Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Back To The Golden Age

A few thoughts on recent comics.
Captain Midnight: By Dark Horse, Captain Midnight has been mostly a way to do a revival right. While clearly based on the history of the old radio and comic character (not "pulp"), the comic is also modern storytelling. The Captain is brought forward through time and finds that his villains have not been idle over the years. Also, his own tech seems to have been corrupted by others over the years. The writers manage to tell their Captain America/SHIELD over arcing long story without sacrificing telling smaller stories and keeping the hero heroic and active force. There were a couple of mis-steps in the Skyman issues as with the character of Skyman, they did everything they didn't do with the character of Captain Midnight. They went out of the way to make the character derivative of CM by completely ignoring Skyman's own rich history and motivations (the truth is that the Skyman owed more to Spy Smasher than Captain Midnight, especially as this version of Midnight is based on Fawcett's version, who they re-worked as being more like their character Spy Smasher). The character of Skyman is not the original but some patriotic zealot thug and made to look ridiculous by seeing his hair sticking out from under his cowl. Then to add insult to injury, in the upcoming Skyman comic, he's replaced by a minority character AND given a new, kewl costume while making making fun of the original costume!

Doc Savage: Two issues in, Dynamite's Doc Savage is a bit of a surprise. One, it is keeping so far halfway close to the actual pulp character. Two, the artwork in the second issue is the same as in the first issue, and mostly solid if not exceptional. Three, it is a tighter, stronger and in character driven story than the writer's attempt in "Masks". The second issue thankfully does not live up to the advertised hyperbole, that Doc would have to choose between his mission or his cousin's life. No such decision is made here. There's even hope that the writer is coming up a way to bring Doc and crew both to the present day without actually sidelining them by death or infirmity of age. The story of the second issue only has one real flaw. It states that when Doc is at his fortress, that his men call in help and that help is Pat Savage. This is necessary for the sake of the story, but it doesn't fit with what we know of Doc's men or of their relationship with Pat. Pat is a capable character, but she's not super-capable, no more capable than they are. Plus, the text states that she formed her own crew of adventurers, which would make some sense as Doc and crew tended to try to keep her out of trouble, but after stating that, instead of seeing some of them, we get Monk and Ham! Kinda disappointing.  If Doc's men were calling in help, might have been interesting to see another Lester Dent or Street & Smith character ala Click Rush, Blond Adder or Nick Carter, Cash Gorman, the Avenger...

I give Roberson credit by dealing with the Crime College and NOT writing it up as if Doc was lobotomizing the bad guys and removing all sense of free will.

The biggest drawback so far really is the art. It's clear and straightforward, detailed where it needs to be, not overly colored. What it cannot do is really distinguish Doc and his men. Long Tom, Renny, and Johnny all have the same build and face, nothing distinguishing about them. Doc is not drawn taller than those around him. Monk doesn't look shorter than the others and doesn't look homely as much as just perpetually angry. Characters are identified not by who they look like, but because they look less like anyone else.

The Invaders: A strong first issue by Marvel and James Robinson that comes as a bit of a surprise. There are two cannon fodder deaths, one belonging to a Shi'ar Imperial Guardsman and the other a golden-age hero. Although, given the nature of the particular hero's power and who killed him, it is not something that is necessarily permanent. Although, it does raise the question as to why he was on the mission and not Captain America and hopefully, there will be an in-story explanation.

The plot concerns the Kree after a device that the Invaders discovered in the 40s being used by Strucker. It could control gods and the original Human Torch, Namor, and Bucky divided it up and hid it. Namor's piece was found and they are after the Torch's piece. The Torch has been living the quiet life in a small town as a mechanic when they come calling. A pitched battle, things go badly for him, and then at the end Superpro and Nomad show up.

