Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Cash Gorman pages moved!

Good news! I spent most of yesterday moving my website to a new location. It's now it's own domain name. For greater connectivity to this blog and divesting myself of the copyrighted Cash Gorman name it's www.herogoggles.com.

If you aren't aware of it, the whole thing started when I was writing a little fanfic for a long defunct site. As the stories were taking place pre-1941, I started researching heroes and villains that would have been available. I had quite a few different books (Steranko's guide, Jeff Rovin's Superhero Encyclopedia) and there were a few websites that had been started up reprinting GA comics. Before long, I realized I had in my hands a document some 50 pages long concerning GA superheroes, some pulp but mostly from the comics. A document that was the most complete of its kind anywhere at the time. What to do, what to do?

I had no web-building experience and was thinking about teaching myself and creating a site. Then, lo and behold, Jess Nevins launched his websites, one of which was a GA Superhero one. He had some info I didn't and I had some that he didn't but otherwise we obviously scoured many of the same sources. He had no interest in doing anything about the villains though. So, I went back to my sources and research and my GA Super-Villain site was born. Over the years it morphed. My intent was to cover the public domain characters. And, I found out that some companies' stories weren't public domain (Street & Smith kept up with their copyrights very well it seems) and other companies were that I wouldn't have thought of (Quality, MLJ, quite a bit of Fawcett). When the Terra Obscura mini-series was being written, I was contacted by the writer for some Princess Pantha information, so I scanned a comic to send him and, once I had the scans, well, on the web-site they went. Jess slowed down the updating of his sites, and I had almost double the information that I had originally as well as coming across quite a bit of misinformation, so I expanded the site to include the heroes as well. At this point, it's only a matter of time before I include embrace whole heartedly the DC and Timely characters as well.

Then a month ago, Geocities, where I hosted my pages, closed its doors except for the premium services. However, when I started, I knew I wanted more than what a free site would allow so I had gotten a Plus account. In all the notices, Plus account members would be able to upgrade their account at no extra charge as well as getting re-direct pages. Sounded cool and I was busy with other stuff so I thought I'd take the easy way out. Except when it closed, they had no record of me being a Plus member! This is the second time I had to use Yahoo/Geocities customer service and it pretty much sucks. They reserve the phone numbers for only paying members and even then it's a difficult search to find. If you aren't a paying member, you have to resort to email, you may get a reply later that day. Trading emails with them at one-a-day, about a week passes, the issue still wasn't solved (they liked to answer questions I wasn't asking as opposed to the ones that I was) and I was told that the period for upgrading had passed by that point so it was a moot point. In other words, they really didn't care at making me a happy customer or keeping me as one. I was involved with some other projects so I just didn't worry about it too much.

Got caught up enough that I decided to bite the bullet and looked for another web-host. I noticed FatCow rated high on one site and looking into them, they seemed the most price efficient with the most bells and whistles including features to allow my site to grow further such as putting the information into a database and creating dynamic pages. Imagine wanting all of the Black Terror's villains and the list is generated for you! But, that's a ways off. As I was updating and uploading all of the information I ran into a small glitch. FatCow is up front with phone numbers and emails for technical service as well as instant live chat on the computer! Within minutes, problem was solved, less time it took me to even find contact information for Yahoo/Geocities. And, the company has gone green and is wind-powered. How cool is that?

So, the site is up, most of the links are repaired and working, I've re-tooled the look some and simplified some hierarchy. More work needs to be done in unifying the look across the pages, but it's Thanksgiving week, so I'll be off the computer soon, spending time with family. But, tool around the site some, let me know what you think and what you'd like to see in the future.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone. And, if you're going to be on the road, drive safe and get home safely.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Comic reviews and musings

Batman/Doc Savage Special: Despite all the indications of Azzarello not really getting it, this is a decent one-shot. It involves Doc, early in his career (actually would be contemporary with the events of the first Doc pulp story, "Man of Bronze".) Avoiding some unpleasant business, he decides to investigate the actions of the Batman of Gotham City and a possible murder committed by him. Much of the story explores similar tropes of the Batman-Superman relationship or the crossover storyline several years back of Doc Savage and the Shadow in DC's last time licensing of the comic.

The cover has the wonderful feel of being Bama influenced and the interior artwork is adept at storytelling. However, the style lacks solidity, looking more like animation cels, a feel that grows as the story progresses, being very ephemeral looking by the end.

While the story is decent, it underscores the problem with the concept. As noted, the Doc-Shadow crossover did the same thing better, telling a story with a villain that suited the strengths of the characters and their style. Batman feels almost shoe-horned into the story, made to fit a role that he's not suited for.

Then, there are the end-notes about other characters appearing as part of this "First Wave". It's more of Didio's New Earth style madness. Instead of going with the purer aspects of characters, it's seen as a chance to make judgments and arbitrary changes of characters. So, instead of a chance seeing the GA Black Canary free of 40 years of retcons, we have the character being re-cast as an Asian American. The Blackhawks are now a second generation team, the original Blackhawks being mostly dead. Why? The whole idea behind this pulp-Earth was to make characters like Doc Savage and the Blackhawks work. Instead, we get a Blackhawks team that is less pulp-like and completely at home in modern DCU. Azzarello apparently doesn't think Ebony can work unless as a cliched sassy African American woman. Except that Cooke made the character work completely well in his Spirit series. Ugh.

To the point that it seems that they have a better handle on the pulp characters than the others, though it still seems like they are adding and changing complexities and dynamics than working with what's there. There is quite a bit of interest to the Avenger and the original stories. Such as the efforts of the creators to make the characters more racially enlightened (one of his chief aides, Smitty was originally meant to be African American judging by the artwork and eventually he did get two African American aides that played up their intellect and society's pre-judging the characters). Despite his and his team's personal losses to crime, they DON'T actually kill criminals, he goes out of his way to not personally kill them. However, he does set things up that criminals often kill themselves through their own ruthless actions. The books also often have a fatalism about them, how the Justice, Inc crew expect this profession to kill them one day.

Likewise with Doc. While Monk will kill though Doc chooses not to, Monk always feels a bit guilty about it, usually making excuses. On the other hand, Renny has killed if he thought that was the only way and without excuse. The books don't suggest Monk and Ham as Doc's enforcers with Ham keeping lease on the pit-bull. I guess just being best friends isn't edgy enough. Lastly, Azzarello sees Renny as being an ugly man. Did he not actually read the stories? Dent gave all the characters specific physical looks and other than Ham and Doc himself, none are described as being actually good looking. But, the books are consistent in describing Monk as being incredibly homely NOT Renny. It's the creator re-casting the characters to fit his agenda than actually working with the characters.

The Black Coat: Ok, there is obvious stupidity here in the numbering. This issue is listed as being Two Issues, 1 & 2 of 4 (the next issue will be 3 & 4). Man, zero issues were bad enough of gimmicks.

Beyond that, it's a wonderful two-chapter comic, very pulpish story of a costumed hero in the days of colonial America (not too dissimilar to the Disney adaptation of Dr. Synn in "The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh") mixed with some of the occult stylings of Mignola. The publishing of Black Coat has been very sporadic, the long gaps in this little known title making you wonder if that's the last to be seen of the title, that it will just fade away like Xenozoic Tales, then, bam, a new issue comes out.

