Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Reviews, News, and Reactions.

Marvelman: The biggest news of the past couple of weeks has probably been Marvel announcing the news that they have secured the rights to Marvelman. This has lots of people excited, hoping to see trade collection treatments of the Alan Moore material, the continuation of Neil Gaiman's storyline. Lots of praise about the "creator" of Marvelman getting compensation and Joe Quesada gushing over his talent and such. Which is funny since Marvelman is a Captain Marvel rip-off. When Fawcett chose to accept the courts decision against them regarding Captain Marvel vs Superman instead of appealing and just close shop on comicbooks, it put the publisher of his reprint stories in the UK in a bind as he was immensely popular. Enough so, that they chose to create a series of characters that were even more a copyright infringement of CM than he was of Superman. To the point, that some stories were nothing more than redrawn Fawcett ones! Yeah, a lot of creative genius there.

Quesada has been coy in talking about Marvelman though in regards to Miracle Man though. Or, maybe, no one has really noticed that in all his talking, he doesn't address really where this puts them in regards to the Alan Moore tales. Because, it seems that the copyrights to the character and stories may be as big a mess as ever. What I see in reading the interviews is that Marvel has bought the trademarks and copyrights to the original character of Marvel Man, not necessarily Moore's revisionist work. That would mean a little more work to iron out those details.

Likewise Quesada has not mentioned any details at what the plans are with the character (compared to announcements by DC in regards to Doc Savage and Dynamite with Green Hornet, the announcements were accompanied with some teaser artwork and hints at how the company envisioned acquisitions). Most fans seem to want and expect some kind of faithfulness to Alan Moore's stories and his take. The irony there is that Alan Moore did not create the character nor was his take at all faithful to the original characters and stories but was one of if not "the" first modern revisionist take on a character. Not merely updating a character but setting out to reveal that the old stories were silly, history got it wrong and replacing it with a dark and cynical version of the character. Why should one iota more respect be given to Moore's stories and version than he himself was willing to give what came before?

The other problem with following Moore's take is that when he did it, there was something original to it (even though he could just as easily created a character of his own) but has become incredibly cliched and dated. New readers reading Watchmen don't see how landmark it was. Even watching the movie, so much of it is firmly entrenched in the time. Some of it was deliberate, but a lot of it was thematic as well. In an industry dominated by the likes of the Authority, the Max and Vertigo lines, a team of Avengers being super-villains in disguise, heroes being ultimate bad guys (Superboy-Prime, Alex Luthor) and heroes getting offed in incredibly graphic ways, Moore's Marvelman is a cliche. I would say that it would be truer to his vision to serve as an indictment of what comics have become by returning the hero to a more standard superhero. Show that while comics are no longer juvenile, they have become more sophomoric and prurient. Instead of actually being adult in themes and ideas, they have become adult in shock value. They are the equivalent of teen-age boys sneaking cigarettes, looks at their dads' Playboys and talking about girls using vulgar language without any real idea what to do with one.

The Fighting American: Dynamite didn't want to be outdone so they released some Alex Ross artwork with the announcement that they had been in the talks with Joe Simon and the Kirby estate over the character of the Fighting American. This apparently was a big surprise to Simon who responded that he had said, "no" in no uncertain terms. Was it just last year that Dynamite had released a similar announcement regarding plans for the Phantom, a character that was and is currently being published by Moonstone? Which makes me wonder about Dynamite's sensibilities when pursuing these things as they seem to get their wires crossed rather easily as to when they are negotiating something and when it has been established as a done deal. Maybe, before they make these announcements they should wait until at least lawyers have actually gotten involved.

Not knowing all the facts, I am willing to give them a benefit of the doubt that they were operating in good faith and not trying to pull something over. Simon is in his 90s after all. It's easily possible he misremembers the gist of the conversation, that he thinks he said "no" in uncertain terms but in reality left it a little more in the air and with the Kirby estate on board, they thought Simon was just a formality that needed a little more working on. At that age, it's possible that the original or followup conversations were through someone that handles his business and financial matters and not Simon himself, and he was unaware that it was being pursued even though he wasn't interested.

