Monday, December 3, 2007

2007: Marvel's Greatest Year

Hey all! Once again, because I was gone over the weekend, there are HEAPS of things to post!

So let's jump straight into the features...this one is a countdown of events happening in Marvel Comics that makes it their greatest year, according to Wizard.

And since I'm such a big Marvel Comics lover, I thought I'd add my comments WITHIN the article itself! Once again, my comments are in THIS font.

From the return of big-name creators to the demise of major characters, check out the company’s 25 triumphs over the past 12 months

By Ethan Sacks

Posted November 29, 2007 6:30 PM

The numbers and hype speak for themselves when it comes to Marvel’s spectacular triumphs in 2007.

From the conclusion of Civil War to recruiting best-selling author Stephen King to dominating sales charts with a 51 percent market share to the shocking assassination of Captain America, Marvel Comics not only met expectations for both creativity and sales, it exceeded them.

And, sure, hearing cheers from fans, retailers and critics is nice, but hearing it from Stan Lee, Marvel’s chairman emeritus and co-creator of everything from Spider-Man to the Hulk to the X-Men, really hammers it home.

“Marvel is every bit as innovative and exciting as it ever was back in the days when I was shepherding the Bullpen,” says Lee. “If it came to a creative contest between the old and the new, if I can put partiality aside, I’m not sure who would win!”

And although Lee can’t decide a clear winner, there’s no doubt that whether old Marvel or Nü-Marvel is better, here are the 25 ways the House of Ideas made sure this was Marvel’s biggest, brightest and best year since the publishing of Fantastic Four #1 in 1961.

With the release of a mysterious image of Captain America emerging from flames with the words “The Return” emblazoned across the front at Wizard World Chicago this summer, the industry erupted in speculation. Had everyone’s favorite shield-throwing patriot managed to cheat death after all?

Not quite.

Fans, however, could hardly be disappointed. A comic book legend was in fact making a big return with the upcoming maxiseries Avengers/Invaders. Alex Ross has come home again to the House of Ideas, 13 years after the landmark miniseries Marvels painted him a place in the upper stratosphere of comic book artists.

Teaming up with his own Bucky, co-writer Jim Krueger, and artist Steve Sadowski (JSA), Ross has helped craft a 12-issue tale of time travel that brings Captain America’s World War II-era buddies, the Invaders, into direct contact with their modern-day counterparts, the Avengers. Fans can also expect the stunning painted covers that have become the hallmark of Ross’ ultra-realistic style.

It’s probably what Cap would’ve wanted.

Have been waiting to see Alex Ross paint the regular Marvel Universe characters again (his work on the Earth X series doesn't count, since they're not the mainstream Marvel characters)! And him painting Captain America !!! A dream come true. Welcome back to Marvel, Alex!

Having an artist of Joe Quesada’s caliber running a comic book company is like keeping star shortstop Derek Jeter out of the lineup in order to have him be the Yankees general manager.

Once in a while, however, Quesada likes to slide back behind the drawing table in his office, roll up his sleeves and hit a home run. This year it’s “One More Day,” the final story arc on J. Michael Straczynski’s historic six-year run on The Amazing Spider-Man, Marvel’s flagship title.

“I’m always on the field, but I like to take a backseat, letting other guys bat cleanup and lead off,” says Quesada, running with the baseball analogy.

The project threw Marvel’s editor-in-chief a bit of a curve: It’s the first time that Quesada has drawn a Spider-Man title, and the artist admits he’s more comfortable working with darker characters like Daredevil. The chance to work with Straczynski, however, proved too great a lure.

“It’s a matter of putting my money where my mouth is and putting myself out there,” says Quesada. “I believe in this so much that I’ll draw this and I’ll take the heat if it doesn’t work out.”

I think the last time Joe Q drew something with any sort of regularity dates back to 1997 when Daredevil was relaunched as part of the Marvel Knights line by Kevin Smith, himself and long-time Joe Q collaborator, Jimmy Palmiotti. And his artwork is just beautiful...I've missed you, Joe!

