Thursday, December 27, 2007

Flip Falcon returns from the 4th Dimension

Talk about a little serendipity. I was reading some Golden Age tales, getting a few more villains for my home website. In the bunch were a couple of Flip Falcon stories. Flip is your standard non-costumed adventurer that was prevalent back in the day. His home was in FANTASTIC COMICS from Fox. His hook was he had a dimension machince that allowed him to travel into the 4th Dimension. More than just the dimension of Time, the 4th Dimension was home of all sorts of otherworldly and supernatural beings.

So, when I head over to Comic Book Resources, they reveal that as part of the first comic from The Next Issue Project from Erik Larsen and Image Comics will be Flip Falcon himself! Handling the writing is Joe Casey and art by Bill Sienkiewicz. Bill S. is thankfully using a bit more of a straight forward style though unmistakenly still his scratchy bizarre self (not one of my favorites, but that's alright).

One of the things I like about this project is that while some of the creators like Allred seem to be creating almost pastiches, Casey and Sienkiewicz are handling it as if the most recent issue with this character was last month, not over a half century ago. It looks to be a pretty straightforward modern take on this character. It's just a shame the colorist didn't follow that lead, and instead we have the artwork printed deliberately out of register. Which kinda gives the whole thing a late 70's - early 80's type of vibe.

Can't wait.

Meanwhile.... Read THE TWELVE #0, a reprinting of several of Timely's more obscure heroes that wil be featured in the upcoming mini-series by that name. It also reprinted several of the promotional pieces that had been circulating the web and found on the artist Chris Weston's blog as well as the opening pages to the mini. Have to say that color adds a lot of much needed vitality to the previously seen stark b/w art.

However, in those opening pages, the Phantom Reporter serving as narrator refers to himself as being seen as a "tourist" next to the super-powered and brightly costumed crowd as he and Mr. E only wear suits plus a mask and capes as costumes and with the Laughing Mask and the Witness, have no superpowers but rely on the use of guns, wits and fists. Which is fine as a bit of character narration, it tells us a little about the character.

Only it's not just narration. From an interview, we know this is actually Straczynski's own point of view: In selecting his roster, Straczynski asked Marvel for a laundry list of unused characters that hadn't been seen or heard from in more than half a century, and simply picked his favorites. "[Editor] Tom Brevoort, knower of all things Marvel, gave me a list of, I think, 20 or 25 characters," Straczynski explained. "I went through them carefully, researching each one individually, looking for characteristics that might make for good combinations and good conflict."

"I eventually opted for splitting them into three groups: the typical super-hero/scientifically created hero like Captain Wonder, Dynamic Man and Electro; those with a touch of the supernatural such as Black Widow and Master Mind Excello' and those I classified as 'tourists,' heroes with no powers, just a cool costume and a .45 caliber such as The Phantom Reporter and Laughing Mask."

"This gave me a really good cross-section of the kind of heroes you had back then."

See, the term is that of JMS' own classifying the type of heroes he was researching. While it shows up in story, such as the Phantom Reporter looking down at himself in a self-deprecating manner, it still stems from what seems to be JMS' shallow understanding of the characters and their historical context. And sadly, that point of view is then being reinforced by his projecting it into the words of the characters so it makes it into story continuity.

He uses the term`tourists' because frankly he's a tourist in regards to the history of superhero comics. Like Knowles' analysis of Superman & Action Comics #1, he's not looking at the real context & evolution of the genre. To a tourist, especially one whose appreciation of the genre really extends to the Silver Age if that far, superheroes are about powers & tights. To the mindset of a tourist, the superhero genesis must go no further back than superman, a footnote. Thus, the likes of the Phantom Reporter, Witness, and the Laughing Mask are considered second rate character types even alongside the likes of equally obscure Rockman & Fiery Mask. In reality, they come from an older and richer pedigree, the pulp heroes. The
Phantom Reporter's heritage is even richer with his name putting him in that subset of Phantoms running about, which also included Timely's Phantom Bullet. Instead of downgrading the character, it should be recognized that the Phantom Reporter is a bit more purer to the time and the heritage. What should be celebrated and the character should be likened to are the likes of the Shadow, the Spider, the Green Hornet, the Phantom, and the Phantom Detective. If anything, the likes of the super powered Joes should be the tourists, heroes more because of the posession of power than desire and drive to see the innocent protected and justice to be done.

