Monday, November 24, 2008

Justice Incorporated!

I haven't been getting Erik Larsen's Savage Dragon for some years, but the cover for the upcoming issue has me intrigued enough to get it. The storyline has had the Dragon teaming up with some other Image luminaries (Spawn, Witchblade, Invincible and Shadowhawk) to take down the Superman-esque Solarman who has been using unnecessary lethal force on villains. And, seems willing to do the same to heroes who stand in his way. In the next issue various golden-age characters seem to be jumping in to lend a hand. Featured on the cover: from Fox are Thor, the Flame, and Samson; Standard's Black Terror, Pyroman and Wonder Man; Lev Gleason's Silver Streak and Daredevil; Columbia's Skyman, Harvey's Captain Freedom; and Fawcett's Bulletman. If nothing else, the story ought to be fun.

Don't know what happened to Image's Issue After Next project, the series that was doing the "next" issue of public domain comics and characters, featuring all new stories of golden-age characters. The first, Fantastic Comics was a very mixed bag of pastiche, parody and not-sure-what. They were all too self-aware, self referential; none really being just plain stories featuring the characters.

Thankfully, Moonstone pretty much dodges that bullet with The Avenger Chronicles, their tpb collection of short-stories featuring the Street & Smith pulp hero. It's a great collection of writers, drawing from pulp historians, comics, fantasy and sci fi writers, and even a new story by Ron Goulart who had penned a few new Avenger novels back when the character was being reprinted in the 1970's. I've not gotten completely through the book, but the stories seem to capture the feel of the original pulp stories without being mocking, even in a gently manner. The creators take the character and their stories seriously even while delivering plots that would have been at home 60 years ago. The flaws in the stories would be flaws regardless. Will Murray is writing a bit more like he's writing one of his Doc Savage epics and the format doesn't have room for his prose. Thus, the reader is short-changed on the resolution. The motivation and unmasking of the villain hinges on personal information that was always known by the Avenger but is kept from the reader until the big reveal. It's a cheat and lazy writing. Several stories all have elements of the Avenger's past, from before the days of his war on crime. The Avenger always was a bit more psychological of pulp characters, but this is a bit of modern writing creeping in, the desire to mine the past, to delve further into the character's history and past. While one or two of these type stories are interesting, when you get several in a row, it telegraphs the twist and ending of the story to a degree. M. Night's The Sixth Sense works largely because he was a new creator, one wasn't expecting a twist. But, once you know what to look for, that twist doesn't come as a surprise.

Interestingly, when this came out, I was halfway through one of those 1970s paperback reprints of the Avenger: Midnight Murder. The story is a bit more of an espionage thriller than I would normally expect but that seems to be one of the strengths of the Avenger character. Created by committee of Walter "Shadow" Gibson and Lester "Doc Savage" Dent, the character embodies character concepts of both and is at home as both a detective and scientific hero. The plot is an airplane is testing a top secret device and seems to deliberately crash into a mountain. Crooks seem to be after the device, the scientists are striving to recover and keep it secret, and the Avenger and his crew are trying to find out what truly caused the plane to crash and put this gang of international crooks out of business. The two head crooks are portrayed in a wonderful over the top suave and dangerous manner that would serve them well in a James Bond flick. What's also great about this novel are the Avenger's aides. They come across as being efficient and capable, not needing his constant rescuing even though they get into as much trouble as any pulp's second bananas.

I feel I should at least give some props to the latest issue of Golden-Age Men of Mystery by AC Comics. Issue 11 has what initially attracted me to these reprints. The inside cover gives a history of the stories contained therein, credit to where the stories AND reprints came from. It tells how the Cat-Man story is a completely second and incompatible version of his and Kitten's origins as well as how the Phantom Lady story reprinted was originally a story of a non-costumed heroine called Spitfire Sanders with the lead re-drawn and the script changed so that it referenced the Commies and not the Nazis. When he lately seems to more often confuse history by making changes to stories and texts, it's refreshing to see him shedding light on some of the often convoluted real history of the characters and stories.

My Own Worst Enemy has gotten the axe in the first round of cancellations it appears. This is one of those shows where the central concept has interest but it's badly thought out, yet the stories and characters are interesting and sympathetic. The conceit is that Christian Slater plays a man entering the intelligence field (at some point in college apparently), and agrees to a procedure that will split his personality into two. Henry, his second personality is given a whole new background and he's free to marry and have kids without knowing about his other self, Edward who goes around as a super-spy. Edward knows about Henry, but as soon as a mission is over, he goes to sleep and Henry wakes up and goes about his life until Edward is needed again and he's awoken by the agency. The problem is that the characters are now waking up on their own in each other's lives. Henry isn't good at the spy stuff and Edward isn't all that good at being a faithful husband and dependable dad.

The problem is the premise makes zero sense. Even if you buy that they would go to such expense and trouble for cover identities for just two spies, why give Henry a fake history and life when Edward is the one that's not really living a life? Much of the show is spent of Henry trying to figure out how much of his life and memories are really fake when it makes more sense to reverse the two.

Much of the show spends time dealing with the very obvious problems that anyone could predict would happen under this type of setup and that you'd think a competent spy organization spending this kind of money would know they couldn't keep a lid on. While the spies Edward and Tom know about their dual lives, their respective identities and spouses do not. Naturally, one spouse gets suspicious, especially when she decides to surprise him on one of his "business" trips by waiting for him in his hotel room in one city while he's really on the other side of the globe. That episode is further undermined by a later episode that reveals Henry's wife was not the woman that the company had picked out for him, he was supposed to marry another agent to help keep tabs on him. It follows then that the company had also picked out a wife for Tom, are we to assume this company was so inept that they failed twice in the same area?

Indeed, the setup would make far more sense if Henry is the real identity (as in the classic Jekyll-Hyde story). He agrees to the split personality, his real identity is brain-washed only to the degree to make him think he decided NOT to pursue a career in the intelligence field. Edward also does not realize he's two people or that he has a life outside of being a spy, the brainwashing is to prevent him from questioning his own lack of identity too closely. This makes him efficient and deadly as he doesn't realize he has any family ties, anything to lose. The tension arises as the brainwashing starts breaking down and the two become somewhat aware of each other. Henry is trying to find out just who he is and how much of his life is a lie (because the company does have to keep tabs on him) while Edward wants the life his other half has and thus at times is either sabotaging it or trying to take it over. And, then you have the mystery of just who this company really is or their goals, that some in it may have plans for Henry-Edward to be the ultimate sleeper terrorist with the right verbal command.

I've been enjoying Crusoe, more than I thought it would. Part of me hopes that it's really just a long mini-series as the central idea seems like it would be limiting in story types. Already the show had to take steps to address the Gilligan's Island scenario of having other people constantly finding the island to set up conflict between them and Crusoe and Friday yet end with them not getting off the island. In this case, they stranded a ship that had been taken over by mutineers also on the island. Some of the original crew get along fine with Crusoe but the mutineers are in charge and would kill him on sight. But, they respect his and Friday's knowledge of the island well enough to keep to the beach until they can get the ship repaired and leave. Thus the show has a cast and storytelling possibilities larger than two people on an island, even one as big as this one seems to be.

The flashbacks are also intriguing, that slowly give the story of how Crusoe ended up on the island and the life that he left behind. It serves as reminding each week how imperative it is to him to risk his life and leave this tropical paradise, that he has wife and family he loves and must get back to. Likewise, there are conspiracies afoot that slowly unfold. Is Sam Neil's character really the benevolent family friend he seems to be or is there something more sinister to him?

It's not without flaws. We are told that Friday is a cannibal, yet is able to speak six languages and picked up English very quickly. The creators strive to make Friday a sympathetic and strong character, reinforcing the fact that he is Crusoe's friend and equal and in some ways such as language as well as survival skills, his superior. Where would a cannibal become fluent in six languages? It has to be politically correct. Friday cannot be treated as a true native savage would be and their relationship has to be more palatable than what one from that time period would normally have been. As the show starts with them already friends, a lot of them coming to terms is glossed over. His intelligence is played up as is Crusoe's lack of cultural prejudices. In a sense, that's a shame as that would be quite a bit of fodder for story material. The show does give props in recognizing that the time period isn't one of racial and gender equality though. Even Crusoe can be shown to have some sexist attitudes, a more acceptable form of prejudice than racism.

The other chief flaw is the one that people made fun of concerning the Professor on Gilligan's Island: Crusoe is capable of making a huge tree house with so many gadgets feasible for the time and yet is unable to build a decent raft. Even when he has a small boat that is almost completely fixed, he's unable to make it water tight. And, Friday is equally deficient in this knowledge, even though he's from a culture that makes sea-worthy canoes. Sure, the tree house and gadgets are cool looking, but they over-ride the credibility of the central conceit of the show, the two are stranded on this island with no way off.

Monday, November 10, 2008

When comics were good

One of the "great" things going into Fall and the holidays, the weekends are full of activities and opportunities: plays, music, events, and such.

I saw the Broach theatre of Greensboro do "Almost Blue". Now, most of my experiences at the Broach has been to see comedies and outright farces (A Tuna Christmas, Moon Over Buffalo) though there have been a few dramas. And, generally the stories are enjoyable.

