To be honest, I’ve been a little bit bored with the MCU lately. I mean, the Spider-Man films were fun and WandaVision was certainly better than I was expecting it to be but, for the most part, it’s been hard to shake the feeling that, post-Endgame, the MCU has lost a bit of its spark. Endgame was such a logical place to stop that everything that’s come after it has felt a bit superfluous.
Still, if anyone can respark my interest in the MCU, it would be James Gunn and the Guardians of the Galaxy. And, fortunately, they’ve got a new film coming out next year! Here’s the trailer, which seems to promise that the Guardians will continue to poke subtle fun at the conventions of the MCU while also using those conventions to their advantage.
At the very least, it should have a good soundtrack.
It’s easy to forget now, but when Marvel Studios launched in 2008, the move was met with a fair amount of then-understandable skepticism — after all, not only had the publisher sold away the film and TV rights to most of its “A-list” characters in a series of bad deals largely brokered by Smilin’ Stan Lee himself, they’d also sold off a fair number of “B-listers” as well : Spider-Man was unavailable for them to use, as were the X-Men, but so were also-rans such as Daredevil and The Punisher. The cupboard wasn’t bare, by any means, but properties such as Iron Man and Captain America — while they certainly had their fans — were nothing the major studio players were all that interested in. It’s fair to say, in fact, that at the time of the MCU’s genesis, the most bankable character under the company’s control was The Hulk, the rights to whom had reverted back to Marvel after Universal declined to produce a follow-up to Ang Lee’s 2003 box office disaster featuring the big green guy.
My, how times change. Nearly 15 years on, not only are Iron Man, Captain America, Daredevil, and The Punisher more popular with movie-going audiences than Batman and Superman, people are forking over hefty monthly subscription fees to Disney Plus to watch shows featuring such formerly-bottom-tier characters as Moon Knight, The Vision, Winter Soldier, and Loki. Hell, even joke properties like Ant-Man have become box office gold. Odds are pretty good that, at this point, Marvel would even turn a hefty profit off the likes of Alpha Flight or Damage Control, so insatiable is the public’s appetite for their product.
All of which, believe it or not, is my long-winded way of getting back to the title of this short series and assuring you, dear reader, that the question I’m asking is NOT a rhetorical one — at least not in all cases. Admittedly, there are comics publishers that clearly and obviously DO need readers — in fact, we’ve spilled a generous amount of digital ink on this very site examining how the burgeoning YA market has forever altered the publishing strategy of one company, in particular, as they appear to be abandoning their artistic principles wholesale in an attempt to chase down a readership that may not even be there for the taking at this point and trust me when I say that what’s true for Drawn+Quarterly is just as true for Top Shelf, although the scale is vastly different given the latter puts out five or six books per year while the former puts out 30-40. So, yeah, SOME publishers still rely on people BUYING, READING, and maybe even LIKING their books — but what about everyone else?
Certainly, Marvel’s success in the “wider world” hasn’t translated into any sort of appreciable sales bump for their printed product — the comics market as a whole is slightly up compared to where it was a few years ago, and up a bit more than that if we cast our sights back a decade or so, but the idea that a comic like Thor only moves a thousand or two more copies a month than it did BEFORE three multi-million-dollar blockbusters were extrapolated from it has to be considered something of a disappointment no matter how one chooses to look at it. Ditto for Spider-Man. And The X-Men. And Doctor Strange. And — well, all of ’em. Clearly, then, some sort of fundamental disconnect exists between the “comics crowd” and the “movie crowd,” even when it comes to the EXACT SAME characters and content.
