Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Upcoming Comics and Reviews

When you look at the art previewing the upcoming Doc Savage/Batman one-shot and the pulp-world it's hard not to get excited. The one on the left which has now expanded out to show Doc as well as the Spirit, Blackhawk and Rima (and friend). The others, they have Doc looking much like an amalgam of his pulp roots and the covers by Bama in the 60s and 70s. Great stuff.

If only Azzarello wasn't assigned to the project. Here's what he had to say at comicbookresources.com:

CBR: What were your thoughts on Doc Savage coming into this project? Are you a long-time fan or did you have more of a working knowledge of the character?

BRIAN AZZARELLO: “Fan” might be a strong word but I was definitely aware of him. I read a lot of books when I was younger. If [DC] wanted Doc Savage straight ahead Doc Savage, I probably wouldn’t be involved but the way that we’re doing it, I’m pretty excited about it.


Will readers need prior knowledge of Doc Savage heading into the one-shot or the series?

What. Do you think I want 10 guys reading this?

Ten guys in their seventies.

Those 10 guys in their seventies are going to be the guys who get pissed off. “He obviously doesn’t understand Doc Savage. That’s not my Doc Savage” That’s exactly what I want them to say.

But I guess your hope is to bring them around, as well?

What I’ve found is when people hate what you’re doing, they follow it even closer. But this is not for them. We’re taking these characters and like I said, we’re creating something new. They can be made relevant and viable

Honestly, I don't understand this attitude and actually being proud of it. One, there's that little bit of dismissal age-ism. Imagine you turn it around and say, "We're writing this for the cynical intellectual snobbish comic-shop guy fans, you know, the fat guy living in his mom's basement at age 40 that has never been laid in his life." Sure, not all comic fans fit that description, most of them don't probably. Guess what? The same can be said for Doc Savage fans, there's more than ten of us and a lot of us are under 70 (I'm only a little only over halfway there). Honestly, if you think that's all the fans of the character has, why is a publisher reprinting the original stories, why are comic shops carrying them and why did DC pursue getting the license? Because, there's more than just ten geriatric fans.

Then to go and brag about how his character won't be like the original character? Should not the goal of when you are working with an established character is to get the character "right"? Wouldn't you brag about how readers would be reading the book and saying, "that's exactly right! He nailed it!"

I understand the need for making changes to fit the medium. The last thing you want to do is to copy the pulp novels too closely. Apart from the fact that books and novels have different strengths and pacing from comics as well as just the changes in time, styles and perspectives. But, the goal should still be one of fidelity, to tell stories that are true to the spirit and gist of the characters while remaining exciting reads. Dent did that himself. As his writing style changed, as the times changed from growing out of the Great Depression to a world at war to a post atomic bomb Hiroshima era, Doc and his peers also went through changes. The post-war Doc novels especially have a changed, more subdued and human Doc. The humor often in the stories is more situational, wry and ironical than the frequent sophomoric and slap stick antics of Monk and Ham.

Frankly, I think a big problem of today's comics is precisely because they don't just do straight-ahead honest stories of the characters. Instead, the stories are often about continuity while sacrificing that continuity that made the stories attractive and relevant in the first place. Instead of setting out and writing what amounts to being a giant cross-over storyline (albeit all contained in one comic) that is about establishing the continuity and the characters on one Earth, set out to tell actual stories with the characters. We don't need a separate Earth, there was nothing really in DC's last series with Doc and the Shadow that explicitly said they weren't in continuity. They're too busy re-inventing the wheel and making more work for themselves. This kind of world building is often self-limiting (no superpowers rules for instance although Doc and the Shadow went up against invisible men, giants, men with super-speed, that had teleportation devices, etc) and ends up restricting more than it allows. It was a problem of the various universes Jim Shooter had a hand in crafting. Most did ok while it was solely his vision, but the limitations imposed strangled the sense of wonder and larger than life aspect that govern superhero books. Superheroes were allowed, but magic, super science and equally colorful villains were severely curtailed. By the time Valiant took steps to correct it, the books were already floundering.

