Monday, May 15, 2017

Review: Ben Reilly - The Scarlet Spider #1

Ben Reilly, aka the Scarlet Spider, is my favorite superhero of all time. I even wrote a song about him once.

Due to his being my favorite hero, and the complexity of his comic book history, it would likely require an entire post for me to really explain who this guy is. In order to get to the review ASAP I will try my hardest to be brief here.

The character first appeared in Amazing Spider-Man #149, in 1975 as a clone of Peter Parker/Spider-Man created by the Jackal as a weapon against the web slinger. In the end both Spider-Men joined forces to take the villain down but the clone died in the exchange. Nineteen years later (in real time) Marvel Comics decided to revisit the old story by bringing the clone back to shake-up the then kind of off the rails Spider-Man books. Retroactively speaking, the clone actually survived and had spent the past five years (in comic book time) wandering the country until finally returning to New York City. Now calling himself “Ben Reilly” he decides to don a costume and fight crime, dubbed by the press as “the Scarlet Spider.”

This was the beginning of the Clone Saga, one of the most infamous storylines in comic book history. Long story short, Ben is revealed to be the real Spider-Man, Peter retires to have a baby with Mary Jane Watson Parker, Ben becomes Spider-Man for a short while, it turns out it was all an elaborate lie to torture Peter by the long thought dead Green Goblin who kills Ben for good thus paving the way for Pete to emerge as the one true Spider-Man. It’s a messy, messy plot that last for YEARS!

Also, the whole thing was a convoluted way to end the Spider-Marriage
Comics books are ridiculous
Fast forward twenty real-time years later, during the Clone Conspiracy storyline, where the Jackal returns having seemingly brought many dead Spider-Man supporting characters back to life. It was soon revealed that this Jackal was actually a revived Ben Reilly. Having been restored to life shortly after his death by the real Jackal, Ben was killed and resurrected dozens of times over due to MAD SCIENCE and the process ultimately drove him insane. This lead him to essentially become a new supervillain, which kind of bums me out but whatever.

Even before the storyline finished Marvel announced the first solo series starring Ben in twenty years, which is what we’ll be looking at today. Ben Reilly: The Scarlet Spider #1 is written by Peter David with art by Mark Bagley, with inks by John Dell and colors by Jason Keith. Though I cannot tell you how excited I am for new Scarlet Spider adventures the fact that Ben was reintroduced as a half-crazed supervillain makes me more than a little wary.

 Full, if cautiously optimistic, review after the jump.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Black Superheroes: Shard

Is that hair part of her mutation or because of a good salon?
Name: Shard Bishop

First Appearance: Uncanny X-Men Annual #17 (1993)

History: Shard Bishop was born roughly eighty years in the future. In her time mutants were rounded up into concentration camps and branded. It is in one such camp where she was raised. Once mutants were emancipated she found herself on the streets but was always looked after by her older brother Lucas. When Lucas joined the Xavier Security Enforcers, a mutant police force, Shard followed suit becoming the youngest graduated in the organization’s history. While on a mission Shard was killed in action by a group of vampire-like creatures known as Emplates. However her brainwaves were saved into a holographic projector that Lucas kept on him at all times, including when he was later trapped in the present. Eventually, during an accident, the projector was destroyed but Shard ended up being reborn as a being of living photonic energy. Now with a new lease on life Shard went on to join the government sponsored team X-Factor in a bid to make her own way outside of her brother’s shadow.

Beta Says: Here we have yet another character who has come back from the future to present times. Its weird how often that sort of thing happens in comic books, especially with X-Men related characters. Anyway the ridiculously named "Shard Bishop" obviously also hails from her gun toting brother’s bummer timeline but it seems that history has been less kind to her. While Bishop’s character was assassinated starting in Messiah Complex where he became depicted as a lunatic hell bent on murdering a child he has since been more or less redeemed and still has a few ongoing and limited solo comic series to his name. Hell, he was even in an X-Men live action movie once. Most comic book fans know who Bishop is, even if they aren’t familiar with his history. But Shard, on the other hand, is a woman who never gets talked about when discussing X-Men and, honestly, doesn’t come up all that often when discussed by other characters. Perhaps it was because she was never a member of the X-Men proper, or perhaps it was that she was only active for about seven years. Or maybe, just maybe, it was because she’s been dead the last seventeen years with no signs of her ever coming back. Yeah, that will definitely hurt your visibility.