The story of this 2/4 parter begins with the death of the Black Coat and his resurrection and occult menaces that aren't flesh eating zombies as well as the menace of a traitor in his organization against the backdrop of the American Revolution. The artwork of the first half is Francesco Francovilla who has a wonderful old school illustration style, full of cross-hatching and atmosphere and making a name for himself on Dynamite's Zorro book. The second half is by Dean Kotz, a name unfamiliar to me but whose style is similar to Brett Blevins' and appropriate to the feel of this book (his cover is gorgeous by the way).
Black Terror #5 (picking up the numbering where the mini ended): The comic spins off into its own owngoing of a sorts, though the concept of Project Superpowers doesn't really lend itself to ongoings at this point in time. Hester shows himself to be a capable writer and focuses on a small story against the big picture. While most of the heroes went into the urn, the American Crusader apparently did not. When the heroes returned, they found zombie like beings in black wearing the Crusader's symbols and having a modicum of his power. The opening arc of this story goes into the background, establishing a friendship between the Black Terror and the American Crusader in the days of the War and making AC into a perfect martyr character ala Barry Allen crossed with Captain America. It's very well done, perfectly setting up the twist at the end. Especially considering that American Crusader was in many ways a very generic character, a variation of Nedor's basic template and often with art that was crude even by their standards. The most notable thing about him is metafictiona, one of the earliest patriotic heroes and the first to use atomic power as a basis for an origin, but he's generally overshadowed by the likes of the Fighting Yank, Black Terror, Doc Strange, Captain Future and even American Eagle.

The artwork is the weakest part. It's actually hard to judge the pencils as the coloring is extremely dark and completely overwhelms the artwork. To the point that if you weren't aware of the American Crusader was supposed to be a patriotic hero by his name, you really wouldn't get it from the art as it looks like he's wearing red & black and not red & blue (admittedly, on the covers of the 40s, his cowl and cape does look black with blue highlights).

JSA vs Kobra #6 of 6: After a very solid story of a team of heroes fighting a super-villain terrorist, the mini ends with whimper as it just ends without resolving anything after all of the set-up. As if the powers that be lost the resolve to go where the story was taking them, that the heroes are not allowed a clear cut win. At the end, the status quo is the same as where it was at the beginning of the book, the very definition of a bad story, the central conflict has resolved nothing. If the reader wasn't paying attention, one could expect another issue or two to go. Tacked on is that Mr. Terrific's girlfriend is cured of her ill-defined techno illness. But, other than a mention in the first issue, her plight and what it means to Mr. Terrific is not dealt with or touched on the rest of the mini, this isn't an ongoing theme of the story or a central motivation or struggle on the behalf of Mr. Terrific. So, her curing is just an afterthought, an attempt to give the story a feel of some kind of resolution, but is forced as it has nothing to do with what the story or characters have been about, her condition is a minor footnote for all that it has meant.

The sad thing is the artwork is good and there are some great panels and scenes scattered throughout. But, it's a case of when in the end, all is said and done, more is said than done.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Fred Gaurdineer

One of the unexpected joys of working on this project about the publisher Centaur was finding in many of the text stories art by Fred Guardineer, often nice big images really showing off his attention to detail and strong illustrative sense.

Guardineer is not a name you hear very often when people talk of the golden-age greats unless it's about the golden-age magician characters. While he worked on almost every type of story for many of the companies of the day, Guardineer made a name for himself on working on magicians. He did art for Zatara at DC, Tor and Merlin at Quality, Marvelo at Columbia, and Mr. Mystic for the Spirit supplement. And, many of them tended to follow Zatara's magic casting at some point by saying words backwards.

It's a shame he doesn't garner more interest. Even with his earliest art, he had a solid command of illustrating, layout and style. Every line or lack of line is deliberate and serves to define a shape, or texture or pattern. Patterns and textures play off of each other. The pic here is of Dan Hastings, a character that hopped from one publication and company to another, specifics changing back and forth. In this case, Dan for some reason is colored as a brunette, most images have him as a blond. It has been re-colored for publication purposes and reasonably accurate, but the real star is Guardineer's linework.

Yes, my website is down. When yahoo announced it was shutting down its free sites, it had mentioned that the plus account holders would be able to transfer at that date. When I started my site, it was a plus account but apparently had not been for awhile (though I still operated with all the benefits of a plus account). What it means is I have to find a new home or start a new account with an actual domain name.

I had been thinking about changing the name anyway, the Cash Gorman moniker being a bit problematic in that it's not public domain though not like the owners are doing anything with the character right now. Although with recent events of them finally okaying the reprinting of Doc Savage, the Shadow AND the Whisperer and Avenger as well as DC using Doc and others for a pulp-Earth, it's possible that Cash Gorman might just have a small comeback. All the more reason to at least change the name of the site. With the name changed, I also wanted to update the layout and design of the site, including the beginnings of a page devoted to the Quality characters. When I chose the name for my yahoo email address, I didn't really anticipate it expanding into having an identity of its own (or having to explain where the name comes from, a few times explaining that it's not really my name.

But, I've been busy with other projects and just not been able to move on it yet. Although, I had lots of updates of information to transfer. And it means having to re-do all those links too. sigh. Sadly, this means that unless he's moved them elsewhere, some of Jess Nevins' sites are also lost as well as copperage's where the micros came from. double sigh.

Abe Sapien: The Haunted Boy: A wonderful one shot story of Abe investigating a simple haunting. Perfect for Halloween, it's a tightly told horror story centering around human pathos and grief. It misses a few beats as the big twist hinges on the writer and artist firmly establishing visible differences between the two boys, so the a-ha moment isn't as strong as it should be. Regardless, it has more of that feel of what the Hellboy books or shows like Buffy/Angel/Supernatural were before continuity and ongoing plots became more important.

Angel vs. Frankenstein: I can understand some people not liking how Byrne's art has changed and developed. I think his figures have lost a bit of that iconic feel, that sense of epic proportions and action to the point that it's jarring when he's working on superheroes. I found this to be true first when he was working on Wonder Woman where all too normal looking everyday characters looked out of place standing next to someone like Wonder Woman or Superman. Yet, when he's working on projects like Angel (and the late Demon series), what's been gained is texture and nuance that are perfect for horror titles or books featuring all too human characters even if they are vampires, psychics and monsters. He knows when detail is important and when the action should take front-stage, a master of storytelling in each panel.

I got so caught up in reading the story, I briefly forgot that it was a book featuring Whedon-verse characters and was a bit upset that the vampires turned to dust immediately when stabbed with a stake but then remembered that's the rules this book has to operate under. The monster is beautifully rendered and characterized, his whole book summed up in a few pages. He's both tragic and horrific in his ruthless nature, a perfect anti-hero to pit against Angel when he was less than sympathetic as well.

If there's any flaw, it's the story has a lot going on for just one issue, would have loved to have seen this paced out into two issues, to really get to know some of the poor citizens that get caught in the battle between the two characters, and to wince at their sudden violent deaths. Maybe we'll see the Frankenstein monster spin off into its own series. Meanwhile, Byrne has in the works a new Angel story, one taking place in the current day.

