Category: Comic Geekery

In Every Heart Lies a (Super)Hero

X-Men fascinated me as a kid and remains my favorite comic to date. Here are a group of individuals whom the world hates and fears, and yet despite persecution, they continue to fight for a greater good. These heroes are a reflection of ourselves and what we aspire to be in times of need. Superheroes aren’t about powers, they’re about a hope of our own potential.

Superheroes aren’t about powers, they’re about a hope of our own potential

I grew up gay in the Northern woods of Maine. Let’s discuss growing up being hated, ostracized, and ridiculed. I was different even before I understood the word. I hid with comic books, receding into a world of fantastical stories, except, in the comics I read, those who were different didn’t hide. X-Men presented an alternative narrative, a window into another world in which I embraced my differences and stood up to injustice. The greatest moments in comics aren’t the use of adamantium claws or telekinesis, they’re the moments when the hero stood and said, “No more.”

I wanted to be a hero.

As an adolescent, I related most to X-Men’s Rogue. This young mutant discovers she has the ability to steal powers, but every time risks killing her victim. Stories revolved around her questioning this curse and how she wanted to be “normal.” Her teammates would ask why she would want to give up this gift, and as an adolescent, I sympathized with this quest for normalcy. But despite her internal struggle, she reluctantly fought to save the same world stoking her inner demons. The first time I threw a fist in school, it was to silence a bigot. My knuckles hurt and I left covered in bruises, but I walked away with a sense of pride. My differences made me a mark. My stature made me strong. For the first time, I let go of an internal struggle and felt the pieces of my identity fall into place. I started my quest to become a hero.

I continued to read comics as I formed my sense of self. I sympathized with Rogue’s desire for normalcy, but I started to see these differences as a strength. I started to see myself as Colossus, the soul of an artist with a moral compass always pointing North. Reluctant to take up arms, Piotr Rasputin used his gifts to protect his adopted family and make the world a better place. While my muscles may not be quite that large or my hide quite so steely, as an adult, I understand the struggle to do what’s right in the face adversity. As I read about firefighters rushing into burning buildings and police officers returning children to families, I see the world has heroes. We as a society look on wondering, “If I were in their shoes, could I be heroic?”

I spend copious amounts of time wondering about the legacy I will leave on the world when I die. I am a teacher by trade and each day I stand in front of a room filled with tiny potential villains. Some of my wards have discovered who they are, but for the most part, they are just beginning to explore who they may be for the rest of their lives. It’s not easy, and in the world we live in, there are so many screaming voices demanding they be one thing or another. In my classroom I am Charles Xavier, an individual demanding the best and giving them safe refuge from a world that quite frankly, needs to shut the fuck up. On most days, I feel like a useless employee, but every once in a while, I walk away feeling like a hero.

When I started writing, it was an outlet to poke fun at a job that made me miserable. My characters were comical and thrown into outlandish situations similar to the Scooby Doo and the gang. The Suburban Zombie Series isn’t a life changing piece of literature but a coping mechanism, an escape from a dull workplace into something more lively. It was while looking through notebook from middle school that I found comic scripts created by kids who were different. Sitting in a dining room drawing and writing away, they tried to make sense of a world where they didn’t quite fit in. Nighthawks is an homage to the heart of those kids. Even as I wrote the first book, I found myself caught in an internal struggle, one I’m not entirely proud of. I might be playing at hero, but not every fight was a victory.

I might be playing at hero, but not every fight was a victory.

I knew I wanted a diverse cast, a group of people that represented the melting pot of America. I made conscious choices, my point-of-view characters include two white men, an older white female, a hispanic female and a female gargoyle. The first round of writing had the characters all with similar backgrounds, but as I felt they looked like a white washed collection of identical storylines, they needed something beyond my personal experiences.

For the supporting cast, I decided to step outside my comfort zone with a Muslim female and a black male with Aspergers. Alyssa, a proud first generation Muslim American originally wore a “head scarf.” But as I worked my way through the first draft, I thought, if I were that young individual, one who wore a “head scarf,” what would I think? Is this the hero I’d want to look up to? I set aside the fear and delved into Muslim culture, learning all I could about the hijab and its representation. I was nervous. I still am. But I created a character, a hero that struggled to be an example for those like her.

