The Time Marvel Comics Was Pro-Islamic-Extremist, Anti-Christian and Anti-Jewish

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Well then, there’s a bunch of words the both of you probably never thought you’d see as the title of a blog post! But no, gentle reader, the merciless Marvel seems to have fallen afoul of virtue once again and let me reassure you that you aren’t hallucinating and that you haven’t misread – this actually happened, and a torrent of ugly backlash resulted.

 

Marvel’s latest cash-grab approach to comic production saw the launch of X-Men Gold last week, and in the time it takes to rage quit your twitter account, a rampage of critics came forward to tear it to pieces because of Ardian Syaf’s careless addition of pro-Islamic-extremist rhetoric. And out came the wolves. They wanted blood, and blood is what they got as Marvel acted on their declaration to take disciplinary action against Syaf. He was fired, and quite boldly and correctly announced on social media that his career was over. The offensive images are to be altered in all forthcoming editions of the comic, so anyone who’s bought a real life, tangible copy of this book (my humble self included) is now a proud owner of a bonafide article of subliminal hatespeech. On a related note, I’d like to call attention to one of life’s most beautiful and sadly, most overlooked pieces of wisdom : don’t sweat the small stuff, and stop taking things and words too seriously! Back to business, my friends and onto the unpopular questions that we as intuitive beings must ask. Were the critics (they come from various ethnicities and theistic and atheistic backgrounds) justified in for calling for Syaf’s figurative blood?

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Let’s look at the panels in question. The first four inserts are fairly ambiguous, and manifest as the signboard for a jewellery store aligned near the head of team leader Kitty Pryde (a Jewish woman apparently), a signboard for a store named 212 (the popularised name of the December 2 2016 mass protests against Jakarta’s Christian politician Basuki Tjahaja Purnama) and 2 character extras sporting, respectively, (but apparently also disrespectfully lolzoid) a baseball cap and a t-shirt emblazoned with the number 51. Now, while the Jew reference to Kitty could’ve been a coincidence, the fact that the number 51 appears twice within the same panoramic panel seems about as accidental as wearing a pair of assless pink leather chaps to a business meeting. To take things even further into murkier water, a panel on the following page shows Colossus sporting a jersey with the team logo and “QS 5:51” on the front. Later, we see an allusion to Nightcrawler attacking Kitty with a baseball bat. Fun fact: Nightcrawler is a devout Catholic, so was the artist still sending a subliminal message?Aaaand that’s a wrap! Roll credits, because while Colossus struck the ball right out of the park, this drawing expedited Syaf’s being chucked out of the Marvel Comics stable. Dude, you can’t reference Quranic verses that advise believers against befriending Christians and Jews and expect no consequences. Syaf’s buffoonery isn’t unprecedented, since he’s allegedly a repeat offender, which only fuelled the fire of hate towards him and, (based on reaction on vlogs and blogs and their unmindful and odious comments sections) hate towards Muslims as a whole. The rabble were roused, and the hate spewed forth, and poor Ardian Syaf garnered more infamy for his hapless career moves than his unexceptional pencilwork ever could.

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What are the more pertinent questions in this debacle? Are the actions of the entitled social justice warriors (please keep in mind that I believe that there are the few that are not like the many) hypocritical? You can hear some arguing that it took guts to convey your political ideals while on company time, but what Syaf did wasn’t quite as forgivable as lightly dipping his pen in the company’s ink, instead, he took a massive dump in the company’s water cooler. How or why he would choose to repeat such a grave error is beyond me. Didn’t he learn his lesson from the first time? Was he brave for doing what he did? Discretion is the better part of valour, and whether he was making some kind of stand for his cause is up for debate. What’s for certain though, is that when it comes to the professional arena, it’s perhaps best to leave your ideology at home and do what you’re paid to do. He might whine and moan about his career being over, but who knows, maybe he deliberately wanted to portray himself as some kind of martyr. It’s fun to speculate! At the same time, his face and name and probably now a raft of other personal information is being circulated online, whereas the courageous keyboard warriors and armchair admirals cower behind the veil of anonymity, claiming safety in numbers, insulated behind the security of darkness, digital handles and avatars.