Astro City: Astra #2: The cover alone has that great feel of a glossy magazine cover ala Omni. To the point, that I didn't at first recognize the two heads kissing. By this point, I guess Brent Anderson must find the book a joy to work on as he's still doing it. I could see some artists getting frustrated, "you want me to draw what?" He must draw the ordinary alongside the cosmic, and make the fantastic look both fantastic and everyday. Which is what the text is going for as well, as Astra is showing her boyfriend other worlds and cosmic goings on and finding that a place populated by aliens from all over with fantastic science, she fits in as being "normal" because different and strange is normal in a sense that it's not in Astro City where the two co-exist in large quantities but still segregated. It is a bittersweet tale about our culture's fascination with celebrities and celebrity news over real news, how we chew up the celebrities and spit them up and the fascination of reality shows and the voyeurism they provide. Busiek continues to provide a mature superhero books with mature storytelling without sacrificing what originally drew so many of us to superheroes to begin with. And, it's still more "all ages" accessible than most of the mainstream superhero books out there.

The Brave and the Bold #28: This has been reviewed online elsewhere and they pretty much all hit the mark in that the comic doesn't. I'll give JMS credit in that he's trying to tell stories with meaning, that are about something. However, he doesn't really know how to do it without preaching, he isn't able to pull it off through metaphor and themes. Part of that is the format of single issue stories doesn't allow him much room to explore thematic elements.

The other part is that once you get past the purty pictures and the surface story, it's just full of bits and pieces that don't make much sense. It's a team-up of the Flash and the Blackhawks in WWII. This is the second appearance for the Blackhawks in this title and nowhere are their planes in evident. Nor are their varied characters identified or explored much. There's no reason for them to be the Blackhawks vs Sgt Rock and Easy Company or even the crew of the Haunted Tank. I'm not caught up on the planes angle, the Blackhawks were more than pilots, they are one of the earliest non-powered costumed teams, providing the template for many that followed. But, their use here doesn't really give them much to do.

Next, the Flash is stranded in the past via a broken leg. We are told that. It keeps him from running at superspeed. However, what it doesn't do is apparently give him any pain, hinder him standing, walking, etc. I've sprained my ankle worse than the Flash's broken leg for all the trouble it gives him. And, why not contact the JSA to send him back to his own time? Of all characters, Barry Allen would know that Green Lantern, Johnny Thunder, Dr. Fate or the Spectre would be able to do so.

Then we have the moralizing part. The Flash sees himself as a symbol that doesn't kill, a superhero must stand for something after. Ignore that the character's last big story before Crisis on Infinite Earths and his recent rebirth was about him killing the Reverse Flash and standing trial. Now, part of the conceit of the genre of superhero fiction is we are willing to cede that heroes with guns never accidentally kill or wound innocent bystanders, that all the fisticuffs and knockouts don't result in accidentally killing or permanently injuring their opponents, etc. However, when you raise this issue as a story point, that the Flash does not want to use a gun to kill enemy soldiers, it draws attention to the incongruity and nonsense that his idea of a better non-lethal solution is a barrage of bricks thrown with super-speed! Seriously? After all, to quote the tv Flash, "it's not guns that kill people, it's these little hard things!"

And, then the Blackhawks are upset that the Flash managed to incapacitate the enemy in a few seconds instead of killing them through a protracted gunfight? Might be different if his waffling or solution took more time and actually put their lives at risk, but it was more efficient than their method AND somehow, miraculously, didn't kill anyone. It makes the Blackhawks just seem needlessly bloodthirsty.

Doom Patrol: Haven't been getting this since the first issue, but judging from pages pasted online and quick perusal at the store, I have to ask has anyone been getting this and enjoying it? Every issue seems designed to make each member of the team thoroughly unlikeable and pathetic as characters and make you long for the days when they were blown up and martyrs. Last issue, Mento and this issue the Chief. It further compounds it by making the dead "New" Doom Patrol with Celsius, Tempest et al as being the more likeable and less issue laden team. AND, they retcon Tempest's powers? The dude is dead and being referenced in a flashback, so WHY? Cannot bother to do a character in character for just a couple of panels? For $3.99 a month, why would anyone bother getting this book?

Justice Society of America #32: The book progresses along its way with little change from the previous issues. As the investigation continues into who betrayed the team, important points are brought up, important enough that it could be argued they should have been addressed earlier. Despite that, there's no real new development or progress, it almost feels like a bit of filler between the beginning and end. Sorta like how in the old movie serials, about 2/3 of the way through the storyline, you have a chapter that just kind of sums up all the pertinent details and storyline to that point. Still no clue as to who half the villains are or what they can do. Likewise, it pains me a bit that we don't really see who many of the JSA really are either. They all come across as superheroes full-time without real outside lives.

A good time to address the previews, in this book is the preview of Batman/Doc Savage. The art looks good. However, the way Batman is blasting away with guns... sure, it's a more pulpish world and Batman originally did use a gun on occasion. However, when that's Batman's first recourse, to go in with guns in each hand blasting, you don't have Batman, you have the Shadow, a character that this world is supposed to already have. Why bother with Batman at all?

Meanwhile, online is a preview of the JSA: All-Stars. Reinforces my plan on not getting it. Didn't care for the art, half the team is who I'd like to see booted anyway, AND the writing in just a few pages has two stupid moments. One, Magog seems surprised to discover his foes are cyborgs to the point that he mistakens them for robots. Of all the JSA, who's the one character that is cybernetic? Magog. Then, Power Girl gives the order for the JSA not to hold back since they aren't humans in suits but cyborgs? Maybe, she doesn't know the definition of the term, that they are still living people? Not like discovering they are undead zombies or something.

Marvels Project #3: A decent issue, following up on several threads introduced. As the story is progressing, the narrative itself is not as strong. This plagued JMS on The Twelve as well, starting off with a strong narrative voice, but the story being told was much bigger than what could be contained or told via that narrative. Thus, the Angel's narrative at times is barely oblique commentary. The scene with the Ferret seems completely incongruous, having little to nothing to do with anything else going on in the book at this point. Maybe, it'll play in later but right now it's just wondering what it was all about other than to be a minor character cameo. Epting's art is a bit of a disappointment there as well. He does a good job at setting up the office and all but his Ferret pretty much just looks like the Angel.

The Angel himself comes off as being thuggish, his method of investigating being hitting people til they talk as opposed to doing some detective work. It seems a bit contrary to the way he's been portrayed up to this point as someone extremely capable and smart. There's a couple of leaps in storytelling logic as well. The Angel seems to take the death of the Phantom Bullet very personally. He's never met the man in either identity, no reason the two even really knew of each other this early in their careers, yet he calls him "comrade". And, while I can see investigating the guy's death and his most recent cases, is there anything to indicate that he wasn't just killed while stopping a mugging or commission of some other crime, that it was an intentional murder? But, the Angel in his questioning isn't asking who killed the Phantom Bullet, who's been taking credit or talking about it, but about who would WANT to kill him, which implies that the killing was a planned and intentional act and not a spur of the moment opportunity. None of it read right, it comes off as being the easiest way to get from point A to point C, without spending the pages of actual writing it would take to do it logically.