Meanwhile, my main protagonist, loosely based on me, I shied away from for fear of being known as the “gay” author. I watered it down, fearful again of my own identity and the potential pressure of fans. In Nighthawks, Conthan and Dwayne are hinted at being gay, but I awkwardly let it slide, refusing to pick a clear path for them. I was able to hide behind a complex storyline and a long series of actions. But ultimately, I found myself thinking back to the reason I first read comics. Where was the hero I’d look up to? In Nighthawks, I hadn’t found him, in Night Shadows, I made sure it happened.

The man can tear open black holes and teleport. In the books he’s one of the most powerful men in the world. However, his abilities have never made him a hero. The moment he owned his uniqueness, I found myself respecting the man. More than respect, I found myself standing in his shoes asking myself, “Given the same circumstances, could I step up and be the hero he’s become?”

I am never entirely sure.

It’s about seeing our best selves on the page working through our fears to do what’s right

It’s never been about the powers. It’s about seeing our best selves on the page working through our fears to do what’s right. We watch these overwhelming odds, these injustices, and we read imagining that like the superheroes we follow, we could follow in their footsteps.

In our hearts, we hope we are the heroes.


Boston Comic Con 2018

I had the pleasure of stopping by Boston Comic Con along with buddy and illustrator Amanda Kahl (and her hubby Derek.) We decided to see what all the fuss was about. The con itself was a bit disappointing. I’m not sure what I hoped for, but with the lack of Marvel, DC, or Image comics, it came across as a very expensive yard sale. The panels were non-existent (I don’t care about celebrity Q&A) and there were quite a few empty tables and vacant booths. With that being said, I did get a chance to talk to some outstanding artists. I think I may have found a candidate for a book cover project I hope to explore in the next year. We bumped into old friends and made a few new ones as we roamed through the artists. Whether it met my expectations or not, it’s always great hanging out with good friends and finding ourselves on crazy adventures. The big question is always, “What’s next???”


Marvel Movie Rankings

When Marvel’s Blade reached the big screen my world changed. Below are my rankings of all Marvel movies since 1998. I’ve rated on rewatchability, characters, plot, and special effects. I generally ignore how closely it follows a comic plot as long as it maintains the same spirit.

 

 A  2017  Logan
 2016  Captain America: Civil War
 2016  Deadpool
 2014  Guardians of the Galaxy
 2014  Captain America: The Winter Soldier
 2012  The Avengers
 1998  Blade
B  2017  Thor: Ragnarok
 2016  Doctor Strange
 2000  X-Men
 2015  Ant-Man
 2017  Spider-Man: Homecoming
 2008  Iron Man
 2017  Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
 2002  Spider-Man
 2014  X-Men: Days of Future Past
 2011  X-Men: First Class
 2002  Blade II
 2012  The Amazing Spider-Man
 2008  The Incredible Hulk
 2003  X2
 2015  Avengers: Age of Ultron
 2004  Blade: Trinity
 2010  Iron Man 2
 2003  Daredevil
C  2013  The Wolverine
 2004  Spider-Man 2
 2011  Thor
 2014  The Amazing Spider-Man 2
 2011  Captain America: The First Avenger
 2016  X-Men: Apocalypse
 2006  X-Men: The Last Stand
 2007  Ghost Rider
D  2009  X-Men Origins: Wolverine
 2013  Iron Man 3
 2005  Fantastic Four
 2003  Hulk
 2013  Thor: The Dark World
 2004  The Punisher
F  2011  Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
 2007  Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
 2008  Punisher: War Zone
 2007  Spider-Man 3
 2005  Elektra

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My First Date with Spawn

Contributed by Thomas S. Flowers

Not to be too weird about it, but imagine yourself for just a moment that you’re a twelve-year-old boy. You’re walking through the store and like any boy of pre-teen age back in the early 90s you decide to go check out whatever comics are offered at this very obviously not comic book store in the magazine section while your mom shops for food and other boring stuff like that. As you peruse the offered wares you come across a comic the likes you have never seen before. Its gritty. Slightly graphic. Super dark. And dare we say, demonic.

