Friday, November 06, 2009

Fred Gaurdineer

One of the unexpected joys of working on this project about the publisher Centaur was finding in many of the text stories art by Fred Guardineer, often nice big images really showing off his attention to detail and strong illustrative sense.

Guardineer is not a name you hear very often when people talk of the golden-age greats unless it's about the golden-age magician characters. While he worked on almost every type of story for many of the companies of the day, Guardineer made a name for himself on working on magicians. He did art for Zatara at DC, Tor and Merlin at Quality, Marvelo at Columbia, and Mr. Mystic for the Spirit supplement. And, many of them tended to follow Zatara's magic casting at some point by saying words backwards.

It's a shame he doesn't garner more interest. Even with his earliest art, he had a solid command of illustrating, layout and style. Every line or lack of line is deliberate and serves to define a shape, or texture or pattern. Patterns and textures play off of each other. The pic here is of Dan Hastings, a character that hopped from one publication and company to another, specifics changing back and forth. In this case, Dan for some reason is colored as a brunette, most images have him as a blond. It has been re-colored for publication purposes and reasonably accurate, but the real star is Guardineer's linework.

Yes, my website is down. When yahoo announced it was shutting down its free sites, it had mentioned that the plus account holders would be able to transfer at that date. When I started my site, it was a plus account but apparently had not been for awhile (though I still operated with all the benefits of a plus account). What it means is I have to find a new home or start a new account with an actual domain name.

I had been thinking about changing the name anyway, the Cash Gorman moniker being a bit problematic in that it's not public domain though not like the owners are doing anything with the character right now. Although with recent events of them finally okaying the reprinting of Doc Savage, the Shadow AND the Whisperer and Avenger as well as DC using Doc and others for a pulp-Earth, it's possible that Cash Gorman might just have a small comeback. All the more reason to at least change the name of the site. With the name changed, I also wanted to update the layout and design of the site, including the beginnings of a page devoted to the Quality characters. When I chose the name for my yahoo email address, I didn't really anticipate it expanding into having an identity of its own (or having to explain where the name comes from, a few times explaining that it's not really my name.

But, I've been busy with other projects and just not been able to move on it yet. Although, I had lots of updates of information to transfer. And it means having to re-do all those links too. sigh. Sadly, this means that unless he's moved them elsewhere, some of Jess Nevins' sites are also lost as well as copperage's where the micros came from. double sigh.

Abe Sapien: The Haunted Boy: A wonderful one shot story of Abe investigating a simple haunting. Perfect for Halloween, it's a tightly told horror story centering around human pathos and grief. It misses a few beats as the big twist hinges on the writer and artist firmly establishing visible differences between the two boys, so the a-ha moment isn't as strong as it should be. Regardless, it has more of that feel of what the Hellboy books or shows like Buffy/Angel/Supernatural were before continuity and ongoing plots became more important.

Angel vs. Frankenstein: I can understand some people not liking how Byrne's art has changed and developed. I think his figures have lost a bit of that iconic feel, that sense of epic proportions and action to the point that it's jarring when he's working on superheroes. I found this to be true first when he was working on Wonder Woman where all too normal looking everyday characters looked out of place standing next to someone like Wonder Woman or Superman. Yet, when he's working on projects like Angel (and the late Demon series), what's been gained is texture and nuance that are perfect for horror titles or books featuring all too human characters even if they are vampires, psychics and monsters. He knows when detail is important and when the action should take front-stage, a master of storytelling in each panel.

I got so caught up in reading the story, I briefly forgot that it was a book featuring Whedon-verse characters and was a bit upset that the vampires turned to dust immediately when stabbed with a stake but then remembered that's the rules this book has to operate under. The monster is beautifully rendered and characterized, his whole book summed up in a few pages. He's both tragic and horrific in his ruthless nature, a perfect anti-hero to pit against Angel when he was less than sympathetic as well.

If there's any flaw, it's the story has a lot going on for just one issue, would have loved to have seen this paced out into two issues, to really get to know some of the poor citizens that get caught in the battle between the two characters, and to wince at their sudden violent deaths. Maybe we'll see the Frankenstein monster spin off into its own series. Meanwhile, Byrne has in the works a new Angel story, one taking place in the current day.