Not overly fond of Dynamite's track record, so I am glad. I think a couple of years ago with all of the deaths and bleakness at the big two and the death of Captain America, the time was ripe for Archie or somebody to revive the Shield/Fighting American/Minute Man as a more optimistic superhero in Gruenwald Captain America style stories: full of colorful heroes and villains in non-decompressed storylines. To serve as a counterpoint to Bru's Captain America specifically and the cynicism and bleakness that pervades modern superhero comics in general. I'd like to see the Fighting American in straightforward superhero stories.

In that regards, not too thrilled with Dynamite getting Captain Victory or Silver Star either unless it allows Busiek to finish his aborted story lines. Have we seen Ross or Dynamite really do something that has that feel of grandeur that Kirby effortlessly lent everything he did? Nowadays, Kirby seems almost an embarrassment to the companies, his work getting retconned and heavily redesigned and remodelled. New Gods. Eternals. Omac. Atlas. Captain America and Bucky. Or titles like Galactic Bounty Hunters that are parody and pastiche of his work.

Captain America: Speaking of... so, the method to bring Captain America back is through some kind of time travel gun? Yet, Brubaker and his defenders talk about the realism he brought to the book concerning his takes on Captain America and Bucky? The "Reborn" title even has Cap in even more of a retcon styled costume, complete with stylized helmet, weapons belt and the buccaneer boots more of a stylized design attached to real boots. Sheesh.

In talking about his upcoming Marvel project, besides the ridiculousness of the Angel's costume (which is along the lines of Superman's), Brubaker talks about how much he loves history and the chance to bring history into the stories. He gives lip service to that love of history in that he brought on comic historian (especially of Timely Comics and all things Alan Moore) Jess Nevins for research. Which is good if you want to be sure to get the characters and context correct. However, Brubaker doesn't even get the broad strokes correct without feeling the need to rewrite it to fit his own vision and sensibilities. He loves history so much that he feels the need to correct it, to re-write the two most iconic, definitive and repeated stories of Bucky: his origin and his death. At least Brubaker acknowledges Jess' help and involvement. More than I got from ABC/DC for providing character information and copies of Pantha stories for the Terra Obscura minis.

One of the first complaints I had against his Captain America stories was that after a year, we were basically on the very same story, what was being passed on as stories were nothing less than chapters (otherwise as stories, they are structurally bad and unsound and unending sameness). After a year, there was little to no resolution to various plot elements brought up at the very beginning, the rhythm and meter was of a very long work (and Captain America was just a putz in his own book, reacting to things but not really serving as an interesting protagonist or driving force, but that's another issue). And, frankly, I didn't wish to dish out over a hundred dollars and several years of involvement for one story. At the time, most of his defenders told me I was wrong, that they were individual stories. Look around now at the talk and reviews and everyone is talking about how this has been a 3-year building story with still no definite end in sight and praising him for this epic. This type of book may be very successful in the limited market that comics are today, but story lines like this is going to keep comics from ever breaking out past a collector mentality market. It works on shows like LOST but viewers don't actually pay for the honor of watching LOST or soap operas (which are dying by the way). And, the gimmick shows signs of aging. Don't really hear people talking about it and other long-plotted shows like 24 like they used to.

Geoff Johns somehow keeps skating by as this great superhero fan and writer while killing scores of classic characters and writing some of the bleakest comics in history. While bringing back the Flash, he killed several Wally West villains, and brought back Max Mercury and Johnny Quick long enough to really kill Johnny Quick by skeletonizing him. Geez, what was the point then?