Project Superpowers: Chapter Two #4: The storyline is moving along and a hero seemingly falls. After the big reveal of last issue, nothing concerning it is touched on other than it seems as if the Supremacy has ways to get inside information with each group. Makes you wonder how Tim "healed" his face after the rather sizable cut that left him noticeably a fake.

Project Superpowers: Meet the Bad Guys... Dagon #3: This issue is pretty much undercut by the previous one. Here, Samson is alive and well and there's a lot of talk about him suffering a crisis of faith and the villain played up as a rather personal threat, only to have Chapter Two render it all kind of moot. Again, there's the usual feel of a Casey script that seems to indicate that he thinks readers can read his mind and thus he can leave out all sorts of background, motivations and relevant information that would actually give his story any meat and help it make some kind of sense. The villain looks cool, and who thought we'd see Hydroman as a serious hero this day and age (only he's called Hydro these days). Otherwise, there's a lot of talk as if something is going on, but it's all sound and fury.

The Torch #3 of 8: Toro finally breaks out of his funk and fights back, we see a bit of Jim Hammond inside the revived Human Torch and the Thinker exits stage left. The story is still very linear and it makes you wonder just how it's going to be more than 4 issues, what are the rest of the issues going to be about? Still, an enjoyable romp.

Witchfinder #5 of 5: In the end, the book falls in the category of many of the Hellboy minis, best to be savored as a trade and read in one sitting. I found myself picking it up and really not recalling many of the details and characters and by the time I remembered, the story and the book was done. It is better than the modern BPRD books have been in having that gothic feel of dread and horror with unholy beasts, magic, mystical objects and secret brotherhoods though. A good creepy book for cold dark stormy nights.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

More Invisible Jets!

Last week, I wrote about the synchronicity of reading the Doc adventure "The Man Who Fell Up" which had a brief scene of Doc using an invisible airplane and then the new reprint of the earlier Avenger adventure "The Sky Walker" and an interview from Will Murray talking about how Dent had earlier written a story about an invisible airplane and thus might have talked to Paul Ernst, the writer of the Avenger stories, about the idea.

The synchronicity continues. Thanks to Toonopedia writing about two minor GA characters named the Wasp, I found myself searching out those stories to correct and update the info on my site. Lead to reading several obscure titles put out by Hillman, one of them being Rocket Comics. In issue #2, there's the Defender, an obscure hero "created" by Jack Cole who's more famous for Plastic Man but has a long history of other GA work for many companies of the time. Even though this is the first Defender story, it's a complete rip-off of the Avenger story "The Sky Walker" by Street & Smith. The Avenger has a face with putty like flesh that can be molded into resembling other people, the Defender has a plastic like mask that can be manipulated likewise as well as disguising his disfigured face. The Defender is helped by strongman Lucky, the Avenger has Smitty. The Defender has a right-hand man in Dr. Samuel Drew, the Avenger has Fergus MacMurdie. The plots to both involve crumbling skyscrapers and men that appear to be walking in the air only to be revealed to be flying invisible planes!

"The Sky Walker" would be officially adapted to comics by another GA legend in the 70s, Jack Kirby! An odd pairing of artist and character as the Avenger is noted for near lacking emotion, his face is unable to display any, and comes across as power controlled like a tightly wound spring. Whereas Kirby is one of the most bombastic artists around, whose artwork is power personified.

The full comic and many other public domain GA comics can be found at http://goldenagecomics.co.uk/

An interesting blog devoted to Jack Cole

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Comic Reviews and Doc Savage musings

Astra #1: Astro City and Kurt Busiek are exceptions to the rule for me in regards to the longer stories. Instead of feeling like he's stretching things out, he seems to pack more things in whether its character development or plot twists. He takes advantage of the longer story arcs to flesh things out but without forsaking the thrill of telling a story with superheroes. The longer stories are just denser and more layered instead of simply padded. Each issue is a satisfying read even if it leaves you hanging. The problem has been it has just taken so long between issues, but now there seems to be a renewed commitment to making Astro City more regular. The other thing is Busiek doesn't just tell the long big stories, but also the small short ones. Such as this, the first of issue of 2. It's more light-hearted than the recent storyline of Astro City, but it still manages to capture the times and cultural references, in this case the today of Hannah Montanna, Paris Hilton, celebrity tabloid journalism. Brent Anderson continues to excel at being a realistic artist with an organic line while still being able to capture the outlandishness and gosh-wow of a Jack Kirby designed world and make it all fit together seamlessly.

The Brave and the Bold #27: JMS delivers a fairly strong story with excellent art by Jesus Saiz (other than the cover with Batman's utility belt pouches being ridiculously big and out of place looking). Most of the story mines the human interest personal angle that Busiek does so well in Astro City. Sadly, the story ultimately fails in the end as it has to lessen the heroic nature of Robby Reed, that he was willing to let someone else die in his place and Batman just lets him off the hook.

Justice Society of America #31: Dissension in the ranks of both heroes and villains, the story moves forward with little character bits all the way around. Magog makes good arguments but only because it IS stupid to have the heroes just blindly allow people to walk right in without any type of clearance checks. Although it's one of those things like characters using the toilets. It's so obvious that I don't need to see the heroes do it in order to reassure me that they aren't all seriously constipated. If something is a completely logical and natural thing that any normal person would do, it doesn't really need to be shown unless it actually serves a plot point. What is stupid is that no one replied to his arguments pointing out that superhero teams aren't just about being armies, but also police force and rescue personnel.

JSA vs Kobra #4: Proving to be an excellent mini. Of course, part of that is this is how the JSA and JLA should have been treated all along, with them actually investigating and fighting villains, showing them off to be heroes. The focus is a little too much Mr. Terrific as if he's the only smart guy and the leader of the JSA, but otherwise a strong story. Thing is, this story could have easily been told with the original JSA as well since it's not a story ABOUT continuity but more of an action-thriller that superheroes naturally are and thus a natural fit to spotlight and show off any superhero team. Instead of Mr. Terrific, you'd actually have Hawkman showing up to be the tactician and leader that he was supposed to be, that carried the team for 40 years and Kobra being the world-threat that he always should be. Tell stories like this with the original JSA and no one would be wondering if the team was past its prime.

Marvel Mystery Handbook:
I almost didn't pick it up as I don't normally get the handbooks, but there were so many characters I barely knew by name in there which made me just have to pick it up. Chock full of information and artwork.

However, the book is schizophrenic in just what it was trying to be and how it was to present the information. Just the format alone, in the first half of the book, there are power grids, ranking the powers using bar graphs., then for the shorter entries in the second half, it was decided the grids were too big and presented just the numbers for the scale of the powers. From a graphic design perspective, on projects like this consistency is the key. Keep in mind that reference books like this are not required to be read from front-to-back so a consistent approach is all the more important. If the grids are too big for some of the entries, chuck them entirely. Use the same format for each entry. Likewise, keep in mind that some people don't read all of the handbooks, so in the beginning should be an explanation as to what the power grids and numbers actually mean. How does a normal person have an energy projection of one and not zero?

Likewise, if you are going to divide a book like this into two sections so the entries are NOT in absolute alphabetical order, some kind of table of contents is required!

