Secret Empire or How to Assassinate a Character

There are honestly times when I wonder if Marvel Comics even likes their characters. Over the last few years we have seen them nearly destroy long-standing characters in the name of a summer crossover. Peter Parker gave way to the Superior Spider Man and for some Spider-Man has never been the same. Cyclops of the X-men turned his back on Charles Xavier’s dream(not to mention killing him) becoming the worlds worst mutant terrorist and the character never recovered.

Now it is Steve Rogers turn. Through the summer most of Marvel’s books will be immersed in the Secret Empire crossover. No longer our Captain America, Rogers is now Captain Hydra. Not surprisingly there has been quite a bit pushback against this storyline.

Basic premise is simple. The Red Skull manipulated a sentient Cosmic Cube into fundamentally changing Steve Rogers into being a secret double agent for Hydra.

It is not unusual to try to put a character in uncomfortable situations or even fundamentally place them in situations that go against their true nature. Sometimes it can work wonderfully and show the depth of these characters we have grown to love over the years. It simply does not feel like this is one of those times. The trick is sticking the landing.

One of the problems many fans have is simply Cap secretly being a member of Hydra. Regardless of the story reason it is hard for fans to choke down. Hydra is not simply a villainous organization that Captain America has battled over the years, they are the comics stand in for the Nazis from World War II. Captain America more than any other character has represented the United States fighting the evil that the Nazis have always represented. Turning that on its head is flat-out offensive to many fans.

And no matter how many times Marvel and writer Nick Spencer try to insist that Hydra no longer equals the Nazis no one is buying.

The end game is the other problem. The Secret Empire story could be great and horrible at the same time. There are interesting ideas being put out here. The idea of how devastating a villain Captain America could be is intriguing and frankly devastating. The question is what is next?

To make the story great they would have to destroy the hero of Captain America utterly making him the premiere villain in the Marvel Universe. The usual method of returning things to some semblance of normal with Cap as the great American hero…I am not sure there is a way to walk things back. He has killed, he has murdered. Not random characters but friends, heroes that look up to him. That is not something simple brushed aside.

I have friends who insist this storyline makes Cap a tragic figure(as if he was not from the get go). I do not see it. If it was brainwashing or a dozen other comic related tropes maybe. But they used the Cosmic Cube. Marvel Comics ultimate deus ex machine. So not only does Rogers think he is loyal to Hydra. He is fundamentally changed to the core. He does not think he is loyal to Hydra, He is.

Ultimately changing him back to the Cap we all know and love in such a way will feel…it will feel like Bobby Ewing stepping out of the shower in Dallas-it was just a dream. That might actually be worse than making him a villain.

At the end of the day Steve Rogers will be damaged goods.



Miami Dolphins: 2017 NFL Draft

The 2017 NFL Draft has arrived.

The Draft is my favorite spring sporting even.

Better than the NBA playoffs? Have you met me? Absolutely and it is not close.

The Miami Dolphins pick at 22. They may actually be in position to actually pick BPA(best player available). While they have multiple positions of needs they do have stopgap players at those positions.

It is a wonderful situation to find a team in. it is also maddening. Very rarely do you have a true BPA. Each teams set their own boards and try as they might they are still influenced by needs. one teams BPA may not be another. that makes it so hard to predict who they will take.

Almost any position could be in play. OJ Howard(Alabama) at tight end, Buddy Baker(Washington) at safety, TJ Watt(Wisconsin), Rueben Foster(Alabama), Jaraad Davis(Florida) or Haason Reddick(Temple) at linebacker are all possibilities. You could even see running backs Christian McCaffery(Stanford), Dalvin Cook(FSU) or speedy wide receiver John Ross(Washington).

Of course for me I lean towards two names-if they are there. Forrest Lamp(W. Kentucky) at guard or Derrick Barnett(Tennessee) who is a beast coming off the edge.

Many do not see Lamp as a sexy pick in the first round. When you think of what Ryan Tannehill and Jay Ajayi could do with Lamp blocking next to last years number one pick, Laremy Tunsil, it starts looking awfully sexy.

What about Barnett?

Think the next in a line of great pass rushers. Watching him I see shades of Cameron Wake and Jason Taylor.

Will he reach such heights? I do not know but I would love to find out.

In a few short hours we will see who the Dolphins pick. So many choices. So many directions.

