both amazing and convoluted, you reach a point where there’s just too much for writers to keep up with. Try writing a story based on the ideas of dozens of writers without messing it up somehow.

Not only that, it gets to the point where a new reader has to take a college course just to get caught up. As someone who had to sift through countless online articles to catch up on characters and backstories, it’s somewhat frustrating.

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Continuity didn’t really become important until decades after the birth of the superhero comic. Little things like the Hulk’s change in color (due to the printing press having issues with the original grey that Stan Lee had intended)  didn’t faze your average kid spending his pennies at the corner newsstand. They were just looking for the excitement of the newest superhero adventure. But as time went on, the stories got more complex, and people started wondering why things changed without explanation. Once superheroes started showing up in team-up books and crossovers, publishers made an effort to keep things uniform. Occasionally, these changes would overwrite an existing origin, but for the most part, it was consistent.

Still, those stories caused a lot of confusion, even amongst publishers and the writers. Reboots of major characters like The Flash and Green Lantern only made things more disorienting, especially after the original versions of the characters were brought back into continuity. While explanations like “the multiverse” may satisfy devoted fans — I do love a good multiverse story — they tend to bewilder casual readers. 

The solution? Reboot the entire line of comics.

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This has happened time and time again, and we’ve gotten some really great stories out of it. Crisis on Infinite Earths is a prime example of how you can reboot an entire line, maintain the integrity of origin stories, and create something that’s even better than what came before. There might be some changes here and there, but if Superman still comes from Krypton, crashed on earth, and was adopted by Ma and Pa Kent, avid readers will still be happy. Of course, it doesn’t always work out so well, which is when the rabid fanbase brings out their claws.

If Batman (who recently celebrated his 75th birthday) aged in real time, he’d have kicked the bucket years ago. Thankfully, these are fictional stories, and Batman can perpetually stay in his 30s. But while that may be easy to accept on its own, how do you explain characters like Dick Grayson growing up while Bruce stayed the same age?

Most people write it off as “hey, it’s comics!,” but when you’re overly obsessed with these characters, questions start to crop up, and they’re only exacerbated by reboots. How is it possible for Batman to have been active for five years, and for Dick, Jason, Tim, and Damian have all been Robin at one point? This really just makes things more complex, but “hey, it’s comics!”

new 52About two years ago, DC decided to scrap just about everything in order to bring their line of comics into the modern age, dubbing their relaunch “The New 52.” It was bold, stupid, and amazing all at the same time. There was a palpable excitement in the comic shop as the launch date drew near, and we all filled out new pull lists specifically for DC comics.

It was the first event of this magnitude I’d experienced since I got back into comics. Plenty of events had come and gone in those years (some great, most mediocre) but this was something else. Never before had an entire line been completely relaunched, and I was at ground zero when it happened.

Then, the books came out. While there were some quality titles, they all raised the same question: What about continuity? In past reboots, companies had simplified their history. This time, it was just a big ball of confusion. While I’ve enjoyed much of The New 52, many important elements were cut for seemingly no reason at all. I wondered what motivated DC to do something like this.

The answer? Sales.

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After The New 52, DC dominated the sales charts. From a business perspective, they hit a home run. If it wasn’t for events like this one, comics might be on the brink of extinction. Publishers need to drawn in new readers and entice old ones to add books to their pull lists. Otherwise, the industry could become stagnant. It’s been like this for decades, with no signs of it stopping. I for one am on board with whatever comes down the comic book pipeline.

Right now, it looks like DC is preparing something big for spring. There’s a lot of speculation, with many suggesting a melding of the pre and post New 52 worlds. Will it be as universe changing as Crisis on Infinite Earths? I sure hope so, but I’ve been let down before. All I know, is that I’ll be there when these books come out, and I’ll be reading them with the same excitement that those kids who bought books with their pennies had.

Maybe, just maybe, it’ll be like nothing ever changed in the first place.

BackStory: How Spider-Man ate Mary Jane and Turned Me Into a Comic Book Aficionado

Sometime during the summer of 2006, I read a message board thread on Marvel’s Civil War event, in which members discussed the ramifications this event would have on the future of the Marvel Universe. I was slightly intrigued, but not enough to take the time to start reading the comic series.

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