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- 10/13/17--09:21: The Weird History of Friday the 13th Comics
- 10/13/17--10:26: New Mutants Trailer Breakdown and Analysis
- 10/13/17--13:37: Star Wars: Why We May Never Learn What Makes Phasma Tick
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- 10/13/17--20:46: The 10 Greatest Supernatural Stephen King Villains
- 10/15/17--12:49: The Politics and Weirdness of Shade the Changing Girl
- 10/16/17--09:00: How Walking Dead Villains Are Influenced By History & Philosophy
- 10/16/17--09:14: Wally West Enlists Kid Flash to Save Him From Death in Titans #16
- 10/16/17--09:32: The Deadman TV Series We Almost Saw
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- 10/18/17--11:10: Win a The Name of the Wind 10th Anniversary Edition!
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- 10/19/17--16:35: Afterlife With Archie: The 13 Scariest Moments
Friday the 13th boasts some of the strangest movie tie-in comics ever made. We hit the bloody highs and lows. Mostly lows.
Friday the 13th’s Jason Voorhees has been part of pop-culture for decades. It shouldn’t be surprising that he’s had his share of comic book adventures, what with him essentially being a supervillain in a story with no superheroes. Granted, he’s a one-dimensional supervillain with an incredibly vague origin story, but he’s been memorable enough to land him a dozen movie appearances. Many have told his tale in comic form and since the early '90s, he’s been represented by three different publishers.
The surprising thing to me is that the earliest Jason comic is only in the early 90s. For comparison, the RoboCop comics all stretched across the franchise’s entire existence. They were around for all four movies as well as the stretch where he was just about nostalgia. Jason Voorhees didn’t get the same treatment. For the most part, they missed the boat.
Topps Comics first picked up the license and Jason’s comic book debut came in July of 1993. Two comics came out this month with Jason in them, so it’s hard to say what was his very first appearance. One of the two comics was Satan’s Six #4by Tony Isabella and John Cleary. We’re already bonkers out the gate here. Satan’s Six was part of the Secret City Saga, where Topps created a big story using a bunch of leftover Jack Kirby ideas that he never did anything with in the form of several miniseries that intertwined (think Grant Morrison’s Seven Soldiers). It didn’t last long enough to finish and with Satan’s Six, it’s no wonder.
The comic is a comedy about the demonic Odious Kamodious, who has his own team of agents out to create chaos in his name, only they always screw up. In the very beginning of this issue, Kamodious gets in an argument with one of his demons Frightful and threatens to replace him. He summons Jason Voorhees, who proceeds to talk like Rorschach and try to kill anything nearby.
Anyone else find randomly and casually tossing Jason into a superhero universe’s continuity really weird?
Frightful and teammate Bluedragon go after Jason, but he responds by throwing them a couple times and saying, “HRMM,” a lot. Despite only appearing for a couple of pages, Jason says that six times. Kamodious summons him back where he found him and starts making a blatant reference about Jason going to Hell. The angelic Pristine interrupts and calls out how this was a pointless cameo to justify advertising Jason on the cover, which came at the cost of continuing their very story. And at that point, readers stopped caring.
As Kamodious referenced, Jason was at the time starring in Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday, otherwise known as Friday the 13th Part IX. Based on the screenplay, the comic is written by Andy Mangels and drawn by Cynthia Martin.
That’s how far down the pipeline we are. By this point, the movie franchise was in dire straits. By the time any comic company thinks of doing anything with Friday the 13th, we’re already at the ninth movie, which was the last Jason movie for eight years. The really bizarre one.
If you haven’t seen it or don’t remember, Jason Goes to Hell is the movie where the FBI finally decides to do something about Jason and blows him to kingdom come in the first few minutes, onlit turns out that he can’t be killed unless stabbed in the heart by another Voorhees (though the comic keeps spelling it “Vorhees”). So Jason’s heart hypnotizes the coroner into eating it and he goes around vomiting the heart into people’s throats to change hosts until he can find and kill the rest of his bloodline.
It’s an example of knowing that you have to do something new and fresh, yet still driving way off the road. Also, if you’re all about drawings of bare asses, this is the comic for you!
But really, all anyone remembers Jason Goes to Hell for is that cameo at the end when Freddy Krueger pulls down Jason’s mask and cackles. That was the original “Nick Fury asks Tony Stark to join the Avengers” moment. It just, you know, took ten years, is all.
Topps didn’t want to wait to give us a big slasher icon crossover and while they didn’t get the rights to Freddy, they got the next best thing. Okay, they didn’t get Michael Meyers, but the next best thing after that. No, they didn’t get Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof, but—Listen, they got Leatherface from Texas Chainsaw Massacre, okay? More specifically, we got Jason vs. Leatherface, a three-part series by Nancy Collins, David Imhoff, and Jeff Butler.
Despite being released in 1995, the chronology is very choosy, ignoring the history of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre stuff to make sure Leatherface and his brothers Cook and Hitchhiker are both alive. As for Jason, this takes place after Part VI, where he’s chained to the bottom of Camp Crystal Lake. Some corporate types have the lake drained of all the toxic grossness and Jason goes with it. He kind of wanders around, kills a bunch of people on train, and eventually comes across Sawyerville, where Leatherface and Hitchhiker are stalking some poor soul. Jason ends up getting in a scrap with them, where he disarms Leatherface (not literally for once), kills their victim, and then – in a surprising act – hands Leatherface his chainsaw.
There’s this feeling of acceptance between the two parties, leading to Jason being practically adopted into their family. This leads to a really awesome moment where Cook asks him his name. Since these guys need to start calling him Jason and he doesn’t actually speak, Collins goes about it in a clever way.
Through this partnership, we see the differences. While Jason is a ruthless murderer, he isn’t so much a sadist, at least not as much as the Sawyer family. He’ll kill the victims, but Hitchhiker will get on his case for doing it too quickly and not torturing anyone. Mainly, Jason gets along with them due to the way he sees his younger self in Leatherface. For once, he feels sympathy and it drives him to hate Hitchhiker for constantly being such a dick. From there, it becomes Jason vs. the three brothers, where Leatherface will protect his family, even if he does show appreciation for Jason standing up for him.
There wouldn’t be any more Jason comics for a decade until Avatar Press picked up the license in 2005. I had a lot of bad stuff to say about Avatar in the RoboCop article, but here, the ugly, mean-spirited, blood-and-chunks-covered style is a perfect home for Friday the 13th. If anything, it’s a fitting response to how most of the Friday the 13th movies were edited to oblivion by the MPAA to hide all the gore. Now we can see Jason punch a guy in the head so hard that it comes out his ass!
Avatar mostly released a bunch of one-shots, starting with Friday the 13th Special by Brian Pulido and Mike Wolfer. The Avatar Friday the 13th comics have some actual strong ideas mixed in there, but they also rely on doing the same thing over and over again...much like the movies, but in a different way. While every single comic of theirs has at least one softcore sex scene, there’s also a constant theme of the 1% screwing things up for everyone. Like in Friday the 13th Special, it’s about the children of the man who previously owned Camp Crystal Lake. The daughter, a shrewd businesswoman, insists on not letting that land go to waste despite the piles and piles of dead bodies showing why that’s a bad idea.
To be fair, she goes about it the right way. If Jason’s hanging around the woods, just hire a ton of military guys to take him out. That basically took care of Jason in the very beginning of the ninth movie, didn’t it? Too bad being in a comic book has caused him to go through a major power creep, and he’s now able to power through having a huge chunk of him blown off by a grenade launcher, as it just heals up in seconds. Jason’s way too overpowered and that continues on for the next year of comics.
Pulido and Wolfer would get back together to do a three-parter called Bloodbathand it’s easily the best thing to come out of the Avatar run. It has some serious dialogue issues, but the basic idea could have been the basis for a Friday the 13th movie and I would be totally okay with it. It actually comes across as a prototype for Cabin in the Woods.
It has to do with Camp Crystal Lake being opened yet again, this time with ten teen counselors brought in early to get acquainted a day or so before the campers are said to show up. Their boss is Kevin Carny, a kindly southern guy who appears to be really laid back about everything. He wants everyone to be responsible during the daytime, but at night, they’re welcome to enjoy the hot tub, an excess of beer, and each other’s naked company. The counselors all hit it off and immediately pair up with no problem. In fact, they pair up a little too easily, like they were handpicked. Discovered through some really unnatural dialogue, they all come to realize that all ten of them are orphans and have no families. Strange. It’s almost like if something were to happen to them all, nobody would really care enough to look into it.
Naturally, there’s more to Carny than meets the eye. Much like in Jason X, the military and corporations are very into the idea of bringing Jason in for the sake of studying his healing factor and weaponizing him. The camp is nothing more than bait. It helps that the protagonists, Violet and Rich, are actually fairly likeable and relatable compared to every other human character in Avatar’s comics. You end up getting a story of the would-be victims vs. the military vs. the unstoppable killer. It actually has a really good ending too, which will be ruined months later.
Around this time, Avatar released the Jason X Special by Pulido and Sebastian Fiumara. Yes, a Jason Xcomic. The movie is already a few years old at this point and I don’t think anyone cared about it enough to clamor for more Jason X in any form, but here we are. As it turns out, when Uber Jason was blasted to a lake on Earth Two at the end of the movie, he was really back on the original Earth. A woman named Kristen, one of the few remaining humans on the planet, tricked the ship into turning back to Earth for the sake of getting her hands on Uber Jason.
Kristen’s boyfriend Neil is dying and she needs some Voorhees DNA to potentially cure him. Even though she is able to capture Uber Jason with some nanites, you can imagine that this is a bad idea. It becomes a big, confusing mess, where Pamela Voorhees goes from being a voice in Jason’s head to being a machine ghost able to control all the nanites, leading to lots of human-like androids being slaughtered. Uber Jason is shot into space, where he stumbles across a party-based space ship.
That leads us right into the two-parter Jason vs. Jason X by Mike Wolfer. Really? Is that even a contest? That’s like having the regular version of the Hulk fight a super-pissed off Hulk. The story of this one is more contrived than even the beginning of Jason Takes Manhattan. So there’s a piece of Jason’s skull and hockey mask from the Jason X movie that wasn’t part of the regeneration process that created Uber Jason. When that ship was blown up, the chunk of skull floated around in space until – TOTAL COINCIDENCE – it now drifts into the very party ship where Uber Jason is currently slaughtering everyone. The ship’s cloning machine builds a new body out of dead victims and Jason is reborn! Fully clothed too, which I suppose I shouldn’t be complaining about. I live my entire life without seeing his hockey stick.
It takes the whole first issue for the two Jasons to meet up and the entire second issue is them fighting while anyone who crosses paths with the brawl gets chopped up. The fight brings them to Earth Two, where, big surprise, Uber Jason wins. He tears Jason’s brain out, shoves it into his own brain, and reminisces about his mother. He’s also chilling out in the woods near a lake, so even though the Jason X Special changed up the movie’s ending, this comic puts it back the way the writers found it. You know, just in case they were to ever make another Jason X movie.
The last book from Avatar is Friday the 13th: Fearbookby Mike Wolfer and Sebastian Fiumara. It’s a direct follow-up to Bloodbathand is especially pointless. It’s basically about killing off anyone who survived Bloodbathwithout any real drama. Sure, it makes sense to have the government people behind the events of that story taken out, but there’s no actual plot. Jason just effortlessly kills everyone for two dozen pages.
Also, the art is really bad in the sequential sense. It seems to go from point A to C from panel to panel with no sensical movement. For instance, in Bloodbath, they were able to stop Jason by freezing him. The only reason he was able to escape was Violet’s doing. Makes 100% perfect sense that they’d just try that again, right?
And now Jason is able to shrug it off completely to the point that there’s no sign of him being frozen one panel later. What’s up with that?
The ending suffers from the same problem. Violet is backed up to a window and Jason is coming. She decides to take her chances and makes a leap of faith, hoping the trees will break her fall. She jumps and the perspective makes it look like she’s at least ten feet away from the window. Suddenly, Jason has her by the neck and drags her back in.
Anyway, Jason would then move on to the next publisher, Wildstorm, in 2007. Wildstorm mainly gave us a bunch of two-parters, but started it with a six-issue miniseries simply called Friday the 13th by Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, Adam Archer, and Peter Guzman.
For the most part, it’s a basic, by-the-numbers Friday the 13th story in comic form, just handled competently. They’re reopening Camp Crystal Lake again. A handful of teens are brought in to clean up the cabins. Sex and drugs and beer are had. Jason shows up and starts killing people. Same old shit.
At least the cast of victims isn’t so bad. They aren’t great, but they at least have more personality and dimension than the characters in the Avatar Press comics, easy as that is to do. The drawback is that for the sake of conflict, they’re almost all over-the-top in terms of being assholes. Like there’s a nerdy hippy guy who looks to be potentially psychotic and everyone shits on him for zero reason. For one of the characters it makes sense, since it’s established that she’s had to put up with his company for years and she’s a terrible person, but everyone else snaps at him like he’s Donnie from Big Lebowski.
The comic plays up the supernatural aspects of Friday the 13th more than just Jason surviving taking a machete to the neck. Not only do they establish that the lake is haunted by the ghosts of a hundred murdered children, but the final issue even explains that the area is literally cursed due to some settlers murdering a Native American shaman.
Otherwise, it’s nothing special.
Marc Andreyko and Shawn Moll give us Pamela’s Tale, a two-parter where Pamela Voorhees explains her life story to a camp counselor while giving her a ride to Camp Crystal Lake. Naturally, she also murders her, but still keeps telling the story, mainly about raising Jason and how she’s been out to kill anyone she feels is responsible for his death.
We also see Jason’s father depicted as a drunken wife-beater and massive dude (he had to inherit it from somewhere) who is killed because Pamela’s afraid that if she tells him she’s pregnant, he’ll beat her so badly that she’ll have a miscarriage. Oh, and she’s also whispering conversations with “Jason” much like she does at the end of the first movie.
Jason’s birth defects are explained both between his father’s treatment of his mother and the fact that Pamela is constantly in places filled with cigarette smoke. It hits comedic levels once we see the doctor smoking a cigarette while delivering the baby. That’s dark as hell but I had to laugh.