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Which leads us to ask, now that this pest has been dealt his marching orders, should the allegedly offended still be frothing at the mouth? While you’re chewing on that cud, you might also want to ruminate on the origin of the backlash, and how much responsibility lies with the editors who saw fit to green light the pages? If the media is to be believed, the complaints began after readers made the connections, and Syaf dimwittedly gloated about his mischief on social media. Tsk tsk, talk about pride going before a fall. There’s no doubt that the majority of people despite all their altruistic inclinations and leanings, will, to a degree, put their own interests higher up on the list of priorities. There are some who doubt that Americans, are as educated and aware of the world outside of their own nation when compared to their peers from other countries. That being said, how aware was the editorial bureau of political goings-on back in Indonesia? A number of bloodthirsty youtubers I researched referenced the artist as Adrian instead of Ardian, which in itself speaks volumes. Would they have even known about this if Syaf had remained tight-lipped instead of blowing his own trumpet online? Who can say? We’re all left with a number of options now as to how to play this. Should we forgive and forget? Turn the other cheek? Behead the sinner? Have him lashed at a public forum? Or have him parade the town streets in sackcloth and ashes? I wonder.

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Why A Black Cloud Holds Promise

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After reading the debut issue of Black Cloud, I couldn’t help but wonder whether the beginning, middle, or end was the best part of a comic book arc. Sure, the resolution towards the end of a story usually tends to hold more water, but this comic reminded me of how enjoyable and how much promise, potential and possibility lies within the pages of a debut issue.

The writing duo of Jason Latour and Ivan Brandon can be proud of their work on this issue, laying a foundation that remains true to the core of this story about stories and imagination. No, I didn’t research this title at all before reading, and I wouldn’t consider myself a superfan of similar themed comics, so is it a surprise at all that I enjoyed reading this? Well, for starters, this steered clear of superhero territory, which tends to score points at least in my book these days. We’re given a nameless protagonist who, we learn, has some degree of superhuman power to speak of, but not much else. Then there was the tongue-in-cheek reference to corruption in the political spheres, and mentions of the deluge of information that is contemporary life. The writing team’s wistful words in key panels struck a chord with me and I couldn’t help but think about carefully curated news schedule and how much attention a catastrophe such as the ongoing Syrian war gets in the mainstream media. Maybe the world would care more if they were made to care, the way they’re made to care about reality TV shows and shopping for bullshit and forms of government that pretend to care but really only want your money and to enslave you.

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Speaking of fantasy, I realise that in hindsight, I should’ve guessed that Black Cloud would’ve been part of this supernatural genre, what with the protagonist wielding an otherworldly sword (a mastersword perhaps?) on the cover. But, make no mistake; this book isn’t about a jolly romp through the Candyland orchard. With an ‘M’ rating, this book features drug references and other mischievous indulgences like big boy words and even more naughtiness in suggesting the breaking of rules, or defiance of authority, as alluded to in the opening sequence. The editorial team’s deliberate choice to avoid names, except for Kay, Mayor Denny Havemeyer (pronounced have a mayor?) and his son Todd, in an odd way reassures you that there will be a good helping of revelation in upcoming issues, and just like in the first Matrix film, we learn about the existence of alternative worlds, or different levels of existence. Even within the clichéd base for comic book stories…New York City.

I probably wouldn’t be alone in guesstimating that the theme of colour will play a major role in the coming issues, especially with obvious clues like the word ‘black’ in the title. Is it a reference to black clouds and the rain, which seems to be the calling card of our heroine’s arch nemesis? Artists Greg Hinkle, Matt Wilson and Dee Cunniffe have presented a world that seems fun to wander around and get lost in – a place with moods and secrets, places that are welcoming and places that are unsettling. Their deliberate pre-determined colour palette has made it easier for readers to decipher whether the characters are in the real world, or I one of the other settings we are shown throughout the book. It was similar to what the art team did on the opening arc of Jason Aaron’s most recent run on Dr Strange, which was a delight to see on the page.

 

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And so, as we await future installments, we can wonder about things that may or may not be so trivial in the story, such as whether or not a drug dealer can be termed as one if he doesn’t actually peddle any substance, what are the limits of our protagonist’s powers, and what are the logistics of being taken on an excursion into the (brace yourself for a Stranger Things reference) the upside-down or a sub-level. You might also wonder whether the protagonist really needed to give the poor street vendor such a hard time. But take heart and be strong! The future is uncertain and the end is always near, so let’s think positive thoughts and consider all the promise and potential the debut issue of Black Cloud offers us.

