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The Crank File: The Spectacular Dan Slott

Welcome back for The Crank File #7. The Crank File is an open forum where I will offer speculations, reviews and ravings on all things comics. Today I salute Dan Slott, current writer of Marvel’s Amazing Spider-man, for being an amazing human being.

Two recent events in comic culture have spewed waves of unfounded bigotry and hate across social media: a gay kiss on Walking Dead and rumors of a Black/Latino lead in the next Spider-man movie.

Someone remind me what year it is again?

Comic books have always provided a safe place for me. Like many of us growing up, I got picked on by other children for being different. It wasn’t vicious, just the typical meanness of ignorant youth. Not big enough, not tall enough, not fast enough, not Caucasian enough. Comic books were an escape from the harsh realities of the chalkboard jungle, a fantastic world where being a freak also meant that you could be a hero. Those comic book panels were the great equalizer. Regardless of your age, gender, race, species or whatever, if you were righteous and you defended the weak then that’s all that mattered, I would cheer for you. I still do.

And in that vein, I want to express my gratitude towards Dan Slott who has taken a stand against the rising tide of intolerance. Not only is he currently penning the adventures of Peter Parker for Marvel, he’s defending the case for a Black/Hispanic Spider-man and reminding us all why comic books are so frikkin awesome in the first place:

Dan Slott Lays Down The Case For A Non-White Spider-Man

I am Spider-man.

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The Crank File: Spec-tacular Spider-man Movie News

Thanks for joining me for The Crank File #6. Today I speculate on a couple of Spider-man related back issues that have jumped up in price due to a recent movie announcement

Happy lunar new year! In the Chinese zodiac 2015 is the year of the goat. inexplicably the Mandarin word for goat, yang, also translates as sheep or ram. So technically, 2015 is the year of the goat/sheep/ram. Don’t be confused by the conflicting imagery floating out there, it’s all good. OK, enough cultural education. To the comics!

Fans are still rejoicing after last week’s announcement that our friendly neighborhood Spider-man is thwipping his way into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Thwip thwip!

Spider-man is the bacon of the comic book world, he makes anything better. Expectedly, the deal struck between Marvel and Sony Pictures has fans buzzing with anticipation. Where will Spider-man appear next? We already know that next year’s Captain America movie is titled “Civil War”, and Peter Parker played a pivotal role in the comic book series by the same name. And can you imagine how jaw-droppingly awesome an Avengers movie guest-starring Spider-man would be?

Shut up and take my money!

As speculation about the next Spidey movie runs riot, so has speculation on several key Spider-man books. But unlike the Civil War series which has been hot for some time now, these books have just started to tick upwards. So scrounge those back issue bins at your local honey holes, they could be holding gold.

Avengers 316

Written by superstar John Byrne in 1990, this is the issue when Spider-man officially becomes a member of the Avengers. It seems a lot of people are betting on a future Spider-man/Avengers movie. This was a $2 issue just days before the movie news hit. Every affordable copy has since been snapped up and are now popping up on online auctions asking $15-$20 for NM raw copies. And they are getting it. The craziest thing about the recent price jump is that there hasn’t been any news that a Spider-man/Avengers movie is actually happening. But if that movie ever is announced, watch out because this book could explode.

Ultimate Fallout #4

Ultimate_Comics_Fallout_Vol_1_4

I’ve had this book pegged as undervalued for a while now. It features the first appearance of a very popular character, Miles Morales the Ultimate Spider-man. Our last decade of Spider-man movies have all kicked off with Peter Parker’s origin story. And as much as I love classic Spider-man, i just don’t think I can stand watching Uncle Ben get murdered for another time. I think a new take on Spider-man could be refreshing and equally amazing. Marvel movies have been borrowing from both the Classic 616 and Ultimate 1610 universes, so although a movie featuring Miles Morales as Spider-man would be a bold and unlikely move, it’s not unthinkable. Marvel has already been pushing diversity hard in their comic titles, why not in their movies? The Avengers could use a little color in their ranks. Once a $5 book, Ultimate Fallout #4 is consistently fetching $15-$20 with a scorching hot 1:25 variant. The first printing with Miles’ face hidden behind the title is the cover to look out for.

Happy hunting!

Oh, hey Fox? Do the world a solid and give us back the X Men and Fantastic Four already.

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The Crank File: Wild’s End – Wild Endings and New Beginnings

Welcome back for the fifth installment of The Crank File. The Crank File is an open forum where I will offer speculations, reviews and ravings on all things comics. Today we review the Boom! comics’ scifi mini series Wild’s End and look forward to what the future holds for the title.

