Friday, 31 October 2008

Batman hots up

The caped detective/crime-fighter Batman has gained much attention recently for the break-through crime drama film, The Dark Knight, and so I want to take the chance to post on some of the exciting Bat-stories I have had the chance to read. So many of the industry's top writers have worked on the character over the decades that it has proved hard for new writers to stay true to the character and provide something new – but I think DC recently had a stroke of genius in putting Grant Morrison on the book (starting from the story “Batman and Son” which began in Batman #655).

Known both for strong characterisation and for his penchant for wacky and ambitious stories, Grant Morrison has now brought his unique brand of energetic and inventive adventure story writing to the Dark Knight in an incredibly fresh take on the character. Since he began his run he has been examining Batman's approach to crime and whether crime can be stopped: In one humorous interchange between Gordon and our hero, the Police Commissioner asks him why he was foolish enough to declare war on an enemy as big as crime itself. The reply? “I thought I could take him”.

In some action-packed and fast-paced stories, Batman has been confronted by his legacy in more ways than one. It has been revealed that he has a son through a former love, the deadly Talia Al Ghul, daughter of Ra's, who clearly wants to use the boy Damian against his father. The rebellious Damian on the other hand wastes no time in infuriating his father by using his ninja skills (learned from Talia's bodyguard) to surprise and seriously wound Robin. It's been great to see how this has started to pick away at the Batman/Robin relationship.

On top of the family matter it seems Batman has inspired other wannabe heroes to take up the mantle of Batman, many of whom are suddenly and sarcastically murdered by a new (don't quote me on that) mysterious villain – and I haven't yet mentioned the three nightmare Batmen Bruce Wayne has begun to see in his dreams and encounter in Gotham. Add to this the possibility that Batman is losing his mind altogether, and seeing the past merging with the present – and I just don't know what's going to happen next! One more thing: I don't want to say too much but in recent issues we also have discovered a conspiracy within the Gotham Police Department that corruption-fighter Gordon was not aware of. And just what is Damian's future connection to the devil, as seen in Batman #666?

These shocking storylines, which seem to be leading to something far bigger, have been accompanied by strong art by the likes of Andy Kubert and Tony Daniel, who manage to show Bruce as a vulnerable and fearful man and a strong powerful hero at once. Comic fans might want to note that following Morrison's run there is going to be a special Batman issue by writer Neil Gaiman and superstar artist Jim Lee!

Grant Morrison is also behind the recent short series All-Star Superman series, as well as DC's current and unusual Final Crisis storyline, and he was a collaborator on “52” - more on that last one another time. However, next time I want to focus on his marvellously complex Seven Soldiers of Victory narrative.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Spiderman - why it's good and what to read

OK, as I have already spotlighted the Origin of Venom from 1984 way back in my July post (there’s even a pic of his first appearance) you might be wondering what’s new and interesting in Amazing Spiderman since then. We all know how since the 80s many of the battles between Spiderman and his villains (including Venom) were rehashed again and again and the Spiderman formula was pounded into an action-heavy, tiring and unfunny mess. But in 1999 Marvel recruited former Babylon 5 writer J Michael Straczynski to work on the comic book, and he began his landmark run with a strong series of tales which really pushed the hero into unexplored territory.

The best thing is – the collected stories can be found on Amazon second-hand for around £2 per volume, so it’s easy to get started. You’ll want to start with Volume 1: Coming Home, which introduces a new mystical villain, Morlun, and an intriguing new character who is at first shrouded in secrecy and goes by the name of Ezekiel. He meets Spiderman on the side of a building, and proves that he shares the same powers as Peter – a mystery that is only resolved after several more Ezekiel appearances, leading to a shocking finale in a kind of team-up story in Volume 6 (The Book of Ezekiel).

Straczynski not only had some creative ideas to bring to shake up Peter Parker’s life, he also keeps things fresh, peppering the book with new characters Spiderman encounters around New York, pop culture references and a good dose of humour. My personal favourite Spiderman story is in Volume 4: Unintended Consequences, in which Mary Jane and Peter finally re-unite, and the commanding and evil dictator Doctor Doom has to be protected from terrorists in the subway because of his political immunity at that time. Also I think the insight we get into Aunt May’s feelings in later issues provides a brilliant and grounded counter-balance to all the fantasy and conflict going on in Peter’s life – we really see through her eyes, and learn what is important to her.