For much of the year, there were mysterious forces at work in comic book stores around the country. Strange new faces were spotted furtively prowling the aisles. Whole printings of one specific title turned up missing.

Over the course of 15 (and counting) novels starring Anita Blake, a vampire killer and part-time re-animator of zombies, Laurell K. Hamilton has been named the best writer of erotic horror since Anne Rice, with more than 3 million copies of her books in print worldwide.

Still, it was a surprise that the serialization of her book Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter: Guilty Pleasures has become the breakout hit of Marvel Comics’ partnership with the Dabel Brothers. Industry insiders couldn’t have predicted how much of Hamilton’s female heavy fanbase would make their way to comic shops. The first issue is already on its third printing.

Avid readers of Hamilton’s work have apparently discovered it’s even better when combined the art of Brett Booth, and his just-announced successor, Ron Lim.

“It’s definitely brought in people looking for that book that have never been to my store before,” says Dan Shahin, owner of Hijinks Comics in San Jose, Calif. “The book has a lot of female fans—particular females over 30—and those are definitely some of the new faces we don’t typically see in the comic book shop.”

Have been meaning to purchase the first HC collection of Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter. And I've seen Laurel K. Hamilton's books sold across bookshops in Australia, so was actually thinking of purchasing one of those Anita Blake novels and giving it a go! Just don't think I'd get any time to read it...yet.

Far from being torn from a scroll found in the 36th Chamber of a Shaolin temple, the current “The Seven Capital Cities of Heaven” storyline in the pages of The Immortal Iron Fist was born in a basement in Seattle.

“My wife has a [Bruce Lee] poster on the wall in our basement,” says Ed Brubaker, who co-writes Iron Fist with Matt Fraction. “I looked up at the ‘Enter the Dragon’ poster and I thought, ‘Oh, duh, we’ll do a f---ing kung fu tournament.’”

What a tournament it is: Against the likes of supernatural opponents who’ve earned monikers like Fat Cobra and the Bride of Nine Spiders, Iron Fist has his hands—and feet—full. Honed by a childhood devoted to the classic martial arts flicks of the ’70s, Brubaker is now getting to put his chop-socky chops to use on a superhero that previously couldn’t kick his way off the D-list.

Another secret from the immortal city of K’un Lun? The gritty artwork of David Aja. For the first time in Iron Fist’s history, Danny Rand’s green shirt and yellow ballet slippers have become fashionable.

I've heard nothing but good things about Iron Fist. So much so that I'd like to purchase the TPB when it's released (not the more expensive HC editions though!)...who knows when though! From what I've seen of David Aja's art, it's awesome. A B-list (probably C-list even!) character finally given his dues and promoted into the major leagues!

Making over a millionaire martial artist is one thing, but Brubaker had his work cut out for him in successfully rehabilitating the image of Bucky.

When the 40-year-old writer first reanimated Captain America’s former teenage partner, whose tragic death atop an exploding missile is entrenched in comic continuity, the outcry was enormous. Fans got to see just how the sidekick survived, his near-dead body “rescued” by the Soviets, who turned James Barnes into the Winter Soldier, a brainwashed assassin.

Fast forward nearly three years, and Winter Soldier has capably filled the big red boots of his former mentor, as the lead player in Captain America.

“I always knew if we had a good enough story people would accept it, but I’m kind of shocked that he’s actually become a popular character,” admits Brubaker.

If you'd told me a year ago that Marvel was bringing back Bucky, I'd have protesting vehemently as that would be an idea that would stink up the joint. What a pleasant surprise that Bucky's return was not only done magnificently, but he's become a focal point in the Marvel Universe now that he's back, especially after Captain America's assassination!

Take note comic companies: If you wanted to bring a long-dead character from beyond the grave back again, THIS is the way it should be done, ALL. THE. TIME.

In Chinese astrological terms, 2007 was the Year of the Pig. At Marvel, it may be the Year of the Bad Guy.

