What I’m currently reading – Comics: Epilogue

My epic summary of all my favorite comics has now concluded.

I shall now epilogue this blog series with a simple post about what I am currently reading.

 

In the end, I hate to say it, it’s still kinda about Marvel vs. DC.

Consider that both mainstream superhero comics are simultaneously promoting very similar continuity-rebooting crossovers about alternate universe locales being stolen away and various versions of characters fighting each other: Secret Wars and Convergence.

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I got a free preview for Secret Wars. Now all the universes are dying, and the Ultimate and 818 will combine! Or something. I do like Jonathan Hickman and followed his Avengers run, which all led up to this. Guess I’ll do the graphic novel eventually…

 

Convergence is interesting, in that it’s less of a big deal but it includes callbacks to DC eras I once enjoyed and now miss. Specifically the pre-52 DC of the 90s and 2000s! I do love that Wally West is the Flash and has a family, and Clark Kent is married to Lois Lane (by Dan Jurgens no less). What can I say? I’m sappy that way sometimes.

Also, I’ll definitely be reading New Teen Titans by Marv Wolfman and Nightwing/Oracle by Gail Simone.

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Speaking of DC and parallel Earths, Grant Morrison on Multiversity. I finally completed the story with the final issues and they are very, very good. Not Morrison’s best, but what could ever be that brilliant? Fun cosmic action as only he can do it, of course with many metafictional elements. One of the best things is that it’s self-contained without requiring endless crossovers to tell the story of Ultra and multiple Supermen against the archetypal hordes of cynicism. Perhaps there will be a sequel but I hope it doesn’t take too many years to come out.

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Speaking of brilliant, the highly literary League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neil. I want to round out the Nemo trilogy with River of Ghosts. It’s already been out but I haven’t gotten the chance to purchase it yet. Damn you Hong Kong comic shops last week! After tthis hat, perhaps no Moore comics for another decade. So story of Captain Nemo’s daughter in Nazi South America better be good.

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Speaking of acclaimed British authors, Neil Gaiman. Sandman Overture, the late update to the 90s classic, has been coming out very slowly. The incredible art by J.H. Williams is worth it, but I may be regretting already buying the individual issues and not waiting for the inevitable reprint. Dreams, dreams, dreams.

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And speaking of Vertigo: Fables. The long-running series about fairy tale people hiding out in modern New York — the greatest currently published by DC/Vertigo — is ending after all these years. The trade paperback editions actually sell more than the magazine issues, so the final issue 150 will apparently also be a full graphic novel volume 22. That’s an amazing idea. But will take until late July to be completed by artist Mark Buckingham.

Whatever will happen to Snow White and rivalrous sibling Rose Red and the Camelot metaphor? I’m dying to know. Writer Bill Willingham hasn’t been apprehensive about killing off a lot of major characters; anything could happen.

So good, I even got my girlfriend to become a Fables fan.

Meanwhile, I’m catching up on spinoffs like Fairest.

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Can’t leave out my favorite Shonen Jump manga One Piece! By the hilarious Eiichiro Oda, Volume 74 has been released for over a month, how can I be so late?! Super stretchy pirate Luffy in the tournament and fighting against warlord Doflamingo must be one of the great all-time manga climaxes. Dressrosa, what a country. I heard a certain guy from Luffy’s past isn’t dead after all. I. Need. To. Read. Now.

All you people reading the scans are way ahead and even the anime is past that, yet I still insist on supporting the official Viz translation.

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And that’s it. Those are the comics I currently read.

(At least the ones I buy. No comment on pirated online and such.)

Thanks for following along with my blog, all you comics fans out there! It was fun sharing, and even if you aren’t a fan I hope I introduced you to some possibilities of new reading materials. Read and read alike, it’s good for you :)

Book Review: How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit?

Dragonfruit

https://thenanfang.com/book-review-one-dress-buy-dragonfruit/

How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit? True Stories of Expat Women in Asia is a new book that explores the feminine side of expat life. Edited by Shannon Young, the anthology covers the stories of 26 women, mostly split between Hong Kong and Japan (from Tokyo to Fukushima), and differs from most travel memoirs by giving new perspectives to Westerners in Asia.

The first, “Forwarding Addresses,” concerns shopping for tropical fruit and coins the title of the entire book. Written in letters, Shannon Dunlap describes her time in Cambodia and the difficulties in learning to speak rudimentary Khmer. The author even recognizes her own privilege in being able to already speak English, and at least she tries to adapt to local customs.