The future is bright.


NFL Draft: Prototypes and More

Less than a month from now 32 NFL teams will put the final touches on their draft plans and set up the war rooms for the 2017 NFL Draft. In the coming weeks numerous mock drafts and related stories will be written. Football fans will be bombarded with analysis and scouting terms, my favorite remains hands like feet.  Some will insist that teams look for prototype players or that they need to get bigger and faster.

Those last few have always bothered me. I do not believe a ‘prototype’ player exists. While some well regarded coaches have lived by the mantra of prototypes for each position(looking at you Bill Parcells) it does not track in the long run. First off each team, each system needs different players based on how they use them. So a firm prototype is short sighted. Now if you want players that look the part a prototype is great but at the end of the day you need players. To find those players you need to see them on the field not simply the measurements.

Then you have the notion of getting bigger and faster. Everyone wants bigger, stronger and faster. Unfortunately you rarely find all three in the same player. To get bigger and stronger you usually have to sacrifice some speed and vice versa. That is when you come back to finding players who show they can do it on the field. Then you use all the facts and figures gathered at the combine to try to maximize the attributes the team desires.

Jerry Rice was never the biggest or fastest wide receiver but he is widely regarded as the best wide receiver to ever play the game. Tom Brady has dominated the quarterback position for over a decade, no one would have imagined that looking at him in the combine. Nothing is ever as simple as a prototype or measurements. You take those and add them to the film study you have done on each player. After that interviews and team needs narrow it all down to a very inexact science.

It is nearly impossible to speculate on what each team might do. But we still try.

That is where the fun comes in.

ArtGeek, ComicsGeek

Discovering the Artist

An empty page, a single pencil. That is where it starts. Scratching shapes and forms across the blank canvas until an image forms.

Actually that is not where it starts. It always begins inside, working out the details before you actually start the work.

I usually work in pencils. Comic-style art. At times I step back to look at where I came from. Recently I found an old drawing pad filled with my work. It was like stepping back in time.

Two decades actually. 1994. The work was better than I remember. Reminding me that if I had never stepped away from the pencils I might be a much more accomplished artist than I am now. I also saw my influences jump off the page at me. Jim Lee, Greg Capullo, Dave Johnson…

That brings me to where I am now. What artists have affected my style(which seems to evolve every day)? What is actually mine versus what have I pilfered from others?

Thinking back to the artists I first loved I started with Mike Grell with his work on Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes. That is what I thought comics were supposed to look like. That led to Neal Adams on Batman. And then I found Dave Cockrum. Each bringing a realistic but clearly comic work with their own signature style. Then one day I stumbled across Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. It looked nothing like the comics I had seen before. It was like the first time I heard Eddie Van Halen play the guitar, Jim Steranko was a breath of fresh air(not that I needed one). Infusing graphic design with the sequential art I had fallen in love with.

These are the men who filled my imagination at a young age. As a young artist I often aped my influences. I would sit there trying to recreate what these masters did day in and day out. For a while I did well. Creating credible art…at least I thought it was.

In walked Jim Lee. Lee was brilliant and extraordinary. His work was on another level from many of the other artists I had seen. Pseudo-realistic, clean and frankly intimidating. Simply watching him draw with ease what would take me hours, days to complete was often discouraging.

I knew that a working comic artist had to finish pages a day not over a few days or a week. I could not imagine ever getting to be that fast. I was still young. Going to college. Going to work. My day of slaving over a drawing pad often consisted of an hour or two if I was lucky. For some reason it did not click that this was a full-time job for those artists. They spent hours a day just working on the art while I spent those hours tending bar. Once that did click my development grew by leaps and bounds.

My tastes changed some too. Once I felt like my work needed to look like my heroes or I was somehow failing. I would try to draw what I saw in my head and it never quite matched up. That is when I decided my style was simply the distance between what I saw in my head and what landed on paper. My inspirations were not confined to realistic, yet stylized artists. There was a broad spectrum. From Mike Wieringo and Huberto Ramos manga inspired work to the gritty look of Cary Nord. From the kinetic lines of Russell Dauterman on the Mighty Thor to the incredibly expressive work of Kevin Maguire and Aaron Kuder. Every month I come across some new artist that brings something new to my table. Things that I pilfer for a time until they too are part of my style.

