Comic Culture With Rafa
The Magic of Buffy: Excitement for the BOOM! Studios Reboot Comic Series
An Editorial From Rafa Encinas
As stated so often already by so many different editorials, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is one of those series that was just part of the cultural zeitgeist of the 21st century as soon as it manifested in the late 90s. Now with over 20 years of content and history, BTVS lives on in pop culture infamy, and for good reason. Joss Whedon created absolute magic with his quirky teenage fantasy/supernatural “coming of age” / “monster of the week” television program. It was witty. It was funny. It was passionate. And most importantly, it was important.
Growing up, Buffy and the Scooby Gang taught me the value of family, both the one you are born into and the one you make for yourself. Like for so many others, I felt this show was special because it was a show that felt inclusive. It normalized and humanized all walks of life. I have many friends who felt that identifying as “queer” became much more acceptable because the characters onscreen created a safe and fun environment where sexual orientation wasn’t just a trope. It was an everyday thing that just happened to be part of the show; its cultural significance was huge. Buffy was my hero, and this was one of the first times feminism would become a huge staple in my mindset.
Not only that, but besides its cultural significance, on a personal level, this was the first show that showcased an intense unpredictability. SPOILERS to those who have not watched the show, but I still remember the feeling of shock and awe I felt when Angelus snapped Ms. Calendar’s neck, when Joyce unexpectedly passed away, and the final episode with Anya. These moments still feel like fresh wounds that never healed. There was a formula to the show, but danger was at every turn no matter how light-hearted the humor. Anyone could die at any moment.
And this is part of the allure of the franchise; why so many avid fans continued with the comic book series long after the television series had ended. This story was wild and magical, and it still boasts some of the most relatable and hilarious moments of any television show. However, the fact that it is grounded in empathetic and realized human characters made it powerful and ambitious. We were part of the Scooby Gang, so their successes were our successes, and their losses were our losses. We were family.
This is why I am excited for BOOM! Studios to now be delivering a revamped and modernized take on the vampire slayer. With three issues already out at the point of this editorial, I cannot express just how much fun and excitement I have had reading through this new imagining of the characters of Sunnydale.
Jordie Bellaire is a perfect choice for writer because she manages to capture the charm and wit of the characters, as they monologue through their everyday lives, while still giving it a modern look and feel for 2019. Not only that, but illustrator Dan Mora is such an a amazing artist who is able to bring these real life characters to life on the pages. Buffy looks like Sarah Michelle Gellar. Willow looks like Alyson Hannigan! The art style is gorgeous with colors that pop and a fluid motion that reads smoothly.
Some may not like the pacing of the comics, but there is so much lore that needs to be established, so I am okay with it. Buffy feels like Buffy. Other characters with their slight redesigns are interesting. I like the new origins for both Anya and Spike. Giles has the whole “hot librarian” thing going on. I especially like how they are playing into Xander’s deep-seated struggles with inadequacy (I’m curious to see where this will lead). I am a little taken aback with Cordelia’s “positive” characterization, but I’m on board for something new. And then Willow feels different, but I like her new confidence and style. Overall, this feels familiar enough with some new talking points which feels exciting!
Overall, these are my general thoughts and feelings:
Things I have really enjoyed:
- the colors and art direction that move the plot forward.
- Buffy’s characterization is dead on! Sixteen-year-old Buffy is portrayed with the right amount of sarcasm and heroism seen in the television program.
- The introduction of Spike; portrays all things cool. He seems more like an antihero than a villain at this point, and his interaction with Cordy was both interesting and enjoyable.
- All the little Easter Eggs and call backs to the Buffy lore (such as Anya name dropping Wolfram & Hart, Xander’s profile name: The Xeppo, and the foundation for Spike & Giles’ inevitable banter).
- Joyce and her boyfriend dynamic is new, and I am excited to see more.
- Anya’s introduction as the keeper of ancient artifacts instead of just some revenge demon.
- The comical introduction of Camazotz, Buffy’s pegasus. I’m excited to see what they do with this!