In fact, the two markets are so completely divorced from one another at this point that Marvel and DC aren’t even really bothering with one of the oldest tricks in the book anymore : launching a new series to coincide with the release of a big-budget film. When DC did this back in 1989, releasing the new Batman series Legends Of The Dark Knight at roughly the same time as Tim Burton’s Batman film, the results were spectacular, with LOTDK #1 becoming the biggest-selling comic of the year and the biggest-selling first issue of ANY comic in almost 50 YEARS. By the time 2012 rolled around and Marvel released a new Avengers #1 within weeks of Joss Whedon’s The Avengers movie, though, no one gave a shit and the series fizzled out within a few short years — only to be replaced by ANOTHER new Avengers #1 just in time for the Avengers : Age Of Ultron flick. That title was even shorter-lived, however, and by the time the third and fourth Avengers films rolled around, Marvel had thrown in the towel on the whole concept of cashing in quick with new comics to accompany new movies.
Obviously, then, REALLY popular films don’t translate into comic book sales, but the reverse is also true : REALLY popular comics don’t necessarily lead to box office fortunes. DC has learned this the hard way more than Marvel has, of course, with top-selling titles like Watchmen and top-selling storylines like the death of Superman failing to catch fire with theater-goers (although the widely-held view that Batman V. Superman‘s $900 million box office take represented a “disappointment” may have more to do with a successful “whisper campaign” directed against both the film and its fortunes than it does with financial realities — I mean, come on, I know we live in absurd times, but the idea that a movie that rakes in just under a BILLION DOLLARS is a “flop” is just plain nuts), but in its own way this is just further proof of the argument that I’m laying out, is it not? Comic book CHARACTERS are more popular than ever, but comic books THEMSELVES are almost becoming surplus to requirements, while comic book SALES offer nothing by way of a “leading indicator” as to what will or won’t be popular with the broader, entertainment-starved public.
From a purely logical point of view, nothing about this makes any real sense, of course, but logic also dictates that the super-hero movie craze probably should have died out years ago, yet here we are. As is the case with the multinational banks, then, it appears as though we’ve entered a period of history where at least Marvel, and maybe even DC, are quite simply “too big to fail,” and we’re going to be stuck with them for the rest of our fucking lives — but how long will they even BOTHER sticking with an archaic “delivery system” for their stories?
Already Marvel Unlimited, the company’s digital comics platform, is more or less DARING readers to stick with printed periodicals, given they offer almost everything in the publisher’s vast back catalogue for something like six or seven bucks a month and have gone from having a one-year lag between print and digital availability to a mere a six months, and now just THREE months, while DC is doing their level best to chase off what readers they have left by slowly rolling out an absurdly high $4.99 cover price on more and more of their books. Factor in the inherently limited reach of so-called “direct market” distribution, and you honestly have to wonder if either of these companies even CARES about selling comics anymore, because it sure doesn’t look like it. Sure, they need stories to make movies out of, but more and more often what we see on the big screen bears little to no resemblance to any printed-page antecedent — original screenplays are taking the place of adapted ones, origins of characters are radically altered, entire modern-day mythologies are scrapped in favor of new, POST-modern ones. Hell, if you look at the comic book version of Aquaman and the cinematic version, about all they have in common is a name.
Admittedly, the demise of the monthly “floppy” has been predicted for years now and it has yet to come to pass, but I’m not really here to echo that death knell — Marvel and DC will continue to publish comics for as long as they FEEL like publishing comics. They simply don’t seem concerned about SELLING too many of them at this point, and aren’t going to invest any real capital into boosting their circulation figures. They need SOME readers, sure — but evidently not a whole lot of ’em. What they DON’T need is the publicity black eye they’d get from shutting down their publishing operations, so as long as they can run things on the cheap (and we all know they do), and make a few bucks’ profit at the end of the day, their parent companies will keep tolerating their continued existence as a necessary hassle.
So — do Marvel and DC need readers? I guess so. At least a few — and at least for now. What’s perhaps MORE surprising, though, is that there is a veritable gaggle of middle-rung publishers who don’t seem to need ANY readers AT ALL to stay afloat — but we’ll get into that next time.
This essay originally appeared on my Patreon site, and is presented here as part of a craven week-long event to gin up interest in getting YOU, dear reader, to subscribe to said site.
