Went to the beach several weeks ago, took several books with me. First up was Jules Verne’s JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH. I had gotten a beat-up paperback for free and had never read it. I actually found it very enjoyable. Where 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA was tedious, this book was often a bit light-hearted mainly through the rather un-adventurous young man that serves as narrator who would rather be at home romancing his cousin and eating good food prepared by the cook, doing all of his scientific research in relative safety and comfort. From this, Verne is able to generate quite a bit of humor some of it almost gallows humor from a man convinced he’s going to die on this insane adventure. It’s short enough that it doesn’t quite fall into the travel log model of most adventure novels from this time and at times does quite well at getting across the almost claustrophobic and real dangers faced by the trio of adventurers. Sadly, where it fails is due to it’s dated nature of writing style. When the book finally gets to where someone like ERB or even Doyle would really just be getting started, it suddenly and violently wrenches its characters from the depths of the Earth and back into the reality of the surface world and end of the novel. There is also a bit of an internal logic hiccup in the narrative, when the adventurers find themselves at the great underground sea, where conclusions based on the info given don’t logically follow. But, it’s a fun vacation novel.
Also read IT’S SUPERMAN, a novel by Tom DeHaven. I got this at the booksale at work for a dollar. I’d seen it at bookstores but didn’t get it at full price in hardback, my reasoning being, I read another one of this guy’s novels which was ok, but didn’t really grab me the way I had hoped, a certain cynicism or modern superior look at the past. In some ways, this novel follows that path of misleading.
Because, despite the title, the book isn’t really about Superman. A better title would be IT’S THE WORLD OF CLARK KENT. Because in reality, the book really covers a lot of the same ground as the tv series SMALLVILLE does in that it’s about Clark Kent on the road to becoming Superman, learning about why the world needs a hero, only it’s set in the 1930’s and is a bit more serious in its tone and characters.
For what it is, it’s an enjoyable book. We see Lex Luthor growing in power and concocting an almost purely pulp like plot, we see Lois Lane growing in her role as reporter and striving to be a thoroughly modern woman. And dollops of sex as we now know who Clark’s first time was with and the flings of various other characters. And like many outsider writers dealing with a universe they didn’t create, there are a couple of Mary Sue characters to serve as being important parts of guiding the characters to their destinies.
But, Superman is hardly in it, maybe really just the last 10% when most of what DeHaven had to say has been said and now it’s time to finish up his pulp-like plot which unfortunately he doesn’t really carry off with the same conviction that pulp writers are able to.
But, DeHaven has a breezy style that keeps things moving, he sets the tone of the world of the 1930’s very convincingly, and his characters are mostly sympathetic or at the very least interesting. The act of reading it is enjoyable and keeps you entertained. It’s only when you finish that you wish there was something more, instead of feeling like it was really just the opening act to something much bigger and better.
You know, I’d like to talk comics, I generally do in this space. But, looking back at what I wrote a few months ago, nothing has changed. I guess it’s just a sign of my further distancing from current comics. Heck, I’ve not been to the comic store in over a week, a fact that doesn’t bother me overly much. I still like the books Gail Simone writes, but may end up dropping BIRDS OF PREY if the Manhunter character becomes a regular. It’s funny how originally I liked that character and her book until it became almost everything I dislike about many current writers and so-called legacy characters. Even if I like the writer, there are characters I just don’t have any desire to read month to month a couple of bucks a plop. I’m more willing to drop the book for several months or however long it takes to get back on track. It’s why I won't be following Fabian Nicieza to a mini-series about Baron Zemo when THUNDERBOLTS gets re-tooled (will be dropping THUNDERBOLTS as well, the book has been a bit tedious before and frankly I’veDeodato’s artwork which was once pretty buy overdone, looks now just overdone).
So, just re-read my comments from my last zine, cut them out and paste them in here, and you have a section of stuff in comics that I like.
Oh, there is one thing. SPIDER-GIRL is back!
More Comics and Pulps here!
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
As comics have been getting less interesting, I’ve been reading more pulps. There’s more creativity, more super-heroism found in the likes of G-8, the Phantom Detective, Jim Anthony, and the Spider than in most so called superhero comics these days. While it’s cool to see the Shroud make an appearance in MS MARVEL and know that he’s a conglomeration of the Shadow, the Green Lama, and the Black Bat of the pulps, it’s great at going back and seeing the originals.
One of the forums I frequent ran a Shadow comic cover and trivia “Survival” style contest. Ultimately, I won, the prize being a reprint of a Shadow pulp, “The Invincible Shiwan Khan”.
As far as I can make out, this is the 3rd of the Shiwan Khan novels, the first two were actually reprinted in hardback that I have in my collection, and I read the first story, long enough that I really don't remember the details.
There are interesting little tidbits to this novel. One, it uses quite a few of the more obscure Shadow agents such as Dr. Roy Tam, Jericho, and Myra Reldon in addition to appearances by Harry Vincent, Hawkeye, Shrevy, and Cliff Marsland. Also in appearance are not only Cardona, but other Shadow novel police regulars Commissioner Weston, and FBI agent Vic Marquette. I think this ultimately weakens the novel in that it diffuses all of the characters to being just little more than names and expositional devices. With such a cast and memorable villain, one would expect a huge epic of a battle and it never really quite achieves that. Nor does it really achieve the Gothic atmosphere that the novels usually contain.
Another interesting bit is that there is no real getting around the fact that Shiwan Khan does have mystic abilities, able to communicate and control various people telepathically usually through some kind of aromatic medium. And his mystics likewise have some abilities such as able to generate an electrical field that works on some kind of psychic level, a strongly inebriated or trained mind is proof to it.