"Almost Blue" is a complete departure. The action takes place in an apartment of Phil, an ex-con trying to drink himself into oblivion and trying to be left alone. But, that's difficult to do as he has a man called Blue as a neighbor who is working on his mysterious history and constantly intrudes on Phil uninvited; Liz, a mysterious woman fem-fatale and Steve, her ex-husband who was a fellow prisoner that is reputed to be dead.

It's a bit of dark film noir. The theater does a great job with a minimalist stage of thrown together furniture, constant sounds of the city and rain in the background, setting the mood perfectly.

The actors do a good job with their parts, coming across in their roles naturally. A big accomplishment as the male and female leads were just seen in the farce "Moon Over Buffalo".

Where it falls apart is in the story itself. I don't know if it's in the original play script or in the production, but the story does a poor job in setting up the story. It's never really explained why Liz suddenly looks Phil up. They go on a long car ride and talk, but the audience isn't privy to that conversation. It doesn't help that the characters all have their secrets and lie to each other as well the audience, so one is never sure what exactly is going on in the story and what motivates any of the characters.

Since we don't really know where they come from, it's hard to gain empathy for the characters. The tough talk and dialogue doesn't flow naturally; written to sound tough but not as if it was something anybody would really say. The romance between Liz and Phil is equally contrived since they never have anything that resembles a real conversation.

This inconsistency and lack of substantiality to the characters and situations leads to different possibilities and interpretations. Are the characters other than Phil actually real or just manifestations of different parts of his tortured psyche? If real, you have a story that's incomplete, plot holes glossed over as nothing the characters say can be taken at face value. But, if fragments of Phil's mind, you have a man that's at war with himself. The contradictions and combative nature of the characters make sense. Heck, even the title makes sense as Blue is the most dominant force in Phil's life at the start of the play, his only "friend". Blue is Phil's opposite, thus he hates what Phil has become and sits as an example of what could be. He has had a shady past, but he's exerted control. He dresses neatly, his life is orderly, he spends his time constructively and with comportment, but he also represents the insular nature of a life shut off from the wider world. Phil hates himself already, and this illusion holds no comfort. He resents this conscience constantly intruding on his life. Thus, you have Liz, the woman who has nothing but disdain for Blue and vice versa. She's more like Phil's self-image. She's tough but tender on the inside. Says and does whatever she thinks. She represents escape from the shell. But, when an uneasy equilibrium is reached, Phil's psyche produces another persona. His convict self exemplified in the Liz' husband who is supposed to be dead. He was the tough guy that Phil became to survive prison and he sees this new Phil as a weakling and a coward and offers Phil one way out, kill Liz. Liz doesn't want to die, she wants to leave and start over. Blue doesn't want to see Phil revert back to the savage he once was, but he doesn't want Liz around either, as he likes Phil as being shut off from the world.

The problem with that interpretation is that while it doesn't conflict with the given information, it is not really supported. It is simply a byzantine line of reasoning on my part, reshaping the story as if all the shortcomings were deliberate as opposed to just bad writing. We become accustomed to bad writing. It is why that for the most part, I didn't pick up on all of the clues in The Sixth Sense that plays fair with the viewer. Imagine if M. Night ended the film without revealing the twist, without the aha moment of the wedding ring at the end. You'd have a good movie but one with some holes, inconsistent actions on the parts of the characters such as why doesn't the mother inform the hospital her son is seeing a shrink? The play doesn't need that aha moment to spell everything out, it can be ambiguous if it wants. But, the fact that it's ambiguous needs to be obvious, some kind of subtext that shows the questionable interpretation of it all is deliberate. So, when viewers or readers come out of the story with more questions than going in, they know they are supposed to be unsettled.

Down at the street in time for Halloween, the Triad Stage did a production of Dracula. An ambitious undertaking as 4 actors played 10 roles. Caitlin Watkins (with a wonderful singing voice) plays the part of Lucy, Mina, and one of Dracula's brides; Lee Spencer plays Van Helsing and Dracula in Transylvania; Joshua Purvis is Seward, Innkeeper, and one of Dracula's vampires; Alexander Windner Lieberman plays Renfield, Jonathan Harker, and Dracula in London.

Some liberties are taken to bring the story to stage with such a minimal cast and setting, but the spirit of the story is kept. The experience is moody and spooky, thrilling and exciting. It's been so long since I've read the original, I'm not sure if the lines of Van Helsing are from Bram Stoker or Anthony Hopkins, but an enjoyable experience.

The only detraction is the setting itself. Not quite a theater-in-the-round, the tables and chairs for the audience are on both sides of the minimalist stage. It doesn't have room for many and no view is perfect. Compounding that is the lighting was uneven and there are plenty of opportunities for a play of this type to do some creative things with lighting to heighten mood and tension. Instead, we had scenes that took place in almost complete darkness.

Followed up was seeing at NC State stage productions of the Orson Welles' radio broadcast of "War of the Worlds" as well as the faux radio broadcast of ACD's "Lost World" developed by John De Lancie (Q of Star Trek: The Next Generation). Boasting actors from varieties of tv shows and movies (the one recognizeable was an early X-Files regular, Deep Throat aka Jerry Hardin). Both were loads of fun.


Just in time for Halloween, Marvel released a supernatural/horror Essentials with stories of the Mummy, Brother Voodoo, the Golem, Modred, and the Scarecrow (the supernatural protagonist, not the supercriminal). B/w is a great format for these tales. These aren't expensive comics to come by but I only have one or two of each of those characters tops. I've only gotten through the Mummy stories and the first two of the Brother Voodoo stories. There's storytelling here one doesn't see these days. The Mummy stories had almost as many writers as issues yet the story didn't suffer. It developed into a sprawling epic, a novel in comic form complete with developed secondary characters, interesting villains and characters with questionable loyalties. A few nods to continuity and the larger Marvel Universe, but it's about telling its story.

The Living Mummy himself is a twist as he's not Egyptian, but an African slave used to build the pyramids. Not a murderous monster, but a monstrous hero, much like the Thing or Swamp Thing. Seeking a cure or at least peace, he finds himself instead in a war between the Elementals, extra-dimensional sorcerers, and a small band of normal humans defending Cairo and all of Earth. A solid story over several issues with a definite beginning, middle, and end. And, not one you'd expect involving a mummy as the central character.

When I first encountered the Ted Kord Blue Beetle, my curiosity was sparked concerning the Dan Garrett Blue Beetle. I eventually found a story with him. I created my own character combining him with the Alan Scott Green Lantern and a bit of the look of Deadman, the Scarlet Scarab. He was a museum curator that came into possession of a mystical scarab that gave him energy powers ala Green Lantern but not as sophisticated. Years later, I'd find out that Roy Thomas had created a Scarlet Scarab in the pages of the Invaders. Here in the Mummy stories, the serendipity strikes again as a magical artifact that can cure the Mummy as well as defeat the the Elementals, is... a red ruby shaped into an Egyptian beetle, a scarlet scarab. The scarab was formed by ancient Egyptian sorcerers Dann and Garret. Turns out, this story is what Roy built his Scarlet Scarab upon.

Brother Voodoo makes for an interesting hero, walking dark paths. His origin reflects both Dr. Strange and the later Shaman of Alpha Flight, but he has his own niche and brand of magic. The moody Gene Colan artwork is perfectly appropriate, blending horror with super heroics, even when Voodoo is facing the Black Talon (a villain with a chicken theme). Unlike Strange, Voodoo's powers are more down to earth, making the character a bit more empathetic. He's formidable but doesn't have a hundred spells at his disposal, he's as likely to throw a punch as anything overtly mystical.

Brother Voodoo is a character I've thought that Marvel should look at transferring to novel form. Given the popularity of the Jim Butcher and Laurel Hamilton books, he seems like he could easily fit into a middle ground of horror and mystery, a natural protagonist against vampires, werewolves, zombies and what have you. Possibly better there than in the comics.

I can hardly wait to get to the rest of the stories.

Instead of talking directly about Superpowers or The Twelve, let's talk The Invaders. I had picked up a trade reprinting the middle stories of the comic from the 70s. Part of the compulsion was the great Gil Kane cover focusing on Union Jack. Another was I only had just a couple stories from this point, hardly the complete story. Trades are great ways to get back issues from the 70s. The printing and the paper is so much better, and it's nice to read the whole story.

The story starts off with the team rushing Lord Falsworth and Jacqueline to the hospital after the near fatal encounter with Baron Blood. We get soap opera as the Torch has a crush on Jackie. When her blood proves tainted by the vampire's bite and rendering normal transfusions useless, he gives her his blood and thus we get a new superhero. Meanwhile we have another scientist experimenting on some robotic armor and the debut of the menace of the Blue Bullet. This all leads up to the heart-broken Torch quitting the team temporarily while the rest go to the Warsaw ghetto to retrieve the scientist's pacifistic brother. Which gives us the golem legend and the debut of another character, mixing mysticism and science against the backdrop of the War. From there we get the unofficial 2-part crossover with DC's Freedom Fighters as the Invaders meet up with the mostly UK team of the Crusaders: Spirit of '76 (Uncle Sam), Dynamite (Doll Man), Thunderfist (Human Bomb), Ghost Girl (Phantom Lady), Captain Wings (Black Condor), and Tommy Lightning (the Ray). You have to give the man credit, it takes some doing to manage to borrow a legitimate golden-age character's name for EACH name and still have them reflect the Freedom Fighters, even if he had to get a few of the names from Canada. Most of these characters are extremely minor. However, the Spirit of '76 would turn out to be very important as he became a replacement Captain America explaining who had the adventures while the original was on ice. Dynamite would become a major subplot over several issues as to what happened to Lord Falsworth's son, Brian. From there we get the re-introduction of the Destroyer and the debut and origin of Warrior Woman. Oh, and worked in was a crossover with the Avengers.