Jason Aaron and Adam Archer team up for How I Spent My Summer Vacation, another two-parter. I’m not sure if this is the best Friday the 13th comic, but it’s definitely the most fun. It’s about a little boy named Davie Falkner who is at summer camp. At Camp Crystal Lake. They opened the goddamn thing AGAIN! CRIPES! Anyway, Davie has a bone disorder that gives him a malformed head and will likely kill him in five years. While he has normal intelligence, he looks an awful lot like Jason’s young self, albeit with hair. He’s constantly teased for his looks, but that’s a picnic compared to having Jason Voorhees show up to kill everyone.
After lots of campers, councilors, and cops are killed, Jason picks up Davie and drags him away, kicking and screaming. The only other survivor is the sheriff, who was so hopped up on meth that he accidentally shot up two councilors, and then hacked them up with a machete to cover his tracks and blame it on Jason. Finding out that Davie’s still alive makes him want to make sure he can kill the last witness.
Meanwhile, we get what is essentially a Batman and Robin origin story with Jason and Davie. It’s awesome and I wish it was longer. Jason never speaks or makes any gestures, but he keeps Davie safe out of feeling like a kindred spirit. Jason would go kill people having a picnic, wrap their food in a blanket, return to Davie, and throw it to him. Davie goes from being dragged around against his will to following his new hero.
Davie idolizes Jason for being like him, only able to not take shit from anyone who would bully him. That Jason is an even bigger bully than anyone else is lost on Davie, but it’s nice to see Jason make a connection for once in his after-life. Plus with the comedic psycho sheriff, Jason gets to actually play the role of anti-hero here. Granted, he still kills so many undeserving people, but the book is still sort of cute.
Yet another two-parter comes in the form of Bad Land, which is by Ron Marz and Mike Huddleston. It’s about two different stories from different times that run parallel. One is a present-day story about a trio of hikers who come across a cabin in the middle of a huge storm and become victims of Jason. The other takes place a couple centuries earlier, where three fur trappers enter a teepee to escape a similar storm and come across a Native American woman and her baby. Horrible things happen to the woman and her child, shortly before her husband arrives. They blow his face off with a rifle shot and he runs off, only to plot his revenge.
Yep. We have the Proto-Jason. It isn’t outright said whether he’s just super pissed enough to fight through the wound or if he’s a full-on murder zombie, but considering he lacks the wound when we see his rampage, it looks like the latter.
Huh. Wonder whatever happened to that guy.
The last normal type of Jason comic released by Wildstorm is The Abuser & the Abused by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Andy B. Andy B’s art makes this easily the best-looking Friday the 13th comic by a landslide. Lot of great expressions and action in there.
The issue is kind of an alternate take on How I Spent My Summer Vacation. It deals with a girl who is constantly abused. Her boyfriend beats her, her classmates make fun of her, her father and stepmother bully her, and no authority figure will help her in any way. She takes it upon herself to strike back against anyone who’s wronged her and part of her plan involves luring her boyfriend to Camp Crystal Lake (which is not open for once. Thank God). Then when Jason appears to do what Jason does best, the girl gets mad because this is her kill and the two murderers throw down. Totally worth checking out for the fantastic fight scene.
Now we get to the grand finale in the form of two six-issue miniseries. Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash started in early 2008, based on a script treatment for a sequel to the Freddy vs. Jason movie that would never come to be. The Jeff Katz screenplay is adapted by James Kuhoric with art by Jason Craig. It’s generally okay. It’s nothing especially great or especially awful. It comes up with a satisfying enough story that brings together the three horror icons, has them play off each other, and gives us a big enough body count.
Freddy is able to convince Jason to do his bidding by banging his mother. At least, that’s what Jason sees in his nightmare, where Freddy acts like his new step-father and has “Pamela” tell Jason to listen to his authority. Freddy wants him to fetch the Necronomicon and wouldn’t you know it, Ash Williams is working at a nearby hardware store for the holidays.
What’s great about it is that we actually have a real protagonist to cheer for, who we know has enough plot armor to stay alive. The Freddy vs. Jason movie didn’t have anyone nearly as likeable as Ash. The main drawback is that Jason is the third wheel, mostly overshadowed by the other two co-stars. This becomes a bigger problem in the sequel, which I’ll get to in just a bit.
Sorry, I was wrong. The main drawback is that despite Jason Craig’s art starting incredibly strong, it becomes rushed to hell by the time he hits the final issue. That’s too bad, since the final battle between the two is excellent outside of that. Freddy is pumped up with power from the Necronomicon and Jason is maskless and replaced his dismembered hand with a machete. Ash is bemused, noting the lack of originality.
By the end, Freddy and Jason are both defeated for the time being, but the Necronomicon opens to a page that’s very reminiscent of the movie poster for Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors, only this time, Ash is leading the siege.
That leads us to Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash: Nightmare Warriors by the same creative team, though with Cruddie Torian doing a bit of fill-in work. Sadly, Jason Craig’s art takes a huge dive, even worse than before. Really, the whole comic is a gigantic mess, making it a perfect Friday the 13thcomic bookend to whatever the hell was going on with that Satan’s Six issue.
It’s a real shame too, because I absolutely love the setup. It’s such a brilliant concept for a climactic finale to Freddy and Jason’s respective series. See, Ash is invited to join a support group of sorts made up of those who have survived encounters with Freddy and/or Jason. So you have a group made up of Maggie Burroughs (Freddy’s Dead), Dr. Neil Gordon (Nightmare on Elm Street 3), Steven Freeman (Jason Goes to Hell), Stephanie Kimble (Steven’s baby daughter from that movie all grown up), Alice Johnson (Nightmare on Elm Street 4 and 5), Jacob Johnson (Alice’s son, also grown up), Tina Shepard (Friday the 13th Part VII), and Rennie Wickham (Friday the 13th Part VIII). Then waiting in the shadows is maverick survivor and quasi-hero of the Friday the 13th franchise, Tommy Jarvis, who wants to take out Jason on his own terms.
Also awesome is Jason’s redesign. For the first half, at least.
After all the bullshit he’s been through fighting Freddy and Ash in the last book, Jason is barely holding together. He’s got so much battle damage that even if he’s freakishly strong, he looks like’s seconds away from falling apart. Between his jaw being completely fleshless and the bottom part of his hockey mask before destroyed, he’s got this badass skull goalie thing going on.
Then Freddy ruins it by making Jason his general and using the Necronomicon to amp up Jason's appearance, cleaning him up and fixing his disfigurements. He also gives him long, black hair, making him look like a generic 90s vigilante. This also allows him to speak for once when he has his final battle with Tommy Jarvis.
Certainly better than, “HRMM!” at least.
As I said, the book goes completely full-on nuts, especially when it comes to Maggie Burroughs. She is actually Freddy’s daughter and killed him in the sixth Elm Street movie (the last canon one before Freddy vs. Jason). Here, she’s secretly evil and is working for her father. I guess they can get away with it because she’s the hero of the most hated Nightmare on Elm Street, but it’s never explained why she’s suddenly evil. Then not only does she start dressing like a sexy X-Men supervillain, but she starts making out with her father. And he puts his hand down her pants while grabbing her boob with the other. What. The. Fuck?
Anyway, she’s crushed by a tank a couple of issues later while fighting Jason in the Oval Office. Strange, strange comic. The book has a lot of big ideas, but it’s completely incomprehensible.
What I find interesting is the ending. Freddy’s attempt to cause Hell on Earth via the Necronomicon goes sour and they give him the most final death possible. He’s stripped of his powers, leaving a naked human form, begging for his life. Ash shoots him with his boomstick, killing him. Then some really ill-explained and badly-set-up time-travel happens where the warrant for his arrest from decades ago is now correctly signed, meaning he’ll never become the dream demon and so many deaths are negated. Not only is Freddy done, but he never really started in the first place!
Jason, on the other hand, is stabbed through the chest by Stephanie (which is supposed to be the one thing that can totally kill him for good) and Tommy chops his head off, but his body is missing anyway because one day he’s going to go to space and God forbid we mess around with continuity!
Gotta protect the sanctity of Jason X, man.
That was the last we’ve seen of Jason Voorhees in comic form and there’s no sign of him coming back any time soon. Despite being such a cinematic icon, there’s only so much you can do with the character. He’s a walking plot device who isn’t allowed to be anything more, nor should he ever be. He’s just an excuse for shock value and mainstream comics have already gotten to that level of mean-spirited violence, making him nothing but obsolete.
Poor guy. Finally DC Comics is about constantly tearing people’s arms off and Jason doesn’t get to play.
Gavin Jasper thinks it’s fitting that Jason is a goalie, considering he's constantly out to stop people from scoring. Follow him on Twitter!
Read the full Den of Geek NYCC Special Edition Magazine right here!
We're looking for all the X-Men and Marvel references hidden in the shadows of the New Mutants trailer!
The New Mutants trailer has finally arrived, and it promises another genre entry into the universe that gave us the sad mutant western Logan. The New Mutants looks unlike anything we've seen from the X-Men film universe before, and that's why we dug through it, shot by shot, to break down all the hints, secrets and easter eggs within.
Be warned: this breakdown contains speculation that may border on spoilers.
New Mutants Characters
The trailer gives us good shots of each character, but doesn't show any of them (obviously) using their powers.
We see Henry Zaga's Sunspot - Roberto da Costa, the son of a wealthy Brazilian industrialist whose powers manifested in a fight with racist bullies in Rio. He absorbs solar radiation and uses that to amp up his strength a large degree.
Illyana Rasputin is Magik, the little sister of the X-Men's Colossus. She's played by Anya Taylor-Joy. In the comics, Magik teleports by using Limbo, a dimension that strongly resembles Hell and is full of demons, as a waypoint. She also spent about 10 years there, a captive of the demon Belasco, where she learned how to use actual magic, and has been Sorcerer Supreme of Earth's dimension a few times in alternate futures. It's unlikely that will get any story time in this movie, but we're fairly confident her "strange" powers will show up.
Maisie Williams was the biggest name actor coming into this movie, and it looks like they had good reason for that. She's playing Rahne Sinclair, Wolfsbane, a Scottish lycanthropic mutant raised by a religious fundamentalist to hate her abilities. We don't see the Reverend Craig in the trailer (I believe), but he is in the movie, played by Happy Anderson, and I think the religious fundamentalist angle might have a role in the story as well.
Charlie Heaton plays Sam Guthrie, or Cannonball. He's nigh invulnerable when he's blastin'. He shoots around like a rocket, and projects a force field that protects him while he is in flight. He's also salt of the earth Appalachian, part of a huge Kentucky family of Guthries who are all delightful in the comics.
Dr. Cecilia Reyes
Alice Braga plays Dr. Cecilia Reyes, in the comics a mutant trauma surgeon with an impenetrable force field. She's working in a mental institution here, though, so I bet she's not a surgeon.
Lastly, but I'm guessing most importantly, we have Mirage. Blu Hunt plays Danielle Moonstar, the eventual leader of the New Mutants, and the character who is the focus of the trailer.
New Mutants Story
We start in pretty obviously a mental institution, though advance news called it someplace to protect society from the mutants.
Dr. Reyes is asking someone (probably Mirage) if she's ever hurt someone, and we see this flash of a graveyard filled with numbered markers. It bears a strong resemblance to the graveyard in "Days of Future Past," which is an ominous start to the trailer. From there, we're introduced to the characters, and the trailer plays up the horror angle strongly, so there are a couple of things worth mentioning that look like they may play into the story.
The first is that most of these kids' powers can be played for horror pretty easily. Rahne's power is literally being a werewolf, while Danielle's powers involve her reaching into peoples' minds and physically (or psionically) manifesting that which they fear the most. That is probably what's going on here: Sam's dad passes away in a coal mine accident not too long before he joins the team. He takes on the responsibility of providing for his family after that, but it looks like at some point he's going to have to live through what he perceives to be his father's death.
Also, Illyana's power is her opening a portal to hell to teleport places, so I'm giving even money odds that this scene is immediately followed by her stepping out of the dryer like nothing happened.
The second quiet theme of the trailer is the religious fundamentalist angle. Rahne's body language from the few scenes she's in is reserved, timid, and terrified, and this is probably why: I bet that's a member of The Right, either attacking someone or pulled out of Rahne's memory.
The Right was Cameron Hodge's group of anti-mutant extremists, who would attack mutants from their mech suits with smiley faces painted on the head. They were last seen working with the Purifiers, Reverend Stryker's group of anti-mutant religious extremists, in X-Men: Second Coming.
The W brand is either Wolfsbane being super on-brand or some kind of torture inflicted on her for being a sinner.
Finally, the last theme is the coming of the Demon Bear. The Demon Bear is exactly what it says: a demon bear that feeds off of negative emotions and fear. In the comics, it killed Dani's parents...
...so it's really easy to believe that Danielle and her mutant powers could be blamed for the Demon Bear's attacks. Note her bear pendant.
The story this movie is based on was Bill Sienkiewicz's first arc on New Mutants, and one of the best X-Men comics of all time. Looking at the trailer, it seems like the film's creators are on the right track in adapting the spirit of it.
New Mutants opens on April 13.
Read the full Den of Geek NYCC Special Edition Magazine right here!
At NYCC, Star Wars author Delilah Dawson talks about telling Phasma's story without revealing too much.
I’ve gone on a journey with Captain Phasma in the last couple of weeks. While reading the novel released as part of the Journey to The Last Jedi line, catching up on the comic by Kelly Thompson, and pondering characterization on Den of Geek's Blaster Canon podcast, my view of the chrome-plated killer has shifted around a lot. On Saturday, I sat down with Star Wars author Delilah S. Dawson, writer of the new Phasma novel, to talk about the character behind the mask — and why the canon may always keep the First Order soldier behind a veil of secrecy.
The novel itself contains one scene from Phasma’s point of view, but the rest of her story is seen through the perspectives of other people with their own agendas.
“The thing about Phasma is there’s always a mask between her and the world," Dawson explains. "It says in the book that no one has ever seen her without her helmet. … On Parnassos she has her original leather mask. As soon as she can, she finds an abandoned helmet. When she can take a stormtrooper helmet and gain that built-in quadnoc vision, she does. She does whatever she can to survive. She always likes to have that mask between her and the world.”
This leads to a contradiction. How to show characterization while hiding it at the same time? Dawson compares writing Phasma to another famous villain in literature.