And, really, why not? You get three new posts on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics every week, and subscribing costs as little as a buck a month. Check it out over here : https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse
Back in 1954, Marvel Comics was known as Atlas and, like most publishing companies, it was putting out its share of horror-themed comics. In those days, before Fredric Wertham declared that comic books were destroying America’s youth and the industry sought to protect itself by creating the Comics Code Authority, comic books were full of stories about monsters, killers, and macabre revenge.
Published by Atlas, Menace was one of many horror comics to populate the nation’s newsstands in the 50s. It was an anthology series and today, it’s best remembered for featuring work from Golden Age artists like Bill Everett and George Tuska. The credited writer for the first eight issues was a young Stan Lee, decades away from becoming the public face of Marvel Comics.
Menace only ran for 11 issues but during that time, it introduced one character who would later make a comeback and become a part of the Marvel universe. That character was The Zombie!
Zombie was introduced in the top story of Menace #5 (July 1953). At the time, he had no name and was given no past, beyond having a daughter. Living in the swamps of Louisiana, he is controlled by a madman who orders the Zombie to mug someone in New Orleas. The Zombie goes down to the French Quarter (where, humorously, no one notices anything strange about him) but his attempt at mugging is thwarted by a policeman. The Zombie returns home, where his angry master orders the Zombie to attack the young woman that the master is in love with. His master wants to rescue the young woman and win her love. However, the woman reminds the Zombie of his daughter so the Zombie strangles his master instead!
It was a typical horror comic stuff, not quite as graphic as what EC was producing but still more macabre than what Marvel would later be known for. Though Menace only lasted for 6 more issues and the Comics Code would temporarily put an end to the horror comics boom, the Zombie would eventually return, with a slight makeover.
In the 1970s, when the Comics Code Authority finally started to loosen up, Marvel returned to publishing horror with vengeance. Along with comic books featuring Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, and Werewolf By Night, Marvel also published black-and-white horror magazines, which were not regulated by the Comics Code and could therefore include graphic violence, tame profanity, and cleavage, lots and lots of cleavage. Among those magazines was Tales of the Zombie.
The Zombie returned, now with longer hair and a backstory that established that he was once a millionaire named Simon Garth until his former gardener (his master from the original story) put him under a voodoo curse. The first issue of Tales of the Zombie featured an extended retelling of the first Zombie story. The subsequent issues followed the undead Simon as he haunted the bayous of Louisiana and fought other supernatural creatures. It turned out that there wasn’t really much that could be done with a mindless zombie and Tales of the Zombie only ran for 10 issues, one less than Menace. In 1975, Tales of the Zombie ended with Simon Garth finally reaching his final resting place and dying a second time.
But you know Marvel! No one, not even a zombie, dies forever. Simon Garth has since been resurrected, though he’s only been used sparingly. There’s not much that can be done with him but his first appearance in Menace remains popular and has since been included in many horror comic anthologies.
Due to the Pandemic, 2020 was the first year since 2009 not to see the release of any new Marvel films. Many people wondered if the MCU would be able to survive taking a year off. Would people still care about or even remember the Marvel movies without having a new one released every four months? With so many of the MCU’s most popular characters either dead or retired by the end of Avengers: Endgame, would viewers in a post-Pandemic world still flock to theaters to see what Marvel’s fourth phase had to offer?
The positive responses to Disney+’s WandaVision and Falcon and the Winter Soldier would seem to suggest that the answer is yes but the first real test will be when Black Widow, Shang-Chi, The Eternals, and the latest Spider-Man film are released later this year. Black Widow is the first solo movie of one of the Marvel’s most popular characters and Spider-Man is Spider-Man so both are expected to be blockbusters. The Eternals are less well-known but, because their movie was directed by Nomadland‘s Chloe Zhao, expectations are high. Shang-Chi is probably the biggest question mark but the trailer generated a lot of enthusiasm.