This was me. Back in 1990-something, 1994 or 1993, I can’t quite remember. What I do remember is how when I first laid eyes on Spawn, I ran and somehow convinced my mom to buy it for me and I took it home and was hooked ever since. Spawn was…different. It wasn’t Marvel or the X-Men, which is what most of my friends were reading at the time. It wasn’t DC, an entirely different circle of friends. In fact, I can’t recall Spawn being popular at all with any of my buddies…I’m sure they read it and maybe even liked it on some level…just not on the same level as me. Spawn spoke to a darker inkling to which I typically wandered. And because it spoke to that dark side, it helped galvanize some of my own creative thoughts and ideas of what could be possible within the realm of storytelling.

The badass covers helped. Those issues, man, from the very beginning are some of the best horror comic art I’ve seen. Todd McFarlane was known even before Spawn as leaning towards the more explicit in his artwork. If I’m remembering this right, there was a certain Spider-Man comic involving Wolverine piercing some bad guys eye with his adamantium claw. Or something like that. Recalling still, McFarlane didn’t care too much for censorship and ran with his own brand to Image Comics, creating Spawn…

…an Marine ex-CIA assassin who gets murdered by his best friend, Chapel, and sent to h-e-double hockey sticks and there recruited by a high-level demon named Malebolgia to join his army in a war against Heaven on the promise of getting to see his wife, Wanda, again. Agreeing to these shady terms, but truthfully…not sure who would turn down getting to leave hell, the demon sends him back to earth…five years later with the worse case of scatter brain and wearing a head to toe superhero costume. And the scars, did I mention the scars? Yup. Spawn aka Al Simmons was burned alive in life and as a kinda really fucked up signing bonus is now horribly disfigured.

The fact that this comic spoke to me at such a young age is disturbing…

Moving on!

In the first issue of Spawn, Al is trying to figure things out. He gets “flashes” of old memory. And as another high-five from Malebolgia, another demon is sent to “guide” Spawn in this new role he’s supposed to play on Earth. The guide is none other than The Violator who takes the form (most of the time) as a short, fat, hellish looking clown. When he’s not Chuckles, he’s this really freaking looking monster with large bulbous eyes and long needle like teeth.

Through these first few comics, it’s really about Spawn remembering who he was and coming to terms that in five years’ time, everyone thinking he’s dead (because he was), including his wife, life goes on. Wanda ended up marrying Al’s other best friend, Terry, and they end up having a daughter together. And soon after, Spawn also begins to realize that he wasn’t just dropped on Earth looking like a walking piece of human toast, he’s got power, real devastating shatter this world kinda power. And that suit of his isn’t some mom’n’pops Halloween get up, it’s a living symbiotic entity with its own set of abilities. But there’s a catch…those powers of his are not limitless. There’s a clock, so to speak. Once he drains all his green glowing goo…boom, back to hell.

This kind of story wasn’t something I was used to reading. As a comic marketed to young adolescent boys, there were layered intricacies. Spawn wasn’t just some Hellspawn with a host of awesome powers, he was also Al, a dead Marine ex-CIA assassin who lost his way but wanted to do the right thing. He loved his wife. He loved his country. But still, he wasn’t your typically “good guy.” Nowadays, the anti-hero is an overhanded trope. Back in the early 1990s, for me at least, it was not. Spawn showed me that characters didn’t have to be 100% good, that not everyone was 100% bad. That there were grey areas amongst the pure goods and evils in the world. Case in point, the story of Billy Kincaid.

As for kid’s comics, this was a dark story…but I wonderfully done one! Billy Kincaid was the son of some senator, an ice-cream truck driver, and a child murderer. His famous line being, “You scream, I scream, we all scream for ice cream.” Pretty creepy, right? Anyways, in issue #5, Spawn pays ole Billy and visit and gives him a taste of his own medicine, hanging him in Detectives Sam and Twitch’s office with popsicles stabbed into his corpse and a note, “BOYS SCREAMED AND GIRLS SCREAMED SO I MADE HIM SCREAM…AND SCREAM…AND SCREAM.”

Yes, this was a kid’s comic, mind you.

And so wonderfully not appropriate. Like any parent back in the 80s and 90s is really going to thumb through the begged comic before buying. My folks were none caring when it came to violent content, it was the graphic sexual content they did not approve. Very puritan, I know. And I’m sure this is how an entire generation had been raised to think subconsciously, that violence is okay, but sex is bad. I’m rambling now, please forgive me. The point being, Spawn did something good by taking out this really horrible person, but he did so in a way that was utterly grotesque. Most hero characters would have simply captured Kinkaid and gift wrapped him perhaps beaten but still breathing for the police to find. Spawn on the other hand…well, he at least gift wrapped Kinkaid, right?