"Writing her makes me think of what I imagine what it would be like to write Hannibal Lector, where you never get full insight into what that character is thinking. In scenes from their point of view there are obfuscations and points where they are either lying to themselves or withholding on purpose.”
This certainly makes Captain Phasma more frightening. She fits the mold of cool-looking Star Wars characters like Darth Maul and Boba Fett who radiate malice. However, Dawson and Marvel's Captain Phasma comic book author Kelly Thompson both found ways to characterize Phasma without directly stating her motivation or writing from her point of view. One way the novel does this is by focusing on Phasma’s radiation-scoured homeworld of Parnassos and her people, a clan desperate to find kinder shores.
Like other Star Wars villains in this mold, Phasma didn’t have the most glorious fate in The Force Awakens. Like Boba Fett plunging into the sarlaac pit, Phasma suffered both insult and injury when Finn and Han dropped her into a trash compactor. Dawson said that early conversations about the Phasma novel positioned it in part as a response to what fans criticized Phasma for in The Force Awakens.
“Our main interest was we wanted it to make sense with what she did on Starkiller Base," Dawson says. "That seemed to be the biggest thing. People were like, oh she’s a coward! And we are like no, she is not a coward. She has her own reasons and they are not that. We wanted to give her a background that would turn her into the character we see in the movies, the very private, secretive, powerful dangerous warrior. We decided on a sort of Mad Max backstory for a destroyed planet where everyday life is a struggle. … These people are worried that if they don’t get off this planet, there will be no humanoids left. This is her motivation to get off planet and join the First Order. To have that safety, comfort, and food.”
And the novel does that without ever suggesting that Phasma is a good guy for siding with the First Order. She does want to save her family from their planet, but once hope for that is lost, Phasma goes with the First Order in an effort to preserve herself.
The comic also shows Phasma’s tendency toward action. Dawson said that she and Thompson wanted to be sure to show that Phasma didn’t stay in the trash compactor for very long. Far from being a hazardous situation that requires an entire issue or more in order for Phasma to escape, the trash compactor is a minor inconvenience which Phasma leaves behind early in the comic.
As she tries to cross inhospitable ground with her First Order pilot beside her, Phasma uses the collected ruthlessness she developed on Parnassos.
Some of the most famous Star Wars villains have made dramatic choices just before their own defeats. Darth Vader is the most famous example, but secondary villains do this too. Darth Maul’s hubris let him stand and gloat at Obi-Wan instead of delivering a killing blow at the end of The Phantom Menace. We don’t know for sure whether Phasma will fit into this mold to the same degree. Images of Gwendoline Christie from The Last Jedi have so far shown her to be the ominous trooper we already know. But with the novel and comic setting up her personality as it was fostered on Parnassos, maybe we’ll see her making some more unexpected decisions in the movies.
Read the latest Den of Geek Special Edition Magazine right here!
We shopped around New York Comic Con with the Comic Book Men star.
What’s it like to go shopping at NYCC with Ming Chen of AMC's Comic Book Men?
First off, he’s a pro “conner.” He attends as many cons as possible and knows all the best vendors. Walking to these destinations takes some time. People know Chen and constantly stop him for pictures. “You know, I don’t mind it means that they’re watching the show and I’m thankful for that,” he says.
First stop, Musterbrand, a pop culture designer label company. Chen was eyeing a Luke Skywalker Jacket from Empire Strikes Back, which looked pretty stylish on him. “I feel like I could survive Hoth in this.” Chen brags. Well, maybe not Hoth but he could for sure take on Vader in that jacket.
Next up, we browsed the Kotobukiya booth. “They have some of the best statues out there. The bride from ‘Kill Bill’ is amazing,” he says.
Last stop was his personal favorite, ‘What’s Your Passion Jewelry Inc’ which holds the official license from Marvel to produce fine jewelry.
“Guys don’t have a lot of jewelry options. I saw this jewelry they produce and I was like, “Holy crap!” Not only is this so me but it’s classy; sterling silver, eighteen karat gold… it’s a geek super bowl ring right here!”
Chen hung out at the booth and gave free autographs and free selfies to anyone that asks. From there we waved goodbye. “The Force is strong with us today,” Chen beams.
Know the terror and madness of Stephen King's 10 greatest supernatural villains!
Pennywise the Clown isn't the only monster you need to fear at night. The King has created plenty of other horrific things that go bump in the night...
The name Stephen King conjures up images of horrific creatures, monsters, places, and stories, and some of the most enduring villains in fiction. These are beings of unimaginable evil that test the limits of the protagonists' will to survive, and some of these villains have gone on to become almost as famous (or infamous) as the writer himself. While many Stephen King villains are monsters of the human variety (serial killers, power hungry despots, nihilists, etc.) his most memorable are the supernatural ones who use their dark powers to twist the orderly world around them into a special place of chaos and pain.
Here are just a few of King’s best supernatural madmen and monsters.
10. Gage Creed and the Pet Sematary
Pet Sematary (1983)
“Don’t go beyond, no matter how much you feel you need to, Doctor. The barrier was not made to be broken. Remember this: there is more power here than you know. It is old and always restless. Remember.”
When Louis, Rachel, Eileen, and Gage Creed moved to Ludlow, Maine from Chicago, their cat Winston Churchill in tow, they wanted a peaceful new life in the more rural locale. What they got was a descent into death and madness almost unmatched in modern horror fiction. In the novel, the Creed cat is killed. Louis fears telling his daughter and buries the beloved pet at a nearby “Pet Sematary,” an old Micmac Indian burial ground. The cat returns home, much to Louis’ shock and delight, but it’s not the same friendly animal. It’s a listless, mean, half-alive creature that does not have a fondness for life.
When Gage is killed by a truck, overcome with despair, Louis buries his son in the Sematary. What comes back is a true horror of epic proportions. Gage is such a disturbing villain because he once existed as an object of the purest affection. The once totally innocent soul is now corrupt and ridden with supernatural darkness. The Pet Sematary itself is rumored to once have been a burial place for cannibals, and the spirit of a Wendigo dwells in the soil.
Now, Gage is back with the most ancient of curses coursing where blood once flowed. Every father’s nightmare turned even darker. King felt the book was too dark even for him and shelved it until his wife, Tabitha, and his friend, the author Peter Straub, encouraged him to share his bleak vision of paternal loyalty with the world.
9. The Leatherheads
Under the Dome (2009)
“God turned out to be a bunch of bad little kids playing interstellar Xbox. Isn't that funny?”
Much more frightening than typical villains, the Leatherheads are an alien race responsible for the construction of the Dome that covers Chester’s Mill. They are in the same vein as H.P. Lovecraft’s cosmic horrors, beings much older and more powerful than humanity. The mere sight of them could drive a man mad. They are beings with the power of gods but no connection to or feelings for humanity. Just cold observers that exist on a different layer of reality.
The Leatherheads construct the Dome the same way a child makes an ant farm, out of a morbid curiosity to watch how lesser creatures exist. Their casual disregard for humanity makes them truly terrifying, because unlike some of King’s other antagonists, there is really no way to fight them.
The Leatherheads are mentioned in King’s chilling short story N., but it is in Under the Dome where readers get to experience the sheer paralytic terror that would occur if an alien species of ancient intelligence turned their attention towards our little backwater planet.
8. The Overlook Hotel
The Shining (1977)
“This inhuman place makes human monsters.”
If there is one thing King’s constant readers have learned after decades of nightmares is that places can be as evil as people, an idea that is personified in the Overlook Hotel, the setting of The Shining. On the surface, The Shining is a classic haunted house tale, but beneath the surface, it is so much more. It is a deep look into the fragility of fatherhood, the bond of trust between father and son. As Danny Torrance, the psychic child who journeys to a secluded Colorado hotel with his caretaker father and loving mother discovers when the father he trusted is transformed in a raging madman by the power within the Overlook.
The novel’s most riveting sections feature past accounts of other times that the Overlook weaved its dark magic, transforming good men into monsters. The walls of the Overlook can barely contain the rage within the heart of the hotel, and as The Shining plays out, readers discover just how corrupt the place is. Make no mistake, it may not have arms to swing an ax, or legs to chase down its victims, but the Overlook is a hungry sort of evil that demands to be fed. Just try staying at a Motel 6 after reading King’s classic. I dare you.
7. The Raggedy Man
“What Darwin was too polite to say, my friends, is that we came to rule the earth not because we were the smartest, or even the meanest, but because we have always been the craziest, most murderous motherfuckers in the jungle.”
Fans of the Walking Dead need to recognize. King does zombies too, and they are sphincter-tighteningly scary. In Cell, a pulse travels into cell phones all over the world. Anyone on their phone at the fateful moment is turned into a zombie. These villains are a different breed than the popular Romero clones, as the pulse also unlocks latent powers of the human mind like telepathy and levitation.
The Raggedy Man is the leader of the zombies. He thinks, organizes, and commands. He has all the nihilistic hunger of a zombie, but he has planning skills and foresight which make him a truly frightening antagonist. His goal is to spread his people around the globe and take the planet for his horde. He sees humanity as a threat to his people and seeks to destroy them to protect his new race, which could make him literature’s first sympathetic zombie villain. He is often seen wearing a crimson Harvard hoodie giving the creature an atypical zombie air of intelligence and capability.
The name of Harvard’s sports teams by the way? The Harvard Crimson. Well played Mr. King, well played.
RELATED ARTICLE: The Importance of Stephen King's Cell Movie
6. Kurt Barlow
‘Salems Lot (1975)
“That above all else. They did not look out their windows. No matter what noises or dreadful possibilities, no matter how awful the unknown, there was an even worse thing: to look the Gorgon in the face.”
King’s only foray into vampires (the classic ones, anyway), Barlow was the writer’s way of getting the whole mythos right the first time. ‘Salems Lot was King’s second published novel and his first of many novels centering on the idea of a preternatural creature releasing the beast inside of regular people. It was also his first small town novel, a setting King would return to many times over the decades.
Barlow’s story mirrors that of Dracula, from the shipment of his coffin and native soil from overseas to his arrival and reign of terror in a contemporary setting. He even has his own personal Renfield, Richard Straker, his own gothic mansion, his own legion of dark minions, and a twisted grip on the residents of ‘Salems Lot.
Barlow was more of a catalyst, using embraced residents as pawns to tighten his grip on the town, but his very presence on the page was accompanied with a sense of urgency and dread.
In a 1995 BBC radio drama of ‘Salems Lot (that is well worth seeking out), Barlow is played by Pinhead himself, Doug Bradley, which automatically gives the vampire tons of villain cred.
5. George Stark
The Dark Half (1989)
“Cut him. Cut him while I stand here and watch. I want to see the blood flow. Don't make me tell you twice.”
Stephen King once wrote under the pseudonym Richard Bachman and published some of his more experimental works like The Running Man, The Long Walk, and Thinner. His experience as somewhat existing as another person inspired King to write the Dark Half, and inspired the creation of one of his most cold blooded killers, George Stark.
In the novel, Thad Beaumont was a successful author who wrote violent crime novels under the pen name of George Stark. After revealing to the world he was actually Stark, Thad and his wife stage a mock funeral for the author to symbolically cut ties with the violent crime fiction Beaumont wanted to leave behind. This is where King brings the terror.
The novel started with a flashback that dealt with the removal of an eye from the brain of a young Thad. It was the eye of a twin that was conjoined in the womb to the writer, an incident Thad had all but forgotten about. It was actually the eye of George Stark, who later rises from the mock grave the Beaumonts planted him in to go on a killing spree that leaves even the most seasoned reader with PTSD.
Stark is the embodiment of the darkness in the hearts of all men. The most frightening part of the book is that even though Beaumont is desperate to rid the world of Stark, part of him is attracted to the freedom evil gives Stark, and the realization that the evil is a part of him.
RELATED ARTICLE: Stephen King's 10 Greatest Human Villains
4. Blaine the Mono
The Dark Tower III: The Wastelands (1991)
“Choo-Choo, thought Jake, and shuddered.”
You will never look at Thomas the Tank Engine the same way again. Blaine is a sentient train in the Dark Tower series, a machine driven insane by underuse. Blaine once housed a powerful computer mind, but the network has since broken down, making the train deranged, cruel, and suicidal.
Roland and his ka-tet need the train to travel out of the Wasteland so Roland can finish his quest for the Dark Tower. They board Blaine. They are horrified when they find Blaine has gone completely insane. The train forces them into a game of riddles. The situation gets worse, as the ka-tet realizes Blaine will kill himself by derailing at great speed with them aboard.
A crazy, sentient, thundering locomotive with a face is scary enough, but couple that with the fact that the train suffers from crippling mental health issues, and you have one of the most unique monsters in literature. There is a second voice inside Blaine, Little Blaine, who begs the ka-tet to help him, adding even another layer to the tragic nightmare that is Blaine.
So essentially, Blaine is Gollum if Gollum was a runaway train: a riddle loving, murderous, schizophrenic machine who has been ruined by pain and emptiness.
3. The Crimson King aka Los'Ram Abbalah, The Kingfish, The Red King, Lord of Discordia, Lord of Spiders, Satan
“I am the Eater of Worlds.”
The Crimson King is often mistaken for It, and it is not completely clear if they are the same monster, but the regality and level of reverence the King’s minions hold for him seem to suggest that he is different than the sewer-dwelling eater of children.
The Crimson King is the embodiment of evil in King’s shared fictional universe. He is first introduced in Insomnia, where he tries to kill a child prophesied to topple the rule of the King forever.
The King is later revealed as the monster behind the events of the novel Black House, and he is the overarching villain of the Dark Tower series, the monster responsible for trying to bring down the structure of reality.
Stephen King suggests that all his villains, supernatural or otherwise, are pawns of the Crimson King. The name itself carries some great metatextual flavor as, of course, Stephen King himself is the one truly responsible for the evil in his worlds. The half of the writer that creates and is responsible for these horrific monsters is also named King. Stephen King is the writer, father, husband, and Red Sox fan. The Crimson King is the dark overlord of the fictional universe and the monster maker.
2. It aka Pennywise the Dancing Clown, Robert Gray, Bob Grapes
The clown seized his arm.
And George saw the clown’s face change.
Every twenty-seven years It rises to devour the children of Derry. It awoke when a homosexual couple was beaten by a gang of thugs in 1984 to again reign terror on the children of Derry. It was put to rest by the Losers Club, a group of misfit teens, in 1958 only to rise again, decades later. It killed the leader of the Losers’ (Bill Denbrough) little brother in one of the most hair-raising prologues in horror history.