But, the chief interesting angle is it's pretty obvious if the people that made the Shadow movie read only one pulp novel it was this one. There's Roy Tam, not a very regular Shadow agent, I'm not sure if he was in the other two novels or in any of the others that I’ve read. There's the telepathy (admittedly in the other Shiwan Khan novels). More telling is the use of the knives called Phurbas, blades that can be given a life of their own by the Tibetan mystics! It's obvious by the way they are mentioned, that this is the first appearance of them in the Shadow novels. However, the way they get used, it's not clear if there is something to the claims (as some of the magic done by the mystics and Shiwan Khan have no rational explanation behind them) or if it's all slight of hand as the few times they do get used suggests. The first time we see one of the knives take a life seemingly of its own accord, also figuring prominently in the scene is a mummy case! Both are rather significant in the movie.
Next up, the tilting floor of Shiwan Khan's throne room in the movie (it was just on last night, so I was reminded of this detail), in the novel his throne room was smaller and didn't have a mechanical floor. However, it was designed so that the room was built at deceptive angles that would throw off one's aim and movements as they subconsciously adjusted even though they thought it was all perpendicular. It's not hard to see the movie taking something that works well in prose but not in film unless you have someone explaining it, and coming up with something like the mechanical floor that the result is almost the same but far more visually active that doesn't require any clunky exposition explaining what's happening.
I’ve always viewed the movie as an interesting hybrid of the pulp and radio Shadow. This reinforces that, the Shadow and Margo Lane seem drawn a bit more like their radio persona's at least in personality and style, while visually the Shadow is himself from the covers and comics. But, a lot of the elements of Shiwan Khan seem to be taken straight from the pulps, not just made up for the movie.
So, the end result is that the novel is interesting, but it's not really because of its own story telling ability. As a novel it's not really terribly exciting or driven. The plot has several holes in it such as Shiwan Khan is in Chinatown but he makes use of a Caucasian woman that he controls telepathically and has her make herself up as an Asian and uses her as being a messenger to various men of wealth and ability that he's seeking to control. It's a bit hard to believe that he cannot use his abilities and resources to get an actual Chinese woman. It makes a bit more sense that the Shadow uses Myra Reldon in an almost duplicate manner as she grew up in China and is a willing confederate who's proven herself capable. Khan's overall plan isn't terribly interesting either, as he's just basically brainwashing citizens to go back to live in his Tibetan kingdom. (An actual flaw to Gibson’s writing, really. He was good on atmosphere and such, but his imagination for plotting was often lacking, his criminals were hardly grandiose despite themselves to the point that even a villain like Shiwan Khan is ultimately a bit mundane) And the Shadow being on hand for the climactic scene is through such a lucky incident that even Edgar Rice Burroughs would have been embarrassed to write the scene. And, by the novel's end, sadly much is left unresolved.
Comics I have enjoyed of late:
THE SECRET SIX
BIRDS OF PREY
THE THING (sadly no more)
JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED
BPRD: An enjoyable read with appropriately creepy art by Guy Davis. At the very least, you should get these in trade paperback, it really is one of the most enjoyable series of mini-series with actual story plotting and characterization.
THE ATOM/THE SECRET SIX/BIRDS OF PREY: All have one thing in common, Gail Simone. Seriously, people that say Geoff Johns and Grant Morrison are the best superhero comics writers around are just off in their head as Gail combines the strengths of both and none of their weaknesses. Wannabe writers like Judd Winnick and Chuck Austen could stand to study her work and understand what writing really is. Gail can do strange and odd-ball with almost meta references without actually feeling like she’s ridiculing it. Instead, she comes across as someone that truly loves the characters she writes. she actually delivers on characterization, giving characters distinctive voices that feel right. Nor does she let her own prejudices get in the way of how she writes a character. Thanks to the way he’s been handled in the past (and even currently), she has no love for Green Arrow, but when he appears in BIRDS OF PREY, she doesn’t write him as such. Instead you can almost feel the heartache between Ollie and Dinah. And, even with all that, she delivers clever plots and plot twists, stories that grow out of the characters involved. THE ATOM teams her up with Byrne at least in the opening story, and it’s a wonderful pairing. Byrne’s style has changed, I don’t think his figure work carries quite the same power or punch that it used to, but he’s no slouch on story-telling and drawing distinctive and recognizable characters. I don’t have to analyze a panel of his work to understand what the artist was trying to get across, it’s there in front of you.
AQUAMAN: At times I think Guice draws the current character a little too old looking and whoever thought pairing him up with Dezuniga on this last issue made a big mistake. And I wish we had the real Aquaman. Yet, despite all that, Busiek delivers epic drawn story, Again, there’s actual plotting going on, it’s a bit episodic but there is storytelling in every issue, not a chase scene, some fights and a little dialogue.
THE THING/SHE-HULK: These two likewise share a writer, in this case Dan Slott. Both books are rather cutesy in some regards to being self-referential, a little too much so in the latter. But, both are pretty good superhero books as well, light-hearted and at times heartfelt in their approach to their characters. They both also tended to share some good clear superhero style artwork. Still, I’ll freely admit the real reason I’m getting SHE-HULK is because of the Two-Gun Kid.