This is carried through with the artwork. Some pieces have art from the original stories, others have modern artists' takes on the characters. Some artwork is cited, others are not. Again, how the main artwork is cited in the longer entries in the first half is different from the second half. Again, there is reasoning based on the page layouts, but there should be consistency throughout the book. If the smaller entries require it to be alongside the pictures in the margins, then it should be that way throughout the book. If the artist is unknown, that should be mentioned instead of left blank. Settle on a single format and be consistent throughout the book.

One could argue that the reasoning behind some having art from the original stories as the main illo and others not is because of the difficulty in getting a good enough scan of the original art or an image from the one appearance that would be appropriate. Except when you get to the Namor entry. His main illo is of him with a modern look as done by a modern artist. There is NO WAY THAT A DECENT IMAGE BY EVERETT OR EVEN SCHOMBURG COULD NOT BE FOUND TO BE USED. Heck, even the small John Byrne pic would have been better since that was at least more consistent with the way he originally looked.

Which gets at the core of the other problem, what is the purpose of this book? Ostensibly, it's to celebrate the heroes who first appeared in 1940 and prior of Marvel Comics. That's fine. No Captain America, no All-Winners Squad, no Union Jack, Dominic Fortune, Two-Gun Kid, etc. Yet, the book is a big failure in that regard. It's full of modern continuity and retcons and does not distinguish between information found solely in the original stories and what is part of modern continuity. Thus for Namor, we get as his main illo artwork that is nowhere close to how he originally was presented. The same is true for Red Raven, Thin Man, Mastermind Excello and the Eternal Brain. The first sentence of the entry of Mr. E is retcon information from The Twelve, a mini-series not even done yet. While the Phantom Reporter leaves out interesting tidbits actually in his original story (his mask seemed to glow and he had another identity of a rich playboy with a different name). That's just wrong. At this point, you're not celebrating these characters from 70 years ago, you're celebrating modern continuity and too worried over how they fit in the scheme of things today.

The biggest example of this is the entries for Hurricane and Mercury. They don't have one. Instead they are a small part of an entry for Makkari. It's a prime example of why I don't like that retcon, it completely subverts the original characters for a much later one. He does not deserve an entry, much less a two-page one in a book about GA heroes. He was created in 1971 and his GA ties are retcon ones. If his retcon adventures qualify him, then they should qualify EVERY character whose stories take place 1940 and before including all the Atlas Western heroes, the medieval Black Knight, Freedom's Five and the WWI Union Jack, etc. This is a handbook of the GA characters that were introduced 70 years ago (or a little prior as the case of Ka-zar) and that's the history that it should celebrate. The retcons and modern continuity should take a backseat to the originals. It's as I always said about making the characters Mercury/Hurricane part of Makkari's identity, we lost them as characters. They are now footnotes of the Eternal's character, it's two pages of information that has nothing to do with the actual GA characters where he deserves no more than a sentence in their entries. And, this just highlights that fact. The one place where they could be given to shine and stand as equals among the other heroes created at the same time, they are treated as less than Leonard McKenzie. I'd rather have seen two short entries, and used the space to highlight some villains. Likewise, Namor's entry could have just ended around his revival in the FF and the role he played in the revival of Captain America and just a summation sentence that he was still active today instead of going on. And on. And on. Red Raven who appeared in ONE Golden-age story has a two page entry!

It's just too full of retconned and modern history without any clear-cut demarcation between how the stories were originally and what they mean in modern continuity. As a true golden age reference book, it's not very useful except for the few characters that haven't been touched by modern hands.

The Ka-zar entry is the way I would have preferred all of them to be, focusing on information found in the original stories, with little to no mention of modern-day continuity. Of course, it makes him a contradiction as well. Judging from the other entries, one would expect that we'd have just gotten the history of the modern-day Ka-zar as his appearance pretty much negates the GA Ka-zar stories as they relate to Marvel continuity.

Lastly, I would have loved to have seen more villains and other colorful characters and less of the secondary characters such as Professor Horton and Namor's parents. Seriously, how does McKenzie rate a full page entry when everything needed to know about him is covered in the Namor bio? Ditto on Horton. How big of a role is he as a character in the actual GA Human Torch stories? Almost all of the information is from stories decades after the fact. Did we really need to have separate entries on Zog and Electro? Less waste and less focus on all of the modern continuity, we could have possibly gotten EVERY GA Timely character that held his own strip in a book not much larger than this, maybe even a timeline of characters' appearances and history from a strictly Timely perspective.

Project Superpowers: Chapter 2 #3: Chapter 2 continues to be an improvement over the first mini, though it's still stuck telling basically one long drawn out story. At least, there's a feeling of progression as lots of things happen and most of them not good for the heroes involved. Although, the revelation concerning the Black Terror's kid partner Tim is very reminiscent of the fate of Tim in the Terra Obscura minis. Overall though, the over arcing meta story is really kind of boring and a tired concept.

Surprise, surprise, I even approve (or at least understand) of the small change to Skyman. In this day and age, a character using that name just because he pilots a specialized airplane just isn't going to.. um.. fly. So, it makes a bit of sense to actually have him be able to fly. Although, by jet-boots? It doesn't really work with the look of his character.

Project Superpowers: Meet the Badguys #2: Joe Casey manages to make the most out of the rather non-sensical status quo of the Fighting Yank in this "story". I also find it interesting that the Revolutionary has on his chest a ring of stars as that's the look of Roy Thomas' retcon character Spirit of '76, distinguishing him from the Fighting Yank who he was visibly based on.

Sadly, that's all that recommends this book. As per Casey's habit, the character the book is supposed to be about is not explained at all. No motivation for any of his actions. No backstory. No explanation of just what are his powers or the source of them. Like almost every story I've read by him, it's all set-up and no actual story. He seems to be trying to paint him as a possible hero or anti-hero and the fact that the seems a cross between Lobo, Ghost Rider and a cracked mirror reflection of the Yank is enough for the readers to know. As we have no motivation for his anarchic behavior and willingness to use potentially lethal force, we don't know why he is supposed to be considered a possible hero. Also, these are supposed to be the "bad guys" yet this issue and the last remove the teeth from the characters they introduce. It seems to be more of showing the feet of clay of the heroes vs the more pure if violent anti-heroes. Are they villains or not? And, when you have your heroes set up to be terrorists, what exactly makes these guys the bad guys?

The artwork is painted prettily in places but is bad at sequentially illustrating a story. Pages are often too dark while simultaneously being just unclear as to what actions they are supposed to be depicting. Of course, so is Casey's script, so in that regard they are a perfect marriage.

Sherlock Holmes #5: A bit anti-climactic in the ending as it's just a quick and easy trial, with little real drama as Holmes pretty much reveals that he already knew everything. Some things seem a little unexplained as issue 4 built up a master mystery thief but that goes nowhere other than to serve as part of the frame job of Holmes. Overall, not a bad story but a little bland.

The Torch #2: Great cover. The story is decent too in that we see what makes the Thinker a formidable foe. But, it's not really going anywhere either. Two issues into the story and all we really have is the original Human Torch revived as a weapon. Too much of the story is too busy being about continuity and explaining the continuity and not the actual title characters doing anything. At this pace, it's going to be an 8 issue mini that could have been done in three.