With Black Widow just a few months away from opening, Marvel Studios today released a sizzle reel to remind viewers of what’s coming out. After a brief look at Marvel’s past, the trailer provides footage of Black Widow, Shang-Chi, and, for the first time, The Eternals. It ends with a list of upcoming Marvel films, including the newly titled Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and The Marvels. (The Marvels is the sequel to Captain Marvel, presumably titled to remind people that there is more to the film than Brie Larson.) Finally, things end with a hint that The Fantastic Four will soon be joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
I know it’s popular these days among a certain coterie of Comic Book Buffs to bash Stan Lee’s contributions to the medium in favor of artist/collaborators Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko . You’ll never find me in that crowd. Not ever. I learned to read (with the help of my dad) at the tender age of three through comics… simple stuff at first, funny books like YOGI BEAR and BEETLE BAILEY. As I progressed into the realm of superheroes, my vocabulary improved thanks to writers like Gardner Fox, John Broome, and especially Stan Lee, who took me to Asgard and Outer Space with Shakespearean-styled dialog and college-level words that made me keep a dictionary always at the ready. Screw you, Dr. Frederic Wertham!!
The Titanic Trio: Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko
Stanley Martin Lieber was born December 28, 1922, the eldest son of immigrant parents (his younger sibling Larry…
In 1939, a 17 year-old aspiring writer named Stanley Lieber landed a job at Timely Comics in New York City.
At first, Stanley’s job was just to get coffee, make sure that the inkwells were full, and occasionally proofread copy. In 1941, when the third issue of Captain American Comics needed a text story so that it could be shipped as a magazine instead of just as a comic book, Stanley was assigned the job. Because the young man had an ambition to some day write the great American novel and felt that being associated with comic books would make it more difficult to convince publishers to take him seriously, Stanley Lieber wrote the story under a pseudonym, Stan Lee.
And the rest, as they say, is history. Timely eventually became Atlas and then Atlas was rebranded Marvel and, through it all, Stan Lee remained at the company, providing continuity from one decade to another. Ironically, for someone who originally feared being too associated with comic books, Stan Lee went on to become not only the face but, for several decades, the voice of Marvel Comics.
Among comic book historians, Stan Lee is an often divisive figure. By his own admission, Lee loved the spotlight and it can be argued that he unfairly overshadowed his publicity-shy colleagues. To solely give Lee the credit for creating characters like Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four does a disservice to the work of artists and writers like Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and so many others. As a company, Marvel has a deserved reputation for not treating its artists with the respect or the financial compensation that they deserved. How much of the responsibility for any of that falls on Lee’s shoulders is a controversial subject and will continue to be so for years to come.
What isn’t controversial was that, whether he hitting the college lecture circuit, recording the introductions for the animated Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends TV show, or giving interviews with publications like Playboy and Rolling Stone, there was never a bigger cheerleader for comic books than Stan Lee. At a time when DC comics was busy imitating the campy Batman TV show, Marvel Comics were, in their own way, dealing with world in which their readers lived. From the platform of Stan’s Soap Box, Stan Lee spoke against racism and prejudice. When the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare approached Lee to do a story about the dangers of drug abuse, Lee did it in defiance of the Comic Codes Authority. Three issues of Spider-Man were released without the CAA’s seal of approval, opening the way for all comic books to deal with real world issues.
Stan Lee as Mr. Fantastic in What If #11 (as drawn by Jack Kirby)
For many comic book readers who might have otherwise felt that they didn’t fit in, Stan Lee said, “Here, you do belong.” Today, it might seem easy to poke fun at Lee’s endless enthusiasm, his cries of “excelsior,” and the way that he called Marvel readers “true believers.” But for many readers, there was much comfort to be found in Lee’s corny sayings. Lee had a way of making readers feel as if they were all in it together. Whether you were a true believer or a member of the Merry Marvel Marching Society, you belonged. For kids who felt like outsiders, Lee was there to tell them that everyone was capable of being a hero, whether they had super powers or not.
In his twilight years, Lee was rediscovered by a new generation of fans. Spotting Lee’s trademark cameos became one of the pleasures of watching any Marvel film. Sometimes, he was a postman. In Deadpool, he worked in a strip club. More than once, he was a janitor. I once saw him driving a bus. In the second Guardians of the Galaxy film, he was sitting on the moon and telling the Watchers about his adventures on Earth and it just seemed like he was right where he belonged.
