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