Listen to ‘Gobbledygeek’ Episode 342, “Captain America and the Falcon: Secret Empire (feat. Ensley F. Guffey)”

Gobbledygeek episode 342, “Captain America and the Falcon: Secret Empire (feat. Ensley F. Guffey),” is available for listening or download right here and on iTunes here.

An American feels betrayed by his government, which has revealed itself to be nothing but a bureaucratic system designed to conceal criminal activity. Sounds familiar, right? It’s also the basis for the superhero classic Captain America and the Falcon: Secret Empire. Steve Englehart, Mike Friedrich, and Sal Buscema’s Nixon-era tale finds Cap on the run from a populace that no longer trusts him. Joining Paul and Arlo for this Four-Color Flashback installment is Wanna Cook? author and Cap superfan Ensley F. Guffey. The gang discusses why a story like this couldn’t be told today, how it’s difficult to understand Watergate’s importance given today’s political climate, the uncomfortable jive-talkin’ racial stereotypes, and why the outrageous cornball of old superhero comics doesn’t dilute its power. Plus, Arlo makes an apology and the gang shares what comics they’ve been reading.

Next: it’s all been leading to this. Avengers: Infinity War.

(Show notes for “Captain America and the Falcon: Secret Empire.”)

Paul & AJ’s Top 10 Comics of 2012

We’ve already listed our favorite TV shows and movies of last year, and we’ve got a couple more lists just before the new season begins. Here are our favorite comic books of 2012; check back tomorrow for our favorite albums (though, considering our extensively detailed history of not knowing how to talk about music, with YouTube clips instead of commentary).

PAUL: 10. THOR: GOD OF THUNDER (Marvel)

Thor in 'Thor: God of Thunder' #1. Art by Esad Ribic.

There was a period of time when Thor was my favorite character in comics. The golden Walt Simonson era was for me the height of otherworldly sword and sorcery super heroics. And while its been quite some time since the character has achieved anything close to that level of wonder, in recent years he’s enjoyed something of a renaissance. From his “death,” to his literal return to Earth under the guidance of J. Michael Straczynski, to his big screen debut, the petulant son of Asgard is kind of back in a big way.

Thor: God of Thunder is the newest incarnation of the title, with the unlikely writer Jason Aaron giving us a triptych of thunder gods, a tale of an alien butcher seeking to torture and destroy all deities told across three different periods of Thor’s life. We see young, arrogant Thor (pre-Mjolnir) and his first meeting with Gorr the God Butcher; modern-day Avenger Thor going full CSI trying to solve the mystery of who or what Gorr is; and far-future Thor, old and broken, sitting on the throne of an empty Asgard, the last surviving god, waiting for Gorr to finish him. It’s a brutal, bloody, and fascinating premise, though I do wish Gorr was slightly more imposing-looking rather than just being a Voldemort rip-off. Aaron creates a genuine mystery and sense of danger with real stakes for our hero, and the painterly art of Esad Ribic suits the romantic epic nature of the story. It’s not quite Simonson-level Mighty Thor (there’s thus far no Beta Ray Bill here), but Thor: God of Thunder is the best the character has been in a long time.

AJ: 10. ANGEL & FAITH (Dark Horse)

Angel, Willow, Connor, and Faith in 'Angel & Faith' #14. Art by Rebekah Isaacs.

I know Whedon fandom is crazy, but I might just be the biggest Buffy fan on the planet. That’s a huge claim, and while I haven’t tattooed James Marsters’ face on my ass or anything (yet), it really is difficult to describe how much Joss Whedon’s world means to me. Without Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I wouldn’t be here today. You wouldn’t be reading these words and I would have even less of an idea of what I want to do with my life. So it pains me greatly to say that the canonical Season 8 and Season 9 comics, though they have certainly had their moments, are largely disposable and occasionally worse. But then there’s Angel & Faith, which has done the impossible, making a monthly comic book series feel like the weekly television shows we fell in love with all those years ago. Christos Gage knows these characters inside and out, both their voices and their motivations. It’s never a question of if the comic will tie back into the shows’ stated mythology, but when and how spine-tingling those connections will be. These are the characters I have loved for a good deal of my life in a story that’s being brilliantly told by Gage and brought to life with wonderful clarity by artist Rebekah Isaacs. If you’re skeptical about Buffyverse comics, you have every right to be, but this one should be a priority.