Editorially, it was a stupid decision to boot. DC actually owns Johnny Quick. Max Mercury on the other hand... DC does not own the copyrights to the Quality characters. Max Mercury is a nightmare trademark wise as well, he was originally Quicksilver but as their marvelous competition has a trademarked superhero speedster by that name, the original has his name changed. Not necessary but it simplifies things. Still, the choice is to then kill the character they own but NOT the character that isn't really theirs to begin with and they jump through hoops to justify using? Of course, for all I know, the next issue Johns may very well just decide to kill Max Mercury nee Quicksilver as well...

Legion of Three Worlds: I will admit to hypocrisy here. It doesn't overly bother me this book was late other than just on principle. As I don't really care about the story, the villain, the crossover it was supposed to be a part of it and was just getting it for Perez drawing bunches of super-characters fighting an all out superhero brawl, the timeliness of it really didn't matter. In that, it didn't disappoint. I don't know enough about the various Legion incarnations to really care about most of them. The story had plot elements that made no sense, Superboy is immune to magic because there was none from his universe? Uh, things don't work that way, it would mean he was MORE vulnerable to magic, not less (if anything that could be used to explain why Superman has had more problems with magic, that there was next to none left on Krypton). Superboy was vulnerable to kryptonite created by that one Element Lad because that Legion was from Earth Prime... huh? As Element Lad's powers are pseudo science-fiction, it stands to reason he changes things from one element to another, he doesn't actually magically create matter. Thus, any kryptonite or element he creates would be that universe's, he's using the atoms and molecules on hand. If all that mattered was creating kryptonite with a specific radiation, then any Element Lad could do it, Brainiac would easily be able to come up with the right formation. Yes, I'm giving it more thought than it deserves, it's superhero comics after all and that comes with it bad science. But, even in context the extrapolation and explanations have to make some kind of sense. Least, it all looked good.

BPRD: With the last issue of the latest arc of the War of the Frogs, I gave up on the ongoing series of minis as each was really just telling one longer story that was getting tiresome and boring. Yet, just when I thought I was out... two new minis start up, BPRD: 1947 and Witchfinder. Both are set in the past and have more of that gothic horror/dread going for it. Yes, I know, it's obvious that 1947 is set in the past and the other is actually set in the Victorian age so naturally the horror has more that gothic feel. Both just seem to get at the type of stories and tales that BPRD was built on whereas the present day series just seems to have lost that classic retro horror vibe that Hellboy began. I also read the hardback novel Baltimore but that's a different post.

Captain Britain and MI:13: I enjoy watching movie serials at times. They can be problematic nowadays as you rarely watch one at a time a week apart but can usually power through a couple of episodes at a time before repitition sets in. What they are known for are their cliffhanger endings of each chapter. Hero is fighting bad guy on an out of control truck. Bad guy knocks hero out. Sees truck is about to go over the cliff and jumps to safety. Truck immediately plummets over the cliff and hero is surely dead (unless the previews for next week ruin it for you). The following week begins where the other left off. It may truncate some of it but what seemed to happen in just mere seconds is stretched out. The truck is not as close to doom as it seemed, the hero has time to come to, see his danger and likewise make his escape. He was never in any real danger. I bring this up because I think that it's one of the flaws of Paul Cornell's writing. He often seems to be writing backwards. Details like how Dracula's men survive on the moon are brought up two issues after the concept is brought up. There is no story reason to do so other than it's a plothole that just didn't get noticed until later. Or his revising of the mission of MI:13, over the course of several issues we get different explanations. Then you have this last issue. Two issues ago, Dracula was looking all but completely triumphant. Last issue we get that serial cliffhanger trick where it goes back and shows us that there was more going on that was conveniently left out, that they used the being Plotka to give Dracula what he most wanted. Still, Dracula seems a major threat despite that setback and things still not going very well for the heroes. This issue then pulls the same trick as it backs up and shows us how almost all of this was planned out. It would be ingenious if it didn't also remove almost ALL dramatic tension from the storyline much as the finale to the first Agents of Atlas mini. It completely immasculates Dracula as a villain and the whole plot. Likewise Dracula gets taken out in a completely lame way by the writers pet Mary Sue character.