Wild's End #6

Issue six of Boom!’s six part miniseries Wild’s End descended upon comic shop everywhere this past Wednesday. The genre bending alien invasion story delivered a pulse pounding finale that left the audience (me) screaming for more (more!).

I picked up the first issue of Wild’s End because it had been pitched to me as War of the Worlds happens to the Wind in the Willows. Sold. Wild’s End immediately drew me in with it’s cartoonish art style and 1930’s British charm. I loved the anthropomorphic character designs and how the aliens looked like art deco lamp posts.

It would be easy to mistake Wild’s End for a children’s book due to it’s inherent cuteness. But it doesn’t take long for Wild’s End to turn into a dark, psychological tale of horror and survival.

Wilds End

What kept me picking this book off the shelf each month were the neurotic characters. They are nervous, agoraphobic, roguish, chain smoking, drunken, brash and suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. They are a group of flawed and conflicting personalities forced together due to impossible circumstances, a tried and true recipe for good drama.

Unusual Suspects
The Unusual Suspects

I had some concerns going into issue six, mainly because I thought that this was the final chapter in the series. Wild’s End was advertised as a six issue mini series and after five issues I felt like there was a lot of ground still to cover if this thing was going to come to a satisfactory resolution. And although issue six serves up plenty of thrills on the way to a violent and fiery crescendo, it ends somewhat abruptly and frustratingly with a cliffhanger.

Much to my relief, writer Dan Abnett tweeted last Thursday confirming that a second series is on the way. Hu-zzah!

Wilds End tweet

Realizing that this was not actually the end to Wild’s End but just to the first arc, I went back and reread the series and found myself enjoying the pacing of the final few issues more than I had originally.

Wild’s End exceeded all of my expectations and I highly recommend it to any fan of science fiction horror. No details yet on when the second series will invade bookstores, but I’ll be there when it does.

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The Crank File: The Fantastic Fourplay

Welcome back for the fourth installment of The Crank File. The Crank File is an open forum where I will offer speculations, reviews and ravings on all things comics. In today’s episode of the Crank File we discuss the end of a Marvel icon and the beginnings of a new era. And a familiar face makes an unexpected appearance.

Fantastic Four issue #642 kicks off The End is Fourever story arc. The End is Fourever will be the final chapter in the seminal Marvel series The Fantastic Four, which will lead us into Marvel’s big 2015 event, Secret Wars. You heard that right true believers. The Fantastic Four has been cancelled.

Created in 1961 by legends Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Marvel Comic’s The Fantastic Four was the title that launched the Marvel Universe. Just a few years after The Fantastic Four exploded onto the comic book scene, Marvel had created some of the most recognizable heroes in pop culture history, including Spider-man, Thor, the Hulk, the Avengers, Iron Man, the X-Men, the Dare Devil and the Silver Surfer.

But while other characters rose to stardom and beyond, fame was not as kind to the group once known as the world’s greatest heroes. While the Fantastic Four team was unique and diverse by Silver Age standards, as comics grew up the Fantastic Four sort of stayed the same. Their old school persona and mediocre movies didn’t endear the group to a new generation of comic book readers. And with lower popularity leading to sagging sales, I guess they just couldn’t afford to keep the lights on at the Baxter Building.

I have a soft spot for FF personally because of the “Marvel Secret Story of ” series of books. Does anyone else remember this?

The Secret Story of the World's Greatest Superheroes

A set of four hardcovers, I discovered “The Secret Story” books as a child at my public library. Each book highlighted a different Marvel superhero. There was The Hulk, Spider-man, Captain America and The Fantastic Four. I’d check out any of these books whenever I could. The Fantastic Four might not have been my favorites but they were always there on the shelf, waiting just for me.

I haven’t seen much of the FF since then, outside of their obligatory cross-over appearances. So what better place to start getting reacquainted than at the end? If issue #642 is representative of the series, then Fantastic Four certainly isn’t being cancelled for a lack of quality. Writer James Robinson puts a lot of heart into this story, where we find Marvel’s first family vulnerable, separated and under assault.The artwork is outstanding throughout the issue and I absolutely love the Jim Cheung variant cover, a beautiful homage to the genesis of the Fantastic Four.

FF 642 variant cover

There’s also a great line swipe from Allen Moore’s Watchmen; a nod to a series that in many ways revolutionized comics for its own generation.