A note of warning here: If you plan to buy the paperback collections, bear in mind that the same stories are published in different collections here in the UK than those in the US – but confusingly they have similar names! For instance the US volume called The Book of Ezekiel is Volume 7. So your options are: getting the ones produced by the UK publisher Panini or those from Marvel US. At the time of writing has the UK ones in stock. You might also want to check out Spiderman: Reign - a short but satisfying dystopian future tale in which a cranky Jonah Jameson attempts to get an aging Peter Parker to change his whole right-wing, oppressive, anti-mutant society. It also overlays this with some ideas about how fairy tales are meant to frighten you or warn you about the dark and very real dangers of the world.

Sad Clown

The song “Sad Clown” by the US band Jars of Clay seems to pick up on some of the themes and ideas in my recent book review of When People Are Big and God is Small. It highlights how we feel we have to perform for others and how we think we deserve other people’s attention and care because of that. The singer cries mournfully, “I put on this hat, I wore all this paint -just for you.”

As the song progresses it is clear that the character in the song knows someone who sees through his performance (singing “you break me open”), some person or love who exposes him uncomfortably to his own self-centredness. He is being controlled by thoughts about this Someone or about others, wondering: “Do I preoccupy you – with my wit – to cover this lie? Are you mesmerised? Do you think me faithful? Do you think I’m a clown?” Why is he paranoid about his faithfulness? Is he afraid he will not measure up to the standard?

I think the implication in the repeated refrain that “you break me open” is that God is the one who ultimately exposes him, because he sees him through and through, past every pretence. But perhaps, at the end of the day, the singer is inviting God to “stumble inside” with him. Some have suggested that the singer poses the question of what God thinks of our performance – He thinks we are being clowns when we strive to do religious things as if these things are pleasing or entertaining to Him. Could the song be hinting at the crushing truth that God is not impressed with our efforts? And that we need to see the shallowness of our performance, and accept how we can not earn God’s favour? Where is the answer? Can we come bare and empty to God to know and experience His passionate love for us? Is this in fact the only honest and true way to come to God at all?

The lyrics for many of the songs are left vague (perhaps too vague) and I don’t presume to know if this is the intended meaning, but I think it’s heading in the right direction.

If you don’t know the band, I’d invite you to get hold of the album “Sad Clown” is from: If I Left The Zoo. It’s not their best – that accolade probably goes to their funky and varied 2006 rock/pop album Good Monsters or their self-titled first album (from 1995), which has a more experimental folk rock feel. Having said all this If I Left The Zoo does have some great tracks including the hit “Crazy Times”, a personal favourite. Their sound is quite varied but it usually combines thoughtful and poetic lyrics with guitar-led music, which can produce anything from upbeat jangly pop (“Grace” or “Work”), to more raw and sombre songs (“Needful Hands” or “Oh My God”). I look forward to checking out their next projects.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Book Review: "When People are Big and God is Small"

In this comprehensive study book on the fear of man and fear of God in the world and in the Bible, Prof. Edward Welch provides a devastating critique of the way our generation treats relationships, and how we make other people into idols. We tend to believe that we can not do without certain individuals or groups of people, and that we need to serve them or do things their way, desiring to please them or win their approval. In this way Welch reveals how we often fear people more than God - and allow other people to be the controlling force over the way we work, drive, day-dream, organise our time and provide for others (etc).

Because we have allowed our feelings about how we are perceived to assume monstrous proportions in our lives, we can feel anxious or proud (or just plain awful) through comparing ourselves to others, or we may encounter recurring feelings of hurtful shame about things we have done in the past – feelings that we then try to cover up and sort out on our own. This all inhibits our worship of God, our creator, and leaves us focused on man instead. By making a god out of “self”, we become controlled by others, afraid of our real appearance, and so we create false identities to hide behind. Being afraid of exposure, we allow the fear of man to dominate our thoughts. And we end up with a self-centred desire to be needed or accepted by others, rather than actually loving them, and being centred on their needs.

Not only does Welch make us aware of how our culture can reinforce our desire to be controlled by people, he also brings home the challenge to our hearts and encourages us to take steps to learn more about the greatness of God. If we grow in our fear of God we will see our false ideas about what life is about for what they are: sinful illusions. As we grow in the fear of Him we should leave fear of people behind, like a dad who discards a pet project because it was keeping him from spending time serving others in the church; our attentions must be focused on the King.