Some of this could be attributed to Cornell having to wrap up all his little plotlines and subplots. Except it has been a pattern of his writing. Just as continuing to have little plotholes and conversations that don't really make sense, only in this case there's no follow up issue. How did Dane's heart get healed, how did Jackie become vampiric when she never was before (she even aged naturally), why did Doom send Megan or if it was a betrayal, why did he betray Dracula, how is Faiza's father not an inhuman monster as he's now a vampire, etc?

It's no surprise the book is being cancelled. Take the title. Imagine 40 years ago someone at DC said, "I have this great idea for a superhero book. We'll call it 'Aquaman and the League.'" Or, instead of "Star Trek" it was called "Sulu and the Enterprise", the "Andy Griffith Show" becomes "Aunt Bee's life in Mayberry." The book could have been called The Black Knight and MI:13 and been just as an accurate title. Somewhere, an editor or someone basically screwed up. Titles and covers are advertising and promotion for the book. There is a reason those things are trademarked. It's contradictory and counterproductive to be advertising that you have enough confidence in Captain Britain's name to prominently display it as the title by which you are going to solicit sales for and then reduce the character to second banana even in an ensemble setting, perpetually taking a backseat to the most non-descript character in the book, as if you really don't have confidence in him to carry the book. Someone needed to sit down and decide "do we or do we not think that Captain Britain is popular enough to equal sales success on the book. If 'yes', the writing and stories need to show that. If 'no', then don't give him first billing in naming the book after him and call it Excalibur or Avalon or something."

It's much like the Hawkeye series some years ago that had covers by Scott Kollins with Hawkeye in full color and costumed superhero mode while the interior art was dark and moody and Hawkeye did not appear in costume until the final issue. Of course the book failed. What was being used to promote the book (the covers and a recognizeable superhero title) had absolutely nothing to do with the actual content.

And, now that Marvel has Marvelman, what will that mean for Captain Britain? With luck, Marvelman will be kept out of continuity allowing for the two to both exist.

Wednesday Comics: I got the first two weeks and then decided against. Some of the features look really good and have a sense of fun to them. I even liked the Metamorpho chapters with the art by Allred, whose artwork I generally find a bit cold and off putting, too deliberate in its pop-art sensibilities. However, in this day and age of expensive comics where I cannot even buy a regular comic for the most part and get a complete story, spending the same amount on a weekly comic that boasts a bunch of stories one page at a time for almost four months just seems too much. I'm not getting a satisfying read with any of them and as it's a fixed title, any that are less than satisfactory are doomed to be there until the end, no new interesting titles in the next installment.

One of the beauties of anthologies is the nature of variety. Some stories are longer than others and may continue over several months, some maybe just a couple of issues, some maybe just this one issue, some are ending, others are beginning. An organic and shifting nature. Then, there's also actual variety. Not just adventure, but maybe a western, a humor feature, a text feature, etc. Other than Sgt. Rock, there's an overall sameness to these.

I will give DC props for at least getting solid professionals for the tales. While the artwork on some like Wonder Woman tend to a little bizarre, none actually look amateurish as anthology comics often seem to eventually devolve into, work by creators not really ready to work at this level.

Doesn't mean I like them all. The Superman story looks lush, but the painted work ultimately doesn't really work for me here. Looks like perpetually sunset or dawn, Batman seems to be from a still from the movie, and the textures all seem the same. I generally find Pope's work ugly which I could get past but I don't understand why Rann suddenly looks like ERB's Mars. I get that the titles are out-of-continuity but that should mean they should be more on-model in general look and feel, especially in a format that's not going to let you explore and explain the necessities of this version being different than an on-model one. It's just change for change's sake. Go off model this much and just tweak the script some and there's no reason for it to be an Adam Strange story at all. I don't see the appeal though it seems to be one of the more critically acclaimed and I just think, "Really? What am I missing?" I thought I was going to like Baker's Hawkman, but it's a Hawkman that casually kills and the artwork seems to be striving for an identity. At times it's strong stuff, but other times it seems like it's just playing around with the Neal Adams style like a child playing dress up.

