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Taking to the Initiative

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When Mike Wieringo unexpectedly passed away in August of last year, he left behind a legacy of unparalleled artistry, a legion of fans, and numerous friends and admirers in the comic book community.

He also left behind one last, unfinished work. He was in the process of writing and drawing a 27-page story for Marvel’s series of one-shot’s, What If.   The story centered on the team of Hulk, Ghost Rider, Wolverine and Spider-Man, who acted as the Fantastic Four in the pages of that title in the early 1990s.

That team only lasted three issues, but the What If   books provide a look at an alternate reality where events diverge from what happened in the regular continuity. Wieringo’s contribution was to answer the question, “What if these heroes stayed together as the Fantastic Four?” Wieringo completed the script and seven pages of artwork for the issue before he died.

Marvel could have chosen to do any number of things with this unfinished work. The company could have kept it in its files forever, never allowing it to see the light of day. Or, they could have brought on another artist to finish the work, publish it, and keep the money for itself.

But they did neither. What they did was to donate the script and the pages of completed artwork to The Hero Initiative and gave them permission to run with it. The result is tomorrow’s What If This Was the Fantastic Four: A Tribute to Mike Wieringo.

The Hero Initiative, formerly known as ACTOR (A Commitment to Our Roots), is a non-profit organization which benefits comic book creators in need.

Many of the comic book creators of the Golden and Silver Ages did not have contracts, let alone pensions, health care plans or profit sharing. And now, as these legends are entering their golden years, they are facing having to pay increasing expenses with limited incomes.

But, if you were a work-for-hire comic creator who worked in the industry for at least 10 years from January 1934 on, you can get help from the Hero Initiative. A fund raising board reviews each request that comes in on a case-by-case basis. The charity then provides aid in the form of everything from defraying medical expenses to paying the rent to finding the creator a job.

The Hero Initiative pays for these through auctioning off donated artwork and signed memorabilia, sponsoring certain fund-raising events, and putting out collections of sketches and comics.

I think it’s safe to say that The Hero Initiative was one of Mike Wieringo’s favorite charities. So it is only fitting that the organization’s latest fund raising effort also stands as a tribute to the artist.

If they didn’t donate their time, the all-star list of talent finishing what Wieringo started would be cost prohibitive for any comic book company. Superstars such as Art Adams, Alan Davis, Stuart Immonen, Mike Allred and many more honor their friend by bringing his final work to life.   

Wieringo’s 27-page story will be completed in the book, and there will be written testimonials from his friends to make the issue a hefty 48-page tribute to the artist. All for the low price of $4.99.

So, if you are at the comic shop tomorrow, be sure to pick up a copy of  this issue. You will be killing two birds with one stone—you’ll honor a comic legend and support a great cause. And if you are not able to make it to the store then check out The Hero Initiative’s website. You can make a donation and pick up some fun stuff at the same time.

Also out this week:

Runaways #30:

Joss Whedon’s tenure on the Runaways, the series itself, and his employment at Marvel for the foreseeable future all comes to an end this week.

The team has been stuck in 1907 New York and has become caught between two warring groups of superpowered individuals. To top it off, they have come in conflict with the Yorkes, a pair of time travelling villains (and parents of their deceased comrade, Gertrude). They need to figure out a way to stay alive long enough to make it back to their own time. But odds are that at least one of them is not going to make it.

Terry Moore will jumpstart the third Runaways series in a couple months time, so don’t fret.

Joss Whedon (W), Michael Ryan (A), Marvel Comics, $2.99. Final Issue.

Madame Xanadu #1:

DC has created a wealth of mystical characters over its 70+ years, each one unique and intriguing in their own way. Most of these characters eventually find their way into DC’s Vertigo imprint at one time or another. This week, Madame Xanadu gets brought over and is given the Vertigo treatment.

Madame Xanadu is an immortal fortune teller who won her eternal life in a game of cards with Death. Outside of that, little is known about the character’s history. That is, before now. This series will explore the long and mystical life of Xanadu, and her relationship with a certain dark and mysterious Stranger.

These characters have been a big part of the mainstream DC universe in the past months. Usually, when a character comes over to Vertigo, they are never seen again in DC proper. I wonder if that will be the case here.

