Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Masks and other comics

Masks #1: A solid if unexceptional first issue focusing mostly on the Shadow and the Green Hornet and Kato and laying down the foundation of the threat, of the "Party of Justice" taking over control of the city of New York, its police and courts. Likewise, the painted artwork by Alex Ross is pretty to look at. I personally chose the Francavilla cover. He is one of the stronger artists with a more unique style and approach to layouts and colors and perfectly suited to the pulp and noir storytelling feeling of such a book.

I don't know much about the particular Spider novels that serve as the inspiration and source for the plotline. Kudos to Dynamite to running an ad for places to get more about it. However, I've read several that have a similar set-up and feel.

There are questionable things concerning it, still. The story is to feature the Black Bat and we see him as Tony Quinn his alter-ego here. However, it's from the time before he was blinded and became the Black Bat. He's one of the few pulp heroes whose origin is pretty much given and does not leave much wiggle room to fit in another epic. In his pulp origin, he's a lawyer as seen here, only is blinded by a criminal who smuggled in some acid (the chemical not the drug). An act that will seem familiar to most comic fans as that's the origin for both Two-Face and Dr. Mid-nite. He retires from Law and becomes a recluse. He's visited by the daughter of a slain sheriff and agrees to an eye-transplant with the lawman's eyes. The operation is a success and leaves him with the extra ability to see in the dark, though he still has the acid scars around the eyes. With the sheriff's daughter and two other aides, he decides to let the world to continue think he's blind while he remains retired, acting as a sometimes consultant and the masked and costumed vigilante the Black Bat.

Nor does this crossover actually line up with the portrayals of the Spider in his own comic. Visually, he looks the same, but this is set in the late 1930s and his pulp novel while the main series is full of retcons and set in the present day. Time will tell if his supporting cast will be at least truer to the pulps or to the retcons. The story continues the Bruce Lee influence of Kato, which makes it hard for Green Hornet to seem really a peer of the likes of the Shadow and Spider.

Conversely, the upcoming covers featuring the Black Terror have him in his classic costume and not Alex Ross' redesign. But, Miss Fury is being shown in a re-designed costume.

Storywise, the main thing that doesn't really add up is the discussion between Britt Reid and Lamont Cranston concerning Law and Justice. Thematically, it fits as the Party of Justice is about a group taking over and subverting the law with criminals being enforcers and agents of the new corrupt laws, leading to men of justice becoming outlaws. However, the discussion doesn't really fit. Reid as the Green Hornet is a man who fosters the idea of him as a criminal, to act outside of the Law. If he truly believed in the Law over Justice, he wouldn't be a masked vigilante but fight solely from within the system as a crusading newspaper publisher. It's a scene for the sake of the story and not growing out of the characters.

Otherwise, the writing is solid. It introduces the heroes, a brief hero vs hero fight (though it should be the Shadow vs Green Hornet, Shadow vs Kato is akin to Batman fighting Bucky or Captain America fighting Robin... even the tv show got that right and had Kato fighting Robin), A discussion of the heroes in civilian identities over the problem. We get the introduction or teases of a couple of other characters but otherwise see the criminal group in action, enforcing the new laws. Ends with the heroes fighting overwhelming odds and the addition of another hero to the ranks. The writing is tight. It doesn't try to introduce every character at once. Where it does offer glimpses of future heroes, it's in scenes that also serve in showcasing the corruption of the Party of Justice and building storytelling tension. There's talking, but also plenty of superhero action.

While Ross did the artwork on the first issue, he's not the artist on the subsequent issues and as far as I know the future artist hasn't been announced. The cynic in me is so that retailers and readers will have to commit at least to the first couple of issues. Ross is a good painter. However, he's not a great storyteller. Panel flow is often clunky and he overuses his trick of casting the viewpoint beneath the characters to make them seem larger than life. Combined with tilting the angles of the panels making it seem some heroes are flying and shifting the viewpoints from low to high can cause a bit motion sickness. It feels as he's almost approaching each panel individually without much regard to the storyflow from panel to panel. His Lamont Cranston looks like an old man, and I've never found his women to be all that attractive. So, the scene of the Cranston and Margo in the Cobalt Club doesn't really give a feeling of jazz, glamour, or sophistication.

There are many that don't see a problem with the portrayal of women in comics. One can look no further than this comic to see the gap and issue. This comic will feature heroes from pulps, radio and comics the Shadow, Spider, Green Hornet and Kato, Zorro, Green Lama, Black Bat, the Black Terror and Miss Fury. Among all those men, one woman out of all of comics and pulps from the era though there are several that would fit. Instead of the oddballs such as Zorro and the over-powered Black Terror, women heroes like pulp's Domino Lady and comics Woman in Red, Invisible Scarlet O'Neil or Phantom Lady would  better fit. To add insult to injury, one of the alternate covers of the first issue featuring Miss Fury is her half out of costume as is one of the future alternate titles. There is no similar depiction of any of the male heroes.

There are a few other male pulp heroes I wouldn't mind seeing over the Black Terror and Zorro either: Jim Anthony, Phantom Detective, the Black Hood, Angel Detective, the Park Avenue Hunt Club, Operator 5, the Avenger, Secret Agent "X", the Crimson Clown, the Ghost, the Purple Scar, Skull-killer and the Octopus/Scorpion. Maybe the latter can be the next story. A sequel to the the Octopus and Scorpion pulps, clearing up some of those loose ends and having the two villains teaming up with Wu Fang bringing various pulp heroes together again.

Another big flaw is that at the price of comics today... the first page is wasted to a black title page with credits and acknowledgements. The second page is all black with the publisher information at the bottom... the story doesn't start til page 3!!? Why aren't those two pages just one page? Or better  yet, at the bottom of one of the story pages as most comics do? Sure, that would mean reducing a page of Ross' artwork or putting non-story text on it, but it would free up two more pages for art. At the very least, print some of the alternate covers, original pulp covers or sketches on the pages. Seriously, an all black page at the front of the book? Before I even began the story I had a bad taste in my mouth.

Talon #2: Ok, second issue (or 3rd if you count the zero issue) and there's a guest-artist? Right on the heels of Snyder online praising the work of the artist. I'm out.

Aquaman #14: Like Masks, a set-up issue, following up the the events of the last issue and setting up the next arc. It tells us what happened with Black Manta, though not a single mention of The Others.

This issue has been billed as a good jumping on point, but it's not really. Because, for the most part it is incredibly dull with a lot of talking and Aquaman not doing much. We get some heavy handed dialogue as to why Aquaman is cool and tough, while Black Manta turns down an offer to join the Suicide Squad. Only, there's nothing to tell new readers who or what the Suicide Squad is. There's a tease in dialogue concerning Garth. However, as this is a new reality, how much this Garth will be like the old Garth remains to be seen. A long dialogue between Ocean Master and Aquaman concerning past events. A scene with Vulko as an Atlantean body washes onshore conveniently near where he's been in exile. A bunch of disparate scenes, with little to tie any of them together, especially if you've not been following the title and very little action, but a whole lot of talking. The only scene with oomph is Black Manta asserting his Bad @$$-ery while in prison while talking about Aquaman and turning down the Suicide Squad.

Pete Woods is the guest artist for the title and he does a good job, didin't really miss Ivan Reis. Being aware that it was a guest artist, I looked to see if the odd widescreen panels would occur. The answer to that is "yes" and there was a page with just 4 extreme vertical panels. Woods does a better job at disguising it though, there's not a lot of empty space or odd croppings of figures other than a couple. This leads me to conclude that while Reis is the flashier artist especially when it comes to the figures and faces and with more finer line detail, Woods is actually the better storyteller and better at executing the script. And, that much of the fault of the odd panels and its effects on the storytelling as well as padding out the comic is coming from the writer and not the artists. Will be interesting to see what new artist Paul Pelleitier will be able to do.

Monday, November 19, 2012

For a recent birthday, got a few comics related stuff. First, up was Guardians of Being by Eckhart Tolle (great name) and Patrick McDonnell. It's a book using Mutts strips to impart a little zen like wisdom to the reader. This generation's Gospel According to Peanuts or The Tao of Pooh.

