Saturday, July 05, 2014

Returned from Vegas Vacation

Been awhile. Last fall I started back to school to get a Master's in Library Science. Then early this year, I got a full-time job. I had been working part-time on the weekends for my old employer, The News & Observer, putting in 20+ hours on Fridays and Saturdays in addition to going to school.  The full-time job is with the book conservation company, The HF Group. The pay is considerably less, but the hours plus not having to commute to Raleigh every weekend evens it out. However, between going to work 40 hours a week AND going to school puts a strain on time and sanity. Doing a session of summer school even moreso.

Thankfully, I got a brief break by not going to second summer school session. My wife and I went to Las Vegas for a week, to meet up with her sister and kids on vacation from Alaska. I like to scope out local comic stores, but was limited by not knowing the city. The ones closest to The Strip even seemed a couple of blocks off, thus not easily accessible when you're hoofing it most of the time in over a hundred degree weather. Although the heat is not too bad considering the low humidity. Eighty-five degrees with high humidity in NC can sap your strength more than the dry desert heat.

I had pretty much given up going to a comic store when we took a bus down to the Freemont Street district and stumbled upon Jesse James Celestial Comics store almost immediately off the bus. Apparently, it is a fairly new store and most of the comic selection is geared towards current and recent stuff. I was mainly looking for a copy of Alan Davis'  "Savage Hulk" which just came out and once I found where the actual "this week's" comics were, I was set.

What was cool about the store is that up front and center as you enter is a table of comics featuring female characters as leads. Also at the front and to the side are the comics suitable for children. When my niece of 12 came in, she found the section immediately. The young woman running the store was extremely helpful, aiding in selecting various comics that would interest her. My niece ended up leaving with more comics than I did, several issues of "Princeless", a trade collecting the first story as well as a collection of the Power-Puff Girls. The employee also tried to help my 16 y.o. nephew pick out a suitable horror comic, but I feel he was feeling a bit "too cool" to be seen reading comics even when its something like "Hellblazer" or "30 Days of Night".

Also while in town, saw a couple of Cirque du Soleil shows. It was my first experience with their shows. I am not a big Michael Jackson fan, but he is of my generation and hard not to have associations with his music and certain ages and times of my life. The "Michael Jackson: One" show is absolutely amazing though.  The storyline/setting is a bit surreal, that some of Jackson's artifacts are being held by some kind of aliens and you have four stowaway kids who over the course of the show each comes across one of the artifacts (his glasses, glove, shoes, jacket) and are transformed into greater versions of themselves against a backdrop of some of his most popular songs ad a few of his more philosophical ones. The dancing/acrobatics are incredible and the effects amazing. Especially when the performers interact with holograms of a singing Michael Jackson on stage. The only thing that bothered me was the near deification/sanctification of Jackson. The message of the narrative through the dancing and music is positive, but it also lifts the singer up as something much larger than life and more than he was.

The second Cirque show we aw was Ka. Like "One",there is a story narrative, told through pantomime and music. The story is a fantasy where a pair of twins, a brother and sister, are at a celebration which is attacked by a rival nation of pirates. In trying to escape by boat, they are separated and the ship is also attacked and half the group is stranded. Each sibling discovers new dangers, allies and finds love before being re-united.

The show is aimed more at families with children, my niece loved it and talked about it for days and had a bit of a crush on the bad guy of the story. Again, there were some wonderful effects especially in the movement of the stage that moved and rotated. In addition to the boat is a flying machine and a large wheel with cages containing prisoners that spins.  The man-sized crab costume was very convincing considering it being a stage production. Much of the humor is aimed at the young, some almost slap-stick in nature. Although, the woman on the other side of my wife apparently does not get out much or she simply still has the wide-eyed wonder and humor of a child. She laughed at each appropriate part, ooh-ed and ahh-ed at each wonder and gasped at each twist. I pride myself on having maintained my sense of fun and wonder, able to enjoy animated children movies like "Up", "Bolt", etc and I enjoyed this show. Just not quite as much as this woman. The one chief let-down in the show came near the end. After so many great acrobatic and dance segments moving the story alone as well as the expensive sets, costumes and effects, the climactic battle is not done live on stage but projected against the vertical stage. The projection was fuzzy and hard to make out, although this may have been partly because we had otherwise good seats close to the stage. It felt like they finally ran out of money and/or time and had to wrap things up quickly

To bring this a bit on topic for this blog, the shows reinforced my opinion that Hollywood and current comic creators really just do not get it when it comes to superheroes. Both of these shows  These shows are bringing in large numbers celebrating wonder and colorful costumes and action. Hollywood directors, the companies and their defenders would have us believe that people won't take colorful costumes seriously, that they are not realistic. Yet, these shows celebrate that. The Olympics and sporting events attract millions with their players wearing colorful outfits that make them easily distinguishable from others also in colorful outfits. The Michael Jackson show basically had four kids becoming superheroes through Michael Jackson artifacts. It's the creators and fans that are embarrassed to be seen enjoying reading or working on superheroes that are actually out of touch with the larger populace.

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