Matt Wagner (W), Amy Reeder Hadley (A), DC/Vertigo Comics, $2.99.  Ongoing Series.

Pilot Season: Alibi #1:

Last year’s “Pilot Season” experiment was a great success. So much so that this time around, they are covering original concepts instead of established Top Cow characters. The new “season” is well underway, and a new try-out joins in this week.

Evidence points to John Stephens as the main suspect in a series of high-profile assassinations. However, at the time each murder took place, Stephens was miles away in front of a bunch of witnesses with an airtight alibi. Could one man be in two places at the same time? In Stephens’ case, yes. And when someone stumbles on his secret, Stephens must think of how far he will go to protect it. Regardless, there will be consequences.

Joshua Hale Fialkov (W), Jeremy Haun (A), Top Cow Productions, $3.99.  One-Shot.

Captain America #39:

When the cover to this issue hit the Internet, fans thought that Steve Rogers, the Original Captain America, was returning. Well, they’re partly right. Steve Rogers is back, but not the one who was the original Captain America.

There was a Captain America in the 1950’s who fought communists while the original Cap was encased in ice. He was so obsessed with the original that he legally changed his name to Steve Rogers. However, the version of the super soldier serum this Cap was given turned him into a psychotic racist. He was put into suspended animation, coming out several times to fight the original Cap. Now, he returns from suspended animation once again as a pawn of the Red Skull.

Ed Brubaker (W), Steve Epting (A), Marvel Comics, $2.99. Ongoing Series.

Superman #677:

Some of you might not be familiar with James Robinson’s comic book work. But those of us who are greet his return to comics this week with great excitement.

His Starman series was one of the best comics to come out of the otherwise lackluster 1990s. His knowledge of comic book history helped make The Golden Age one of DC’s best miniseries ever and helped the Golden Age characters get a fan-friendly revival in the JSA. If that wasn’t enough, he and Geoff Johns sorted out Hawkman’s confusing history and returned him to prominence.

And now, after a brief layover as a Hollywood screenwriter, he is returning to comics to work on comics’ biggest icon, Superman.  I, for one, can’t wait to see what Robinson brings to the character.

James Robinson (W), Renato Guedes (A), DC Comics, $2.99. Ongoing Series.

Conan The Cimmerian #0:

When Dark Horse restarted the Conan franchise in 2003, it was one of the hottest books on the market. Fans really took to the book, which ignored the long running Marvel series for a more faithful adaptation of the Robert E. Howard writings. The title survived a change in writers (from Kurt Busiek to Timothy Truman) and showed no signs of stopping.

That is, until Dark Horse stopped it with issue #50 and rebooted the franchise with a new series, the specially priced “zero issue” of which arrives in stores tomorrow. Surely this is a move to generate a little excitement for everyone’s favorite barbarian and provide a jumping on point for new readers. So, if you have wanted to jump on the Conan bandwagon, there is no better time than tomorrow.

Timothy Truman (W), Tomás Giorello (A), Dark Horse Comics, $.99.  Ongoing Series.

Secret Invasion Runaways/Young Avengers #1:

As we mentioned earlier, the current Runaways series ends this week, as does the Young Avengers Presents series. So, the timing of this series is excellent. It will keep both teams in the public eye for another couple months at least until they get a new series.

And, as Marvel did with these properties and Civil War, they are tying this team up miniseries into their ongoing Secret Invasion crossover. Of course, this tie-in makes perfect sense, because both teams have members of Skrull lineage on their team (Xavin for the Runaways, the Kree/Skrull half-breed Hulkling for the Young Avengers). I’m sure these two team’s perspective on the Skrull invasion will be unique to say the least.

Christopher Yost (W), Takeshi Miyazawa (A), Marvel Comics, $2.99. Three-Issue Miniseries.

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William Gatevackes is a professional writer living in Mamaroneck, NY with his wife Jennifer. He also writes periodic comic reviews for PopMatters, is a frequent contributor to Film Buff Online and writes title descriptions for Human Computing’s Comicbase collection management software. Links to his writing can be found at his website, www.williamgatevackes.com.

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