I love McDonnells artwork. I would have no problem with him being listed as the best cartoonist working today. His drawings appear almost deceptively simple. A few lines here and there and he all the movement, mood and likeness that is needed. More than any other cartoonist on the newspages captures the sheer emotion and range. When the size of comics has reduced most strips to talking heads, his have running, dancing, nut-throwing, tail-wagging... his characters seem always to be in the midst of life, even if they are just sleeping.

He's an artist that knows his history. Not just comic strip history, a big fan of Charles Schulz and George Herriman. But, his strips also reference classical and pop art with abandon, especially if you're lucky to have a Sunday paper that includes the header, a title panel that is trimmed by many papers, so artists are prone to make the first panel superfluous. McDonnell uses it to parody great works of art only with his characters.

The book has a couple of allusions that sneak up on you. Such as the one panel that is a take on Norman Rockwell's "Freedom From Fear" painting. Another page of birds singing in the trees and a lake as a set of three vertical panels and I'm reminded of classic Asian art with their vertical pieces capturing birds and branches with just a minimal of brush strokes.

McDonnell's work can be found a variety of places. I have a book of his, Me...Jane a children's book about the childhood life of Jane Goodall, the beginnings of her love for nature and her love-hate relationship with the mate of Tarzan. He also currently has a children's book called The Monsters' Maker about three little monsters who set out to create the biggest, baddest monster of all. Only like the other famous monster maker, the end result is not exactly what they expected to find. I even have a classical music cd with his artwork on the cover.

Tarpe Mills and Miss Fury is a gorgeous hardbound collection of many of the Miss Fury strips. Sadly, it's not from the very beginning, but it does include one day's strip that manages to nicely encapsulate everything you need to know about the character and her status quo.  Even if it didn't, it has a nice foreword that manages to cover many of the recurring characters and themes from the strip. It also provides a nice background to the life of Tarpe Mills. I won't go into it here, go out and buy the book. But, it should be noted that Tarpe Mills was one of the first female comic book creators. Not just an artist but creating, writing and drawing strips for Centaur Comics. She is the artist behind the notable Purple Zombie. It's common knowledge that many of the artists and creators worked in comics with their eyes sighted on working on newspaper strips. She was one of the few that actually achieved that in Miss Fury. Despite running for quite a few years, and predating Wonder Woman to the presses to boot, she'd probably be more forgotten today than she is if not for Timely Comics actually printing some of her newspaper adventures in comic book form way back in the day. After all, comic books, even ones from a half century ago, are a bit more collectible and easier to come across than newspaper strips that died out before man walked on the moon. Busy with other projects, haven't gotten beyond reading the intro to this one yet. The character seems to possibly be having a bit of a revamp. She appeared in the background of one of Marvel's The Twelve issues (think it was the tie-in issue). She is also slated to appear in Dynamite's Masks mini-series alongside various pulp and comicbook heroes, though there has been no art depicting her yet. Would not be surprised if we don't see an announcement in a week or two of Dynamite publishing a mini-series or ongoing with Ms Fury, as they are calling her,
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About the only Marvel NOW title that sounds remotely interesting is a new title featuring Morbius the "living" vampire. I like Morbius, he was the villain in the first Spider-man comic I ever got. A superhero fighting a vampire AND a werewolf!? C'mon, what kid is going to resist that?

Cannot say I'm a fan of the unfinished artwork that they've released. Looks a little cold and the hand of the computer looks to be evident. And, the artwork of him has him looking like Michael Jackson. Creepy for whole 'nother reasons.

The gold standard will always be Gil Kane. Can't get him, but at least get someone that draws action well and knows how to set mood and atmosphere.






Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Arrow and some comics.

Arrow: In just a couple of weeks the show continues to evolve and change things around. While the first episode showed us that Ollie's mother has her own secrets, she continues to have shades of gray. She doesn't seem to be on the side of the angels, but we see her devoted to her family She just seems to make the wrong choices when it comes to good parenting skills. Likewise, her new husband alternately seems to be just what he seems. A businessman and an honest one at that. Just out of his league. The fact the actor seemed perpetually stuck as "guest star" figured he'd be a casualty, especially once he started finding out some of the Queen family secrets. Instead, he simply goes on an extended business trip. Then the show didn't turn bodyguard Diggle into a caricature by having Ollie constantly escaping from him, but changing up the status quo, having him in on Ollie's secret.

This past week, we see Oliver showing some forethought, attempting to stay ahead of the police by addressing their suspicions head on. Oliver Queen is the first person to have reported seeing the guy and in an instance unsubstantiated by any other witnesses. Add to it the cop Lance investigating does not like or trust Queen for good reason and would love to be able to pin anything on him. Between Lance's by the book stubborn determination and his personal vendetta, it makes sense that Queen would want to deflect his suspicions as much as possible in this area.

However, it seems foolish that he would have put his plan into motion BEFORE he revealed his identity to the bodyguard and had him on board since it was completely dependent on his complicity.

Thing I don't care for is just how much pussy-footing around the Green Arrow name they go: he's called the hood, Robin Hood, archer, vigilante, anything but what is the title of the show. You can see them struggling to call him anything but. Meanwhile, Deadshot was called Deadshot. Also, the generic black leather outfits of the super-villains, with the key differentiating features being the masks. In Deathstroke's case, the mask was especially weak. Pseudo realistic military ops outfit with what looks to be a foam mask with molded eyebrow ridges. The perpetual scowl it gave him made him look more comical than threatening. An emotionless and rougher cloth or dyed leather mask would have been better. This week's episode looks to feature the Royal Flush Gang, again in what appears to be generic black outfits with striking masks. The villains shouldn't look like they all go to the same Villains-R-Us outfitter store. Interesting that characters like Captain America, Hawkeye, Green Arrow, Deadshot, and Deathstroke all have costumes that are actually tailor made for live action, especially with the demand for semblance of realism. They all have costumes that already break up the lines of the body, which compensate for the lack of superheroic ideal bodies. They all have body armor already part of their costumes and allow for wrinkles, thus the rest could easily be cloth or tight leather as opposed to spandex/lycra/leotards. To work in live-action, they only need be tweaked, not wholesale redesigned.
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Aquaman 13: We get to the end of The Others and Black Manta arc and it ends with pretty much a whimper. Probably because this arc had too many characters and too much on its plate while being presented in a widescreen format that really didn't allow for a lot of depth. By virtue of having the Atlantean artifacts and the need for cannon fodder to add gravitas, the Others were necessary to the story. But, we never really got beyond the surface ticks of each of the characters. The name itself seems more like a placeholder in the script until the writer came up with something better and never did. They received a bit of build-up but they never really do anything of substance. This cropped up quite a bit in Geoff Johns' JSA, characters were more plot points and not really allowed to be characters. And, when  their arc was done, they'd disappear. Sometimes killed off, sometimes just not mentioned or seen until another story idea presented itself. This extended to Black Manta as well. All this build-up of Black Manta as a mega-threat and in the end, he relies on his darts and is easily taken out by Aquaman despite having several of the Atlantean artifacts. Johns couldn't wait to be rid of him, there's not even a scene of him being carted off to jail and you have the necessary enigmatic scenes that dovetails this story into the next issue to let you know that the resolution is not really a resolution. Aquaman's decision to NOT kill Manta might carry more weight if he didn't just kill an underling last issue and showing no remorse.

The epilogue with Prisoner of War would have been stronger for instance and made the arc feel more cohesive, if his part in the story was more pronounced and more developed. Actual stronger storytelling with the parallel themes of men tortured by the past and seeking redemption/attonement (Aquaman, Prisoner of War, Shin and to an extent Black Manta). The ingredients are there, but the structure of how the story was told doesn't pull it off. Instead, it feels just tacked on, to give some semblance of an actual and emotional ending to the story.

As much as I've liked Reis' artwork on the comic, I'm looking forward to Paul Pelletier's take. He's a bit more of an old school superhero artist. I've not followed anything he's done recently, but I'm hoping that maybe his being on the book will rid of the tendency towards decompression and widescreening the stories. On the flip side, not looking forward to the crossing over with the Justice League. In the past, I've cancelled a mediocre title due to crossovers or just refused to get those issues.

Talon #1: The zero issue was an origin issue in that it was a character study, establishing his motivations, abilities and values and the context and milieu of the character.  This issue also stands fine as a first issue as it establishes the status quo, an ongoing mission, and even a supporting cast member. Again, it doesn't matter if you've read the Batman books or not. I haven't, and found everything I needed to know was on the page without feeling clunky. The artwork continues to be strong.

