Black Vortex: Interview With Sam Humphries

The Black Vortex starts today!

bv01Yes, Marvel Comics’ next big crossover for the X-Men and the Guardians of the Galaxy beings today with the Black Vortex Alpha issue. In celebration of the release, which I’ve been hyped for (and promoting) since NYCC, I had a chance to sit down with Legendary Star-Lord writer and “show runner” of the event, Sam Humphries, as he was finishing up writing the Omega issues, and chat about the crossover, what the Black Vortex is, and if everyone’s new favorite couple (or at least my favorite)– Kitty Pryde and Peter Quill–will survive the experience!

Acts of Geek: You and Brian Michael Bendis are the primary writers behind the crossover, but you’ve been dubbed the “show runner” of the event. What does that entail?

Sam Humphries: It entails watching helplessly as your email inbox is slowly massacred by a ruthless gang of very talented, very well-meaning co-conspirators.

In a sense, I am Spider-Man, watching over the sprawling city that is the Black Vortex. We’re talking thirteen issues of comics and around 30 characters. In the hands of dozens of creators and editors, an event like this can quickly become a disaster. Unless you are prepared — and we are VERY prepared.

It was my job to do a lot of that preparation before a single script page was written. I came up with the initial idea, and pitched it at a couple Marvel Editorial Retreats. I developed the overall outline for the overall story. I wrote a lengthy “Black Vortex Bible” to make sure everyone is armed with the information and background they need. But invariably there are questions, new ideas, and sticky wickets along the way. You gotta be ready to speak to all that in multiple email chains at once. If you make a change in chapter 3, how is that gonna affect chapter 10? Lots of stuff like that.

Fortunately, I am blessed with some stellar co-authors in Brian Michael Bendis, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Gerry Duggan, and John Layman. They fix whatever I screw up, and take the things I didn’t screw up and make them better. Plus our editorial staff Mike Marts, Katie Kubert, and Xander Jarowey…it’s a talented team, I’m lucky to have their support.

AoG: I believe this is your first time heading a big event. How is writing issues for this different from writing a stand alone title?

SH: When you write a stand-alone title, you can change whatever you want on the fly and you won’t get angry texts about it from your co-conspirators.

AoG: The relationship between Kitty Pryde and Peter Quill has been a major focus of Star-Lord, and Peter “popped the question” to Kitty, asking her to live in space with him. Will their relationship be a focal point of the event?

bv02SH: Yes, absolutely. That has been a major thread of THE LEGENDARY STAR-LORD, and the two of them form the nexus between the Guardians and the X-Men. And the Black Vortex is gonna put all our characters through some heavy soul-searching — Kitty and Peter’s relationship is gonna go through the grinder in this one. #StarKatNation fans are gonna be on the edge of their seats.

AoG: One of the things about Legendary Star-Lord that I love is Peter’s propensity to get kidnapped, tied up naked, and needing to be rescued by Kitty, or other ladies in his life. It feels reminiscent of Eisner’s The Spirit. Was that intentional? Where did the inspiration for this come from for you?

SH: Ha! I never thought of that. Love Eisner’s later work but never got into the Spirit very much. Peter is not rich, or a super-genius, or the best he is at what he does. Being extremely competent is not part of who he is as a character — he’s a scoundrel with a heart of gold.

But one of his strengths is his relationships — with his mom, with the Guardians, and now with Kitty. So when he does screw up, he has backup. He has community. People he can trust. People who will go to the mat for him. It takes a village to raise a scoundrel.

And if he happens to get shirtless along the way, well…that’s just how things go in space!

AoG: What’s the thing you are looking most forward to about the Black Vortex?

SH: The artwork. Ed McGuinness, Kris Anka, Valerio Schiti, Paco Medina, Andrea Sorrentino, Mike Mayhew…plus more we haven’t announced yet. This event is gonna be so beautiful…one of the best-looking crossovers in recent memory.

Even better, I don’t have to look forward to it, I get to see it NOW! And it is truly awesome. So maybe I am most looking forward to everyone else getting to see it.

AoG: What character has been the easiest for you to write? What character has been the most difficult?

bv03SH: Peter and Kitty have been the easiest. I’ve written them the most, and in some ways, the Black Vortex is like a diamond that has formed around their relationship. The hardest has probably been the modern Doctor Hank McCoy. It’s easy to write a genius, but to write a genius with heartbreak…saying anything more would involve spoilers.