After the chaos of Civil War, Norman Osborn landed a cushy government job as the leader of a new Thunderbolts team. Other classic baddies also enjoyed comebacks. After 70 years of getting his Nazi-ass kicked by Captain America, the Red Skull finally got the upper hand over his hated foe.

Mr. Sinister has returned to wreak havoc in the X-books, stealing powers from other mutants for his own use, while in Daredevil, Marvel dusted off an old, goofily dressed villain, Mr. Fear, and turned him into a downright scary homicidal maniac. And in New Avengers, the Hood got a demonic makeover that allowed him to get the better of Wolverine in a fight.

I think it was Stan Lee that once said that a heroes' worth was measured based on how diabolical, malicious and evil his/her nemeses were. You'd always believe that Magneto or Apocalypse would be able to kick the X-Men's asses single-handedly. There was no question Doom would be able to outsmart AND defeat the Fantastic Four everytime they faced off. And while Spider-man had his share of mort-of-the-month calibre enemies, you always knew he was THIS close to being offed by Venom or the Green Goblin.

So welcome back to the spotlight, all you baddies! You guys make comics worth long as you don't do the James Bond-villain thing and overexplain your motives BEFORE you've won the day. :p

There aren’t many sentient beings on this planet that haven’t heard about the Halo 3 gaming phenomenon.

Released in late September by Bungie Studios for the Xbox 360, the video game earned $300 million in just its first week. So when Marvel scored the rights to publish a miniseries set in the rich sci-fi universe of the popular first-person shooter game, it pulled out its own big guns. Halo: The Uprising featured the team of Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev, the writer and artist behind the most popular Daredevil run since Frank Miller’s heyday.

The series picks up right after the end of Halo 2, with Master Chief battling the hostile alien forces of the Covenant on a ship headed to Earth.

“Comics kind of open a window on facets of a character that you can’t tell in a video game, because it just takes so long to program and develop,” says Blair Butler, the G4 Network’s resident comic book expert.

“It’s a way for fans to get more out of the backstory, especially for the Halo completists,” continues Butler. “I hope it will get a couple of gamers transitioning to comics.”

Not much to say about this, because I never caught onto the Xbox "revolution" and thus have been unfamiliar with Halo territory. Suffice to say though, if it helps Marvel make a bundle and bring in heaps more of comic book fans, then that's great!

Reading like a Jerry Bruckheimer movie with a much bigger budget earmarked for explosions, the long-delayed 13th and final issue of The Ultimates 2 proved worth the seven-month wait.

Weighing in at 48 pages, the comic concluded both the five-year run of writer Mark Millar and artist Bryan Hitch on the title and the epic “Grand Theft America” storyline.

With Thor locked in the ultimate sibling rivalry with his evil half-brother Loki over Washington, D.C., the rest of the Ultimates have their hands full battling trolls, giants and other creatures straight out of Norse mythology.

The book even included an eight-page gatefold, which opened up into a visually stunning single action scene, the comic equivalent to the wraparound Cinerama movie screens of the 1950s.

“It was my request to do a three-page spread as I wanted it to be larger than the preceding two-page shot, which in turn had followed a single-page splash,” says Hitch, who said the gatefold took two weeks to pencil and three weeks for Paul Neary to ink. “It was Marvel who came back and said ‘Sure, as long as you make it eight...’

“Apparently, 10 pages is the maximum manageable within that standard of comic format, so I can still beat it.”

The wait was worth it. If you haven't yet read the final issue of Ultimates 2, then you're missing out immensely! That gatefold cover ALONE is worth the price of admission...or the price of the comic in this case. It's hot. It's brilliant. It's Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch on The Ultimates. Could one expect any less?

Arguably the biggest mega-event to hit the industry since DC Comics’ legendary Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1985, Civil War rumbled to a close with shocking repercussions for the Marvel Universe. The pro-registration side won, and the Initiative was launched with the goal of setting up fully trained superhero teams in every state.

Writer Dan Slott and artist Stefano Caselli chronicled the training of one such team in Avengers: The Initiative. Considering it is a title devoid of any big-name superheroes, that the first issue debuted as the sixth best-selling book of April caught even Marvel insiders by surprise.