Joe Kubert Presents #1: There's a bit of sad irony to this title as there's a page of a drawn Kubert addressing the readers and wanting to be a dialogue between him and the readers yet he didn't live to see the book published. But, it sums up the title's mission statement pretty well. Like many disillusioned fans, Kubert lamented that the kind of books that he liked and interested him were not being produced these days. So, an editor was insane enough to give him a book to do just the kind of book he wanted.

It's not all Kubert but it is very much old-style. The Hawkman story is a visual joy. No one really captures flying the way he does, makes the characters seem really held aloft by their wings and moving free from gravity. Clearly based on the Silver-Age Hawks, it's a continuity all its own. It is telling, that he delivers more story, a complete story, and completely defines the characters in so few stories when the Nu52 book couldn't do any of that, not even tell us who or what Carter Hall was. From art to storytelling, it's clear and concise. The chief flaw is it needs a scripter. The dialogue was not only bad, but sexist in the way it treated Hawkgirl and how Hawkman talked to her. "Angel & the Ape" was reminiscent of Mad Magazine. Parody, satire, surreal and slapstick all thrown together. "Spit" was a more serious work by Kubert than his Hawkman story. A serial about an orphan in the days of masted schooners and whaling, it showed depth and insight to the human condition. Likewise Glanzman delivers an extremely powerful war story in U.S.S. Stevens, hearkening back to the days that DC used to do war comics like this all the time. Brutal, character driven, and realistic, that just twists the knife in your gut.

Shadowman #1: Strong first issue, a superhero comic that is also a horror comic. The writer manages to sidestep his way around from having to give the lead character a deep south accent by way of creole and cajun idioms by having him spending most of his life away from the town of his birth. The artwork was a little unclear in places, as one character is a midget, but the initial viewpoint angles don't give the feel for his height or lack thereof. The colorist is somewhere in between the standard computer colorists and using the technology to achieve greater ranges of subtlety and styles. Some scenes are done wonderfully, others fall on the standard glossy skin with strong highlights and shadows and texture fills. The fact that he can actually let a background just be white without adding some kind of texture instills all sorts of hope. However, the scene of the charnel house that a nightclub is over-colored, that the subtle details and horror are a bit lost by not using a more limited color palette and letting the line work carry it through. Not crazy about the hero being apparently one of possession, a completely separate personality. Lessens Jack Boniface a bit if it's not really his decision and actions that make him a superhero, but some alien/supernatural presence. Still, a strong enough opening, I'm willing to give it another issue.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Happy Halloween


Had a good Halloween. Dressed up as Batman (cheap plastic batman mask, vampire cape, black long sleeve tee and pants) to hand out candy and it was popular with the kids. Not as many as last year, so have to get creative with getting rid of the rest of the candy.

Saw quite a few Marvel superheroes this year: an Iron Man, a couple of Spider-Men and Captain Americas. One even had a proportionately small shield. No sexy Black Widows. No women in binders or sexy Big Birds either. What struck me though was that the Spider Man and Captain America costumes were all fairly accurate to the classic comics. Not the movies. Not as Captain America has been depicted the last several years in the comics and especially not as in the upcoming relaunch comics. Iron Man was the only one that looked like the movie version and he's had so many radically different looks over the years...

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Several weeks ago at a used book store I bought a used dvd of Jet Li's Black Mask. Think I avoided it in the past after catching a few Jet Li movies on cable and found that the graphic depiction of violence of his martial arts movies to make the action-adventure aspects painful to watch. But, for five bucks, I was willing to take a chance.

It's actually an enjoyable original mash-up of superhero and martial arts movie. There's the conflict between vigilante-ism and the Law, redemption and second-chances and even the conflict of a man who wants to live a life of peace thrust into the role of violence and action because "with great power comes great responsibility". The set-up is that the government was experimenting with creating super-soldiers: men and women with enhanced strength, agility, and unable to feel pain. However, they tend to be violent and unstable and the government shuts the program down. A group escapes. However, with the powers also comes a price, a lifespan of little over a year.

Jet Li is one of those who escaped and is trying to live a peaceful life as a librarian. His best friend is a cop who he plays chess with. When drug king pins start getting killed in dramatic ways with military precision, Li suspects it's the other escapees and realizes the police will not be able to stop them. To take the fight to them, he puts on a disguise to mask his identity: black leather hat, duster and ridged domino mask, making him look a bit like Kato. In an interesting twist, his friend is suspected by the other cops to be the Black Mask and to his chagrin receives quite a bit of support and kidding about it.

Being a martial arts movie, there's lots of fighting, action and daring escapes. But, it's what makes it a good superhero movie as well. It doesn't lose sight of that at it's core, it is an action-adventure movie and should move at a fast pace. The fights should be built up and dramatic and quicken the pace. It's where almost every superhero movie of the last several years has failed.

There was a sequel without Li but with Tracie Lords and wrestler Tyler Mane... sounds like a recipe for disaster.
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This got me thinking about the new Arrow show and realizing, this is how a modern day Green Hornet show should work. It even works better as a Green Hornet treatment, other than the killer-vigilante angle. The whole urban vigilante fighting organized crime, hunted by the police and considered as big if not the biggest menace of the city. Mission given to him from his father. Green clad identity. A capable bodyguard who discovers his secret. In many ways, in producing a half-way decent show about Green Arrow, they stumbled across the perfect treatment for updating the Green Hornet.

The first couple of episodes, you have Kato as simply a bodyguard for Britt Reid. You get away from the Bruce Lee Kato by building him up as a character that's not a cliche Asian character. Thoroughly Asian-American, he's a veteran and good fighting, weapon, and security skills. A Kato who doesn't talk with an accent and not some kick-butt martial artist. Instead, the first few episodes build up the Green Hornet as the super-skilled hero with specialized training and drive for justice, to cleanse his city. You restore the status quo and focus of the characters, but not by simply lessening Kato, but by upping the Hornet and focusing more on making Kato an interesting and compelling supporting character beyond simply a cliche. He's capable in his own way, but he's not the superhero of the show. And, leave the distinctive car at home except when needed. You still have the origin of Reid/Queen stranded on an island or a plane crash in a remote jungle where he receives his training and inspiration for secret identity. Upon his return, he shows no interest in his father's big business ventures and instead focuses on reviving the money-losing property of the newspaper. And, even then, he seems to often keep a hands-off approach, as if he's just playing at it in order to cover his real mission. Freed from expectations, characters like Merlyn, Dinah Laurel Lance, Deadshot and Deathstroke become all new characters - solely Green Hornet characters as opposed to Batman and Teen Titans cast-offs. Not shoe-horned into any real expected mandatory romance or story directions. Sort of like the dichotomy of Smallville. On one hand, it had all these great arche-types and rich history to delve into, but on the other, it was also weakened in that they could only go so far off-script. We know what is going to become of Lex, Lana, Clark and Lois to some degrees. In the end, there really was only so much they could do with the characters because their roles are pre-defined by the comics and their constant presence in popular culture. We knew the destination so they could only make the journey as interesting as possible within some pre-conceived restraints.

Problem is, now that I've seen it, I won't be able to unsee it. As much as I've been enjoying Arrow, I'm going to be thinking how much better it would be as the Green Hornet,

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Arrow - Honor Thy Father

The second episode of Arrow was as strong (and as weak) as the first. We get a bit more progression of what happened to Ollie on the island and an indicator of where the scars came from. There's a colorful and equally skilled villain for him to face off against in the white haired Asian woman China White. We see the bodyguard Diggle being actually useful and showing some ability himself. Quentin Lance is probably the most interesting of the characters, with more sides to him as his relationships and motivations logically differ depending on who he's interacting with: overprotective parent of Laurel, disapproving and dislike of Ollie, honest cop and upholder of the law against vigilante. It helps that Paul Blackthorne manages to wring some worth out of rather hokey or cheesy dialogue and seems to be about the only actor in the show that really knows how to act with more facial expressions than just glower.