More on this time displaced hologram woman after the jump.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Black Superheroes: The Blue Marvel

Blue is the new black!
(Also, black is still black)
Name: Adam Brashear

First Appearance: Adam – Legend of the Blue Marvel (2008)

History: Adam Brashear was a naturally gifted man. A brilliant scientist, a college football star and a decorated soldier; his accomplishments somewhat unrecognized due to the racism plaguing the United States at the time. Nevertheless, during the early 1960s, Adam was the team lead on a science experiment to try to harness antimatter. The experiment ended in disaster when the Negative Reactor that had been built exploded, bombarding Adam and his best friend, Conner Sims, with antimatter mutating them both. Conner became both physically and mentally unstable, and soon donned the villainous persona of Anti-Man, while Adam became a perfect, living antimatter reactor. Armed with superhuman strength, durability, speed and flight Brashear became the Blue Marvel and dedicated his life to fighting crime. For a about a year and a half the Blue Marvel was America’s greatest hero until his final battle with Anti-Man revealed him to the public as a black man, thus destroying the general populations trust in him. With racial tensions at an all-time high President John F. Kennedy personally, though reluctantly, requested that Blue Marvel retire. Out of patriotic duty, as well and genuine fear that his presence could start a nationwide race war, Adam agreed.

Forty-five years later Anti-Man returned to wreak destruction yet again, defeating the Avengers in the process. Iron Man came to Adam, still fit and vibrant due to his powers, asking for help. They succeeded in defeating Anti-Man once and for all and in the aftermath Brashear decided that the time was right to don his costume once more. The Blue Marvel lives again!

Beta Says: I feel I need to make sure this is clear; the Blue Marvel is NOT a character from the 1960s but a new character created in 2008 whose background was retroactively added to Marvel’s history. This isn’t out of the ordinary; both Marvel and DC have created characters that supposedly existed in decades past. Amazing-Man (a character who we’ll get to one day) is in a lot of ways DC’s equivalent to Blue Marvel as he was a character created in the 1980s who supposedly was a hero in the 1940s. However because Blue Marvel is an obvious Superman analogue the character that I assume he would draw the most comparison would be the Sentry. The Sentry is a goddamn garbage character whom I hate with the fiery passion of a million exploding suns. And yet I think Blue Marvel is pretty darn cool. Am I hypocrite? I mean, in addition to all the things I’m already hypocritical about.

More on Black Superman after the jump.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Black Superheroes: Mal Duncan

I think this is "Herald" but I CANNOT  keep these names straight
Name: Malcolm Duncan

First Appearance: Teen Titans #26 (1970)

History: Born in raised in the inner city, Mal Duncan had a chance encounter with the Teen Titans where he saved their lives. Impressed with Mal's fighting skills the team offered him the chance to join their ranks despite his lack of superpowers. While Mal often felt out of place due to not having super human abilities (and occasionally because of his race) he proved to be a vital member of the team for years. During his tenure as a superhero Mal adopted several identities including Guardian (after donning an exoskeleton granting him enhanced physical stats), Hornblower (after earning a magic horn that, when blown, evens the odds of any fight he is in), the Herald (where he had a technological horn rather than a magic one) and more recently Vox (gaining sonic powers due to cybernetic enhancements). In addition to being a Teen Titan Mal has been a member of Doom Patrol and is in a long time relationship with fellow hero Bumblebee .

Beta Says: Well friends, it's time for me to eat a little crow as I was a bit short with Mal in my write-up for Bumblebee a few years ago. The fact is that Mal Duncan is not only a very important figure in Teen Titans lore he is, historically speaking, one of the most important black characters in superhero comics. While I can’t find specific confirmation for this, Mal might be DC's first successful African-American superhero creation, predating both John Stewart and Black Lightning! Despite this Mal doesn't get anywhere near the recognition he deserves (i.e., no recognition). Even if you discount his historical significance you can there is still at least one reason you need to respect this dude: one time, fairly early in his existence, he is killed but then subsequently challenges Azrael, the Angel of Death, to a fist fight for the right to come back to life...and wins! Mal may be greatest comic book creation in history!

So why then has Mal Duncan drifted so far in though the background when he should be considered on the same level of importance as the likes of Storm, Black Lightning and Black Panther? I'm sure there were all sorts of factors but politics and racism seem to be at play. What a refreshing change of pace for 1970s comics.

More on Guardian/Hornblower/Herald/Vox/Mal after the jump.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Review in Progress: Countdown #51 - #41

In 2007 DC Comics was bringing their critically acclaimed, yearlong limited series 52 to a conclusion. I hadn't read a single issue of that comic and it killed me. The reviews were great and what I had glimpsed of the story was epic. As luck would have it in those final weeks and months DC begun releasing teasers for a follow-up called "Countdown" which would also be a yearlong/weekly series. Knowing how well received 52 had been I promised myself that I would buy every issue of the comic without fail so I could capture what I had missed out on during the previous twelve months. And, sure enough, I kept my promise.

It was the single biggest blunder of my comic book fandom.

Countdown sucked, plain and simple. When it was over I had never felt so grateful to be done with a comic book in my life. Once it was complete I tossed the books un-bagged and un-boarded on a bookshelf in my rented house and never thought of them again. Good riddance to bad rubbish.