Things I am looking forward to:
- Xander’s story and how it plays out. It’s an interesting dynamic to see how feelings of inadequacy and imposter syndrome can come into play when surrounded by powerful people.
- The build of the Giles/Buffy father/daughter dynamic. I lived for these moments in the show.
- The introduction of Angel! Can’t wait! It will probably be when I least expect it. Also, are we going to get Angel or Angelus!?
- If no Angelus, I am looking forward to The Master! Hopefully, he’s got some cool stuff in store for Sunnydale and the hellmouth.
- The further characterization of new characters Rose and Robin.
It feels good to see Buffy reimagined for a whole new generation of people to read and enjoy. I am excited to see new ideas and fresh takes on characters I love; I mean, I’m already digging the introspective Xander, the kind Cordelia, and the confident Willow. If you are a Buffy fan, I highly recommend you pick this series up. If not, pick it up anyway. It’s a quirky coming of age story with demons and vampires. It’s going to be awesome!
The “Tommy Oliver Variety Hour” Coming To Comic Stands Near You!
An Editorial From Rafael Encinas
The “Tommy Oliver Variety Hour” Coming To Comic Stands Near You!
BOOM! Studios has done such a wonderful job at bringing the Power Rangers lore to new heights. I have been a devout Power Rangers fan for many years, and specifically, these past couple of years have truly been a blessing because of the talent, excitement, and respect that the comic book medium has brought to the franchise. I have been reading these amazing stories since they have come out in January of 2016, and I now have a reason again to buy single issues and to collect variant covers again without waiting, like I normally do, for the trade graphic novel. Moreover, I have especially liked the attention to detail and maturity that Kyle Higgins’ has given us in his stories and in his characterizations of the cast. Whether it be Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Go Go Power Rangers, or Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Pink, I have loved the new adventures and situations that these teenagers with attitude have gotten into.
However, with all good things, there is always room for improvement, and unfortunately, sometimes there is a growing frustration. At Wondercon this past weekend, the BOOM! Studios panel revealed that starting with issue #21, the Go Go Power Rangers ongoing series would finally be introducing Tommy Oliver to the team; this in turn would begin the “Green with Evil” plot we have seen in the television program. The incorporation of Tommy into this series will coincide with Mighty Morphin Power Rangers’ issue #40 kicking off the new “Necessary Evil” storyline with a returning White Ranger Tommy.
So, basically, we are getting a whole lot of Tommy Oliver! This is great and exciting news if you are a Tommy fan, but Power Rangers is so much more than one single ranger.
Now, I do not mean to sound like a complainer. I mean, we have gotten some truly amazing stories these past couple of years. However, as many fans have pointed out on twitter and reddit threads, the love and focus on a certain Green Power Ranger has been at the forefront for these comics for some time now. Afterall, this past year we have seen Tommy’s evil future doppleganger take the spotlight during the “Shattered Grid” storyline, and we even got “Saban’s Power Rangers: Soul of the Dragon” one-off graphic novel. Now, we are getting two heaping helpings of Saban’s Favorite Ranger in both the green and white variety. And honestly, this isn’t the color palette I’ve been craving.
Though I recognize the appeal for the Tommy character, after all, he is a foundation to what made Mighty Morphin Power Rangers so popular! However, I have always loved the power rangers for their team dynamics. The television show managed to change from the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: teenagers with attitude in colorful spandex to the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Tommy Oliver variety hour. I understand that Tommy was the cool Green Ranger, which I 100% loved as a kid; however, the shows got too focused on Jason David Frank’s character and the show was less about team dynamics and more about how many flavors of the Rainbow can Tommy fit into. Jason David Frank has probably done more for the franchise than any other ranger in the series, but at this point it is too much.
I am hoping that these stories will prove to be some powerful and engaging story arcs, after all, BOOM!Studios hasn’t failed me yet. However, it is disheartening when you see the spotlight on the same character over and over again, especially when there is such a rich history of so many awesome Power Rangers characters. But again, only the future will tell how we see these stories in tandem with their respective visions. I hope to see more Ranger variety in future stories.