Astro City: Astra #2: The cover alone has that great feel of a glossy magazine cover ala Omni. To the point, that I didn't at first recognize the two heads kissing. By this point, I guess Brent Anderson must find the book a joy to work on as he's still doing it. I could see some artists getting frustrated, "you want me to draw what?" He must draw the ordinary alongside the cosmic, and make the fantastic look both fantastic and everyday. Which is what the text is going for as well, as Astra is showing her boyfriend other worlds and cosmic goings on and finding that a place populated by aliens from all over with fantastic science, she fits in as being "normal" because different and strange is normal in a sense that it's not in Astro City where the two co-exist in large quantities but still segregated. It is a bittersweet tale about our culture's fascination with celebrities and celebrity news over real news, how we chew up the celebrities and spit them up and the fascination of reality shows and the voyeurism they provide. Busiek continues to provide a mature superhero books with mature storytelling without sacrificing what originally drew so many of us to superheroes to begin with. And, it's still more "all ages" accessible than most of the mainstream superhero books out there.

The Brave and the Bold #28: This has been reviewed online elsewhere and they pretty much all hit the mark in that the comic doesn't. I'll give JMS credit in that he's trying to tell stories with meaning, that are about something. However, he doesn't really know how to do it without preaching, he isn't able to pull it off through metaphor and themes. Part of that is the format of single issue stories doesn't allow him much room to explore thematic elements.

The other part is that once you get past the purty pictures and the surface story, it's just full of bits and pieces that don't make much sense. It's a team-up of the Flash and the Blackhawks in WWII. This is the second appearance for the Blackhawks in this title and nowhere are their planes in evident. Nor are their varied characters identified or explored much. There's no reason for them to be the Blackhawks vs Sgt Rock and Easy Company or even the crew of the Haunted Tank. I'm not caught up on the planes angle, the Blackhawks were more than pilots, they are one of the earliest non-powered costumed teams, providing the template for many that followed. But, their use here doesn't really give them much to do.

Next, the Flash is stranded in the past via a broken leg. We are told that. It keeps him from running at superspeed. However, what it doesn't do is apparently give him any pain, hinder him standing, walking, etc. I've sprained my ankle worse than the Flash's broken leg for all the trouble it gives him. And, why not contact the JSA to send him back to his own time? Of all characters, Barry Allen would know that Green Lantern, Johnny Thunder, Dr. Fate or the Spectre would be able to do so.

Then we have the moralizing part. The Flash sees himself as a symbol that doesn't kill, a superhero must stand for something after. Ignore that the character's last big story before Crisis on Infinite Earths and his recent rebirth was about him killing the Reverse Flash and standing trial. Now, part of the conceit of the genre of superhero fiction is we are willing to cede that heroes with guns never accidentally kill or wound innocent bystanders, that all the fisticuffs and knockouts don't result in accidentally killing or permanently injuring their opponents, etc. However, when you raise this issue as a story point, that the Flash does not want to use a gun to kill enemy soldiers, it draws attention to the incongruity and nonsense that his idea of a better non-lethal solution is a barrage of bricks thrown with super-speed! Seriously? After all, to quote the tv Flash, "it's not guns that kill people, it's these little hard things!"

And, then the Blackhawks are upset that the Flash managed to incapacitate the enemy in a few seconds instead of killing them through a protracted gunfight? Might be different if his waffling or solution took more time and actually put their lives at risk, but it was more efficient than their method AND somehow, miraculously, didn't kill anyone. It makes the Blackhawks just seem needlessly bloodthirsty.

Doom Patrol: Haven't been getting this since the first issue, but judging from pages pasted online and quick perusal at the store, I have to ask has anyone been getting this and enjoying it? Every issue seems designed to make each member of the team thoroughly unlikeable and pathetic as characters and make you long for the days when they were blown up and martyrs. Last issue, Mento and this issue the Chief. It further compounds it by making the dead "New" Doom Patrol with Celsius, Tempest et al as being the more likeable and less issue laden team. AND, they retcon Tempest's powers? The dude is dead and being referenced in a flashback, so WHY? Cannot bother to do a character in character for just a couple of panels? For $3.99 a month, why would anyone bother getting this book?

Justice Society of America #32: The book progresses along its way with little change from the previous issues. As the investigation continues into who betrayed the team, important points are brought up, important enough that it could be argued they should have been addressed earlier. Despite that, there's no real new development or progress, it almost feels like a bit of filler between the beginning and end. Sorta like how in the old movie serials, about 2/3 of the way through the storyline, you have a chapter that just kind of sums up all the pertinent details and storyline to that point. Still no clue as to who half the villains are or what they can do. Likewise, it pains me a bit that we don't really see who many of the JSA really are either. They all come across as superheroes full-time without real outside lives.