Give American Gods All The Awards Already!

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Hermit living and general, hedonistic ignorance have kept me largely oblivious about the criteria on which comic books win prestigious awards, but while I’m not privy to those esoterics, I have no problem singing the praises of the comic book adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.

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There’s some kind of TV adaptation of American Gods in the pipleline isn’t there? This might have some clue as to the origins of this comic series from Dark Horse Comics. As such, you’d wonder why they didn’t come out with the comics sooner, because by all standards, this is a comic of fantastic quality. Gaiman and P Craig Russell have been credited as the comic’s writers, but anyone who’s read the novel lately (yes Mrs English teacher, give me a gold star!) might recognise large portions of the novel being paraphrased or straight up lifted directly from the source pages. This isn’t something to take lightly, as exemplary editorial skill would’ve been necessary to decide what makes the cut from the novel to the literal drawing board (unless of course Scott Hampton exclusively uses digital media). Speaking of magnificent artwork, Hampton’s contributions display a deep sense of care and ambition. His choice of angles, colour combinations, and a range of strokes result in images that feel realistic, vivid and textured. This is not the kind of artwork that features in too many comics these days, and this comic is all the better for it.

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As someone who’s read the book fairly recently (a month or so ago, without a clue that the comic was out) there was nothing I could fault with this comic. I was happy to learn that the artist’s depiction of Wednesday wasn’t as unkind as my own mental image of the character. (I actually pictured Wednesday as a Rodney Dangerfield type, with the bulging eyeballs that are perfect for leering at small town motel front desk clerks and barely legal waitresses.) So I doubled back and pulled up the novel to skim through the opening chapter. What happens next will shock you! No, please don’t stop reading – that was just a shoutout to the lame headline writers of clickbait infamy, but you already know that don’t you, you intelligent so-and-so! All dicksucking aside, I discovered during my skim that there were some inconsistencies between Gaiman’s descriptions of character appearances in the novel and in the comic. While this has mostly only been seen with a couple of jailbirds, I wonder if I’m allowed to feel as dissatisfied as I did with the depiction of Shadow. I always pictured him as more of a line-backer, or a meathead marine with a heart of gold, but the artist had different ideas.

 

Interestingly, at one point during the reading, I marvelled at the word count per page and thought for an instasec that maybe it was a little too verbose. These foul thoughts soon vanished when good sense returned, with the realisation that those were more likely the thoughts of inane selfie-addicts and twitter-freaks. (These special breeds no likey words but likey hashtags and likes very much). I can happily report that this comic was a fun parallel to the novel, and I’m hoping that all further instalments feature the little chapterettes at the end of chapters like the novel did. If the success of the American Gods novel was anything to go by, then it’s a safe bet that Neil Gaiman can look forward to a string of accolades for the comic book adaptation of the story of Shadow.

 

And so, gentle reader, I’d highly recommend that you go outside to your nearest comic shop and buy American Gods now! Spend time outdoors, life is too short and you’ll never be as young as you are right now. In fact, buy this book and read it during a picnic or something.

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Why is Mind MGMT So Underrated?

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If you’re in the market for a non-superhero, creator-owned comic book and you’ve not picked up anything from Dark Horse Comics in a while, Mind MGMT is the fuckin’ way forward. (sorry Mom, I used a big boy word!)

Whether or not Matt Kindt is exactly what a modern comic book writer needs to be is a question best left to people who smoke cigars and drink cognac in rooms that smell of rich mahogany. Not all comics are meant to sell millions and pander to the masses, just as not all books etc are meant to be best-sellers. You’d be forgiven if you’ve never even heard of this book before, because the publisher really doesn’t have a behemoth marketing department like the bigger houses do. I guess we can all just imagine what it would’ve been like if this one became mainstream and got bought by a corporation and then chopped and changed and sexed up for a film adaptation, and then an animated series and then all the merch (that’s where the money’s at anyway right?) I wonder what the good Mr Kindt would say to that.

