Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Todays Comics Looking to the Past

Since I probably won't be getting any new comics this week and I've not talked about comics in a little while, here's my chance to plug away.

Captain America: The Patriot: Two issues have come out and I'm conflicted on the book. General consensus on the web seems to be as well. Most seem to praise the artwork over the writing (I guess because Kesel is not Brubaker) whereas I'm a bit the other way around. Kesel does seem to be writing Brubaker-lite, but I think he does an admirable job at writing the history of a man whose history is generally known. He succeeds in doing so without actually changing known facts and keeping the focus and point of view on Jeff Mace and his view of things. The art is passable in most places and is in keeping in toning down the gosh-wow factor of superheroes and their costumes that passes for good superhero art these days as half the artists seem embarrassed at drawing superheroes.

The second issue is where it really begins to falter. The problem is that while it is telling a good character-centric story and makes Jeff Mace seem like a decent and likable lunkhead, it and the art never get across why the characters are cool characters. The highlight of the whole issue is when he gets fed up with Namor's snarkiness and attitude and punches him. There you see his passion. Otherwise, as soon as Mace puts on the Captain America costume he becomes a second-rate hero in his own book. Every story of the fill-in Captain Americas center around why they were bad Captain Americas. As this is his chance to shine, it would be nice that the focus went the other way, why he was such a good choice for Captain America. Maybe the best choice for the time period. There are little bits where he shines such as the afore-mentioned conflict with Namor, but otherwise it is more about his shortcomings.

Other little things that bug me, Kesel seems to forget that the Bucky he's writing is not the original Bucky, at least in the way he writes him. Bucky comes off as a better fighter and hero and constantly berating Patriot-Cap, even though Patriot would have been a superhero for much longer. And, this Bucky has only been Bucky for just a couple of months longer than Jeff has been Cap, so it seems especially strange for Bucky to constantly be talking and acting as if he has so much more experience.

Kesel also uses the term "blue ticketed" to explain the discharge of a friend of the Patriot's and his subsequent suicide and why Jeff cannot appear as Captain America at the guy's funeral. It is also used to explain why Jeff would never become the Patriot again as his appearance and impassioned speech at his friend's funeral in the guise of the Patriot would make that identity a pariah. However, what Kesel doesn't do is explain what "blue ticketed" actually meant. He gives us the effect, but the closest he gets to the cause is the Whizzer asking if his buddy had a girlfriend. A Blue Ticket discharge was a way to get undesirables ie blacks and homosexuals out of the service without it actually being a formal dishonorable discharge and such a discharge haunted the men back in civilian life. Sure, we don't want clunky exposition, but it could have been handled a little better.

One of the pleasures was seeing the focus on Miss Patriot in this series. Appearing only once in the Golden-Age, here and her identity as a fellow co-reporter of Jeff Mace's she plays a central role. From the start of the second issue, we get the hints of bad things to come, that is if you know the history of Captain America and Bucky. After WWII, there was an explosion of good-girl art and characters. Most of them were jungle queens, but Timely/Atlas/Marvel explored shapely female heroines along the lines of Sun Girl and Golden Girl. Thinking that Captain America might do better with an adult female sidekick, Bucky is shot by a lady criminal called Lady Lavender and Cap recruits the help of Golden Girl who is Betty Ross, a long recurring character and possible romantic interest in the Golden-age Captain America tales.

That's a lot of threads being tied together in this one comic. We see Mary/Miss Patriot several times with a mention of her Lavender perfume each time. One discussion even centers around Jeff accusing her of hoping that Bucky is shot so that she could become his partner. Then you factor in that Jeff is generally oblivious of her romantic feelings for him and that he pretty much ruins her career as Miss Patriot when he destroys the Patriot's reputation. Mary's path is obviously becoming a sad tragic one. And, when Bucky is shot at the end of the issue with the smell of lavender in the air, Cap will get a future female partner but it will not be Mary. What we don't really get is the feeling that Mary has gone over the edge. We see her as being sad, but we don't actually see the bitterness. You feel sorry for her but don't see that final step or sign that she has gone over the edge, it's a huge gap in the portrayal of her characterization. It might be Kesel just trying to be coy for just a little too long, or a sign that she's not really the villainess (after all other women probably wear the same perfume). Either way, it's obviously going to be a story that doesn't end well for Jeff or Mary.