AoG: What’s the best thing about being able to crossover the Guardians of the Galaxy and the X-Men?

SH: Taking characters who haven’t had a lot of time together and shoving them into unpredictable situations. Magik and Gamora. Beast and Rocket. A lot of times I discovered the characters with the most in common had the most potential for conflict…go figure…

AoG: The Black Vortex seems to be able to cosmically empower characters; can you give a little teaser for some of the cosmic powers that might be revealed in the crossover?

bv04SH: No spoilers. But I like to use these examples —

Joe Quesada loves to play guitar. If he submitted to the Black Vortex, he wouldn’t just be a great guitar player, he’d be able to torch an axe like Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, and George Harrison together — on their best days.

Axel Alonso is a long-time basketball player. If he submitted to the Black Vortex, he wouldn’t just be able to do a slam dunk or two, he’d be able to face off against the Dream Team a hundred games in a row and win every one — singlehandedly.

So apply that same logic to some of our heroes…

AoG: How would you sum up the Black Vortex in a sentence to someone who’s thinking about picking it up?

SH: It’s like every ice cream flavor you ever loved mixed with your favorite childhood memories topped with the tears of every hater who crossed your path. Hey, might as well swing for the fences…

So, well I dream about what I might become were I to submit to the Black Vortex (maybe the world’s greatest comic book writer? Or just an even bigger comic book nerd?), I hope you’ll join me in picking up The Black Vortex Alpha #1 (and the rest of the Black Vortex crossover), out now!

She Can Fly: NYCC Marvel Announcements

DC Comics did not have great representation this year at New York Comic Con. 80% of their panels were about Batman—and with good reason, considering it’s the 75th anniversary of the caped crusader. All the same, most of their panels lacked announcements that were particularly (multiple) earth-shattering (those came a few days later via Twitter).

Marvel, on the other hand, embraced NYCC as a chance to show off all the things they had planned, as well as the company’s own 75th anniversary. I attended three general Marvel panels, Death of Wolverine, Axel in Charge, and Cup o’ Joe. Each panel had their fair share of exciting announcements, and a positive patter with attendees who asked questions.

Marvel’s announcements ranged from new non-hero titles, like James Patterson’s YA book Maximum Ride series, and properties, like Star Wars, with a core Star Wars title, as well as solos for Darth Vader, Leia, Kanan as a padawan, to TV tie ins, like Operation SIN, part of the Peggy Carter television series (Howard Stark and Woodrow McCord will star alongside Peggy in the title, written by Kathryn Immonen) and Agents of SHIELD, which features a different artist each issue (the “essence” of the show will be interacting with the entire Marvel Universe), to classic superhero announcements:

Superior Iron Man will be a return to the “old” Tony: hard partying, fun loving, drinking…but he’s a “bad guy” now, and will be dealing with (fighting?) Daredevil.

Sam Wilson as Captain America will represent a shift for Cap. Sam has a “different way” of going about things.

Thor #2 will feature Thor in action, including “more hints” about who she is.

Axis is 9 issues in 3 months, with Red Skull use of Onslaught’s powers ultimately causing the Avengers and X-Men to team up and face him.

The final incursion of the “Time Runs Out…” series will filter into Secret Wars. “It will be the biggest thing we’ve ever done.”

The Black Vortex is a crossover including the Guardians of the Galaxy, the X-Men, Captain Marvel, and more. The titular vortex unleases the inner power of characters. “We could get a cosmic Kitty,” Sam Humphries teased. “What would her cosmic power be?” Bendis asked. “Being cosmically awesome?” The crossover will bring characters together, but also test the relationship of Kitty Pryde and Peter Quill.

Though Matt Fraction’s run on Hawkeye is ending, the solo series will not. Marvel announced that Hawkeye will continue, and the panel confirmed Kate Bishop will be a part of the series.

A new Ant-Man series featuring Scott Lang will also start up in January. The panel remained tight-lipped about the possibility of Cass or Hank Pym in the series.

Groot gets Venom-ized in Guardians of the Galaxy.

Kaine will be “all over Spider-verse…but we’re not killing him. Yet.”

Gamora, Spider-Gwen, and Silk are all getting their own solo titles.