JUSTICE: In many ways, the way the Justice League should be. I have only one gripe is that a central plot concerns, why isn’t the world perfect with superheroes? Well, most of the problems raised with this question are problems that are fixable today. Given our technology, that we pay farmers NOT to grow crops and such, why does the world still have people living in shacks, 850 million starving, etc? And a world that has both superheroes AND supervillains, maybe we should wonder why those worlds are as stable and well off as they are. I think superheroes can be used to illustrate social issues and inspire change. But, it’s a mistake to actually bring such concerns into the comic and ask why haven’t they solved them? And then come up with some comic book explanation in order to make the heroes not look ineffectual. Even if superheroes existed, we’d still have many of the same problems unless you go the route of SQUADRON SUPREME (about the only way to really address that type of question). But, JUSTICE has some gorgeous art, Alex Ross works better on top of another artist when it comes to storytelling.
JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED: Thanks to the unceasing moroseness of the regular DC and Marvel Universes in general, I find myself looking outside their main books for reading material. Of interesting note is that in JLU, one can find a guest appearance of the original Shining Knight, Vigilante, and the Freedom Fighters. You can see Vixen, Gypsy and Vibe be real heroes and not see themselves as general losers. I read it to remind myself that comics can be just plain fun. If they’d just eschew the animation style artwork and add just a tiny bit more meat to the stories, you’d have a great all-ages book. As it is, it’s one superhero book that is great for pre-teens and kids, if you want to hand out books for Halloween or stocking stuffers, this is the one.
JSA: With Paul Levitz back at the writing chores, we have about the best arc in this incarnation of the team as we get the secret origin of the Gentleman Ghost. Again showing, that sometimes you can break one of my normal dislikes and deliver something worthwhile. In this case it’s taking a character whose ambiguity and mystery is a big part of who he is and nailing it down and giving us a definitive history. Of course some of this groundwork was already done by the likes of Geoff Johns, so we had already lost some of the mysteriousness around the character, we know he’s not just some nutter with a gimmick pretending to be a ghost. But, Levitz runs with it and even gives us sort of an explanation as to why a ghost would bother stealing. It’s a good tale with all the characters in character and many having great moments. There are a few things out of the blue in the final issue which Levitz didn’t properly set up. There’s a rule in writing that states something to the effect that if you introduce a gun into the plot in the 3rd chapter, it goes off in the 22nd. Well, the inverse should also be true, you don’t have a gun going off in the 22nd, that you didn’t first introduce in the 3rd which is basically what happens here.
And, I’d love a reasonable explanation as to why JSA was cancelled to be re-launched in December/January. With the same writer and presumably art style it has had for most of its run. It’s numbers have been respectable even with Geoff Johns taking a break. Do they really think that a new #1 will bring in so many new readers, it’s worthwhile to not put out a product for several months to give people opportunity to get out of the habit of buying the comic and buying something else? Even story wise there’s no smart explanation for the hiatus, it just sorta ends. The only explanation I can truly think of is there are only so many titles that Time Warner/DC are willing to invest in at any given time. With all of these launches of new product at one time, some of the mediocre titles are given a break to see if some of these others prove themselves as most are marketed as mini-series. Thus the real reason that books like Justice League, Wonder Woman, and JSA have taken publishing breaks before being relaunched. That or Geoff Johns has gotten some dirt on Didio and nobody else is now allowed to write the JSA and so they have to wait until he clears some stuff of his plate.
There are some notable others.
THE ETERNALS: Neil Gaiman seems to be doing a fine job at explaining a bit of the contradictions in the history of the Eternals as well as finding a way of setting up a mystery and telling an audience unfamiliar with the characters about them at the same time. Romita Jr is about the only artist at Marvel these days that can really deliver this type of story and really capture both the mundanity and the epic scale of the characters at the same time. He’s one of the few that really captures the spirit of what Kirby’s art was about without actually aping Kirby’s style. My only complaint is that Junior’s work is delving a bit too much into shorthand, becoming a little overly stylized and caricature of it’s former self such as everyone generally having Bob Hope’s nose or Spider-man’s emaciated body type as opposed to being slender compared to other heroes.
BATMAN AND THE MAD MONK: I almost thought about waiting for the trade on this one. I enjoyed Wagner’s last retelling of a golden-age Batman story: BATMAN AND THE MONSTER MEN which was in the 40’s a rip on a Doc Savage novel. But, there’s really nothing that says it needs to be read in monthly installments, it’s from Batman’s early days and who really cares if it’s in continuity or not. But, I still like picking up comics each week and reading them in installments. Especially if they are fun. To me, this is Batman done right.
THUNDERBOLTS: I think there’s some interesting plotting, and for the most part it has great superhero artwork by Tom Grummett, often either colored or separated a little too garishly and has one recurring appearances by one of my favorite Marvel Characters, the Defender Nighthawk. However, I just don’t really care for any of the main characters or what really happens to them anymore. Zemo is acting just a bit too heroic like, Atlas a bit too whiny and Mach whatever too wishy washy and ineffectual.
Marvel’s Western books: A little hit and miss, but a bit more straightforward and honest with their treatment of the characters than overly gritty BLAZE OF GLORY or the joke fest of the 50’s monster titles. Bits of the larger Marvel Universe popin here and there such as Skrulls and a young Ancient One.
AGENTS OF ATLAS: Just the first issue of this mini-series is out, starring most of the Avengers of the 1950’s: Gorilla Man, Marvel Boy, Venus, the Human Robot, and Jimmy Woo vs. the Yellow Claw. I feel they are taking their gimmick a little too far in excluding 3-D Man soley because he’s a retcon hero, he did not appear in any Timely/Atlas comics of that time period. The first issue is out and is pretty darn good. Further into the series another 1950’s hero will be returning though has been thought to be dead for most of this time.
