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King in Black Looks to The Past for the Future, Sending Comic Collectors Searching for an Obscure 40-Year-Old Comic Book

If you are a comic book fan who hasn’t been living under a rock for the last couple of years, you’re probably familiar with the ongoing Marvel comics crossover event King in Black, which begins with the much-awaited arrival of Knull, the God of all symbiotes. This is the biggest crossover of the year and is the brain child of writer Donny Cates, who has officially made Venom an A-List character in the world of Marvel comics.  Everything Cates has worked on for the last several years is finally culminating in this epic crossover, but the seeds of this culmination go back much further than you think. In fact, they go back to a relatively obscure back issue drawn by Steve Ditko 40 years ago.    A 40-year-old comic book finds new meaning.  That issue is Marvel Spotlight #9, and until recently, you could pick it up in a discount bin at any comic book store. The issue also contains a villain that was, back then, considered inconsequential at best.  In the issue, a shadowy villain named Mr. E takes a host in the form of a scientist for NASA. He then infects an entire hospital, turning staff and patients into shadow-like slaves to his own will. Mr. E comes up with an elaborate scheme to kill all life on Earth by turning the sun into a black star, but is ultimately defeated by Captain Universe, who seemingly causes Mr. E to fly directly into the sun and perish. The story utilizes the average comic book “villain of the month” formula that was common for the series in 1980. Nobody ever expected to see Mr. E again.  Symbiote Spider-Man: King in Black links to the past.  Of course, that was before Symbiote Spider-Man: King in Black #1 was released last month. Written by Peter David and drawn by Greg Land, the first issue of this series takes place sometime after Peter Parker originally obtained the infamous black symbiote suit. Alistair Smythe is locked up in Ravencroft Institute, when he’s visited by a figure who looks just like his deceased father. The figure reveals that it needs a host to survive, and gives Alistair instructions to create a formula that will make him walk again.  Meanwhile, Uatu the Watcher is taken captive by Kang the Conqueror, who attempts to extract knowledge from Uatu’s brain in order to “save the universe.” This backfires after Uatu uses his own power to obtain all of Kang’s knowledge, causing the computer to short circuit and destroy Kang’s ship.  Alistair injects himself with the formula he was instructed to make, and becomes the new host for the mysterious entity that visited him. He releases the formula into the ventilation, causing the Ravencroft staff to turn into the same shadow slaves from Marvel Spotlight #9. Spider-Man then comes face to face with Smythe, who reveals himself to be Mr. E, the very same villain last seen 40 years ago.    Recognizing the black suit as a symbiote, Mr. E believes him to be an ally. Peter Parker doesn’t yet know anything about the symbiotes, and declares Mr. E as his enemy. A skirmish takes place and eventually the Black Knight gets involved. Before retreating, Mr. E states “Creation moves forward. Uncreation moves backwards” and disappears.  In the final pages, Kang is floating in space before being taken in by a wandering ship, which is captained by the Guardians of the Galaxy’s own Rocket Racoon.  What does all this mean?  So, what does all this mean? Well for starters, Marvel Spotlight #9 just went way up in value. A comic that you could once find in most discount bins has collectors scrambling through their own collections, and comic shop owners searching through their inventory. Ebay sellers are now listing the issue anywhere from $60 to $150 online.  Secondly, it means the King in Black comic event may be full of twists and throwbacks that put even the Secret Invasion to shame.  Lastly, it means that comic book writers still have plenty of lore to dive into when it comes to obscure characters that have long since been forgotten. Who knows? Maybe one of the subjects of our very own blog series of the same name could become a major player in a future comic book series. Stay tuned! 

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Retro Comic Review: Avengers #196 

For the first entry in our new retro comic review blog series, we are taking a look at Avengers #196, which was published in June of 1980. This issue features the first full appearance of Taskmaster, who briefly made a cameo appearance at the end of Avengers #195, having been revealed as the head of a combat training facility infiltrated by the Avengers.  The Terrible Toll of The Taskmaster  After revealing himself to be the man in charge of the secret supervillain training compound, Taskmaster takes Wasp, Yellowjacket, and Ant Man hostage. In classic fashion for a villain of this era, Taskmaster takes little time in showing off his own abilities. He offers to pay $10,000 to a group of his own henchmen to try and take him down. Naturally, they all fail, only serving to showcase Taskmaster’s photographic muscle memory ability. In the brief skirmish, he mimics moves he learned from watching Captain America, Daredevil, Spider-Man, and Hawkeye. Despite running these supervillain training facilities for years undetected, Taskmaster apparently can’t let an opportunity to show off his own skill be wasted.    “It Just Comes Natural”  The onlookers are shocked at the amazing display of skill and physical prowess. Wasp questions how Taskmaster could be so adept, to which he replies: “It just comes natural.” At this point, Tasky reveals that from a young age, he developed photographic reflexes which he decided to utilize for financial gains. Though he briefly considered becoming a superhero, he ultimately came to the conclusion that there was more money in crime. Rather than risk jail time as a run-of-the-mill villain, he instead opened up several secretive henchman training facilities. After all, the bad guys have to get their henchmen somewhere.  After revealing his origin, Taskmaster next turns his ire on his administrator, Dr. Pernell Solomon, for allowing the Avengers to discover their facility. Though he gives Dr. Solomon an opportunity to defeat him in one-on-one combat, the frail doctor suffers a heart attack and dies.   Outside the facility, the rest of the Avengers await any word from Yellowjacket, Ant Man, and Wasp. We get a great sense of the friendship that has developed between Beast and Wonder Man, which even Iron Man seems to be impressed by, having himself experienced the friction of earlier incarnations of the Avengers. Ant Man then sends out several ants as an S.O.S. to let them know they are in trouble.   Avengers Assemble!  The Avengers burst onto the scene and demand Taskmaster’s surrender. However, the villain sees this as an opportunity to test out some of his trainees. While the Avengers take the fight to the henchmen, Captain America and Iron Man chase down Taskmaster and engage in battle with him. Taskmaster is excited to show off his skills against the very heroes that he has studied for years. He goes blow for blow with Captain America before anticipating Iron Man’s repulsor blast, countering with a disruptor arrow before he can strike. Taskmaster considers taking on all the Avengers in one-on-one combat before retreating instead.  The Great Escape As the Avengers finish off the henchmen, Jocasta stalls Taskmaster. Taskmaster has never seen Jocasta before and therefore is unable to anticipate her moves. The rest of the Avengers join in. Just before they can apprehend him, he uses a magnesium flare to make his final escape.   The story comes to an end with Captain America expressing his appreciation to Jocasta for preventing Taskmaster from doing any more damage, officially welcoming her to the Avengers.  A Worthy Origin Story Overall, this is one of the better supervillain origin issues. Taskmaster being an unseen criminal training instructor is a great way to introduce him to Marvel comics. The story makes sense and it gives a little more depth and explanation as to where some of the front-line henchmen come from. This character introduction also leaves ample opportunity for flashbacks, since it is revealed that Taskmaster has been at this for years.  