As far as Spawn comics go, its hard for me to pick just one that was the best. There were so many back then. Billy Kinkaid was probably the darker one , especially so early in the series. With storytelling like that, it’s no wonder how popular Spawn became. As you no doubt have heard or seen, there was that 1997 movie adaptation of the comic, written and directed by its creator…which goes to show that just because you can make a really badass comic, doesn’t mean you know shit about directing. Sorry. This was a really amazing movie for the first screening on that summer day in 1997, but every day thereafter…ugh.

In that same year, though, there was some grace to be found for Spawn. The HBO animated series took off with a bang, keeping more or less to the original comic story. If you haven’t seen these, you need to. Some are free on YouTube. Every bit like the comic is terms of dark, gritty, and bloody violent with that grey matter intrigue that makes you question what it really means to be good or bad. Which in a nutshell is the entire attraction to the Spawn as a story. Not everyday do you read something about a demon who questions his morality. That in his best moments tries to do some good, but usually makes a mess of things. And in his worst, is usually lethargic, and if not…well…think Billy Kincaid. And the best part? Here I am some twenty-three years later, still gushing over a comic book character. That’s love, baby.


Who doesn’t love a good story? From great works such as, All Quiet on the Western Front and Salem’s Lot, Thomas S. Flowers aspires to create his own fantastic worlds with memorable characters and haunted places. His stories range from Shakespearean gore to classic monsters, historic paranormal thrillers, and haunted soldiers. Residing in the swamps of Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter, Thomas’s debut novel, Reinheit, was eventually published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein, Lanmò, The Hobbsburg Horror, and FEAST. His veteran focused paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series (4 books and counting), filled with werewolves, Frankenstein-inspired monsters, cults, alter-dimensional insects, witches, the undead, and the worst monster of all, PTSD, are published with Limitless Publishing. For more intrigue, be sure to visit www.ThomasSFlowers.com.


Comics: A Legacy for the Next Generation

Contributed by Steve Beaulieu

I started collecting comics at a super young age. I remember the first comic book I ever owned was a Spider-man comic book from the early 90s. The cover had him fighting against the green goblin. I had to be about five years old.
We were going “garage-saling” as we called it, and we happened upon a box of comics. My brother and I begged my parents to purchase some and they bought the whole box. I used to sit for hours trying to replicate the images I saw on the pages, often times tracing them exactly.
Years later, long after I’d given up collecting, I found out my wife and I were having our first child. I decided I wanted to have something to share with him. I’m not into sports or anything else anyone would consider very manly. I needed something. Comics became that thing.
Oliver—my son, named after the great Oliver Queen—has a multi-thousand book collection awaiting his grubby hands once he is old enough to know how to care for them.
I recently emailed my brother to see if he still had that little box of comics. Turned out, he hoarded it all these years. He sent it to me, costing me a couple dozen bucks in shipping. Part of me was horribly disappointed to find that most of them were no name or beat up oldies like Richie Rich or Savage Dragon–but there they were—Spectacular Spider-Man numbers 197 (The Vulture) and 200 (Green Goblin).
It was like I dug up treasure on a long forgotten beach. Let’s set a record straight—I don’t like Spider-Man. I’m an Inhumans kind of guy. I collect the mess out of Inhumans—but somewhere in my heart, Spider-Man will always remain because of these comics I had at such an early age. Much to my chagrin, Spidey is Oliver’s favorite, despite my best efforts.
The moral of this story is never discount the impact something as small as a worthless box of comic books can have on a young child. Although they were beat up and without monetary value, they led me to a love for comic books, which led me to coloring comic books, which led me to writing comic books, which led me to writing novels, which led me to unlocking a passion inside of me that is only paralleled or surpassed by my love of God and my family.
I hope every one of you readers can remember the first time you cracked open a comic and felt that joy and magic. That smell of new or old yellowing, brittle paper.
Check out some of those early 90s Spidey books. My favorite run was 1-16 of Amazing Spider-Man by Todd McFarlane. It ended with Juggernaut getting his eye gauged out, which Marvel couldn’t deal with. Because of Todd’s rebellion, it opened a door wide-open to Image Comics which gave birth to my all-time favorite comic book Invincible.
Go buy a comic and have an awesome day.

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