So, the story centres on Meru who’s suffering from writer’s passiveness despite putting out a best-seller two years prior. No, it isn’t writer’s block, because she isn’t unable to write what she feels in her heart, but rather, she just does not write (and who cant relate to that, right? Can I get an Amen from my atheist brothers?). The impetus for her action is a news story about the mysterious Flight 815. She calls her agent to tell him that she’s now off to solve the mystery of the enigmatic flight during which everyone on board lost their memories. Yes, despite that LOST reference, I swept away any concept of possibilities of cop-out endings and soldiered on with my reading mission and was (spoiler alert, snowflake,) happily rewarded.

I only heard about this book after a buddy recommended it, and in typically egotistical fashion, I assumed my pal was nudging me to finally produce some words as per my ‘writer/blogger’ status would require. As such, I gave myself a timeframe to finish the entire 36-issue run (3 years worth of material) in a way that would also allow me to finally play Lego Marvel Avengers and (suck at) Mortal Kombat on the PS4, shop for food, prepare food, do lovey-dovey stuff with the lady love, delay paying my bills and not exercise, i.e it had to fit in with my usual run of things. “Long story short,” do as I say, not as I do, young padawan, and do not force yourself to binge read this on your computer or digital device … get it on print motherfunka!!!!

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Mind MGMT is a beautifully crafted story that spans a surprising number of time periods, locales, languages and motifs, which, some may argue, is what’s expected of an espionage-themed story, but it still manages to feel fantastic and gripping. A couple of issues in, after having my eyes opened to the various possibilities for artwork in comic books, I entertained the idea that Kindt’s artwork was meant to be an under-layer to the story. I like to wonder what the results would’ve been if we had some comic book artwork’s heavyweights on the creative team, because God damn…there are some real chunks of awesome on these pages. The watercolours are good, but what would happen if Kindt decided to appropriate sections of each issue to certain artwork styles. I take nothing away from his efforts, since I draw and write like shit, so fair play…no…no…. all hail Kindt! (It’s hard to be a critic of anything these days).

This is the era of overstimulation, and Kindt seemed to know about it ahead of time, when you consider how many different narratives are packed into each issue. Mind MGMT came out way back in the foul year 2012, far before bearded art nouveau babies cried into their gluten-free kale shakes, but still, it reads well now, in the 1984 that is 2017. There’s a good chance that you’re gonna dig this title, especially if you’ve got a poet’s heart and take pleasure in taking time out to appreciate little things that people often tend to completely miss. Maybe other reviewers have written about the inclusion of subtext on the sidelines of the actual pages, but I will not. Oh wait..I have just now done so. Moving on, there are myriad other jewels in this treasure box and since you’ve so kindly acquiesced to read a nobody’s blog, I will offer you some examples: — editorial notes from Meru’s editor, references to comic book artwork versus story content, references to some of the time’s most compelling pop culture and even the pursuance of the character naming process that was popularised by the likes of Stan ‘the Man’ Lee.

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Matt Kindt demands a certain level of attention and cognition that other comic writers simply do not (like an agency broadcasting the signal to wake sleeper agents into action! *Mindblown*) and eagle-eyed readers will discover some rewarding revelations later on in the story. The final issue of the penultimate arc was one of the story’s highpoints, with a vivid layout and unspooling of the Eraser’s backstory. Put down the gun bae/fam, that wasn’t a real live spoiler! While a story of this scale wouldn’t be without its moments of inconsistency, these episodes are few and far between, so go pick up the entire series today.

Kill or Be Killed – Bullseye or Bullshit?

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Ed Brubaker has kept his hand on the pump in convincing fashion in Kill or Be Killed, breaking the rules of comic book storytelling, and showing everyone exactly how a comic book needs to be written.

 

As if it wasn’t enough being part of the writing team at HBO’s Westworld, Brubaker had time to pen this bold and gritty revenge story about a young college kid who gets a new lease on life after failing to kill himself. Thankfully, Brubaker didn’t have to stay within Marvel Comics’ usual boundaries, or else we’d be given an unconvincing, watered-down version of this story. There will be a fair number of people who’d take exception to the title of this comic book, and indeed some of the darker, point-blank depictions of violence throughout the story, but in doing so, they run the risk of missing out on the emotional depth of a story that is very human at its heart.