Maybe it was a symptom of a fascination with all things related to Civil War, or a first-issue cover that features 143 superheroes, or perhaps it was readers’ inability to take their eyes off team instructor the Gauntlet’s gigantic hand. The title had been planned as a six-issue limited series, but it was so successful as to be promoted to a full ongoing series.

I thought it was a pretty meh series actually, having purchased all the issues so far. Didn't really do it for me. Until issue #7, when there was that reveal that's sure to shock everyone and change the course of the Marvel Universe...AGAIN. If you only plan on getting one issue of this series, #7 is the one to purchase.

Less than a year before the long-awaited “Iron Man” movie starring Robert Downey Jr. hits theaters, the hero may be the most divisive character in all of comics.

Having waved the banner of the pro-registration forces in Civil War, Tony Stark’s side may have won the conflict, but is definitely losing the public relations battle. By the end it was revealed that his true motivation was protecting his fellow superheroes from far more diabolical government measures if the Superhuman Registration Act wasn’t successful.

As a reward for his compliance, Stark settles into Nick Fury’s old desk as director of the government agency, S.H.I.E.L.D.

Whatever Iron Man’s motives, comic aficionados aren’t ready to forgive and forget.

“This is the most interesting Tony Stark has been in many years—love him or hate him, I think people realize that,” says Brandon Zuern, manager of Austin Books and Comics. “People want to see what happens next with a character that has riled them up so much.”

It's just such a natural fit that one wonders why previous writers never toyed with the idea...until now! Tony Stark, billionaire inventor with perhaps the most advanced piece of machinery in the world, as the director of Marvel's superspy espionage agency? The two go together hand-in-hand like apples and peaches!

It’s been a long time coming.

After taking a back seat to the companywide major events Civil War and “World War Hulk,” the mutants finally reclaimed the spotlight in October with the start of “The Messiah Complex,” the first X-title crossover in 11 years.

“We want the X-Men to be competitive again,” says Senior Editor Axel Alonso. “The first goal here is we want to remind them of why it was the industry leader for so long. A portion of that is you have to be willing to make an omelet, not just another egg dish.

“There will be characters who die, there will be characters who emerge as leaders, there will be characters who betray their kind.”

Have heard nothing but good things about this event, even though I haven't checked out ANY of the comics. But if it jumpstarts the stagnant X-Universe again, I won't be complaining, even though I wouldn't be purchasing any of the issues...well, perhaps maybe the TPB!

Just three years ago, many highly vocal fans were ready to disassemble writer Brian Michael Bendis after he had the temerity to launch the New Avengers title with such odd choices for team members as Luke Cage, Spider-Man and Wolverine alongside perennial favorites like Iron Man.

Fast-forward to 2007 and in the aftermath of the events of Civil War, there are two Avengers teams, and many of those same fans are now outraged that the likes of longtime fixtures Iron Man and Wasp have the nerve to call themselves Avengers.

“When Civil War was put on the table, there was definitely going to be winners and losers,” says Brian Michael Bendis, writer of both New Avengers and The Mighty Avengers. “It was becoming very apparent that there would be a team of people who lost the war and people who won the war.”

Those winners got their own title, The Mighty Avengers, and the government-approved team lead by Ms. Marvel boasts heavyweights including Sentry, Wonder Man and Ares. The New Avengers, on the other hand, are condemned to lick their wounds in new member Doctor Strange’s magically camouflaged hideout after losing the battle over superhero registration.

“I had this great opportunity to have these two books headed toward the same story,” says Bendis. “It’s almost like the same book from two different points of view.”

Yes! Let's have more Avengers teams! Seriously though, it's a fantastic idea to have two teams which approach heroism in COMPLETELY different ways, with one group being the government-sponsored-darlings-of-the-media team, and the other one being the renegade-rebel team fighting against the system.

And both comics have brilliant pencillers as well, with completely unique and different styles. All scripted by the one man, Bendis himself. It's a good time to be an Avengers fan!