Whew. Reading them in a chunk like that and one is struck by the sheer volume of detail and variety in the stories. The War is never far removed from these stories, serving as fertile ground for new heroes and villains of all types, slightly more complex motivations, and morality plays on racism and the times. Yet, it is all handled through being a superhero comic first and foremost. The heroes are heroes. The action is larger than life. There's no embarrassment at writing kid partners. One story even involves a little time travel.

The threats are varied and with almost every other issue, new characters are being constantly introduced. There are recurring threats but also new ones. Each opponent is not a Nazi. Thomas is using continuity, but the stories aren't about continuity (other than the annual with the Avengers). He's creating more than he's mining, adding to the tapestry that was the Marvel Universe. Each new character that's created, heroes and villains, their actions have motivations. You understand them and their abilities within pages.

Another thing struck me. I was reading this for fun, lost in the stories and got to the part about Dynamite as Lord Falsworth and Spitfire try to help him with his amnesia. And, they tell him about his friendship with Brian. Meanwhile we're getting not just the other side of that story but the other end of it as the Destroyer relates to how he became the Destroyer, coyly hiding the fact that he's also Brian Falsworth. And, it hits me. There is no way anybody could read these stories and think that Roy Thomas was implying that Roger and Brian were gay. A big part of that justification that proponents of the theory put forth is that it is implied by Lord Falsworth's disapproval over their friendship. Guess what? That's not in there. The falling out that the pater has with his son is covered in-story and is explicitly shown to be over Brian's pacifistic leanings to the point of backing appeasement with Hitler and even visiting the dictator. When Roger shows back up with amnesia and stuck in miniature size but willing to fight the Nazis, the elder Falsworth treats him as a second son. He risks his own life, parachuting into enemy territories in effort to help Roger regain his memory and natural size (and, to find out what happened to Brian, of course) even though he's paralyzed from the waist down. All of the subtext that people claim is in those original stories, completely absent. It really comes from just two panels of the art, when the elder Falsworth is relating about how Roger and Brian were best friends and fierce competitors and we see them walking off the polo field wearing cravats, with an arm across the shoulders. Never seen team-mates hug? Pat each others' butts? But, nowhere in the narration of said scene or what follows is anything that could be construed as sub-text for anything beyond the friendship that it says it is. It's here that we find out why there was a falling out between father and son, and it's very clear that Brian's relationship with Roger had absolutely nothing to do with it from both the father's words and deeds. It's all about readers with sex on the brains looking at that single panel and saying, "that looks so gay."

However, compare these tales to their counterparts today. There's variety in the stories as Roy Thomas uses the milieu of WWII to fuel his stories and address various story and character types. His stories are limited to just a few issues, with beginnings, middles, and end, allowing that variety. Compare the sheer amount of story (even with reprints) and characterization he gets in seven issues vs the seven issues of Superpowers, the first half of The Twelve or the first year of Brubaker's Captain America. He uses the medium of the comicbook to tell the stories effectively. If something is a mystery, it's supposed to be. Otherwise, characters are introduced showing them off in action while defining them. Compare the introduction of the Crusaders to the first issue of The Twelve, or the manner the heroes are brought back in Superpowers. Which is more exciting to read and instantly makes you curious about the characters, makes you want to see more of them? And, he creates new memorable characters, heroes and villains. He recognizes that the heroes are supposed to be that, the heroes of the book to root for. Retcons and storylines aren't used to compromise the integrity of the characters. The story progresses. A subplot or character point isn't introduced at the beginning only to re-appear three months down the road.

Friday, October 24, 2008

20 Most Significant?

I love Steven Grant's column on comicbookresources. At best I agree with about half of any of what he says, but as a longtime professional, his insights to the industry are informative and interesting. At worst, he's what Holmes would credit of Watson, while not a source of light, he reflects it and is often illuminating ie I may ultimately disagree, but what he says does make one think.

His most recent column about the 20 most significant comics fired up the boards as most lists are apt to do. Some of his choices were interesting such as American Flagg and Blackmark. Not really up on the independent scene at the time though I sampled quite a few of the comics from First and Eclipse, it's hard for me to judge how significant those and some of the others actually were.

A few of his other choices I disagreed with. Such as the Showcase debut of the Flash. If any "history" is a myth it's that of the debut of the Flash signifying a great superhero revival and the start of the Silver-Age. In an older post I explored in more detail the various "ages" of comics and the context of the Flash and the other heroes debuts. Ignore the conventional wisdom of when the "ages" were as they are nothing more than convenient constructs and look at the broad picture of superhero comics and the debut of the Flash is just one blip among many before and after, at about a steady rate all told. There is nothing any more significant about that comic than a host of others. The "Flash of Two Worlds" is a far more significant comic in the scope of superhero history.

What's also puzzling is his choice of Amazing Spider-man #1. What little of the logic he applied to Showcase would by default kick out Amazing Spider-man in favor of at least his debut in Amazing Fantasy or the true comic: Fantastic Four #1. But, even when talking about significance, everything that is significant in Spider-man is first found in the FF. When truly looking at a logical start of the Silver-Age, it's the Fantastic Four. It's the first "new" superhero comic. While it is still built upon comics and superheroes of the past, in style, themes and substance, it is new and different from how they've been done before. Spider-man may have been the more popular and the more significant character especially in terms of the Marvel Empire, but it's not the more significant comicbook in the context of comicbook history.

Of course, as talks generally go, it gets one thinking exactly what would be one's own list. Mine is more superhero-bent, it's what I read and enjoy, and it's all American based comics. But, if I had to compose a list:

If I had to list with a slightly more supehero-centric list:

1-3 of Steven's list is correct and would be foolish to try to come up with something better.

#4: Whiz Comics #1: While taken to the courts as infringement, Captain Marvel was significant: it recognized we don't want Robin to identify with, we want to be the hero. The ultimate in wish fulfillment and a modern day fairy tale in superhero form. Might be impossible to gauge whether it was he or #5 that is responsible for all the Captains that would eventually litter the superhero landscape.

#5: Captain America #1: the title that really launched the patriotic superheroes, from Captain America punching Hitler on the nose. No messing around with fictitious dictators and countries. The tail would wag the dog as Irv Novick, the artist on the earlier Shield would change his artwork to match more closely Simon & Kirby's work hyperkinetic artwork. Not the first patriotic hero nor the first of S&K teaming up, but this is where they became a recognizable force and influence on comics for the next couple of decades. Just a Robin may beat out Bucky as a kid sidekick, most of those that followed owed more to Bucky down to using their own names in lieu of code-names.

#6: Whiz Comics #21: The introduction of the Lieutenant Marvels. May not seem like much now, but this was the first attempt at franchising a superhero; not introducing a sidekick, but other characters capable of carrying their own strips based on the popular lead. Soon, Marvels were everywhere at Fawcett: Captain Marvel, Captain Marvel Jr., Hoppy the Marvel Bunny, Uncle Marvel, Freckles Marvel, the Aunty Anti-Marvel, the whole Sivana clan and culminating in Black Adam, the evil Marvel. To them we owe Supergirl, Superboy, Superwoman, Bizarro, Batgirl, Batwoman, Bathound, Bat-Mite, Man-Bat, etc

#7: Pep Comics #41: Archie debuted sometime earlier and even appeared on the cover since, but from here on out, he starts out figuring prominently on the cover, slowly edging the Shield out. He goes from being an above-average back-up strip to a cultural phenomenon. The times are changing.

#8: All-Star Western #58: With this, the title that gave the JSA a home for a decade became a Western, superheroes were going dormant. Westerns that had been around for a long time as a minor part of comics would now be a dominant genre for the next two decades.

#9: I'll concede to Crime Does not Pay for the reasonings that it helped fuel the campaign against comics and the formation of the CCA.

#10: FF #1: The first true SA comic book. DC's SA was still being fueled by the late 1940's and early 1950's, Marvel recreates the superheroes into something new. Like the GA, the heroes are rooted in their times, the fears of communism, the space race, science unchecked. The heroes bicker, they are cursed as much as they are blessed and can be motivated by selfish means (in this sense Amazing Fantasy #16 is more significant than the first issue of his ongoing, the theme that with power comes responsibility vs our selfish nature that contributes to unhappiness and undoing).

#11: The Flash #123: "Flash of Two Worlds" the beginning of modern continuity sensibilities at DC and in a sense giving a measure of power to fans.