 

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While there are flying bullets, nude psychedelic art, demons, revenge killing and a smattering of sex, the thought-provoking writing makes this a brilliant introspective comic from Image. Sean Phillips and Elizabeth Breitweiser’s artistic contributions play a big role in making this comic great, and they’ve stayed true to the crime noir flavour, with profuse servings of bold blacks and reds, the preferred colours of our protagonist Dylan – when he’s in vigilante mode. The writing in this book doesn’t glorify violence, in the same way that its artwork doesn’t portray its characters as being specimens of perfect physical beauty. But the dark is balanced with the light, and having dedicated columns for narration and artwork between all the darker tones made the reading experience truly enjoyable. That being said, I would’ve liked it better if the demon was portrayed with less of a resemblance to Carol from Where The Wild Things Are.

 

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Ironically, the first words in the comic are “Wait..wait,” which is something the creative team simply does not do, at least not when we’re talking about delivering a beautifully graphic, no-holds-barred and introspective story. Sure, it’s hard to write a story that doesn’t borrow from others, especially since some believe that they’ve all been told before, but the creative team didn’t let that stop them from presenting a top-tier comic. An anti-hero that seeks outlaw vigilante justice whilst clad in a black hoodie, a character that finds himself in possession of a new empowerment but is still reluctant to do what he must to better his situation, someone who must kill others on behalf of a more powerful being – these have all kind of been done before, but the moment I read the line where Dylan narrates that “Psychopaths run for president!” I just went Ohhhh dayum! But wait…there’s more.

 

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In this, the era of the new dumb, it’s such a joy to read a comic that doesn’t talk to its readers like they are five-year-olds. Brubaker’s work on the 4 issues released thus far show off his gift for introspective narration and keeping readers hooked. His words gave me the vibe that he was writing from the heart. Despite the clichés (best friend who protagonist crushes on is dating his roommate/buddy) everything that Dylan goes through endears him to the readers – you really feel for him and genuinely care about what’s going to happen to him next. There are no wasted words, scenes are perfectly paced and you’re introduced to the right number of characters at the right time. But does all that backstory really need to be at the start of the comic? In this case, the book doesn’t seem to suffer from the author’s choice to do so. Besides, Brubaker subtly and quite brilliantly makes social commentary about what this time in human history will bring. He underlines the racism in the mainstream media, talks about possibly his bashing his own work with lines like “My imagination was being affected by all the shitty old movies I was watching,” and even adds some surprising insights into love.

 

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Kill or Be Killed is probably one of the best contemporary comic books you could read today. While it’s incredible in places, it’s still very credible, and with a very human story at it’s heart. For these and so many reasons, you ought to check this book out.

How to Avenge and Look Fabulous Doing It!

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They say you don’t choose whom you fall in love with, and I wanted terribly to hate on the re-launched Avengers title just because I was so saturated with the oversaturation of Avengerism and Marvel in general pop culture. But then I read this comic.

 

Despite the ugly Marvel NOW! branding on the cover, Avengers #1 is pretty dope. My first impression was that they needed to drop the ‘W’ from the brand because Marvel really has turned into one of those embodiments of human greed. Okay, so it’s not the worst thing out there, but holy fuck, do they piss me off sometimes. Like for instance on the cover of this book. Why in the blue fuck is Wasp so camouflaged? At first glance, I clocked the wings, but her face almost doubles as a warped bit of Vision’s abdomen. And don’t get me started on Hercules’ pose. Yes, Hercules is part of the Avengers now. Yay? I can’t decide. What I do know is that I think I’ve had enough of these Alex Ross covers. We get it dude, you’re talented “af,” but Marvel’s watered down your epic cache with the volume of Ross covers across some of it’s more prominent titles. I was, however, solaced in the knowledge that Mark Waid was steering the good ship Avengers.