The problem is that writers today don't really know how to pace out story lines and subplots. A more talented writer would have found a way to have Toro in the main story being active fighting villains and finding his place in the modern world of heroes and as a civilian, while having the Thinker, his research and fan-boy need to over-explain every little thing serve as a sub-plot or second tier to the main story, building to a head. What we got is mostly boring and do we really care about this fine detail of why Toro catches on fire too? Is there going to be a big enough payoff in the relevancy of these details that has taken two issues to detail in such a dull way? Because, right now, it's not the story that's carrying the book or the title characters, it's the personality of the Thinker. Other than his characterization, it's not hard to see that this is largely the same creative team behind the above Superpowers book.

Witchfinder #4: Continues to be an excellent creepy and eerie book, a throwback to what made the Hellboy books so entertaining before they became about their own continuity. A shame that the timing couldn't have made it be a complete read in time for Halloween.

Pulp Matter:
An interesting synchronicity of pulp stories lately. At a recent trip to a local used bookstore, I came across a Bantam Doc Savage double reprint I didn't own. I think it may be the last of my holes with the doubles, now it's just hunting down a couple of the omnibuses. The two stories are "The One-Eyed Mystic" and "The Man Who Fell Up". Both are excellent stories with wonderful "impossible" occurrences drawing Doc into the action. In the pulps, only Doc and Monk actually have their hair color mentioned, so it's interesting that in the "Mystic" story we find out that Renny's hair is not red as that is his hair color in the DC comics from some years ago.

In "Mystic", Renny is on his way flying out for a vacation when he gets into an argument with a mystic on the plane. He falls asleep and wakes up as a two-bit crook, even looking like him when he looks in a mirror. He finds out that while he is this crook, there is evidence linking his real body to a murder that he knows nothing about. When knocked unconscious, he wakes up again as his old self in the town he was heading to. The mystery is compounded when later Doc has trailed the mystic aboard another passenger plane and under the cover of smoke while in flight, the mystic completely vanishes off the plane and is replaced by someone who insists he never boarded the plane.

Meanwhile, in "The Man Who Fell Up" the story centers around a body that falls out of a skyscraper only to fall up instead of down, a mysterious green fog, and strange attitudes by Monk and Ham.

While originally, these stories were written years apart, it's no coincidence they are paired together in this double. Despite wildly different beginnings, the inventions behind the actions of the bad guys are remarkably similar. There are other familiar tropes and storytelling choices that are cliched if you read many of these, so it's not too terribly hard to figure out who some of the bad guys are.

Meanwhile, Sanctum Books has released the second two-story reprints of the Avenger, reprinting the stories "The Sky Walker" and "The Devil's Horns" (as well as a Whisperer short-story "Boulevard of Death"). While The Avenger pulps advertised as being by the creator of Doc Savage, "Kenneth Robeson", the reality was that Robeson was just a house name for other writers. Lester Dent who wrote the majority of the Doc novels and had a hand in most of the ghosted ones, had little to do with the Avenger written by pulp writer Paul Ernst However, "The Sky Walker" involves a jet made of transparent materials, something that Will Murray ruminates about a bit in an article in the book. According to Murray, Dent apparently wrote a short-story involving a similar plot device early in his career but never published. Murray doesn't go into any more detail than that about this short-story. Even if not true, the plane in "The Sky Walker" still pre-dates Wonder Woman's by some years. What's not mentioned is Dent did get around to using that idea eventually. In the Doc Savage story "The Man Who Fell Up", Doc has a mostly invisible jet. Like "The Sky Walker", everything is invisible except for the engine. To aid the invisibility aspect, in the Doc story, the engine is painted to mimic the sky on the bottom and the ground on the top. It even mentions the one drawback, it doesn't take long for soot and all to gather on the otherwise transparent aircraft. And, like many of Doc's planes, it doesn't last 5 pages before it gets blown out of the sky, in this case by a man falling up. As far as I know, it's not mentioned again, presumably Doc saw it as a failure and by that point Wonder Woman was zipping along everywhere in her not too original Invisible airplane. It does give credence to Murray's wondering if there was at least some collaboration between Ernst and Dent though, especially if there's that unpublished short story out there somewhere. Maybe, we'll see it see print some day too.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Time to be a hero

It's not too late! On Sunday, October 4th, I will again be joining others in walking in Raleigh's annual CROP walk to help combat hunger. CROP Hunger Walks help to support the overall ministry of Church World Service, especially grassroots, hunger-fighting development efforts around the world. In addition, each local CROP Hunger Walk can choose to return up to 25 percent of the funds it raises to hunger-fighting programs in its own community.

CROP Hunger Walks help to provide food and water, as well as resources that empower people to meet their own needs. From seeds and tools, to wells and water systems, to technical training and micro-enterprise loans.

With your help, this year CROP Hunger Walks will share some $4 million with food banks, pantries, community gardens, and other local efforts across the U.S., helping out your neighbors and your friends through tough and uncertain times.

You can sponsor me as a walker by visiting this link. Or even sign up as a walker yourself in a walk near you.

This is a cause and organization I believe in. Over 25 years ago, I was in the Boy Scouts and looking for a public service project for my Eagle project. I chose to host a small local walk with just my troop. At that time, the walks were 10 miles long. As it happened, a bypass was being built. I remember driving around the orange pylons in my 71 Skylark Buick and driving the length of this sectioned off road to see how long it was. I was a teenager and it occurred to me their were no other cars on the road and if ever there was an opportunity to see how fast it could really go... Not a car built for speed and as it hit the 80s (this was the day the speed limit topped out at 55 on highways), it also occurred to me that while there were no cars on the road, it was a road under construction and there could be other obstacles and as I said, I was driving a car with the maneuverability a little better than a tank. The section of the road was 5 miles long, which made it the perfect length. Then it was just a matter of okaying it with the city and state. That walk was in the heat of the summer, with us in our uniforms: long sleeved shirts and pants.

It was a bit serendipitous as it turned out as Rocky Mount the following year held their first CROP Walk and I became a representative for my Church at the time, educating others and getting the youth involved.

Since then, I have not walked every year but I walked a couple of times for Carrboro's while in college and have either walked or sponsored others in walks here in Raleigh. In the last several years, the walk has served two purposes as I try to walk at least an hour several days a week for my own health.

For more information concerning CROP: www.churchworldservice.org

Thank you!

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Comic Reviews

Daring Mystery Comics: Part of Marvel's 70th Anniversary comics, from the pages of The Twelve, the Phantom Reporter gets a solo adventure and an origin story. Novelist David Liss does a good job delivering a solid and dense done-in-one pulp inspired story. We get a solid narrative voice, plenty of characterization and dynamic action that doesn't really change any continuity as it has been established in the incomplete mini by JMS so far. Jason Armstrong's artwork is fitting for the style though at times, he seems to have studied anatomy by looking at the artwork of Mignola and Guy Davis and he cannot quite decide which of them he wants to emulate. I wouldn't mind seeing Liss, the writer of Daring Mystery Comics doing more. Liss did more building the character up, making him sympathetic and dynamic in one issue than JMS has managed with any of the characters in The Twelve after seven issues.

The backup reprint of the Phantom Reporter seemed to raise more questions though. One, he appears to have a glowing mask though nothing is said about it. It also seems as if reporter Dick Jones is as much an alias as the Phantom Reporter is... unless it's the rich playboy Van Ergen that's the fake id. Either way, makes him similar to the modern Moon Knight who maintains various id's (which really dates back to characters like the pre-pulp Grey Seal and the pulps Shadow and Secret Agent 'X' who maintained and regularly used different id's). It's an interesting character bit that would have been nice to see a bit more of.

Domino Lady #1: Moonstone misses the boat with this modern series based on the pulp character. The story and storytelling seems to be a bit all over the place with contradictions and plot holes. The inclusion of Sherlock Holmes seems nonsense. What is strange is that while it seems to be written by a woman, the handling of the character seems more in lines with what a teenage boy thinks is sexy. It's all about cleavage and dressing and undressing and overly obvious teasing images and scenes instead of about sultriness and class. She's sexy like Lauren Bacall not Marilyn Monroe. Or a comparison considering that the writer is a Buffy novelist, it's more sexy as in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and not Lauren Hamilton's Anita Blake series.

Interestingly, despite the original stories occurring in a book titled Saucy Romantic Stories, her stories were pretty tame in comparison to other similar pulps, especially the Spicy line. She was a rogue hero, along the lines of the Moon Man, robbing from the corrupt and rich. They were caper stories usually with the story already fairly far along and focusing on just how she was going to commit the robbery and get away. Plenty of room to develop the story and character. Pity they went with the low easy road.

Justice Society of America #30: The second issue of Willingham, Sturges and Merino taking over. Already there's great improvement as most of the team is actually used whereas under Johns most of the team seemed absent or little more than furniture. Here, almost every character gets a line or two and something to actually do. We see the beginnings of internal rifts and strife that will lead to a future splitting of the team and book (can hardly wait as most of the characters I have no affinity for will be in the second book).

There is a good mystery of why is the JSA being targeted, a possible traitor in the midst and a whole bunch of villains. The villains are really the only drawback as most are barely identified or established what they can do. I have no idea who half of them are and Major Force is taken down by one kick by Judomaster? The artwork is also stronger than it has been, Jay Garrick is no longer with long hair although Merino seems a little unsure about the shape of his helmet. Otherwise, he handles the many and variety of the characters and facial expressions very well and seems to be pretty much at home with the close-up solo shots and the crowd scenes.

Mystic Comics:
Another 70th Anniversary comic and another solid one that treats the original characters with respect while telling a solid story. In this case it's the GA Vision's turn as he takes on a menace that would be right at home in a Mignola Hellboy comic. Lapham doesn't set out to really clarify the Vision's rather ill-defined powers, but makes use of them. The story does indicate that it strands the Vision in our reality and really seems like it could be a logical set-up of a new ongoing comic with him if Marvel so inclined to continue along those lines. He's by far more interesting here as a semi-cosmic crimefighter than how he is used in The Torch or The Avengers/Invaders mini, less Phantom Stranger and more Martian Manhunter. Nice Simon & Kirby reprints as well.

The Phantom: Generations #4: Moonstone is doing a few things a bit differently. In addition to their regular comics, a few books are actual prose stories with illustration. This is a particularly strong one as pulp fan and writer Will Murray tells a story concerning the 4th Phantom (the conceit of the book is that each issue focuses on a different Phantom). The shorter format forces Murray to cut down on the purple prose and verbosity he tends towards at times and tells a tight story as pirates steal the skull that each generation of the Phantom swears his oath on and the Phantom must hunt them down and get it back.

Project Superpowers: Meet the Bad Guys #1:
This issue focuses on the Green Lama and gives him a bad-guy with a fairly interesting motivation but never rings completely true. She and her family harbor a grudge that their grandfather Tsong served all those years as the Lama's servant and was apparently taken from the family to live without aging in his mystical Shangri-La and then killed while in service to the Lama (though she doesn't seem to harbor any grudge against the men and the government that actually did the killing). Likewise, there's a big development in the story as she kills all these people that are inspired by the Lama to draw him out. I guess to keep her from being too unsympathetic later, the Green Lama shows the ability to raise them all from the dead! So, the question is, if he can do that for a whole group, why didn't he do so for Bruce Carter III? For Tsong? And, does it kill him and he is reborn on the spot into his old body or just drain him severely for a while? It's a stupid power and reduces her actions and the story to having no consequence. It means that her rage against the Green Lama shouldn't be that Tsong died while in service to the Green Lama, but that he allowed him to stay dead afterwards.

Project Superpowers: Chapter 2 #2: The story is getting better as we are finally getting some hints at answers behind the urn and some of the odd actions and changes to the characters. The Green Lama uses his "raise the dead" power again.

New characters Truth and Dare are annoying. Especially Truth. Truth can see the truth about people, beyond their lies and exteriors. Like Green Lama's raise the dead power, this is really a bad idea storywise. Because it means you have a character who could come out and dispel any mystery at anytime but because that would mean you'd have no story, he does not do so or the writer has to jump through hoops to not reveal what the character knows. He knows the truth behind Captain Future but does not reveal it. He knows the truth of Justine but again just speaks cryptically. It's much like the mystery behind the Death-Defying Devil revealed in the last issue of his mini-series, it works because the character is mute and is unable to verbally defend himself. But, it doesn't explain that once the fact came out why no one has asked him to unmask or actually given him a computer or pen and paper to communicate. Situations like that and characters like Truth basically demand bad storytelling to make them work on any level.

The Ross cover is horrible, but Salazar's artwork inside continues to improve. We finally get some comic history actually being used: Mrs. Octopus blames the death of her husband on Flame-Girl. The defeat of the Octopus was the story in which Flame Girl gained her powers, given to her by the Flame when he thought he was dying. It's cool to see the "Big Shots" Marvello, Skyman and the Face together. Big Shot was the name of the title in which they all starred.

Interestingly, Ross talks about his love of the history of the characters online. Which is funny considering how much of that is being re-written. A pity he also gets it wrong. Talking about Power Nelson, he says the character was active in the 1980s fighting against Mongols who have taken over America and that they are making use of that history. But, he also says that Nelson stayed in the future, never traveled back to the past. As far as I can tell, the original set-up was dropped after several issues. He got a new status quo and his stories no longer seemed to be set in the future but the then present day. There was no explanation but things like that happened frequently back then.

Sherlock Holmes #4: This continues to be a fairly good comic and mystery. The pacing may seem a little slow compared to many comics, but is largely dictated by the type of story and genre it is telling. In this issue we get more of a hint of the villain that has orchestrated everything and just how worthy of an adversary he must be whereas the previous issues were more about the situation the characters found themselves in, their immediate actions and reactions. That was necessary storytelling, this is a bit more of actual plot development as the groundwork has now been laid.