“The Weight of Beauty” by Dorcas Cheng-Tozun takes place in Shenzhen. Again about language, but this time concerning the plight of being a Chinese-American fluent in Cantonese but not Mandarin. It’s not easy to look like everyone else and be judged for not speaking the common tongue, something white expats don’t have to deal with. Cheng-Tozun decides to take a language class, and finds an empathetic connection by discussing life’s tragedies with her teacher.

Stephanie Han is another displaced Asian (ethnically Korean) and authors “Happy Anniversary.” Taking place in the important year of 1997 in Hong Kong, Han is able to eavesdrop on racist rants from the British. A romance in the second-person, she eventually grows past the anxieties of being a nationless expatriate.

“Jewish in China” by Eva Cohen also explores various ethnic combinations. Jews in China are often told they are “so smart and so good at business”, as this writer can attest to. During a Passover sedar, Cohen meets a Chinese professor of Jewish studies with an incredible background. The professor has even published works about the Jews of Kaifeng.

“Huangshan Honeymoon” by blogger Jocelyn Eikenburg concerns interracial marriage and her disappointing honeymoon in Anhui, with a father-in-law and rainy weather interrupting the expected majestic scenery. Chinese husbands are big on filial piety. It’s a challenge, as Eikenburg reflects on the early days of the relationship back when her to-be husband’s father was against their dating, but in the end she feels closer than ever to her new family.

Susan Blumberg-Kason, author of the memoir Good Chinese Wife, lived in Hong Kong in the 90s, and recently returns in “Ninety Minutes in Tsim Sha Tsui” to reflect over some very personal memories, such as receiving news that her Chinese husband at the time had given her an STD. It continues with a one-time meeting of her then-husband’s ex-wife. Don’t we all all wish we could go back and give our younger selves advice?

“Cross” by Safron Marchant shows a deeper side to the themes of pregnancy and motherhood. Marchant tries to start her own family by way of fertility treatment in Hong Kong. The trials are very tough; hormones and clinic visits can be devastating. “Here Comes the Sun” by Leza Lowitz rounds out the theme of motherhood. It’s never easy, as Lowitz fails at pregnancy and goes through the complex process of adopting in Japan. It is heartwarming at the conclusion, with the new mother’s efforts finally rewarded.

Some stories are not as strong as others, which is part of the deal when it comes to anthologies. From getting pregnant in Vietnam to retiring in Malaysia, busing in Bangkok, and vacationing in Mongolia, the range of writing styles and scenes are very diverse.

How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit? is recommended for both men and women. Anyone interested in travel, immigration, women’s issues, and simply human stories will easily find something interesting within this anthology.

Now available at bookstores in Hong Kong and on Amazon.

European and British comics

In one of my last comics-themed posts, I would like to round it out with my forays into European comics.

Let’s not forget there is a whole planet Earth of this medium. There’s Japan, obviously!

 

Interestingly, Scott McCloud in the brilliant essay Understanding Comics studied the basic underlying structure to Western and Eastern sequential art forms. McCloud concluded that American and European storytelling is fundamentally the same even if the subject matter varies; while Japanese comics from romance to space opera use an altogether different mindset of “directing” techniques.

 

Anyway: America tends to get the most attention with all the expensive superhero movies these days. But for decades the problem in the West was that comics were assumed to be for children and not given serious thought by social critics.

Meanwhile in Europe, graphic novels have had a strong tradition of recognition by adults and kids for decades. It’s that avant-garde sentiment, y’know.

Firstly, Great Britain. Those originators of the English language tend to be better at writing in general. Ever noticed that? All the great writers are British, from Shakespeare to Vertigo and Image. They called it the British Invasion, the comics version not the rock version, ’twas the 80s not 60s. (Like rock music, America invented it and the British improved it.) As I’ve written about extensively.

What I haven’t mentioned in those extensive writings is the sci-fi anthology series 2000 A.D. Almost everyone, from Moore to Morrison, got their start there. I’ve read the occasional B&W shorts in reprint form.

Furthermore, if I am getting into 2000 A.D. then I must get into Judge Dredd.

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Yes, the Stallone movie was awful. Sorry about that. However the 2012 film was quite good.

What you may not know is that the comic is legendary. Going all the way back to 1977, the fascistic judge has had a prolific career. Written by John Wagner, the saga of Mega-City One is one of the most hardcore dystopias ever portrayed in fiction. I came across the graphic novel Tour of Duty, and was impressed enough to go back and read a whole lot. That good. Robot Wars, Cursed Earth, Judge Death, The Apocalypse War, Day of Judgment. Lots of mutants and genocide and critiquing the American dream and so forth, ain’t no harsher more biting stories than those. Dredd is the quintessential outsider’s take on Americana, and what a take those Brits can scribe.