Leading us through passages from the Psalms and Isaiah, and some of the teaching from both Bible Testaments, the latter chapters of the book encourage us, in a clear and helpful way, to dwell on God’s bigness and “otherness”, and to see how he is far above us in both love and justice. It really puts self-centred thinking in its place, and shows up our sin. As I read the book I found the words pressing in on the hidden desires of my heart: I know that all too often I have made life all about pleasing those around me, trying to manage my responsibilities in a way that makes me look good (and being stung by failure), instead of being honest about my sin in front of others and trusting God. Thanks to this book and the advice of friends I know I need to forget my plans to “be the best” and place our gracious, patient Saviour God in centre place. He is the one who has qualified believers to be in his kingdom of perfection and light (Colossians 1:12-14), and it is his astonishingly BIG plan for his glory in the universe (see Ephesians 1) that should be my focus for life. Let’s be thankful that if we are followers of Jesus, God has not only secured an incredible future for us in the gospel, he has promised us that there is power in living a life of service to him, even when it makes us appear weak and foolish in the eyes of others.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

V for Vendetta

This engrossing graphic novel is still shocking today, and totally compelling. Why shocking? Mainly because the people who star in this book do despicable things: it is a world where self and brutality reigns. Sex is shown to have become merely a blatant power game, and true affection, which is longed for by everyone from widows to important government types, is often only shown by V – the (probably brain-damaged) extremist assassin who wants to bring in a reign of anarchy in the hope that freedom will follow.

Why is the book compelling? This is partly due to the careful blend of ideas and influences, from the obvious (Guy Fawkes and 1984) to the musical and literary (Alice in Wonderland) and theatrical (from Shakespeare to vaudeville), which conspire to make V a wonderful character to follow. (He even includes a reference to a real Yale university social experiment, albeit in an exaggerated form.) Add to this the interesting symbolism present in the way he operates: His first acts include silencing the voice of “Fate” (an hourly and seemingly inevitable government radio programme) and leaving a bomb at the feet of London's Madam Justice statue, treating her as if she has spurned him and “bedded another”.

All this makes for fascinating reading, as do the interludes in which we follow the schemes and private lives of the dissatisfied and power-hungry, or others who are struggling to cope and retain their individual freedoms in this oppressive state. In fact, it all made me wish the recent film adaptation had taken time to build up a better picture of this depressed and de-motivated society and had moved more slowly and carefully through this often subtle and character-driven story.

More on Moore

Alan Moore seems to suggest much more through his work than is actually written. For instance the beautiful sequence in which Finch relives V's hellish escape from captivity ends in a panel of naked ecstasy for Finch, strongly referencing V's original escape. This seems to suggest that re-enacting someone else's experience can bring you to a similar mindset as him or her, or at least it can in this story. Of course method actors try to do the same in real life. But is it possible to go further and even assume someone else's motivations and thought patterns through going through similar trauma? Are people really that malleable?

If so this boils down to suggesting that criminals like V are to be excused for the things they do because the crimes inflicted against them have led to behave in this way. I agree humanity must bear responsibility for how we treat our fellow man, but what we do can never totally relieve another of his or her own responsibility – and we feel this with V. Despite the nature of the way he has been treated by the government, his methods are uncomfortable to us because they are so merciless and cruel.

As the plot plays out, Finch's painful and terrifying journey brings him to a point of enlightenment just like V's, but I am doubtful that his experience of failing at his job, seeing the deaths of his colleagues, and finally taking LSD and becoming entirely paranoid would bring him to the same ideas as someone with V's background and intelligent spirit. Elsewhere in the book, Evey is famously put through a similar experience to V and offered a new philosophy as a ray of light in her situation: That above all else she must never sell out and lose her integrity – she must stand for what she knows to be right, and not let her captors take that away from her. This is surely a noble and helpful idea, that each individual in society must live for what is good, and not give any room to evil, no matter the personal cost. But would everyone make a similar choice based on the reading of Valerie's letters? Isn't this experience more a form of brainwashing, presenting her with hope in only one direction, so that she makes the right decision, and so that she hates the government?

Perhaps you will understand my point if you read this book and engage with its utterly compelling world (this is one experience you do want to share). Of course you might disagree with me altogether...