Doom & Justice: The Redemption of Lex Luthor
An Editorial From Rafa Encinas
I want to start this editorial by stating that Lex Luthor is a piece of shit. This is a bad man who has done some truly horrific and irredeemable things. However, I cannot deny the allure and magic of comic books, specifically when they do something crazy and exciting. Sometimes, comics try things that are too wild, but at other times, it is as if the sky aligns just right, and we are given something truly magical. Specifically, there are few things on this earth that are as magical or as masterfully written as the meticulous redemption of Lex Luthor.
Luthor is arguably Superman’s quintessential villain. Basically, he is that one kid in the classroom who calls you out for being too handsome, too intelligent, or too nice. That distrustful person who is convinced there is something wrong about you and will stop at nothing to reveal you for what you really are. Basically, Lex Luthor is a dick. Who else has made Superman’s life as miserable as a man who is always plotting to turn the world against its self-appointed champion; to take down the world’s symbol of hope and justice?
Lex has both been that figurative and literal thorn in Superman’s side for so many years! He’s taken on Superman at both physical and philosophical levels. Lex has tortured him. He has tried to destroy his image. He’s become president just to ruin Superman’s day. And he even had the gall to try and replace him when the Man of Steel died of kryptonite poisoning.
However, Lex Luthor, to me, is a stale character. He is a bitter man whose riches couldn’t buy the respect of other people, especially in a world where Superman would forever eclipse him. Over the years, he’s just been one dimensional and an egomaniac who has aimlessly tried to murder the Man of Steel. So, the idea of caring about this character never really crossed my mind. But, then Geoff Johns came along and the seeds of redemption and interesting character development were planted.
This was hinted at with the brilliant Forever Evil (2013) story in where Luthor assembles his own team of villains to take on the invading Crime Syndicate (an evil version of the Justice League from Earth-3). The Crime Syndicate systematically took over the earth, released all the villains from jail, and chaos erupted. So, Luthor takes matters into his own hands, and in a world without heroes, he assembles a team of killers to rampage and murder through the Crime Syndicate ranks which leads to some truly wicked scenes! It takes the approach that when all of the world’s heroes are gone, you have to fight evil with evil.
I’m not going to lie. Forever Evil (2013) is one of the highlights of the New 52 era of DC comics. This comic arc is straight up rock n’ roll! We get a bunch of bad guys being Earth’s last hope against violent invaders. This was super cool and fresh, and it began to paint Luthor in a different light. He was still a killer. We still see him fuck up some bad guys.
However, we also get a refreshing look into the sympathies and possible empathy of Luthor’s cold heart. We see him create Bizarro, and we see a hilarious, albeit tragic, story of father and son; Frankenstein and Frankenstein’s monster. This is some of the most humanizing and most beautiful work I have seen in comics in a long time. I mean, think about it, in a world plagued by darkness and where there is death everywhere, we have subtle moments shared between Lex and Bizarro that are both heartwarming and tear-jerking. We see truly heartwarming moments between characters who rarely have these moments to begin with. It is breathtaking.
Furthermore, Forever Evil (2013) gives Luthor an out. It gives him the perfect opportunity for good PR. We see him put a plan into action that actually works, to the chagrin of Batman. The world now sees him as a hero rather than the villain. And Lex, being the opportunistic genius that he is, grabbed this sentiment by the balls and just wouldn’t let go. Lex took his first steps toward heroism, though it can still be considered to be clouded in self-serving egoism & manipulation.
This was a special time in comics because it gave me something I never knew I wanted. It gave me riveting stories where we got to see the slow evolution of Lex Luthor from villain to hero. It was a snapshot of moments that truly showcased the magic of storytelling. Watching Lex join the Justice League and have an uneasy alliance with Superman was interesting to see unfold. I mean, it was comical to see this man, who was once hellbent on the destruction of the League, create a shaky PR image of himself fighting alongside Earth’s mightiest heroes.
But, fuck, it worked!