Watchmen Swipe    FF watchemn swipe

It is almost poetic that the end of the Fantastic Four would also bring about the start of a new era in Marvel comics. For months now Marvel has been teasing 2015’s upcoming Secret Wars, and The End is Fourever story arc should lead us into this monumental event. From the press releases, we know that in Secret Wars the Marvel Universe and Ultimate Universe will be destroyed with the remaining fragments forming a patchwork planet called BattleWorld. This event is set to shatter the 616 universe as we know it and promises to have profound effects on almost every Marvel title. Although it is not officially being called a franchise reboot, Marvel is promising that Secret Wars will mark a completely new direction for the company.

And we can expect that the members of the Fantastic Four will be involved in Secret Wars. After all, cancelled doesn’t mean dead. Although they might not have their own name on a book for a while, don’t expect it to last forever. Comic books don’t die. They are undead. Sometimes they even come back better and wiser than before. All the best ones do.

Minor spoiler ahead.

On the last page of Fantastic Four #642 we are reintroduced to the SleepWalker. Published for only three years during the early 90’s, SleepWalker was supposed to be Marvel’s response to Vertigo’s popular Sandman series (lol!). Sleepy hasn’t been relevant in comics for decades, if ever, but his sudden appearance at the end of issue #642 indicates that he could play an important role in the Marvel Universe’s transition into Secret Wars. This news has caused prices for the first appearance of Sleep Walker to soar. A recent dollar-bin book is now regularly moving on eBay for $10, with some BIN auctions surpassing $15.

Sleepwalker cover

I can’t find an estimated print run number for this issue, but considering that it came out during the height the first comic book boom… I would guess hundreds of thousands. Check your long boxes and your LCS’s dollar bins and flip them while the flipping is good. It might finally live up to it’s promised “Collector’s item!” status.

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The Crank File: Breaking the Internet with Amazing Spider-man #12

Welcome to the third installment of The Crank File. The Crank File is an open forum where I will offer speculations, reviews and ravings on all things comics. In today’s episode of the Crank File we discuss the much-hyped secret revealed at the end of Amazing Spider-man issue 12. Spoilers ahead. 

Reigning Amazing Spider-man writer Dan Slott refused to comment on rumors that the events of this month’s issue of Amazing Spider Man was going to break the internet. I’m happy to report that it has been 4 days since ASM#12 was released into the world and the internet still stands. Huzzah!

Secretly, I never really believed that Mr. Slott could actually break the internet. But I did take it into serious consideration. Mr. Slott has certainly performed some spectacular stunts during his tenure as chief scribe over at Amazing Spiderman. He successfully pulled off a body switch between Otto Octavius and Peter Parker leading to the bizarre but immensely entertaining events of the Superior Spider-man. And just this past September he introduced us to Gwen Stacy from Earth-65, who in the 65 universe was bitten by the radioactive spider and transformed into Spider Woman (or Spider-Gwen as she has become affectionately known by her fans). Clearly Slott is neither uncomfortable with stepping outside normal conventions or afraid of making internet-breaking changes to the world of Spider-man.

Case and point, the current Spider-Verse event has multitudes of spider-men iterations from alternate Earths banding together to fight an enemy that threatens all of their universes. In addition to providing some truly memorable and endearing Spider-heroes, these alternate Earths provide a convenient deus ex machina for introducing new characters without much exposition, like the aforementioned Spider Gwen. And although I am a big Spider Gwen supporter, it does feel a bit contrived. Which takes us to the big reveal in ASM#12. Potentially internet-breaking spoiler ahead. Last chance to turn back now.

Uncle Ben?!
Uncle Ben?!

Dun dun duhhhhh. Yup, Uncle Ben is back after being dead for over half a century. Granted this Uncle Ben is from an alternate reality and not the Earth 616 universe, but it is still Uncle Ben none the less.

In a story where alternate realities entwine and characters can jump from universe to universe, the revelation that Uncle Ben was alive in another universe didn’t land with earth-shattering impact I would have expected. Maybe it is because I’ve grown accustomed to seeing deceased characters resurrected on the regular. Heck, we just went through the “death” of Peter Parker in ASM #700’s Dying Wish, only to see him resurrected with the relaunch of 2014’s Amazing Spider-man volume 2. So it is not incredibly shocking when Marvel brings back one of the most influential characters in Spider-man’s life. But it is a big deal.