#12: Fantastic Four #49: issue #48 started the storyline, but Galactus' first appearance is here. There had been cosmic stories and stories featuring gods, but the power and scope of Galactus and the Silver Surfer as done by Kirby, it showed what his creative mind was capable of and unlike anything before. It set a whole new benchmark for what superhero comics could be and what cosmic really meant. The Legion had the Sun-Eater, which is probably a bit more realistic, but his nature doesn't achieve the Greek tragedy heights of the characters of the Watcher, Galactus and Silver Surfer. The best creators today are still trying to catch up to what Lee & Kirby were able to do here.

#13: Mad: Another one I cannot fault his logic for inclusion.

#14: Green Lantern #76: I was torn on this or The Amazing Spider-Man #96 which ran without a comic code seal of approval. But it's with this issue of Green Lantern, that superheroes started rediscovering their relevancy. The true significance of these titles was far more subtle than generally recognized. After all, the more serious and relevance take didn't signify higher sales and it went back to being more straightforward space-opera soon enough. However, Denny O'Neill brought a bit of that sensibility to every comic he wrote and edited. Writers and editors would follow suit in other comics, reflecting more of the culture and society unrest, expanding the types of stories superheroes could be about and the power of the CCA was weakened as not carrying the label didn't bring doom and gloom upon a comic. There's a reason why issues of this run are among the most reprinted comics in one format or another, never staying unavailable for long.

#15: Amazing Spider-man #121: There have been deaths in comics before and Peter Parker had his share of heart-ache and break-ups. But no character's death has ever really served as a watershed moment as did the death of Gwen Stacey. That the hero would not only fail but be partly responsible for the character's death, it's a true landmark comic. If Quesada and company were really daring about rebooting the character, they should have undid this issue along with the wedding. That really would have set things in an uproar and made for some interesting stories.

#16: Swamp Thing #20: Alan Moore takes over the character and redefines the concept of horror and superhero-esque titles written for adults. To be fair, he had done this before this title but it's here where he made his name and where he laid the groundwork that would give rise to the British Invasion of comics writers and make works like Neil Gaiman's Sandman, Morrison's Animal Man and Doom Patrol possible and eventually lead to the creation of a whole imprint, Vertigo. It is doubtful that we'd have seen other revisionist superhero works like Miller's Dark Knight Returns, O'Neil's Question, Grell's Longbow Hunters if Moore hadn't paved the way here first. I say this and recognize this, but I miss the way Swamp Thing was before Moore got his hands on him.

#17: Maus. I've not read it, but I respect and recognize its achievements.

#18: Cerebus. No specific issue and I don't agree with a lot of Sims' point of view. But, it is a testament of a creator forging his own path and creating his own work and unique vision. A lot better example to hold up than Youngblood.

#19: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Not every one was significant for being good. I agree with Steven on this one. I think one has to acknowledge the success of this questionable comic parody lead to a boom in independent comics and readers recognizing that b/w is a viable option and at least trying various b/w comics whether it be various output of Dark Horse, The Southern Knights, Cerebus, Zenazoic Tales, or Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters. 90% of what it helped spawn was dreck, but there was some good stuff too. Wish someone would bring back the Southern Knights.

#20: Crisis on Infinite Earths. This is basically a tie between it and Watchmen. Two great and landmark works yet, both have lead to the excesses of the 90's of modern revisionism and strip mining continuity while pretending to be honoring history by recasting heroes as ineffectuals, fascists and closet fetishists, where creators' egos feel their version trumps all that went before... to write continuity driven stories while creating retcons right and left, stories about continuity instead of with continuity.

Somewhere in there I would have liked to include the likes of Camelot 3000. I may be wrong but it is or close to being the first maxi-limited series, not based on superheroes or continuity, had Brian Bolland artwork, printed on high quality paper-stock AND intended for the direct market to boot. One of the first showing DC taking away from Marvel the role as being the innovator and producing comic intelligent comics for adults and not just kids. But, then again, some of that can be credited to Alan Moore's Swamp Thing as well. Then, there's The Death of Captain Marvel, the first original graphic novel that lead to some pretty good original graphic novels out there. And, one of the best death of a superhero stories ever done. Had the graphic novel format been a bigger ongoing success, who knows. Maybe it was just too early, the trade market not really existing like it does now.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Some Comic Reviews


Been a busy couple of weeks including a trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Been some interesting comics, gave a few new ones a try.

Avengers/Invaders #5: A step in the right direction for the art. The cover is gorgeous and dynamic. Finally, the coloring on the interiors has stepped up to the plate, full of subtlety. While there are panels where Bucky and Captain America's blues are still purplish, at least this time out it's clear that those instances are in low lighting. Ross & Krueger's story is a lot more tighter than over in Superpowers, some great moments while Bucky/Cap doesn't pause to muck around with the ramifications of changing time by advising his younger self to not play hero and listen to Captain America in 1945. We also see the missing soldier pulling a scene from Saving Private Ryan and visits the graves of his fallen comrades and wonders about his surviving. We also learn that Dr. Strange has been holding back the ramifications of the Invaders traveling out of the time stream.

Sadly, there's a lot of other problems with the story that don't track. One, if the two teams of the Avengers are after the same thing (getting the Invaders back to the past), why are they fighting? Sure, there's bad blood and all, but it doesn't make any sense. Why launch an attack instead of just calling Stark up, especially since Strange already has a way to send them back. Also, if Strange is holding back the changes of the time if the Invaders don't go back, then how was the soldier able to look his older self up? He didn't die with his comrades because he time travelled.

The story really started going south when it focused on the Human Torch. Read the recap, it says they left the past in 1943. Yet, the Human Torch has memories from 1945! Worse, these memories are to serve as the whole motivation for everything he does and what leads into the next chapter, his comparing how SHIELD uses the LMD's and the Hitlers and the Jews.

Which of course makes no sense. Their very name implies that LMD's are nothing more than fancy CPR dummies crossed with Disney animatronics. AI is not the same as self-awareness. Indeed, if SHIELD could and did create androids with original thought and will, would they be using them as "Decoys" ie targets to fake deaths more often than not? And, the Human Torch of all beings would recognize this difference, that because it appears human does not mean that it is. What Krueger and Ross see and play up that his nature would cause him to see kinship in the LMD's is also what would cause him to see a big difference between himself and what amounts to automated puppets. Of course they confuse the issue further when the LMD's seem to come to life and see him as a leader or sign of the start of their liberation at the end. I don't read a lot of Marvel comics and I maybe missed a bunch over the years that suggested the LMD's had this kind of range of independent thought. Even so, it doesn't track. Until his most recent "death", the Human Torch had been in the present day for quite some time. So, why now for this trigger?

I also don't buy that the LMD's don't have a "specific scent" per Wolverine. Everything has a scent and each would develop its own scent depending on where it has been, who it has had contact with. Just as your car starts off with that general "new car" smell that it eventually loses and is replaced with other smells depending on the individuals that use it, the upkeep and environments it resides in.

B.P.R.D.: The Warning #4: A gorgeous looking book from the moody Mignola cover (isn't that the symbol of Lobster Johnson by the title, what does that signify I wonder) and the Guy Davis art inside. A feeling of the FF's Mole Man crossed with War of the Worlds, I've generally given up on being able to follow the storyline, the logic or reasoning with any of it. As it has tried to go epic in the storyline, it has lost the really creepy and more horrific feel this line used to have.

span style="font-weight: bold;">Flash Gordon #1: I broke down and bought this comic. 'Course I broke down and watched the sci-fi series as well. Sigh. Both fall down in so many ways. Chief among them is this wretched need to re-invent the wheel. The trick is to do the same thing that people writing Sherlock Holmes pastiches have long done, keep what Doyle has written as Canon. Everything else doesn't really matter. You're not going to top what Raymond did. Heck, most cannot even top what the movie serials or even the 80's movie with Queen soundtrack. DC did a mini that managed a decent updating, but it still lacked any kind of staying power because at the end of the day, it's a new character calling himself Flash Gordon, it's not really about the character as invented.

They compound their problems with just bad writing. It starts off well-enough, by cleverly starting with a literal cliff-hanger. But, in addition to being a bit of a dare-devil rock climber we find out he's a carefree history professor at Yale!? Oh, get this, he was also a reckless agent/trainee with the CIA that Dale Arden used to works for. The writer is trying too hard to make Flash a compelling character by turning him into basically 3 different characters! Instead of humanizing him, it just serves to make him unbelievable. It also fails in that since they ARE reinventing the wheel, telling us a story we already basically know, we KNOW that Ming the Merciless is supposed to show up yet the comic never gets that far into the storyline. It's like the rage these days to spend 4 issues to tell an origin story and not have the character appear in costume anywhere in the first issue. Reassess the type of story you're telling here and what you are trying to achieve.

The artwork at first isn't as big a turnoff as you'd expect. It's heavily stylized but it could work to make the characters seem fresh and exciting. However, it sacrifices any kind of honesty in storytelling for all that glitz. Starting off with that cliffhanger scene, the splash page is done well, ably backed up by the colorist. However, on page 3, we discover Flash has somewhere hidden on his skin-tight t-shirt a parachute? Man, even the old movie serials didn't cheat at their cliffhangers that badly. Again, it just gets worse from there. Most artists excel at action or splash pages and suck at quiet moments. Here, we have an artist that is all about character posing and design, thus he fails when he's required to actually illustrate a story, the action scenes are often silhouettes or close ups on the leering faces. Maybe if he had a better story.