He was still a murderous despot. He was still responsible for the Amazo Virus. He still threatened to “blow-out” the spine of the Doom Patrol’s Chief Caulder. But seeing the shimmer behind Luthor’s eyes change. To see his demeanor and voice change as he spent more time with earth’s heroes, and having more humanistic flaws, hopes, and weaknesses fleshed and made bare; to see the things that made Lex such a jerk (like his sister Lena), it made Lex a much more interesting and relatable character. I always think back to a conversation that Lex and Diana have in Justice League #34 (2011-2016)
Seeing Lex respond to genuine and kind human emotion is such wondrous writing because we get to see the inner workings of a man who thinks he is the “Superior Superman” actually have a chance to live up to the mantel. Something that he ultimately does take seriously by physically donning the symbol of Superman and trying to actually be Metropolis’ new titan after the actual Superman had died of Kryptonite poisoning during the events of The Final Days of Superman (2016).
Luthor experiences some truly insane things during his time in the Justice League (like taking over Apokolips, fighting the Anti-Monitor, and being shot by his sister). He has some truly life altering experiences that ultimately lead to the respect of the league which, for me, culminated in the shaky respect from Pre-Flashpoint Superman.
But is Luthor’s redemption necessary? Should it happen? And can he truly be a redeemable character? After all, he has done some truly diabolical things.
Some would argue that he is irredeemable. The crimes he has committed and his overall avarice make him a disgusting and terrible human being, no matter how many times he’s helped the Justice League. But, I argue that the fact he went through this positive character change made for some interesting and unique stories. I personally never felt more connected to the character until he started his redemption, and honestly, it’s fun to see what happens next.
Unfortunately, all good things must end, and it looks like Luthor has gone back to his menacing and conniving ways, most recently in Scott Snyder’s Justice League series (2018) where Lex went full super-villain and assembled the Legion of Doom to fuck up the Justice League’s day.
This is some exciting stuff because even though I am against Luthor’s return to villainy, there are moments in Snyder’s run where we see just how much Luthor’s turn surprises the League, especially Batman (Justice League #4). The fact that Batman was fully on board with Luthor’s reform, so his inevitable betrayal (all while inside Superman’s body by the way) was profound and chilling.
The redemption of Lex Luthor was a truly unique and interesting time in comics that I appreciated and enjoyed. Hopefully, once Lex is done breaking bad again, we will see something new. The fact that he returns to villainy because he believes it is within our nature to be evil (especially after the events of Dark Nights: Metal) and he honestly believes his time “playing” hero was all for naught is interesting, and I am excited to see what the Legion of Doom continues to bring to the table.
Maybe Lex Luthor can never be an actual hero. Maybe he will never be a Superior Superman, but none of that matters to him at this moment. Luthor made his choice. He chose to embrace his true self. Fuck justice. He sided with doom.
Passion In Villainy: The Ballad Of Thaal Sinestro
An Editorial From Rafael Encinas
When it comes to iconic comic book characters, the protagonists themselves must be challenged by captivating and enthralling foils. Superman stops Lex Luthor. Batman incarcerates The Joker. Peter Parker overcomes Doctor Octopus. Ben Reilly tries to combat sabotaging creative & publishing teams. Basically, we need, no, we want great villains. Therefore, we see true acts of villainy from hundreds of different characters in all kinds of different comics. But what makes a villain so interesting? How does a villain stand out in the oversaturation of menacing grins and extravagant mustaches!? That can be hard to define, but it is also very primal and innate in human nature. A lot of the time, the villain has the same conviction as the hero. We see passion, determination, and focus in our villains; all traits we want to see in ourselves. However, though villains may have relatable motivations, the actions they take can be seen as less than ideal; after all, heroes are supposed to take the high road, but it’s more human and intriguing to think: What would we be capable of when we think no one is looking?
Well, Thaal Sinestro is the type of character who not only doesn’t care if someone is looking, but who will bare all with animated theatrics just to showcase his point and/or vision. And this is one of the many reasons that I am deeply captivated by this villain. Sinestro just so happens to be one of those villains that brings so much depth and awe to the DC Universe, specifically, the Green Lantern mythos. The greatest of the Green Lanterns; dictator of Korugar; alien super-villain; leader of the Sinestro Corps; reluctant anti-hero. These are all titles that Sinestro holds, and for good reason. Sinestro is one of the toughest and most terrifying villains in the DC universe.