Also released over the web, the cover to issue #3, an "homage" to two Doc Savage covers, specifically the Bantam reprints of THE MAN OF BRONZE and THE MYSTIC MULLAH. Questions raised got me thinking about the differences between parody, homage and swipe and the legality of it all. We see swipes and homage covers, so often, we don't really give a second thought to legal issues behind them.

Copyright and trademark law do allow fair use in terms of Parodies and Satires. So, parodies are actually protected. Swipes are not. Homages are a bit trickier, and I'd say they are NOT protected legally. So, it's fine for Marvel to do homages to infinity of FF#1 and they might turn a blind eye towards DC doing so, but it wasn't that long ago that Guice using an Amy Grant cover for Doctor Strange that got Marvel into some legal trouble (though one could argue that would fall under a parody/satire of taking an album cover from popular crossover Christian singer and putting it on a comic book with vampires and sorcerors). However, a parody or satire means poking fun at the original AND that the audience would recognize it as such, it is making a comment on the source material. I'd be hard pressed to make that case here. A swipe is usually done in the hopes that others won't recognize the original source, putting a vaneer of your own style over someone else's work. An homage is in between the two. It's usually up front about the source (so not a swipe), but it's using that source to make a statement about the current work and not the other way around as in the case of satire and parody. In other words, here we are using Doc Savage's trademarked and copyrighted paperback covers to build up and legitimize the Fiery Mask. That's a very good argument for a lawyer to take to court as trademark infringement (and it's being used as promotion and advertising material, more ammo for trademark lawyers, it's EXACTLY the sort of thing copyright and trademark laws are in place to prevent). And when you consider that Marvel couldn't even get permission to reprint the MARVEL-TWO-IN-ONE that their comic book version Doc Savage appeared in, ouch.

Now, what would have been funny is if in this cover, the pic of Doc was based on their version with the bare chest, short vest and white pants... And that indeed would have been considered a parody and satire, a backhanded comment on them not being able to reprint that take on the character.


Doctor Zen said...

Good point about the Phantom Reporter! The phantom subtype was a popular one, stemming from the Phantom Detective pulp magazine. The first masked, caped and costumed hero who could fly in comics was The Phantom Magician, in a strip called THE ADVENTURES OF PATSY (A year before Lee falk's THE PHANTOM and beat out as the first caped superhero only by Falk's MANDRAKE THE MAGICIAN a year earlier. There was also X the Phantom Fed in SURE-FIRE COMICS. DC still has the Phantom Stranger, and Marvel introduced the original Blonde Phantom's daughter as the Phantom Blonde. George Lucas was sort of paying homage to the subtype (tho not as hero) with THE PHANTOM MENACE.
It's always griped me when TPTB bring back a Golden Ager and tack on some lame power like a Canary Cry, or giving Star-Spangled Kid the Cosmic Rod, or the JSA Sandman's ability to move thru Earth. They've just done it again introducing Wildcat's half-feline son. It's the same statement JMS is making with "tourists," that the originals weren't good enough.

Anonymous said...

Nice blog. It did seem like he was trying to be derogatory about the non-powered "tourists" (at least in the preview pages i read) Im trying to keep in mind, that I read in an interview with JMS that he had the story in mind then went looking for characters and was presented with the unused "golden agers". So in spite of research, hes always had the "story" that he wants to tell as the priority, making the characters fit around it is clearly secondary to him. So some authenticy will no doubt fall to the need to tell the tale. (im not saying this is a good or bad thing) but to me, the charcters are secondary to him (at least it seems)