With Ollie, we get a lot of the character conflict that helped Smallville as well as similar themes in how to best honor the wishes of the father. In Smallville a large part of that conflict was due to Clark having two fathers often with opposing goals, as well as the excellent John Glover playing the part of Lionel Luthor, Lex's father. Here, the conflict is out of the type of man the father was, a flawed businessman who made big mistakes and whose dying declaration is for his son to fix those mistakes. Ollie is trying to make good on that mission without actually exposing to the world the type of man his father really was. Redeem those mistakes so that in death, his father's legacy will be the truth of what it was pretended to be in life. And, we see Ollie struggling here as it means he's forced to maintain three identities: the driven and enlightened to his self and the ways of the world, the masked vigilante, and the false shallow playboy from before. And, this episode shows he recognizes that it is a juggling act and that he has to become more comfortable with the latter identity, the one that's more false than the others, if he's going to be successful as the second. But, it's a juggling act he's not good at because when in private with people that he likes, it's the new, enlightened Oliver Queen they see.

The episode falls apart mainly with the resolution. In stereotypical superhero fashion, Oliver shoots arrows around the bad guy while interrogating him, all the while secretly recording the man's confession. He then gives this to the cops and this somehow clears up the investigation/trial with the clear implication that the confession is sending the man to jail. This is a cliche and it's a bad cliche, especially considering one of the writers used to write for Law & Order! There's no way a coerced confession, especially by a vigilante, would ever be admittable in a court of law. If anything it would make the case more difficult, not less. They want to distance themselves from superheroes and be considered a bit more of a crime/action drama, these are the slack storytelling cliches they need to avoid. It's not the costumes, names and powers that sink superheroes. It's the bad storytelling that often goes hand-in-hand, that as soon as the creators see that it includes costumes or powers, it gives them a pass to be sloppy.

The show is already beginning to show some chinks as well. Turns out that it's not the name changes that's annoying but the disregard towards names. We've seen this in the superhero movies. Black Widow not being called that in Iron Man II, Hawkeye not being called that in The Avengers, Catwoman never being called that in Dark Knight Rises and her friend Holly Robinson is not called by name in the film or how the British member of the Howling Commandos in Captain America had his name changed to Brian Falsworth but not actually called by name in the movie... it's a name change via credits only. Some of this is just basic bad storytelling, not giving us the names of people as they appear in the movie despite giving them names in the credits. In many cases though it's the people being afraid of the source material. The show is called Arrow but the show goes to great lengths to not call him by name. He's referred to twice now as "Robin Hood" and as "the archer". I can possibly understand the reasoning behind changing the name of the show, but avoidance of the name in the show itself smacks of shame. The name "Green Arrow" for a character didn't seem to hurt Smallville any. Likewise, the Triad villain in this episode. If she was called by name in the episode I missed it. For all I knew, she was a tv version of Cheshire or Shiva. Had to look it up on IMDB (interestingly, the actress has voiced Cheshire on Young Justice). Next week's episode features Deadshot. Will he be called that.

The other chink is from the pics, it looks as if all the superhero/villain characters go to the same tailor with a large surplus of dark leather. Personally, I think both Deadshot and Deathstroke not only have striking costumes, but ones that could translate fairly faithfully. Dull the colors some, downplay the latter's boots but make them distinctive beyond a few trinkets. The Marshall Rogers and George Perez designs are strong, distinctive designs which would look wonderful as faithfully realized.

There is a bit of irony that a show that is trying so hard to distance itself from the term of "superhero" and seems embarrassed by the characters is racing to include as many comicbook heroes and villains as it can. Deadshot next week, we already have seen hints of Deathstroke and is promised soon. Somewhere soon is the Huntress and in the wings in the distance Black Canary and Merlyn cannot be far behind.

The last chink is one of repetition. The show has a dual mega-story it's telling. What happened to Ollie on the island, and the redemption of his father's name by going after people in the notebook. This gives the show some depth and mystery, a well to draw upon for stories. But, it can also choke a series to death. Tie the story too closely to the mission and you run into future problems such as the show becoming a caricature of itself, unable to move beyond the mission. Richard Kimble cannot find the one-armed man, Jack McGee cannot uncover the truth behind the Hulk, Fox Mulder cannot discover the whole truth, Sam and Diane/David and Maddy cannot become a couple, etc. Eventually the episodes are covering the same beats, the same monotonous tone week in and week out. More importantly, we are seeing that mega-story series fail as often as they succeed. For every Lost, there seems to be about a dozen The River, The Event, Alcatraz etc. Instead, the model should be for the mega-story be more about concept that allows a variety of stories with smaller, major arcs that can be threaded through it such as Persons of Interest. While there are episodes and recurring themes that reveal more of the mysterious backgrounds of the principle characters, it's organic and allowing for many different types of stories. The other major problem of making the show too much about the mega-story is that it becomes impenetrable to casual or new viewers. Miss a couple of episodes and you are lost. Too much effort to get back into.


Maybe I am judging the last a little too harshly based on just two episodes, but I see that this kind of plotting and storytelling driving comics of the last couple of years. A year into Aquaman and we're still on the same mega-story. So far the episodes of the tv show are better at being done-in-one while furthering the ongoing sub-plots, but here's hoping we'll see some of the main plots of the episodes having nothing to do with the mega-story or sub-plots of the same episode, that not everything is connected. For it is there that you will find variety and opportunity for the show to grow beyond its basic setup.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

CW's Arrow

The CW aired their pilot of Arrow, the tv series of Green Arrow. The show has received quite a bit of flak (some of it deservedly so) of comments made by show's creators concerning the distancing from the character's superhero roots. Especially since two of the creators have written comics and the show IS about a superhero. And, they choose to bring in other superhero/supervillains into the mix. Like Smallville before it, it wants to be a superhero show while escaping from the stigma of the show. Thankfully, the trailers released for the show made it look more interesting and taking itself more seriously than most superhero shows. Forget Smallville, No Ordinary Family, The Cape and Birds of Prey. This is more tonal in quality to shows like Supernatural, and Alphas. It's still a superhero show, no bones about that. But, it's more back to basics with the concepts of superheroes.

Overall, I liked it. Very pulpish take which is fitting, considering the roots of the character and superhero comics. It starts off with playboy Oliver Queen who's been marooned on an island for five years and presumed dead rescued. He is welcomed by family (mother and sister) and best friend and they seem eager to have Ollie back. Only through flashbacks, we learn that he's changed. Before he died, his father charged him with correcting the mistakes he had made, that dear old dad was not the saint that people thought he was. His girlfriend is not happy to see that he's returned as Ollie was on the boat with her sister and who went down with the ship. He pretends to embrace the old lifestyle while he uses mad skills that he gained on the island to carry out the mission his father charged him with.

On one hand, this is fairly faithful as far as comic adaptations go. The marooned origin is basically the Silver-Age Simon & Kirby origin of the character. Although Oliver having an extended family and surviving members of it are new. I can see where they don't want to get into the teen sidekick but are using his kid sister nicknamed Speedy to touch on the responsibilities he feels now as a role model and how he has not lived up to it in the past.

The most annoying aspects really are the name changes. Laurel Lance is using the secondary names of the heroine known as Black Canary which prompted me to try to explain the convoluted history of the character. If there's no GA or previous Black Canary, there is no reason for her last name to be Lance. Heck, it might have been MORE interesting to have her as Dinah Drake (her original pre-crisis name) and Paul Blackthorne's character be rival love interest Larry Lance. Having him be her father instead and then changing his name to Quentin Lance? I guess Larry would have been too close to Laurel... but again, why is she going by her middle name? I'm hoping maybe there is a plan for Black Canary, that her mother was a masked heroine. Although, if they go the Black Canary route, they should have switched the actresses playing her and playing her sister. The sister has the build for the costume.

What will probably kill the show for me will be the lack of faith in having costumes. Bringing other superhero characters in, but in variety of plain clothes styled costumes. The Green Arrow outfit works. It's kept in shadow, obviously leather which makes sense and not too different as an amalgamation of various costumes he's worn. Could stand to be a little more green though. When you start bringing in the likes of Deathstroke and Deadshot among others, you need to go a little larger than life than trenchcoats and leather jackets. The colors still can be subdued, but don't name them after costumed villains if you aren't going to use them. You can have the codenames, powers and costumes without being cheesy. Look to the Dini & Timm animated Batman series. It managed to encompass all the tropes and still wring pathos and solid stories out of them. It is possible to take yourself too serious and lose the fun aspect of the show. Speaking of Deathstroke, did I see his mask on a stake when Ollie got rescued in the beginning?