I say this with clarity because of my background with the character. Green Lantern just so happened to be some of the first superhero comics I ever read, and Sinestro was always that villain who I disliked (I mean Hal Jordan is so cool) but still respected on a subconscious level. Sinestro stood up to the “out of touch” Guardians of The Universe. He put his life on the line to protect his people. He did do atrocious things, but there were layers to his actions. Reading through Geoff Johns magnum opus that was his 2000s era on the Green Lantern book not only revitalized the series but perfectly built on perceptions of heroism, redemption, and rebirth… not just for the titular character, Hal Jordan, but also for the refreshed Sinestro. Sinestro was written as THE villain.
We want menacing and believable villains. We want cool villains, and they don’t get much cooler than this bastard! He is the emissary of fear; his yellow power ring allows him to create any fearful construct his twisted mind can conjure. Afraid of spiders? Sinestro can create some and then have them eat you alive. He is also a being who relishes in the absolute control and order of all aspects of life. He is a villain of cool composure; ruthless and ever plotting. However, he is more than a super villain; albeit he may not even consider himself as the antagonist of his stories. And why should he? He is an enormously complex character, with motivation, depth, and humanistic tragedy. He is much more than the mustache twirling despot he is written to be at times. This is important because Sinestro started as a hero. His eventual fall from grace an be placed in two deeply rooted and relatable human aspects: tragedy and revenge.
First of all, Sinestro is one of my favorite bad guys because I can relate to him to a certain extent; specifically his tragic fall from grace. He’s a guy who values his self-worth, which to him is engulfed in his prestigious title as one of the greatest Green Lanterns of all time. He focuses solely on the ideal of order in a virtuously order-less world. He is strong-willed, and he will do everything that is necessary to protect the citizens of his home world, Korugar. His actions are aimed at Utopia, at control, and at peace. However, he takes a “by all means necessary” approach. This is a great example of the infamous saying, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
He is a man of vision, and he is respected for it, but then things start to unravel. He loses his best friend (Abin Sur); he loses his precious wife and daughter. He therefore only has his title left and his legacy. This is what leads him to such totalitarian madness. He becomes a dictator in order to save his world. He does this while creating a new bond with the new and idealistic Green Lantern, Hal Jordan. Sinestro ultimately reaches out to Hal, which is difficult for him to do, and this leads to Sinestro’s fall from grace. Hal does not side with his mentor but instead betrays him by outing Sinestro’s totalitarian regime in Korugar. Sinestro is therefore stripped of his lantern ring, and he is excommunicated from the Corps, he is banished, and therefore, he loses everything.
This is some powerful, Shakespearean stuff. However, Sinestro is not the kind of man to stay down. This is what leads me to the second reason as to why Sinestro is so captivating and one of my favorite villains, he fully embraces his newfound title as “ the bad guy” and allows his hatred to consume him. He is banished to the anti-matter universe. And you would think that’s the end of him, but no. Sinestro is not a man to be trifled with. He will play the long game to ultimately get the last laugh. He succumbs to revenge, which is a very human emotion. To him, it is all personal, and he unleashes hell. Passively, he unleashes Parallax upon Jordan, which sets off the events of Emerald Twilight (1994) that led to the corruption of Hal and the destruction of the Green Lantern Corps. Sinestro then actively created his own Fear Lanterns and went to actual galactic war with earth and the remaining Green Lanterns.
The Sinestro Corps War (2008) was such an explosive event in where Sinestro systematically almost destroyed those who slighted him all those years before. Sinestro would always remember, and he would never forgive. He almost beat Hal and the Guardians; he almost won. And honestly, on some level, the reader may have wanted to see it. After all, the Guardians of OA were self-righteous pricks. There was blood in the water, and the antagonistic feud between Hal and Sinestro could not possibly get any more raw.
But then apocalyptic events started occurring, the light spectrum was getting new ring slingers, and so the relationship between Sinestro and Jordan would only grew more and more complex. Sinestro fights alongside Jordan against Red Lanterns on Ysmault, he manages to harness the power of the Life entity within the White Lantern during The Blackest Night (2009); and he harnesses Parallax’s power fully to help destroy Volthoom, the First Lantern. And all of this occurs before DC’s current rebirth event. This is all pretty impressive.