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

When You Were Young

This week the new Killers song “Human” has been blaring out of the radio: “Are we human or are we dancers?” Recently I have been enjoying their 2006 album, Sam’s Town, which I have been listening to in between things like Newton Faulkner, the Editors and Stuart Townsend. So why do I like the Killers and their signature noisy mix of pop and rock?

For one thing, I enjoy the strange and sing-able lyrics, which often, on a basic level, question some aspect of who we are as people, or lament the loss of something, be it a particular friend, companionship, our feelings, or even our senses (eg “For Reasons Unknown”). The aforementioned album is impressive, and I find Brandon Flowers’ voice and the reverberating guitars together tend to evoke the feeling you get when life is slightly out of control - when you are struggling, but still see hope; when you have that feeling that “the sun is beating down my neck” but you’re still going to “make it out” somehow (see “Bling (Confessions of a King)”).

It’s hard to tell how serious their lyrics should to be taken – for instance one cover track from the Sawdust album (“Shadowplay”) states that “In a room without a window in the corner I found truth” without really indicating what that truth is (relationship? Understanding of oneself? Is “truth” really to be understood as something one can only get at in enclosed spaces?) I’d guess that some of the songs are about playing with ideas, and there is no particular coherent way of understanding them.

Others however seem to make useful observations of the ambitions and hopes of the young in the West. The track “When You Were Young” seems particularly relevant in today’s climate where pursuing a relationship is, for some, the reason for living. It resonates with me partly because of its music video, which sketches out a love story for us. At first, a beautiful girl is shown waiting by a large wooden cross, and remembering in brief flashbacks the relationship we are about to see unfold in the rest of the video. We next see her as she was, praying earnestly in an old church – and according to the lyrics longing for “a beautiful boy/ to save you from your old ways”. When she emerges a man (in a cowboy hat) appears over the ridge and takes her by the hand, while Brandon sings “Watch him now, here he comes!” Their relationship quickly becomes one of passionate love and sex, but in the space of a few seconds of play-time, we watch her discover him in bed with another woman. Totally distraught, she leaves and is pictured walking the streets alone. The resolution however is telling: She appears to make the decision to return to him, despite the fact that Brandon and his band seem to sing the following words of the song right at her: “He doesn’t look a thing like Jesus – but he talks like a gentlemen, as you imagined when you were young”.

Not only does the song create the real uncertainties and hopes that accompany a new relationship (“Can we climb this mountain? I don’t know”), it also seemingly addresses us (the whole piece uses direct second-person pronouns), showing up a common desire in us and our generation for that “perfect” relationship. It is as if we are all waiting our whole lives for a person of our imagination to turn up. But the contrast of reality, as shown in the video, is that the one we long for, while appearing to be perfect, the “gentleman” of childhood dreams, turns out to be less than we hoped for; we are still not saved.

How is this resolved for us? Do we have to strike out on our own, cut off ties from others and assert ourselves on our own, or do we merely accept the partner who hurts us for who he or she is and lower our expectations? Or perhaps neither of these alternatives show the most helpful attitudes to relationships, which we tend to charge with holding more promise and security and hope for us than they actually do. I certainly know of one guy my age who keeps getting into passionate relationships in the hope that they will “sort out” his life in some indefinable way – he seems to revel in riding the rollercoaster of emotions that each problematic relationship brings; that’s what life is about for him.

Of course we would all hope for a relationship that brings mutual encouragement and support, and a high view of faithfulness would seem right. But it is unsurprising to find ourselves unsaved by a relationship from “old ways” that we wanted to leave behind. And life is about more than youthful dreams of love – we don’t want to be paralysed and unable to face the future, waiting passively to be saved by a loving relationship, and looking for perfection in imperfect beings.

The story behind the song definitely highlights the gap between fairy-tale thoughts and shocking reality. I think we need to be somewhere in between – hopeful realists. What do you think? Do you agree with my reading of the music video? And can you see people you know naively falling for the lie that life is all about waiting for perfection to come in the form of “the right one”?

Well, this is a somewhat unique post for me – hopefully this blog is big enough for reflective and challenging prose as well as attempts at poetry and other issues and books I’m interested in. Next: a hybrid review/analysis of the wickedly brilliant graphic novel V for Vendetta.