DC Universe Legacies #5: I had sworn off this book, didn't get issue four because the writing had so many holes and internal discrepancies in it that it was a chore to read to try to figure out exactly what the point of it was. However, issue five shows this book's perspective of Crisis on Infinite Earth's and with it, the wonderful George Perez doing what he does best: drawing scores of superheroes on model in big battle scenes. Not only that, we get an appearance by one of my favorite wonky silver-age characters Ultra, the Multi-Alien, who was left out of the original mega-mini. Couple that with a great little back-up with art by Walt Simonson teaming up Space Ranger, Adam Strange, Captain Comet and Tommy Tomorrow. Other than Adam Strange, the others don't have much to do, but it's great seeing them again looking the way they should.

And, as I usually come down hard on colorists, this is a book where the colorist gets it. His skin tones are natural and subtle, no obvious banding to the point that under most lighting conditions, people's skin appears only to have two tones, you generally don't have bright highlights on skin. No blurring of speed lines and edges of super-speed characters, no obvious texture fills, etc. In general, no special effect that actually draws attention to itself, the coloring instead serves to help the art to tell the story, something important in artwork that's dense like Perez.

While the writing still makes as little sense as ever (we have references to Judomaster as a modern day hero and Captain Atom in a costume he didn't actually wear in the DCU other than as part of government cover-up suggesting a career that was longer than it was), it's at least a book that looks good.
JSA #43: It read like a setup issue by a writer who is not the regular writer of either principle character of the story or title with a plot that has similarities to the upcoming story arc by the new regular writer, the JSA take over the running of a town. Just as Robinson's JLA/JSA arc featured heavily Obsidian going bad/being taken control of immediately after a series culminating with Obsidian stating that would never happen again. Serious, what is the editor doing on this book?

I think part of this was to actually give some kind of reason that Robinson's storyline mattered. Because, otherwise, it's no big deal that Obsidian and Jade cannot be in proximity because other than their days as part of Infiniti Inc, they rarely are featured together, each following different paths and teams. And, she's been dead. So, he needed this bit of durm und strang to make it seem like what just happened was this really big deal. However, just how much time has passed between issues? For everything that Alan Scott has done on the moon it would have to be close to a year at least, that he's been able to master talking to different races in their speech patterns, broker truce treaties with various worlds and realms AND research with Fate Obsidian and Jade's condition and the various futures.

Project Superpowers: Chapter Two #12: The final issue of the second series, the big Claw battle seems almost like an afterthought. In many ways it's a retread of the previous battle with Zeus, the heroes fighting a giant god-like being that they don't have the power to kill. The Claw battle has a bit more of a philosophical/moral dilemma in that his body is made up of innocents and thus to defeat him means killing or condemning thousands of people who don't deserve to die, drawing parallels to dropping the Atomic bomb to end the war with Japan. It's an anti-climactic ending though. Part of that was rendering the heroes ostensibly immortal and another that the Claw is such an ill-defined threat. And, you have the heroes apparently readily accepting Dynamic Man and Power Nelson into the folds despite their traitorous crimes.

In Chapter One and the Death Defying Devil minis, the Claw was a terrorist organization and an almost demonic entity that possessed others. It was a storytelling device that could have been used to fuel quite a few different type of stories or a long series in and of itself ala the mostly excellent JSA vs Kobra mini. But, much of that is dropped in making him a more physical threat. He goes from some kind of long plan insidious goals to one of more direct physical confrontation and easily handled. The actual terror of what he is and what he does doesn't really come across as it has been too far into the background of the storyline that focused more on Zeus and the identity of DDD. What could have been a heart and gut wrenching tale is ho-hum. After all, the Claw only absorbed one person we could even possibly care about.

The drawing AND the coloring improve. In a book like this, cannot really separate the two, but for the most part, the two do merge to make single whole. Although, the style has its shortcomings such as a page that has a 15 panel grid of single heroes in battle. The panels are too small, the detail needed too tight for such over done coloring.