Sinestro is the villain that can be seen as a cruel and twisted character (especially in the way he killed so many lanterns during the Sinestro Corps War and enslaved his entire world for peaceful order). After all, he is the quintessential 1984 Big Brother Totalitarian dictator described by George Orwell, but he has a face, a deeper drive, and a deep conviction. He is so cool with his alien demeanor; he can act like such a queen when talking to Hal. (Those are some of my favorite exchanges throughout the DC continuity). What makes Sinestro such a beautiful super villain, but more importantly, a character, is his rich motivations. An individual who loses everything, but keeps trying to get it back from malevolent, outside forces (the Guardians of Oa) and his once so called brothers in arms (the Green Lantern Corps). He might do perceptually evil things; but he never truly gives up on the ideal of the corps: to serve and protect, which is beautifully illustrated in War of The Green Lanterns, where he comes full circle and protects Hal against the crazed Krona.
What truly breaks my heart in Sinestro’s characterization though isn’t his loss of compassion or empathy; it is the evolution of his relationship with Hal Jordan. Once a mentor, then a friend, then a mortal enemy, Jordan is a huge motivator for Sinestro because as much as he does loathe this particular Green Lantern, he will always consider him a brother. They get into so many spats, so many bare-knuckle brawls. One minute they are trying to kill each other; the next they are working together. And that gets me every time. Two friends on opposing sides forever entwined in a dance of death. At the end of the conflict with the First Lantern, Sinestro says it all, “That’s the tragedy of all this Jordan. Hal. We’ll always be friends”.
Geoff Johns does such a good job in that panel. It breaks my heart every time. And that is why I appreciate everything Geoff Johns has done for the DC Universe, especially the Green Lantern story for the past many years. He is a creative mind who creates stories through character growth; and never has it shone as brightly than in the tales of Hal Jordan and Thaal Sinestro.
Sinestro is an amazingly complex super villain, and he is a pretty vindictive and ruthless character; however, that sense of order in a world that keeps trying to introduce chaos that he has is understandable. Sinestro is just trying to make sense of the world. And he will take it by force to save it as he sees fit. And honestly, that is pretty cool.
An Editorial From Rafael Encinas
It is not always easy being a superhero, especially when you end up in an alternate dimension. But this is exactly what happens in Brian Michael Bendis’ exciting Spider-Men (2012) epic in where our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man is blasted into Marvel’s Ultimate Universe where he comes face to face with that dimension’s Spider-Man, Miles Morales. With the ever growing popularity of the Miles character, it made sense for the new Spider-Man to meet the OG one. What is awesome is the fact that it is done perfectly in this story. Peter encounters Miles. Shenanigans ensue.
Even reading this story so many years after its initial release, it still holds up as a perfect little Spider-Man story. Though it is only five issues, it tells a well-paced and contained narrative that manages to be both fun and entertaining. As our two spider heroes meet in a hilarious encounter, the tone is automatically set up to be one of fun and wonder. Reading their adventure is an absolute blast because it elicits strong feelings of adventure. It isn’t too serious, and could possibly be described as a fever dream because of the ridiculous concepts; however, it is the first step into their future team-ups.
Both characters are genuine hero archetypes that people can rally behind. They are characters of virtue but are also grounded in the Everyman dynamic. The teacher-student dynamic feels strong, and we witness something that we know is special. But besides delivering this kind of thematic appeal, it also delivers strong artwork that jumps off the page. Sara Pichelli compliments the vivid narrative with strong colors and elegant detail.
To anyone who wants to explore more of the Spider-Man universe and are particularly interested in Miles’ story, I think Spider-Men (2012) is for you. It is non intimidating and one does not need to know much to really delve into the pages. It is for casual fans, and it is meant to be its own one-off story. And this is a good thing because it manages to capture the magic of what makes comics so much fun and meaningful. It is a story of adventure; of family; of passing the torch.