THE CREEPER: Bought the first issue against my better judgment. It’s amazing how they credit Steve Niles but not Steve Ditko when really the best parts of the story were because they were basically lifting Steve’s first story. Full of ho-hum additions, Jack Ryder is pretty much converted into a character I’m not interested in reading about on a regular basis. Artwork still stinks.
More Comics and Pulps here!
If you read my last zine, you saw me analyze a bit on the various character assassinations of creations by Steve Ditko. Not long after, it was announced that DC was going to have another go with the Creeper. This time it’s a reboot of the character by Steve Niles, a comic writer known for his horror books. Now, he tweaks with the origin a bit so that it makes a little more sense. No problem there, I admit, when I first encountered the character as a kid, that origin of somehow having an invisible costume on top of another was a bit ludicrous. Especially when it’s something like the Creeper’s. The silver-age Atom has a similar problem in that we’re to believe his Atom costume is invisible when he’s large an is actually on TOP of his street clothes! And at least Niles is keeping in the spirit of Ditko’s origin, no pseudo-boogey men. However, Niles is also going the route that the persona's of the Creeper and Jack Ryder are pretty much two separate personalities. Ryder doesn’t want to be the Creeper. Doesn’t help that the art I’ve seen makes him look the Joker as done by Ted Turner’s movie colorizing team.
Have you noticed that in all the new comics spinning out of all the mega-crossovers by DC, they are all takes on pre-existing characters? And somehow, most of them aren’t actually starring the heroes long associated with that name but someone else. Gail Simone and John Byrne will be doing a new Atom, not anyone we’ve seen beneath the mask before but still clearly patterned on Ray Palmer. We have new a new Aquaman, two Nightwings, a new Catwoman, a new Freedom Fighters (kill off a bunch of characters not seen all that much to introduce all new characters as the team, explain that one to me). Hawkman is out of his book and Hawkgirl is flying solo. If you back up to IDENTITY CRISIS, we’ve also had Firestorm and Manhunter, Seven Soldiers of Victory (including new versions of the Guardian and Shining Knight and a non-Scott Free Mr. Miracle)
On Byrne’s forum, he compared it to DC’s Silver-age. However, DC’s silver-age also included a plethora of new characters and concepts: Doom Patrol, Metal Men, Angel & the Ape, the Creeper, Metamorpho, Secret 6, Adam Strange. At Marvel, we had the Fantastic Four (which included such characters as Doctor Doom, the Inhumans, Black Panther, Galactus & the Silver Surfer), Thor, Iron Man, the Hulk, Spider-man, X-men in addition to bringing back Namor, Captain America and creating a new Ka-zar.
Not really seeing that looking at the new line of titles. What I’m seeing is more along the 90’s when DC decided to replace Green Lantern, Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Hawkman and Green Arrow with different people in the roles though first arranging to get rid of the various characters for different lengths of time to make it seem permanent. We also had various other minor characters killed off or sidelined to make room for new ones with their names and some, the whole motif: Starman, Dr. Mid-nite (twice), Manhunter, (Commander) Steel, and even the female Wildcat (her replacement never came to fruition, I think the Titan Panthra is who the new Wildcat was supposed to be, but it might’ve been the bear dude in the new Outsiders title at the time. Heck, it could’ve been that both of them were planning on doing a new Wildcat and ended up going different directions with new characters all their own. Panthra is dead, and that version of the Outsiders hasn’t been referenced in ages). A few others got strange and Vertigo’ed with little semblance to their earlier selves: Shade, Black Orchid, Kid Eternity It’s when Marvel gave us a teen Tony Stark and then later gave the whole team to Image to remake in their, ahem, image.
Have to say the Ms. Marvel first issue had promise.The only part I really didn’t like was her talking with a publicist. It’s taking the idea of superheroes as celebrities a bit too far. While I can see that being done with some heroes such as teams in the public eye ala the FF and Avengers; corporate heroes like Iron Man and Booster Gold, or heroes needing good PR like the X-men, for the most part, I’d think superheroes would avoid that kind of exposure. There’s a reason they wear a mask, why would they want to make it easy for enemies to get intel on them? Hawkeye, I could see hiring a PR man, but he’s always been a bit of a showman, that’s his background. Carol Danvers’ background is the exact opposite, she’s ex-military. Hiring a PR person seems like the exact opposite for that type of person to do.
Comics Stuff that’s good: SPIDER-GIRL remains a fun read, slated for the chopping block. Ditto for Dan Slott’s THING. Can’t say I cared much for his recent Starfox two-parter in SHE-HULK, otherwise the title is often fun and light-hearted yet laced with commentary about the industry and fans.
Busiek’s AQUAMAN: SWORD OF ATLANTIS is an intriguing read. Only two drawbacks. One, I usually am a big supporter of Butch Guice’s artwork, but I find it hard to follow at times here. And, the text of Busiek’s story implies this guy to be fairly young, yet Guice draws him looking fairly old. Two, I kinda wish we could have had this book AND a regular superhero Aquaman book by Busiek with art by Tom Grummett.
If you’re tired of superheroes by the big two, I recommend BLACK COAT which is sorta taking the Scarlet Pimpernel, crossing him a little with Captain America and plopping him in the middle of the American Revolution. It’s in b/w but a good read.
