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!
Monday, September 02, 2013
Wednesday, August 21, 2013
Adventures of Superman #3: Got this as more of a protest buy, to support a more classic take of Superman. The art looked passable, if over the top and definitely over-computer colored. 30, 20 years ago, this story might have been considered pretty good. It's exploring some of the same ground that Alan Moore used to do and Busiek does regularly, but unfortunately it fails miserably at it. The conceit is that it is a look in the day of life of Superman, talking about how other people dream of flying, which of course he doesn't.
One of the problems is that it is setting up a false premise in order to turn it on its ear. In this case, to explore how Superman is not like us, only to make him all that human at the end. Except, the whole set up does too good a job at alienating us from Superman. He's too super, too beyond human concerns for the twist at the end to pay off.
The other is conflicting themes. Again and again, it talks about flying. But, the story is really about how FAST Superman is. He flies to an inhabited world under his own power, he does all these various big epic adventures in under an hour, he can hear super-fast, move so fast to be invisible, etc. If taken place on Earth, it would be a Flash story.
Last, there's just a lot of stupid writing going on. It would be invisible to a kid reading it, but keep in mind this is a "serious" story, it's meant for us to THINK about Superman and what it would be like to be Superman. He can hear things we can, and thus pick and choose what he responds to. He hears a call from an alien Green Lantern and flies across millions of miles in minutes. Then, he doesn't wait for an explanation but just does his own thing. Why she calls him and not a score of Green Lanterns that might be closer? Who knows.
He then stops a war on an alien planet. Here the writer shows Superman acting with complete naivete in his approach to stopping the war. Not to mention that it raises the ugly head if he can do that on an alien planet, why can he not put an end to wars here? Because, the reality is war cannot be stopped or resolved in that simple of a manner. Plus, Superman is lucky in that he can recognize what alien libraries look like, can decipher their language and styles instantly and that this advanced race still uses books with pages!
Then he's basically kidnapped to Apokolips. This section isn't really written badly but it does show shortcomings of the artist. He gets the characters to look more or less on model, but nothing about Apokolips looks Kirby-esque. You'd think most artists would leap at the chance to design a couple of alien worlds and races on their own AND be able to riff on Kirby, but nothing there. Then he gets back to Earth to save some un-named man from being shot and Lois from being blown up (another badly drawn scene as the action of that panel moves from right to left while we read left to right so it takes a second look to actually read the scene correctly).
What's really funny is how this comic could be lampooned. Superman constantly acts, but is too busy to stop and analyze, too busy to talk to anyone. His walking Lois Lane to work takes precedence over actually talking or taking time to think. It results in almost disaster at several points and makes Superman seem more of a Super-prick know-it-all busybody butt-insky. By the time, I was done I had in my head comments being made by all the other characters, of how he actually screwed everything up and made things worse, not better.
A good idea and germ of a story... sloppy execution on every front though.
Astro City So good to have this back as part of my regular reading material. Busiek does a good job at updating, acknowledging that time has passed for characters, especially after the really long arcs. The first issue is an interesting look at Gaiman/Morrison-esque weirdness and meta-fiction and followed by a two parter looking at the support staff for Honor Guard, who fields the phone calls asking for help. Solid storytelling by Busiek and Brent Anderson, again the weakest part being the coloring, often too dark or working too hard to make faces and things look 3-D or realistic which only competes with line-work.
Buck Rogers Ok, this comic is pretty much complete crap. See, on Free Comic Book Day, they released a free comic featuring a classic Buck Rogers story. While a little primitive in style, that story was amazing complex, creative and dense. I can only assume that it was released to show that it's 180 from the direction they were going. Knowing Chaykin was involved, knew it was going to largely depend on which Chaykin showed up. The Chaykin that likes pulp related stuff or the one that cannot resist in twisting it, making it adult and somewhat sleazy.
While Chaykin at least gives Buck a perm so that he looks differently from American Flagg/Dominic Fortune/Blackhawk/Nick Fury, his Buck is the same prickish thug that he normally writes. Actually, that's not fair. Buck is a fanatical Communist prickish thug who even actually calls someone "comrade". Not making this up.
