The Secret Origin of Ultron

Wednesday, April 18th, 2018 | Posted by Steve Carper


With the entire world counting down to an imminent and inevitable event that may shake the entire world and light up Twitter like nothing previous – no, not a Trump impeachment, but the premiere of Avengers: Infinity War – an Avengers robot column may be the only thing to soothe and distract the hordes long enough for the rest of us to stock up on survival gear, water, and dark chocolate.

For that I need to go back one movie to Avengers: Age of Ultron. Every good comic historian knows the origin of Ultron. He’s introduced in the pulsating pages of Avengers #55 (August 1968) as Ultron-5 and his back story is laid out in delectable detail in Avengers #58 (November 1968). Some indefinite time in the past Hank Pym – Ant Man, Giant Man, Goliath, Yellowjacket, pick one – was noodling around in his workshop tinkering with “a crude but workable robot .. A faltering step on the path to synthetic life!” For reasons never explained, the robot turns itself on and its brain evolves from infant to adult in a matter of magnificent moments, giving it more daddy issues than all the Miss Golden Globes titlests combined. He, now definitely a gendered he, blanks Hank’s memory while he spends time off-page continually upgrading his body so that when readers get their first glimpse he introduces himself as Ultron-5.

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2000AD’s The Complete Futureshocks, Volume 1

Saturday, April 14th, 2018 | Posted by Derek Kunsken


In my ongoing study of comic history and the craft of comic storytelling, I’ve looked at the history of 2000AD, Alan Moore’s Halo Jones, and the density of comic layouts, in part because as a novelist and short story writer, I’m trying to learn things from other story forms. And comics have a lot to teach me about pacing, conciseness and story density.

And in no place are stories more dense than in 2000AD‘s Futureshocks. These are stories that range in length from 1.5 pages to 4 pages (basically 6-20 panels). Luckily for me, 2000AD is issuing a collection of their first 5 years of Futureshocks in The Complete Futureshocks Volume 1, and they sent me a review copy.

The Complete Futureshocks Volume 1 is over 300 pages of comics, which by my rough count is about 80 individual stories ranging in length from 1.5 – 4 pages, with a few rare ones that stretched across two issues and totalled 6-8 pages.

What did I learn from all these very brief science fiction stories? A few things.

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Reading Alan Moore’s Halo Jones for the First Time

Saturday, March 31st, 2018 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

Halo Jones cover-small

Talk long enough with people about the British comic publisher 2000AD and you’ll eventually get into a conversation about where The Ballad of Halo Jones fits in the ranking of Alan Moore’s work. A few people have said that Halo Jones is Alan Moore’s greatest work, and it is frequently called Moore’s unknown classic.

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Will Eisner: Ahead of His Time

Thursday, March 29th, 2018 | Posted by Thomas Parker

Will Eisner

Will Eisner

We are all in the habit of communicating in shorthand (perhaps now more than ever, in this era of emojis and tweets and texting) and often toss out clichés and smooth-worn phrases without pausing to consider what they might actually mean. It can hardly be otherwise, seeing that we are all in such a damnable hurry. (To ask where, exactly, we are hurrying to can make people uncomfortable, so I won’t ask.)

For this reason it might be useful to take one of these everyday expressions and give it a precise definition. The common phrase I have in mind is “ahead of his time.” I picked an easy one, so easy I can define it in just two words: Will Eisner.

I know this is hardly a contentious judgment. In the comics field, to speak the name of Will Eisner is like calling on the Lord Jehovah in the Sinai Desert; there is no higher name to invoke. After all, this is the man the comics industry has named its most prestigious award after. But to call an artist “ahead of his time” (or “the greatest artist-writer ever” or “a revolutionary genius,” all terms regularly applied to Eisner) means nothing without some idea of just what the standards of that time were and exactly how the winner of such praise compares to the competition.

So to put some flesh on the bare bones of the accolade, let’s go back to 1950 and take a look at the doings of the two most iconic heroes of the time, or maybe of any time — Batman and Superman, and compare them with a story from 1951, featuring Eisner’s signature creation, the Spirit, from near the end of the character’s run. (There’s no need to ask what the great Marvel heroes were doing in those days — Captain America and the Sub-Mariner were in limbo, and the Lee/Kirby/Ditko characters that dominated the sixties hadn’t been created yet. Marvel wasn’t even Marvel — the company was still called Timely, and with the postwar contraction of the superhero market it had decided to drop costumed crusaders and focus on monster comics.)

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Mage: The Hero Denied #7

Thursday, March 22nd, 2018 | Posted by MichaelPenkas

Mage 7As promised, one Mage review is delivered right on the heels of the other one. Starting off, Kevin is still on the trail of the Questing Beast. He can see the Beast’s footprints thanks to some magic eye-drops that he got from a magic pot dealer last issue. When he finally catches up with it, he sees the Questing Beast communicating with a little devil-child (he calls it an “imp”). The imp and the Beast dash off just as the eye drops wear out, leaving Kevin nauseous and vomiting in a public waste bin.

Meanwhile, Magda is trying to shrug off the advances of the school superintendent, only to find out too late that he’s an incubus in disguise. It’s interesting that the succubi dress in little more than nylon body stockings, while the incubi seem to prefer tailored suits. Whatever draws the eye, I guess. Unfortunately, he recognizes her as Kevin’s wife (no idea how) and reports to the Umbra Sprite that he’s captured her.

By the time Kevin wakes up the next morning, his wife and daughter have been kidnapped. He arrives just in time to see his son lured onto a school bus with dozens of redcaps. While various monsters come and go throughout all three volumes of this series, the redcaps have been around since near the beginning and seem to be the go-to beasties when a villain just needs a nasty little army to do a quick and dirty job.