Green Arrow and Black Canary #13: As a new writer comes on board with #15, I guess I cannot really blame Winick for spending at least one issue trying to set up the two pet characters, the charming thief Dodger and Mia as Speedy, with a status quo as a happy dating young couple, thus letting the new writer the way he sees the characters. However, it just continues to show just how much Winick has really missed the boat in the last year with this title as the lead characters are barely guest stars in their own title. And, of course, the next issue is about Connor. One gets the feel that Winick wasn't really on board for the marriage of Ollie and Dinah considering how much he has gone out of his way to NOT show them together. Here's hoping that the next writer sends Connor off to a monastery and DC lets Chuck Dixon write a series of minis with his character and Mia and Dodger retire and run off to get married (because a HIV positive superhero is the height of irresponsibility).

Hellboy: The Crooked Man #3: This small mini is what B.P.R.D. has not been, a wonderfully creepy little tale, an old school horror story when horror meant more than strange and graphic ways of dying. I'm not normally a fan of Richard Corben's artwork, but with Hellboy, it works with great effect. While he's the hero of the story, the story is really about the other characters and their plight that brings them to his attention. I love how it touches on the battle over one man's soul who repents from selling it vs those whose sins and crimes were well enough hidden or glossed over to deserve burial in the church graveyard. This is a perfect story to read again over Halloween night.

Justice League of America #25: McDuffie continues to work hard at wrapping up the plotlines left over from his predecessor. He ties up the various threads of the Red Tornado's story and sends him off stage in a way that promises future stories while at the same time absolving McDuffie from having to address the character again. I am tired of Professor Ivo though. Other than his androids killing Vibe and Steel II, he just isn't that definitive of a character, he's a cardboard villain that seems to get more screen time than he ever deserved. Even then, he was played as being somewhat pathetic. Either do a story that really concentrates on his character or kill him off. When it comes to mad scientists, there are so many that are far more interesting, than this one trick pony (and maybe permanently disable Amazo while we're at it).

The Vixen segment is more interesting as her and Animal Man's origins are being re-written and examined. This seems to be a two-fer, both characters have had some strange turns with their powers and this storyline serves to return them both to a more serviceable and logical status quos. We also get some interesting alternate JLA's, which we'll see more of in the next issue.

If anything marred this issue, it's that somehow this comic took a team of artists to finish with changes every so many pages. And this is after Benes makes a conversation between Black Lightning and Hawkgirl take 4 pages with extreme closeups on characters mouths and body parts.

Secret Six #2: Catman and Batman have a heart-to-heart talk while duking it out on the roof-tops of Gotham. Isn't it funny how characters who would normally hardly be in a hero's league seem to get very better at the hand-to-hand stuff when they become a more central character (normal cops and mercs becoming heroes and going after super-villains, villains turning "good" etc)? Then again, Batman was probably hardly really trying to take Catman down this time out, and Catman is only trying to delay Batman while the rest of his team complete their mission at springing the Tarantula from prison. A little more of the mystery of Junior is revealed, the set-up seems to suggest he's an alien and he drafts an army of villains. This seems to be a recurring theme of the Secret Six as well, to find themselves at odds with the whole supervillain community. Yet with all these psychopaths and Deadshot on the Six team, there are always a surprising lack of deaths that you would expect. Wonder how Catman is going to fare against the Cheetah? Like last time, the art is completely perfect and no too darkly colored pages this time out even though certain pages take place under the cover of darkness. The only discordant note this time out is that special effect plaid pattern still evident on the clothes of Junior's henchmen.

Solomon Kane #1: As in the previews, the coloring really falls down on the job on the characters in this, painting everyone in shades of gray and brown, making the characters seem to have skin tones and warmth of dead fish. Otherwise, it's a great start to a story, setting the character and his ability up as well as laying a groundwork of feeling of impending dread and menace. This is no doubt because while the credits list Scott Allie as the writer and Robert E. Howard as the creator of Solomon Kane, this story is actually by Howard and Allie is adapting it. Don't want to dismiss Allie's talent, he may be a fine writer. I've not read anything by him nor the original Howard story for comparison, but fair and accurate credits would be a plus. And what a cool name is "John Silent" though he looks a bit ordinary here.

Superpowers #6: We find out why Bruce Carter's ancestor is a "cursed" ghost. Sort of. Like everything else by Krueger, it's so underwhelming to be pointless and feels forced. If anything it makes Carter seem petty. He was given powers at a time when the country needed them with nary a cost beyond his own choices. Yet somehow, for all the ghost has done, he's resented and painted blackly. We've yet to actually see anything that the ghost did was for malicious or self-serving reasons, that at worst, he's been as much a dupe of whatever the urn was as the Fighting Yank. And, he keeps trying to do the right thing while the American Spirit seems to be the true manipulator, knowing many of the answers but keeps everyone in the dark. I'd say it was a sign of Krueger's great writing skill, but instead it all just seems inconsistant as if each character is in a different story and refusing to adapt to the one they are in.

This colorist seems to have found the purples and magentas that had been switched for blues and reds that were being used for Avengers/Invaders.

We find out that Miss Masque/Masquerade has disguise powers and that they were somehow supposed to be evident earlier.

Think Kruger knows that F-Troop is liable to make people chuckle because of associations to a slapstick comedy series? Kinda takes away any sense of threat and power from the army of Frankenstein monsters.

The plot at least seems to finally being moved forward. We get an origin of the Scarab and plays it off the origins of many superheroes only taking a page from JMS and turns it around to give one that is far more mundane. Dynamic Man reports to a council, possibly the one that was responsible for training Amazing Man and that the Great Question was part of. One of the hooded men may be A-Man himself.

The character sketches in the back, pretty much all characters that have not been in this story at all. Most telling is probably Doc Strange considering the prominence of the other Nedor characters in the story: Fighting Yank, Black Terror, and Pyroman.

Top Ten: Season Two #1: A gorgeous book. Gene Ha has changed art-styles, this one being a more full-colored painted look (for awhile, he was doing some realistic washed out painted work in addition to his more standard comic book work). However, don't know if it takes much longer or if Alan Moore was the one suggesting all of the various easter egg jokes because the suddenly their world looks a whole lot less populated. Even without Moore at the helm of this one though, we still get a book that's a quality piece of work that keeps much of the sensibilities of the what he had set forth. Zander Cannon seems to be able to get at the meat of what makes Moore's stories interesting and why they work and not just the superficialities and excesses that bog so many of the wannabes.

The Twelve #8: As I remarked last time, we get a gorgeous painted cover that is very pulpish or at least evokes 1950's lurid paperback covers. Poor JMS just cannot restrain himself from changing the backstories of the characters, we get a different look at the Black Widow though the most important details are kept. Meanwhile, the Fiery Mask's origin seems to be cast in doubt as well. Whereas he had a pretty interesting origin story and a great unexplored master villain, it looks as if he too is going to have the wonder stripped from his story and we get one more geared to make him tragic and pathetic. The Fiery Mask also gets a power change. While he on occassion exhibited the ability to radiate heat, he had the superstrength and invulnerability needed to commit these crimes which is ignored here. Meanwhile, the Blue Blade does something that isn't geared to make him look merely pathetic though maybe overly enthusiastic, Mastermind Excello posts bail for the Laughing Mask and there seems to be ominous foreboding on the ultimate fate of Rockman. The story finally seems to be progressing towards something. What we don't get to see is how Captain Wonder reacts to the suicide of his sidekick in the last issue or anything with Mr. E. The final page suggests there may even be a turn in the events as to who the suspect behind everything really is as the Blue Blade knows some secrets and takes them to Dynamic Man, something he'd hardly do if what he found out was that Electro was being controlled by him. But, if he found out that Electro was used to set Dynamic Man up for the murders...

Vixen #1: A new mini-series focusing on JLA member and longtime background character of the DCU despite some rather formidible abilities. The cover is gorgeous, full of color and warmth and. And, the interior artwork is lush as well, the coloring carrying a bulk of the weight of providing details and atmosphere while the linework provides mostly just the bare minimum of outlines. Often this doesn't work, but it does here, a perfect blending of talent and skill. The only places it really doesn't work is with Superman. His body and face lack definition as if he's more of an inflated balloon than a person. He doesn't look as if his clothes were painted on as is the case with most superhero art nobut neither does the costume have any realistic touches, wrinkles around the joints and belt and such. There's no substance to him at all. DC's sense of timing strikes again, as this is a Vixen in full control of her powers, kinda robbing the JLA storyline of its power as it broadcasts what happens at least in regards to her and her standing with the League.

Friday, October 03, 2008

We can be a hero and make a difference.

On October 12, I am again walking in the CROP Hunger Walk and I would love to have your support. Our efforts will support life-saving programs around the world. Join me and our family and friends as we work together to solve this world-wide challenge. You can be the difference, and you can start by making a donation. Visit my personal page, where you can make a secure online credit card donation. From there you can even choose to get involved in a CROP walk near you through donating, walking or volunteering your time.