Tiring of Judd Winnick’s writing and the general theme of DC’s One Year Later titles, I dropped OUTSIDERS. Also going were CATWOMAN and HAWKGIRL nee Hawkman. On the cusp is GREEN ARROW (more Winnick) and THUNDERBOLTS. The latter because I realized that I find the writing to be above average and I love the art when Tom Grummett is doing it, but I really just don’t care about these characters. I basically find them tiresome. Or maybe it’s Fabain’s writing style which has that quality of being a literary equivalent of sea sickness. I think what tends to bother me about the series is what he is deliberately trying to do which I applaud him for. But, understanding and praising him for something on an intellectual level doesn’t translate to me really wanting to read about it every month. I think the problem is that the concept is really better suited to a novel format and not ongoing serialization thus he wouldn’t have to go for a money shot moment in every issue no matter how well or shoddy that he has set it up.
I’ve praised Gail Simone in the past, and I held up her VILLAINS UNITED mini as the best of the IC bunch. So, to be fair, let me say how disappointed I was in the VU one-shot. It suffered from what all the other mini’s had suffered from, it wasn’t allowed to really tell the story. It’s all set-up for the last issue of IC. If this was IC 6.5, I’d probably have said it was the best issue of the whole mess. What it wasn’t, was a comic you could read if you weren’t reading IC and it doesn’t even have an ending. It’s more like, “we got you again, if you want to read the ending of this story, you gotta go and buy IC.”
I picked up BATTLE FOR BLUDHAVEN mainly because I heard the Atomic Knights were going to be in it. And, I liked THE MONOLITH series. The art’s quite good too. The book as a whole is a mess though. It suffers from two many characters and no character development. Part of that is the editorial edict that everything must have big changes in the past year. That means that even though it has the Teen Titans, it’s the OYL Teen Titans which means they are about as much new characters as the rest and the writer cannot really tell us anything about them because that’s up to the creators in their own book. Likewise, we have the debut and more or less origins of the new Freedom Fighters, but like many of today’s characters, their origins are mysteries to be revealed later on. Sigh. Which means what would make real sense would be to focus on the Monolith and Firebrand group OR the Atomic Knights. But we don’t. Several issues into this and we have less an explanation of who the knights are than what we received in their 8-12 page debut originally. There’s a good story here, but it’s not really being told.
And a big part of me suspects this is going to end: To be continued in Freedom Fighters #1.
Then there’s the other stupidity. In interviews Winnick talks about how he had all of this stuff planned for GREEN ARROW about he destruction of Star City, a wall, people being displaced, all before Hurricane Katrina as well as going to meeting about INFINITE CRISIS, OYL plans and such.
So, who’s screw-up then to have the basic plot behind BATTLE FOR BLUDHAVEN to be about a destroyed city, corrupt/inept government, displaced people, a wall, etc? At least they were smart enough to bring up the fact that people keep going on about this radioactive leak that’s keeping people out but Chemo, who destroyed Bludhaven, isn’t radioactive, he’s toxic. It’s one of those details that if you had faith in the writer, you’d figure it would feed into the storyline at some point. However, these days, writers have done precious little to earn such faith.
Then we have this story introducing a new group of Freedom Fighters though they don’t carry that name yet. Which means that about half of the characters introduced are all new versions of the old group that was made up of Quality characters. So, what are the odds that a character independent of them in the same story just happens to develop powers that leads him to taking a name of a guy who also was a member of the Freedom Fighters? You going to tell stories skewing to an older readership, then don’t include stupid juvenile writing type coincidences.
Another badly done book: SABLE AND FORTUNE. The mini-series started out promising with painted art that gave it a bit of a different look than what is mostly out there though Silver Sable looked a bit too out of the 80’s with the big hair. Part of the problem rises out of the format. It’s a mini-series. In my book, this means self-contained, don’t raise big questions you don’t want to answer. It’s fine if you have more details and stuff slated for any following sequels, but all major plot lines and such should be done in-story here. However, we never find out any details about just who this new Dominic Fortune is and why he uses the identity, including costume, of the original. The very fact that he’s in the book raises the questions to anyone who is remotely familiar with the original character and it’s bad writing to not address it in some concrete manner other than a few lines in the first issue that are more dodging the question than addressing it. The second problem also rises out of it being a mini-series. The mini was marketed partly on the strength of the painted artwork. There were promos of the first issue and interviews and such. However, when I got the last issue home, which had the same painted style covers as the others, I found a completely different art-style inside, more of the modern illustration style with simple lines and computerized coloring to provide shape, depth and detail. At first I though it was a flashback or some other story-telling element. Leafed through the book. Nope. It was the art through the whole book. Couldn’t even bring myself to read it. If I had known at the beginning they were going to pull this bait & switch, I wouldn’t have bought the mini-series at all. It would not have bothered me near as much if the switch in art was comparable in terms of style. Or if it was part of a regular series, I can forgive guest artists from time to time there. But, in the last issue of a mini-series? Would you want eleven issues of CAMELOT 3000 to be Brian Bolland and the last issue to be by Herbe Trimpe? The last issue of WATCHMEN to be by Rob Liefeld? If you have to discard the painted look, at least as a gift, get a good penciller for the last issue. One of the few times I felt like grabbing all of the issues and mailing them back to the publisher asking for my money back.
More Comics and Pulps here!