It's funny how the character looks completely on model while Azarello talks about how different the character will be (without actually saying anything of substance in what the character actually IS). Maybe we can hope this is all just hyperbole on his part.

Dominic Fortune: I thought it was pretty cool that Chaykin was returning to a classic character of his after 30 years and in the time period that spawned him. It's a Max title and Chaykin is known for "adult" fare in his comics. So, when I saw nudity in an online preview, no big surprise, but then just a page or two later in a scene that is supposed to pass as being witty banter is the repeated use of a very vulgar and derogatory word. I know blue collar workers, guys that worked in prisons, and people with rather colorful language after a beer or two gets in 'em. And, it's a word I've never heard used outside as being the female equivalent of using the "N" word on an African American. There were "adult" comic strips in the Saucy pulps that are far tamer by comparison. Pass.

What also surprises me is not just that it's in the comic. The comic will be probably be bagged. This is not the first time that I've seen such material pop up in online comic book sites. I assume that they still operate largely under the radar, but they could quickly find themselves in legal trouble presenting adult material without any kind of safeguards that minors don't see it. They are basically asking for legal trouble.

The Marvels Project: As much as I'm leery of anything written by Brubaker these days, I will go on the record and say that the promos online not only look promising but actually enjoyable. I will definitely give it a look-see.

Cry for Freedom or Daddy, what's a threesome?: I'm not getting this Justice League book, all that seems left of Robinson are what flawed his comics beforehand: the self-appointed savior of obscure characters while miring them with extreme character flaws, tearing down established characters to make his pet characters look good and turning heroes into villains. And, the events and thinking that underpin this book... hamstringing the main JLA book written by another writer, rebooting the League all over again, and various characters that I'd be hard worked to care less about, it would be hard to make a title that I'd be more disinterested in. But, they actually succeed.

They give us this little conversation. What was Robinson thinking? His editor? That they're working on a Kevin Smith movie?

Are they even aware that they are writing superhero comics with characters established before they were born? It's totally inappropriate for the characters and comic they are in. The dialog could have been anything, but he chose some questionable sophomoric fanboy level speak that reflects poorly not only on GL but two characters that he has never written or has anything to do with this title. It's not as vulgar or explicit as the Dominic Fortune material but it's also far more out of place and inappropriate contextually.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen - Century: 1910: Alan Moore's preoccupation of the sexuality and sex lives of fictional characters has gotten so excessive that it pretty much ruins this title, it distracts attention from the basic core conceit of the book. If I wanted to be reading a lurid bodice ripper erotic romance, I'd pick one up. I enjoy reading Anne Perry's Victorian set novels and they deal with a lot of the sexuality and mores of the era and the double standards and such. However, her novels treat the issues a little more honestly, providing context and addressing the double standards while at the same time really exploring and presenting the milieu and interesting characters and plots. It's old hat with Moore's works, almost all of his stories deal with sexuality and repressed desires in some way. Maybe that's why it's getting tired at this point. He can be a good writer, he does his research, the League is a great concept and idea, and there are some great little scenes in this book. But he cannot help pushing those buttons in stories that don't need it. Meanwhile, the characters have become subservient to serving his sexual agenda. The character Carnacki is nothing like his actual stories, so he serves no real purpose other than being just another name droppee easter-egg cypher. It ends up being a caricature of an Alan Moore story, to the point I have to double-check to make sure he's the writer and not one of the wannabes.

Doom Patrol: You know of those relationships. The ones you know that are bad for you. You can list all the reasons why on a piece of paper. However, you think, "this time is different, they've changed. This time will work." And, you are left banging your head against the wall when it turns out as bad as knew in your heart that it would, maybe worse. That's how I felt picking up the Doom Patrol comic written by Keith Giffen. I had given up on Keith Giffen as a creator, coming to the conclusion that he hasn't really tried to write characters as they came to him. Instead of finding things inherently interesting about them, he looks for ways that he can change them to make them interesting to him. The list is long of characters that he has changed: Dr. Fate, Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, Blue Beetle and Booster Gold, Legion of Superheroes, Ragman, etc.

