Sagas in Panels #2

Jeff Hargarten

Comics to read before you die

It’s no surprise Internet is full of comic book fans and has no shortage of opinions. Therefore, it’s expected many different lists of comic suggestions exist on cyberspace, many suggesting that you need to read certain issues, story arcs and graphic novels before your inevitable death.

Empire: The 30 Comic Books You Should Have Read

BuzzFeed: 60 Comics Everyone Should Read

Comic Book Resources: Comics You Should Own

IGN: The 25 Greatest Batman Graphic Novels

Forbidden Planet: 50 Best of the Best Graphic Novels

Complex: The 25 Comic Books You Need to Read Before You Die

But if there are 15 books to start out with on the road to comic book literacy, these would be it, in no particular order:

·         The Long Halloween

·         Batman: Year One

·         Blankets

·         Watchmen

·         Batman: The Long Halloween

·         The Dark Knight Returns

·         DMZ

·         Kingdom Come

·         Astonishing X-Men

·         Maus

·         Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes

·         Transmetropolitan

·         X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills

·         Hellblazer

·         Daredevil: Born Again

“Agents” turns to the comic pages

Marvel’s “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D” plods onward, approaching its season finale slowly and sans any big reveal. The show wasn’t on this week, for unexplained reasons, but it will return Tuesday, Feb. 4, with an apparent upcoming cameo by none other than Stan “The Man” Lee himself.

We’re still waiting for Lady Sif’s cameo and for some serious twists and turns, as promised by ABC execs. The first of those twists seems to be that Marvel’s cybernetic hero Deathlok will make his Marvel Cinematic Universe debut on AoS and that it will be none other than Mike Peterson (played by J. August Richards of “Angel” fame), the superhuman character from the pilot.

AoS has been criticized for being too isolated from both its comic book roots and the greater MCU, so this seems like a move ripped from the “Arrow” playbook. But this version of Deathlok does not (yet) bare many similarities to any of his comic incarnations. It appears Joss Whedon seems content to keep forging his own path instead of retreading classic comic storylines.

As the first season nears its end, fans have been speculating over the identity of the show’s current “big bad” — the unseen force known as “The Clairvoyant” who has used many cybernetically-controlled characters as pawns through the show, but has never been revealed. We’ve been promised that the character’s identity will come as a shock and fans have kicked around everyone from Loki (Tom Hiddleston from the “Thor” and “Avengers” films) to some tie-in with Marvel’s upcoming “Captain America: Winter Soldier,” a film steeped in S.H.I.E.L.D.-related elements.

The latter seems most likely, but you never know. Joss Whedon (when allowed creative freedom) is known for messing with fan expectations by throwing curveballs, of which AoS is in desperate need.

Sorting the unified universes

With the raging success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, shared film universes are all the rage, and every major movie studio seems to want one. This is great for fans who get to continue being catered to by major media giants as this current golden age of comic book adaptations marches forward. It also more accurately represents the stories told in comic book pages, where crossovers between titles are the norm.

But because so many of these comic character properties are spread across multiple studios, it can be confusing to keep track of what franchises are crossing over and which are legally barred from doing so.

Marvel Studios: The Avengers

The Disney-owned Marvel Studios, which was successful before its purchase by Mickey Mouse, seems to be largely left to its own devices in the capable hands of producer Kevin Feige, who has been credited with building a popular shared universe that has somehow seamlessly integrated films based on the company’s Avengers properties.

Marvel Studios has its film productions planned out in phases, usually featuring two film releases a year, each phase ending with an “Avengers” film thus far.

Phase One
Iron Man (2008)
The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Iron Man 2(2010)
Thor (2011)
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Marvel’s The Avengers (2012)

Phase Two
Iron Man 3 (2013)
Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Captain America: Winter Soldier (April 4, 2014)
Guardians of the Galaxy (August 1, 2014)
Avengers: Age of Ultron (May 1, 2015)

Phase Three
Ant-Man (2015)
Thor 3
Captain America 3

More Phase Three announcements are being made all the time, but it’s likely to end with another Joss Whedon-directed Avengers film.

Nearly all of those films are based on Avengers characters. That’s because Marvel does not have the film rights — which it sold to other studios before Marvel Studios existed — for its most popular characters: Spider-man and the X-Men.

FOX: X-Men and Fantastic Four

The original “X-Men” film from 2000 is often considered to have been the opening salvo that launched the frenzy of critically-and-commercially-successful comic book film adaptations. Because it’s extremely profitable and popular, FOX is unlikely to relinquish control of X-Men’s movie rights back to Marvel, especially since it keeps making more.