My reading has been a little all over the place of late. There’s A MURDER IN CLICHY, a decent little mystery taking place in Paris. The book basically deals with a young woman whose father died under mysterious circumstances in an earlier book. She is head of a small security firm along with her assistant a very capable dwarf (somehow I missed or forgot that fact and it came as a surprise when I had picked the book back up) and due to some eye injuries is really trying not to lead too strenuous a life. However, as a favor to a Viet-Cong woman where she goes meditates, she goes to purchase some jade figurines from a shady character. He gets gunned down in front of her and suddenly it seems everyone is after those figurines: the French government, some aging ex-soldiers, art dealers. And someone has kidnapped her assistant
to force her to retrieve them for them. It’s a very myriad and complex tale.
I feel like I really didn’t give it a fair shake as I would put it down to read something else that caught my fancy and then would go back to it. So, I’d have trouble remembering some of the names (not just French but also Viet-Cong) and their various relationships. Compounded by the
fact that at some points people would be anonymous yet it became apparent that a few different people were actually the same person thus confusing things. It’s where the narrator frankly cheats the reader, taking advantage of a limitation of the printed form that she could not do if this was a play or movie (a character has a face to face conversation with her father who isn’t named, but about 2/3 of the way through the book you realize you have seen him elsewhere in the book under his name, thus 2 characters actually become one).
Despite the shortcomings, the characters are fairly likable and flawed and human. In some ways, the two main characters aren’t too dissimilar to the relationship between Puck and Heather in John Byrne’s ALPHA FLIGHT.
Finished one of Terry Brooks’ trilogies. Don’t ask me which one. I don’t have the books in front of me to refer to. The Voyage of the Jerle Shanara or somesuch.
Not a bad series. If I was just starting out reading fantasy, this could be a fun series. He develops his characters fairly well, isn’t adverse to killing some of them off, each book ends at logical climaxes. His writing style is fairly breezy and keeps action moving at a good clip. And he has a way of describing his magic and such to make it seem both powerful and limiting and a way to somewhat grasp it in your mind, picturing the actions of the characters. However, the writing is also very plain. There’s not really going to be a well-turned phrase here or there that makes you take notice, no description or scene so powerful to really put you there
It’s lacking in other ways as well. Maybe it’s because I am reading a trilogy that takes place in his larger world that he has already developed. As such, the various races aren’t really all that well developed. We don’t get too much of a feeling of the different cultures apart from a group of mercenaries. His elves and one dwarf character really don’t seem any different from any human characters introduced to the point one wonders, why make them elves or a dwarf. Meanwhile some of the various human cultures that he introduces are interesting and the shape-changer character quickly became my favorite.
Tamara Silver Jones’ A THREAD OF MALICE is her second book and continues the characters introduced in GHOSTS IN THE SNOW. What you have is the elderly Dubric who with the help of his squires (one a middle-aged father, a mid- to late teen noble, and a young boy) investigate various crimes in the kingdom. The rub is Dubric is cursed so that when someone is murdered, their ghosts appear to him along with painful headaches.
A THREAD OF MALICE is more graphic and mature themed than GHOSTS as someone is kidnapping young boys and then ritually abusing and killing them in some villages a bout a day’s hard rid from the castle. And in one of the surrounding villages is also his elder squire’s family visiting the wife’s parents. As Dubric investigates, it seems these killings may have something to do with the war against wizards decades past.
It’s a great book, hard to believe this is her second novel. Jones writes very human characters, but characters you like. You hope for romance to blossom between characters and you dread their fates as the evil threatens to engulf them all. I sat down on a Sunday and read the latter 2/3 of the book in one day. Although I did come close to putting it down for a little bit to absorb and grieve over one particularly tragic event.
It’s a fantasy novel that dares to be a bit different as it combines fantasy with forensic science. It’s CSI with a bit of magic and ghosts.However, the fantasy is still fairly realistic. The fantastical elements are mostly kept to a minimum.
I actually liked it better than the first one. The problem I had with the first one was that the vampires didn't seem all that different from human beings what with their using technology and guns to fight the werewolves. Could have been just a bunch of goths and vampire wannabes that were good with guns. The humans caught between was pretty much completely undeveloped. HELLBOY did a better job at showing humans trying to keep up in battles between various supernatural baddies.
Instead of a bunch of might as well be human vampires, we get a great big nasty one and a sexy butt-kicking one and more wolf-like werewolves. I did think there were one or two things left undeveloped and/or unanswered. And apparently all it takes to kill werewolves and vampires is just doing enough damage or draining enough blood.Bullets won't necessarily do enough damage but nasty throat wounds and general mauling will (a problem i had with the original as well).
TOP TEN COMICS (in no particular order)
1) The Thing
5) Birds of Prey
6) Action (By Gail Simone & John Byrne)
7) The Demon
8) Iron Ghost
9) JSA Classified (The most recent arc focusing on the Injustice Society has been a blast).
10) THE SPIDER: KING OF THE CROOKS (A hardback reprint of an old British strip about a super-criminal called the Spider. Takes place in America oddly).
Oddly, two of my 3, focus on super-villains though in two of them, the villains are almost leaning towards heroism. Then, you have the Demon, who’s just that. It’s not Byrne at his best, but it’s him being good. And, Iron Ghost, we’re not sure what he is all about as he is hunting down various Nazis in the last days of the war and killing them. But, not necessarily because they are Germans or Nazis. We don’t know what ties these killings together yet as two German detectives try to piece it all together and the body count gets higher.
There isn’t much going on since the last time I talked here comics wise that’s any different. The comics that I thought were disappointing last time are still disappointing. The ones I thought were good, are still good. Dan Slott is not only turning an interesting She-Hulk comic but is now writing THE THING. Which is just as good. It’s not quite as cutesy with the in-jokes and commentary, but it’s good old fashioned fun. And, it has Nighthawk, one of my favorite second stringers and treated as a serious and competent hero.