But, I figured, with the DP that would almost be a good thing. The Morrison-Pollack runs were creative but the characters were severely compromised properties for a mainstream title. Arcudi had an interesting revival with some fascinating stories with bizarre villains, great scenes and dialog and new characters along with wonderfully idiosyncric but dynamic art by Tan Eng Huat. The series failed though, Arcudi never really fleshed out his new characters, never provided them with motivations or real lives and backgrounds. Byrne's take was a back to the roots. While I would have preferred an in-story reboot (and there is an explanation in his run) and he had a way to do so, editorial thought it better just to start completely over. I think it's a case where he would have been condemned one way or another. At least this way, he doesn't say the revered Morrison's run was wrong, he didn't try to write a second-rate Morrison's DP, it's just ignored. If DC wanted to continue with the Morrison-Pollack version under the Vertigo imprint, why not? This way, the two takes had nothing to do with each other. One version that works very well in the DCU and another that had the luxury of telling all the adult oriented stories they wanted. Byrne's lasted less time than Arcudi's. Had he been the one to relaunch it in the 90's with Kupperberg's writing, it would have probably been a stellar hit. Here, his writing nor his art really had the same feel as earlier. In some ways it has grown, but in others it has lost some of that primal iconic power that it once held. Still, the characters were likeable and truer to their old personalities and some new appealing characters in Grunt and Nudge.

Then the infinite final countdown crises happened and Geoff Johns came up with some idea that ALL versions of the DP happened, that they had memories of each incarnation. Nevermind that the characters Arcudi created seem to be left out. Nevermind, that it has at its core a huge problem, if Morrison's take is considered real, the Chief is a manipulative clinical sociopath. It makes absolutely no sense that they would remain with him. When Waid used them in Brave & Bold, they were portrayed as being kooky, eccentric and untrustworthy. Everything positive Byrne had done was undone, the characters aren't the least bit sympathetic or even all that terribly interesting.

Strangely enough, Giffen for once followed that lead. His story portrays all the characters as being unsympathetic to us and even to each other. When a member dies and one runs off, none of the characters can be bothered to care in the least, more wrapped up in their own little worlds. He uses Rocky Davis in the indescribably improbable, unexplainable and just a bad idea role as Catholic priest and counselor (used this way in the pages of Infinite Crisis as well). Likewise the artist provides nice modern looking costumes/outfits for the team as well as a new design for Robotman. They're along the lines of nice busy outfits with seams and such and a more ornate complex body, but the more complex, the less iconic you get. The designs are completely forgettable.

There's also a back-up of the Metal Men which is a pairing that makes sense. The tones and styles of the two are comparable. Moreso, since Giffen is also writing this one. The Metal Men seem to be back to their more or less default setting. I liked the secret origin of them some years back that revealed they had all been once human, which explained why they acted the way they did and Magnus' own contradictory actions. Didn't really care for the change of him into a Metal Man of a fictional ore though. Here, Giffen is a little more to his old self in that he seems to go out of his way to make the characters even more oddball than ever. The ever reliable and field-leader Gold is more annoying and self-congratulatory than Mercury.

The problem with both parts is not only do the characters come off as being different shades of annoying that you wouldn't want to spend ten minutes with, but there isn't really any story to either of them either. There are scenes, characters interacting, but the plotting is thin, serving as nothing more than introducing us to the set-ups and status quos of the teams. The Metal Men is more of a comedy skit than a story, you know when you are supposed to laugh and all, but it is all forced and un-funny. There's more story to the two pages of the Metal Men strip in Wednesday Comics that I read. There's nothing in the book that makes you want to care what happens next. Not the self-indulgent characters, no big mystery, no real dramatic tension. It's all flat. The pictures are pretty but comics are more than just pictures.

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