It is another of King’s manipulator villains, as It controls the darker residents of Derry, such as bully Henry Bowers to do Its bidding. It is a cannibalistic clown that lives in the sewers, a leprous mummy, a giant spider, or a series of orange lights called the Dead Lights that drive people mad when gazed upon.
Unlike the similar creature, the Crimson King, It does not commit evil for glory or power. It devours because It hungers. The lives of innocents exist only to fill the void of It's being. And let’s face it, nothing, NOTHING is freakin’ scarier than a hungry clown in a sewer.
1. Randall Flagg
aka The Ageless Stranger, The Walkin' Dude, The Dark Man, The Hardcase, The Man in Black, The Tall Man, The Midnight Rambler, The Antagonist, The Grinning Man, Old Creeping Judas, He Who Walks Behind The Rows, The Covenant Man, Richard Fry, Robert Franq, Ramsey Forrest, Robert Freemont, Richard Freemantle, Russell Faraday, The Monster, The Man with No Face, Richard Fannin, Raymond Fiegler, Walter o'Dim, Marten Broadcloak, Walter Padick, Walter Hodji, and Bill Hitch
The Stand (1978)
Eyes of the Dragon (1986)
Hearts in Atlantis (1999)
The Dark Tower series
“My life for you.”
Not so much a single villain, but the archetype of all villains, Randall Flagg is King’s greatest singular creation of evil. Flagg first appeared in The Stand, the Dark Man who gathers the worst of humanity to rebuild a new civilization in his own dark image. The Walkin’ Dude had a propensity for crucifying any whose beliefs ran contrary to his.
Flagg is the greatest of King’s manipulators, able to inspire loyalty in those with dark hearts, as seen by the Trashcan Man in The Stand and even Mother Carmody in The Mist. All they have to do is say “My life for you,” and mean it, and Flagg will be there to inspire their dark deeds.
He was revealed to be the antagonists to Roland in the Dark Tower series, and is the ever present evil in all men. Flagg is walking the back roads of reality just waiting for a chance to whisper in humanity’s ear and stir up some good, old fashioned chaos.
Read the full Den of Geek NYCC Special Edition Magazine right here!
A version of this article first appeared on October 19, 2013.
Cecil Castellucci tells us about what informs the strangeness of Young Animal's Shade the Changing Girl.
Following in the hallowed footsteps of creator Steve Ditko and author Peter Milligan, Cecil Castellucci has taken the reins of DC’s Shade, the Changing Man. But the author added a twist and transformed this latest version of Ditko’s creation into Shade, the Changing Girl for DC’s strangest imprint, Young Animal.
Shade, the Changing Girl is the story of an alien from the planet Meta who possesses the body of a young human girl that also happens to be the worst bully in her school. Now, in the body of this reviled young woman, Shade must navigate humanity, high school, and the madness inherent in being an alien Changing Girl. It was our pleasure to sit down with Castellucci at New York Comic Con and pick her brain about Shade, how current politics informs her writing, and what DC character she would like to bring her special brand of creative madness to next.
Den of Geek: So what’s next for Shade, the Changing Girl?
Castellucci: I can’t really talk about that yet. We just did issue #12 which left our girl Shade in a precarious position. She now has ownership of her body. She’s learned a lot about the nature of feelings and humanity. Now she’s going to explore what life can be.
You started writing Shade about two years ago?
It was actually around April, 2016.
So we lived in a different country then (laughs). Has anything in today’s politics changed your take eon the characters? The book is about body ownership…
Yes, absolutely. It’s not only about body ownership, it’s about... right now we have a situation in our country where they want to regulate women’s bodies, and we have this character who is trying to take ownership on of her own body. That’s a tricky thing. When you’re writing a book that’s about madness, you can’t not be influenced by the world around you. No matter if it was before 2017 or after 2017, there’s always madness in the world. For Shade, we want to make sure we’re paying attention and talking about what’s happening in the real world. But at the same time, we’re doing our own thing.
Has anything changed in the book because of the election?
Yeah, it has. I mean I can’t say how it has, you can’t be an artist and not be influenced. There’s not a specific line or thing, but what happened at the end of the book was the same as it was always supposed to be.
So how did you land the gig on Shade?
Shelly Bond, who did the Minx imprint, she gave me a call. She was running Vertigo. She was like, “Hey, so we’re doing this character who’s an alien who possesses the body of a sixteen year old girl.” Gerard Way came up with that. Shelly was like, “I think this is for you,” because it had my favorite things, teenage girls and aliens.
Is Gerard Way still involved with the book?
Gerard came up with the log line, but then he gave me the keys to the castle. I was the one who decided the alien should be a bird alien so it would be more awkward to be in a girl’s body. Gerard and I go out for coffee and I tell him my crazy ideas. He reads all the scripts and weighs in on the pencils. He’s pretty much hands off. I like to think of Young Animal as an armada, and he’s sort of the lead ship.
Did the Ditko run and Milligan run on Shade inform your work?
Absolutely, I had to make sure I was paying tribute to Ditko and Milligan’s run. I made sure to include many nods and echoes to those runs.
What do you think is in the DNA of the character that makes DC turn to it again and again when Shade has never really been an A-list type character?
I think there’s something so incredibly strange about an alien whose super power is madness. Because madness is such a part of our lives. We all are experiencing big emotions and dark fears. Having a character that amplifies those feelings is interesting. But it’s also scary. I think that’s why every twenty years or so, we revisit Shade.
What DC character would you love to give the Young Animal treatment to?
There’s these characters, the Royal Flush Gang, they’re a pack of playing cards...
That would be awesome. There’s a Justice League episode with the Royal Flush Gang that made me cry harder than any cartoon had a right to make me cry. How about a more mainstream character?
Actually Mera would be awesome. I love her as a character.
Back to Shade, where did the idea of using a faux 50s sitcom in Shade come from?
“Life with Honey.” It was a riff on I Love Lucy. I read somewhere that when Lucy was broadcast, the waves actually bounced off planet Earth and into outer space, so the first images alien would have seen of us would have been I Love Lucy. So, I loved the idea of this alien character becoming obsessed with an Earth that didn’t exist. All the “Life With Honey” backups feed into the emotional core of the main story.
Read the full Den of Geek NYCC Special Edition Magazine right here!
With the arrival of the Saviors and the inscrutable Heapsters, we explore the historical influences of all of The Walking Dead's villains.
This Walking Dead article contains major spoilers for the show and the comics.
The Walking Dead is one of the most successful shows of all time for one reason: zombies. It's also a sometimes decent, sometimes great show because it knows exactly how to use said creatures. In any good zombie franchise, the zombies don’t act as villains. They’re a force of nature—just lumbering, amoral scenery. Trying to build a story where zombies are the bad guys would be like trying to make a six-season television show where the only antagonist was an avalanche or a mudslide week after week. Both of these threats allow for some great life-or-death circumstances, but you can’t rely on them to be the antagonists that carry along the story week after week.
Give or take a Moby Dick, humans usually make for the best villains because they can match wits with their hero counterparts. And at the very least, the viewer will be able to relate to their humanity. Or lack thereof. The Walking Dead, for all its faults (and sometimes they are many), understands that the best thing for its story is a solid revolving door of antagonists to define its merry group of protagonists.
Granted, it did take awhile to get to the human villains. It wasn’t until halfway through the second season that The Walking Dead even introduced any human threats to contend with, and even then, Rick Grimes made short work of Michael Raymond-James and his band of Nebraska-seeking douchebags. Still, the effect was immediately electrifying. Once other antagonistic human beings were introduced into the sea of shambling corpses, it was clear that The Walking Dead could never go back: it must always have some sort of human group oppose the Rick Grimes clan to produce interesting entertainment. Since the beginning of season three, with the introduction of the Governor, it largely has.
What’s particularly interesting is that these rotating groups of antagonists tend to come in bunches, and are never just one man or woman. The Governor was Rick Grimes' first true antagonistic foil after Shane, but he would not have been a legitimate threat without the town of Woodbury behind him. In the post-apocalyptic world, no one can make it on their own. Everyone needs a community. And as those communities spring up, they all tend to have different values, mores, and rules. The Rick Grimes group generally seems to operate under the rule of “Just Survive Somehow” and amass all of the strongest friends who also seem to have at least a slight vested interest in returning the world to the normal state of law and order.
Other groups…not so much.
Through seven seasons, Rick’s crew has grappled with at least six other distinct enemy groups by our count. They are: The Governor and Woodbury, Joe and the Claimers, Terminus, Grady Memorial Hospital, the Wolves, Negan and the Saviors, and Jadis and the Heapsters. Each has had their own philosophy that set itself apart from Rick’s group, and ultimately made it a collective antagonist.
Each group also has an intriguing real world analog, whether it be a similar group from history or at least inspired by a real philosophical school of thinking. Let’s take the time to give each group its due by examining which real world events, people, and ideas they most closely resemble.Here are the antagonists in chronological order.
The Governor and Woodbury
Philip Blake, aka The Governor, possesses an inherent skill that makes him a truly formidable adversary. He can create families out of thin air. Something about the Governor’s charisma, speech pattern, je ne se quois, whatever, gets people to not only follow him but trust him. With some walls and kind words, he created a completely functioning society shockingly early on in the zombie apocalypse.
Then later on, after he loses that society, The Walking Dead lets him start from scratch so we can see just how adept he is at getting people on his side. He influences the Chambers family into becoming his own, and then quickly gathers a new army to make a move on the prison yet again. The Governor, with all his skill in winning friends and influencing people, is not unlike a cult leader, and Woodbury is like his Jonestown.
Woodbury, with its white-picket fences and smiling neighbors, might not seem like a cult. But following a charismatic person who only goes by the honorific “The Governor” is a pretty tell-tale sign, as is the predilection to watch live prisoners duke it out in a pit of zombies as punishment. That doesn’t exactly follow the rule of law that most societies ascribe to.
Realistically, a world in which the dead literally roam the Earth is bound to be just lousy with cults. So it’s no surprise that the first antagonist group presented in The Walking Dead resembles one. The real world doesn’t have rotting corpses wandering around but can still be a confusing enough place that people are all too happy to pledge their lives to whoever can promise them salvation.
Jim Jones’ cult was officially titled the Peoples Temple Agricultural Project and began in Indianapolis before moving onto Los Angeles and San Francisco, eventually creating the unofficially titled “Jonestown” settlement in Guyana. 909 cult-members committed suicide with cyanide-laced Kool-Aid, at the instruction of Jones, after the cult murdered five people, including a U.S. Congressman who had come to investigate the cult.
Come to think of it, the Governor couldn’t even get his hand-selected soldiers to continue an attack on the Prison. As such, real life remains far more hardcore than fiction.
Joe and the Claimers
Daryl is the first to encounter “The Claimers” after the destruction of the prison in season four. They are essentially a loose band of brigands, led by their imposing leader in a motorcycle jacket, Joe. Their philosophy seems to be “travel around and take and do whatever you want.” Their only rule is that as long as you “claim” a found item, it belongs to you.
There’s a phrase from the Quran, of all places, that’s a pretty succinct distillation of everything that Joe and his group of “Claimers” represent: “highwaymen who menace the road.” Apparently, amorphous groups of bandits wandering around trade routes and looking to take stuff by force were historically a big enough problem to be addressed in religious texts. For what it’s worth, Allah says the punishment for this is "execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hand and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land that is chief disgrace in this world, and heavy punishment is theirs in the hereafter."
Since the zombie apocalypse is kind of a hard reboot of world history, technically The Walking Dead exists in a kind of new biblical time. And wouldn’t you know it, highwaymen who menace the road are indeed a problem again. There isn’t any significant historical group or philosophical idea behind the Claimers aside from the oldest human one: just do what you want until someone forces you otherwise. They’re basically pre-history scavengers with an added wrinkle of having one rule: something must be claimed. In that way, they also resemble some parts of the Pirate Code. Pirate Codes were adopted by a group of sailors who had gone pirate and could govern all sorts of behavior. Chief among them, however, was usually rules for the division of goods after a theft.
Ok, the Terminans are really all over the place. Gareth and his cannibal friends did not last long on the show, but with the depth of their villainy in terms of cultural influences, they may represent the most interesting group of antagonists to ever appear on The Walking Dead.
These cannibals occupy an abandoned train station that they’ve dubbed “Terminus.” The etymological implications of that phrase alone are incredibly interesting. A “terminus” can be a railway or bus station that represents the end of that particular route. So Terminus literally means “end of the line” for any of the poor souls who make it there. Terminus was also the original name of the city of Atlanta, which comes from the Roman God of boundaries, Terminus.
This is one of those rare instances, where the name of something in the show is far cooler than it’s inspiration from the comics. The Terminans closest analogue in the comics are the Hunters, a group of cannibals who befriend and then eat humans because they are ironically terrible at hunting animals.
So let’s get the cannibal portion out of the way now. Yes, cannibalism is a thing that occurs in the real world with alarming frequency. Alarmingly frequent in the sense that it ever occurs at all. The reasons that humans commit cannibalism are myriad, ranging from needing to eat humans to survive in an extreme situation, like the Donner Party, to eating people because you're mentally ill. For our purposes, we’re looking for a group who commits cultural cannibalism, and while they exist, it’s usually in primitive society’s that do so for superstitious purposes. That’s not necessarily an ideal fit for Terminus. If anything, Terminus veers more towards the “cannibalism to survive” spectrum, but they have some added factors that make them even more unique.
One is their location itself. They’ve turned their abandoned train station into a kind of murder-maze to more easily trap and kill their human prey. And as weird as it may sound, “murder mazes” are not unprecedented in the real world. One of America’s first serial killers, H.H. Holmes, created a “Murder Castle” in an apartment in downtown Chicago with many different windowless rooms dedicated solely to killing human beings.
Then there is also the fact that the Terminans actually began as victims. Their message of “Sanctuary for all” was originally legitimate before violent men took them up on their offer, and then began raping and murdering them for their troubles. At some point, they were able to take back control of Terminus and either imprison or kill all of their captors. Terminus was revived under a new philosophy: “You’re the butcher or you’re the cattle.” In that way, they’re like many prolific serial killers throughout the years. Especially say someone like Aileen Wuornos, who was abused by the men in her life for many years before snapping and killing seven of them.