 

Then there’s the continent. The French-speaking world in particular.

Belgium is famed for Tin Tin by Hergé. Even living in China, I found some English-translations of the classic albums. European comics tend to come in a certain oversized slim album-sized editions.

It’s fun and all, as Tin Tin and Snowy traverse the world. But wasn’t my favorite. Stories like The Blue Lotus are a bit racist, admittedly. Won’t even get into the African stuff.

I’d recommend The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham’s Treasure because of the very fine 2011 Spielberg animated film.

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My favorite French comic ever would definitely be Asterix.

Luckily, I happened upon the Shenzhen Children’s Library which contains a great collection of the albums. Free to borrow! I must have read about twenty. Written by René Goscinny and illustrated by Albert Uderzo, the complete series is totally funny and hold up well today.

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Many of the best hail from the 1960s and 70s. Asterix and Cleopatra, Asterix at the Olympic Games, Asterix and the Roman Agent, The Mansion of the Gods, The Great Crossing. Gotta love that Obelisk, and I wish I could get ahold of some potion…

 

I even found some second-hand Smurfs comics in Shenzhen. Also from Belgium, by Peyo. Not bad, and very nostalgically indicative of the 1980s Hanna-Barbera cartoon from my childhood. Read a couple of them in English, and the library even has plenty translated in Chinese so as I can brush up on my 中文.

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“La la la la la la. la la la la laaaa!”

 

Hey, didn’t I say European comics were for grownups?

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Time for Warren Ellis, comics writer

https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636-ray?shelf=warren-ellis

 

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That’s just a blurry pic I took at Comic Con ’07 or ’08. He is SO funny in person.

 

Warren Ellis is a damn interesting writer.

He’s British, smart, and touches on occulty themes, and yet he was not part of the original 90s “British Invasion” of comics writers such as Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, and Grant Morrison.

His work is violent, intelligent, sometimes dark, with a wicked sense of humor.

In my youth I read some of his Marvel work, like Thor and British X-spinoff Excalibur. I had mixed feelings, because it was that kind of “grim and gritty” style of postmodern comics. Ellis, similar to another (Irish) writer Garth Ennis, clearly hates the superhero genre. He has no use for it, other than a method of making a living sellilng comic scripts. In a perfect world these authors could do other genres without having to slum it among the capes. So they write heroes, all the while cynical and despising what heroism stands for. Still, makes for interesting stories at times.

Warren Ellis is a much sought-after writer for both DC and Marvel, but he rarely does mainstream work anymore. And that’s good.

I became a real fan of the Wildstorm era. Wildstorm, if you recall, was Jim Lee’s company within Image Comics, after all the big name stars left Marvel in the early 90s. Those early comics more than often shit, but Lee ended up with more staying power than, say, Rob Liefeld.

One of those Wildstorm books happened to be Stormwatch, which wasn’t anything great. Seemed another overblown X-Men rippoff about a government team or something. Warren Ellis came upon the title with little fanfair, and it soon gained critical acclaim. No one saw that coming.

I missed it the first time around, but around the mid-2000s I was ruffing it in Los Angeles and enjoyed going to a downtown library. They had an extensive graphic novel collection. I had little money and lots of free time. So I decided to catch up and see what I’d been missing.

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Stormwatch was cool, but eventually all the characters were killed off and something new came along: Authority. That’s what it was truly all about.

Authorty, illustrated by Bryan Hitch (of Ultimates fame) was one of the first “widescreen” comics. Every issue was epic. It starred Apollo and Midnighter — a gay version of Superman and Batman, and Jenny Sparks the spirit of the Twentieth Century. Unapologetic in its epicness, they fought gods and aliens and were always high-level high-concept.

 

Moreover, Warren Ellis’s greatest legacy would be Transmetropolitan. Those graphic novels I ever so cherished, as they kept me going during my starving artist years…

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Published by Vertigo, and that’s more like it. Actually was originally published by DC’s “Helix” imprint, but that went under and only Transmetro remained to become one of Vertigo’s most successful.

The story of gonzo journalist Spider Jerusalem in that Hunter S. Thompson vein, but in an unidentified bizarre sci-fi future. There were crazies with alien DNA, a Nixonian character affectionately referred to as “the Beast”, and an even worse President called the “Smiler.”

Each issue punched you in the face and laughed loudly while doing that. Anarchy and journalistic integrity and weird post-science concepts. At 60 issues, by far a record for Ellis. Well done, sir.