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How to Commission a Sketch from Your Favorite Artist 

If you’ve ever been to a comic expo of some kind, chances are you’ve probably bought artwork from one of the vendors, or at the very least, taken the time to observe and appreciate the prints on display above one of their booths. Either way, with the sheer abundance of artists who gather at these events, there’s bound to be a few that caught your eye.  Maybe you bought a print of one of your favorite comic book characters from an artist, and it inspired a vision for a custom work of art that you desire.  Alternatively, perhaps you’re a fan of a specific artist’s work, but his or her collection doesn’t line up with your own fandom.   If either of these are the case, you might consider whether the artist is willing to commission a sketch for you personally. This can be a collaborative and rewarding experience, but also intimidating if you’ve never asked before.  Here are some tips for commissioning a sketch from your favorite artist.  The first thing you are going to want to do is pick an artist.  Now you may already have an artist in mind, which is fine, but artists are very busy people. Clearly, you picked this artist for their talent, and that means they’re probably already in high demand. This means they may already be backed up with work. If you’re lucky, they may put you on a waiting list, but it’s up to you to determine if you’re willing to wait. It may be time to gather a list of other artists that you enjoy.  If your first choice is a no-go, it’s time to start researching artists.  You can always research artists online. You can do a Google search for artists whose styles catch your eye, check social media platforms, or browse art sites such as deviantart.com. Search for keywords that fit your style, and pick a few that meet your own personal preference.  Research the artists you chose and then contact them.  Just checking the artist’s website may provide you with answers as to whether they do commission work and how much they charge. The best way to get in touch with them is usually directly through email. When contacting them, be as clear as possible about what you’re looking for.   Communication is absolutely key in these situations.   Explain to them what kind of work you’d like done. Just as you may decide an artist’s work does not match what you’re looking for, the artist may also decide that what you’re asking for does not match their own specialty. Also, don’t withhold important information on what you’d like done. For instance, don’t tell the artist at the last minute that you are wanting several more characters in your sketch.  Do not waste an artist’s time.  Whatever you do, don’t waste somebody’s time. If you see that the artist lists a specific fee for commissions on their website and your budget won’t cover it, don’t try to negotiate a lower fee. Always have your budget in mind. If you go into this arrangement lacking tact, this person will not ever want to work with you.  Be courteous always.  Again, these artists value their time and they do not have to work with you, so please be kind and courteous when discussing business with them. A negative experience does nothing for either of you. On the other hand, having a pleasant exchange may allow you to do business again.  Be sure to finish up by discussing all the terms of the contract.  Setting clear expectations ensures a positive and professional experience for both parties. Be sure to outline in the contract details such as your full name, as well as the artist’s full name, and the current date. Price, payment method, as well as a time frame should all be included in the contract. Be as clear and concise as possible with your expectations.  

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Forgotten Comic Characters: The Wicked Wall

The Origins of The Wall  If you’re familiar with the site, you have probably read our blog series “Where Are They Now: Forgotten Comic Book Characters.” In searching for the next subject for that series, we stumbled across a unique comic book character. This is a character so obscure, that he only ever appeared in one comic book. Because of the fact that the character never appeared again, this entry is going to be a little different. We are taking a look at quite possibly the strangest, most ludicrous, and most obscure character in comic book history. I’m talking about “The Wall.”  *First and only appearance: “Spidey Super Stories #8 (May 1975)  Now that sounds like a cool name for a comic book villain, right? One might initially assume to liken this character’s abilities to that of The Blob, Colossus, or maybe Juggernaut. Well… Sort of.. Not exactly… The Wall’s powers are a little bit different. You see, The Wall is literally a wall with legs.  A Happy Boy Becomes a Wicked Wall Okay, let’s go back to the beginning. Surely, an origin story will shed some light on this perplexing character. You see, The Wall was once just like any other high school student in the 1970s. In fact, The Wall was born a normal boy by the name of Joshua Waldemeyer (Oh, I see what they did there). Like many students during this era, Josh worked a part-time job in his free time. He worked as a brick layer. Unfortunately for Josh, a very common occurrence in 1970s comic books occurred that would change his life forever; A sudden explosion toppled the brick wall that he and his boss (who for some reason looks like a mad scientist) were working on, burying poor Josh in the rubble. “That blast turned the happy boy into the Wicked Wall!”  As the Wall, Josh possessed superhuman abilities. Aside from the fact that he literally turned into a walking brick wall, he also was granted superhuman strength as well as the durability of concrete. Josh was also able to move at a speed far greater than that of a normal brick wall.  Choosing a Life of Crime (Trespassing and 2 counts of assault)  One quiet day, Peter Parker decided to go to a Mets game while wearing his Spider-Man costume. For some reason, which has never been determined, The Wall decided he wanted to wreck Spidey’s off day. Rather than kidnapping his girlfriend or robbing a bank, the Wall had a much more nefarious scheme in mind. He decided to manipulate the ongoing baseball game by knocking out a player before he could catch a fly ball. This confused the umpire as, after leveling the outfielder, the ball then sailed over The Wall. Technically speaking, this meant the batter hit a home run.  The umpire then quickly pulled out his handy baseball rule book, as something of this nature was completely unprecedented. However, before the umpire could make a ruling, The Wicked Wall struck again, knocking the ump to the ground.  At this point, everyone’s favorite friendly neighborhood Spider-Man got involved, striking The Wall with the full momentum of his spider-strength. This had no effect on the concrete colossus.  Spider-Man then used his webbing to ensnare the Wall before the umpire came to and ejected both of them from the game.  What Ever Became of The Wall?  This story has a happy ending though. It appears that whatever their differences were, Spider-Man and the Wall came to an understanding, as they were last seen sitting outside the stadium on a bench together. Perhaps Spidey talked some sense into Waldemeyer as the Wall never appeared again. Maybe he wasn’t so wicked after all. 