Uncle Ben’s return didn’t break the internet but it did add an interesting new fold to Spider-man mythology. We have to remember how momentous an event the death of Benjamin Parker was in Peter Parker’s life. Before Uncle Ben’s murder, Peter had been using his new found spider-abilities solely for personal gain. It wasn’t until the death of Peter’s beloved uncle and paternal role-model that he swore to use Spider-man as a means for fighting injustice and protecting others. Had that fateful encounter between Uncle Ben and the burglar never occurred, would Peter have ever truly understood that with great power comes great responsibility? It is not difficult to imagine Peter’s life taking a very different trajectory had Earth 616’s Uncle Ben lived. And now he’s alive.

Characters in the worlds of comic books are not like real people. Not abnormal just because they often wield superhuman powers, but because they exist as ideas in our shared consciousness. Good ideas don’t die, they just come back in different forms. Uncle Ben’s character represents an ideal, a loving memory that inspires strength and courage to face a hard world and to be the best that we can. The big question is, what will his memory mean when the events of the Spider-verse conclude?

I’m interested about how Slott will utilize Uncle Ben’s character and excited to see how the relationship between uncle and nephew develops. The possibilities are endless. Maybe the UncIe Ben from this universes was bitten by the radioactive spider turning him into Spider-Ben. Or maybe in this Uncle Ben’s universe, Aunt May was shot by the burglar and Uncle Ben survived, blaming Spider-man for her death. It’s too early to really speculate on the reasons for Uncle Ben’s return. We only get to see him in the last page with just a few words exchanged. What we do know is that the whole secret identity thing is out the window as Spider-man openly refers to him as “Uncle” Ben to which his uncle coolly responds, “Peter”.

I hope that the introduction of a new Uncle Ben doesn’t water-down the memory of the original, or worse taint it’s legacy. We are talking about digging up the bones of one of the most significant deaths in comics history. Don’t be surprised if you unearth ghosts. Whatever his motives, Slott has earned my confidence as a reader and my spidey sense tells me that this is going to be more than just a marketing gimmick.

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The Crank File: Best of 2014

Welcome back for the second installment of The Crank File. The Crank File is an open forum where I will offer speculations, reviews and ravings on all things comics.

Holy crap folks. It’s two thousand and fifteen. Glad you’re still with us. We should have a good year ahead according to Back to the Future. Look out for hover boards, flying cars and fax machine booths coming to a corner near you.

Looking back at it, 2014 was an awesome year to be a comic book fan. Big two super heroes and heroines continued their domination over box offices and set top boxes alike. Independent publishers and creator owned series remain popular among readers and their continued success has given talented writers and artists freedom to pursue new ideas and tell new stories. I wasn’t able to check out everything and some of what I saw wasn’t exactly what you would call inspired, but you take the bad with the good. Here’s some of the good from the last 365 days.

Favorite continuing series: Manifest Destiny (Image)

Manifest Destiny #7
Manifest Destiny #7

Lewis and Clark’s ragtag group of explorers continued their expedition across the America’s frontier, encountering new monstrosities and adventures along the way. We were also brought in for a closer look at the members of our menagerie, scabs and all. It was an exhilarating read and a whole lot of fun to look at. There was one page in every issue of Manifest Destiny where I would have to stop and just admire the terror, beauty and detail found in the artwork. This westward journey has been a delightful mix of action, adventure, horror and humor and has consistently turned out entertaining, thought provoking yarns month after month and was my favorite book of 2014. Manifest Destiny #13 is out January 21, and the volume 2 trade paper back collecting issues #s 7 – 12 will be available the week before on January 14.

Honorable mentions: Saga, Batman New 52, East of West

Favorite mini series: Multiversity (DC)

Pax Americana
Pax Americana

Pax Americana may be my favorite single issue published last year. I understand Grant Morrison isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. The words “easily accessible” probably won’t be found anywhere on his bio. But if you can navigate the dense tangle of intertwining plot lines and characters, you will find a story that transcends traditional comic book mythology and delivers a new experience operating on a metafictional level. Multiversity is an ambitious project with an all-star creative team exploring the connection between fiction and reality. So far the results have been brilliant, albeit slightly confusing. DC will be publishing a Multiversity Guidebook on January 21 which will hopefully help make sense of current events in the DC Multiverse.