There’s building excitement for the Brian Singer-headed “X-Men: Days of Future Past” (check out the slew of impressive Empire Magazine covers featuring chararacters from the film) coming out this summer. But there are some other big announcements as FOX tries to develop its own shared universe based on Marvel properties.

There have been three Fantastic Four movies, one way back in 1994 that was never released and the two more recent entries that were widely considered to be terrible. So, it’s not surprising FOX is looking to reboot Marvel’s First Family with new films that share a universe with its successful X-Men franchise.

To further expand its new cinematic universe, FOX apparently has cast Channing Tatum to star as Gambit in a new solo film. The last time we saw the X-Men’s card-wielding Cajun was in the oh-so-forgettable “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” where he was played by Taylor Kitsch and appeared in close proximity to will.i.am. Hopefully, the new Gambit movie will be a lot truer to its comic book roots and explain where the hell the character has been for six X-Men movies.

If Brian Singer takes on the Kevin Feige role for FOX and spearheads this shared universe, it could be great. But since most of these films will be integrated in hindsight, that means “Days of Future Past” has some impressive time travelling mojo to pull off in order to eliminate the huge number of continuity errors already present in the series.

Sony: Spider-man

Sony has clung on to Spider-Man since 2001’s memorable film with Tobey Maguire in the lead. After the Sam Raimi-directed franchise ended in ignominy with 2007’s ill-fated “Spider-man 3,” Sony was left in a situation where they were legally-obligated to make another Spider-Man film lest the rights fall back to Marvel.

With Andrew Garfield behind the mask, 2012’s “The Amazing Spider-Man” was well-received and far truer to its comic roots than Raimi’s films. Instead of embracing the monster-of-the-week storylines of the original franchise, it setup a multi-film storyline and teased coming villians – kind of like a big screen version of “Arrow.”

Along with another TAS film this coming May, Sony also has its sights set to spinoff more movies in the franchise. Rumored projects include movies based on Spider-Man foes Venom and the Sinister Six.

This franchise seems to be in the capable hands of Avi Arad, the man who brought us the original “Spider-Man” Saturday morning cartoon series from the ‘90s, so it should stay true to the beloved characters.

Warner Bros: D.C. Universe

After reading all that, one can’t help but wonder how Marvel Comics has managed to have three shared movie universes in production among multiple studios while D.C. and Warner Bros. have struggled to launch even one.

While Christopher Nolan’s “Batman” films were crushing successes, the first actual entry into the D.C. Cinematic Universe was last year’s “Man of Steel” — a film that received mixed reviews at best and  eventually made its money back. So, it’s off to a rough start.

Things got even rougher when Ben Affleck was controversially cast as Bruce Wayne/Batman in the upcoming sequel tentatively titled “Batman vs. Superman” — a film concept that has been in production Hell for decades. Further controversy came from casting announcements that actress Gal Gadot would play Wonder Woman in the movie and now has a three picture deal as the Amazonian princess.

Things got stranger this past week when after months of speculation, the studio cast Jesse Eisenburg (“The Social Network”) to play Lex Luthor in the film and Jeremy Irons (Scar from “The Lion King”) to play Alfred. Cue the jokes about Lex Luthor stealing Facebook from Spider-man.

The Internet seems to have given off a collective, “Umm, what?” followed by a shrug of indifference as fan expectations continue to be bludgeoned to death by Warner Bros.

The next Superman film will be far from a Superman film; it appears to be more of a setup for a long-awaited Justice League movie. Forbes has a great piece about this mess and how the studio is trying to rebrand the film.

While D.C. properties have thrived on television and “Arrow” might be part of the DCCU, it just has not figured out how to adapt its wholly darker, more detached stories into successful movies in the same way that Marvel has its lighter-hearted, more human fare. That Marvel has achieved scores of critically and commercially successful films (they have collectively earned millions and all have fresh scores on Rotten Tomatoes) and D.C.-based movies are few, far between and of uneven quality is not surprising to many comic book fans considering the studio’s history with such things. Check out Kevin Smith’s lengthy and hilarious diatribe where he describes his experience almost writing for a Superman film that never really came into being.

Next time: Making sense of the chaotic world of comic book retcons, reviewing the latest on “Arrow” and “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and reviewing those comic film Super Bowl ad spots.