Time Masters: Vanishing Point: The mini suffers from not having any clear direction or plot. We know the over-arcing plot, that the small group of heroes are traveling through time to rescue Batman. But, as his return is the focus of another book, that's obviously not the point of this one. So, instead, we have a battle alongside heroes of other times against other ill-defined threats. Meanwhile some classic mastermind villains are exploring the remains of Booster's headquarters, Vanishing Point, for some clues and power to reshape time. Despite these villains each being scientific masterminds, they are give little to do. The Ultra-Humanite is used mainly to being a short-tempered foil and for his brute strength. Jurgens does little to really explain or characterize many of the characters, some of whom who haven't appeared in comics for decades.

With the second issue, I noticed the art looked off. It looked a bit like Jurgens but it seemed to be more of all of his shortcomings and not his strengths, that bodies looked stiff and disproportionate, reminding me of bad Jim Starlin in places. I looked at the credits and saw that Jurgens was only the layout artist and with two different finishers, explaining the inconsistencies. With issue three, we still just have Jurgens on layouts but at least only one guy doing the finished art. However, it still looks like "bad Jurgens" art. One of the big problems is that with both issues, the art is trying hard to have all the principle characters with their bodies facing the reader. Heroes are constantly fighting threats behind them and looking over their shoulders, having conversations while not facing each other, and so on. One panel has Booster and Starfire talking about being surrounded. Not only are they hardly surrounded, but half of their foes are not even looking at them. It looks more like a group of people just milling around than any kind of threat. The one good news is that either the coloring is not as bad with the computerized effects or it just distracts you from it.

And, why is the Black Beetle almost completely red?

The only reason to get this book is the chance to see Bronze-age characters like Claw and the original Starfire, Despero and Per Degaton in their original looks. For that, I'm a sucker.

Peter Cannon, Whereforth Art Thou?
The story goes that shortly after DC canceled his series and he made a couple of appearances in Justice League Task Force, the rights to Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt returned to his creator Peter Morisi, shortly before he died. As such, he was the only character that was part of a Justice League book to not appear in the JLA/Avengers mini. Of course, there was some justification that that the heroes that appeared in Task Force were never actual JL members and so didn't require an appearance, but he is still the sole notable exception. Even Hourman from the same story was in there.

However, we have Thunderbolt appearing in TWO different DC books this past month. One, alongside the other Charlton heroes in DCUniverse: Legacies #5 which admittedly has other problems in the same panel: the WWII Judomaster and Captain Atom appearing in his red, blue and silver outfit when he wasn't really on the scene at this time, in this costume, both being government fabrications. Meanwhile in Justice League: Generation Lost, we have a retelling of the scene in Kingdom Come where the Charlton heroes alongside Magog track down the Parasite who uses his powers to split open Captain Atom and setting off an atomic explosion and is pretty much the kick-off event of that mini. In the comic, Thunderbolt is identified by name and is show in the more GA Daredevil influenced costume.

Makes you wonder what is going on. Do we have two blatant examples of editors just not doing their jobs and allowing the exact same copyright infringement? Is the original story about the character's rights reverting to Morisi just a comicbook legend? Did DC buy the character back? Of the three, I'd say the latter is the most unlikely. Why buy the rights back and debut him back into the DCU in what are largely throwaway scenes where the character does absolutely nothing? Either of the other two are the most likely though it's strange to see him appear in two completely different books out of the blue. But, no love for the Son of Vulcan (I like the name, design and concept of the character, his actual comic though was beyond bad).
Black Terror Canceled. Been seeing references that the Black Terror book has been canceled. A shame but not surprising. The book never gelled, the plotlines and the stories never actually developed the character other than to add kewl pirate motif elements. What could have been a decent book about a super-powered Batman type character fighting super-criminals and bizarre mysteries never became anything more than a book about a perpetually angry and gruff hero. No supporting cast or characterization was developed over just following up plot threads left over from the Superpowers book itself. A shame as I believe Dynamite was right in focusing on him as a character to launch a single character title. He has one of the more iconic costumes, names and storytelling potential. If only they had approached it as they were telling a single character comic and not a "comic universe" comic and actually looked at the source material that made him such an enduring character and concept to begin with and not just the revisionist ill-tempered Black Terror of Superpowers.