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Comic Spotlight: Venom Beyond

Venom Island to Venom Beyond After the events of Venom Island, Donny Cates sets the stage for the biggest Venom story of the character’s history. If there was any concern about this story burning out quickly, it’s been crushed under the weight of the epic new Venom Beyond story arc. At the end of Venom #25, readers were left with a small taste of what was to come for Eddie Brock and his son Dylan. This came in the form of a two-page montage that revealed the arrival of several key characters such as Virus, the God of Symbiotes Knull, the Maker, and an unknown figure bearing a familiar insignia on his chest. Helping Cates to bring this new epic to life are artists Iban Coello, Juan Gedeon and Jesus Aburtov. Venom #26 Starting with Venom #26, Eddie and Dylan’s story picks up some time later. The first page opens with an unknown man running for his life down a back alley as a shadowy figure pursues him. He runs into Eddie Brock, who reveals that he lured the man to him by using his separated Venom symbiote. Brock then bonds with the symbiote and, as Venom, informs the man that he can lie to them or he can live, but not both. Eddie is Hell-bent on finding answers about what is happening to his son Dylan. Apparently, this man gave them the location of just the person they needed. As they make their departure, Venom and Dylan are quietly pursued by the mysterious new character, Virus. They arrive at the location, and Dylan comments that it’s “just some warehouse.” Eddie tells Dylan “Lots of crazy things can be hidden in warehouses.” Inside, they find the Maker building some kind of portal to another universe. Both the Venom symbiote and Dylan warn Eddie that something is wrong. The Maker tells them he’s leaving, and then reveals that he has his own lab-created symbiote. Venom attempts to stop the Maker but is overpowered. Before the fight can continue, Virus bursts through the front door equipped with a Goblin glider and pumpkin bombs. During the attack, Virus screams at Brock for ruining his life and says he’ll kill him and his son. Before Virus can reveal his identity, a stray pumpkin bomb damages the portal, pulling all four of them through. The Maker ends up landing in his home universe which is desolate, while Venom and Dylan end up somewhere unknown. Venom #27 In issue #27, Venom and Dylan attempt to figure out where they are before Virus surprises them with a sneak attack. Eddie pushes Dylan out of the way, before being knocked off of a tall building. The two exchange threats as the symbiote warns Brock that Virus is using anti-symbiote tech. As a battle to the death ensues, the symbiote seems distracted. It tells Eddie that it has never been this close to a hive mind, and it is receiving interference. The symbiote eventually gathers itself, telling Eddie it has learned new abilities. It shows Eddie how to use these new abilities by absorbing the energy from Virus’s cannon and then directing it back at him, seemingly taking Virus out of commission for the time being. Venom returns to the rooftop after sensing Dylan is in danger. There, he finds an alternate version of the Avengers, who appear to be wearing the Venom symbol on their costumes. Captain America orders Eddie to stand down and remove his symbiote. Eddie tells Cap that he knows him, which Cap denies and again orders him to remove the suit. Before they can come to blows, Virus re-emerges, attacking Venom. Captain America orders the Avengers to assemble against Virus while Venom and Dylan sneak away. Virus seemingly destroys Captain America, but then it is revealed that Cap and the rest of the Avengers are made up entirely of symbiotes. Cap reforms and the Avengers take Virus to the Hive, where their leader Codex awaits. Venom and Dylan sneak through the sewers, where they are approached by five dark figures wearing Agent Venom symbiote suits. One approaches and reveals herself to be Anne Weying, Eddie’s deceased wife. Venom #28 In issue #28, Codex approaches a giant lab run by this world’s Dr. Octopus. Inside one of the test tubes is Virus, now separated from his suit but still unrecognizable. Codex asks if the symbiote he ordered to be attached to Virus has bonded yet. Dr. Octopus informs him that the symbiote is strangely apprehensive about bonding with the subject. Codex orders the symbiote be killed if it doesn’t bond. He then begins interrogating Virus, who tells him that he is from another world and chased Eddie Brock and his son through a portal to this one. Codex gets incensed at the name “Brock” and orders Virus to tell him everything. Meanwhile, Anne explains to Eddie that in her world, Eddie Brock committed suicide in the church bell tower after losing his job. Because of this, the Venom symbiote instead bonded with Anne due to her grief and anger, eventually spawning offspring of its own. Anne introduces them to her team of symbiotes, Peter Parker, Wade Wilson, Andi Benton, and Cletus Kasady. Brock immediately questions the addition of Kasady before Parker’s spider-sense warns them of an impending attack. Symbiote versions of Juggernaut, Sabretooth, Omega Red, Wolverine, and the Thing then appear. As the battle intensifies, the heroes make their escape after Wade uses a bomb to blow up himself and Codex’s symbiotes. Back at the Hive, Dr. Octopus reveals to Codex that they have achieved full symbiosis with Virus. Codex orders Doc Ock to release Virus and then asks him to take a new name. The big mystery of Virus’s identity is finally revealed as none other than former Venom host Mac Gargan, The Scorpion. Codex orders Gargan to swear allegiance to him. At the same time, Anne and the other agents take Venom and Dylan back to their home base and introduce them to