Though the above image is subject to copyright, its use is covered by the U.S. fair use laws because:
# It illustrates an article about the album from which the cover illustration was taken.
# The image is used as the primary means of visual identification of the article topic.
# The use of the cover will not affect the value of the original work or limit the copyright holder's rights or ability to distribute the original. In particular, copies of the image could not be used to make illegal copies of the album artwork on another CD.
# It is a low resolution image.
# The image is only a small portion of the commercial product.
# It is not replaceable with an uncopyrighted or freely copyrighted image of comparable educational value.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Spotlighting Marvel must-reads

Presenting a few more Marvel series that should grab your attention...

Iron Man: Extremis (2005-6) – an unmissable addition to the Iron Man canon, the lifelike art and gritty story of Extremis has been acclaimed for bringing the character up to date for a new generation. What is Tony Stark’s response going to be to a new generation of weapons technology? What is his attitude to his own tech, and what is his responsibility as a hero? Here we see the moral lines blurring for Iron Man as he tries to mix pioneering technology and big business with the intention of benefiting the world. The villain of the piece is surprising too – it’s not often that an ordinary US citizen is shown to hate his country for good reasons. Writer Warren Ellis elevates this one till it becomes an analysis of what Iron Man is doing with his life and how he hopes to help society through using dangerous technology.

House of M (2005) – This story stunned Marvel fans as it opened up a wealth of unpleasant possibilities for the future of the whole Marvel universe, by seriously affecting the tense mutant/human relationship. The Xmen, New Avengers, and others try to find a way to face the Avenger who turned bad – a powerful witch, who is now bordering on complete mental breakdown. Unfortunately she wields the power to alter reality, and successfully alters the memories of all but one of the heroes, and even the entire history of the world, as a form of self-protection. Interestingly, the story becomes a quest for truth and for revenge as heroes like the Xmen and Spiderman are not content with the new reality they have been given, and want the world changed back to how it naturally was, the one they have worked for and have families in. What struck me most about this eight-issue series was the huge potential it had to alter relationships between characters and the whole Marvel world, and write Bendis really knows how to pile up the shocks. My only criticism would be that occasionally the art layouts on the page need re-thinking as they actually get in the way of the story – oh yes, and I don't like how everyone looks mean and nasty all the time. The pencils and inks are pretty snazzy in places though; look at Cloak or Luke Cage and you’ll see what I mean. One final word on it: the main House of M series was accompanied by some fun connected miniseries, the best of which was Spiderman: House of M (beautifully painted), followed by the almost-manga-style Iron Man one.

Captain America (Jan 2005-present) – Another of Marvel’s “big guns”, this World War II hero stranded in our time has become interesting again in this action-packed series from Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting. It is hard to resist the way the series examines its characters and their motivations, while providing an ongoing big-budget-movie espionage plotline, which takes our characters from Eastern Europe to Paris to the southern states of the US as the try to get ahead of businessman and terrorist Lukin, and the enemies and plans left behind by the deceased Nazi criminal the Red Skull. Here’s a snippet of Brubaker’s own thoughts on the character of Captain America and whether he is relevant today: “Captain America isn't some partisan tool. His history as a character since the mid-'60s shows that. He can call a lie a lie, and he doesn't care which side the liar is on. I think the United States really needs an icon without those partisan blinders on right now, more than ever.” (from - you can check out his new noir Marvel project there too.)

Fantastic Four: The End – Brit superstar artist Alan Davis both wrote and pencilled this brilliant mini-epic in 2007 and it quickly became one of my favourite stories of the year. Incredibly in such an explosive and colourful six issues it manages to get to heart of what made the Four such a likeable team and family in the old Jack Kirby and Stan Lee stories from the sixties (which by the way, are interesting both as comics history and as well-crafted and charming stories in their own right). In fact you really might want to check out the first 10 or 15 or more issues of Fantastic Four before you read it, as a lot of classic villains and other Marvel characters turn up. The plot is roughly as follows: In the future the Fantastic Four have split up after a battle with their nemesis Dr Doom, in which Reed and Sue’s children are killed. The lives they now lead are wildly different, as the universe is different, owing to Reed’s political power and his latest inventions, including something called the Methuselah treatment, which has given humanity long life. Johnny (the Human Torch) is now leader of the Avengers, having finally grown up enough to take the role, while Reed (Mr Fantastic) is now an obsessive worker, and neglects his former friends and estranged wife Sue. The story revolves around the way they have treated one another and dealt with their past traumas and where hope for the future can be found when new threats arise from alien races from the Fantastic Four’s history.