The issue ends with a green ogre destroying Kevin’s house.

So, in this issue, Kevin’s wife and children are kidnapped by the Umbra Sprite and his house is destroyed. Kirby’s dead and Joe’s made it clear that he won’t be helping on any further adventures. Kevin still has no idea about the third Mage’s identity. He has no home, no allies, and no idea what to do next. If he could put his ego aside, he would go to Magda’s two witch sisters (last seen in volume two) and ask for their help. But I’ve got a feeling that he’s going to try handling things alone.

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Axle and Cam on the Planet Meco

Wednesday, March 21st, 2018 | Posted by Steve Carper

Axle and Cam on the Planet Meco introductory panel


Robot families are rare, especially metal ones. They’re rare even on the planet Meco, where little Cam is the only boy around. Cam has a father, and an uncle, and a grandfather. Good thing a female nurse is introduced in one episode or I’d have my doubts about the robot reproductive process.

“Axel and Cam on the Planet Meco” (Axle is Cam’s father) ran in about the last place you’d ever think to find a robot strip: Popeye Comics. The strip ran as a backup in #26-32, October-December 1953 to January-March 1955. Those were the heady years of stuff once reserved for pulp magazines slopping over into every crevice of popular culture.  Popeye was hired to pilot a rocket ship to the moon in a 1949 issue and Sherman, from the backup strip Axle & Cam replaced, took a ride in his father’s flying car in 1952.

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Mage: The Hero Denied #6

Tuesday, March 20th, 2018 | Posted by MichaelPenkas

Mage 6So I picked up issue 7 of Mage this week and realized that I’d never gotten around to reviewing issue 6, so expect another review to follow this one very soon.

Issue 5 ended with Kevin and Joe spotting the Questing Beast. Upon seeing the pair, the Beast takes off. Kevin tells Joe that he’s got to follow it. Kevin thinks that the Questing Beast could show him the way to the Fisher King. Joe’s response is that he’s out of this whole hero/quest thing and then leaving.

When Kevin gets home, he finds Magda waiting up for him. What follows is an argument that touches on some things that I’ve been going on about in earlier reviews. We learn that Kevin hasn’t had a regular job since he was twenty-two years old and that he’s been relying on that magic debit card for most of his adulthood. No idea how that sort of thing generates enough money for them to afford houses without anyone asking where the money comes from … unless everyone just assumes that Kevin is a drug dealer. The fact that Kevin hasn’t really used his powers to help anyone in this volume of the series, only fending off monsters that have come looking for him, makes Magda seem less like a killjoy and more like a wise friend offering good advice. On top of that, we’ve seen that Joe’s given up adventuring with no ill effects, while Kirby’s dedication to adventuring eventually got him killed.

Meanwhile, the Umbra Sprite is testing the city’s resident handicapped population to see if any of them are the Fisher King in disguise. Of course, the “test” involves opening a handbag full of flying piranhas on them. Anyone whom the flying piranhas (OK, she calls them Sluagh Sidhe) DON’T eat is the Fisher King. Needless to say, this ends with a lot of bone piles and no Fisher King. While the plan of setting up shelters in order to look for the Fisher King makes sense, we understand as readers that he likely won’t be found in such a conventional, undramatic fashion, so these interludes are mostly excuses to show the various grisly acts that the Umbra Sprite and her Gracklethorns are willing to commit.

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Looking at the Density of Comic Book Page Layouts

Saturday, March 17th, 2018 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

Eternals01-003 copy

I may have picked the most boring blog post title in history, but this is something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately.

I was listening to Kieron Gillen’s excellent podcast Decompressed. Decompressed is a look under the hood at the craft of comic book creation and in the 4th one, he interviewed Matt Fraction and David Aja, the creative team behind Marvel’s Hawkeye from 2012. During the episode, Matt Fraction mentioned that Hawkeye was meant to feel different from most of the mainstream comics at the time, especially with respect to how much compression there was.

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Derek Discovering Web Comics

Saturday, March 3rd, 2018 | Posted by Derek Kunsken


A lot of my Black Gate posts lean into the realm of the fantastic in sequential art, but until now, I’ve primarily stuck to the traditional comic book format, with some occasional diversions into older magazine-sized editions. A few weeks ago, I tweeted out a request for people to recommend web comics to me, because I’d never tried any.

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The Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog on the Best Comics & Graphic Novels of February 2018

Saturday, February 24th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Scales & Scoundrels-small Godshaper Simon Spurrier-small Grass Kings-small

I don’t have time to keep tabs on all the fabulous new comics showing up every week at my local comic shop, so I’m glad there are folks I trust who do. One of them is Ross Johnson at the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog, who checks in with a list of the 19 most promising new graphic novels this month. Here’s a few of the highlights.

Scales & Scoundrels, Vol. 1: Into the Dragon’s Maw, by Sebastian Girner, Galaad, and Jeff Powell

Girner and Galaad introduce a new breed of fantasy adventurer in Luvander, a tough loner who sets out on a quest to find what treasure awaits in “the Dragon’s Maw,” a labyrinth that she hopes will bring an end to her days of penniless wandering. The only problem: she needs a team. The colorful story offers a modern take on medieval-style fantasy with a light touch and a sense of the epic.

Godshaper, by Simon Spurrier and Jonas Goonface

Following the collapse of the laws of physics in 1958, everyone received their own personal deity, whose size, shape, and influence determines your fate. Then there are those women and men like Ennay, who were born without their own gods but with the power to shape the deities of others. Ennay meets up with Bud, a god without a human, and together, they wind up in the heart of a mystery. It’s a unique story with some lovely, colorful artwork.

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