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Why You Should Consider Pressing Your Comic Books

If you are a comic book collector, chances are you make a great effort in caring for your collection. Maybe you never plan on selling your collection, but you still want your books to be in as pristine condition as possible. On the other hand, maybe you’ll come to a point where necessity demands a bit of extra cash, so selling some classic comic books might help you out in a financial bind. In the latter’s case, getting the most money out of whatever you’re selling is essential. It is unfortunately still likely that your comic collection may accumulate imperfections over the years, in spite of your vigilance in keeping it well protected. Even with extreme precautions, it’s not uncommon to find warped or wrinkled pages in some of your comics. Of course, you do have options. Assuming your comic book is only warped and not ripped or stained, there are methods to treat crinkled pages. One such option is a technique called comic book pressing. This is a process through which a comic book is flattened out as much as possible. A press uses heat to smooth out any wrinkles or imperfections. This works very well as long as the imperfection hasn’t already broken the color of the pages. More often than not, the results are so good that the book can appear brand new. Comic book pressing is something that is considered to be a professional trade, and as such, the details are considered a trade secret among many people in the comic book industry. This can make it difficult to find exact step-by-step details about the process. So where can you get a comic book pressed? Believe it or not, most book retailers and comic book stores own comic presses. Just ask your local comic retailer for details. Otherwise, there are a plethora of places you can find online that will press comic books. In many cases, collectors would rather learn the process themselves. It is a pain to have to pay every time you need to press a comic, and most collectors have a great amount of them. The good news is, despite being a trade secret among professionals, there are many sources and guides online for DIY pressing. In fact, you can buy a comic press from online retailers such as Amazon. It can be a process to learn, and many will still claim that paying a trained professional is the better route. However, with some simple trial and error, you can learn to be proficient with a comic press. Simply practicing for a while with bargain bin comics is the best way to get better. If you plan on sending your comic books to the CGC to be graded, it is a fantastic idea to get them pressed beforehand. It may make a big difference on the grade they receive. Doing this, and following some of the other tips we’ve covered in our previous blog on selling your comic books, will ensure you receive the most out of your investment.

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How to Get the Most Money From Reselling Your Comic Books

To the casual collector, reselling old comic books can seem like a daunting process that looks something like this…   Step 1: Own a comic book  Step 2: List it for sale… somewhere…  Step 3: ???  Step 4: Profit. Hopefully.   That’s why we’re here to help. By following a few simple guidelines, you can maximize your sale price and get the most money possible from selling your old issues.   Ensure your comic book collection is well protected.  If you’ve been collecting comic books for a while, you probably already know that it is vital to protect your investment. If you’re planning on selling a collection of comics that are bent, torn, or unprotected, you’re not going to make much of a profit. Fortunately for you, here at Vanguard Comics and Collectibles, we’ve already covered some tips for keeping your comic books in good condition. Another helpful piece of knowledge to have is understanding the concept of the grading scale. In the world of comic books, even the slightest tear or bend can hurt your grade.  When you own graded comic books, it is important to understand the grading system. CGC uses a 10-point grading scale when evaluating comics. While we won’t go into immense detail of the grading scale in this blog, there are a few general things you should know about it. For instance, anything at 9.4 or above is considered near-mint. Though 9.2 (NM-) and 9.0 (VF/NM) are still considered near-mint, they are considered on the low end of it. Depending on the comic, a grade of 9.2 can actually see a significant drop in value from that of a 9.4.  A comic at 8.0 and above is considered very fine (VF). Anything less than that, and the comic starts to accumulate some minor to severe defects.      Decide whether to sell the comics yourself online, or find a reputable vendor who buys comics.  If you really want to get the most money out of your comics, selling them online is your best route.  This will involve more work of course, but it puts the power in your own hands as far as what you want to gain from your collection. If you go this route, be extremely detailed in your description of what you’re selling. This is also where having graded comics comes in handy, as having them professionally graded takes most of the descriptive legwork away.    If, alternatively, you decide to sell your comics directly to a vendor, be sure to find one with a good reputation. When you opt to go this route, you must understand that the vendor’s only priority is to make a profit. They do this for a living and you should never expect to make a huge profit for yourself this way. Usually this route is better reserved for collectors who are hurting for space or are in a hurry to unload their collection.    One last tip is to decide whether to sell your comic individually or in a lot.  Much like the decision above on how to sell your comics, one of these options (usually) includes more work for a higher profit. If you have comics that are considered key issues or rare, it is usually better to sell them individually, as you will probably garner a higher profit this way.   However, if you are selling a specific collection with no major key issues, you might be better suited to sell them all together. One thing you may not want to do, is sell a random assortment of comic books together in one auction. While there’s nothing innately wrong with doing so, most buyers are looking for something specific, and therefore may not wish to buy a mixed collection of Marvel, DC, Image, and the likes. 

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Whatever Happened to Americop?