The Return of the Originals: On the subject of pulps, I have started my own blog reviewing various pulp novels and characters. So far, two entries. One, a Secret Agent "X" novel and two, the Doc Savage rift Thunder Jim Wade and his final novel. This blog started off as a pulp and comic review site, but it's difficult to do both subjects justice in one place. Plus, the overlap may not be all that great as many fans and readers of pulps don't translate to being fans of modern comics, as we will see below.

Moonstone is getting ready to launch what they call the "Return of the Originals", ie seeing many of the original pulp heroes into their line of comicbooks. They've already been using Domino Lady although the first issue failed to me in any way other than just being badly done and the Spider has been appearing in some illustrated prose "comics". They have also published a couple of really good books, one being radio scripts of Doc Savage written by Lester Dent and an Avenger anthology of short-stories by modern writers, most of whom get the character far better than anyone at DC does (it could have used an editor overseeing the original stories as many centered around introducing various characters from Richard Benson's past).

This website has a host of interviews with people involved in reprinting and writing modern pulp stories and comics as well as many of the people behind Moonstone's upcoming foray (you'll have to scroll down to get to them).

One of the standard questions they ask is how the interviewee feels about DC's take on Doc and the Avenger and modern revisions/reimaginings of the characters. It's almost funny at the spin that each writer gives as they are all doing pretty much the same thing to different degrees. I give Hopkins a break with the Golden Amazon because she did have a couple of different irreconcilable back-stories. Sort of like the Alec Baldwin Shadow movie which tries to combine both the radio Shadow and the pulp Shadow into one character. The creators behind the Green Ghost and the Phantom Detective both talk about using as much of the original published history as possible. But, both decide to give them powers. While the writer of the Moon Man changes the gender of his chief assistant for no good reason (there's already a capable love interest in the original stories).

The Ghost gets his new powers through a new mask and the Phantom Detective gains abilities through using performance enhancing (and mind altering drugs). What's really funny about this is the Phantom Detective writer brings out all sorts of psycho-babble to justify it, that he feels he's being made obsolete due to the explosion of costumed heroes with real powers. This is sorta true meta-fictionally. The pulp heroes did give way to the costumed comicbook heroes. In fact, the Phantom Detective was also in the comics as his publisher was one of the big companies at the time. HOWEVER, Moonstone does not have that superhero-universe. There are no true super-powered heroes bursting on the scene unless this writer creates them. Plus, it's a flawed argument in that the presence of superheroes does not make police, soldiers, firemen and detectives superfluous. It's a writer that truly does not get the character or subject matter.

Likewise, the interview concerning the Black Bat goes along the same lines. The character debuted the same time as Batman with a similar look. More importantly though, his origin was pretty much lifted for both Dr. Mid-nite and Two-Face, at a trial he has a vial of acid thrown at his face which scars him (and leaves him blind). After a secret experimental surgery, he discovers he can see in the day and night and with a small gang of aides, he fights crime. He's not above killing criminals especially the ringleaders beyond the touch of the Law, but he doesn't set out to kill them. Of course in the one online preview, we see him killing drug dealers execution style and driven by voices in his head. Yet, this complete revision of the character isn't seen as being the same as Azzarello's handling of Doc Savage? Maybe it's because they talk about how much they love the characters vs his professed disdain of the source material.

What's sad is that this was not their approach to the Phantom. They wrote the character as he was classically but with modern threats and credibility. The character stayed in keeping with the way he was portrayed in the strips. You could go from their comic to the newspaper to old reprints and still see character as being completely recognizable, that you're obviously reading about the same character. But, their interviews are along Ross' and Dynamite's promos and talking about their Phantom comic. "Here's how much I love the character, so I'm going to change all this stuff about him."

Secret Agent "X" is about the only one we know that's going to be appearing that they haven't talked about. "X" has a lot of potential, especially as his past is a complete mystery so there's plenty that could be developed. However, based on what we've seen so far, I expect a lot to be changed concerning what the character already is.

A little interesting tidbit, the principle characters we know are being used, this is not their first time in the comics. As noted, the Phantom Detective appeared in the Golden-age comics, mostly intact. Secret Agent "X", Black Bat, and Captain Future all had their first stories pretty much straight-forwardly adapted though they all became Phantom Fed "X", the Mask, and Major Mars (the Captain Future id was used by a "standard" superhero). The Moon Man also made it into comics but with a name and costume change to that of the Raven. The Ghost got re-imagined in comics as superhero magician with true magic powers, dumping much of his pulp influences.