In Uncanny X-Men “Scott will deal with the new, powerful mutant most successfully.” The newly recovered mutant will become a big part of Scott’s revolution. The story line will span the entire Marvel Universe, with the panel teasing that the “teen” characters on the team may come to realize they aren’t on the “right” team.

In All-New X-Men, the team is crossing over with the Ultimate universe. “There’s a very good chance that all the X-Men will not go back to the right universe,” said Bendis. His statement that “Ultimate Kitty will make an appearance” cause the crowd to cheer.

On the topic of the Ultimate Universe, Bendis revealed that “Jean will meet a Jean that is closer to her than the Jean Jean Jean Jean…”

The Uncanny and All New annuals feature Eva. Bendis is very excited for the titles to be released, teasing that they will include visits from the Rawhide Kid, X-Men 2099, and more.

Amazing X-Men’s next arc will focus on the return of the Juggernaut, pitting Cain and Colossus against one another.

Spider-Man and the X-Men will be written by the head writer of the Daily Show. Peter Parker tries to become a teacher, but not everyone at the school is who they seem to be. The second issues features dinosaurs and shirtless men as an incentive to buy it.

All New X-Factor is coming to an end, but not before tying up all its loose ends. In issue #18, Danger gets laid, and in issue #20, the secret of Harrison Snow and his plans for X-Factor are revealed. Peter David is also working on Deadpool’s Art of War, in which Deadpool resolves to use the Art of War book as a survival guide, and basically tries to plunge the entire world into war.

Greg Pak talked about inclusivity and his new comic Storm. “Comics are for everyone, and Storm was one of the first characters who opened that up to me.” Storm was one of many non-white characters on the Uncanny X-Men, and Pak emphasized the importance of Storm getting her due as both an important and a powerful character. In the wake of Wolverine’s death, she will “take care of some of Logan’s unfinished business,” as well as teaming up with Yukio.

As of November, Wolverine has been around for 4 decades, but he died the Wednesday after NYCC back at Weapon X. However, his story isn’t over yet! Following the end of the Wolverine series is a 7 part mini, the Logan Legacy, which looks at the less heroic characters associated with Logan, and how his death affects their villainy. The Weapon X spin off features labrats escaping and following in Logan’s footsteps, described as “the Runaways meets Frankenstein.” Other oneshots will spin out from the Death of Wolverine, including a Deadpool and Captain America team up and the Life After Logan anthology issue, with stories starring Cyclops, Nightcrawler, and Armor.

In January, Marvel will present an all new weekly series that follows Mystique, X-23, Daken, Sabertooth, and Lady Deathstrike as an unwilling team in Wolverines. The first issue features the Wrecking Crew. “We’ve got guest stars from every side,” including Fin Fang Foom in a later issue.

The Death of Wolverine panel definitively stated “Wolverine is dead and he’s not coming back any time soon.” “Wolverine and his death affect so many characters in so many profound ways” and all the different titles will try to handle what happens with as many characters as possible.

Of course, fans had plenty of questions, and, excitingly, plenty of time to ask them. One fan asked about the tinfoil hat theory that Marvel was ending the X-Men because of movie rights (much like the Fantastic Four). Bendis responded by pointing out Uncanny is almost entirely full of new characters who weren’t going away any time soon.

Another fan asked about Darkhawk; there are purportedly some hush-hush cosmic plans for him.

A question arose about the Ultimate Universe ending, to which only the cryptic answer “in 8 months, time runs out” was give.

At the time, the Captain Marvel movie had yet to be announced, so, when a female fan asked about female-led movies (a question repeated many times in different panels), the panel deflected her; “that’s a question for Kevin Feige.” They then pointed out that a number of coming television shows featured strong female leads. The panel also confirmed that the movies, TV shows, and upcoming Netflix series all existed in the same universe.

Events aren’t editorial dictates, something everyone was a little surprised to hear. The panel claimed they came about naturally from all the different characters existing in a shared universe.  “Our core titles tie in because they set the tone for the Marvel Universe…we try to make sure all the new books have their own identities,” but we have to reminder readers that they exist in a shared universe.

A fan asked “why are you killing Wolverine?” The panel glibly responded “to replace him with a female Wolverine.” And, let’s be honest, with the way Marvel has been producing female led titles (including the NYCC announced Silk and Spider-Gwen), that doesn’t seem so far-fetched anymore.