I would also recommend going out and getting the trade of Slott’s GREAT LAKES AVENGERS. It is a bit schizophrenic in the type of book it wants to be so it’s all over the place. On one hand it’s a parody of the grim and gritty aspects of current comics and actually asking the question why can’t comics just be fun? However, this book swings back and forth between does it want to be the type of book it champions or does it want to be more satirical than actual parody of the books it decries. Because all of the elements are in there. It is almost like a dark version of Giffen and DeMatteis’ Justice League books. Although it does have some of the funniest outtings of superheroes as being gay I’ve come across: when scouting for new members after the death of one of their comrades, they almost have ex-Avenger Living Lightning to join up. Until he finds out that GLA stands for Great Lakes Avengers and is not a homosexual superhero support group (I know in Chapel Hill, CGLA stood for Carolina Gay and Lesbian Association. Don’t know if that acronym was largely universal, but I can at least see where Lightning misunderstood). Then another after Mr. Immortal finds out that he’s supposedly the ultimate in human evolution, hence why he cannot die that went sorta like:
Flatman: "I’m a homosexual."
Mr. Immortal: "I’m homo-supreme."
Flatman: "You just have to one up me don’t you?”
At the end of the trade, the heroes discover they are all mutants, thus following the trend set up by someone, that they constantly change their name in looking for legitimacy, the are now the Great Lakes X-Men! Which leads to their special GREAT LAKES X-MAS.
The latter is also good, continuing with some of the same themes and ongoing jokes such as how Squirrel Girl is actually a super-competent superhero. Which is a bit of Dan Slott’s trademark that I’m seeing, he takes different aspects of comics and fandom and comments on them, showing them as being both silly and yet positive. Squirrel Girl is long derided as a character too silly to survive and should have never been created in the first place. And, Slott turns that completely on its ear. Yes, she’s silly and so he has silly fun with her, yet at the same time making her very endearing as a character. He doesn’t try to rationalize or make excuses for her. He accepts her on her level. The scenes with her are funny, but he’s not making fun of her as much as he is of people that just write her off.
You compare that to the many writers who don’t seem to grasp that. They cannot look at a character like Johnny Thunder without deriding him as a character. Instead of accepting him as being a fun and valid character, they have to make him into a second class JSA-er, kept on hand more for his Thunderbolt than anybody in the team actually liking him. Thus, he’s killed off for someone that is a little more edgy and kewl. Ditto, with writers and fans looking at the Giffen-DeMatteis League and seeing a book that since it took itself as less than serious, the team and characters aren’t worthy of being taken or treated seriously.
Are writers and fans so thin-skinned at being judged over reading comics they must defend it by such overcompensating? See, superhero comics aren’t what you think. We have them having affairs, almost graphic on panels of rape, turning evil and killing each other off. The old stuff was just silly, look how much more adult and better this new stuff is. It’s artsy and dark.
And, when they say they like silver-age stuff, and do their own homage or take to it, it’s that wink-wink, nudge-nudge aspect by playing up the goofy and silliness aspects, more parody and pastiche than anything else. Hint, Gardner Fox and Stan Lee while they might have been trying to write fun stories aimed at an all-ages audience, they were playing it straight. They were trying to tell a validly good story within certain conventions. It’s why I generally don’t like books like BIG BANG, or Alan Moore’s silver-age homages such as 1963, and Tom Strong. They just read false. Moore’s best superhero story remains “For the man who has everything” in that it plays everything completely straight and true to what went before without pandering to meta-fictional concerns and in-jokes. He’s not trying to make the comic more adult and mature nor trying to capture a specific feel of the past and forcing the two to co-exist. He tells a plain good and very emotionally moving story.
Is there a creator more frowned upon than Steve Ditko? Everyone knows what happened to the Blue Beetle. However, look at his other creations for DC.
Creeper: Ditko’s Creeper was hard hitting journalist Jack Ryder who went undercover at a costume ball to try and find a missing scientist. When shot, he is given a formula to heal him and a device that allows a man to have his outer clothes be invisible, thus soldiers could move around dressed as civilians and still be instantly ready for war (don’t think about it too much) . Thus he uses his new gifts and his rather bizarre costume to pretend to be either nuts or some kind of demonic creature. Either way, he frightens the bad guys.
Of course, since he acts a bit nuts, it’s not long before his dual identity is starting to be treated as such. He gets killed off, then brought back. Only this time he IS either insane or possessed by some demonic creature. Oh, and being a serious reporter is now replaced with being a gonzo journalist.
Captain Atom: Luckier than most, Captain Atom just got revamped by a character with no similarity other than the name. The Ditko stories, retconned as a cover for the new Quantum powered hero. However, when DC was looking to turn a hero into a bad guy responsible for wiping out the heroes in the future, guess who got slated...the following hero. And, they still managed later on to have it revealed that the hero isn’t really Nathanial Adams but a quantum clone and made Adams into Monarch.
Hawk: Ditko’s Hawk & Dove, don’t know if he wrote it but it’s an interesting look at how two extreme views can be both right and wrong and thus the most right answer is acknowledging that both can be true (which is where I have my doubts of it being written by Ditko and the objectivist A=A philosophy. This is more like recognizing that I=I, but sometimes also J). In fact, I remember one point where Hank and Don are being lectured by their father: you’re both right, but until you realize that, you are both wrong.