For more info:
We walk because they walk:
Hawa gets water in Geles, a village in the Darfur region of Sudan where the Action by Churches Together-Caritas coalition has provided wells and other services. While the CWS-supported coalition effort focuses primarily on the needs of people internally displaced by the widespread violence in Darfur, it is also assisting nearby villages, many of which are hosting uprooted families.In the arid northwest of Kenya 350 Turkana families in two villages are gaining clean water and sanitation facilities, with the help of the CWS Water for Life/Water for All program and a local partner. The people are providing the labor and some of the materials. The new wells will free up the women and girls from walking long distances to get water. Latrines and bathing cabins will help to prevent illness.

As a CROP Hunger sponsor, you help us reach out to children and families in Darfur, Kenya, and elsewhere with the gift of clean, fresh water and other empowering tools of hope.

A little help makes a big difference:
$25 – can provide blankets to a family of five displaced by violence or natural disaster
$45 – can provide 30 jerry cans to carry clean water for drinking and cooking
$150 – can buy a hundred chickens and two wire chicken coops, providing two families with a reliable source of eggs, protein, and income
$500 – can provide small start-up loans that enable women to jump-start a business, such as making school uniforms
Together, we can make a difference!

Thank You,
Edward Lee Love

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Off with the top of their heads!

It's been awhile since I've actually looked forward to checking out a bunch of shows on tv. While some of my off-season USA shows are done with their cycle (Psych, Monk, and Burn Notice), the new season has started with Smallville, Supernatural, House (and Criminal Minds and CSI in the background to catch when I can). Fringe has debuted, I hope to catch My Own Worst Enemy and 11th Hour (the latter a definite re-working of a British mini, while the former sounds similar to BBC's Jekyll while I will pass on America's version of Worst Week of My Life... it was painful the first time around).

As I had planned to talk to my gal Monday, we taped Heroes, and I watched it on Tuesday along with House and Fringe. Which made for an odd day of television watching as each show featured a bit of brain surgery/probing. It was a wise move to kick off the season of Heroes with a recap special as the show is so continuity heavy and it has been a long while thanks to the extended hiatus due to the writer's strike. Plus, I had apparently missed the final episode as much of what they covered from the end of the series was unfamiliar to me.

The continuity is going to kill this show though. Much as J.J. Abrams realized when watching a random episode of his own Alias, the show is so dense in its own story, it is impenetrable to a casual or new viewer. The show is too much about its own insular mega story, that everyone is part of one big story. It's sorta like how the X-Files tended to get bogged down at the end in trying to tie everything together as part of one tapestry of conspiracies. It starts feeding on itself instead of realizing that there are thousands of stories out there. This gelled for me when we see Hiro adrift because after saving the world, he has no quest and no destiny until it comes looking for him. There are still crimes and all out there, lives to be saved and helped. However, the writers have lost sight of the fact that there are hundreds and thousands of stories out there that can be told with these people with superpowers, because they are too focused on the One story to be told that the various characters share.

Just as they missed the boat with Sylar. He should have been killed off and stayed dead or at the very least, put away for a long time. By not actually resolving his storyline satisfactorily, it wears on viewers' patience. Most great villains are used sparingly. And, by writing him out of the storyline, it frees up the characters for a really new story. Instead, there is a feeling that it keeps going back to the same well for its inspirations, until its creatively dry. Thus, we have a shocking ending that is more tiring than anything else, it's so deliberate and contrived for shock value.

Mohinder's transformation was an interesting choice. One of the things I like about the show is the balance between those with powers against those without. Ando is my favorite character and I wished they had kept the female detective. I thought earlier scenes, it looked as if Mohinder wasn't quite as scrawny looking as before, it appears as if he's been hitting the gym in preparation for his "Fly" transformations. Kristen Bell's character was growing on me as well.

Although, doesn't Adrian Pasdar look like he'd be perfect as Lamont Cranston/the Shadow?

With the surprising death of a character last season and what looks like the departure of Dr. Wilson this season, House is interesting in that it seems to be forcing a little more inspection and possibly introspection with Dr. House and his misanthropy. The Wilson character was a nice guy and as such, I feel sorry for what he went through and will miss him when he's gone. However, from a story angle, it's needed. For his friendship with House really was one-sided and his personality wasn't strong enough to really stand up against House's. In a sense, it's the story of his leaving that we finally get a sense of what House really gets from the relationship beyond an enabler. Although, it's not as if House would admit this, so we get it from the point of view and exposition by a private detective that House has hired.

What's really cool that struck me at the episode's end where it's revealed the p.i. will be back for at least another show, we have gotten a truer skewed reflection of the Holmes-Watson relationship: that of the doctor and the private detective.

Fringe is still a new show, exploring its niche. By J.J. Abrams, it sets out to mimic X-Files in that while there is an over-arcing story, the individual episodes are to be largely self contained. Well, that's the desire anyway. In actuality, while the plots of the episodes center around different cases, they still all tie together. Federal agent Olivia Dunham investigates bizarre events that make use of impossible science that higher ups and others have deemed the pattern. Each of these events make so far make use of science and experiments that Dr. Walter Bishop came up with years ago before he was committed to an insane asylum. With the aide of his son Peter (who my brother and I surmise is his clone) who helps keep ole Dad focused, Dunham tries to find those who are behind it all and the ties they have to a super mega company founded by Dr. Bishop's one time partner. A decent show, but things haven't really come together yet, the show is still trying to find its grounding. I'm reminded of the first season of Smallville with each episode being about some hapless person of the week with powers due to kryptonite. It took a little while for the show to get comfortable with expanding the scope of its storytelling. Hopefully, we'll see that soon here too. For it is a well-done show with air of menace as well as some humorous dialogue between Dr. Walter and his son. Like Heroes, it just needs to realize it can be about more than it's One Story.

Comic News

Have you seen the new previews for Solomon Kane? Kane is an interesting Howard creation. He's intense and fanatical in ways that would make Batman take notice. A soldier, swordsman, monster-killer, and yet a devout puritan. Interesting contradictions there (there are contradictions in everybody, some just keep them better hidden than others). One cannot say he's insane, because the monsters and all do exist, his violence is a logical and possibly even noble response. A little girl is kidnapped by pirates, he will do all in his power to rescue her, even if he must go Old Testament. He's Ditko's Question placed in a barbaric and horrific world.

The pencils are great in their sketchiness, give off some kind of weird Kaluta/BWS vibe. The backgrounds with the coloring tend to look as if they are from a Renaissance painting. It all falls apart when it comes to the inking and coloring of the characters, least in the scenes revealed so far. The figures have no weight and they are all colored with the same pastel density and no variation. The skin tones are all pale with tinges of purple like day-old dead grubs. Kane looks more like Dracula than someone flesh and blood.

Dynamite has announced it's releasing both a Black Terror and The Death-Defying Devil comic. I want to be excited. Really, I do. Superpowers has been such a let-down with the arbitrary changes, it's hard to muster interest. We have gotten precious little in the main series to even give us a reason to want the individual comics. The ' Devil is to bridge the stories between the current Superpowers book and the next one and explore a little more about the urn that kept them in suspended animation and corrupted them (and the Fighting Yank spiritually). Except, shouldn't that really have been a big part of the plot of the first Superpowers mini? After all, the whole plot and mystery of it is set up there. And, yet, the scope of the comic has been so far beyond Krueger that it's been all but ignored. The fact that Joe Casey off the pointlessly out of focus The Last Defenders is writing it doesn't really bode well either. Lastly, someone should point out the fact to them that as a superhero name and comicbook title "the Death-Defying Devil" sucks eggs. It's a moniker for a circus acrobat but not an actual code name. Do what DC has done for ages with Captain Marvel. They didn't rename him just because Marvel had locked up the trademark, they just came up with an appropriate name for the book. Since, most GA characters appeared in books under names not their own, it'd even be in keeping with the spirit. The one positive, Daredevil's costume is such a classic and so iconic, it's great to just see him in print again regardless.


I enjoy the Harry Dresden books (along with Salvatore's fantasy novels, the Harry Potter books, various and sundry pulp books) and television shows like Buffy, Angel and the original Nightstalker. Like Heroes, they are very much comicbook/super-character stories with some different window dressing. And, as comics, they almost uniformly don't live up to the potential of their original medium.

We are seeing an explosion of comics based on works from other media. Roy Thomas has a whole classics line at Marvel, various sci-fi, fantasy, and horror writers are seeing their works adapted. And, I cannot say I try them all or even interested in it. Direct adaptations don't interest me much because the pacing and all is all wrong, even for books that were written to be action stories. Horror is hard to pull off because so much is dependent on playing with the mind whether it's the author's skill with language or the tv/movie having the extra range to play with to control the viewer through sound and pacing of the film (it's why horror movies don't work as well on tv, especially with commercials, that pacing and immersion into the environment is lost outside a darkened theatre). The other problem with the adaptations is one can be reasonably sure the status quo will be maintained. Not much significant is going to happen to Dresden in the comic because he still is appearing in books. The few Buffy and Angel comics I've tried have been ok, but they don't capture the creativity of the shows which is strange considering they have the original writer overseeing it all and there's the benefit of no special effects budget.