Back Issue Bin: X-Men/Teen Titans

Back Issue Bin: Marvel and DC Present The Uncanny X-Men and The New Teen Titans, 1982 (W- Chris Claremont, A- Walt Simonson)

imageThe year was 1982. The hottest title at Marvel was Uncanny X-Men, which had been drawn by John Byrne and written by Chris Claremont. Byrne had left in 1981, succeeded by Dave Cockrum. The hottest title at DC was The New Teen Titans, written by Marv Wolfman and drawn by George Perez.

The Titans were dealing with all sorts of teenage angst as well as supervillainous threats, while the X-Men had that whole Phoenix thing to deal with. Both titles were capturing the imagination, emptying the pockets, and competing for the attentions of comicbook loving fans everywhere!

So, when these two teams teamed-up for the 4th intercompany crossover it was big news! It would be akin to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones holding a concert together and backing each other up. Or, so as to not date myself, it would be like Jay-Z marrying Beyonce.

The artists for this epic crossover was Walt Simonson had done some work for both companies but was not yet the legend he is today, his Thor run was still a year away.

But, Claremont was the regular X-Men writer. Would it have been awesome to see Perez or Byrne or Cockrum do the book? Yes, but then, that also would have given an advantage to one company over another. As much as I love Byrne’s Marvel output, I would have loved to have seen Perez tackle this book!

Kitty Pryde had only been introduced two years prior, and although she isn’t necessarily a key player here, her character is still defined by being young and swooning over boys and crushing on Piotr. Fortunately, there is nothing as bizarre or creepy as in her Micronauts crossover.

Before I touch on the content, the first thing I noticed was the Marvel house ad on the inside cover .

The image of Kitty is tiny, and truly, I have no idea what “Marvel Comics is Power” means. DC’s house ad at the back of the book makes far more sense “DC Is On the Move!”

Onto the content. If I were to ask you, for either universe to name two teams who would be likely to have to deal with Darkseid and the New Gods, would either team immediately come to mind? Would either team come to mind after listing 10 other teams? Twenty other teams? I would bet the answer would be no.

However, that is the focus of this issue.

And, Claremont makes it work.

I have no idea about the inner workings of either editorial staff, but I might speculate that both companies offered up pitches for a story, and that Claremont’s won.

It involves the Phoenix force, a force so universally deadly and powerful that Starfire knows of and is terrified by it.

This gimmick to tie the two teams together worked very well. Claremont did his homework!

As with all Back Issue Bins, I do not want to give too much away, but if you can find this oversized issue, pick it up!

All’s Fair In Love & Comics: Star-Crossed Lovers

I’m a sucker for love. From the classic Young Romance comics to in-game trysts, I believe romantic relationships can be a part of any good story.

afilac01-01But it’s not just any romance that makes a story better. It’s the kind that enhances the characters, puts them in a new light, and puts them out of their comfort zones. And that’s why I think the romance between Peter Quill (aka Star-Lord) and Kitty Pryde (formerly Shadowcat) is a really stellar addition to the current continuity of the Marvel Universe.

Their romance is unique to comics right now: it’s light-hearted, fun, and inventive, and obviously not taken too seriously. Introduced at the tail end of the Brian Michael Bendis written All New X-Men/Guardians of the Galaxy crossover, the Trial of Jean Grey, Kitty falls for another Peter (in a long line of Peters). But this time is different from the others; the relationship is a long-distance one, and is moving very slowly, and I think that’s an asset. The low-key pace allows for some pretty drastic character growth: Quill is (slowly) quitting his playboy ways in favor of what is honestly a very chaste, capital-R Relationship. Kitty is coming out of her shell and opening up to someone who doesn’t know every detail of her life (unlike Iceman, Colossus, or even Pete Wisdom). It also opens Kitty up to the chance of moving out of the X-world and into the rest of the Marvel Universe; while I doubt she’ll be joining the Guardians of the Galaxy anytime soon, it bodes well for team-ups (and maybe, one day, she’ll follow in the footsteps of Beast and become an Avenger).