Terminus is equal parts cannibalism for survival, H.H. Holmes, and Aileen Wuornos. That’s how you create a fascinating group of antagonists.
Grady Memorial Hospital
There’s a phrase from another great science fiction TV show that applies well to the events at Grady Memorial Hospital in downtown Atlanta. (Which is actually a real hospital in Atlanta. Surprisingly few of the Google reviews mention being attacked by the walking dead.) Commander William Adama in Battlestar Galactica once said, “There’s a reason you separate military and the police. One fights the enemies of the state, the other serves and protects the people. When the military becomes both, then the enemies of the state tend to become the people.”
Well, at Grady Memorial Hospital, the police are the military…and they’re the guards, the senators, the judges, the presidents, the insurance adjustors, the everything. Grady Memorial Hospital is able to maintain some semblance of order in downtown Atlanta, even as everything around them has gone to hell. They actually have working electricity, some doctors, and some medical supplies. Unfortunately, all patients and guests must submit completely to the police in charge to “pay off their debts.”
Grady Memorial Hospital could represent one of two things, depending on how frisky and political The Walking Dead wants to get. On one hand, it might be commenting on the “prison-industrial complex” in the United States, where privatizing the prison system means that prisoners = profit. Therefore, more prisoners = more profit. The folks at Grady Memorial Hospital realize that “rescuing” people around the hospital means an inexhaustible supply of free labor.
On the other hand, Grady Memorial Hospital is just a textbook example of a society under martial law. Martial law is, of course, when the military (or whoever has guns and badges), takes over as head of government, replacing all previous executive, legislative, and judicial branches of power. Normally, this is done by force, but in the case of Grady Memorial Hospital, the force is the zombie apocalypse that effectively ended the civilized world. And in this new early society, drafting a constitution and stuff must have seemed like a real pain. So they just deferred to whoever had the guns.
Military juntas leading coup d’etats happen in the real world all the time. Right now, Thailand, a country you could conceivably want to vacation in, is actually being ruled by a military junta. Granted, it’s been a lot less violent and terrifying than Grady Memorial, but it’s still definitely a thing that’s actually happening.
Grady Memorial Hospital is an excellent example of how The Walking Dead relies on its antagonists to define its protagonists. For all their faults, Rick Grimes and his group at the very least hold a vain hope that they can establish a functioning society with rule of law one day. That sets them in sharp contrast against groups like Grady Memorial.
The Wolves seem like they would be the easiest of the Walking Dead antagonist groups to characterize. All you need to know about them is right there in their name. They’re wolves, they’re bestial, non-rational, move around in a pack, and are just generally hungry for destruction. But for a group of supposedly anarchic, bestial killing-machines, fuck are they chatty.
When Morgan captures the lead wolf and attempts to convert him to a more peaceful society, the Wolf is all too happy to chat with him about the pointlessness of the attempt. The new way of the world has made him wild and uncontrollable. This wildness, combined with a self-consciousness about his own wildness, doesn’t really have a comparison to any group throughout history. Instead, it’s more philosophical.
The Wolves appear to be through and through nihilists. The term “nihilism” is staggeringly huge. Its most basic definition is that life has no meaning. But that’s such a big concept that it can and has been broken down into tons of different kinds of nihilism, from metaphysical to existential to political to really everything.
Still, the Wolves stay pretty active for a group that believes in nothing. Walking Dead director Greg Nicotero said in an interview that one of the group’s goals was to build up a zombie army. If nothing matters, what’s the point of that? On another occasion, one Wolf says they don’t want survivors living in safe societies like Alexandria as it’s an absurd thing to do during the apocalypse.
If that’s the case, the Wolves closet cousins may actually be another fictional group: the Guilty Remnant from HBO’s The Leftovers. The Guilty Remnant is a religious cult that has taken a vow of silence, wears all white, and chain smokes cigarettes all day. The purpose of this is to be a living reminder to all the citizens of the world that there was an apocalyptic event that they cannot ignore. In that example, the Guilty Remnant are actually not nihilists. They believe there is a purpose to life and that purpose is to remind people that God wanted the world to end.
Maybe the Wolves aren’t nihilists either, after all. Maybe they’re the post-zombie apocalypse version of the Westboro Baptist Church. They carve "W"s into their head and attack safe communities to remind them that God hates them and the evidence couldn’t possibly be more abundant.
Negan and the Saviors
All of the various groups introduced thus far have their own way of doing things and their own ways of antagonizing Grimes group. Soon, however, we’ll get to see a group with the most devastating historical comparison yet: the atomic bomb.
Like most former students who didn't pay attention in World History, I now know most of what I know about history from Dan Carlin's epic history podcast, Hardcore History. And in one particular episode, he says the violence, devastation, and proficiency of one specific civilatization can only be compared to that of the atomic bomb in the modern world. That civilization is the Mongol Empire. Negan and his group of so-called Saviors are Walking Dead's version the Genghis Khan and the Mongols.
The Mongol Empire was a powerful society that originated in Mongolia in the early 1200s. Under the leadership of the brilliant and ruthless Genghis Khan, they eventually conquered almost all of Asia and about half of Europe. Cities and societies that encountered the roaming hordes and armies of Mongolia had one choice: submit or die. Most ended up going with the latter.
The Saviors can't come nearly as close to the Mongols is size, scale, or effectiveness; and Negan, for all of his villain bonafides, is still no Genghis Khan. But in the smaller scale of post-zombie apocalyptic wasteland around the District of Columbia and Virginia, the Saviors may as well be a Mongol Empire. The Saviors and Negan represent a terrifying threat because they're just so good...at nearly everything.
Sometimes, a great villain has flaws to make them seem more relatable and human. But sometimes a great villain doesn't need any flaws at all, because the enormity of how proficient, skilled, and smart they are make them larger than life and terrifying. Negan and the Saviors belong in the latter category, much like Genghis Khan and the Mongols once did. Negan is smart enough to understand that violence equals power in this new world. He's also strong and athletic enough to be beyond effective in executing violence. It's like putting Stephen Hawking's brain in the Mountain's body. It's a terrifying combination that only knows how to do one thing: grow, expand, kill, conquer.
The shock of the world ending has begun to pass on TheWalking Dead, and now the groups are beginning to catch up to where we are in the real world. It’s a testament to our strange collective human history that the world of The Walking Dead seems just as volatile and violent. And we didn't even need a zombie apocalypse to get that way.
The Scavengers or Heapsters or Garbage Pail Kids are hard to nail down historically. That's partly because they have no analog for the group within The Walking Dead comic universe. So while it's possible that Robert Kirkman was drawing from real life historical and philosophical sources for his villains, we can't always say the same about the TV version - even though Kirkman remains heavily involved.
The other factor at play is that the Scavengers are so aggressively stylish and steampunkish that there isn't really an easy real life comparsion. Off the top of my head, I can come up with very few societies that styled themselves in all-black and lived a garbage-based existence.
When you do some digging, however, you discover that scavenging, hoarding, garbage-picking - whatever you want to call - has been a human tradition for virtually as long as there have been humans. "Gleaning" is a fun word that dates all the way back to Biblical times. Gleaning is essentially a more pastoral term for garbage picking. Gleaners would descend upon farmers' lands after they had been harvested to pick up any rinds or tiny grains left behind. Surprisingly, gleaning is actually a recognized right for the poor in Deutoronomy and Leviticus.
Jadis and her merry band of garbage-people aren't entirely like gleaners as there are no farms left to glean from, but living in a garbage dump in a post-apocalyptic world does add a nice level of "the meek shall inherit the Earth" intrigue. When the whole word has become a garbage dump, those most comfortable living in an actual one achieve some power.
The Scavengers aren't just a group happily playing around in garbage. They're a formiddable faction thanks to the useful junk-rich area they control.
A version of this article originally ran on February 19, 2016.
Is Wally West really dead? These preview pages from Titans #16 should help shed some light...
As Barry Allen gets more and more likeable, both in the pages of The Flash and on the small screen, it gets harder and harder to remember that for probably two generations of DC Comics fans, Wally was their first and best Flash. He was the guy Mark Waid made into a legend, one of the two Grant Morrison used as point of view characters for the reader in JLA, the lynchpin to the entire team dynamic in the Justice League show.
That's why it's good to have him back as a link to the old universe, while the New 52 Wally builds out his story. And it's especially good to have preboot Wally in the hands of someone like Dan Abnett, one of the best comic writers of the last twenty years. PS: Good gravy, his first arc of Legion of Super-Heroes was almost 20 years ago.
DC Comics sent along an exclusive first look at the upcoming Titans #16. Here's what they have to say about the issue.
TITANS #16 Written by DAN ABNETT Art and cover by BRETT BOOTH and NORM RAPMUND Variant cover by DAN MORA “Death Race”! After suffering a major cardiac episode due to his weakened heart, Wally West is dead…or is he? In a race against time and death itself, Wally reaches out to another speedster for help: Kid Flash! Can the two of them jump start Wally’s heart…or is there about to be one less Wally West?
I've seen things you people wouldn't believe...like these preview pages!
Neal Adams tells us about the Deadman TV series that almost came to pass.
There can be no doubt that we are living in a Golden Age of comic book media. I mean, a single week’s TV listings looks like a Diamond Comics order form. But what does this wonderful flood of super heroes and comic properties look like to a comic book legend like Neal Adams? Adams was one of the most important artists of his generation, if not of all time, and he continues to bring his special brand of superhero action to life in books for DC Comics. In November, Adams returns to Deadman, a character he helped define in his run on the character in the title Strange Adventures in 1967. At New York Comic Con, we got to pick Adams’ brain about the current slate of superhero properties that are thrilling fans on a weekly basis.
As far as movies are concerned, Adams feels that superhero films are, “Really good at Marvel, and just beginning to get good at DC,” but says that “DC TV is unbelievable.” Adams is probably slightly biased as his co-creations Ra’s Al Ghul and the island of Nanda Parbat play major roles on both Arrow and Gotham.
Going back to his view on DC superhero movies, Adams said, “Wonder Woman reopened the door that closed after two great Batman films. We got the door partially open with Batman…it kind of closed...and Wonder Woman was unbelievable. If I could just play the Germans invading Paradise Island beach scene and play it over and over again, I’d be a happy man. Those stunt guys in Hollywood are going, ‘Uh oh, women can do that? We’re in trouble.’”
Along with Wonder Woman, it seems like every major DC character is being brought to life on TV or in film. Even semi-obscure characters like Black Lightning are getting live action love, so the question remains, how has a character like Deadman, a character that creators like Adams have breathed so much, if you’ll pardon the expression, life into, not been exploited in a TV series? Deadman is a ghost detective trying to solve his own murder by possessing people and fighting crimes. It has a unique premise, procedural elements, and a kick ass protagonist, all the things TV execs love. So how has Deadman, a property that is essentially a supernatural Quantum Leap, not been realized on TV? Well, according to Adams, Deadman almost did come to TV, but in a way that might surprise you.
“They were going to do a TV show,” Adams recalls. “They called me maybe 12 years ago. Someone in Canada and DC Comics called me… it was maybe fifteen years ago…and they said, ‘We thought you’d like to now, they’re doing a Deadman show in Canada.’ So I said, ‘Oh, why are you calling me?’ They said, ‘You’re part of the history.’ So I asked, ‘Are they going to change it?’ to which they replied, ‘Well, they’re going to change it a little bit.’ I asked how. They said, ‘First of all, it’s a woman, and she’s not dead.’ So that didn’t happen.”
So, according to Adams, the Canadian Deadman show that almost existed was basically Living Woman. The takeaway from all this? First, TV people from 15 years ago simply didn't get it the way they do now, and a perfect ghostly procedural is still out there waiting for the right person to bring Deadman to TV. Someone get Greg Berlanti on the phone, please.
In the meantime we can enjoy Neal Adams’ return to the character when Deadman #1 arrives on November 1st.
Read the full Den of Geek NYCC Special Edition Magazine right here!
Between their Icons titles, Harbinger Wars 2, and the Ninjak vs. The Valiant Universe webseries, Valiant certainly has a lot on their plate.
Valiant Entertainment had a pretty strong New York Comic Con, featuring four panels throughout the weekend. While one was off-site and talked about jumping-on points, the other three focused on the future. One discussed the new Icons direction, the hyped up Harbinger Wars 2, and the last one was about the upcoming webseries Ninjak vs. The Valiant Universe.
If 2016 was about branching out in different creative directions, the present is about focusing on Valiant’s big guns. Guys like X-O Manowar, Bloodshot, Ninjak, Harbinger, Quantum and Woody, and even the return of Shadowman.
Yes, Shadowman will be coming back “in a big way” in March, but they didn’t give us much in terms of details.
X-O Manowar will continue with Aric’s off-world adventures, though X-O Manowar #10 (Matt Kindt and Renato Guedes) will have relatively little to do with Valiant’s top hero and will instead tell “Interlude,” a story that will introduce a bunch of new characters. More specifically, a group of bounty hunters who rescue their own kind from a prison planet.
Speaking of new characters, Bloodshot Salvation #4(Jeff Lemire and Mico Suayan) will show us the origin of Rampage, the dark opposite of Bloodshot. This continues the “Book of Revenge” arc, which will be followed by “Book of the Dead” (issues #6-8) and “Book of Revelations” (#9-12).
Some pages were shown of the new book Eternity(Matt Kindt and Trevor Hairsine), which is a follow-up on the Divinityseries. While they were tight-lipped about what it’s truly about, it’s apparently very different from Divinity, which is why it’s not simply called Divinity IV.
Ninjak’s new book Ninja-K (Christos Gag and Tomas Giorello) will essentially be about the ten Ninjas that existed before Colin King’s stealthy alter-ego. For instance, there’s Ninja-A, the Japanese warrior who fought in World War I, who led to the counter-creation Ninja-B to combat him during World War II. The fourth issue will talk about Ninja-G, the black female ninja from the 1970s with a blaxploitation look.
With the return of Quantum and Woody (Daniel Kibblesmith and Kano), the brothers are on rougher terms than ever. Apparently, Woody’s biological father is still alive, Quantum finds out, chooses to keep it under wraps for whatever reason, and Woody becomes aware. Considering the two need to clang their bracelets once every 24 hours or they’ll cease to be, it means a daily meeting between the two where neither says a word.