On reflection, it is interesting how youth is idolised here, amidst all the fantasy –children again and again are the ones to live and provide for, and, in this optimistic view, humanity will be saved by them. I guess this is refreshingly different from the UK’s culture of general pessimism and anxiety about our youth – but a similar feelings can be seen here in child-obsessed mums and overworked dads who live to provide for their children and to keep them safe. How are we to answer this culture? Right now, I don’t pretend to know!

That's a wrap for today - before long I will be posting on projects by some of my favourite comic writers, including JM Straczynski, Alan Moore and that utterly crazy Scotsman Grant Morrison. Oh and look out for some non-comic-related posts too! For now, enjoy some more great Marvel cover art, and feel free to leave comments on my very opinionated posts.

Friday, 3 October 2008

All types of Avengers

Young Avengers (Volume 1: Sidekicks) - In my opinion, this accessible and punchy 6-part series from a few years back typifies why Marvel is so much fun at the moment. Fantastic, sharp art throughout is combined with a modern and smart take on the role of new teenage heroes and their relationship to older Marvel heroes. The “young avengers” themselves are great new characters, having a streak of sarcastic humour and a daring spirit of “let’s-try-this-because-it-could-be-fun” when it comes to using their weird abilities, like being able to stop projectiles or fly by sheer will-power, or using Hulk-like strength to break through walls. Also long-time Marvel fans will get a kick out of seeing who the first major villain is that the team face – these teens are in way over their heads.

This gives me an excuse to talk about the classic Marvel super-team, the Avengers, which I became interested in maybe a couple of years before going to university. Led at various times by heroes like Iron Man, the Wasp, Captain America or Dr Henry Pym (Ant-man/Giant-man/Yellowjacket/Goliath), the team has been around since the ’60s (apart from a brief period when Marvel sold some of its characters due to near bankrupcy!) Looking back at that last sentence, it surprises me that founding memeber Thor has never got to lead the team, as far as I know - perhaps due to his unpredictable temper? Early on in its history the team dealt with a lot of dangerous threats unleashed by science (read: robots and reality-altering machines) as well as bids for world domination from sorcerers, mythical gods and even old Nazi commanders.

Some of the early stories, notably the Kree-Skrull War, are great adventures to read today – I especially enjoyed the early appearances of the brooding android called the Vision as printed in the late 60s and early 70s, as he wrestles with his own nature and with emotions which he calculates robots have no right to feel. Interestingly there’s a great deal of optimism about the worth and future of humanity in these stories, which is totally different to today’s darker ones – and the George Pérez art on some of the tales is stunning and full of vibrant detail.

The material from the late ’90s and early ’00s is also worth a look. For instance the epic Kang War saga is well-told and shocking - as are the following stories, as the team deals with problems with different team members and face a biological terrorist attack from an unknown enemy in "Red Zone". There was also a fun story where the Avengers came up against a team of apparently reformed criminals, the Thunderbolts, and different team members showed their true colours by choosing to support them and oppose the distrustful Captain America and others on their own team. Finally I can’t move on without mentioning the JLA/Avengers crossover which Marvel and DC ran in 2004 – the icing on the cake was that Pérez returned to draw a huge volume of heroes and cosmic beings in this epic (even damaging his hand in the process of pencilling one of the insanely detailed wrap-around covers [pictured above right])!

The brutal day the team was finally broken up is chronicled in a story called Avengers Disassembled (with incredibly dark, arresting artwork by David Finch). What an outcry this comic event caused! Fans asked how could writer Brian Michael Bendis kill off both Hawkeye and the Vision? Before long however he made it up to us by creating the New Avengers, an ongoing title in which classic Marvel heroes (and some new ones) seem to be taking a more hard-line approach in rounding up their enemies, and are once again involved in political wrangles with powerful government outfit SHIELD.

In the next few days I'll be putting up some more on some of the obvious highlights in Marvel's current output, including looking at the recent success of Iron Man and another dystopian future epic starring most of the Marvel Universe, called "Fantastic Four: The End". Until then, enjoy the beautiful New Avengers artwork I found on the web. Here's another one of mysterious new team member, Ronin: