Thursday, April 24, 2008

A Call to Action!

Spirit #16. A lot of what I said about this book a few blogs ago, pretty much still stands. It’s now Paul Smith on the artwork, normally a favorite of mine. However, his art here matches the storyline in that it is more of a pastiche of the Spirit. Smith’s lush linework and talent is wasted on him using a more cartoony style. Eisner’s style on the Spirit was often exaggerated, almost a parody of those creators and characters that played it straight, but it was also a bit gritty, the Spirit’s clothes often looking rumpled and slept in. The end result is the book that is almost charming but it and the characters don’t come alive because they are too much about mimicking. And that’s not what Darwyn Cooke was doing that made the book seem so vibrant and a joy to look forward to. It’s like Brandon Routh’s performance in SUPERMAN RETURNS. He’s not allowed to play Superman/Clark Kent as a real character. Instead, he’s playing Christopher Reeve playing Superman/Clark Kent which comes across a little bit creepy and out of place.

JLA #20: Ethan Van Sciver takes over the art chores from Ed Benes this issue. This is a breath of fresh air as we go from Benes’ scratchy lines and muddy artwork giving the impression of detail to Van Sciver’s deliberate linework and meticulous attention to true detail. Ethan Van Sciver’s ability has grown quite a bit since I last saw him. While his work is still very detailed, he goes easier on the amount of lines put on the page so that the panels aren’t as dense and cluttered. In fact some panels would be almost spare if it wasn’t for the colorist making up for it by filling backgrounds with textures and such, really ruining the overall mood of the artwork that would have been better served by leaving it alone. Remember when the Flash used to run with only thin parallel speed lines depicting his speed? Now it’s flashy color blends and zigzaggy lightning cluttering up something that should be streamlined to truly speak speed. In many ways he’s to Brian Bolland the way that Phil Jimenez was to George Perez for the longest time. Both, captured the look and the lines of the originals, but not the actual spirit. Both were very deliberate in their lines, but their figure work and storytelling was limp when compared to the originals. To the degree, that only someone really unfamiliar with the artwork would confuse them. As I said, Van Sciver has come a ways. His figures aren’t as overly rendered as I’ve noticed in his earlier work, but they are still a little stiff in places, maybe because the linework is so impeccable, so deliberate, it gives everything the same type of artificial feel whether it’s a stone or a human being.

The story is a done in one issue that for once doesn’t serve as a lead-in to some story in another book. However, it falls flat considering that it not only doesn’t address any ongoing plot issues, it also doesn’t address the cliffhanger from the last issue, namely that the Martian Manhunter is missing on a planet full of supervillains. Yes, I know that is probably being addressed in SALVATION RUN, but as I’m reading JLA and this was brought up in the last issue, it’s odd to see Wonder Woman cheerfully having a chit-chat with the Flash without addressing it. It’s been an ongoing problem with this title and it will continue with the next issue as we get a story that serves as lead-in to FINAL CRISIS. Bleh.

CAPTAIN ACTION #0: There’s no reason for this to be a “Zero” issue. It’s basically the first issue, just extremely short. To the point of wondering why you’re having to pay for it, online previews are almost as long and they are free.

The artwork by Mark Sparacio is passable, but it makes the new Captain Action’s costume look like it was designed by the people that make the costumes for “Who Wants to be a Superhero” with seams and rubber padding.

The story on the other hand makes a big blunder. At least it’s a blunder if you are planning on creating an ongoing series vs a limited story. It ties in the lead character’s origin and motivation too tightly with the conflict of the plot/story that it makes it hard to resolve the story and yet keep a reasonable motivation for the character to continue on as the hero. Ultimately, the market tires of the ongoing, never-ending battles of maintaining the status quo. Dr. Kimble cannot find the one-armed man, the lost space travelers of “Lost in Space” and “Voyager” cannot find their way home, etc. It’s why both Rom and Micronauts floundered once they succeeded in their primary missions. Otherwise, the zero issue doesn’t do much other than establishing the basic plot and status quo. Captain Action is the leader of an organization that exists to combat microscopic alien parasites that get in the blood and control people. Time’s passed and the threat is neutralized. There are now superheroes in the world, making Captain Action a bit redundant as he only had some cool weapons and ability at disguise going for him. Then the aliens come back and it looks like Action's son is the world's last hope. Again, these other superheroes all have one origin, they are beneficiaries of knowledge gained while fighting the alien menace. By tying everything in to one core concept, we have a superhero universe that is self-limiting. This is fine when planning a finite series. But, when you start out from the offset and define things so narrowly, it also takes out a bit of the sense of wonder and excitement that fuels superhero universes. It’s where the books of Valiant started becoming dull as they tried so hard to reflect the world outside the window apart from the “superheroes” and spider-aliens. Got tired of the one trick. It’s fine to build one book around a central concept, but one shouldn’t build the whole fantasy world around one with such limiting boundaries.