While Quantum and Woody being back is great on its own, Valiant is going the extra mile with Extreme Ultra-Foil Variant Covers for the first twelve issues. They actually went to Quebec to fight the right foils that were left over from the 90s. To go the extra EXTRA mile, there’s also the Most Variant Cover of All Time: chromium, lenticular, embossing, die-cut, two kinds of foil, iridescent ink, hand-numbered, and stickered with a fourth hero that has nothing to do with the book! Then they went even further down that extra extra mile by adding glow in the dark and something that they call “Valiant Vision.”
No two covers will be exactly like and it’s only one per store.
But of course, the big story coming up is Harbinger Wars 2, written by Matt Kindt and Eric Heisserer with art by Tomas Giorello and Raul Allen. The story here will be a bit more scattershot than everything building up to heroes vs. villains finale. Instead, it’s going to be told on different fronts. Each issue will essentially be two different storylines by different creative teams.
The basic story is this: the organization OMEN is trying to chase and hunt down Generation Zero with the Harbinger Renegades knowing that they’re next. Psiots as a concept have become known to the public, so OMEN is having the Hard CORPS hunt them down and eliminate when necessary. Livewire doesn’t especially appreciate this and this leads to her taking out the power grid across the country. Ninjak and Bloodshot are sent to bring in their former ally and it looks like X-O’s absence from Earth will be coming to an end at an opportune time.
That will be coming out over the summer of 2018 and will last four issues.
Valiant’s future isn’t all comics, though. Some time within the next few months, we’ll be getting the six-episode web series Ninjak vs. The Valiant Universe, starring Michael Rowe as Ninjak and directed by Bat in the Sun’s Aaron Schoenke (known for the YouTube series Super Power Beat Down). The final product will be about 70 minutes long and at a NYCC panel, a little over ten minutes of footage was shown.
The plot has Ninjak blackmailed by his rival Roku to steal a maguffin of great importance from MI-6. Ninjak’s good friend Neville has no choice but to bring in various heroes from all over to bring Ninjak in, including X-O Manowar, Archer & Armstrong, Eternal Warrior, Livewire, and Bloodshot. The footage included the first few minutes of the first episode, the introduction of Archer & Armstrong, and a brief intro to X-O.
Archer is basically portrayed as Kenneth the Page from 30 Rock and I love it.
Valiant will also be releasing a tie-in comic by Eliot Rahal. Coming out in January, the four-issue series will expand on the story of the web series.
Gavin Jasper wants a scene of Woody getting a call from Neville and casually hanging up before going back to sleep. Follow Gavin on Twitter!
Read the full Den of Geek NYCC Special Edition Magazine right here!
There's still time to enter our 'Slayers and Vampires' giveaway for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel fans!
If you've watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer, you know that the show was way ahead of its time. The series left its teethmarks on the entertainment industry and perceptions of vampire in popular culture as a whole. It also led to the creation of Angel !
In order to celebrate the awesomeness that is Buffyand Angel, we've been given a copy of the new book SLAYERS & VAMPIRES: The Complete Unauthorized Oral History of Buffy & Angel by Edward Gross and Mark Altman. We can't keep it for ourselves, so we're passing the opportunity to win the book and more free slayer swag along to you! The prize pack also includes:
- A set of vampire teeth
- "Five by Five" themed charms
- "Sunnydale High" iron-on clothing patches
- A "Nevertheless, she persisted" slayer button
We're confident that you'll love the book, which features 100 interviews with Joss Whedon, David Boreanaz, Felicia Day, Eliza Dushku, Guillermo del Toro, and many more. Slayers & Vampires is the most comprehensive look back at the girl who saved the world (too many times to count) and the vampires who loved her.
Entry is simple, and you get two chances!
- Sign up for the Den of Geek Newsletter below
Final entries will be accepted Friday, October 20th! One (1) winner will be drawn at random and contacted by either email or social media. Good luck!
A place to geek out about our favorite science fiction, fantasy, and horror books.
We are launching a Den of Geek Book Club as a place to recommend, discuss, and obsess over our favorite fantasy, science fiction, and horror books.
Our first Den of Geek Book Club book will be The Name of the Wind, the first book in Patrick Rothfuss'Kingkiller Chronicle trilogy. I know, I know. This book came out a long time ago. However, it just celebrated its 10th anniversary, complete with a gorgeous 10th anniversary edition from Penguin Random House. It will soon be turned into a movie and TV show, with musical producer support from Kingkiller Chronicle superfan Lin-Manuel Miranda.
In other words, whether this is your first time reading or your 15th, it's a great time to discuss this modern fantasy classic!
Want to take part in the discussion? Head over to Goodreads and become a member of the Den of Geek Book Club. And stay tuned for more behind-the-scenes content around our October/November pick, including interviews with the book's illustrators, a book giveaway, and more!
The Walking Dead has one of the most passionate fan communities on television and AMC knows how to give them what they want.
On Sept. 14, AMC launched The Walking Dead Fan Rewards Club. It was a creative new concept from the cable network that enabled them to give back to the show’s rabid fans while keeping them in the AMC fold. This how the program works: Walking Dead fans are able to collect “points” for activities like watching the show, buying merch online, or posting about the show on their social media.
This is a novel, intriguing concept. It’s also not one we’re used to seeing on television. Phrases like “Rewards Club” are often reserved for corporate entities that interact with what we view as “consumers” and not “fans.” Dominos has a rewards club (called “Piece of the Pie”), Starbucks has a rewards club (“My Starbucks Rewards program”), and even Pampers has a rewards club (“Pampers Gifts to Grow”).
What AMC has done with The Walking Dead is finally bridge the gap between corporate speak and geek speak. Words like “fan” and “consumer” often mean the same thing. If Lost represents the time that fandom culture went mainstream, The Walking Dead represents the time that fandom culture went corporate.
I understand there is a rough connotation that comes along with the phrase “corporate.” Hell, “going corporate” is not often a phrase someone uses to celebrate something. In this instance, however, I want to try to remove The Walking Dead as scripted art and entertainment and instead talk about the outsized cultural entity that is The Walking Dead fandom. The show has its struggles and certainly won’t be compared to Picasso’s “Guernica” anytime soon, but it is art. The fandom around it, however, has been incorporated under the AMC corporate umbrella in fascinating ways.
We all know that geekdom is celebrated (and some would argue exploited) in the mainstream in ways far beyond what Dungeons & Dragons players in the ’80s could have ever imagined. Swords and shields dominate premium cable in the form of Game of Thrones. And in cinema, it’s going to be a long time before anyone has a better year than Disney with its twin blockbuster hydra of Star Wars and the Marvel movies.
Still, The Walking Dead represents the most interesting case for how giant entertainment entities come to turn “fans” into “consumers.”
Step one is to create something good. Well, something within a fandom-friendly, entertaining genre that’s good. The Walking Dead has certainly creatively stagnated in some ways in its later seasons but remember what the show was like back in 2010? AMC could not have possibly knocked the ball further out of the park.
The network had already earned viewers attention and trust with legitimate television masterpieces like Breaking Bad and Mad Men, which afforded AMC the chance to take a risk with a genre show. So the network took a much-loved horror-adjacent comic book, brought in Hollywood heavy-hitter Frank Darabont to shepherd it, and released one of the best genre TV pilots ever, “Days Gone Bye,” right in time for Halloween. To borrow from some of the corporate examples above, “Days Gone Bye” was AMC’s chocolate lava crunch cakes, caramel frappucino, and 5-star skin care diaper.
It didn’t take long for The Walking Dead to develop a legitimate and vibrant fan community. Just anecdotally, I know there are only two TV series I’ve attended honest-to-goodness watch parties for: Lost and The Walking Dead. You’ve likely gone to one too if you consider yourself a fan of the show. Even if you just Google “Walking Dead watch party” these days, you’re likely to find plenty of options at bars well in advance of season 8’s premiere.
Traditionally, networks have earned their money by proving to advertisers via services like Nielsen ratings that they have viewers. Now that entertainment has become so fractured and specialized, entertainment companies aren’t just looking for viewers, they’re looking for fans. And by the end of season one, that’s exactly what The Walking Dead had.
The Walking Dead subreddit currently has more than 401,000 registered users ready to discuss the show. Compare that to some other fandom-friendly offerings. Netflix’s Stranger Things has a subreddit with around 140,000 users, FX’s American Horror Story has around 67,000. Game of Thrones has over 1 million, but that show is absolutely freakish in its mass appeal. Seriously, the thing’s a monster.
Regardless, people clicking “subscribe” to a subreddit isn’t a perfect measure of fandom size or engagement, but it’s a start. Social media is in many ways the new office watercolor and in that respect, The Walking Dead clearly passes the bar as watercolor entertainment. At the very least, it’s more than fair to claim that The Walking Dead has what we would refer to as a “fandom.”
Once AMC achieved the creation of a fandom, it’s next step was to begin efforts to take control of it. Again, that has a negative connotation, but I mean that in purely morally neutral terms. AMC execs are not gathered around a dimly-lit study conspiring about how to exploit a TV show’s fanbase while expensive cigar smoke ascends to the ceiling. They’re just savvy business folk and they know how to vertically integrate. Here is TV's most savvy businessman, Jack Donaghy, explaining what vertical integration is.
“Imagine that your favorite corn chip manufacturer also owned the number one diahrrhea medication," Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) explains.
With a massive hit on its hands, AMC sought to make a second show that would turn discussion about their cash cow into a product. Enter The Talking Dead.
In hindsight, it’s kind of weird that we didn’t make a bigger deal of The Talking Dead’s existence. Sure, there was some critical snickering about whether there needed to be a whole hour on TV devoted to recapping, deconstructing, and discussing a silly zombie show. But early critics failed to see that fans were almost always talking about this silly zombie show - they were talking about it at watch parties, on social media threads, and fan forums. The fact that AMC decided to get in on the chatter is rather ingenious.
The Talking Dead also debuted far earlier than you remember. AMC launched the Chris Hardwick-hosted post-episode talk show at the beginning of season 2. That means that for all of The Walking Dead’s soon-to-be 100 episodes, only six have not been followed by a talk show.
The Talking Dead is actually good, thanks to Hardwick’s undeniable charm, but it almost doesn’t even matter if it is or not. The show is really just AMC’s opportunity to monopolize more of Walking Dead fans’ time and attention.
The Talking Dead serves to deconstruct the show in almost real time. This is not unusual for television or fandom culture in general. Sometimes it seems like all of television was created back in the 20th century just so one day we could all argue in an A.V. Club comments section. What is unusual, however, is that it’s a product from the show’s corporate creators intended directly for the fans or consumers of that product. And The Talking Dead goes far beyond just wanting Walking Dead fans to have their eyes on AMC for an extra hour. The show also helped tremendously with shepherding fan engagement on multiple, non-TV platforms.
Hardwick, like a millennial Bob Barker, hosts the show with an eye towards generating social media conversation. The Talking Dead is an outlet for the creative forces behind the show to discuss their creation, but it’s also an outlet for fans to participate in online polls and on social media. If AMC were merely interested in viewership, they would just roll directly into the nerd-adjacent Comic Book Men after The Walking Dead. With The Talking Dead, however, they’re able to keep not only viewership but also conversation going.
That leads to another interesting aspect of the show's fandom. Despite, those large subreddit numbers, there are not many other AMC-independent fan outlets to discuss and celebrate the show. Fan forums like “Walking Dead Forums” and “Roamers and Lurkers” receive a relatively paltry amount of visitors for a show with around 15 million viewers an episode.
There are potential mitigating factors for this. Perhaps the existence of social media powerhouses like Reddit downplay the need for the thriving discussion boards that existed during the days of shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The X-Files, and Lost. Or maybe this is a result of the show’s recent creative struggles. Still, it’s hard not to notice that this is a seismic shift in the way that fandom interacts with itself.
There is one final way in which AMC interacts with the show's fandom and treats them as consumers. I mentioned earlier that we would be divorcing the show from the phenomenon but we’re going to have to dive back into the show for a moment.
The Walking Dead has gone through some major creative and personnel changes throughout the years. Initial creator Frank Darabont was let go partway through season two of the show, which led to one of the all-time great behind the scenes TV shitshows. There are many potential reasons for Darabont’s departure. AMC alleges that Darabont was erratic and difficult to deal with behind the scenes. Darabont alleges that the network was unwilling to give him creative freedom or an adequate budget. Regardless of the reasoning, Darabont was jettisoned and Glen Mazarra took over. Mazarra’s version of the show happened to hew more closely to the original comic source material. Comic characters like Michonne and Tyreese were introduced and the characters came to settle at the infamous prison setting.
Then Mazarra left and writer Scott Gimple took over. Gimple’s version of the show was even more faithful to the source material, and by the time season five rolled around, it was fairly easy for comic readers to predict the various beats for each subsequent season.
It’s impossible to know the true reasoning behind both Darabont and Mazarra’s exits. Still, it cannot be denied that each time The Walking Dead has undergone a regime change, the show has become more faithful to the comic. We could read absolutely nothing into that, if we wanted. The comics are very good and perhaps each subsequent showrunner has realized that to be the case. But there is a certain air of “give the people what they want” on AMC’s end that cannot be ignored.
When season seven struggled to grab its audience in its first eight episodes - many of the people involved with the show began to give public assurances that they had heard the fan community's concerns and that a brighter future was ahead.
At a conference shortly before the second half of season seven premiered, producer Gale Anne Hurd assured audiences that they were being heard and that the show tone down the violence a bit.
“We were able to look at the feedback on the level of violence. We did tone it down for episodes we were still filming for later on in the season,” she said.
Then, at the Paley Center for Media’s 34th annual PaleyFest, showrunner Gimple promised not only a definitive season seven finale but also a return to greatness in season eight.
"The season finale will be a conclusion that promises an epic story ahead. It's about setting up season eight but also beyond,"he said.
Even the stars got involved with the apologies. Norman Reedus (Daryl Dixon) told Entertainment Weekly:
I was saying that about the first half. I think part of that chatter you’re talking about came from me. But you know, it’s true: You can’t make everybody happy about everything. But we try, and you have to keep the story moving forward at all times or you just tell the same story over and over again. But I know new actors that came onto this show that were like, “Man, I miss the old group,” and they were playing new roles this season. So I know that everybody felt it.