A good time to address the previews, in this book is the preview of Batman/Doc Savage. The art looks good. However, the way Batman is blasting away with guns... sure, it's a more pulpish world and Batman originally did use a gun on occasion. However, when that's Batman's first recourse, to go in with guns in each hand blasting, you don't have Batman, you have the Shadow, a character that this world is supposed to already have. Why bother with Batman at all?

Meanwhile, online is a preview of the JSA: All-Stars. Reinforces my plan on not getting it. Didn't care for the art, half the team is who I'd like to see booted anyway, AND the writing in just a few pages has two stupid moments. One, Magog seems surprised to discover his foes are cyborgs to the point that he mistakens them for robots. Of all the JSA, who's the one character that is cybernetic? Magog. Then, Power Girl gives the order for the JSA not to hold back since they aren't humans in suits but cyborgs? Maybe, she doesn't know the definition of the term, that they are still living people? Not like discovering they are undead zombies or something.

Marvels Project #3: A decent issue, following up on several threads introduced. As the story is progressing, the narrative itself is not as strong. This plagued JMS on The Twelve as well, starting off with a strong narrative voice, but the story being told was much bigger than what could be contained or told via that narrative. Thus, the Angel's narrative at times is barely oblique commentary. The scene with the Ferret seems completely incongruous, having little to nothing to do with anything else going on in the book at this point. Maybe, it'll play in later but right now it's just wondering what it was all about other than to be a minor character cameo. Epting's art is a bit of a disappointment there as well. He does a good job at setting up the office and all but his Ferret pretty much just looks like the Angel.

The Angel himself comes off as being thuggish, his method of investigating being hitting people til they talk as opposed to doing some detective work. It seems a bit contrary to the way he's been portrayed up to this point as someone extremely capable and smart. There's a couple of leaps in storytelling logic as well. The Angel seems to take the death of the Phantom Bullet very personally. He's never met the man in either identity, no reason the two even really knew of each other this early in their careers, yet he calls him "comrade". And, while I can see investigating the guy's death and his most recent cases, is there anything to indicate that he wasn't just killed while stopping a mugging or commission of some other crime, that it was an intentional murder? But, the Angel in his questioning isn't asking who killed the Phantom Bullet, who's been taking credit or talking about it, but about who would WANT to kill him, which implies that the killing was a planned and intentional act and not a spur of the moment opportunity. None of it read right, it comes off as being the easiest way to get from point A to point C, without spending the pages of actual writing it would take to do it logically.

Project Superpowers: Chapter Two #4: The storyline is moving along and a hero seemingly falls. After the big reveal of last issue, nothing concerning it is touched on other than it seems as if the Supremacy has ways to get inside information with each group. Makes you wonder how Tim "healed" his face after the rather sizable cut that left him noticeably a fake.

Project Superpowers: Meet the Bad Guys... Dagon #3: This issue is pretty much undercut by the previous one. Here, Samson is alive and well and there's a lot of talk about him suffering a crisis of faith and the villain played up as a rather personal threat, only to have Chapter Two render it all kind of moot. Again, there's the usual feel of a Casey script that seems to indicate that he thinks readers can read his mind and thus he can leave out all sorts of background, motivations and relevant information that would actually give his story any meat and help it make some kind of sense. The villain looks cool, and who thought we'd see Hydroman as a serious hero this day and age (only he's called Hydro these days). Otherwise, there's a lot of talk as if something is going on, but it's all sound and fury.

The Torch #3 of 8: Toro finally breaks out of his funk and fights back, we see a bit of Jim Hammond inside the revived Human Torch and the Thinker exits stage left. The story is still very linear and it makes you wonder just how it's going to be more than 4 issues, what are the rest of the issues going to be about? Still, an enjoyable romp.

Witchfinder #5 of 5: In the end, the book falls in the category of many of the Hellboy minis, best to be savored as a trade and read in one sitting. I found myself picking it up and really not recalling many of the details and characters and by the time I remembered, the story and the book was done. It is better than the modern BPRD books have been in having that gothic feel of dread and horror with unholy beasts, magic, mystical objects and secret brotherhoods though. A good creepy book for cold dark stormy nights.

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