There's a few places that make little sense beyond the story needing it to be that way. Such as if the Human Torch is retired and keeping a low profile, why is he wearing his costume under his clothes? Even more to the point, why is he wearing a new, cool version of his costume? As he's a synthetic human, if he's trying to pass as normal, why wouldn't he eat a whole pie or drink a whole cup of coffee? Presumably, he could actually process the food as energy just as a normal person. It's there to drive home that he's not human, but it doesn't really make sense from a character point of view. Since, the Invaders divided the pieces to hide, why would Namor and NOT the Human Torch hide his piece in the middle of the desert? One might guess that Namor would hide a piece in the desert if he is the one that had to hide all three, who would look for a piece there. But, since they divided it up, the desert is no longer a reach for a hiding place as the other two could conceivably hide it there. So, it simply makes no sense other than being a cool moment.

The artwork is top notch. Clean and clear storytelling, actually looks better on print than online. The only drawback is in a few flame effects and the explosion behind Superpro-Cap and Nomad-Bucky are obviously digitally created.

The biggest problems for me in continuing with the book are things mostly coming from outside this specific issue. For example, I don't like the idea of Winter Soldier. We see Bucky in the past and he's mowing people down with his gun, his new default personality. I also lost faith with James Robinson as a writer some time ago. We get an indication of that with the cannon fodder deaths that he's using to kick off his series. He plans on making changes to Toro's powers (because somehow another fire-based character is redundant, even when he's one of the first ones). Then there's Cap's movie inspired costume that is one of the ugliest ideas to come down the pike. Where's the idea that he is an acrobatic and martial artist styled fighter under all of that padded gear? The idea that it's supposed to be a superhero costume? 

Scooby Doo Team-up: A comic that actually captures the fun. The first issue was the gang teaming up with Batman and Robin to take down Man-Bat. The second has Batman and Robin but also Slam Bradly, Mystico, Jason Bard, Roy Raymond, Dr. Thirteen, Angel O'Day and Ace, the Bat-hound. And, manages to keep in character with the various characters... well, as long as you consider in-character does not have to do with the nu52.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Mr. Justice

I was thinking that it had been awhile since I had read some golden-age MLJ comics and strangely enough, I've read only one or two of the Web, one of my favorites of the characters when revived some years back. For some reason, I really like his green-yellow bifurcated costume. The old comics could never decide on what his hair color was while from the 1960s on, it was consistently blond. However, along my way to read his stories in Zip Comics, I stopped by Jackpot Comics #5 and came across this Mr. Justice story. Now, I am not a big fan of Mr. Justice, for several reasons. Yet this story has style and mood, something usually lacking a bit from Mr. Justice. The scans and the rest of the comic can be found on comicbookplus.com.









Monday, September 02, 2013

Understanding Comics and the Phantom Magician


I am starting to work on a Masters program in Library Science. Which of course means taking some basic level classes, explaining terms we use every day without giving much thought to, putting into words things we already think we know. Such as what constitutes information, knowledge, language, etc.

One of the books we're reading excepts from is Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics which does much the same thing. Deceptively simple, explaining stuff that we think we already know but never really gave much thought about.  Whimsical and really gets across the roles of writing, art, language and touching how we interact with information and art and the processes of absorbing as well as creating works. He touches on various subjects such as how most human minds are wired, in recognizing faces and patterns in almost everything.

A basic concept that the class and the book is getting across is that an information object (such as a book, paper, painting, even words themselves) is not the same as information itself. They are simply the representation of the real thing or idea behind it.

What was interesting was that a few days before reading the assignment, I was reading at comicbookplus.com Famous Funnies #32, 1937 by Eastern Publishing, specifically "The Adventures of Patsy". Famous Funnies is a reprint anthology, so the strips are a bit earlier than the book. In this, we see the appearance of the Phantom Magician, dated to 1935. Some consider PM the first original comics superhero, some Mandrake the Magician (1934), depending on the criteria and how you parse the definition of "superhero" and for that matter, "comics". Personally, if you'd consider either of those, I'd say that Hugo Hercules (1902) and The Handyman from Timbuctoo (which I don't have a date for but it's roughly as early). Regardless of the "comic superhero" debate, it's interesting to see that here in the early days of cartooning, the Phantom Magician touches on a similar concept!