These are creative people talking about their art in a manner that we’re more accustomed to seeing from petroleum companies after an oil spill. The cast and crew's reaction to the criticism was less “this is our singular, creative vision and we’re sorry to hear you don’t like it," and more “we know we kind of took things too slow this time but don’t worry, we’ll speed the plot up to keep you happy.”
The language the creative team and actors to speak to its viewers seems to address them as both fans and consumers. In some respects, that is actually good news. Fans who care enough about genre shows to develop thriving fandom communities around them have historically been all but ignored. On the other hand, AMC has put great effort into bringing fans entirely into their umbrella.
It’s not out of the goodness of their nerd-loving hearts, of course. There is gold to be found in them fandom hills. Still, in post-millennium Western culture, there is probably no better metric for whether a group has arrived than when a corporate entity desires their purchasing power. Whether one views it as a net positive or negative, it’s hard to deny that AMC has harnessed the awesome power of fandom.
Read the latest Den of Geek Special Edition Magazine right here!
Alan Burnett tells Den of Geek about "The Gun Story," the unproduced Batman: The Animated Series episode that was too dark for Fox.
One of the things that made Batman: The Animated Series an unrivaled '90s superhero cartoon was its ability to cater to both kids and adult fans at the same time. It was a show that went much deeper with its storytelling than some of its lighter counterparts. Sure, there were plenty of villain of the week stories, but they were usually presented in ways that shed light on different aspects of Batman's psyche, his mission, and the world around him.
In order to take such deep dives into the world of Batman, such as in the episode "Robin's Reckoning" in which the Boy Wonder tries to find and kill the man who murdered his family, the show's writers had to sometimes wade through darker waters than other superhero cartoons. The result of this approach has of course turned Batman: The Animated Seriesinto a timeless classic.
If you've not watched an episode since you were in grade school but still love Batman, go back and give the series a rewatch. You'll be surprised by how layered the stories are and how dark the show can be. Throughout its run, the series tackled stories about death, greed, poverty, and even subjects as specific as child slavery and animal cruelty.
I had a chance to speak with writer and producer Alan Burnett at New York Comic Con about the show's darker take on a superhero cartoon. According to Burnett, Fox gave the show's creators and writers the space to tackle darker stories and that the network was open to a cartoon that would "push the envelope."
Still, there were a few times when Fox felt Burnett and his colleagues had gone a little too far with their take on the Caped Crusader.
"The only show that we never could really produce was that script about the gun that killed [Bruce's] parents," revealed Burnett. "That was just a little bit too much."
The unproduced script was a retelling of Batman's origin story from a very unique perspective: that of the weapon that killed his parents.
"We had a script, which was called, I think, 'The Gun Story.'" explained Burnett. "And it begins with the creation of the gun, and it follows the gun through several people who use it, and finally getting to the person who killed the Waynes. And then it ends up getting melted down."
Burnett concludes that the subject matter was just too much for Fox. It's not hard to see why the network would have been wary about inadvertently fetishizing the gun that had made a boy an orphan. But hearing Burnett describe "The Gun Story," it sounds like this could have been one of the groundbreaking episodes of a series that spent so much time deconstructing Batman.
There's a reason so many of today's creators, including longtime Batman scribe Scott Snyder and writer/artist Sean Murphy, regard Batman: The Animated Series as the definitive take on the character: it examined the Caped Crusader from so many different and unique angles. Even the often maligned "I've Got Batman in My Basement," an episode Burnett describes as one of the few regrets he has about working on the series, showed the hero through the eyes of the Gotham City kids who admired him the most -- kids my age who fantasized about fighting crime with their idol.
Then there's the show's companion theatrical release, Mask of the Phantasm, which shows Bruce's struggle to compensate the life he's never been able to enjoy with his war on crime. Mask of the Phantasm is often hailed as the greatest Batman movie ever made.
Burnett also described one episode that the show was able to get through Fox despite its subject matter. "Perchance to Dream," a story we included on our list of the series' essential episodes, needed some extra attention in order to go into production. In the episode, Mad Hatter traps Bruce in a dream where his parents are still alive, he's engaged to Selina Kyle, and he was never Batman. Worst of all, someone else is running around as the Caped Crusader in his stead, despite the fact that Bruce remembers his time wearing the cowl.
Here's the part that raised some eyebrows: in order to escape this dream, Bruce decides to jump from a belltower to his "death," which he hopes will wake him up.
"Of all the things [Fox] would frown on, it's suicide solving a problem," Burnett said. "So I actually called them up and I said, 'This is what we're going to do,' and they said, 'Well, just be careful.' And we were okay through the script and when we got to storyboard, it was a little bit too strong. And [Fox] went through with us on the storyboards to make it more abstract so that kids wouldn't quite know what was going on, but the older viewers did. And it worked out fine."
"The Gun Story" wasn't the first episode to be deemed too taboo for Fox. In a 2015 interview to promote the decidedly darker Justice League: Gods and Monsters animated movie in which Batman is actually a vampire who feeds on his rogues gallery, Batman: The Animated Series co-creater Bruce Timm told me that he'd planned to turn the Dark Knight into a creature of the night while working on the show.
"One episode of Batman: The Animated Series, back in the day twenty years ago, we actually wanted to turn Batman temporarily into a vampire but [Fox Kids] wasn't having any of that," Timm explained.
Timm said he was inspired by a quote from Batman creator Bob Kane, who said that the Dark Knight was half Dracula and half Zorro, and that that was part of the appeal of the character.
"He's dark and spooky-looking and he's got that badass costume and the bat imagery. So I always wanted to go all the way with it and actually make him a vampire," said Timm. "We never went as far as a design for him. But there was a character in the comics named Nocturna who is not really a vampire but she was vampiric. So I did do a design of her, but that was as far as we got. We had the idea, but Fox Kids said, 'No way, don’t go there.'"
In the story, Nocturna, who was created by Doug Moench and Gene Colan as a burglar who is extremely sensitive to light, would have been reimagined as a vampire who would have bitten Batman and turned him into a bloodsucker.
"Bruce had drawn a hot model of her - but she’s a vampire, which would’ve involved bloodletting, which was a huge no-no for kids TV,"Burnett told The World's Finest. Interestingly enough, Burnett mentioned an episode called "Silent Knight" in that interview as well, which would have been "a story without dialogue."
Burnett also told The World's Finest of another, much more questionable idea he had for the show: "I would have liked to have gotten more into Batman’s sex life, but of course that was impossible."
Perhaps that was for the best.
Whether they were good ideas or not, whether they pushed the envelope a bit too much, these episodes of Batman: The Animated Series demonstrate just how willing the show's writers were to dive into unexplored territory (at least for a "kid's show" - a term that almost shouldn't apply to this series) in order to say something new about the character. At the very least, "The Gun Story" sounds like an episode us '90s kids would have remembered as adults.
Read the latest Den of Geek Special Edition Magazine right here!
Celebrate the launch of our new Den of Geek Book Club by entering our Name of the Wind giveaway.
Have you heard the news? Den of Geek has started a book club!
We're kicking off our club with The Name of the Wind, the first book in Patrick Rothfuss' Kingkiller Chronicle trilogy. The book just celebrated its 10th anniversary, complete with a gorgeous 10th anniversary edition from DAW.
In celebration of the anniversary and of the launch of our new book club, we're giving away one copy of The Name of the Wind's 10th Anniversary Edition to one lucky new club member.
Entry is simple!
- Join the Den of Geek Book Club over on Goodreads.
- Introduce yourself in the "Introduce Yourself!" discussion thread.
Final entries will be accepted Friday, October 27th! One (1) winner will be drawn at random and contacted via Goodreads message. Good luck!
Here's the lowdown on DC's politically charged (and way timely) Snagglepuss reboot.
It was back in February that we told you about DC Comics' plans to launch a bold reboot of Hanna-Barbera's Snagglepuss from The Flintstones' Mark Russell that reimagined the flamboyant mountain cat as a gay Southern playwright living and working in 1950s New York City (the debut story appeared as a backup tale in the debut issue of this past summer's Suicide Squad/Banana Splits Annual). As someone who has repeatedly gone on record here at Den of Geekabout his love for dynamic creative reboots of established characters, the six-issue miniseries Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles is like catnip to me, but it sounds like its going to interest readers everywhere who turn to comics to see social truths reflected back at them when the first issue hits in January.
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Russell describes how his take on the character has Snagglepuss living and working as a closeted artist in pre-Stonewall NYC. Further complicating matters is the rise of McCarthyism, which spurs his inner activist as he embarks on a crusade to "stand up for people who otherwise would be shoved under the stairs in this time of great national paranoia in the Red Scare mentality."
The Snagglepuss you're used to, he isn't. Fortunately.
Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chroniclesis already shaping up to be one of 2018's most interesting -- and, given our current political climate -- necessary titles. This relevance to what is happening in the headlines isn't lost on Russell, who tells THR that themes of "marginalizing minorities and immigrants, using fear of military threats to make people go along with abuse" reverberate through history and "never seem to go away, so unfortunately, when you're writing about these things, they will always be timely or relevant." Sad truths, but truths nonetheless.
Snagglepuss first debuted in 1959, a time when LGBT rights were sadly still ages away from being a part of the cultural conversation. As high-concept as this book will be (again, having Snagglepuss being a Tennessee Williams-esque theater scribe is brilliant), the main takeaway from the Hollywood Reporter piece is how the comic -- featuring art from Mike Feehan -- will speak to the experiences of those who have been and continue to be pushed aside by society and politics, feelings that are tragically on the rise again these days. To have Snagglepuss acting as a voice for the disenfranchised is a lot to expect from a character best known for lamenting "heavens to Murgatroyd" in times of crisis, but given Russell's established ability to give depth to previously lightweight cartoon characters as chronicled in his Flintstones work, we're convinced that he is more than up for the job.
We will have much more on Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles when it hits stores in January. One can only imagine what the political climate will be like then, so chances are we will need this comic more than ever.
Read the full Den of Geek NYCC Special Edition Magazine right here!
Archie and the Riverdale gang have a long history with drugs, and the name "Jingle Jangle" is no accident.
We need to talk about Jingle Jangle.
After Sheriff Keller briefly mentioned it last week, we learned on this week's episode that it is a popular drug sweeping through Riverdale thanks to dealers like Reggie Mantle. From the information presented so far, it seems as if Jingle Jangle is a cross between Adderall and Levitra. But the real world "Jingle Jangle" is actually the name of an album and single by The Archies from 1969.
It was a top ten hit in the U.S. and briefly topped the charts in Canada. For real. Listen to it here...
As my friend Mary pointed out, its inherent ridiculousness -- it is ingested like Pixie Stix -- and sudden ubiquity in the series brings to mind the drug Supercool from Upright Citizen's Brigade. I can't express enough how much joy it brings me that Jingle Jangle is apparently going to be a huge part of this season.
Clearly the teens of Riverdale are massive hypocrites.
Ruffalo will reteam with HBO after starring in The Normal Heart for the new limited drama series.
Finding success with established film actors starring in limited series with the likes of True Detective and Big Little Lies, HBO has announced that they are developing a limited drama series with Avengers star Mark Ruffalo.
Ruffalo will star and executive produce an adaptation of I Know This Much Is True. The bestselling 1998 novel by bestselling novel and former Oprah’s Book Club pick by author Wally Lamb is described as, “an epic family saga that explores the American identity following the parallel lives of twin brothers Dominick and Thomas Birdsey throughout the latter half of the 20th century,” according to Deadline. Like James Franco on HBO’s The Deuce, Ruffalo will be performing double duty, portraying both brothers.
The project is being written and directed by Derek Cianfrance (The Place Beyond the Pines). Ruffalo, Cianfrance, and Lamb will all executive produce alongside Ben Browning and Glen Basner of FilmNation (Arrival, The Big Sick). I Know This Much Is True will mark the second collaboration with HBO for Ruffalo, who starred in and co-executive produced the feature The Normal Heart for the network, netting him an acting Emmy nomination.
Of course, Ruffalo will next be seen in Thor: Ragnarok, which hits theaters on November 2.
It's been four years since zombies overtook Riverdale in Afterlife With Archie. Here are the scariest moments in the series so far.
In the four years since it first debuted, Afterlife with Archie has gone from high-concept gimmick to the most consistently entertaining comic on the market today. If we wanted to become overcome by hyperbole, we might have the cojones to say that the pairing of writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (whose success with the title resulted in him being named Archie’s Chief Creative Officer) and artist Francesco Francavilla is the best pairing in comics since JackKirby and Stan Lee.
Okay, maybe that's a bit much, but it's hard not to get over-excited when talking about this comic. Afterlife with Archie is a book that on paper sounds like a clone of The Walking Dead, but is in actuality an original story that uses the zombie apocalypse as a backdrop to deconstruct and rebuild everything you thought you knew about Archie…and horror comics in general. Each of the title’s ten issues so far have twisted the familiar Archie tropes – a main character torn between two women, devoted friends, rivalry amongst the teens, etc. – into story points that take the readers into shocking and unexpected places. Aguirre-Sacasa and Francavilla’s Riverdale is one of mystery and danger, where nothing is impossible and no one is safe. And it is wonderful.
Spoilers follow from this point on.
The story so far: When Reggie hits Jughead’s beloved pet Hot Dog with his car, Jug takes his dead dog to Sabrina to see if she can help revive him. Going against the basic rules of witchcraft and nature, she does so using the Necronomicon. Unfortuantely, things go wrong and the undead Hot Dog bites Jughead, who soon becomes a zombie, kickstarting a wave of death and chaos within Riverdale. Archie and his pals band together in the Lodge mansion to survive, and along the way familiar characters bite the dust before they all are forced to leave Riverdale when it is overrun by the undead.
Oh yeah, there’s some stuff about siblings Jason and Cheryl Blossom’s incestuous relationship, Sabrina is forcibly married to Cthulhu, Josie and the Pussycats are vampires, and the residents of Riverdale made a deal with the witches of Greendale to protect their families from evil in exchange for some of their children. So as you have probably gathered by now, this is not the Archie you are familiar with.
With Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa currently busy working as the showrunner on Riverdale, it has been over a year since we've gotten a new issue of Afterlife with Archie (his companion book, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, which features art by Robert Hack, has been luckier, with two issues out this year). With the zombie saga on temporary hold, the Archie Madhouse horror imprint will be debuting Jughead: The Hungeras an ongoing series next week. A preview issue from earlier this year featured Jughead as a werewolf being tracked by hunter Betty Cooper, and was a worthy addition to the previously released Archie title books. All of this coupled with the fact that Riverdale and its spin-off comic are both getting darker and more supernatural this year indicates that Archie and company will be mixed up with spooky happenings for a while to come.
Yet it all began with Afterlife, so let's take a look at the comic that spawned the renaissance with this list that explores the best moments from Afterlife with Archie to date. Some are scary, others heartfelt, but they all illustrate how this comic is unmissable.
#13 The Terrible Deal Between Riverdale Residents And The Greendale Witches
In the 8th issue, it is revealed that Riverdale residents struck an unholy bargain with the Greendale witches that would give them protection...so long as they each receive a sacrifice of one child from each of the Andrews, Cooper and Jones families over the course of the next generation. This revelation dovetails nicely with the reveal of Jughead's sister Jellybean being the youth who fulfills this dark obligation. Pretty chilling stuff.
#12 Sabrina’s Aunts Reveal Their True Forms
After Sabrina violates the basic tenets of witchcraft and returns Hot Dog to life via the Necronomicon, her aunts show their vengeful witch selves and banish her to a strange netherworld. (Sabrina then disappears from the story until the 6th issue, where she takes center stage). For readers familiar with the characters of Hilda and Zelda from the Sabrina comics, various Archie cartoons and the long-running ABC TV series, it was jarring to see the pair suddenly transformed into flying crones.
By showing Hilda and Zelda’s horrifying true forms, the creative team made their mission statement known early on. This was going to be a book that would be redefining Riverdale and its inhabitants, so readers better buckle up for the ride. It was a move that served as a warning shot that nothing was out of the realm of possibility in this comic. And it just gets stranger/more fascinating from here.
#11 Pop Tate’s Choklit Shoppe Goes Up in Flames
Not since Chachi accidentally burnt down Arnold’s on Happy Days has the destruction of a fictional landmark hit us so hard. In Archie books, Pop Tate’s Chocklit Shoppe was a sweetly anachronistic hangout for the gang. It was the type of place that hasn’t existed in the real world for decades, but remained vibrant in the comics because it represented the youthful fun that will always be the core appeal of Archie and the gang.
Here we see it burning to embers as a manifestation of the innocence that is being stripped away from Archie in this comic. He’s no longer worrying about how to fix his jalopy or deal with having dates with Betty and Veronica scheduled for the same night. Now he’s worried only about keeping his loved ones alive. It’s a Hero’s Journey right out of the pages of Joseph Campbell that he’s on right now, and it is completely rebuilding the character in the process. But this entry is hardly the roughest thing Archie has to deal with in Afterlife…
#10 Blaze Is Born
What the exact relationship between Cheryl Blossom and her twin brother Jason is has been one of the book's central mysteries. We're not sure what exactly happened between the pair, although incest is most definitely implied, but whatever it is, it wasn't good.
After entering the woods with her brother, a bloodied and battered Cheryl emerges asking to be referred to from hereonin as Blaze. It seems she has finally solved her Jason problem in the bloodiest way possible, and while readers don't know what went down, Betty does...and apparently it is horrifying. But what exactly happened? We can't wait to find out when the next issue is eventually released.
#9 Jughead Leads the Zombies
In our opinion, Jughead is the greatest of all Archie characters. So we were a bit bummed when we learned that he would be turned into a zombie in the first issue of Afterlife with Archie. Jughead has always been a fascinating character, what with his endless burger lust and avoidance of women. So to have that idiosyncratic voice removed from the mix seemed like a strange choice.
But here’s the thing, Zombie Jughead is just as intriguing. Now his lust for junk food has been replaced by a more sinister hunger, and since he was the first Riverdale resident turned the other zombies now look to him for guidance. The ultimate non-conformist is now in charge of a legion of undead walkers. This aspect of the story hasn’t been delved into too deeply as of yet, but I find it impossible to believe that Aguirre-Sacasa and Francavilla don’t have more plans for Jughead in their creative arsenal down the line.
#8 The Rich Inner Life of Hubert Smithers
Part of the joy that comes from reading Afterlife with Archie is seeing what secondary characters from Archie’s long history Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa will choose to develop. So far, he’s given such much-needed depth to Nancy and Ginger (featured here as lovers on the DL), the Blossom twins (whose Flowers in the Attic-esque storyline is both captivating and a complete distraction from the main action and an interesting compliment to how their relationship has been portrayed on Riverdale), and Mr. Lodge’s faithful butler, Hubert Smithers.
We’ve been reading Archie for decades and we never once considered Smithers to be anything more than a throwaway character. Hell, we didn’t even know he had a first name. But as it turns out, his life story is an Upstairs Downstairs/Downton Abbey-influenced tale of devotion and duty, and he comes off as Riverdale’s most noble character. He is the eyes and ears of Lodge Manor, and his keen observation skills allow him to take action when the unthinkable hits the home and people he has given up everything for. A man of action whose bravery and stiff-upper-lipness makes him an unexpected hero. Smithers lives to serve and serves to live, and we hope we see more of his story in future issues.
#7 Kevin Keller Gets Better
Since he was introduced in 2010 as Archie’s first openly gay character, Kevin Keller has become one of Riverdale’s most beloved figures. The character received immediate acclaim from the LGBT community, won a GLAAD media award in 2011 and became the first fictional character to be a spokesperson for the Spirit Day event, an annual day supporting LGBT youth. Yet there was a problem with Keller at first, he was a bit too milquetoast. Not in Afterlife with Archie though.
This comic’s take on Kevin is like that on Riverdalein that he is every bit the good man his mainstream Archie counterpart is, but here his voice is much more fleshed out and realistic. Like the Kevins in other Archie books, this one isn’t defined by his sexuality, but here he has a zest and self-confidence that is arguably absent elsewhere. This is best demonstrated when he tries to comfort a grief-stricken Reggie (who, by the way, inadvertently caused this whole zombie mess in the first place). True to form, Reggie takes Kevin’s gesture the wrong way, calls him a perv and swiftly gets punched in the face in the process. As we learned from our recent interview with Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, there will be much more Kevin in future issues. This is a great thing, as he continues to prove himself to be the most fascinating gay character in comics.
#6 The Bloodsucking Ways of Josie and The Pussycats
In the eagerly awaited tenth issue of Afterlife with Archie, the "Betty R.I.P." storyline was briefly put on hold so that readers could see what Josie and the Pussycats were up to while the world was ending. What few could have expected though was that the Pussycats were actually vampires, proving yet again that this comic's universe is open to all forms of the supernatural. This creative decision was handled with tact, and I'm absolutely in love with the idea that the girls are selective with their blood-feasting choices (for example, choosing to prey upon a scumbag journalist).
There's a lot of humor in this story -- especially the idea that in the '90s the Pussycats were a Spice Girls-esque act -- but more importantly the tenth issue is filled with the exact kind of heart and tragedy we've come to expect from Afterlife. Whether it be found in the scene where Josie trades in her bandmates' innocence for eternal life or Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa's shrewd way of placing semi-forgotten Josie and the Pussycats character Pepper into the story, there's a lot to appreciate here.
The ultimate goal of this issue is to set up the mysterious vampire Henry Irving as the book's new big bad, which is something of an odd choice given that Cthulhu is hanging around with Jughead and Sabrina in its pages. How his actions influence the story from here, as well as how the Pussycats interact with Archie and company give readers much to anticipate. Plus, isn't it just so rock and roll to have the Pussycats be vampires?
#5 Sabrina’s Chilling Adventures
Arguably the best installment to date, issue 6 focuses entirely on what Sabrina has been up to since we saw her banished to the Nether-Realm. It is a comic full of creative misdirection that leads you to believe that nothing that has happened so far is real, before pulling the rug out from under you in a twist that would make Rod Serling applaud. (See item number two on this list).
Is Sabrina going mad with her thoughts of zombies and strange formless voids? Did her aunts really perish in a fire when she was young, and she has imagined herself to be a teenage witch in order to deal with her grief? Exactly how much do Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Francesco Francavilla admire the works of H.P. Lovecraft? Finding out the answers to these questions is the most fun we’ve had reading a comic in ages.
#4 Archie Bids Farewell to Vegas
We here at Den of Geek are suckers for any story in which a dog dies. Dead dogs = instant tears. So just like Turner and Hooch and Futurama’s “Jurassic Bark” before it, the fourth issue turned on the waterworks in a huge way. First introduced into mainstream Archie continuity in 2013 and currently featured on Riverdale, Vegas is Archie’s beloved dog, a companion canine to Jughead’s Hot Dog.
In this comic we learn about how Vegas helped Archie learn about responsibility and devotion…before twisting the knife by showing us how the pooch sacrifices himself for his master. But as you’ll soon learn this was hardly the most painful thing to happen in this super depressing issue.
Afterlife with Archie you have made us weep. Are you happy now?
#3 Sabrina Marries Cthulhu
Yeah, so that happened. This glorious splash panel by Francesco Francavilla marks a moment when Afterlife with Archie draws back the curtain to reveal its true intentions: This will be a comic that explores all types of horror, not just zombies. In the wake of this sea change, all comparisons to The Walking Dead are instantly rendered moot. Afterlife with Archie is trying to be something different, more ambitious than just a zombie comic using Archie characters. It’s trying to tell creepy and cool horror stories in the EC vein using iconic figures that have endured for over 75 years. It’s this type of ambition that defines what today’s Archie is, courageously willing to leap onto uncharted territory and make it their own.
#2 Archie Chats With His Dead Best Friend
Although Jughead died in the first issue, Archie (and readers) never got to really mourn him until the 8th issue. During a conversation with his dead friend, Archie pauses to ask how the discussion is even happening. An absolutely crestfallen Jughead pauses for a second before telling Archie that he is a ghost. It is a beautiful, understated moment that for longtime fans of these characters is nothing short of devastating.
#1 Archie Kills His Zombified Father
As upsetting as Vegas’ death is, that is just an appetizer to the main course of pain that the fourth issue serves up. After opening up with a sun-drenched flashback to the day Archie first got Vegas and a rumination by Mr. Andrews that “death’s a part of life,” the story returns to the present day. Soon, Archie discovers that his father has turned into a zombie, and he is forced to kill him with a baseball bat. This horrific action plays out through 15 panels that travel between Archie’s warm memories of his father and the tragic present they each find themselves in. Alternating between light and dark, this sequence finds Francavilla at a series best.
Despite the horror going on, it is emotion that takes center stage here. Life milestones like Archie learning to shave and tie a tie are juxtaposed with the stark imagery of him bashing his beloved pop’s brain in. It is instantly unforgettable, and the definitive example of the craftsmanship that has come to define the title. Given how essential Fred Andrews is on Riverdale, this issue has an extra dramatic punch to it.
What a bummer to end on. Sorry folks!
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Faster, Archiekins! Kill! Kill! Betty and Veronica lead a biker gang in B & V Vixens from Archie Comics!
Despite being around for over 75 years, Archie Comics is currently having a bit of a moment. The current run of their Archie title has writer Mark Waid exploring how the character of Betty Cooper is the glue that binds her community together. Reboots of both Jughead and Josie and the Pussycats have recently ended critically acclaimed runs, while new titles like Jughead: The Hunger and the music-focused The Archies have, at least for the time being, taken their place. Meanwhile, the digests featuring the classic stories and takes on the characters can still be found at supermarkets and book stores across the country.
Oh yeah, and there's this show on the CW called Riverdale. Two episodes into its second year and the show is more popular than ever before, thanks to great word of mouth and people binging on the first 13 episodes via Netflix. It is rapidly becoming appointment viewing, and vindicates those of us who for years have been shouting about how, unlike any other publisher in the industry today, Archie Comics is truly willing to push the creative envelope when it comes to what their well-established characters can do.
The latest example of this is the forthcoming B & V: Vixens. Written by longtime Archie Comics editor Jamie Lee Rotante, the series chronicles the adventures of Riverdale resident BFFs Betty and Veronica as they lead a motorcycle gang called the Vixens. Joined on the title by artist Eva Cabrera, letterer Rachel Deering, and colorist Elaina Unger, Rotante leads the first solely female creative staff on a big in Archie history. An overdue milestone that aims to appeal to everyone from fans of juvenile delinquent exploitation flicks like Teenage Gang Debs and to readers of the current valentine to female friendship that is Paper Girls.
Speaking to us at New York Comic Con a few weeks back, Rotante explained the genesis of the project. "We were just brainstorming new ideas, just kind of throwing around what else we could do with the characters," she told us. "And I'd been tossing around the idea for awhile that it would be really cool to have the ladies be in the forefront as a girl gang ." Once the seed of that idea was planted, further inspiration was found in the unlikeliest of places -- old Russ Meyer films. "So then it became what if we do a Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! style idea with Betty and Veronica?," Rotante added.
The brilliant mixture of Riverdale purity with good girls gone bad-esque dramatic potential was too good for the Archie higher-ups to pass on, and when the book hits stores on November 15th readers can expect to see Betty and Veronica and the other women of Riverdale like they've never seen them before. But does Rotante fear that this fresh take on the characters will scare off any potential readers, or will they embrace the change? "I think people will be excited," she declares, "especially when books like Afterlife with Archie and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina have really opened that door to take new chances with these characters."
So if Betty and Veronica are leading the Vixens, who will they be squaring off against? "The Serpents," she exclaimed with a grin. She goes on to add that these won't be the exact Southside Serpents that Riverdale viewers are familiar with, but rather a merging of the gang from TV with the original Serpents that were featured in Bob Bolling's classic Little Archie comics -- only all grown up and looking for trouble.
To sum up B & V: Vixens' mission of exploring realistic female friendships, Rotante succinctly sums up what the book will be about: "These girls are fighting, but not each other. They are fighting for what they believe in." After learning this, B & V: Vixens is one gang that we can't wait to join.
Here's an exclusive look at sample pages from B & V: Vixens, as well as the main cover by Eva Cabrera and variants from Robert Hack and Fiona Staples.
B & V: Vixens hits stores on November 15th. The 32-page book retails for $3.99. We'll have more on this -- and all things Archie -- in the days and weeks ahead.