 

In the 2000s Ellis continued with some Marvel projects in the midst of the more mature Quesada era. These weren’t quite rated R books from Image or Vertigo, but better than anything else out.

Nextwave Agents of H.A.T.E. was a cult hit, full of B-list characters like Machine Man and Boom Boom fighting against the Beyond corporation’s ‘Unusual Weapons of Mass Destruction.’ H.A.T.E. being a hilariously biting satire of S.H.I.E.L.D. The whole comic was full of pithy one-liners, nothing else like it from Marvel. First arc was about the dragon Fin Fang Foom and had many comments about purple underpants and lack of genitals. Only lasted 12 issues, which is unfortunately typical for Ellis.

Delicious art by Stuart Immonen.

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Meanwhile at Marvel, Mr. Ellis wrote the Iron Man: Extremis storyline. You may recognize the nanotechnological elements in the film Iron Man 3, based off the comic.

 

Outside of the superhero world, we have Fell. This award-winning comic simpler in scope, starring detective Richard Fell in a very dark crime drama.

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There were other little books here and there I read, miniseries from Image and Wildstorm post-bought out by DC.

Global Frequency, pretty cool. Typical Ellis, an elite team of agents fighting the secret forces of incomprehensible technology and great mysteries (un)revealed at the end.

Ministry of Space, an alternate reality take on what if proper British gentlemen won the space race.

Red, more spies. The bad movie was based off that, sorry.

Supergod, apocalyptic religious-transhumanist themes published by Avatar Press. I’d recommend a lot of his latter years work from Avatar.

Yet even Warren Ellis sometimes misses the mark. Personally, I had to give up on the webcomic FreakAngels

 

The ultimate Warren Ellis opus would absolutely have to be Planetary: Continue reading

Loser Parade – my first novel, now free on Amazon KDP edition

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http://www.amazon.com/Loser-Parade-Ray-Hecht-ebook/dp/B00ETYSS5W

 

With this, the last of my free giveaways this season. Allow me to present my first novel: Loser Parade

(Well, my first halfway decent novel)

Written many years ago, so please don’t judge too harshly…

 

Fenton Ota is at his wit’s end. He thought he would have been more of a success at this point. What happened? He finds himself in Los Angeles an utter failure as an actor, and in the end there is nothing he can do but call Mom and go back to Ohio. The shame!

What is it they say about how you can never go home? Once back in Cincinnati with his tail between his legs, he reconnects with old pals, struggles to build himself up, and eventually embarks on a new goal: writing and directing his own play. Ostensibly based on his own “experiences.” Based on this author’s experiences. Writing about the fictional character who is him, writing about this author, writing about him, and so on. It gets a bit metafictional and postmodern.

He is, of course, doing this all for a girl. And their relationship is all based on lies. Ain’t love grand?

A tale of the creative process, the white lies that get out of proportion, and the deeper questions of just what is a story. Sometimes we are all losers, but hopefully its never too late to grow up.

Pedder Art Galleries in Hong Kong

I recently went to Hong Kong to check out some art galleries.

I highly recommend going to the Pedder Building on Pedder Street in Central. It’s very easy to get to; simply take the MTR to Central and walk out of Exit D1 and you’re right there.

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From up to down: The 1st floor contains Gagaosian Gallery – 2nd floor PearlLam Galleries – 4th floor Hanart TZ Gallery – 3rd floor Ben Brown Fine Arts

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The Rudolph Stingel exhibition at Gagaosian contained some interesting golden and metallic prints, large abstract scratches made from audience participation. I found it poignant that if you look directly into the reflective material you see yourself..

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PearlLam exhibited ‘Perfection by Chance’ Yi Pai series, the space regularly presenting leading Chinese artists. Works by Qin Yufen, Su Xiaobai, Su Xinping, Tan Ping, Yang Zhilin, and Zhu Jinshi curated by Professor Gao Minglu.

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Hanart TZ Gallary with Roundsky: paintings by Emily Cheng. Very new agey, lots of religious symbolism incorporating text into the paintings. Read closely.

And, the space had personalized arcade console with a working game!

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Ben Brown presented Simon Birch: The Inevitable. I found these paintings very powerful. Large-scale, a painter with much talent in presenting the human form but choosing to cut up the figures, especially the faces. Seemed full of anger, almost violent, never still.

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Some fine work up there.

All in all, it was a great day.

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Free eShort Story: 411

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More free eBooks, do enjoy. This promotion will be lasting for several days further.