On a cynical level, the decision to have Spider-Man don the black costume was the perfect tie-in to the release of Sony Pictures’ “Spider-Man 3.” After all, the biggest movie of the year, hauling in $336.5 million at the box office, introduced mainstream audiences to the outfit made of symbiotic alien slime that brings out the worst in Peter Parker.

In the pages of the Spider-Man titles, however, the costume switch was more than a fashion statement.

On the lam after revealing his secret identity during the events of Civil War, Peter Parker brings his wife Mary Jane and his beloved Aunt May into hiding with him. When a sniper ambushes the three at a motel, Aunt May ends up shot and near death, sending Spider-Man over the edge.

Donning the black suit is a signal to the Kingpin—who ordered the hit—that Spider-Man has nothing left to lose and is out for revenge. There are no wisecracks. There is no alien symbiote to pin the blame on for causing him to break the law.

The suit, quite simply, suits the darkness of the storyline.

Not surprising, especially knowing how Marvel likes to "cash in" on the success of their movies and "promote" the comics out there to those who don't read comics but enjoyed the movies. But it was done very well to coincide with the end of Civil War and the start of the One More Day storylines. No Venom in sight though...a shame!

The Marvel Zombies franchise just won’t die.

Spawned by an unholy idea introduced during Mark Millar and Greg Land’s run on Ultimate Fantastic Four, expectations weren’t high among retailers when these flesh-eating versions of the Marvel superheroes got their own miniseries last year. After all, infected with all-consuming hunger that causes them to become neurotic necrotics, the zombies had already devoured their way through almost the entire human population of the planet.

However, under writer Robert Kirkman, who knows a thing or two about zombies from his work on Image Comics’ The Walking Dead, and artist Sean Phillips, the book became a surprise hit.

The latest installment, Marvel Zombies 2, which debuted in October, finds the superpowered zombies returning to Earth after a 40-year culinary tour of outer space. In their absence, a civilization has been rebuilt, and the zombies are divided over whether they should take this opportunity to fight their hunger to reclaim their humanity.

I can't get enough of Marvel Zombies. But you know that already. I actually didn't manage to purchase issue #2 last week because Classic Comics hadn't yet received the shipment of new comics when I was down on Thursday! But I so can't wait to see the Civil War erupt. We need more Marvel Zombies!

Until the Scarlet Witch uttered “No more mutants” at the climax of 2005’s massive House of M miniseries, there were more muties roaming the Marvel Universe than paparazzi around Britney Spears’ house.

In the resulting flash of white light, however, there were just 198 mutants left, and the X-gene responsible for those born with superpowers was rendered dormant. Homo Superior seemed destined to go the way of Raphus cucullatus, better known as the dodo.

During the recent “Endangered Species” series that ran in back of the X-titles, the Beast desperately searched for a cure to halt mutantkind’s slide towards extinction. Where the Beast’s efforts to find a cure failed, a flash on Cerebra, the mutant-tracking computer system, changes everything and launches the aforementioned “Messiah Complex” event.

“You go from a place where there’s no hope—you’re standing on the edge of extinction—to a moment where there’s a sliver of hope,” says Alonso.

What Cerebra reveals is a new mutant manifestation, and the X-Men dispatch a team to the north to investigate. When they arrive, they find the wreckage of a town that appears to have been demolished in a fight between Marauders and the anti-mutant Purifiers. The evidence suggests that the battle was over a newborn mutant.
“There are three camps: save the baby, control the baby and kill the baby,” teases Alonso. “And we joke that there’s a fourth camp—eat the baby—and that will reveal itself in time.”

The House of M was groundbreaking in changing the status quo of the Marvel Universe (and it changes every six months or so nowadays), but it REALLY affected the mutants in the Marvel Universe. So of course, it's a big deal that a new mutant be born after a LONG storyline lasting two years has gone on about there not being anymore mutants! Way to go Marvel in getting the X-fans excited!