The death of Dove would lead him to be written by Mike Baron as a stereotypical conservative (don’t know why Baron insists on writing conservative characters when he obviously thinks they are all NRA supporters and jerks) who actually puts on a costume and fight crime. Karl Kesel would undo a lot of the damage in his series, making Hawk still a bit of a jerk, but one with good qualities as well: his love for his brother, courage, steadfastness by his friends). Guess we already know what happened to him when plans to make Captain Atom a villain became all too obvious and so there was a last ditch replacement...There was an easy way to bring him back AND keeping Extant, but Geoff Johns kinda ruined that.
The Question: Again, the original character could easily be treated straight forward. Like the Creeper’s Jack Ryder, The Question as Vic Sage is a Journalist, capital “J” intentional. Certain professions are cultures in and of themselves, that there is an ideal they strive to reach, a goal that is a bit outside of just working. Some it is probably self-delusional because it makes them willing to put up with certain abuses for bad pay in the name of the ideal. But, as such, their nature makes them a different culture, a brotherhood that binds them. Journalists (including writers, editors ((sometimes to a lesser degree as they are portrayed as the middleman)), photographers, etc) are one such. The Journalist is dedicated to truth and public’s right to know, to keep the powerful honest to the public and will butt heads with people that want stories that don’t offend big business, that don’t threaten lawsuits etc. The Journalists are the Darrin McGavin version of Kolchak, Murphy Brown, etc. To a certain degree, Fox and Mulder ascribe to some of the same philosophies driving Journalists. That’s all you need to know to write a compelling Question series. You don’t need to know or ascribe to one whit of objectivist philosophy. The problem is when you start casting aspersions on the character’s sanity or credibility, you pretty much undermine the character. The thing is with the original Nightstalker was that these horrors really did exist, that Kolchack is a hero because he is standing there at the edge fighting them and tell us about them despite the fact he’s not going to get the stories to clear. If you make it questionable, you have something very different. Compelling, maybe. But, not the same. The Question can be seen to represent the Journalist in his unflinching manner to report the truth regardless of what it means to his career. He has his detractors, people more worried about their jobs and the money, their positions than searching for the truth.Luckily for Sage, he has a boss that appreciates all that.
Now, Denny O’Neill had a problem with Ditko’s philosophical beliefs, so he shot Sage in the head so that he could help enlighten the character in Eastern religion. His hard-nosed personality was made into a being very unlikeable and more to having a chip on his shoulder and bad tempered than it had anything to do with following one’s own convictions. Still, it was very compelling reading. However, Alan Moore got into the mix as well. Moore’s Watchmen was alternately a pitch for the MLJ heroes as well as re-worked for the Charlton ones and then told to develop his own characters. Here, the Question became Rorshach, which is an intriguing look at the character who wouldn’t back down. Again, though, this belief and this nature is accompanied by a traumatic event and a bit of a break from reality. By the time we see him, Rorshach is still every bit as unbending as he was before, but he’s also clearly nuts. The Question did briefly appear in the Huntress mini-series where he tries to help her as he was helped. It’s by Rucka and it’s an amazing little bit of work re centering the character. He’s cleaned up a bit and is more centered, getting the feel that he’s not denying what O’Neil did but making it part of the character’s past, that he’s integrated his internal conflicts a bit.
However, Veitch comes along and he’s obviously more heavily influenced by what other writers have done than the character himself. Vic is now an old schoolmate of Lois Lane’s and had an awkward crush on her. And he hears cities talk to him, a modern day urban shaman. Or at least he thinks he does, it could all be in his head. This is where I was getting at with attacking the character’s credibility. This may make an interesting story, but a writer or an editor should at least take notice that this really misses the point of the character. It might as well be a Rorshach mini-series.
The JLU cartoon picks up on Rucka’s hints of romance between Sage and the Huntress but I cannot quite gush over their portrayal of him. Their portrayal is in keeping with how the derivative character of Rorshach in WATCHMEN has adversely affected his source. Like Veitch's mini-series, the Question cannot be just highly principled, but he has to have the taint of being borderline insane, here a complete conspiracy nut. Even if he's correct, it's still played off as being funny and a bit of a nutjob. You’re not to take his ramblings seriously. It's exactly the type of Question comic/tv show that Vic Sage's detractors in the Ditko version would produce. to their point of view, a man with such strong views must be nuts. Now, the Question will be in the much heralded 52 event, we’ll see if he’s handled better there. But, recall what these same creators did to Blue Beetle, so can we really expect them to treat the Question as being a very different character than Rorshach? After all, we don’t expect to see Captain Marvel as being derivitive of Miracle Man.
Shade, the Changing Man: A minor science fiction series by Ditko with a very unique look and powers, a vest that taps into the viewer’s fears. Only Ditko could draw this convincingly without making a mess of the page. He didn’t get around much, though he and the Black Orchid both appeared in Ostrander’s SUICIDE SQUAD book. And, both pretty much got Vertigoed and changed beyond recognition. Well, Orchid got dead and drawn into the big vegetable gestalt that is know as Swamp Thing.
The Stalker: Short lived fantasy series about a man trying to reclaim his lost soul or something. As a backup comic, I never read it myself. However, this extremely minor character became the villain for the 5th Week JSA event that lead into their comic being revived. The story also had another hero, Dr. Occult, losing his soul but being saved by sharing his partner’s Rose and somehow Occult is still Occult. They followed this up with the first JSA story being about a person that was born without a soul being somehow reincarnated. I have real problems with acknowldging the existence of souls yet having people pretty much exist as normally as before. But, that’s another rant.
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