The comic store I frequent actually has several pulp fans, about five I think. Plus, he just got one more whose tastes seem to mirror mine own in modern comics only he gets even fewer than I do. However, he's only getting one issue each of these books and it's not going on the shelf. As the longest customer apart from the owner, more than likely I'll get first refusal. But, it doesn't speak well when the books don't even seem designed to appeal to those who should be their most core basic audience. Especially considering that pulp reprints are fairly popular these days and very pricey. If we're willing to spend $12-$16 for a forty year old reprint, we might be very willing to buy a comic for a fraction of that price if it at least played fair with us instead of pulling a bait and switch.


Chuck Wells said...

I picked up Vanishing Point for the same reason that you did, seeing Claw & Starfire, plus the cool original versions of the featured villains. I also agree about the quality of the artwork, something I had no problem with when Jurgens was drawing Booster Gold.

The success of Project Superpowers continues to baffle me, since I'm a huge fan of the Nedor heroes, and I basically hate how they are presented here.

The Originals seems like just another effort to change the oldies for changes sake, so that they appeal to whom? A dwindling audience who has seen it all before; why bother?

cash_gorman said...

I don't normally have a problem with Jurgens' artwork either other than it's mostly big panels. As the last two issues credit him with layouts, we don't know just how much of the problem here is with his layouts or with the the talent of the finishing artists and their having to work on layouts not their own. Maybe when Jurgens does his own work he tweaks the layouts so they work and the characters are not quite so awkward... or his skill at drawing just somehow makes the poses work.

The Nedor heroes definitely take it on the chin, though the Black Terror and Miss Masque are at least still salvageable and Pyroman is unchanged. And we've not really seen Doc Strange or the Grim Reaper, the other two big Nedor comic heroes. But, Fighting Yank, American Crusader, and Captain Future are pretty much lost to us.

Otherwise, the series has improved, it just needs to get away from the LOST type of plotting, of having just one big plotline and everything ties into it.

Sean Levin said...

"The creators behind the Green Ghost and the Phantom Detective both talk about using as much of the original published history as possible. But, both decide to give them powers."

You mean like Green Ghost writer Win Eckert, whose words you used without his permission (he specifically says on his site that no reproduction of his work is allowed without his prior consent) or actual citation on your other blog and still haven't responded to his and others' complaints about?

cash_gorman said...

I don't quote anything from the interview, I just linked to the blog as a whole, so I'm not in violation of anything.

Not only that, such disclaimers only carry weight if I reproduce parts of the interview and such without commentary, passing it or the interview as original conduct. Copyright law does allow limited reproduction for purposes of commentary and education. So, I'd be allowed, by Law, to reproduce parts of the interview as long as I cite the sources. But, again, as I didn't quote anything, that's not an issue.

As far as your other comment about complaints on another blog of mine, I have no idea what you're referring to. I have no unmoderated comments waiting. Maybe if you tell me which blog that is?

Sean Levin said...

Your Liberty Company blog has a vast amount of material copied practically verbatim from his "Original Wold Newton Universe Crossover Chronology" (which can be found here: You received no less than 6 comments on a post from November of last year by Mr. Eckert, myself, and others, pointing out that you did not cite where this work came from or ask his permission and did not respond to a single one of them.

cash_gorman said...

Wow. Thanks. Apparently I had the settings to automatically approve comments and was unaware that the comments had been made. I'll address it further there.

Win Scott Eckert said...

"The creators behind the Green Ghost and the Phantom Detective both talk about using as much of the original published history as possible. But, both decide to give them powers."


"The Ghost gets his new powers through a new mask."


No idea what interview you read, but the Green Ghost does not get powers through a mask. He wears a mask, rather than makeup, now. No powers involved.

cash_gorman said...

I guess it depends on your definition of powers. There's no super strength and it is technological, but giving him a mask that has inherent abilities that he does not otherwise possess is giving him a power. Seeing in the dark is giving him an arbitrary ability that is not an extrapolation of the original character. It's also a bit of a de-uniquing of another hero since that's the same ability that the Black Bat has which the company is also pushing.