All of Civil War led to up to one climactic showdown over the two opposing sides in the struggle over whether the government could compel superheroes to divulge their secret identities. Civil liberties vs. national security, Captain America vs. Iron Man.

It’s no contest: Captain America has been beating up on opponents with superior firepower since long before Tony Stark was drinking milk out of bottles. In the ensuing free-for-all, however, much of Manhattan is laid to waste, and when Cap is confronted by civilian EMS workers and firefighters, the star-spangled hero realizes that whatever his good intentions, the fight has gone too far.

So right when he has Iron Man on the ropes, the symbol of all that’s best in America just…surrenders.

“There were a lot of folks that were pretty much dismayed by the way it turned out,” says Zuern. “They weren’t tearing up their ‘Make Mine Marvel Marching Society’ badges or anything like that, but they felt that the wrong side won.”

I didn't like the surrender of Captain America. Cap would have gone down fighting, especially in something he BELIEVED in. He wouldn't have just thrown in the towel! That's like saying that Captain America was wrong and fought for a WRONG ideal. Cmon...that never happens. I wish the ending to Civil War was more satisfactory, but this was, to me, the black stain on what was a superb series.

A decade after Joe Madureira left comics to work in the video game industry, someone hit a reset button.

During his three-year run on The Uncanny X-Men, Madureira perfected a style heavily influenced by equal parts anime and Art Adams. So popular was his artistic style on that title and his own book, Battle Chasers, that Madureira helped usher in interest in manga on this side of the Pacific—now a major part of the American comic book industry—becoming one of the most influential comic book artists of all time in the process.
But Madureira was coaxed back to the drawing table to help writer Jeph Loeb follow up Millar and Hitch’s popular run on The Ultimates.

In December, Joe Mad worshippers finally got their hands on the first issue of The Ultimates 3, a series that’s sure to make fans remember why Joe Mad once ruled the comic racks.

As much as I hate Joe Madureira for his tardiness, I love his artwork. I'm a BIG BIG fan of his artwork. It's just breathtaking and brilliant. So I can't wait to see how he illustrates my favourite Ultimates characters, even though I'm sure I can be forgiven in thinking that the series is going to be shipped late.

If Wolverine is one of Marvel’s most popular heroes, Victor Creed, aka Sabretooth, has enjoyed the status of being the X-Man’s most reviled rival.

Wolverine and his evil counterpart shared much in common: Mutants with similar healing factors, augmented into the perfect killing machines through the mysterious Weapon X program. Both had ridiculous amounts of body hair. So evenly matched were they that their battles, starting with their first throwdown in the 1986 “Mutant Massacre” crossover, were the stuff of legend.

But with a flick of the Muramasa Blade in Wolverine #55, the titular hero decapitated and killed his longtime nemesis. Since the sword was forged from Wolverine’s own soul, it proved a weapon capable of neutralizing a target’s healing powers. The killing blow put the final punctuation mark on their long saga.

Whoa. Let me read that again. Wolverine KILLED Sabretooth? Never saw that one coming. At all. I'm sure the 'Tooth will be back sometime sooner or later though. No one really stays dead in comics. Not even Bucky! So expect to see Uncle Ben invading Peter Parker's life sometime down the line, as gruesome and morbid as THAT sounds.


Short of getting J.K. Rowling to let Harry Potter go toe to toe with Doctor Strange, it’s hard to imagine a bigger coup for Marvel than getting horror master Stephen King involved with a comic book.

Of the more than 50 best-selling horror, sci-fi and fantasy titles written over his career, King’s personal favorite has been the “Dark Tower” series, a franchise that took him 25 years to finish. “The Dark Tower was really a comic book getting out there and making huge inroads with John and Jane Q. Public,” says Quesada.

Those inroads showed in the sales: Each of the seven issues in the limited series finished in Diamond Comics’ top five selling comics in the month it came out, unheard of for a comic book without a single costumed superhero.

“To those of us in the comic book industry, it’s no surprise,” explains Quesada. “For a lot of people, it’s still breaking news, and this was the biggest billboard imaginable: getting Stephen King involved with Marvel.”