Nearly ten years later, during a move, those same comics came back into my possession having been bounced around un-read through a few houses of friends of mine. They were mostly undamaged. Initially I thought that maybe I should just toss them out to make space but then I thought it might be more fun to revisit them. After all it had been a decade. I'm older, I'm wiser and perhaps I might be able to appreciate the comic more. Perhaps I was too hasty in my judgment back then. And what's the point of revisiting such an epic comic if you don't document your thoughts and stick them on the internet?

So here's what's going on: I will read every issue of Countdown and talk about it in a "Review in Progress". This will be several parts, with each post looking at a batch of issues (this first one looks at the first eleven issues). I probably won't be releasing them super regularly but the plan is to have the entire run reviewed by the summer at the latest. We'll see. If you would like more information regarding background story information feel free to check out my previous blogs "Countdown to Countdown Parts One Two”.

Countdown #51 to #41 after the jump.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Countdown to Countdown, Part II

I feel like most of this stuff doesn't play out in Countdown
Better buy every DC Comic to make sure
We've reached the second and final part of the Countdown pre-blog. If you haven't yet be sure to check out Part I. I'll wait.

There are a lot of characters in Countdown and we follow a lot of plot lines, much like in 52. While looking at every single character that is important in this book would not only be hard to write and hard to read but it would also spoil important plots that I’m not willing to do. (“Yet”, I should say. Trust me; I’ll be spoiling the hell out of this series once we get to the reviews).

However there are certain key characters that I think would be helpful for someone reading my review to have passing knowledge of and know what they were up too leading up to the series. For example, the average person reading this may not know who Kyle Rayner is, that Donna Troy is one of DC’s most complicated characters or that Superman was once Jimmy Olsen’s abusive father.

Superman: "Your love and admiration disgusts me, Jimmy."
Okay, that last one isn’t really all that important, but still…never forget.
Important character notes after the jump.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Countdown to Countdown, Part I

Don't worry; most of this foreshadowing leads nowhere
Today Beta is Dead turns seven years old! Just typing that out made me feel depressed suddenly…

Anyway, I recently moved to a new place and during the process a certain stack of comics came back into my possession, despite me having lost access to them nearly six years earlier; I found every single issue of DC Comic’s Countdown to Final Crisis. This is my least favorite goddamn comic of all time and I’m going to review the hell out of it! Yes, I dislike it more than Spider-Man: One More Day, not because OMD is better (it sure as shit isn’t) but that story only spat in the face of one character’s mythos whereas Countdown took a dump on a huge chunk of the DC Universe. Plus, even though I hate it, OMD did result in many long lasting and (eventual) positive changes to the Spider-Man comics whereas every change and storyline point in Countdown was either retconned (retcon, short for "retroactive continuity"), forgotten or straight up ignored within a MONTH of the series’ end despite months of hype.

 So what is Countdown to Final Crisis? Well, it was a comic book limited series that ran weekly for an entire year beginning in 2007. It was the spiritual successor to the extremely well received 52, another year long comic that took place directly after the events of the big DC crossover Infinite Crisis and ran in real time, instead of the rolling time line most superhero comics adhere to (52 was also the first appearance of the new Batwoman, who I believe was the best new comic creation of the 2000s). The great success of 52 led Dan DiDio, then head honcho of DC Comics, to commission another such series. However, despite the critical success of 52 DiDio supposedly wasn’t a fan of it and opted for the new series to be a “superior” version of the comic. For context, this is the same guy who opted to wipe Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown out of existence and then get upset at fans at conventions who questioned the decision at Q&A sessions at comic conventions. Anyway, though it’s not immediately clear in the beginning it would turn out that Countdown was the lead-up to DC’s next big crossover event, Final Crisis.

 I think I’ll save my exact issues with the comic itself for the review, which will be split into several parts. For today I want to look at the lead-in to Countdown, as this book has a lot of baggage that the Average Joe would need to know before they could possibly understand it (but don’t get it twisted; this comic won’t make any sense no matter what). So this is sort of a “Countdown to Countdown to Final Crisis.”

The Countdown begins after the jump.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Beta's Top Ten Favorite Movies of 2016

I’ve managed to put together another Top Ten Movie list but before I get to that I want to quickly talk about the the current state of Beta is Dead. I have plans to start posting regularly again, though what ultimately turns out to be “regularly” I cannot at this time assume. That said I have plans for the beginning of a new series of blogs starting January 14th (to coincide with the anniversary of the blog) which I have been planning for a while as well as the annual Black Superhero Month in February. We’ll see how it goes; best laid plans and all that.

Alright, enough of that jibber jabber. 2016 was not a great year and as far as movies went there were probably more disappointments than winners. That said there were still plenty of good films out there all year round, so much so that I actually had a hard time figuring out which movie would make the list. For example the likes of Deadpool and Star Trek Beyond just barely didn’t make the list. And, as always, I’m just one man with a full time job so my ability to see every movie in theaters was severely limited and as a result I missed a lot of flicks that acquired critical buzz. Moonlight, Jackie, Fences and others all alluded me this year and therefore weren’t considered. Loud sigh.

My ten personal favorite movies of the year after the jump.
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