I've been getting Moonstone's Kolchak comics, based on the original tv series not the new one that turned him into a young-good looking type. It was Kolchak that got me into journalism in the first place. The plotting has been decent and some good old-fashioned styled horror stories in there. The art is largely uneven, partly with the struggle to maintain character likenesses. The most recent issue, the artist spends a good amount of time putting the character into shadows. I imagine the writer must look a bit like Darrin McGavin as each story that comes along has him being somehow oddly attracting the attention of a beautiful young woman and usually bedding them. Now, Kolchak did have a kind of crusty charm about him, but he wasn't a ladies man by a long shot. The books are decent enough though and have lasted longer than I would have expected.

Captain Britain and MI:13: Pat Oliffe does a fine job on the pencils; it's good to see him on a title after the end of The All-New Atom. He doesn't have to stretch himself as much as an artist as he did there, but he is capable of drawing almost anything well that a writer throws at him with a good command of storytelling. You don't have to backtrack to try and interpret what he's trying to get across.

Wish the writer was as clear. Last issue we saw the formation of the team to be similar to the Avengers or Thomas' WWII All-Star Squadron, a calling together of all of the UK heroes to come under one banner with Government clearance and resources to fight incredible threats but with no killing says ole Captain Britain. The Skrulls were a special case because it was War but that war is now over as far as Britain is concerned.

That was last issue. This issue we have all of that amended somewhat. We get the an obligatory appearance by Union Jack explaining why he is NOT a member of this team, he works for a different branch of the government (though one would imagine if this was an order...). We get a different mission statement saying that the team comprises public heroes because England needs to see them, it's good for morale, but the public wouldn't be aware of just how nasty the buggers are they are going up against, including all those mystical threats that have been released on England which takes precedence over the global war against the Skrulls. And, somehow, despite the statement against killing (which frankly, Captain Britain may not have had the authority to make anyway), the whole thing about public heroes in costumes and their first real recruit is NOT Union Jack who was part the Knights of the Pendragon, has been fighting vampires for some time AND is a patriotic costumed hero with a history with the government BUT Blade. Blade who has been in America so long that only the hardest core fans would know he's not from there. Blade who doesn't wear a costume, whose SOLE mission is to kill his opponents.

I'm not against the character or even against the character appearing in the comic. What I'm against is the shoddy ill-thought out way it's done. The comic reads as if the writer is making things up as he goes along without really thinking anything through. It's full of incongruities and contradictions, but it's not written in a way that suggests these are deliberate and setting up story conflicts and character tensions but that the writer doesn't really know what this team is supposed to be about and keeps changing it from issue to issue (to be honest, this could also be due to editorial interference, but unless we know otherwise, the blame falls mainly on the person said to be responsible for the story. The editor is to be blamed for not holding the writer's feet to the fire and have it make better sense).

If the team is a government op, then Captain Britain doesn't have the authority to call for "no-kill" clauses before the team even meets, there should be all sorts of ramifications for the Black Knight joining. After all, the point of Civil War was that all American heroes had to register and be accountable to the laws and government. Furthermore, Dane Whitman was a member of the Avengers and thus privy to all sorts of cutting edge technology and state secrets. It's inconceivable that all of the characters treat his joining a foreign government's spy organization as such a simple matter of him just happening to be there already fighting the Skrulls.

The one thing the story does handle well is the meeting between Faiza, Dane Whitman and her parents. While one might wonder just how much of Dane's history and backstory is such common knowledge, it makes for some great exchanges between the characters.

Sadly, the coloring falls down on the job. Dane, Faiza and her parents are a colored with the same skin tones, and all the midtones from their faces to the backgrounds are too rich intense and dark. This is so common it seems, I wonder how much of the coloring is done for what looks good on the computer but not taking into account what happens when it prints?

Guardians of the Galaxy: The issues have been getting better. Thankfully, none of the interviews with Counsellor Troi, excuse me, Mantis this issue. The main plots are skyjacked by crossover-itis but still some nice moments as we see the Guardians are not completely trusted on their floating Celestial head and we see a bit of the inner political workings. There could be a lot of interesting stuff played up. We see a different Starhawk this time out, a female version. She makes cryptic remarks about time anomalies and vanishes. And, we learn just who the Skrull traitor is. But, given the nature of this book, there might be a little more to it than what's readily apparent. After all, the Guardians don't have much to do with Earth right now and the station is full of aliens from other worlds. Drax starts off as going John McClane on the space station but his solution to rooting out the Skrulls is a little more final than any would like.

Not sure if I'll continue with this as the previews of upcoming issues have the book tying into yet another crossover event. Part of the reason I dropped so many books.

Secret Invasion: Thor: Yet I'm getting another crossover book. Remember what I said about us all having our inconsistancies up above? The one good thing with this book and Guardians is that you really don't have to be getting any of the other Secret Invasion books. Plus, this is a really good Thor story. It's a story that would really be hard to do with another character. It is the type of story that JMS wishes he could write. There are great character moments all the way around from the epic heroes to the very humans on the outskirts of the war. The art manages to capture the chaotic epic scope of the battles and the quiet more human dramas and have it all work well together. Forget the SI tag, if you like Thor, you should enjoy this book. The cover is slightly misleading as the Thor in action of this comic is Beta Ray Bill, Thor is busy being somewhat heroic in his Don Blake identity. Still, fun stuff.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Golden-Age Heroes unite!

After many man-hours, I finally "finished" the heroes pages at my site detailing the various golden-age heroes (mostly from comics, but a few obscure ones from other sources popped up) that don't make up the Timely/National/Quality/Fawcett/MLJ publishing empires. I use "finished" in the loosest terms possible. It means, everyone I currently have notations on or came across while in the process of building the pages. And, there are quite a few bare-bones entries. And, while I got Copperage's permission to use the micros from his site as a way to illustrate the looks, there are quite a few he doesn't have examples of. There are other sources of micros of course, but they are an artform in and of themselves, I don't feel comfortable making use of other people's work without citation, and I really don't want to footnote where each one comes from.

I originally wasn't going to do a site for the heroes. Way back when, I was doing a little bit of fan-fic with public domain GA characters. There were so many though. I started compiling notes from reprints, the few GA books I had and what I could glean from some of the resource books such as Jeff Rovin's superhero encyclopedia, Ron Goulart's various history of comics, and the two volumes of Steranko's. I ended up with fifty pages of notes and realized I had in my hands a resource not available anywhere. I toyed with the idea of putting it up on the web but I knew nothing about web design. And, then one of those rare coincidences occurred that happens with comics. Jess Nevins put up his site focusing on GA characters within weeks, almost at the same time I decided to start actually teach myself Dreamweaver. And, he covered the non-public domain ones as well! I had some he didn't have, he had a few I didn't know about. And, judging by the wording on a couple, we obviously had some of the same resource materials as well.

I asked him if he was going to do one on the villains as well, as they were woefully under-covered and he expressed no interest in that project. I knew I had a bit of information on the villains as well contained within the bios of the heroes, it just meant going back over the same stories and materials as before but looking at them from a different angle. Thus, my site was born. Although in retrospect, I often regret choosing Cash Gorman as my yahoo email name and thus the name of my pages. Although, I could make the argument that enough time has passed with nary a peep from Street & Smith, that it constitutes trademark abandonment but those type of cases usually come down to who has the most money to drag it out.

Jess Nevins' own site is very nice. But, it doesn't contain publishing dates, something that I found very useful as I was also compiling a "History of the Universe" timeline and it helps keeping various characters straight. Because characters would move from one company to another, sometimes the name would change, sometimes not. Whole stories would be lifted, sometimes with completely new heroes and sometimes they'd just change the name of the character. He also limits the characters to how he defines the GA time-span. So, a few interesting characters don't show up. And as he has focused lately on getting paid for his research and putting it into book form, regular updates went by the wayside. Finally, I noticed a few other heroes sites, but they often contained some eroneous information because they just copied the information from a few other sites. Such as the popular misconception that the Red Blazer and Captain Red Blazer are the same character. The information I had originally, had practically doubled since I first put it all together.

So, with the renewal and interest in GA characters thanks to projects from the various companies, I thought it time to possibly put my notes and information out there. I tried to be as accurate as possible, though I still rely on some second-hand sources. I can only say, I tried to verify information by cross-checking from various sources, and double-checking my information when I came across original reprints.

The GCD is a great resource, but quite a bit of eroneous information does make it in there from name spellings to actual incorrect information. As much as I like AC's reprints, Bill Black makes a habit of deliberately changing names and such as well, so a lot of that information also has to be double checked for accuracy (Overstreet's price guide also deliberately puts in false information). Even the afore-mentioned superhero encyclopedia by Jeff Rovin has several errors. Nothing replaces the actual reading of the comics themselves. But, just because you read one story with a character doesn't mean that the info from another source is wrong. Because, they were not anal about continuity back then. Lance Hale is a good example. Depending on what story you read, he's a jungle hero, a science-fiction hero, a generic adventurer type. Dan Hastings was at three different companies at least and stayed superficially the same, but specifics changed with each company. Chesler meanwhile often recycled character names or just put out different versions such as Dynamic Boy. I can only claim that there is no deliberate misinformation, not that it is error free. I try to draw attention to places where confusion could arise such as the Red Blazer - Captain Red Blazer. And, I will continue to cross-reference and double-check as I can now get back to regularly reading "new" old comics.