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Last Month’s Comics: ‘Uncanny X-Men’ Ends (Until the Next Issue), ‘Spaceman’ Lifts Off

Welcome to Last Month’s Comics, in which I discuss, uh, last month’s comics. I get my comics in bi-monthly shipments from Discount Comic Book Service, and as such, I can be a little behind. So here we are.

This column is later than usual, as I was a little preoccupied earlier this month, but for all those still madly wondering about what October 2011’s comics had to offer, here we go…

BEST #1

Spaceman #1
Writer: Brian Azzarello
Art: Eduardo Risso
Publisher: Vertigo

I’ve read only a fraction of Azzarello and Risso’s acclaimed 100 Bullets, which ran for ten years from 1999 to 2009, but one needs no familiarity with their past work to be immediately sucked in by the opening chapter of Spaceman, their new nine-issue mini-series from Vertigo. It takes place in a weird, sad future, just a few monsters and flying cars away from the one in Joss Whedon’s Fray. Our protagonist is Orson, a monkey-ish man genetically engineered to travel to Mars, a trip the human race never got to make. Orson and his low-class friends speak in bizarre, disjointed slang; “okee” is how they say okay, and they actually say “LOL LOL LOL” instead of laughing. In this first issue, Orson has ominous spaceman dreams and becomes involved in the kidnapping of the adopted child of reality TV stars. Eduardo Risso’s art is terrific, Brian Azzarello’s storytelling immediately compelling. Choice line, as Orson’s alarm chirps “New day, new day, new day” while he opens the door on a bleak, cloudless future: “Why, you lyin machine…it’s the same fuck old day it always is.” (Plus: $1!)

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Last Month’s Comics: DC Reboots and ‘Spider-Island’ Breaks Out

Welcome to Last Month’s Comics, in which I will discuss, uh, last month’s comics. The past couple episodes, we’ve pimped Direct Comic Book Service, which I’ve recently started using as a way to return to regular comics reading. The only downside is that I only get bi-weekly shipments (the weekly option is there, it’s just more expensive), so I won’t wind up reading all of my comics from one month until the beginning or the middle of the next. So I figured it’d be nice to sum up my thoughts, frustrations, and surprises about each month’s comics in a single column. It should be noted that, of course, I’m only reading comics that strike my fancy, there are some books I won’t get started on until a couple months from now, and that I also skipped out on all of DC’s books this month…with one exception.

Let’s get started with August 2011…

BEST #1
Angel & Faith #1
Writer: Christos Gage
Art: Rebekah Isaacs (pencils/inks), Dan Jackson (colors)
Executive Producer: Joss Whedon
Publisher: Dark Horse

Last year, Gobbledygeek called Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Eight the Worst Comic Book of 2010. It was more a symbolic award than anything: there were worse comics, but none that were more disappointing. Season Eight had a very strong first two-thirds, but in the last third, things went awry more than they went a-right (please forgive me). It all culminated in the bizarre, confusing, contrived “Twilight’s Last Gleaming” arc. However, the final issue was a stellar return to form, and Joss Whedon has promised that Season Nine will be smaller, more character-driven, less prone to jump-the-shark-ness. Judging from Angel & Faith #1, the first piece of Season Nine, I’d say he’s kept that promise. Though I still don’t fully understand what Angel was up to last season–“Your whole Twilight phase makes about as much sense as a David Lynch movie,” so says Faith–watching him again struggling with remorse over his actions and back in help-the-helpless mode is refreshing. Where once Angel was Faith’s mentor, the roles have reversed. Faith is now there to help Angel deal with his grief, though based on the last-page shocker, she’s got a lot of work to do. Christos Gage has all of the characters’ voices down pat, and Rebekah Isaacs’ art might be the best to ever grace any Whedon comic. Can she draw Buffy too?