This one's something else I'm waiting to be collected in the TPB format (and not HC since that one's out already) so I can purchase it. Unlike the Anita Blake books, I'm not even THINKING of purchasing the Dark Tower books at all! But I certainly do want to see what all the hype is about and read the comics. It sounds like a pretty groovy take on the Western genre!


Last seen fading out of existence, Thor returned to the earthly plane after going MIA for three years. The God of Thunder soon discovers that his friend Tony Stark had cloned him in his absence, and worse, that the clone had been responsible for the death of one of their compatriots, Goliath.

When Iron Man appears in Thor #3 to warn his fellow Avenger alumnus that gods are not above the Superhuman Registration Act, Thor manhandles the new director of S.H.I.E.L.D. like a frat boy crushes an empty beer can. Ever the politician, a disarmed and defeated Iron Man compromises by granting diplomatic immunity to Asgard, now designated foreign territory.

Yeah, Thor is back! And he's kicking Tony Stark's butt? Double celebration! You do NOT want to piss off the Norse God of Thunder. Welcome back Thor! It was only a matter of time your regal presence would grace the Marvel Universe again!


It was as if Bryan Hitch had been recharged by a dose of cosmic rays when the British artist was offered the chance to work with his Ultimates partner Mark Millar on Fantastic Four.

“Mark and I were originally slated to take over the X-franchise after Ultimates, but we were both a bit burned out after that and, in Mark’s case, Civil War,” reveals Hitch. “When we heard Fantastic Four was available, we both separately went for it because it was a breath of fresh air, unexpected and unplanned.”

Completely re-energized by working with the first family of comics, Hitch—who pored over a friend’s original copies of Jack Kirby artwork to help prepare for the project—is already working on the sixth issue, with the first installment not out until January.

“It just felt right,” says Hitch.

That sentiment echoed across Internet message boards after the pair’s run was announced this summer at Wizard World Chicago.

I'm not a big Fantastic Four fan. But I'll gladly buy the single issues of Millar and Hitch's run, because I'm fans of THEIR collaborations (which reminds me...I probably should try and look for their Authority run from Image Comics). If the Fantastic Four books they put out are even half as good as their run on The Ultimates....well hot damn!

Talk about a lousy going-away present: In the final story arc of his six-year, critically acclaimed run on The Amazing Spider-Man, writer J. Michael Straczynski kicks Peter Parker one last time while he’s down.

However badly he’s screwed up much of the rest of his life, there have been two constants for Peter—his doting Aunt May and his lovely wife, Mary Jane. With his aunt teetering on the edge of death, the victim of a bullet meant for him, the Parkers are out of options. On the lam from Iron Man and S.H.I.E.L.D, Peter is forced to move his aunt from hospital to hospital.

Not that medical science can save the octogenarian; Spider-Man is forced to ponder a literal deal with the devil. He may have to choose between the two people he loves the most.

It promises to be the end of an era in more ways than one.

Loving it so far. Joe Q's work, as explained above, is brilliant. And the story has been superb so far...hope J. Michael Stracynzski goes out in a blaze of glory!

World War Hulk, by writer Greg Pak and artist John Romita Jr., put the “smash” in “smash hit.”

There was nothing low-calorie and sweet about the pummeling that the not-so-jolly green giant puts on former friends Black Bolt, Reed Richards, Iron Man and Doctor Strange, and every hapless superhero stupid enough to try to defend them. Those four members of the so-called Illuminati had tricked the Hulk and jettisoned him into deep space.

Surviving his exile on the planet Sakaar, the walking anger management issue vows revenge after the spaceship he arrives in explodes, killing his new wife, unborn child and millions of others.

So when he gets back with his followers in tow, the Hulk methodically cuts down the offending superhero heavyweights like ducks at a shooting gallery. When Doctor Strange tries to project an appeal to the Hulk’s alter ego, Bruce Banner, he quickly gets his hands broken for his efforts…while he’s in astral form.