For this edition of our blog series, “Where Are They Now: Forgotten Comic Book Characters,” we are taking a look at Marvel’s Americop, who made his first appearance in Captain America #428 in June of 1994.  As you can probably surmise by the character’s name and the year of origin, Americop was a prototypical 90s representation of a classic character archetype (What a mouthful, huh?). No doubt, he was inspired by popular fictional vigilante police characters such as Robocop and Judge Dredd.  Background  Former Houston police officer Bartholomew Gallows was a man with a strong sense of justice. After years of trying to play by the rules, Gallows became disillusioned with the justice system’s inability to protect citizens from an increasingly lawless world. It was in that moment that he decided to take matters into his own hands. He immediately resigned from the Houston police force and stepped into the persona of Americop.   Americop used his vast experience as a police officer to track down the worst of the worst criminals. Armed with state-of-the-art 1994 police equipment like a nightstick, .45 caliber pistol, Kevlar body armor, and a net gun (for some reason), he often acted as judge, jury, and executioner in cleaning up the streets of Houston. So essentially, he’s a way less cool version of the Punisher.  While tracking some missing children, Americop came into contact with Captain America.  Naturally, Steve Rogers did not approve of Americop’s methods and the two clashed. Eventually the search led them both to a millionaire’s mansion in New Orleans, where their infighting distracted them long enough to be captured.  Americop managed to escape, killing many of the criminals before destroying the helicopter that their leader, Damon Dran, was fleeing in.  After that, Americop seemingly disappeared.  So, what became of America’s self-appointed top cop?   During Marvel’s Civil War, Thunderbolts leader Norman Osborn sent Bullseye and Penance to capture the gruff vigilante Americop in the Thunderbolts One-shot: Desperate Measures in September 2007. In the ensuing battle, Americop was left broken and bleeding, and later paralyzed. Eventually Gallows succumbed to his injuries and died, a sad ending for a man that never really found his bearings as a hero.   Americop may have died, but not without leaving a legacy, albeit not one he would have likely appreciated.  After his death, his code name and costume were appropriated by Keane Industries for their new private police initiative known as “the Americops.” The initiative became surrounded in controversy however, as many of the members were particularly hostile to certain citizens. They were accused of using excessive force, harassment, and specifically targeting minorities.    Eventually, after Hydra took over the United States under the leadership of a brainwashed Captain America who was suffering the effects of becoming a Hydra sleeper agent by the Cosmic Cube Kobic, the Americops became the main police force in the U.S.    Once the evil regime was defeated, the Americops were seized by Wolfgang Von Strucker for his own nefarious use.  It remains to be seen if the Americops are truly gone for good after they were struck down at the hands of the Daughters of Liberty in Captain America #11 from August, 2019. Only time will tell what the final legacy is for Bartholomew Gallows’ Americop. 

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Comic Spotlight: Thor #5

Though the series up to this point has had somewhat of a slow build, finally Thor and Galactus come to behold the all-consuming entity known as the Black Winter. However, things may not be as they seem.   A New Beginning After taking over as writer after the great Thor run by Jason Aaron, Donny Cates has put his own personal stamp on the series. Though the story has moved at a slow-burn pace at times, Cates has been building to a big reveal. As you might expect, the results are both magnificent and unpredictable. Thor #5 is no exception, as the story ends with a huge twist.  A Cosmic New Threat The story opens with Sif and Beta Ray Bill discussing the Black Winter and Thor’s reign as king. They bring into question his actions to this point. Sif questions Thor’s competence as king, while Bill remains more optimistic. From there, things really take off. Galactus and Thor find themselves overwhelmed by the entity known as The Black Winter.  Despite their best efforts, the two are no match for the cosmic being.  The Black Winter proceeds to focus his attention specifically on Thor. He gets into the thunder God’s mind, and asks if he’d like to know how he dies.  Visions of Old Foes  To the surprise of Thor, apparitions appear of some of his greatest foes. Seeing the likes of Gorr the God Butcher, Loki, and Fin Fang Foom brought to life by Nic Klein’s beautiful artwork mixed with Matt Wilson’s grainy and naturalistic coloring is a sight to behold. The Black Winter makes reference to how Thor has had several potential deaths, but claims to be the only one who knows how the King of Asgard will truly perish. In spite of his bravado, Thor knows that the entity’s words ring true. As he desperately fights back with all the power of Mjolnir, Thor dares the Black Winter to show him his end.  The Big Twist This is where the big twist comes in (spoiler alert!). As Thor and Galactus gather themselves, The Black Winter vows to show Thor the truth. He tells Thor he has not come here to consume his universe. He explains that there are worse threats to the universe than he on the horizon. The Black Winter goes on to say that Galactus has been hiding the truth. He reveals that he is here for only one purpose: to reclaim Galactus, who is actually his Herald.  Storytelling at its Finest  When it comes to storytelling, one can always count on Donny Cates to put forth a Herculean effort. Many have been critical of the story up to this point, with some even claiming that it fell into far too many tropes. However, Cates has the ability to lure viewers into a false sense of complacency before hitting them with a left hook of “did that just happen?” That’s exactly what occurred in this story. It’s easy for readers to assume the narrative of Thor becoming a Herald of Galactus was just lazy writing, but it was actually integral to the big reveal at the end of this issue. At some point, readers are going to stop doubting Cates. Thus far, his Thor run has been a strange and wonderful ride.  

