Saturday, July 10, 2010

Aquaman's Gloves and some comics

Notice a couple of things off in the picture to the right? Hint #1: there's two things not quite right. Hint #2: Both concern the gloves, though you may have to blow the image up to see the second one.

Give up? Well, the first thing is, Aquaman's gloves aren't like Captain America's gauntlets, loose fitting with a split. At times they have been drawn as flaring at the end, but traditionally, they are form fitting with a fin that flares out at the side (see image below for how they were drawn, sometimes subtly but still obviously not the gloves above as you can see the musculature of his forearm underneath the glove). The finned gloves makes sense as a design element in terms of an aquatic superhero and the fins on the forearm then reflect the fins on his calves, so it's good basic design. Here, we have more standard superhero gloves that not only don't reflect his character-theme, they now obviously look odd and out of place on an aquatic character.

The second design flaw became obvious once I focused on the fact they were the wrong type of gloves: the seam and the split. Over the course of the comic the artist is unable to decide whether the split is on the top or the bottom of the gloves as he draws them both ways depending on the scene while Finch draws the seam on the side on a few of the covers. The correct placement of course is on the side so that the split and the seam line up. The place for a split in clothing is along the seam and seams on gloves are along the sides. Ironically, the whole reason for an artist to go through the effort of rendering seams on superhero costumes is to make them somehow seem more realistic, more like real clothing. However, the effect here is that it makes the gloves more unrealistic! If he had left the seam off, I probably wouldn't have even noticed that the splits changed positions depending on the panel, or I'd have simply chalked it up to artistic license. But, with the seam, I couldn't help but think, "gloves wouldn't be made that way, the split would be on the side along the seam where the material meets." The artist made me aware of the placement of the split by his use of a realistic detail in an unrealistic manner which then lead me to noticing the split constantly changing whether it was the top or the palm side of the gloves!

Doc Savage: Man of Bronze:Went into the comic store the other week and found something I wasn't expecting. DC reprinted Marvel's Doc Savage color series! Marvel produced two distinctive Doc Savage books. One was a large b/w magazine with art mostly by John Buscema. These were all new stories and had Doc running around in a t-shirt (though the covers mimicked Bama's paperback look with the torn shirt). The other was a color series that adapted several of the pulp novels with art mostly by Ross Andru and some great covers by Steranko and Kane. Here Doc wore simply an open vest over his bare chest! In addition to this series, Doc would crossover and appear with the Thing in Marvel Two-in-One (one of my all-time favorite comics) and with Spider-man in a Marvel Team-Up annual (not nearly as good). Marvel would also reprint the first couple of issues of their color mag when they were publishing the b/w mag a few years later, no doubt to coincide with the Ron Ely movie. So, on the cover Doc was re-drawn as sporting the t-shirt look from the magazine!

Because Marvel no longer has the rights to Doc, when they were reprinting Marvel Two-in-One in their Essentials format, there is an issue missing. Likewise, this trade sadly is unable to include the cross-overs with the Thing and Spider-man.

The stories it adapts are "The Man of Bronze", "Death in Silver", "The Monsters", and "The Brand of the Werewolf". Like Doc the villains get a little bit super-fied for their comic appearances and there's quite a bit of heavy editing. For example, in the original pulp story "The Brand of the Werewolf" readers are first introduced to Doc's cousin Pat. However, this is the last of the pulp stories adapted in this comic series and Pat had appeared in one of the other stories, so the story is written so that Pat is merely on vacation in Canada. Likewise, a werewolf is only hinted at and never actually seen in the pulp. Here, one of the villains actually sports a werewolf costume and engages Doc. And, while I usually like Rich Buckler despite his reputation as a swiper, his artwork here is a real disappointment and fails to tell the story. One scene would imply that Doc either can make himself immaterial or is invulnerable as the werewolf slashes at Doc who is standing still. Naturally both crook and reader are understandably a bit surprised that this doesn't affect Doc at all!

Despite the flaws and clunkiness in having to compress hundreds of pages of prose in about a tenth of comicbook space, the stories are a breath of fresh air compared to how decompressed modern comics have become while page counts get shorter and shorter. There's variety of story without skimping on characterization all balanced against plenty of action and mystery. Ross Andru's art excels and I love the issue with Tom Palmer on inks.

Wonder if DC would be able to follow up and reprint the b/w series by Marvel as well? Those are great reads, capturing a lot of the spirit of Doc but as they are all new stories, without the necessarily force-fitting and clunky editing required in adapting longer works in prose form to a different medium.

Justice Society of America #40: Disappointing end to what is ultimately a mediocre and overly drawn out story. The biggest flaw is the whole issue is essentially an epilogue. After ending on a bit of a cliffhanger, we get that basically Mr. Terrific woke up and the rest is Obisidian narrating matter-of-factly how being set free changed things over the past year's worth of stories so that pretty much everything happened as before with the exception of Green Lantern getting blown up and the Fourth Reich winning. Zero dramatic tension and can be used as a text book example of the definition of "anti-climactic". Still unanswered is who was leading the Fourth Reich and where did the army come from that they had amassed to take over America and the world. For all that is shown here, the JSA seems content with taking down the few super-Nazis and not worrying about whatever mastermind had put this together and the obviously huge and powerful organization he has at his disposal.