Stan Lee passed away today at the age of 95.
I knew I’d have to write this some day but I always hoped it wouldn’t be any time soon.
Josh Baker (Eric Roberts) is an extroverted artist for Marvel Comics who meets Cheryl (Janine Turner) while walking around New York City. Josh and Cheryl hit it off but when Cheryl suddenly collapses, she is picked up by a mysterious ambulance. When Josh goes to the hospital to check on her, he is told that Cheryl was never brought in. Soon, Josh discovers that people all over New York have been put into back of the ambulance and have never been seen again. Unfortunately, nobody believes Josh. Not the veteran NYPD detective (James Earl Jones) who Josh approaches with his suspicions. Not the staff of the hospital. Not even Stan Lee! The only people willing to support Josh are an elderly investigative reporter (Red Buttons) and an inexperienced detective (Megan Gallagher).
Yes, Stan Lee does play himself. While he had made a few cameo appearances on television and had previously narrated a French film, The Ambulance was Stan Lee’s first real film role. Josh works at an idealized version of Marvel Comics, where the artists are well-paid, no one is pressured into producing substandard work, and Lee is an avuncular father figure. It is the Marvel Comics that I used to imagine working at when I was growing up, before I found out about what actually happened to artists like Jack Kirby, Joe Simon, and Steve Ditko.
Idealized though it may be, the Marvel connection is appropriate because The Ambulance is essentially a comic book adventure. It does not matter how many times Josh gets hit by a car or falls out of a window, he always recovers in time for the next scene. When Josh does discover who is behind the ambulance, it turns out to be a villain who would not be out-of-place in a Ditko-era Spider-Man story.
The Ambulance is another one of Larry Cohen’s New York horror stories. Like most of Cohen’s films, it is pulpy, cheap, and entertaining. Eric Roberts is as crazy as ever and the movie is full of good character actors like James Earl Jones, Red Buttons, Richard Bright, and Eric Braeden. The Ambulance may be dumb but it is always entertaining.
Twentieth Century Fox has had a stranglehold on the film rights to one of Marvel Comics’ biggest properties: the X-Men and every character associated with them. So far, the studio has only taken the core X-Men and Wolverine properties and adapted them onto the big-screen to mixed results. Some fans of the properties have even come to see the Fox vision for these mutant characters as tame and water-down version of the classic comic book characters.
One such mutant character which had languished in development hell within Fox was the character of Deadpool. The so-called “Merc with a Mouth” had an off and on development cycle throughout the years. The character finally appeared in the forgettable Wolverine stand-alone film, X-Men Origins: Wolverine. The character was played by Ryan Reynolds and just like another superhero film (this time for DC as the classic character of Green Lantern) he starred in, this one bombed and he was starting to be seen as a curse on superhero projects his named gets attached to.
If there was one major effect that Marvel Studios’ success with their Marvel Cinematic Universe has had with the rest of the Hollywood studios was to force them to treat their comic book property licenses seriously. They had to embrace the comic book nature of the properties they held the license to and work with it instead of against it.
It looks like Fox might be doing just that with their R-rated attempt at the Deadpool live-action adaptation starring the star who campained long and hard to produce and star as the title character: Ryan Reynolds. If the tone we’ve seen with the Comic-Con trailer and this latest red band trailer is any indication then the Ryan Reynolds superhero curse could be ending in early February of 2012.
Deadpool is set for a February 12, 2016 release date.
Captain America is the best remembered and most prominent hero from the Golden Age of Marvel Comics (or, as the company was known back then, Timely Comics). One reason why Captain America: The First Avenger was so successful was because it exploited the nostalgia that audiences had for that golden age, a time when the world was united against the greatest evil known to man and there was no doubt who was fighting for good and who was fighting for evil.
