Rafael Encinas

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Imagine If… – Episode 157 Maxwell Lord 101

Chris, Rafa, and Mitch dive into the spinner rack for this week, and then give you the rundown on the DC Comics character Maxwell Lord now that we know Pedro Pascal is playing him in Wonder Woman 1984 for this #NewComicBookDay. So if you ever wonder”What If?”, or utter the words “Just Imagine”, or love to argue “Who Would Win?” then this is the podcast for you. Let Chris and Mitch take you to another world, another time, and instruct you to “Imagine If…”.

Imagine If… – Episode 156 Joker Leader Villain Team Challenge

Chris, Rafa, and Mitch dive into the spinner rack for this week, and then challenge themselves to create a villain team for the Joker to lead that involves the supernatural to finish off the Joker month with some Halloween-esque fun for this #NewComicBookDay. So if you ever wonder”What If?”, or utter the words “Just Imagine”, or love to argue “Who Would Win?” then this is the podcast for you. Let Chris and Mitch take you to another world, another time, and instruct you to “Imagine If…”.

Comic Culture With Rafa: #014

The New 52 Justice League: A Perfect Entry Point Into Comics

An Editorial From Rafael Encinas

We live in a time where we get to see characters like Spider-Man, Batman, and Deadpool on the big screen. This is something truly special because it wasn’t always like this. In our present time where superheroes are all the craze, there is an influx of new fans that want to explore these iconic characters and delve into the pages of the comic book format. However, as many new readers will attest, finding an entry point to these larger than life superheroes can be a daunting task; especially when there are so many characters and so many years of storytelling to catch up on.

Though many did not like it, I am very happy that DC tried to create an entry point for new fans by starting the New 52 continuity in 2011. This was a hard reset of iconic DC characters, with all new #1 issues. Basically, new fans were welcomed to learn about popular characters like Superman or Wonder Woman with revamped origins. The old stories weren’t important for newcomers to dive right in. You could now start here. Unfortunetly, this did create a division in the comic fans who were reading these stories for years. Therefore, many found the New 52 as a failed experiment; something that hurt comics more than help them. However, for all its faults, the New 52 did give us some great stories (especially in the Batman and Green Lantern books), but one of the best has to be Geoff Johns’ and Jim Lee’s fun and exciting Justice League series, specifically the first six issues (collected as Justice League Vol. 1 Origin in trade paperback). 

For anyone who wants to jump into comics, but is afraid to do so because of all the rich history and running titles, then look no further because this Justice League story is the quinnessential entry point for new comic fans! It’s great for many reasons, but the main reason is because it captures the allure and passion of what makes people gravitate toward superheroes in the first place: excitement, joy, and lots of heart.

First and foremost, I personally love this book! I have reread this story on multiple occasions in the past couple years, and it continues to be just as exciting and fun as it was the first time I read it. It is an excellent reimagining of the Justice League coming together in a modern world with a darker and grittier edge. The plot is simple. Darkseid (one of the DC universe’s biggest bad guys) is coming to earth, and his legions of parademons are invading. Therefore, the world’s meta humans are the first line of defense. We get to see how Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, and Cyborg come together for the first time. It is absolutely fun reading Batman and Green Lantern play off of one another, like two people who are forced to get along even though they don’t like each other. It is exciting to see the Flash and Superman try to “outfast” one another. And almost every line that comes out of Wonder Woman’s mouth is so earnest but also both fun and funny. It is a serious end of the world scenario, but it still manages to be a wild action set piece with brilliant comedic moments! 

Jim Lee does some of his best work in this story with dynamic art that really energizes the pages. The redesigns of classic superhero costumes are given a youthful vitality, and it can be seen, especially well, in the fluid and stylized detail that Lee is famous for. The countless iconic moments (such as Superman breaking through Green Lantern’s chains; Aquaman summoning a horde of great white sharks, or Batman using all the weapons in his utility belt) all feel grand and important as the story progresses. Personally, the grand entrance of a massive Darkseid is definitely a highlight, and his overall character design is brutal and terrifying. The way he is drawn to tower over the heroes adds dread and excitement to a story that just keeps getting more and more intense! 

What works best however is the genius characterizations of the Justice League members themselves. Though it is a team book with plenty of action set pieces, Geoff Johns showcases exactly why he is one of the greatest writers to have ever graced comic books. He understands character dynamics and gives each character time to shine in his story. Green Lantern plays the perfect comedic show off to Batman’s brooding detective. Flash is a great mediator who is just trying to do the right thing. Both Wonder Woman and Aquaman have great energy and command the screen when they slay waves of parademons. The incorporation of Cyborg to the team is different from what we’ve seen in the past, but I believe it’s an interesting plot point that serves its purpose. Superman is utilized as muscle, and doesn’t necessarily have to be the focal point because of all the great characters around him. He gets his moment to shine, like everyone else, but he is not seeking to lead the team. All of them coming together happens randomly and unexpectedly. They don’t know one another, but through their resolve, teamwork, and hilarious jabs at one another, they seamlessly become the Justice League. It works, and it is exciting every time I read it!

I got into comic books because they provided an escape into a world where people could fly; where the good guys would look fear in the face and still move forward. These were the stories that motivated me to be a better person; to love life because these modern day gods were on full display in my hands. Superhero stories will never go out of style because they inspire us to be better, and this story does this so well. Batman’s heart-to-heart with Green Lantern; Wonder Woman taking a moment to enjoy ice-cream; Superman & Flash inspiring one another; Cyborg overcoming his personal fears and shining so brightly; these moments feel important and we see the magic on full display. In a world filled with apocalyptic destruction, the appearance of heroes creates wonder. We see hope for a better future!