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Keeping Your Comic Books Bagged & Stored Properly

Collecting comic books can be an enjoyable and rewarding hobby.  For some, it can be about having as many great stories as possible to read. For others, the thrill of collecting in itself is the driving motivation behind the hobby. Regardless of which categories you fall into as a collector, there is one shared aspect that all collectors must face: How do I ensure my collection is protected and stored properly? Once again, you are in luck because we’ve got you covered with some great tips on bagging and storing your collection.   Most everyone knows that after purchasing a comic book, it is of vital importance that you bag and board the book to protect it. However, it’s not as simple as using any old bag and board. Use what’s available to you in the moment of course, but sometimes certain bags can actually do long-term damage to your comic books.   There are typically three different types of comic bags: polypropylene, polyethylene, and mylar.  Polypropylene is widely considered the worst option, but it is also the cheapest.  These bags are fine for short-term storage, but they begin to yellow after a while.  Polyethylene is the standard choice, as they last much longer than the polypropylene bags. They are also stronger and don’t let as much light in. They can last up to 8 years, but should be changed sooner. Mylar is extremely durable but also very expensive. It’s made of a much thicker material and can essentially last a lifetime. Mylar should be used for comic books which have significant value.    Make sure you also understand which size bag to use depending on the era of the comic book.   There are three major eras of comic books with variances in size: The Golden Age (1940s and earlier), Silver Age (1950s–1980s), and the Current Age (1980s–now). The Golden Age bags are the largest at 7 ¾” by 10 ½.” The Silver Age bags are 7 1/3” by 10 ½.” Lastly, the Current Age are 6 7/8” by 10 ½.” This is important to distinguish so that you never try and fit a comic into a bag that’s too small, and that a comic also doesn’t have too much room to slide around.   There is one very important piece of knowledge to consider when choosing a comic backing board. Make sure it is acid-free. In the old days of comic storage, any old piece of cardboard was used. We now know that the acidic nature of many of these boards actually can do some serious long-term damage to a comic book stored with it. Aside from that, consider double-boarding your comic books for added protection. Just be careful that this doesn’t make the comic fit too tightly, as that can definitely damage your investment.   When it comes to storing your comic books in a box, there are a few options.  You can choose the standard cardboard comic box, but make sure the cardboard is acid-free if you do so. The better option is putting them in a plastic box, as it better protects the comics from outside elements. Make sure never to leave a box only partially full, as the comics can shift to one side, causing the cardboard and books themselves to bend. Lastly, be sure to store the box somewhere safe from moisture, sunlight, and extreme temperatures.  A basement that is prone to flooding or an attic that reaches high temperatures in the summer are not recommended. It is also recommended that you keep your boxes up off the floor for similar reasons. 

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Best Practices For Getting a Comic Book Signed

So, you’re interested in getting your favorite comic book signed?  Before you make this big decision, there may be a few things worth considering.  For instance, who is it that you’re planning on getting to sign your comic book?  Will the signature increase the value of your book?  Should you get a book signed if there is no blank space on the cover?  Well, you’re in the right place.  Here are a few helpful Dos & Don’ts before moving forward.  DO: Make sure to choose carefully whose signature you are getting.  A very common mistake people make when getting a signature on a comic book is not being picky enough about whose signature they’re getting to begin with.  For instance, don’t be like Dale Doback in “Step Brothers” and get Randy Jackson’s autograph on a samurai sword (or comic book in this case) just because you had the sword (comic book) on you when you bumped into him and he’s “kind of famous.”   If you have a comic book written by Donny Cates and the art is done by Tony Moore, you might want one or both of them to autograph it, but it usually doesn’t make sense to get another writer or artist to sign someone else’s book. Basically, make sure the person signing your book has something to do with said book. Of course, there are always exceptions, but it’s a good general rule to follow.   DON’T: Assume a signature will add value to your comic book.  It is a common misconception to assume that a signature will always add value to your book. Though in most cases this holds true, there are actual instances of signed copies being worth less than non-signed copies. This can happen if the market gets flooded with too many signed copies of a specific book. In these cases, there may be lower supply, and therefore higher demand for the unsigned version.  DON’T: Get the cover signed if there is no empty space.  If you truly value this comic book, do not have anyone sign over top of the artwork on the comic book cover.  The good news is that most anyone you would get to sign your comic is going to know better, especially if they are the artist. Still, don’t insist on ruining your comic book cover. You can instead have them sign the inside of the book.  DO: use painter’s tape to frame where you want the signature.  If there is a specific part of the cover you want signed, you can cut a window in the bag that holds your book and then tape a frame around it with blue painter’s tape where you want the artist to sign. This is a great way to eliminate any confusion as to where you’d like the signature.  DO: Make sure to get the signature authenticated.  You can do this a few ways.  If you can at the time of signing, get it CGC graded. If you’re at a comic expo, usually you can get a CGC Signature Series witness while you get your signature. They even grade your comic book. This is the only way your autographed book will be 100% authenticated. Otherwise, you may not get the CGC Signature Series yellow label.  You can also have your comic authenticated after the signing by way of sending it to CBCS, which has a Verified Signature Program. This is the way to go if you do not have an official witness for the signing as the CBCS has autograph experts who can verify the signature.  One final thing to consider when going through the authentication process is whether or not you want to get your comic slabbed.  Slabbing is the process where, after the comic is signed, it is encapsulated in an air-tight plastic container. This is great for protecting your investment of course, but sometimes the cost of going through all the trouble outweighs the value of the comic itself.  DON’T: Bring a large number of comic books to be signed at a convention.  Please don’t bring every comic you own to be signed by one person. It’s bad etiquette. Instead, bring no more than 2 or 3 books. Not only are you taking up that person’s time, but you’re probably holding up a bunch of other fans who came to get something signed. Please always be cognizant of other people.    Do: Let the person signing your comic know you appreciate their work.  You’ve come this far to have your comic book signed. You clearly enjoy this person’s work. Let them know it! Of course, don’t take up a bunch of their time, but don’t be afraid to let them know what their work means to you in a brief conversation.  After initiating a short conversation, you can also ask the artist if they’ll do a ‘remark’ on your cover, which is a small sketch that can add some personality to the signature. Many artists are glad to do it.  Everyone likes to be appreciated, and they appreciate you spending your time and money on their work!  Don’t: Smudge the signature or remark!  Lastly, and this is important: always make sure to handle your book carefully after getting it signed. Even the smallest of smudges can ruin a perfectly good signature if you’re careless. This can potentially lower the grade of your comic book. 