On the very first page we have swearing. Nothing extreme, very moderate, but to not even get past a first page... Then on the second, we have a nice blood splatter from a breaking nose. A little more swearing and a couple bloody exploding heads later, the writing is pretty much on the wall. I'm not a prude, swearing and blood & gore is fine if you're doing a comic like The Walking Dead. When it's applied to Buck Rogers, it comes across as superficial, trying to be edgy without providing content of substance to justify it. What's funny is that some words are more acceptable than others as when this version of Black Barney swears while using a current day exclamation it gets symbolized: What kind of chicken#%*s outfit is this? Seriously, that's where you draw the line?
The plot is a bit back to basics, but it is not only simplistic, instead of making Buck different from Flash Gordon, it makes him MORE like him by taking his storyline: that the various gangs of people left over from America are too busy fighting each other that they will not unite against their common foe and it's going to take Buck to do so. Now, the original stories you did have the Han taking over America and the people existing in small groups called orgs or gangs. But, the problem was of disparity of technology, strategy and tactics. It was Buck's knowledge and experience as a veteran that made him into a leader able to organize the groups into effective fighting units not the groups fighting amongst themselves.
The comic has the honor of being one of those that I really wish I could return and ask for my money back.
Captain Midnight Another return of a really old character. Fairly solid story dealing with the man suddenly yanked from his past and discovers a complex world. Because of a secret mission he was on and the time travel involved, he's sorta wanted by the Government because of stuff he knows. Of course, he apparently doesn't trust people because of what he knows as well. It's a bit Captain America crossed with Nick Fury and James Bond and an enjoyable comic. The only really stupid part is when some of the agents go rogue, they gain glowing green skulls and no one reacts to this. They are shocked that the men are traitors, but not by the glowing green skull heads?
Five Ghosts The book often feels as if being written backwards, constantly giving information or story developments that should have probably occurred earlier in the book. In this case, we get a major revelation in the last issue just how unsympathetic and criminal of a character that Fabian was before his curse as he's shown to willing betray a partner and shoot him in the back over a treasure. The art and its storytelling continues to be top notch, but as a mini-series it reads like a rough draft. Trying to be clever with its structure and doling out secrets but not really organic or doing so in the best possible way. The announcement at the end promises it to continue from this mini as an ongoing and I really want to like it as it is full of potential. But, the writer needs to actually write, get at the meat of the story and not rely so much on the art.
Half Past Danger Another mini-series with a great high concept: WWII, island of dinosaurs and an Irishman, a super strong Yank, a British woman and a Japanese Ninja go to it and fight the dinosaurs and figure out what the Nazis want with them. Sadly, the writing isn't quite up to par. The first issue alone, we have the Irishman leading a platoon on the island. His squad gets eaten and he comes back but it seems as if he's not believed and so he's drinking himself to death until he meets up with the Yank and Britisher and a bar room brawl begins. It gives us the set-up and the major points of the plot, but what it doesn't tell is the STORY. We don't get to know the individual soldiers, they aren't drawn or written in any distinctive way to tell them apart or to care for them or their relationship with the leader. The author needs to go back and read some of those old war comics by Robert Kanigher and see what he actually did in so few pages. Just because it's a multiple part story doesn't mean that the individual issue shouldn't have its own story to tell, that you should care for the characters beyond laughing at the kewl bits of attitude. And, someone should kick the colorist in the butt and tell him to stop doing color knockouts on a blond person's head but nowhere else. It makes his hair look like it belongs to a different sort of reality than the rest of his head and body and the hair of everybody else.
Overall, it is a fun comic mini in that it's a bit like a roller-coaster ride. But, it reads like it's being written or developed for hopes for a film offer such as a SyFy Channel movie.
Dynamite Comics After watching Masks slowly circle the drain and go down the tubes, really wanted to bail on them, but they followed up with some intriguing comics, doing a bit more right than wrong for a change.
Lords of Mars Tarzan goes to Mars. Ugly cover as it looks like Ross has been taking lessons from Jusko and delivers such muscular men that one can only wonder how they move. Whereas, the insides has a pretty competent and clear artist drawing characters with lean muscular bodies. For comics these days, the heroes almost look emaciated, especially compared to the cover! There's great character moments introducing the main characters and there is some story contained here. It's decompressed, Tarzan doesn't end on Mars by the last panel. However, there is good groundwork and mystery that's established, to let you know that more is going on than readily meets the eye. The decompression is not to stretch out a thin story, but to tell it and fill it. Now, if it can keep that clarity in art and storytelling and not peter out by the end like the Gulliver of Mars and John Carter team-up in Warriors of Mars.