Honorable mentions: The Wake, Wool, Sandman Overture

Favorite new comer: Copperhead (Image)

Copperhead #1
Copperhead #1

I love me a good western. Not just the Sergio Leone spaghettis, but any story depicting life on the edge of the frontier. Copperhead brings a unique voice to the futuristic, space-western genre. In Copperhead the technology and futurism serve as a backdrop for the characters and plot, giving the story a modern yet classic feel. Every resident living in the mining town of Copperhead is well defined and feels like a real person. Writer Jay Faeber keeps his characters fresh by twisting traditional Western stereotypes, like having the new sheriff in town also be an ass-kicking single mother. The Dialogue has been whip smart and the characters memorable. Copperhead remains intriguing through four issues and we’ve just scratched the surface. I can’t wait to see what we unearth this year. Copperhead #5 hits shelves on January 14.

Honorable mentions: Autumnlands: Tooth & Claw, Roche Limit, 13 Coins

Favorite film adaptation: X-Men Days of Future Past (Marvel)

X-Men Days of Future Past
X-Men Days of Future Past

The Days of Future Past story arc is arguably Claremont and Byrne’s masterpiece during their legendary run on Uncanny X-Men. In two expertly crafted issues, they weave a tale of dystopian societies, time traveling heroes and alternate time lines. I was really impressed by how the movie was able to stay true to the source material while making the story unique by changing the main character from Kitty Pride to Wolverine.The film remained light and fun while steering clear of the campy humor that plagued the original X trilogy. Days of Future Past delivered the action, humanity and social commentary that we expect from the X-men franchise and I was pleased to see my beloved X-men taking another step towards respectability on the big screen. But despite all the things that Days of Future Past got right, I just can’t get past tall Wolverine. Did you know Wolvie is supposed to be 5’3″? They can make Boliver Trask look normal sized but can’t make Hugh Jackman shorter? Ridiculous.

Honorable mentions: Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America Winter Soldier

Happy 2015 everyone. The path ahead is long and there are many miles to go. See you further on down the road.

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Sandman Overture #4 Review : The Land Between Time

Sandman Overture 4 cover

Welcome to the first installment of The Crank File. The Crank File is an open forum where I will offer speculations, reviews and ravings on all things comics.

25 years after starting his legendary run on the fantasy horror masterpiece Sandman, Neil Gaiman returns to Vertigo to tell the story of how it all began. There was a lot to like about the first three issues of Sandman Overture and I’ve been waiting (and waiting) with bated breath and parted lips for the cover to rise on chapter four. It did not disappoint. Minor spoilers ahead.

Dream of the Endless, his feline incarnation from an alternate reality and an orphaned child walk into the ethereal city of the stars. They are searching for an insane star-goddess housed in the city’s asylum. The mad sun that they seek threatens to destroy all of existence and it is Dream’s responsibility to stop her by whatever means necessary. Just another day in the hood.

Sandman Overture Chapter 4
Sandman Overture Chapter 4

As negotiations between Dream and the star citizens break down Dream goes for help, traveling between nanoseconds to the realm of his father, the patriarch of the Endless, father Time.

Time is the father of all existence. He is the manifestation of the eternal rhythm, the constant beating that allows for things to occur and reality to form. His appearance is like that of a man living out every stage of his life cycle simultaneously. His realm, like his appearance, is shifting and malleable. Bright colors and soft overlapping shapes create psychedelic landscapes that ebb and flow and blossom across the pages. His demeanor is cold, calculated and compassionless.

Sandman Overture #4 Realm of Time
Sandman Overture #4 Realm of Time

The artwork throughout Overture has been consistently gorgeous and engaging but issue four is visually the best that the series has produced. For me, the hallmark of this series has been the sublime page compositions. J.H. Williams III and the Overture creative team are setting a high water mark for what sequential story telling can achieve through dynamic page layouts.

Issue 4 closes with a flurry of twisting, page turning action. The the story leaves Dream in a familiar predicament and suggests one more member of the Endless to come, their Mother. Could it be Mother Nature of the Endless? Feel free to use that one, Neil.

Gaiman is crafting a sophisticated vehicle for probing the nature of dreams and myths, expanding and reestablishing the Sandman universe with brilliant results. The fittingly titled Overture series is a prequel that echoes many of the same themes explored within the main canon while setting itself apart with its own unique voice and vision.

The one criticism for this title has been the long gaps between issues. I personally don’t mind waiting for a high-quality product, and this book oozes quality, but the multi-month waits have been brutal.

It’s anyone’s guess when issue 5 will actually reach store shelves. If you can’t stand the idea of waiting months for the series to conclude then you might want to wait for it to come out as a trade paperback. But if you are a fan of Sandman, like so many of us are, you need to be reading Sandman Overture right now.

Dream on.