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Tips for First-Time Comic Readers

  Long-time comic book readers know just how overwhelming it can be to choose which comic to read first.  Most started with a single comic book that piqued their interest at the time and then started collecting chronologically. For others, a guest-star character grabbed their attention and they migrated to that character’s book.   While there has always been a plethora of comic book options, there is little doubt that due to the sheer quantity of comics in publication today, right now is both the greatest and most intimidating time to start reading.   Fear not, weary readers, for if you don’t know where to begin, we’re here to give you some tips on how to begin reading in the modern era of comic books!  Tip # 1: Don’t be intimidated!  First, we need to get one thing out of the way. Do not be intimidated by the continuous stream of re-launches and #1s. After a while, one starts to wonder just how many ways a book can be relaunched as the “All New,” “Newest,” “All-Different,” “Totally-Not-The-Same-Thing-As-Before” version of its predecessor.   This is actually great news for you brand-new readers because it’s all new to you no matter where you start! You can jump in at any point and go from there; it truly doesn’t matter where you begin.   Tip #2: Check the bargain bin of your local comic shop.  If you really have no clue where to start, most comic shops have a large selection of discount comic books. While you can certainly find older comics here, there are usually plenty of newer books to choose from as well. The point is, don’t buy expensive new issues that you know nothing about when you could easily buy 3 or 4 discount books for the same price. Once you know which stories speak to you the most, then you can start collecting the high-end issues.  Tip #3: Variety is the spice of life.  Use that bargain bin to your advantage and pick up several different titles. Not all comics are created equally. If you like the classic super hero stories, you might start with Superman. If you enjoy flawed heroes with real-world issues, maybe give Spider-Man a try. Also, not all comic books are always as simple as “good guys vs bad guys.” If you don’t believe me, read an X-Men comic. Don’t fall into the trap of being loyal to one specific character, super team, or even comic publisher.    Tip #4: Those nice people behind the desk are very friendly and love sharing their knowledge!  Rarely have I ventured into a comic book shop and encountered someone working there who doesn’t enjoy what they do. Don’t be afraid to ask these wonderful people for recommendations. They would be more than willing to discuss what’s popular at the time. They also often can point you in the right direction based off of your interest in different genres of books, movies, or television shows. After talking to them a few times, they’ll learn your likes and dislikes and you’ll make some new friends!  Tip #5: Don’t be discouraged if you don’t enjoy a specific comic story.  The stories in comic books are ever-changing. One minute your favorite superhero is in space fighting for the fate of the Galaxy, the next minute they’re in the streets of Brooklyn fighting a petty thief who stole a suit of armor. On top of that, the writers and artists are always changing. Once you start to recognize their work, you may jump ship to an entirely different book they worked on.   The most important tip of all:  Just have fun! Getting into the world of reading comics can be a very individual experience or one that you share with friends. Dive in and get lost in a great story. Sooner than you think, you’ll be the one giving recommendations on the best book for new readers to pick up.

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Whatever happened to the Human Fly, anyway?

Comic books have been a major part of entertainment for over 80 years. In that time period, we’ve been introduced to a plethora of characters that have become household names, such as Superman, Captain America, Batman, Spider-Man, Wonder-Woman, and the Hulk.   We’ve also been introduced to some of the greatest villains, like Magneto, the Joker, Dr. Doom, and Lex Luthor. For every great character introduced, we’ve come across some that were less-than-memorable, to say the least.   While some of these characters were one-hit wonders who disappeared entirely, others went through more gimmick changes than a failed professional wrestler in the mid-90s. We’ve decided it’s time these characters were given the respect (acknowledgement of existence) they rightfully deserve! This is “Where Are They Now: Forgotten Comic Book Characters.”   We’re going to start by looking at the Marvel superhero, “The Human Fly,” who first appeared in his own self-titled series in September of 1977. The Human Fly is a very interesting character, in that he was based off of real-life stuntman (and alleged con man) Rick Rojatt. If you have time to check it out, Rojatt’s story is pretty wild in its own right.  The Human Fly, whose real name is… unknown… was born in… some place.  Okay, this is getting off to a rough start.   So, anyway, some guy was in a car accident in North Carolina. Tragically, the crash killed his family and left “John Doe” in the hospital for weeks. After several surgeries, more than 60% of his bone structure was replaced by steel.  Having been informed by doctors that he would be permanently paralyzed, John Doe tirelessly trained his body back to full functionality and beyond. With his newfound bone strength and athletic prowess, he took on the costume and mantle of The Human Fly (not to be confused with the supervillain of the same name).   The Fly utilized his new abilities well. He performed at several charity auctions, even playing in a band at a benefit concert. He also thwarted criminals who attempted to rob the events. Though he never gained much notoriety, he did find himself rubbing elbows with some of Marvel’s other heroes such as Spider-Man, Ghost Rider, and White Tiger.   Unfortunately for the Human Fly, his comic book was cancelled after issue 19. This coincided with the disappearance of his real-life counterpart following a botched attempt to jump 27 buses. Whether the mob had an insurance policy on Rojatt for just such an occasion remains the subject of rumors to this day.  This makes the Human Fly’s legacy a bit complicated. Was he merely a con man, as many claim his counterpart to have been? It’s hard to separate what’s real from what isn’t. Either way, the Human Fly has quite the interesting story.   So, where is the Human Fly now?  Comics have remained mostly silent since the story was cancelled in 1979. The last known mention of this odd superhero occurred as a brief bio in Marvel Encyclopedia Volume 1: Marvel Knights in 2004.  However, despite this character’s mysterious absence from mainstream consciousness, rumors of a Human Fly movie surfaced as recently as 2012.   If his strange and real-life-inspired disappearance sets the stage for a good enough comeback story, perhaps someday we’ll hear more from this long-forgotten hero.