Which is where this show is going to be interesting. There's a lot of background, mystery, plot and character development and interaction going on here. It reminds me a bit of Crusoe only in reverse. There, the mystery that was slowly unfolding was the plot and machinations behind the scenes that lead to him getting marooned on the island. The immediate mystery of the flashbacks here will be what he discovered on the island, how he it changed him beyond simply his father giving him a mission. How he developed these skills, not just the skill with the bow but the ability to fight and take out trained men bare-handed.

In regards to how the ship went down, I think this show will go there as well, especially with the reveal at the end. That ship didn't simply go down in a storm and flashbacks will show just how corrupt his father's business dealings were. A twist on the Batman template of which Green Arrow is built. He's not out to avenge his father's name but redeem him and himself.

A shame that this show and Person of Interest has better fight scenes than the big budget Batman movies. Of course, part of that is they don't put the characters into outfits they can barely move in. But, in the pilot episode alone and I get the feel that he could kick movie Batman's butt. In that regard alone, this show is already more of a superhero story than the movies have been in that they haven't forgotten that at the heart of it, it's supposed to be an action story.

Not my favorite tv version of Green Arrow. That would probably be Justice League Unlimited, where they got the swashbuckling, fighting for the little guy, and stubborn s.o.b balance down pat. But, this is still early in the character's career. Hopefully, we'll see some of that come out as he learns to let some joy back into his life. For the most part, I liked Green Arrow in Smallville. In the later seasons, he was often the better part of the show and played as a complicated character. Their biggest mistake was he rarely actually used the bow and arrow but instead crossbows. But, I thought the actor did a good job with the character and it's a shame that he couldn't continue in that role. A pity the comics featuring the character aren't near as good to any of the small screen appearances.

The naming of the show and the design of the character, the cynic in me says part of it was to secure the tv trademark as it is very similar to this guy who's public domain but the comic book trademark is currently claimed by Dynamite.

Monday, October 08, 2012

CROP and a few comic strips

I try to walk an hour or more several days a week in effort to live a healthier life. Today, it was cold and dreary and I debated whether or not to skip it today (I didn't). This Sunday, I'll be walking for a cause as my wife and I will be walking as part of Greensboro's annual CROP Walk. My first CROP Walk was in 1983 as part of my Eagle project for Scouts. It was ten miles long and in the summer. I then helped my Church organize and be part of Rocky Mount's first CROP Walk, also ten miles. Since then, I've walked in many such walks when I could and sponsored others when I couldn't. I've walked in Rocky Mount, Chapel Hill, and Raleigh. This will be my first year walking in Greensboro's.

At some point, they've gotten shorter, 10 kilometers so more people can get involved from the youngest to the oldest. One of my buddies was doing training for a marathon and he ran his a couple of years ago. I'm not complaining as I'm not sure my feet would let me walk ten miles these days. But, the sad truth is around the world, people walk not because of simple exercise benefits, to enjoy nature or the company of others. They walk because they have to. To get food. To get water because there's no well in their town much less at their home. To get their children or themselves simple check-ups from visiting doctors. We choose to walk because they have to.

Our donations will support life-saving programs around the world.  Join us as we work together to solve this world-wide challenge.


You can be the difference.  Visit my personal page, where you can make a secure online  donation.  Your gift can help save a life!


http://www.churchworldservice.org/site/TR/CropWalks/General?px=1020245&pg=personal&fr_id=15792

Bwa-ha-ha?

I often enjoy the Zits comic, a few times it's even laugh out loud funny. I see a lot of truth in its depictions of teen-age life. I often wonder if the zig-zag pattern that's in almost every strip isn't meant to be a nod to the late great Charles Shulz, reproducing the pattern of Charlie Brown's shirt. This one made me wonder something different. I associate the depiction of laughter as "bwa-ha-ha" pretty much with Giffen and DeMatteis stint on the Justice League, in fact it's often referred to in comic circles as the Bwa-ha-ha League like the JLA it replaced is called Justice League Detroit by its fans and detractors. Are the comic writer and artist fans of that era of the League? Or has the sound-effect actually entered the lexicon of public acceptance for depicting laughter?



Their heads are made out of rubber...
I am not a huge fan of "Rhymes with Orange". It's sometimes funny and I kind of like my comic strip artists showing some kind of talent with actual art and storytelling. But, I have to admit this one had me laugh and going "bouncy bouncy" all the day long.



Bad Pun
Stephen Pastis came to town recently. Unfortunately, not conducive to my schedule but I would have loved to hear him talk. Pearls Before Swine is often a wonderfully irreverent strip, one that even takes pot shots at its own creator. No one is spared Rat's judgment.



Crossovers
Sometimes it just seems as if comic strip artists talk with each other before submitting their strips. I remember one day where it seemed half the strips chose to tell golf jokes. Not only that, but two actually told the SAME JOKE! This isn't quite in the same category as only two strips the other week seemed to borrow the same idea. I have to wonder how many people under the age of 30 actually would recognize Harold and the Purple Crayon? Still a great idea and totally works for the Lio strip. 

 

 
 

Monday, October 01, 2012

Aquaman #0: If you don't like Geoff Johns' current style of writing, this won't change your mind. Not only are there three consecutive pages of nothing more than landscaped panels of Aquaman swimming... no text or words or thought balloons giving internal thoughts, there's also a couple of pages of him pretty much silently fighting a huge shark and then a string of coincidences that'd be worthy of Edgar Rice Burroughs - Aquaman is looking for Atlantis. In a moment of kewl display of super-strength he rescues a couple of American boaters who just happen to know a man who lives in Norway that might know where Atlantis is, and are presumably able to give Aquaman accurate directions. He finds this man (Vulko) who is conveniently just got back home since he had been away looking for Arthur since his existence was made public. At least Paul Norris gets creator credit for the character.

To add insult to injury, the comic ends on a cliffhanger. That's right, this ZERO issue in addition to interrupting the flow of the monthly story in progress, is nothing more than an introduction to a whole new story arc that has yet to appear in the regular series. Guess people at DC need some counting lessons. The issue # that follows 0 is 1, not 13, 14, or whatever the Ocean Master storyline will be starting on. We now have a comic that can neither be filed numerically as it doesn't belong before issue 1, or by date since it isn't part of the ongoing storyline and delivers nothing new or relevant for it. All we need is a couple of fish-jokes and a gratuitously graphic death scene and this would be a complete pastiche of bad Geoff Johns writing. Only really written by Johns.

The art team of Ivan Reis, Prado and Rob Reis (who deserves probably more credit than he gets on the colors of this book) should take one of the Silver-Age Aquaman Showcases, break several of the stories back down into scripts and re-illustrate them. I think modern fans' minds would explode at seeing just how much is really being carried by the art team here and seeing stories that aren't decompressed but full of creativity and yet complete reads.

Talon #0: According to the "logic" of the reboot, I shouldn't get this comic. After all, I don't buy any of the Batman books so the only continuity of the character and concept underlying it is what I can gleam from the previews/blurbs of the Batman books that I've read. But a couple of things going in, 1) this is more of what I'd expect or want from something like the reboot, which is actual new characters and not retreads of pre-existing ones. 2) I was struck by the artwork in the previews. With Joe Kubert's death still a recent memory, the art here looks a lot like Kubert's. Close enough to be mistaken as being done by one of his sons, only a lot better than they have been recently. Enough to over-ride that I really hate the costume he wears on the cover. Guillam March is a name that's worth keeping an eye out for.

Even the colorist deserves an 8/10 score. His subtle colors often mimic brush work more than obvious computer filter gradients. The only place he really falls is that the modern style of coloring doesn't allow for just solid flat color, or solid white. Imagine if Alex Toth, the master of balancing white space with blacks was colored by today's colorists. Every open shape would be filled with colorized texture, undoing what he achieved through contrast, space and negative space. There are places, most notably backgrounds where relatively simply defined shapes or spaces, the colorist has taken to add color with texture and in those places, it sticks out like a sore thumb. March's linework is so lush and capable at providing depth, shadow and weight, it doesn't need the colorist trying to fill in the places where he left space open and kept it simple. Don't fight the artist, follow his cue.