The Owl Yet another old hero that finds himself coping with the present day. Here, they show that they've learned from the Black Terror series in that we see Nick Terry aka The Owl dealing with personal issues. He's trying to get a job and figure out his place in the modern world. He is dealing with real ramifications of having everyone and everything he knows being gone, having moved on without him. There are some hiccups in the writing. Apparently, the writer has never applied for a real job beyond retail as he seems to think that someone would turn in a resume and get an interview if the company wasn't looking to fill a position. Not to mention that getting a job as a policeman is not the same as getting a normal job. As the Owl he seems to have purpose, but when he finds a modern Owl-Girl who is far more violent and keeps the money she takes from the crooks, he has to wonder how much the world has changed and not for the better. It's a bit of a false premise. The 1940s comics and heroes were NOT the sanitized ones from the mid 1950s and 60s. This isn't necessarily something that would be so abhorrent to him, even if he disagreed with it. And, the redesigned costume and powers/tricks aren't really an improvement. But, these days I'll settle for a simply average superhero comic where the hero is about being better than the bad guys and wanting to do the right thing.
Shadow - Green Hornet: Dark Knights Ignoring that they met in Masks, this series presents them as meeting again for first time. Written by Michael Uslan, it starts off strong as far as the writing is concerned. He knows the history of the characters and the time period and works a lot of it in without resorting to simply name dropping (and notes in the back explaining some of those bits). You have to deal with the fact that apparently the Shadow's ring is some super-power source/weapon maguffin for the plot. He does an admirable job at presenting the Green Hornet/Britt Reid as being a peer of the Shadow/Lamont Cranston and juggling the similarities and differences of the characters. There's the Shadow suspicious of Kato's loyalties while Shiwan Khan thinks a crook like Green Hornet with an Asian side-kick would make him prone to team up with him (in the 1940s, there were a few issues where the Green Hornet does pretend to team-up with a Japanese spy leading the Black Dragon Society).
The artwork is detailed but often dark, confusing and inconsistent on people and is the weakest part of the book.
Then, there's the implied lesbian relationship between Margo Lane and Lenore Case. Apparently, knowing each other years before when their men leave them to make excuses to each other to cover their secret identities, they decide to talk about the "bad old days" over wine. When we next see Margo, it's when Harry is calling on her at her hotel room and there's some naked buttocks going by in the room behind her. Nice cuckolding the men heroes there that is completely purposeless. And, that sexual fantasy attitude that women are just a bottle of wine from enjoying a lesbian encounter.
Thursday, August 08, 2013
The good guys at comicbookplus.com have posted America's Best Comics #2 which features the origin of the patriotic hero American Eagle. The title of the comic might seem a little familiar as it is where Alan Moore got the name of his imprint featuring Top Ten, Promothea and Tom Strong which featured some revamps of characters from Standard.
Before this, I always found American Eagle to be one of their more uninteresting heroes. Most of them were variations of themes: superstrength, bulletproof, but susceptible to blows on the head. Doc Strange, Liberator, Captain Future, and the Scarab all belonged to a subset wearing t-shirts and in some cases shorts. Some flew, Fighting Yank had his ancestor that would intervene, Captain Future and Pyroman threw around lightning, and so on.
But, in this first outing American Eagle does stand out. Many of the heroes were a bit timid or physical weaklings before becoming heroes (in his early appearances, the Liberator was drawn scrawny with his clothes hanging off of him before he'd take his secret formula to turn into the hero). Tom Standish on the other hand is shown to be scare of practically his own shadow and a bit clumsy before accidentally gaining his powers. Although, until he puts on the costume, he doesn't seem to be able to fly, or at least is unaware that he has that ability.
His sidekick on the other hand is super-powered for no other reason than being the son of a circus strongman. Now, it made sense for Robin to be acrobatic as he was not only a son of trapeze artists but trained in the skill and not shown to be superhuman so. But, Bud's strength is on the superhuman side as if it was merely genetic. This isn't unheard of in the comics of the day as there are several heroes who boast extreme skills and talents by virtue of circus parentage. As far as I know, Bud's parents aren't mentioned again. Bud's story would pick up in the second appearance over in Exciting Comics #22 where he gains a costume to become the Eaglet.
The Batman similarity continues with the American Eagle's costume. Notice the scalloped cape, the fins on his gloves, the shape of his boots. Even his belt looks a bit distinctive. Now, the American Eagle had one of the more inconsistent costumes, individual elements would change or appear and disappear depending on the story. Each of those specific elements would be gone in .