However, Captain America was not the only Marvel super hero fighting gangsters and Nazis during the 1940s. If Marvel Studios ever decides to take another trip back to World War II, these five Golden Age heroes would be worthy additions to the MCU.
The Blonde Phantom
Created by Stan Lee and artist Syd Shores and first introduced in 1946, The Blonde Phantom was a part of Marvel’s post-war attempt to appeal to young female readers.
Originally from Hoboken, New Jersey, Louise Grant was the secretary to private detective Mark Mason. Bored with her job and in love with Mark, Louise would regularly grab a .45 caliber pistol, don the sultry disguise of the Blonde Phantom, and help her boss solve his cases. While Mark barely noticed his loyal secretary, he fell in love with the Blonde Phantom.
It would be tricky to reimagine the Blonde Phantom from a modern perspective but I think it could be done. Instead of emphasizing Louise’s unrequited crush on the sexist Mark, a modern Blonde Phantom film would focus on how becoming the Blonde Phantom allows Louise to discover her own inner strength. As Agent Carter proved, there is an audience for a strong female character in a period setting.
Introduced in 1940 and created by George Kapitan and Harry Sahle, Claire Voyant (who was also known as The Black Widow, long before the first appearance of Natasha Ramanoff) is considered to be the first costumed female super hero and also one of the darkest.
A medium, Claire is possessed by Satan and used to put a curse on the Wagler Family. After most of the family is killed in a car accident, the sole remaining Wagler shoots and kills Claire. Claire immediately goes to Hell, where Satan himself gives her the power to kill by simply touching her victim’s forehead. Satan then sends Claire back among the living, on a mission to kill evil doers so that Satan can claim their souls before they have a chance to repent and ask for forgiveness.
Along with her dark origin story and her flirtatious relationship with Satan, Claire Voyant was distinguished by both her lack of remorse when it came to killing and for having the sharpest eyebrows of almost any character from the Golden Age. As the star of her own MCU film, she would provide an interesting contrast to the wholesomeness of Captain America.
A journalist-turned-spy, Keen Marlow was captured behind-the-lines in Nazi Germany. Held in a prison-of-war camp, Marlow met Prof. Eric Schmitt, an anti-Nazi German scientist who had created a serum that was similar to the one that was used to transform frail Steve Rogers into Captain America. After taking the serum, Marlow donned a mask and a dark costume and used his new powers to battle the Nazis from within Germany.
The Destroyer was a popular character during the Golden Age, though he was never as prominent as Captain America, The Human Torch, or the Submariner. The Destroyer became far more interesting when his origin was retconned in the 1970s and it was revealed the Keen Marlow was an alias used by British aristocrat Brian Falsworth. Before the start of World War II, Falsworth had been a prominent supporter of appeasement. By becoming The Destroyer, Falsworth both defended his country and sought redemption. When Falsworth eventually took on yet another costumed identity (Union Jack), his friend Roger Aubrey took over the role of the Destroyer.
The Destroyer was one of the first super hero characters to be created by Stan Lee. Not only is his origin similar to Captain America’s (Cap was introduced in March of 1941 and the Destroyer made his debut nine months later) but it is also a forerunner to Iron Man’s.
Namor the Submariner
Created by artist and writer Bill Everett, Namor was the son of human boat captain Leonard McKenzie and Fen, the daughter of the emperor of the undersea kingdom of Atlantis. As a hybrid, Namor had the ability to live under water but, with his human appearance, he could also go above the surface and safely mix with human society as well. While the arrogant and hot-tempered Namor had little use for humanity (with the exception of New York City policewoman Betty Dean), he did side with the Allies in the war against the Nazis.
Despite being a prominent member of the Marvel Universe for over 70 years, Namor has yet to even appear in a movie. Not only was he one of the most popular of the Marvel Golden Age heroes but his battle with the original Human Torch has regularly been cited as being the birth of the Marvel Universe. Unlike many Golden Age characters, Namor remains active today, sometimes fighting for humanity and sometimes trying to destroy it.