Despite having a backstory, I'm not privy to, the comic actually delivers everything you need to know in-story. See, continuity and history does not have to be a detriment to good storytelling. Other than a passing reference to Haley Circus and the Flying Graysons, there's nothing in the comic that links to Batman or that this concept has appeared before. It's a set-up for a series, but it also tells a story. We see the growth of the character Calvin Rose from boy to trained escape artist to talented recruit to the Court of Owls to his disillusionment with the organization and escape. Told from Rose's point of view, we get into his head, we get what he's feeling and going through at all times, his frustration, despair, and growing resolve. A refreshingly dense read.

The story isn't terribly original when you think about it. We've seen the same story in Kirby's Mr. Miracle and Big Barda (part of it even seems directly inspired by that story), Azrael, the Nolan Batman trilogy and even the Bourne movies of the recent years. It wouldn't have been too hard to not create the Talons and the Court of Owls and just used the League of Assassins or the Order of St. Dumas and make this a Richard Dragon/Bronze Tiger/Shiva/Azrael story instead, take your pick. Heck, I would have LOVED to see this as a Richard Dragon book. But, the familiarity doesn't subtract from that it is still very well done and that character of Calvin Rose makes for an interesting protagonist.

The only place the story really falls is his big moment of conversion (out of The Bourne Identity), when he decides to not kill his targets but instead to help them escape. By this point, the Court is so well set up in their single mindedness and capability, one has to wonder how much he actually was able to help them. Because we know the Court would send other Talons, near as good as he is. It is imperative from their point of view that this mother and child are history. He does not have the resources to really help them escape beyond their reach. From the start we see he cannot even avoid them finding him.

Despite getting the zero issue, I probably will only being getting this book in trade (paperback, please, very few comics are deserving of hardback treatment and cost). See, what drove me from the Batman family titles years before DCnu 52 is still in place. You cannot buy one Batman or one Superman title. Eventually, not if but when, a single story will cross the whole family, no matter how distant the relation. War Games was the story that ultimately killed my interest in Birds of Prey and Catwoman. A year into the reboot, and it already has happened with Batman with the very Court of Owls storyline, crossing over into even the Jonah Hex comic. And, the current previews promises to do pretty much the same with Death of a Family story. So, as much as I like this comic and it being pretty much exactly what I would want from a comic and nuDC, I know it's not worth it to get as a monthly because DC hasn't really changed in the ways that they operate.

Reboots vs Continuity: since I touched on this a little bit, there's a fallacy behind the whole idea of the reboot and many of the defenders of nu52 seem to preach it as if gospel. That is the idea that the reboot was needed because continuity was too complex for new readers and this allows them to all be on the same page.

That's not really what DC has done though. If that was true and really embraced by DC, there would have been no Justice League book in the first roll-out, much less THREE of them. No Teen Titans. No Red Hood and the Outlaws. Zero issues after a year wouldn't be needed to explain the gaps. Batman and Green Lantern wouldn't continue as if nothing really happened. In fact, neither of those characters have ever truly been rebooted. We have never seen in the main continuity a new Bruce Wayne becoming Batman, meeting the Joker for the first time, training Robin etc presented as if it was happening just now. We've gotten flashback minis and stories giving us the retcon version of events, but significantly, they don't change what was happening in the book at the time. The closest was when Jason Todd was given a whole new origin, and previous couple of years of Batman titles was rendered a bit conflicting. Despite the new origin, somehow Killer Croc was still in continuity. So a few stories obviously didn't happen the way we saw them, but Batman himself was still the same guy as before and still operated as before. And, some of those Jason Todd stories still worked, it didn't matter too much that his background had changed.

What DC has done is not start continuity from scratch so that readers can get in on the ground floor, but replaced the continuity with another one. A new reader picking up the Red Hood and the Outlaws is going to have the same problem as before. These aren't new characters. Despite the changes, in some way they are still predicated on there being name recognition for them to be relevant and a draw. He's still going to be facing a book with characters and history he doesn't know as before. The differences being that this time it's intentional and there's no reason to go to back issues or ask the store owner or another customer or even some of the writers. They don't know either! The comics are no more accessible to new readers than they were before. What they are is equally inaccessible to established readers! They cannot lift the new readers up, so they throw the existing readers down so that everyone is on the same page, the same boat.  If continuity was too complex and was keeping people away, how will a NEW and SECRET continuity actually attract new readers and not drive the existing fans away? I don't know. The crazy thing is that somehow this translated to good numbers starting out as if everyone got the same kool-aid.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Funky's Action Comics

 Been enjoying Prince Valiant quite a bit. Tom Yeats is currently the artist. He did some artwork for DC back in the 1980s, but is largely forgotten today sadly. I think principally because he was the artist on Swamp Thing before Alan Moore took over. Pretty much everything from that run is forgotten despite there some being good stories there. I've always liked his work though and he's a good fit here. But, dang me, if that doesn't look a bit like Green Arrow in the back there?

Same day, and in my paper the same page, had this piece of Funky Winkerbean by Tom Batiuk. Admittedly, I've not enjoyed the strip as much since Lisa's death and the jump forward in time. Although, it's interesting in that it has been keeping Funky and Les approximately my age. This isn't the first knock-off of  DC comic characters or covers that have graced his strip. He must be quite a fan, specifically of the 1950s-early 60s comics. Always a treat to see these.

Baby Squirrel - My brother found a baby squirrel in the yard. He's a sucker for animals and over the years while growing up into adulthood, we've had baby squirrels, possums, birds. Our fish tank held not tropical fish, but a brim caught from a nearby pond. He got to be a pretty good size, and I had it somewhat trained. Least as much as you can train a fish. The baby squirrel was pretty much a newborn. Eyes still closed, no hair. So a heating pad, some towels and a shoebox for a home, he took to taking care of it (carefully locked in the study so the cats will not think she's a snack). Really didn't think it would survive a week. Four weeks later, it had just begun opening her eyes. Some friends taking care of it while we were out of town for the day shot a little video of them feeding the little darling. Haven't decided yet what to do with it once she is able to survive on her own. For one thing, I don't think she's going to realize that cats mean "danger".


Thursday, September 20, 2012

Beasts of Burden: Neighborhood Watch

With the publication of the one-shot Beasts of Burden: Neighborhood Watch, Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson once again put the majority of current comics to shame. In an era where most writers cannot tell one story in one issue, Dorkin delivers THREE short stories full of pathos, humor, characterization, and tragedy, each capable of bringing a tear to the eye of the most jaded reader. Who would've thought that you could make a story about ghosts of sheep into a tear jerker? Where computerized coloring of today's comics means a plethora of filters, gradients and texture fills to overwhelm the pencils and make a book un-readable unless under specific lighting conditions and artwork designed to shock and titillate, Thompson delivers a painted book that is reminiscent of Disney and classic storybooks. The comic is lushly and subtly colored without sacrificing storytelling clarity. There is just enough caricature in the animals to make them expressionistic without sacrificing the relative realism of the world. Creators and publishers should read this comic and see how it's done.

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Got the Namor Visionaries #2 as well. I have the original comics, but for favorite runs, I like getting the trades. Eventually, I'll just get rid of the original comics. Like the first volume, the cover takes a cover from the comics and re-colors it. It's not as garish as the first one. In fact, the red and yellow knockouts for the fire and smoke really punch. Color knockouts are a favorite trick of colorists today and often over-used. The difficulty and added work of them in the past made them more sparingly used and thus often more effective. Today they generally have the opposite effect than intended, instead of standing out, the knock-out tends to be flattened without the black to delineate and offset the color. Here it works. However, the colorist also added darker hues on the areas where Byrne was using zip-tone for the shadows on the figures, making the shadow areas too dark and frankly destroying what made the art work and stand out to begin with. If the line work is full of cross-hatching for shadows and textures, the colorist doesn't need to over-do gradients and fills. The artwork was originally designed for a more traditional color palette and thus works better with a limited one.