Importantly, David Graves is a character introduced in the last issue of this story in where he and his family are trying to escape the literal hell on the streets. We see people being eviscerated by Darkseid and his parademons. Graves knows he is about to die with his family, and it’s an intense moment, but then he encapsulates the exact appeal and level of inspiration that these heroes can elicit in someone. David Graves represents everyone who has ever opened a comic book or watched a movie where they witnessed something so immersive and so special that it transcends understanding; it just becomes a warm feeling; a fulfilling moment. He puts it best when he says: “I thought there was going to be no tomorrow. I thought my family and I were going to die. Then I saw THEM. And I saw tomorrow.” The Justice League is just that iconic. 

Justice League (2011) is a great story for multiple reasons, but by far, it’s one of the best because it cares about its characters, and they are written to inspire. They inspire us because they are not perfect beings. We see them fight. The running joke about Batman not having any powers; Barry & Hal’s personal banter; and Green Lantern antagonizing everybody on the team feels personal and relatable. They feel like a group of people that quickly become a group of friends; your friends. And we cheer for them because of what they can represent! They might be an alien, an Amazon, a cyborg, a living lightning bolt, an aquaman, a space cop, and a dude in a batsuit, but there’s something utterly unique and special in that. It just works. And we are made to care.

Overall, it is a quick read; an easy read. It will make you chuckle and gasp at the beautiful art. It’s a well written narrative about a bunch of outcasts coming together and becoming something important. If you want to read something that elicits those emotions of wonder and excitement, to see a standard of excellence, this is the book for you; no prior reading necessary. It is a wonderful entry point into the magical world that is comic culture!

Comic Culture With Rafa #013

Clarity of Focus For A Mutant Future in X-Men #1 – Spoilers Ahead

A review by Rafael Encinas

After the magnum opus that was Jonathan Hickman’s House of X and Powers of X, we are now in the Dawn of X, where we go further down the rabbit hole of Krakoa and the new Mutant Status Quo. As Chris and I expounded on in our previous wrap-up of HOX & POX, we are beyond excited to see how the X-Men move forward in a world that still hates and fears them, but now also recognizes them as a sovereign nation.  This Dawn of X begins with today’s newest story, Hickman’s X-Men #1, and right out the gate, we have the X-Men do what they do best; they are taking on those that are threatening the X-Men’s new-found liberty.

The issue opens with a flashback of when Cyclops, aka Scott Summers, first gets his ruby quartz glasses from Xavier. It is a touching scene that reminds us why Cyclops is such an important figure in the X-Men comics. We see how he is a man with destructive power and how he needs to stay in control, and now as the captain commander for the entirety of Krakoa’s defense systems, we see him and Storm raid one of the last Orchis strongholds on earth. The X-Men are not being passive in their new world; they are being proactive and bringing the fight to all those that would want to see them destroyed. This opening sequence has good banter and excellent moments for Cyclops as he utilizes his wit and charm during a fire fight in a heavily armed compound. Some of my favorite quips are: “I’m always careful… it’s part of my charm” and “Be careful, they’re sure to be savvy—all these apes have PhDs!” We also get some great moments with the newly minted heroic Magneto and powerful Polaris (which makes me happy because Hickman is actually giving Polaris a purpose again). All on in all, they work as a team, shut down Orchis, and save a bunch of captive mutant children.

Leinil Francis Yu’s art is distinctive and feels energetic as we see all the action in each panel; it is both fluid and animated. It is further highlighted by the bold inks from Gerry Alanguilan and colored perfectly with vibrant hues from Sunny Gho. This team of artists really give this entire sequence urgency but familiarity. It feels new and exciting, but its grounded in what we always see the X-Men do, and that is kick ass.  

However, after the explosive opening, the issue does switch focus to a much slower brand of narrative storytelling. While many say it can be boring or can hurt the overall appeal of this book, I argue that it further world-builds and adds the necessary brevity to further ground and expand on these interesting and iconic characters.

The book delves into a Summers family reunion where we find the heart of the issue. We see that Scott and his family, including Wolverine, are all living on the blue area of the moon at the Summer House, which is a Krakoan biome. We get fun banter between Wolverine and long-lost Summers brother, Vulcan over the philosophical difference in meat rarity. We get a teenage Cable asking permission to trade guns with his new friend; (Jean quips, “Set the table first, dear). We also get a time displaced Rachel Summers who kind of looks like she is just done with everyone, which is very reminiscent of an older sister. And we even see estranged Starjammer father, Corsair even connect with his family by trying to bond with Cyclops over Krakoan dish washing.  It is slow; it is whacky; it is fun; it is heartwarming. Hickman is at his best when he grounds his characters in the everyday mundane but there is real heart to it. We get a greater love and respect for the characters when they are allowed to relax and be happy. 

We see that Cyclops continues to fight the good fight and will never stop because of his focus and vision (which is masterfully symbolized when Xavier first gives him the glasses at the beginning of the issue). For those that have followed Cyclops’ ups and downs over the years, we know it has never been easy, and now in Hickman’s world we see a focused and determined Scott Summers who continues to help his people not by being worried about the threats of tomorrow but instead, as he says in this issue, by focusing on the things that make him want to live today, with his family being that main focal drive. This is magical storytelling because we see a fully realized character who is on full display in a new world and who is looking forward to the future like so many are looking forward to with this new era of X-Men.

Overall, this is a fantastic start for the X-Men after Hickman’s establishment of the new status quo. The art is stunning, the writing is top class, and we get a powerful story of vision, clarity, and hope under the guise of a Summers family barbecue. It is some exciting stuff.

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