“World War Hulk was supposed to be the original summer blockbuster before we came up with the idea for Civil War,” admits Quesada. “And then we realized that this works as a better story if we do it after Civil War.”

Och...I'm so regretting that I didn't purchase the World War Hulk single issues. I just didn't want to spend more money on single issues (though I'm happy to purchase the TPBs!)...shows how big of a suck I am! So I've deliberately tried my best to NOT read anything WWH-related, so that there aren't any spoilers and I can take the curveballs thrown my way. Hurry up and release the TPB already, Marvel!

When they first appeared in the pages of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s run on Fantastic Four, the Skrulls were a bumbling alien race of shape-shifters, whose invasion scouting party ended up getting stuck on Earth as amnesiac cows.

They’ve come a long way since, having become one of the most feared empires in the universe, conquering other civilizations through infiltration and subterfuge.

During a recent fight with ninjas from the Hand led by the assassin Elektra, the New Avengers mortally wound the leader of their foes, only to discover that it’s not Elektra at all. The body morphs to reveal—a dead Skrull!

The reveal opened a Pandora’s box of possibilities, “or maybe a can of worms if you prefer that cliché,” jokes Bendis.

The team is thrown into a state of mistrust paranoia: Who else is a Skrull? Does the discovery signal a full-scale invasion? Does it explain Tony Stark’s actions during Civil War?

“It’s an idea that had a layer of cheese on it, and you have to scrape that cheese off it and get the real-world horror of it to do it and do it right,” says Bendis, who promises a big “ta-da” this coming April.

“If you were really a shape-shifting race, you’d have a completely different mindset,” says Bendis.” If they really wanted to go to war with us, they wouldn’t come at us with spaceships and ray-guns; they’d slip in and do as much damage as they could do.”

Hot hot hot! The Skrulls...have already invaded the Marvel Universe? I hope this isn't just a mini-series...I hope it spans the ENTIRE Marvel Universe for years to come! That'd just be absolutely awesome. Can't wait to find out who's been assimilated and who'll kick their alien asses!

It was the shot heard ’round the world.

When one of the most popular superheroes of all time lay gunned down on the steps of a courthouse in Captain America #25, it was one of the biggest shockers in comic book history. While his girlfriend Sharon Carter, brainwashed by the Red Skull and Dr. Faustus, turns out to be the killer, blame writer Ed Brubaker for directing his partner in crime, artist Steve Epting, to draw the gun that slays Captain America.

They had motive.

Steve Rogers’ death was the final salvo in the Civil War, a message that the heroes who had fought for personal freedoms over government protection had irrevocably lost more than a brawl.

“Cap losing and getting killed on the courthouse steps, there is a certain metaphor there for the things that are being stripped away from America,” Brubaker said for an article for the New York Daily News. “So I think there’s a certain allegory there that the times are changing for the worse.”

Just how quickly and strongly the media would pick up and run with that metaphor shocked everybody.

By late morning of Wednesday, March 7, the day the book came out, the character’s demise was being reported by every major television, newspaper and Internet outlet in the country. Marvel’s offices were barraged with interview requests, and at least one news crew got trapped in their service elevator.

“Boy, in the last 10 years or so, the old days when we thought of someone who liked comics as looking like the Comic Guy from ‘The Simpsons’ has really changed,” says Robert Thompson, professor of pop culture at Syracuse University. “What’s happening now is that an awful lot of people who follow pop culture are paying attention to them. When that story broke, a lot of media outlets thought they should pick up on it.”

The publicity helped drive bodies into comic specialty stores in droves, so much so that many loyal readers got shut out of getting a copy by the time they arrived in the afternoon. Now, Captain America #25 is jockeying with Civil War #1 for the title of top-selling comic of the 21st century.

“I had no clue it was going to be such a big deal,” admits Brubaker.

Steve Rogers’ death may have been an allegory of times changing for the worse, but that sure doesn’t apply to the past year at Marvel Entertainment, where things might never have been better.

The king is dead. Long live the king. Until he returns to the Marvel Universe, of course.

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