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Having Waid on the creative team is like having Kobe Bryant in your corner when you play ball against your buddies – a sure thing. And quite early on in the book Waid highlights his comic heavyweight status with an old Avengers combo, upgraded for the new cast. When you’re talking about what is arguably Marvel Comics’ hottest superhero team right now, it only made sense to have superstar talents producing the book. Waid’s words gave the art team of Mike del Mundo and Marco D’alfonso plenty to expand on and their contributions have probably brought in more fans and pleased existing ones too. Since I’m a nitpicky ne’r-do-well I’ll just crib by saying that their treatment of Peter Parker didn’t do it for me. We are pretty much given the Peter Parker of his high school years, instead of the seasoned photojournalist who still can’t catch a break. His goof-in-a-business-suit routine jelled with his persona, which is something I love-hated about this book. It’s infinitely better than the suave, composed and arrogant Tony Stark (in the role of Avengers financial patron). The turd-like design of the Quinjet, meanwhile, ought to have been given a re-working if deadlines permitted it.

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As I turned the pages, I realised I was heading down appreciation avenue despite my expectations. I’m in the ”Marvel? –meh!” stage of comic book appreciation and awareness, but the way this story was told, and the arrangement of the eerie ending panels just made me realise that when in the presence of giants, always watch your step! This book deserves all the #respect and accolades it gets, because this is pretty faultless…at least for a Marvel comic.

Up in Flames

Robbie Reyes: Ghost Rider

 

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Marvel Comics is a storm of fast and furious productivity, and has, more so in recent years, given preference to commercial cache whilst putting artistic value on the back burner. Like the people who produce commercial music these days, it seems like the puppetmasters are forcing the creative to produce material that isn’t as thought-provoking or of a high standard, so much so that it could easily be described as disposable. No current title does a better job of conveying this sentiment than Robbie Reyes Ghost Rider does.

 

Okay Marvel we get it, you’re pandering to the masses…the kids with the disposable incomes who don’t really buy that many comics compared to older, quality-conscious readers. But for the love of Stan Lee, throw us a bone here! I really wanted to get on board and support this title, despite knowing that Marvel, like the Apples and Samsungs of the world don’t really, really, care about their end-users anymore. And like any mass-produced, mass-marketed commodity, there was bound to be slag. In the Marvel Now! stable, Robbie Reyes Ghost Rider is the slag.

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This title is a relaunch, one of the many that are taking place to corroborate the raft of tie-in appearances in the contemporary Marvel Cinematic Universe in film and TV. As such, the debut issue features ‘warranted’ appearances from some of the comic giant’s current superheroes, whether as mentions or in the totally awesome flesh. However, the connections between the titular character and the guest appearances is lost. Robbie Reyes, and the Ghost Rider himself, seem like the sub-plot in their own comic. And while the art of Danilo S Beyruth, Val Staples and Jesus Aburtov does shine in some places, Felipe Smith’s overall writing doesn’t give the artists enough room to showcase their skills.

 

As I read this comic I wondered : why was any of this necessary? Are characters created solely to pacify the social justice warriors and snowflakes that currently populate the earth? Does entertainment media have to offer representatives of all ethnic and racial minorities and sexualities and backgrounds in their cast as a disclaimer? They’re all trying to convince the world that they are so progressive and aware of every ethnocentric aspect in the entire human populace. Look, we have an LGBT character! We have a muslim! We have an autistic character! Look how forward-thinking, broad-minded, aware of the contemporary world and America and young people we are! Love us! Buy all of our merchandise and everything else we will produce!

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The current Ghost Rider is a discount Spawn (skull, black costume and chains?) and even a discount Ghost Rider of old. They’ve settled on a handsome and sleek greasemonkey with a heart of gold who seems to have a wooden, two-dimensional relationship with his younger brother. Oh and he’s Latino and has fire-related powers. Anyone watch Suicide Squad lately? Is my déjà vu justified? What an absolute waste of time, especially when you consider how dark, vengeful and fiery the original character was. The new guy plays things a little too safe, in the relative safety of an American muscle car’s driver’s seat instead of riding into the night on an enflamed motorcycle saddle.

Despite any accolades, awards or recognition a comic book publisher may receive, it’s always a gamble when picking up a new comic. Save your money and time and don’t buy or read this book. If there are people in your life who you’d like to confuse, or if you’d like someone to dislike or distrust you or even doubt your intentions, then gift them this book, but do not read it.

Writer – Felipe Smith

Artists –  Danilo S Beyruth, Val Staples, Jesus Aburtov