It's been awhile since I read the originals and I don't know if the interior pages are recolored or not. They are obviously using the flatter color scheme. Yet, there are two coloring errors that stand out that may have been there the first time. We have a cameo of the original Human Torch's kid partner Toro. However, he is colored as if he's wearing a red body suit like the Torch instead of being half naked with just trunks and boots. Later, a pic with Sersi in the background is colored as if she is wearing an all white outfit that covers shoulders and arms as well as a white one-piece bathing suit on top. Since the comic features a main character who runs around half naked as well as Namorita as supporting cast member who spends most of her time in a bathing suit, it can't be just scared of showing too much skin. Maybe, they exceeded the use of flesh tones allotted for the book? Just kidding. The Sersi pic looks like the colorist wasn't sure how Sersi was supposed to be colored and left it blank to come back to... and then forgot.

Otherwise, Byrne's Namor series is him pretty much at the epitome of his writing and drawing. Namor makes for a flawed hero and it's something that Byrne doesn't shy away from. His taste in women remains mercurial and questionable, and not being the best judge of character around. We have Byrne playing in the Marvel sand-box, using well known and mostly forgotten pieces of Marvel lore and characters. There's the Super-Skrull, Iron Fist, Misty Knight, Ka-zar, and Shanna and Zabu, Spitfire and Union Jack (acknowledging the changes to the character in Knights of Pendragon). A set-up for the redesign of the Plant-man. An appearance by the Punisher. A set-up of the return of the real Iron Fist and bits of an older story when Byrne was first working for Marvel. The zip-tones hearken back to Will Everett's style on the character just as using Iron Fist is also a shout-out to Everett who created Amazing Man, the template for the creation of Iron Fist. If there is a flaw, it's in the cross pollination of Byrne writing Iron Man at the time and using the Marrs twins in both books. While most of their development and ongoing stoy occurs here, some of their business actions in Iron Man's title play a major role in the ongoing subplot here and the motivation behind some of Desmond's actions.

In FF and Alpha Flight, Byrne's stories were more linear with tighter 2 and 3 issue stories that were more self-contained with a little bit of subplots running through and taking prominence later. Here, Byrne is telling a longer and denser story often with multiple subplots going on at the same time. It's somewhere between the style he used in other books or Claremont used in X-Men and today's writers such as Brubaker's Captain America or Geoff Johns' Aquaman, telling one long story thinly disguised as being composed of shorter stories. The balance is stronger here. The ongoing story of Namor in the business world and the machinations of the Desmond twins is a secondary story or plotline that bubbles up and affects what's going on, ever present (much how Doctor Doom always seemed to have his own story going simultaneously with whatever else was going on in FF). But, you also have a variety of plots and subplots that has nothing directly to do with them, giving the shorter stories variety of styles and locales. It's soap-opera-ish in the long form, but with a variety of threats and plotlines for satisfactorily reading in smaller chunks.

As Byrne is working with some Roy Thomas creations in the series, it's appropriate there's also a sense of Thomas in the approach to history and retcons. He uses Namor's vast and schizophrenic history, ironing out a few kinks but playing ever fair with the history and continuity. Union Jack is a guest-star so he's kept in character as he had most recently appeared in a UK title, Knights of the Pendragon, even though that take is substantially different from the character that he first drew in the pages of Captain America. He raises questions about Iron Fist's death, setting up his impending resurrection, but doesn't just re-write or simply invalidate the story that lead to his death. It still happened, it's still very real and a struggle for his old supporting cast members. Just that not everything was exactly as it seemed and it's used to RESTORE a character back to his prime. Thus, it actually makes the universe richer not poorer as most retcons these days seem intent on doing.

It's also interesting to see how he draws Master Man in his coat and Warrior Woman in her skirt is a lot like what Frank Miller was doing with his art in Sin City at about the same time.

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Byrne's new book Trio has ended its first arc and in many ways is a return to those glory days. He doesn't have the larger DC or Marvel sandbox to play in so he plays in his own sandbox. With the penultimate issue, Golgotha, a villain from his Danger Unlimited and Torch of Liberty stories comes to this universe. The last issue has an appearance tying Trio to his Lab Rats series he created for DC and whose rights reverted back to him.

The texture file for Rock was the biggest visual drawback to the series, not really working with the relative style elsewhere in the book. But, Byrne's style is often evolving and experimenting and Rock's look is one of those things that just doesn't work out.

The final product of the writing is somewhere between his Next Men work and his more straight-forward superhero days. Ultimately, it doesn't work as well as the format for the book is really as a mini-series and this feels more like part of several issues of an ongoing, setting up many questions and subplots for future stories but not really delivering much in terms of background and characterization for the main characters. The problem is it's not really an ongoing, but a mini-series. For a mini-series format, there needs to be a tighter focus on the main characters and their story to make us care for them. An interesting plot, interesting villains and world creation, but ultimately a letdown when it comes to the very story aspect.

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From the first issue of Aquaman, it was only a matter of time before the current Geoff Johns, the one who focuses on gore, violence, death and anti-heroes, showed the trident being used as a lethal weapon. This issue fulfills that promise as Aquaman skewers a henchman. It is interesting to note that while the issue has two deaths, it is the death at the hands of the hero that's the most graphic. The death of the hero Vostok doesn't even look like a lethal wound as he's stabbed in the shoulder.

From the start, this Aquaman title has been one of love-hate. Such as all the jokes at Aquaman's expense in the early issues. See, the problem is that the people in the real world that make fun of Aquaman aren't the civilians but comic fans and geeks (although their point of view getting broadcast to mass audiences via Big Bang Theory, Family Guy and Robot Chicken doesn't help). If Aquaman existed in the real world, he wouldn't be considered a joke. Because in the real world, he's the equivalent of a super-Navy Seal, you know, the guys that took out Osama.  In the real world, Olympic swimmers and divers are sex symbols. In the real world, we recognize the power of ocean as a literary symbol and some of the greatest classics are of the people associated with the sea: The Odyssey, Moby Dick, The Old Man and the Sea. Real world heroes and villains like Blackbeard the Pirate, Columbus, the Vikings, Jacques Cousteau. Clive Cussler and his fictional counterpart Dirk Pitt. The people that think he's a joke are the ones that couldn't swim a lap in a pool without heaving, and who have this passive-aggressive self-hate relationship with their reading comics.

Yet, of all the 52 books, this is the only one that comes close to what I wanted out of the reboot. Not a complete resetting, but a clearing away of the barnacles that had accumulated in the past couple of decades as he had been taken to extremes, away from the core concept of the character. His look is tweaked but he doesn't look drastically different than from most of his history, as if he went to the same tailor as the rest of the JLA. We have the restoration of his Silver-Age origin which links him to the surface world. No ancient Atlantean sorcerers or setting him up as a literal king of Atlantis. We have Mera back as beautiful and powerful (although she seems to have gained Namor's personality, at least she's not the sometimes murderous hateful insane woman she had become before). Sadly, I fear when we get around to Aqualad, it won't be Garth but the politically correct one.

The art by Ivan Reis is likewise hard to pin down. No question that he's a talented renderer and a hyper detailed artist. The colors are likewise lush and rich though at times render the art so dense to make it difficult to decipher. Whether it's Reis' style or from Johns' scripts, the layouts often fall on using a wide-screen format where the panels are three times wide as tall whether it makes for the scene or not. This often leads to bad angles and croppings of scenes with tops of people's heads cut off as well as a lot of wasted space in panels where there's no relevant information being conveyed either by art or script. You end up with pages taking twice as much space as needed to convey information.

The worst example came in the 8th issue which was when I finally noticed what was off in the art. Look at the page reproduced here and see where Reis first gives an establishing shot of where the action takes place. Four characters in a cramped room standing close together. Followed by the wide shots with a single head-shot in each panel and little dialogue! Reis doesn't even draw backgrounds in those panels. He couldn't have really as two of the characters are so close together, they should be seen in the same panel. Luckily, the colorist in this case adds a bunch of color textures to add depth to the scene. But, the bottom half of the page could easily have been done in half the space. It's decompression on the artistic scale. So, you get a beautiful looking page but full of bad storytelling basics.

Not sure what I'm going to do when the book crosses over with the JLA. I'm not getting the JLA book and have zero interest in it. In the recent past, I've protested by not buying the comic for those months and have used it as a reason to drop books that I was already on the fence on. The comic is on my pull list, so I am loathe to not buy it as I consider that as being pretty much a contract between me and the store. I may just have to be happy with not getting the JLA issues and hope it doesn't interfere too much in what enjoyment I do get from Aquaman.