There have been efforts to make a movie about Namor but, so far, none of them have been successful. Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige has said that there are many deals and contracts that need to be sorted out before it can be definitely determined who owns the rights to the character. It will probably be a while before the Submariner swims to a theater near you.
The Phantom Reporter
The Phantom Reporter is actually Dick Jones, a former all-American fullback who was also a college boxing, wrestling, and fencing champion. As a reporter, Dick always tried to protect those who could not defend themselves. When he couldn’t help them as a journalist, he would put on a mask, a suit, and a cape and he would battle evildoers.
The Phantom Reporter only appeared in one Golden Age comic book, 1941’s Daring Mystery Comic Books #3. 65 years later, he was brought back as one of the lead characters in The Twelve, a limited series about a group of World War II super heroes who, after spending decades in suspended animation, are revived in the 21st Century. Returning to his career as both a costumed hero and a journalist, The Phantom Reporter also develops an unlikely relationship with Claire Voyant.
The perfect Phantom Reporter movie would be a cross between the screwball comedy of The Front Page and the heroics of Captain America. It would be a reminder that not all heroes have super powers. Some of them just have the desire to do the right thing.
Okay, if we want to be technically accurate about things, I guess we could say that last month’s opening installment of George Romero’s Empire Of The Dead : Act Three was the “beginning of the end,” since it appears that some combination of editorial decision-making on Marvel’s part and agreement among the book’s creators (specifically, I’m sure, Romero himself) has come about to wrap this four-color epic up a bit sooner than originally announced (after three five-issue “arcs” rather than the previously-mentioned four or five — that’s what selling fewer than 10,000 copies a month does, ya know), but it didn’t really feel like the big wrap-up was imminent until this second issue hit the stands today. Gone is some of the dilly-dallying that had slowed down previous issues here and there, gone are a fair number of the supporting players (although they’re sure to be back), and, most crucially — gone are the zombies!
Seriously. There’s not a one of ’em to be found in the pages of this book. And that’s more than just a little weird.
Wih the “shamblers” having temporarily shambled off-stage, our erstwhile “street urchin,” Jo, takes commands the spotlight for about the first half of this issue, as she makes a new friend in her detention center/concentration camp, and the two of them quickly try to effect an escape once they figure out —or at least make an educated guess at — the true purpose of their new “home.” After that, it’s back to the “palace intrigue” swirling around Mayor Chandrake, his less-than-faithful wife, and his quickly-falling-apart-at-the-seams political opponent, Chilly Dobbs. Trust me when I say if our vampiric sitting chief executive of New York can’t beat this guy, well — he just plain doesn’t deserve to stay in office.
Dr. Penny Jones pops up for a brief moment — as seen below — but don’t expect any appearances from Paul Barnum. Detective Perez, or Xavier this time out — the action here is pretty concentrated and generally of the “set-up-for-a-big-climax” variety. The “rebel crew” once — and possibly still, to some extent — allied with Dixie Peach has a big part to play, though, as they reveal an audacious scheme to rip off the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in the midst of all their otherwise-random destruction — and that destruction finally begins in earnest as this issue wraps up.
As you can see from the preview pages I’ve included with this review (feeling decidedly un-lazy today), Andrea Mutti continues with his obviously-Maleev-influenced ways here and the art looks pretty good on the whole, certainly a step up from what we were served in the second act, while Romero, for his part, has thrown all subtlety out the window with his scripting and is painting his characters with pretty broad brush-strokes at this point. Yeah, it may be clumsy at times, but it serves the purposes of the story just fine now that we’re in “time is definitely of the essence” mode.
So, yeah — the end is nigh, and in Empire Of The Dead : Act Two #3 you can definitely feel it fast approaching. The once-sprawling chessboard is getting tighter and tighter as the pieces move ever closer together and the moves they’re able to make become reduced exponentially. I have a pretty solid feel of where it’s all going and where each of our players is going to end up once it’s finished, but I certainly wouldn’t put it past Romero to still have a wild card or two left in his hand (shit, I’m mixing my game metaphors here) that he’s saving for precisely the right moment.