I figure most if not all will be collected in a couple of trade volumes and I pick which ones I want. It's a decision made easier by the fact that they ARE non-continuity tales which means their stories won't be as dated by the time the trades roll around. 'Cause I'd like to see how Kamandi, the Deadman, Supergirl and Catwoman & the Demon stories do pan out. And, I can read the whole story without having to pull out each issue and read them one page at a time.


Chuck Wells said...

As I found myself nodding along in the affirmative with you on issues related to Marvelman, Capt. America, Capt. Britain and Legion of 3 Worlds.

I agree with the comments you've made about Brubaker and Johns, but there are thousands of lemming-minded fanboys who would rip either of us a new one for daring to say this kind of stuff aloud. I've even tried to get into their books, but in the end it seems that I only pick them up out of morbid curiosity or nostalgia for the characters they may be playing with.

Wednesday Comics is unique in its format, and that is at least something to make it appealing. I've found it to be somewhat more entertaining than you may have, but I agree that the features that miss - miss badly (Wonder Woman, Superman, Teen Titans & Metamorpho are hit & miss).

Finally, I am willing to give the benefit of the doubt to the idea that Joe Simon "may" suffer an old man's memory problems, but not his legal representative too. And just like you've already mentioned, Dynamite already went this route with the Phantom announcement last year.

That's one coincidence too many for me, and that means that something stinks with those guys.

cash_gorman said...

I should say that my comments about Marvelman don't mean that I want the Alan Moore stories to be disrespected, not reprinted nor Neil Gaiman's not continued. Just that it won't bother me if Marvel decides to not go that route. I don't hold Moore's version particularly sacred nor see any reason to.

If Marvel was smart, they'd secure the rights to Miracleman and have their cake and eat it too: have Miracleman be the post-modern revision and keep it in out of continuity. Let Neil Gaiman, Bendis and company do whatever they want with it. And, then have Marvelman as the more in-continuity standard superhero. Have Peter David and Gary Frank do a Marvelman vs Hulk.

I admit there's a little bias in my comments concerning Simon. We're currently dealing with all sorts of age issues with my grandmother who's around the same age. Well into her 80's, her mind was as sharp as ever, better than many of those 10 to 20 years younger. Even before her strokes though, her mind and memory did start slipping as she got into her 90s. And look at Stan Lee's notoriously bad memory!

It may not be the case with Simon, he may really be as sharp as ever. Just that it's very common at that age to remember 50 years ago with clarity but not what you ate for breakfast. But, you cannot really tell one way or another through news stories, especially comicbook news stories, in this regard they will be sympathetic and respectful.

The interviews and stories kept mentioning "Joe Simon" and it just sent up red flags in my mind. I couldn't help but think that surely at his age, he has people handling a lot of the business decisions and that maybe that's where the confusion came in. I know I'd be concerned with transacting business dealings with someone that old without other people also involved. Because, the last thing you want is for it to go through and then have his relatives and heirs come forward and say you took advantage and swindled not just an old man, but one of the last living all-time legendary creators of the time period. Not saying he shouldn't be involved in the handling of his characters and all. In the end, his word was final and that's how it should be.

I think Dynamite did screw up and should really make sure something is finalized before announcing it, that papers have been signed and not operate on verbal agreements. Having this happen twice now publicly, makes them seem at best un-professional, just playing at publishing.

Their Sherlock Holmes book is decent though. And, good news for Zorro fans, Francesco Francavilla announced that he'll be handling the coloring on his artwork now, so hopefully people can see what great moodiness and Toth vibe he really brings to that book that the painted style of coloring was completely murdering and muddying all up. If they could only do something about the unending decompression adaptation of Isabel Allende's novel.