I'm probably about the only person that thinks it would have been perfectly ok to make Obsidian straight again as the reasoning and execution behind making him gay was some of the worst to come down the pike as it purposely completely mis-read and invalidated a story that was all about him not being gay and to not make judgments about people based solely on stereotypes. And, as this retcon was by a writer that went out of his way to completely re-write another writer's entire run and character (basically saying the creator got his own character wrong) AND killing the character off, and then boasting that people hadn't solved his little mystery story because they hadn't figured out the motivation that all hinged on a massive retcon history that the writer hadn't bothered to reveal yet (whereas, almost all of the readers had figured out the who part of the mystery). To say the least, I don't feel especially beholden to honor anything he wrote in his title and an appearance by the current female Manhunter is enough to keep me from purchasing a book.

Lastly, Mr. Terrific is a little too gadget happy, that the writers are working too hard at making him seem all that uber. In talking about the Legion of Superheroes online, I wrote one of the things I think that hurts them these days is that super sci-fi tech exists as being very common every-day in the pages of superhero books set in the present day. Such as I don't mind the Avengers having the occasional space mission but when they investigate an Earth corporation mining on Mars, it completely throws me out of the book as being set in the here and now. Here is a prime example as Mr. Terrific has given his T-spheres the ability to allow his team-mates to fly. Considering some of the spheres' other abilities, he has shown himself to be able to invent things consistently on the level of Brainiac Five if not surpassing them. Look at the things they are able to do vs the Legion's flight rings which basically have only two functions. How long is it before he is able to recreate Starman's cosmic rod in ring form thus putting him on the level of the Oans?

The art on the book looks good, especially Obsidian. Ordway really knocked the ball out of the park with that one. He does a good job on Green Lantern and the Flash without making them look too old or too emaciated but iconic and powerful. Although he does overdo the wrinkles in the clothing a bit making it look like Alan sleeps in his clothes.

Project Superpowers: Chapter Two #10: Wonderful cover by Ross of Skyman, the Face and Marvello. Their role in the story just highlights there's no reason for the Face to be involved in this part of the plot. He adds absolutely nothing, his whole reason being that the three of them appeared in the same comic in the 1940s.

Justine's role as a sleeper agent of the Claw comes to light as she and scores of other followers go Voltron and start combining and merging into one huge body if the cover of next issue can be taken at literal value. We also get a possible explanation as to who or what the current Death Defying Devil is. Although in the space of two panels we got conflicting accounts. The first says that Bart Hill, the original Dare-Devil didn't enter the urn but that he put his costume in (implying that Bart knew the Fighting Yank's plans and likewise that the Yank should have known from the start that this wasn't Bart but never mentioned or hinted otherwise). The second panel claims that whatever is masquerading in the costume took it from Bart and cast him out of the urn. And, both accounts are from the same character, so which is it?

Again, a relatively all-ages friendly comic marred by over graphic ad for Ennis' The Boys.


Chuck Wells said...

Cash, based on the latest "Brightest Day" teaser ad, I'm not sure what to expect from DC's revival of the dozen characters from "Blackest Night".

I stepped off of the endless event-driven bilge and passed on these issues, but the solicitations and promo stuff is all over the map - so ya' can't help but notice.

Needless to say, split gloves may be the least of Arthur's problems (again).

The Doc Savage reprints were a nice surprise, Project Superpowers is total "crap", can't stand those.

cash_gorman said...

I'm not even reading "Brightest Day" though I read some of the reviews and previews, and it was based solely on the preview that I saw the problems with Aquaman's glove and then looking in the comic itself to see if it was consistently drawn that way, I saw that the splits kept changing positions.

It seems silly to call an artist out on something like the depiction of Aquaman's gloves, but if the artist is trying for realism by placing seams on superhero costumes, then I think it's perfectly acceptable to point out how unrealistic the art actually is, especially in this case where it's a realistic detail applied in an unrealistic manner.

Besides, if you don't draw the line in the sand now, you get Captain America's costume. Ever since Cassiday decided to make the mail more obvious and as a half-tee over the tights with the cowl being more molded leather than cloth, we have a Captain America that often appears as if different artists are using completely different models to draw by and even applying the changes retroactively to his 1940s adventures. Sometimes he has a combat belt, sometimes not. Sometimes the A is stencil style, sometimes not. Sometimes he looks like he did in the 1970s, more often not. It's impossible to pin down his costume now. You cannot chalk up drawing a plain leather belt to drawing a combat belt as "artistic license", they are two entirely different things with different purposes. Even the scale mail vs chain mail doesn't work as if the modern depictions are retroactively applied, the mail does NOT protect the neck. But, in a Baron Blood story during the classic Stern & Byrne run, a cliffhanger resolution hinges on that little costume detail!

The Doc Savage reprint was one of the reasons that I still like going to the comic store, much like finding the Norm book the other week. Finding those little surprises and nuggets when you walk into a store is something you don't really get by browsing Amazon or Ebay.

I get so few comics (and fewer all the time), Project Superpowers doesn't bother me as much, and it has improved some though still has a ways to go. Comparing it to how companies have handled properties like Doc Savage, the Red Circle heroes, Image's Next Issues Project, DC's massacre of the majority of their GA characters and JMS' terminally late Twelve and even Dynamite's upcoming plans for the Phantom, Project Superpowers actually is generally the best of the lot of handling golden-age characters! Most of them are at least not irrevocably changed or damaged and the potential for improvement is still there without having to adopt some kind of scorched Earth policy.