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Comic Spotlight: Venom #25

Everything has been leading up to this moment. Eddie Brock has come face to face with his long-time nemesis Carnage, and let’s just say they’ve never been closer. Meanwhile, we finally get a glimpse of the true power that Eddie’s son Dylan has been holding in reserve. Venom #25 is packed full of twists and turns that do not disappoint in the slightest. Donny Cates has done a phenomenal job of bringing Venom back to heights that the character hasn’t ascended to in years. With their combined efforts, veteran artists Mark Begley, Andy Owens, and Frank Martin bring this visually stunning, epic confrontation to life. The story begins with Eddie recollecting the events of his life up to this moment, since attaining the Venom symbiote. He is in a dark room, and appears to be speaking to a group of his peers. This goes on for several pages as Eddie reveals a more introspective side of himself, almost as if he is admitting that he can no longer face his demons alone. We see a visual montage of the struggles he’s endured over the last few years. We then get a flash back to the events immediately following Venom #24. After becoming infected by the Carnage symbiote, Eddie is engaged in battle against the Venom symbiote, which has taken the form of a Tyrannosaurus-Rex while being controlled by Eddie’s son Dylan. Having finally tapped into his mysterious symbiotic powers, Dylan attempts to save his father. Dylan does manage to infiltrate the mental prison that Carnage has Eddie locked in, only to have the manifestation of Cletus Cassidy appear and trap Dylan within the cage as well. As Dylan struggles to regain control in the physical world, Carnage mocks Eddie and continues his assault on the “V-Rex.” However, with his father’s words of encouragement ringing in his head, Dylan regains control and manages to destroy the Carnage symbiote. Eddie awakens from the nightmare and is once again reunited with the Venom symbiote.Flash forward to the present, and we find that Eddie has been speaking with Captain America and the Avengers. He tells them about Knull, the God of the symbiotes. He warns them that his “other” senses a looming menace that is both old and new, one which threatens all life. Eddie then questions whether anyone will survive it. A two-page montage accompanies his words. We catch a glimpse of things to come, including the first appearance of Marvel’s newest character “Virus.”This book is an absolute must-have. From beginning to end, the story keeps the reader engaged. Donny Cates is truly one of the top-tier comic writers today. He has taken Venom to a whole new level and has made the character more relevant than he’s been since the 1990s. Cates is especially brilliant in his writing of Eddie Brock himself. Eddie has never before been written with such depth. His introspective monologue in the opening pages was spectacular. It is also exciting to see Dylan finally starting to come into his own with his powers. The cameo of Cletus Cassidy is very impactful, especially the scene where Carnage’s face emerges while Cassidy’s melts away in grotesque fashion. Mark Begley’s art is fantastic, and we get the added bonus of Ryan Stegman doing the final two-page montage at the end. As amazing as this book has been, one can’t help but feel that the best is truly yet to come.

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Grand Opening of Vanguard Comics & Collectibles Online Store

Hear ye! Hear ye! Lords and Ladies from far and wide! You are cordially invited to enter the mystic lands of the “internet,” and to be part of the kingdom of the noble and brave Vanguard Knight! Inspired by his love of collecting manuscripts and figurines, he hath attained a trove of rare treasures that he wishes to distribute to his loyal subjects. Stray from the wicked marketplace of “Evil-bay” and enter the vast trading center within the Vanguard Knight’s castle. There, you will find naught but the greatest collectible manuscripts and trophies throughout the lands. Come now, and you will be granted the blessings of the “Dubbing Ceremony Discount,” which awards thee 25% off thine purchases as a first-time customer. A great sorcerer has predicted that a wealth of treasures will be available very soon The grand opening of Vanguard Comics and Collectibles’ mystical online marketplace shall come to pass in June 2020. Soon thereafter, their first official brick-and-mortar “castle” will open in late 2020, and will be located in Tampa, FL. Additional castles shall open in the near future. The noble Vanguard Knight is more than a mere collector Vanguard Collectibles buys and sells comic books and statues from all lands near and far. The noble Knight aims to provide the lowest and most competitive prices on manuscripts from all comic publishers. He wishes to bestow upon thee many blessings of goodwill: Vanguard’s gallant riders will mount up and deliver comic scrolls directly to local residents of the Tampa village. With modern wizardry, a learned sorcerer will review rare statues and provide new blog content weekly. Along with the “Dubbing Ceremony Discount”, those who sign up for Vanguard Collectible’s “Loyal to the Crown” membership will receive $5 back in points for every $20 spent on the online store. Meet the Vanguard Knight’s loyal retinue Growing up as a young squire in the late 20th century, Sir Matthew Lane of Land O’ Lakes, founder of Vanguard Comics and Collectibles, found himself captivated by comic manuscripts after reading X-Men (1990) #1.  Through the years, he became a connoisseur of these treasures and was amazed at the passion, skill, and creativity of artists such as Sir Todd McFarlane, Sir Donny Cates, and Sir Jim Lee.  He was vastly impressed by the humility with which they carried themselves, as well as their readiness to help grow the comic industry. “We aim to provide our patrons and lords from all the land with the best prices, wizardry in customer service, fastest shipping, and top dollar for the comics you’d like to sell,” says Sir Lane.  “Our goal is to combine both our passion for collecting and business, along with our appreciation for the art of comics.” Sir Lane is gathering a round table of the greatest knights, sorcerers, and website developers in the lands to provide the very best customer service for lords and ladies far and wide. Light a candle, don your favorite reading spectacles, and visit VanguardCollectibles.com for more information. See you soon!

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