afilac01-03While Bendis started the relationship (and continues it throughout the pages of All New X-Men, primarily), it really shines in the hands of Legendary Star-Lord writer Sam Humphries. Humphries has great comedic timing, and a very good grasp of the voices of both characters. Only three issues in, he’s establishing them as hesitant and smitten, but also goofy–they clearly connect. Paco Medina’s strongly-lined art adds to the humor and fun of the book. And while the relationship distances the comics from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, they make small nods to the little details that fans of the film Guardians of the Galaxy will love–Peter’s Awesome Mix, Blue Swede’s Hooked on a Feeling, Rocket’s sassy nicknames for his friends…

afilac01-04The relationship also addresses deeper subjects, like Kitty’s space bullet-based PTSD and Quill’s racism against the Badoon and suspicion of the Phoenix, and both of their fears of commitment.

This romance may not be one that lasts—although I wouldn’t mind it sticking around—but I think it’s a superb example of how romance should be handled and written in comics. It isn’t about lust, or fast-paced hook-ups (although that can be interesting); it’s about characters finding common ground and bonding on a deeper level. It’s light and fun and feels realistically flirtatious for a pair of people who spend most of their day in spandex.

afilac01-06Star-Lord editor Xander Jarowey definitely sums it up best: “You know, if a girl braved space to save my butt despite some serious traumatic history with space-bullets I’d probably fall for her too. Especially if she had some good mixtapes. I can feel the love tonight, can you?”

Back Issue Bin: X-Men and the Micronauts

X-Men and the Micronauts-4 Issue Miniseries (1984, Writers: Chris Claremont and Bill Mantlo; Art: Butch Guice)

So, comicbook characters are sometimes treated like real people, with their appearances in other books being highly promoted and a cause for excitement. Of course, these are not real people, and they can make an appearance any time editorial decides it is the right thing to do. For a while, Spider-Man was the go to guy for titles, appearing in Godzilla and The Champions, as well as having his own Marvel Team-Up book. Then, the X-Men arrived. An appearance by an X-Man was reason to celebrate, The Avengers were your father’s team, the X-Men were cool and hip. They fought famine in Africa, crossed over with the Teen Titans, and finally, Claremont and Mantlo teamed up for an X-Men and Micronauts crossover!

For historical perspective, this was when Kitty Pryde was Ariel with her awesome green and brown costume.

The Micronauts were a Marvel property that long out-lasted the toy line they spun off from, and as recently pointed out characters from the Micronauts corner of the universe have remained in the Marvel U, from Bug in the Guardians of the Galaxy (the second most recent iteration) to Baron Karza showing up in the Avengers (although not named).

So, the reasons for the two teams pairing up is typical heavy handed comic book stuff.

But, man oh man, does the writing have some big plot holes and contrivances: Kitty is mind swapped with Karza (not the last time that Kitty has been mind controlled, though in a nice nod to why this happened, it is shown that Kitty needs to practice her psychic shields), but while Karza talks through Kitty’s body and no one is suspicious, Kitty still speaks as Karza it seems. Mind-swapping is a big part of the plot of this series, and at no point as a reader do we not say “but why doesn’t character X just say something?!”

So, aside from era appropriate hammy writing, what reason is there to pick this up? It is a great primer to the Micronauts, whose character designs are top-notch. And, there is some surprisingly mature sexual content, both in regards to Marionette and the very young Kitty Pryde, all of which is off-putting and creepy.

It’s an odd series, but for fans of either the X-Men or Micronauts is worth picking up, if only to get some exciting, long forgotten backstory on both teams, as well as appearances by the New Mutants.

Irrational Movie Review-X-Men: Days of Future Past

X-Men_Days_of_Future_Past_posterIt didn’t suck.  It was actually enjoyable.  I have some hopes for the X-Franchise.  Will Kitty Pryde get time travel powers in the comics? We can only hope not.  There was a whole lot going on with this movie, but it was actually pretty coherent, and I was surprised that I liked it.  Welcome back to the franchise, Bryan Singer. Superman fans might never forgive you. I was reminded that you made Valkyrie, a movie based on real facts and stuff that had me actually asking myself as the climax built “wait, will they really kill Hitler?”

Rating: e




There are lots of reviews already out there, so instead of trying to replicate the cadence of a traditional movie reviews, we bring you Irrational Movie Reviews. Exactly 97 words, and rated on a scale from i (square root of -1), φ (approx. 1.61), e ( approx. 2.71) and π (approx. 3.14).