It is constantly evolving. But now it is clearly mine. Whether drawing a cowboy dinosaur riding a mastodon or a simple sketch of Batman. I have a style of my own.

Time to get back to work.

Batman by Michael Tennant.


Miami Dolphins: Linebacker Shuffling

The Super Bowl is in the rearview.

One season over another just begun.

Teams have started making cuts and positioning themselves for free agency which officially begins March 9th.

This is the time of year that teams suddenly look quite a bit different. Good teams try to shore up their problem areas before the NFL Draft comes around to give themselves more flexibility when it comes time to welcome young college players.

The Miami Dolphins have already started by cutting Mario Williams and Earl Mitchell. They are also exploring the possibility of trading tackle Brandon Albert to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The major problem area for this Dolphins roster is at linebacker. First year middle linebacker Kiko Alonso was a pleasant surprise.  The rest of the linebacking corps struggled through injury and inexperience. Veterans Koa Misi and Jelani Jenkins remain big question marks of whether they will be even on the team come training camp. There is a strong possibility that the team will add two(if not more) new linebackers through free agency and the draft.

That makes very good sense.

What does not make sense is the notion of replacing Alonso in the middle and moving him to outside linebacker.

Yes there is the chance that you find a gem in the middle and Kiko slides outside with no issues whatsoever. Only problem is-

Zach Thomas is not walking through that door.

Moves like this rarely go off like clockwork.

Do I need to remind you of the attempt to move Koa Misi to middle linebacker a few years ago?

Not only did the move not solve the middle linebacker issues but it also significantly weakened the play on the outside.

Alonso is solid in the middle. In his first year with the team. He may be even better in year two.

Spend your time(and money) finding players to play on the outside. Which is much easier than finding a great mike linebacker.

If it works do not fix it.


Loose Wires

Sometimes you just want to shake your head.

Mention to someone, anyone that you are a writer and like clockwork the comments come. “Oh. I’ve always wanted to be a writer” or “I’m going to write a book when I retire” as if it were that easy.

This is not a choice. I did not wake up one morning and decide to be a writer. I simply realized I already was one.

Writers are not like other people. We are wired differently.

And there are a lot of loose wires.

Writing is not a 9 to 5 job. There is no clock to punch. You are always writing or reading or thinking about writing. I toss and turn at night until my wife finally tells me to get up and write whatever story I happen to be working through. It simply cannot be turned off.

One example of this came to me recently. A friend of mine mentioned that she was house-sitting for a relative. Sounds innocent enough. Not so fast-my mind starts wandering, meandering down various avenues. At first all I could think of was her taking the house out for a walk. Let me repeat myself:  All I could think of was her taking the house out for a walk.

That was just the beginning. Now that I was down the rabbit hole ideas came quick and furiously. Now this house was not always where you left it. Or maybe the doors within this house led to different places and times. In my mind I twisted and turned my way around the thought of someone house-sitting to my own bizarre version of the locked door haunted house.

Like I said loose wires.

There is something just a little off about us writers. I for one wouldn’t have it any other way.


Super Thoughts

The day is finally here. After months and months of work, sweat and tears thirty-two teams have become two. Tonight in Houston, Texas the Atlanta Falcons take on the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XI.

I was not even sure I would write this column. Leading up to the game nothing was coming. Then I started hearing the national media talking about the game. And fans talking. Shortly after the juices started flowing.

The national narrative is Patriots, Patriots, Patriots. I just do not see it.

While the Patriots have the number one scoring defense, the Falcons have the number one overall offense.

Many will point to Tom Brady and Bill Belichick’s experience in the big game. But experience is not everything.

I look at recent history, especially the playoffs.

While everyone focuses on the Falcons offense their defense is nothing to sneeze at. Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers was playing over his head the last two months. No one was playing quarterback any better than Rodgers. Not Brady. Not Matt Ryan. No one.

And the Falcons shut him down winning 44-21. It was the third quarter before the Packers scored their first points after being down 31-0.

At the same time when the Patriots played the Houston Texans the week before they struggled. Tom Brady looked decidedly mortal. If the Texans had any semblance of an offense that day they would have advanced instead of the Pats.

While Belichick is known for taking your best player away Matt Ryan threw touchdown passes to thirteen different players this season. The Patriots cannot possibly take away that much offense.

The game will be fun and competitive but I do expect the Falcons to come out fast and never look back.

Game On.