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There's a scene in an episode of News Radio where the station owner Jimmy James has written his autobiography. Since at the time translated foreign books sold better, he had it translated to Japanese and then back again, leading to a funny book reading where it has become almost non-sensical.

Dynamite's Peter Cannon comic is a bit like that only not funny. Pete Morisi created Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt, cribbing heavily from the origin of Amazing Man. He's a reluctant superhero in that he's enlightened and wishing to live a life of peace but has physical abilities that set him above others. Grudgingly, he accepts that "with great powers comes great responsibilities" even though they are responsibilities he doesn't want to shoulder. Then there's the one-off issue by Pat Boyette where he distributed some abilities he hadn't had before. From there, Alan Moore took the basic idea and then created Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias, a completely different character (one based on completely different philosophies).  Dynamite's take is basically taking Moore's Ozymandias character and re-translating that version back to being Peter Cannon, giving Pat Boyette's issue heavy weight. If DC is doing "Before Watchmen", Darnell and Ross are doing "After Watchmen", more or less picking up where that story left off. Only with the actual Charlton hero and Cannon's ruse didn't involve killing half of New York City. On top of all that, he has what could only generously be called a Nu52 designed costume making him actually look generic as opposed to the rather bold look taken from the 1940s Daredevil.

The comic basically sums up the events of The Watchmen in the first few pages: world on brink of nuclear armageddon is driven to cooperation by the mysterious appearance of a creature, in this case a dragon. To drive the point home, we see Peter watching multiple monitors at the same time and he's compared to Alexander the Great (Adrian Veidt's personal hero), the comic plays off the superhero as celebrity, the man using the hero to become a wealthy power player. To further riff on DC and Watchmen, there are several Charlton character allusions. The President is called a "Peacemaker", we have a future foe who is an Asian martial artist in a tiger mask (Tiger was the Asian teen side-kick to Judomaster) and the super powered silver metal "Sons of Adam" (Captain Atom's secret identity being Captain Nathaniel Adam). By the time you get to the last page, it is so telegraphed, it would have been a cheat for it to turn out otherwise. No reference yet to Blue Beetle or Son of Vulcan unless it's in the supposed careers of Cannon: archaeologist and writer. The Dan Garrett Blue Beetle was the former and Son of Vulcan was a reporter.

The biggest problem of the comic is trying to make Peter Cannon serve much the same role as Adrian Veidt, but the two had fundamental differences. Peter Cannon isn't really supposed to be some big picture, genius. He's enlightened, more self aware. While I might be able to buy him opening a dojo or spiritual retreat, it's a Veidt move to do so as some kind of Mc-Franchise the world over. For Cannon to do so, it's a fundamental spiritual hypocrisy. As is using Veidt's solution to bring world peace, imposing peace by lies and subterfuge. That's Veidt, not Peter Cannon. It being what appears to be the driving force of the story is what makes it more of in the vein of being a sequel to The Watchmen than being a story that flows naturally from the character that Morisi created.

The other flaw that as first issues go, it's all set-up. It's establishing back-story, status-quo and setting up three future adversaries. What it doesn't do is really set up or move any one story. The opening pages also pretty much remove any reason for Peter Cannon to appear in costume ever again without jumping through hoops (such as wearing the costume as a uniform when visiting dojos, making public appearances, etc) because it moves the character beyond being a masked superhero. Worse, it's a set-up done as dully as possible, mostly exposition of people talking about their motivations, some flash-backs but no one really doing anything of note.

The highlight of the book is the back-up, a Pete Morisi written and drawn origin story originally slated for DC's "Secret Origins" comic but never published. While Morisi maintained ownership of the character, I do wonder about the rights concerning the pages. They were solicited by DC, making them work for hire. Comes down to whether he was paid for them or not I guess. His drawing of proportions had suffered somewhat by this point and Cannon is colored to have pants, in keeping with his look in his DC comic. But, the artwork is bold and stylish and thankfully colored in old flat coloring system since Morisi's artwork would be ruined by most of modern computerized coloring. Visually, it's dynamic in ways that the rest of the book is generic.
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 I am a masochist sometimes in checking out previews of comics I not only don't plan on buying but know that I would have zero interest in. Such as Before the Watchmen: The Comedian. Just not a character I really want to spend quality time with. But, I have to say, I love this panel of him getting hit with a brick with the word's "Herriman's Bricks" on it. George Herriman was the cartoonist and creator of "Krazy Kat" who was constantly being beaned by a brick thrown by Ignatz the mouse.





Saturday, September 15, 2012

Return of Captain Midnight

 Dark Horse has announced they are bringing back Captain Midnight, first in their anthology Dark Horse Presents and then as a mini-series. Unfortunately for me, their anthology book is usually too expensive when there's only one feature in it at a time I'm interested in.Link

This isn't the Captain's first return. He's been showing up some in the Airfighters comic by the company that's doing a manga influenced Airboy. AC has reprinted a few of his old tales, only promoting him to a major (presumably for trademark and copyright purposes).

But, the news story is interesting. Most companies, including Dark Horse, announce the "return" of a character only to mean a new character using the old one's name, powers and maybe the costume if you're lucky. However, in this instance, the story is all about using the Fawcett version of the character. I'm not thrilled with the angle being the US Government hunting him down and hope they move away from that. At this point, it's bit of a cliche and an easy target. I want to see the character as a cross between Captain America and Nick Fury. Hopefully, when they get the introductory story out of the way, we'll get more of that. However, the writer Josh Williamson says all the right things about trying to remain true to the character and his history and honoring that. A far cry from creators that bash the original material or praise it, while changing everything about the character.

In some ways, this almost seems like an anti-Dynamite book. At least from the one bit of artwork shown, the Captain is not getting a heavy re-design. He's not being re-imagined from the ground up. The cover art by Steve Rude is like Ross only it embraces the superhero aspect of the character. He's larger than life and very dynamic, not looking at all like someone striking a pose. It alone makes me want to read the story.

To quibble... the serial was a movie serial. And, there was a tv series (never seen it, but those usually weren't serials although the serials themselves would sometimes re-air on tv). Their particular take of "the man out of time" disillusioned with the present isn't really all that different either. That's pretty much the whole point of Marvel's The Twelve. Frankly, that seems almost the obvious take and pretty much patently false. It's looking at the past through rose-colored glasses which may work to an extent if you're a white heterosexual male. The strides we've made (though still a ways to go) in regards to race, gender, religion. There's no jet-packs, but an African American President! There's 100 plus channels on tv. In color. In high definition. We've been to the moon and have a robotic car on Mars. Our telephones can do what machines the size of a room could not do. We can cook a dinner in minutes. Sure, there's bad stuff too. But, this is a man that saw WWI, WWII, and the Korean War. Prohibition and gangsters, Great Depression, the Holocaust, the Atomic bomb, the Red Scare.

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This just in, DC discovers that selling 4 titles a month makes more money than selling 2 or 3 titles a month and making more money is good for business.

 One of the more annoying conversations I sometimes run into is explaining to people that late books is bad for business. It's less product for DC to sell, it's less product for stores to sell which is especially damaging as many stores are largely dependent on their weekly deliveries and new comic sales to make budget. The length of time it took JMS to finish The Twelve, Marvel could have completed the series, had the trades out, a follow-up series or spin-offs with the characters. Instead, it lost all momentum, and a year of lost opportunities. If Frank Quitely or Frank Miller can only put out as half as many books as other creators, do their books sell over twice as well if other artists had been associated with the book? You'd think this would be common sense but  judging by conversations I have had with some fans, common sense is not all that common.

Plus, the evidence suggests that coming out on time and regularly increases the sales each month. Thus a book that comes out on time 12 times a year sells more than just 25% more than one that only managed to eke out 9 issues that year.

Here's another angle. If you have a regular publishing schedule and keep to it, advertisers are more prone to advertise with you. After all, they want to know if they run a Christmas theme ad, the title actually comes out before January. You run a business professionally and it instills confidence in others to do business with you.

www.newsarama.com/comics/new-52-one-year-later-title-title-sales.html

Post-reboot — with the exception of very few titles — DC has been publishing its comics on a strict monthly timeline. While fans may be disappointed by the fill-ins that are required to keep the train running, the sales performance of the overall line is more steady and predictably higher when all the books are shipped each month.