If you get anything out of this short story, tell your friends and share! And please feel free to post a review if so inclined… (As always, the Kindle app is free)

 

411 being an old horror tale I wrote years back, loosely based off of my time as a 411 operator. Does it disturb at all?

 

http://www.amazon.com/411-Ray-Hecht-ebook/dp/B00EUBZRL2

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Jim Starlin – Marvel Comics 1970s and Thanos of the Power Cosmic

Previous: Marvel 2000s

Allow me to take a moment to express my fondness for the works of Jim Starlin.

Since Guardians of the Galaxy – and yes the Avengers – has become mainstream, everybody knows Drax the Destroyer and Gamora and the Infinity Gems/Stones.

Most of all, now everyone knows Thanos.

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But for it goes way back. When I was a precocious teen in the 90s, I couldn’t help but fall for the Infinity Gauntlet crossover. It was so epic, so cool. Thanos the all-powerful against a horde of superheroes and space beings. Followed by the exponentially-less cool Infinity War and Infinity Crusade, it was the epitome of overblown early 90s comicbook crossovers. What better to be introduced to the grand Marvel Universe?

The real story of Jim Starlin goes back much further that that. The cosmic escapades I am describing explore one of the great long-form stories of our time, with about forty years of history.

In the 1970s Marvel Comics was on top, having surpassed DC in the previous decade’s Silver Age quality. The medium was full of wonder, although it did get ridiculous as much as it got experimental. The Defenders, Howard the Duck, Jack Kirby’s Captain America. Comics hadn’t exactly grown up by then, no Claremont X-Men yet, but there was much fun to be had in the disco era.

 

Jim Starlin first got his break in 1972. He wrote and drew three issues of Iron Man, in which the metallic hero fought the Blood Brother aliens. And suddenly it was revealed they were working for the master villain of all time: Thanos.

The cosmic saga had begun.

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It was in the pages of Captain Marvel that the saga truly unfolded. Starting with issue 25, the eponymous Marvel character finally found his own voice. The Kree alien (actually named “Mar-Vell”) was joined by the cosmic being Eon to become a protector of the universe, and was faced off against Thanos powered by a cosmic cube. The universe was just barely saved in the end.

I came across the trade paperback collection in my youth and I’m glad I did. The Infinity crossovers of the 90s made more sense with the backstory. That was the beauty of being into superheroes, to go back and endlessly collect and learn the whole story… Baroquean really…

There was also Tbe Death of Captain Marvel, the first official graphic novel of Marvel. A sort of proto-crossover, it was simply about the Captain getting cancer and retiring from the world of the living. In typical fashion, Starlin explored themes of the afterlife and the psychedelic depiction thereof.

That was back when characters stayed dead.

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Starlin is known just as well for Adam Warlock, a random character created by Kirby, who later became a sort of Christ-like figure. The artificial humanoid died and resurrected himself a number of times, just as often to fight against Thanos as he did ally with the mad Titan. An unlikely antihero.

The original build up of the Infinity Gems in comics was harder for me to find. I tracked down some rare reprints, an unsuccessful miniseries from the mid-90s. Weird stuff. Another villain was the Magus, who was Adam Warlock from the future and had started his own evil religion. Warlock had to erase the timeline to win. I think we can all relate to these kinds of psychological adventures.

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It was a grand cosmic mythology, on par with Kirby’s Fourth World. The universe was a place of alien empires, tyrants with omnipotent power, and strange abstract beings overseeing the functions of all reality.

By the way, speaking of Kirby, Jim Starlin explained in interviews that Thanos wasn’t based on Darkseid — DC’s megavillain of similar stature — but rather  more based on Metron originally. What with the floating chair.

 

Starlin is mainly well-known for the space operas, but he also had a diverse career. Even wrote Batman in the 1980s during the Death in the Family arc with poor dead Robin II. Cosmic Odyssey for DC as well, and his own creation Dreadstar. In later years, Rann-Thanagar War comes to mind.

 

But Starlin’s greatness is really showcased with the cosmic stuff.

In 1989 he wrote Silver Surfer (no longer illustrating) in a prelude to the Infinity Gauntlet. The anthropomorphic nature of Death had brought Thanos back from the grave, to harness his power and bring an evil balance the universe.

Much has been written of the ‘Infinity Wars’, the return of Adam Warlock and his multiple personas. It was Marvel of the 90s okay, and it was great. The followup series Infinity Watch wasn’t that great but it did further expand the mythos, as Warlock led his own ragtag team. Pip the Troll and Moondragon may not be top-tier franchises, but Drax and Gamora certainly grew in popularity in that series. And look that them today, full-fledged movie stars!

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