(Paul and I reviewed Angel & Faith #1 in “Talking Turkey.”)

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Four-Color Flashback: Chris Claremont & John Byrne’s ‘Uncanny X-Men’ #136-143

Welcome to the final week in our analysis of Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s run on Uncanny X-Men. The first four weeks can be found here, here, here, and here.

Fearless readers, we have come to the end of Claremont/Byrne’s classic run on Uncanny X-Men. There are some very emotional points in these issues, but on the whole, this doesn’t feel like an ending so much as it does yet another springboard for future storylines. And that’s what it is: after all, Uncanny X-Men is still going 30 years later, and even with Byrne’s departure, Claremont had another ten years left on the title. What’s more, Claremont and Byrne had things planned out for a further seven issues until Byrne decided to leave. But more on that later. For now, we’ll dive headfirst into the final eight issues of their run together.

When last we left our merry mutants, Dark Phoenix was preparing to return to Earth, her appetite for destruction not sated by consuming a whole star. In advance of her return, Lilandra’s Grand Council plans her demise, President Carter (for whom Claremont brings back his regrettable dialects) tells Jarvis to assemble the Avengers, and Beast devises a “mnemonic scrambler” which the X-Men can place on Phoenix to limit her powers. The first place Jean goes upon re-entering Earth’s atmosphere is her family’s home in Annandale-on-Hudson. Claremont’s captions say that “[t]his is Jean Grey’s home, not Dark Phoenix’s,” “[y]et Jean Grey is Dark Phoenix.” Her parents, and her sister, are woken from their beds in the middle of the night, their minds now an open book for Jean to unwillingly read. She senses their fear of her, and lashes out, turning a potted plant to crystal as an example of her terrible power. And she would have done more were it not for an unnatural fog produced by Storm that draws Jean out of the house, allowing Kurt to slap the mnemonic scrambler on her.

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Four-Color Flashback: Chris Claremont & John Byrne’s ‘Uncanny X-Men’ #129-135

Welcome to week 4 of 5 in our analysis of Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s run on Uncanny X-Men. Weeks 1, 2, and 3 can be found here, here, and here.

Well.

This is not quite the reaction I was expecting. They’d fought Magneto, endured the Savage Land, tussled with Arcade and Proteus, and now the X-Men were preparing to go up against possibly their biggest threats yet, the Hellfire Club and Dark Phoenix. And yet I’m sitting here, after these seven issues, with a slight pang of disappointment. There are a number of things I could blame this disappointment on. First and foremost, as you may have noticed by the delayed episode this week, these last few days at Gobbledygeek HQ have been a mite rough. You’re also probably reading this column at least a day late. I don’t regard anything about this column as a chore–it was my idea, and there’s no money involved–but all the same, when you know you have something to do and not much time in which to do it, it can seem like a chore. Which I fully admit is not the best frame of mind to approach a work of art, be it a comic book, a movie, an album, what have you.

But the only reason I bring that up is because I don’t really want to consider the alternative: that for the first time during their run, and ramping up to the most iconic storyline of their joint tenure, Claremont and Byrne have stumbled. Nothing huge or damaging, but instead of continuing their ascent, a little fumbling of the ball. There are parts of these issues that are as epic as they should be, but something feels a little off.

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Four-Color Flashback: Chris Claremont & John Byrne’s ‘Uncanny X-Men’ #122-128

Welcome to week 3 of 5 in our analysis of Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s run on Uncanny X-Men. Weeks 1 and 2 can be found here and here.

From #122, “Cry for the Children!,” to #128, “The Action of the Tiger!,” almost every X-Man experiences considerable developments. Since I spilled a boatload of digital ink in the first two columns by going through each issue chronologically, I figured I’d take a different tack this week. I’ll discuss each X-Man individually, then offer some overall thoughts after the fact.

First up:

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