With Moonstone doing Captain Action, think Dynamite will respond with Big Jim and his P.A.C.K?


An interesting look at the early days of the comic publisher Pacific Comics and the impact they had on comics today. Go, read it and come back. I’ll wait. History of Pacific Comics

Definitely learned a lot there. I think a big problem with some of Pacific's early comics was they hired big-name artists, but not writers. Any fan of Kirby's should have been able to recognize that his biggest successes were done in conjunction with someone. And I say this as enjoying Kirby's superhero work, even his 70's run on Captain America and Black Panther. But it doesn’t take a genius to recognize that even with all the creativity behind projects like Omac, the New Gods, Kamandi and the Demon, his actual writing style wasn’t the stories strong points. And I liked the concepts and the art on Silver Star and Captain Victory, but the execution of the stories lacked. And the shoddy printing didn't help. I'd snap up a nicely done trade in a heartbeat. Then you have Neal Adams. Hardly a proven writer/character creator or even a timely artist, his biggest achievements being re-designing long-standing characters and some wonderful covers.

Another thing that struck me as strange that needs a little more information was this: Jack Kirby’s Captain Victory was revived in the ‘90s, planned for a short-lived publisher called Topps Comics, owned by the baseball card company. Comics legend Steve Englehart wrote the revival. “I wrote three double-sized issues,” he says on his website, “but the artist they chose for the interiors - not Paul Gulacy, [who did the covers for #1 and #2 below] - turned out to be not ready for prime time. They chose not to publish the issues they had, and by the time they went to look for a new artist the company was abandoning comics.”

Now, Topps did release a single issue of SILVER STAR (as well as VICTORY), but Steve Englehart wasn't involved with either of them. Silver Star was by Kurt Busiek and James Fry. No Gulacy cover either. Another project if I had the money for my own company, to get Busiek to revisit and finish those comics.


Kurt Busiek said...

Steve E. did write the first few issues of a CAPTAIN VICTORY revival, which would have followed the VICTORY! crossover. But the crossover was never finished, so the follow-ups never happened. And Steve's right -- the artist who drew his scripts wasn't really up to the job.

Finishing SILVER STAR is something that comes up every now and then -- we're currently talking it over with Image.


cash_gorman said...

That's great to know. Interesting about the artist as Topps up to then hired both old pros like Heck, Ditko, and Kane as well as some of the newer guys like Vokes, Mayhew and Fry. Seems like they were really planning on pushing Silver Star, until they just got out of comics altogether.

Good luck, it'd be great seeing those stories finished. And maybe getting those Gulacy covers actually used. Thanks for reading!

Doctor Zen said...

Just saw a trailer for a movie called WILL EISNER'S THE SPIRIT movie.

Only as far as I can tell, the guy in the red tie isn't Will Eisner's
The Spirit; he's Frank Miller's Batman. It's described as a "sinister,
gut-wrenching ride" in the tradition of BATMAN BEGINS and SIN CITY.
Fine, but what does that have to do with Eisner's strip??

To make matters worse, my favorite actress Scarlett Johansson is
finally in a comic book movie ... but her character, Silken Floss, who
was a scientist in the strip, is now a "punk secretary and a frigid

I've given up hoping for movies from my favorite genres and started
dreading them instead. That way when they do get it right, like the
SPIDER-MAN trilogy, I'm pleasantly surprised.

cash_gorman said...

I'm hoping that's more of being just a Teaser than the style of the movie itself. It's hard to judge solely based on that.

It's a fine line to walk, where to be faithful and where to change things for the demands of the medium and/or times. Go too far in being faithful, and you have something that is a pastiche, more of an imitation than a true breathing story, too far the other way and you have characters that have the same name but none of the feel of the characters they are supposed to be.

And, the Spirit would be especially difficult, characters' names and frequent over-the-top nature work well in comics but hard to pull off on the screen. I think it'd work better ala Timm and Dini's Batman as an animated work. Animate it, and the audience is better set up for some of the unreality without it sinking into being some kind of dark comedy or parody.

The coupling of BATMAN BEGINS and SIN CITY puzzles me as the two are very different films in themes, style and stories. Trying to find common ground with the two in my mind and I get Warren Beatty's DICK TRACY for some reason.