Amazing Spider-girl #24: A classic style cover with the central action going on and the heads along the border watching and reacting. Although, it was usually DC that always did this. Things come to a head as May and her clone finally meet and various plots and subplots advance. Which is really which though remains to be seen and there's plenty of superhero action all along the way to balance things out. A few of today's top-notch writers really should be reading this book and pay attention to the way it does plotting and sub-plotting and balancing things out. Defalco may not be a master of realistic dialogue, but he's great at juggling multiple stories and keeping it all very dynamic and flowing

B.P.R.D.: The Warning #3: A wonderful moody cover by Mike Mignola. And the usual excellent Guy Davis artwork, it's a great example of choosing the right people for the job. Unfortunately, this series of mini-series has fallen into the continuity trap. Each story is basically a continuation of what went before, more hunting of frog-men and such. This storyline seems to be even drawing together a few other past stories to the point that the characters themselves make note of it not really making much sense. The giant robot things look cool but it would be nice to see them going somewhere quite a bit different than tying everything into one long convoluted story.

El Diablo #1: I got this because I like Phil Hester's art and I like trying new characters on occasion, especially if they are kept separate from the event driven comics. Another big part was the fact that just because this comic is called El Diablo, it in no way invalidates the fantastic though short-lived Gerard Jones/Mike Parobeck comic and character. Wouldn't mind it if he pops up (and he'd be a natural for the JSA) but I'm happy just knowing he's still alive out there these days.

Other than the great art, the rest of the comic is a bit "meh". As another reviewer noted, it's very derivative of Marvel's Ghost Rider in concept, from the original mystical Old West hero to a spirit of vengeance and even the visuals of the cover. Add to it that other than the actual mystery of wondering what exactly is going on, there's no reason to feel any sympathy for the lead character. He's basically an unrepentent bad-ass. When by the third chapter of the issue they try to paint him as being a bit more complex (he uses some of his blood money for charity), it falls flat as we have already seen him having no compunction to kill anyone and everyone in his way.

Green Arrow and Black Canary #12: I have to give Winick props in that he came up with a completely logical and believable reason for Shado to be involved and a natural explanation for the kidnapping of Plastic Man. As long as you don't look too closely. There's a lot of people involved in this plot as well as a whole lot of technology and resources. While a very good fighter and assassin, she's not Lex Luthor. And, while Sivana's very cool, you have that kind of money and you need a doctor, would you really want to go to him? He'd be up there for robots, super weapons and super armies (witness what he does here), but as an MD? There's still a lot of trust put in to the vampire that can tell when people are lying but fell for the hologram.

Plus, frankly for a book called "Green Arrow And Black Canary" there's really not much done with them. Come on, the storyline involves a newly married couple, they are tracking down one of the husband's illegitimate children and discover the person behind it all is the woman that slept with him while he was delirious and incapacitated just so he could father a child with her, and the wife doesn't react at all? Winick really seems to have just lost what the focus of the book should be, he doesn't really know how to write both characters.

I'm conflicted over the artist Mike Norton. On the plus side, his artwork is very clear and easy to read from panel to panel. He doesn't skimp on the relevant detail and good on the action. No problem telling the characters apart. Yet, it's all so antiseptic, too clean and perfect, too restrained with no real atmosphere or sense of texture. Like he's drawing a coloring book. An artist should love to draw this book in that it has a ninja, archers, one of the company's most sexy characters, plastic man, batman, a vampire, and a bunch of other super-types and masked henchmen. He's better at the basics than many that are working with more acclaim, but he needs a little more oomph to it. The vampire, Shado and Batman should look dangerous, Sivana should give a creepy older uncle feel, Plastic Man zany, etc.

The Secret Six #1: Almost note by note perfect by writer Gail Simone and artist Nicola Scott. great cover with a sense of actual graphic design sense to it with stylized elments and color cast to it. Gail manages to introduce a new villain and his chief lieutenants in a scene that is full of colorful and humorous dialogue but laced with an atmosphere of absolute terror and menace.

The story moves organically and flows naturally, introducing us to the various characters and within the scenes and dialogue, we understand what each character is about, what their status quo is: Ragdoll is zany Plasticman gone to seed, Deadpool is an unrepentent killer and cynic with a great sarcastic wit, Catman is conflicted, Scandal is mired in depression over her personal loss, Bane seems just simple muscle with simple outlooks (don't know what one reviewer's problem was not recognizing him without his mask, he's called by name in the very first scene he's in).

Nicola Scott's artwork is what Mike Norton's needs. It's very clear in its scenes and storytelling, every bit as detailed where it needs to be. But, there's atmosphere and texture. Seedy scenes and characters are seedy looking. The emotion on Scandal's hung-over depressed face is palpable. The use of color is also wonderfully done, setting proper moods. Like the cover, the limited color scheme when we are introduced to the bare room and crate that Junior calls an office helps build the feeling of isolation and menace. One feels the heat off the African veldt. The yellow flourescent lit convenience store. The meeting room lit and warmed by a fireplace. The darkness of Gotham City.

However, I said "almost" note by note perfect. The coloring/printing is a little too dark in places, a common ailment these days. Scott has a wonderful attention to detail, not as slavish as Weston in drawing each and every brick, but still very detailed artwork. So, the special effect that puts a flat plaid pattern on Junior's two henchmen is very, very jarring in how obvious it is a special effect applied to the artwork. This would work on someone whose artwork is heavily stylized like Miller, Mignola, or Wagner. However, it is out of place with someone whose artwork is more realistic and organic. It throws you out of the artwork and story because you see the hand of the artist more than you do the art.

The problem with the story is a very basic one, a very basic question that isn't addressed at all. Why? There's the backstory of how they came together, a bunch of rogues that didn't want to be part of the big army of the big crossover a couple years back. However, that doesn't address in the least as to why are they still together. Every organization has a purpose. Superheroes get together to fight criminals, protect the innocent with a few other little twists added to the concept: the FF are an extended family and explorers, the X-men are basically adopted family banding together to protect themselves and others like them, the original DP a mix of the two, the Teen Titans and Legion of Super Heroes are teenage clubhouses and banding of friends. Likewise your villainous groups have purposes as well that are easily understood. However, as shown by the dialogue between Catman and Deadpool, we have two characters with long term incompatible goals. Catman is struggling with the idea of reforming. Deadpool wants to kill people and mocks Catman's struggle. The threat that brought them together really no longer exists, so why are they part of this group, what does it offer them? The group itself should be like a corporation in that it too should be treated as an individual and character: what are its goals and reasons for being? Where does its position in the scheme of things?

And, why the Secret Six? What does that name actually mean? They are hardly "secret" and in this issue they aren't even "six". It's a waste of a great name. Like the Suicide Squad, they were for DC a non-powered group*. In this case, they had a secret leader blackmailing them and they solved undercover cases. It is a great concept and could still fly today. Look at the popularity of USA's Burn Notice, that is the type of thing that the title "Secret Six" works with. A "Mission Impossible" vibe. The old tv show, not the movies. Costumed characters aren't really about people trying to work in secret. Even Giffen's defunct Suicide Squad title fits in better as it swopped out characters and operatives based on the cases.

*The Secret Six and Suicide Squad actually predate DC. Both were actually names for teams in the pulps. There, the Secret Six were a bit like DC's take in that they were an eclectic mix of individuals that worked together to solve bizarre cases while the Suicide Squad were a trio of G-Men that took on extremely dangerous cases. Interestingly, the Secret Six go back even further to a real life group of businessmen that organized together to take down Al Capone and then even further back to the Civil War as a group of businessmen that funded abolitionist John Brown.

The Twelve #1/2: A reprinting sample of the original stories of several of the cast, specifically Fiery Mask, Mr. E. and Rockman. There's a whole lot more action than in all seven issues of the title so far and one can see how these characters are heroic, especially as they have had next to nothing to do during the storyline. The Mr. E here is full of potential and comes across as a cool character while he comes across as nothing special under JMS' modernistic realist story-telling. Nice painted front cover though the colors are too dark/dense unless they are all are supposed to have sunburn. The cover with the supercar is a nod to the Daring Mystery cover that purportedly features the Fiery Mask. Weston's is technically superior but there's more sense of movement and speed from the original. Not a fan of the greenish gold trim either. Realistically, that is the way it would actually look, especially when dealing with print. But, it's not really what our brains tell us is the color of gold and when you see it in print like that, it registers more as "green" while Fiery Mask's shirt is translated as being "gold". Some of the arts in the back pages, there's some great use of textures by Weston, especially in the center panel of the Black Widow page or the botom panel of Electro. But the rest suffer from just being a bit too overly rendered, as he shows every nook and cranny in the backgrounds with the same level of detail as the foregrounds while he Blue Blade looks dwarflike. Notice that with the painted cover, Weston doesn't make the mistake with the buildings in the background, and the effect works. The foreground stuff pops out, even in the b/w drawn version of the pic in the inside back cover. The Black Widow piece on the back looks gorgeous. A beautiful sexy femme fatale with the suggestion of something inexplicably evil.

The War that Time Forgot #5: More of the same as from the past issues. I'm loving the covers by various comic masters and this one is a great one in terms of design and impending action as the Viking Prince is about to take on a tyrannasaur as done by Walt Simonson. What's especially nice is that the covers do illustrate a scene from the book.