It has moved away from being a pastiche and is doing some things that need to be done, relying on the strength and format of comic storytelling. Instead of being narrated solely by Watson's point of view, we see other viewpoints, characters acting a little more like actual people than just trying to mimic Doyle's style. The artwork is still annoying in places. Period books should definitely keep computer tricks such as blurs out of the artwork as much as possible as it disrupts the immersion into the story than aid it. All said and done, this will probably make for a strong trade reading experience

The Shield: I broke down and bought the Shield one-shot because of them all, it was the only one that looked close to being the same in look and spirit to the original. Well, it was in looks any way. What we got is what I expected, more of an updating of a character DC already has: Steel, the Indestructible Man. Gone was the idea that Joe Higgins was a scientific genius that completed his father's formula and used it on himself, that he aced his exams to become a top FBI agent, that he puts on the costume and is a patriotic hero by choice making him the FIRST hero to do so. Now, he's nothing special.

To judge it in a vacuum, the cover is really cool, and the story is not necessarily bad. There's some typical storytelling decompression, where three pages could have been done in one and a half or two. Seriously, in this day and age of high priced comics and low page count, don't take two pages to show him being wounded and blacking out. There seems to be precious little of the character actually in the book, little motivation other than he's a good soldier. Much of it otherwise seems mostly cliche. Scott McDaniel's art works here, he's best on solo character books like this.

And, after all the build-up of JMS writing and revamping the characters and he's apparently only doing the one-shots?

The Spider: Judgment Knight: Done in the style of The Phantom Generations, in that it's an illustrated prose story. Only it fails where that one succeeded. The b/w artwork is too smooth and polished. Any moodiness it has thus comes from just being so dark otherwise it just seems cold and passionless. The story likewise fails. The problem with the Spider is he makes the Shadow look like a Buddhist monk. He's a very violent character. However, the pulp novels work because the stories and criminals are likewise far more violent and ruthless in their gains, his actions are maybe a tenth of the degree that theirs are. The pulps are about the humanity of the man, his passion and devotion to those that he loves and to his fellow man. He becomes a hero because he puts it all on the line to fight against the kind of monstrous men that one usually only finds in the pulps. While he takes extreme measures, he's fighting against extreme odds with lives of hundreds and thousands on the lines. Too often, the stories like this one largely remove that context, that humanity and passion from the character and focus just on the violent nature, confusing the nature of the stories for the nature of the character. Every kill should be necessary, that he'd otherwise let the police handle it. He's not an executioner but a soldier. It's an important distinction but which is often missed.

The Torch #1:
Possibly the weakest of the GA related comics out the past two weeks. Mostly because it's all set-up and building on the aftermath of the mini The Avengers/Invaders. You have Toro looking for some way to belong (guess he doesn't know about the She-Hulk law firm that helps with things just like that) and the GA Vision more or less helping. The best bits are between the Mad Thinker and his assistant and biggest fan Mr. Toussant. Really shows off why the Thinker is such a great villain. Toussant's comments could almost be construed as the writer making fun of the villain but it actually works as despite the back-handed compliments, the Thinker himself comes across as pretty inspiring and competent regardless. The Thinker, Ross and Carey do seem a little uninformed about the retcons going on The Marvels Project by Brubaker as it is revealed there that Horton was being funded by the government and seemed to be perfectly aware of the fact.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Marvels Project

The Marvels Project: It takes a lot at this point to get me to get a Brubaker book. But, I'm a sucker for the golden-age characters and the artwork by Epting was mostly clear and legible so I felt obligated to pick it up. Indeed, Epting is an artist who really has grown by leaps and bounds. I remember liking his style on the GA Invaders heroes in Roger Stern's Marvel Universe and he brought a much needed sense of realism and dynanism to Aquaman. I think the modern coloring still too often renders the pages too dark, muddying their clarity and power, but his line is still allowed to shine through for the most part.

I enjoyed the book more than I thought I would as it wound itself through the early days of Timely and their earliest characters. Links to characters that in-continuity predated them is provided by the inclusion of the Two-Gun Kid in what ultimately is the weakest part of the story. One of the things that may annoy readers is that unless you are a long-time Marvel reader, there are several characters introduced with no real explanation to who they are. Sure, you can look them up on the internet, I did. But, that can be a problem with books that are about continuity, just how much do you tell the reader about a character? Do they really need to know why Lt. Sawyer or Red Hargrove are important to Nick Fury lore? I think stories like this are in part dependent on those connections, it's part of the reason why the story is being told. Even if it's not included in this particular issue, I think it should be at some point before it's over. It's the difference between a cameo and an "easter egg". Cameos are meant to be recognized and dependent on it. Easter Eggs on the other hand are meant to be discovered and hunted for, the thrill is finding where it's from. Some of these will no doubt play out, if you don't know who Erskine is, you will later. But, will they explain who Horton's partner Bradley is? Does this mean we might see the early heroic careers of some of his partners?

In some ways it's not too dissimilar to some of Thomas' books from some years ago that tried to outline the history of the Sub-Mariner and the original Human Torch, complete with their retcons or his America vs the Justice Society. The chief difference is that there's more story tying it all together without feeling like one of those special flashback episodes of your favorite and not-so favorite sit-com (or the ninth or so chapter of many movie serials). Hopefully, it will continue to be more of filling in the gaps and such than any outright complete massacre of the original characters and origins ala Bucky. Brubaker is on record that he thinks the Angel's costume is horrible though it is completely fitting for the time. But, he has to be careful with changing it. Already by adding a mask on the cover and he becomes more generic, not less as with his signature mustache and cape he looks a lot like MLJ's Wizard and DC's Mr. America.

The only real flaw is the opening section with the Two-Gun Kid. He's an old man dying in a hospital in 1939 talking to Tom Holloway who will become the Angel. He talks about how he had been in the future with all these heroes, but when he got old they sent him back. Like Dracula with a base on the moon, it's a cool bit for all about 30 seconds, once you give it any thought. It actually makes not a single bit of logical sense as something that anyone would actually ever do.

The Two-Gun Kid grew up in the Old West circa 1880's. He travels to the future, our present. As presented in this story, he spends about 60 YEARS here. He's an old man and even if he's longing for home, he's NOT sent back to the time he came from and that he'd be remotely familiar with, but the time period he'd be in if he lived all those years in the past. It's a time period that is completely alien to him as it would be to any of us that are currently under 60, a period he'd read about in history books, that's it. He has no friends or family. The ones he left behind in the Old West would be mostly dead and he'd been out of touch for decades. Indeed, the vast majority of his friends and family would more than likely be in the future where he had lived most of his entire life! Instead, he's stuck in a past he doesn't know as an old man with their idea of medicine, cleanliness, hospitals and comfort OVER A CENTURY older than the time he just came from and had been living in for decades. Do you think when Captain America finally gets old and is dying the surviving Avengers will do him a "favor" and send him to 1971 to live out the last few days of his life? It sounds like one of the cruelest things you could actually do to someone. It's a scene that is kewl on the surface but really makes not one lick of sense.

It may seem a minor flaw, but it's the death of Matt Hawk that serves as the hook to draw the reader in and to provide motivational inspiration and the impetus for Holloway to become a hero. It's a basic foundation and theme for the character that is to serve as mostly our eyes and ears. It starts the whole story off on a flawed premise even if plot wise it's only a small part of the history unfolding.

Pay attention and you will spot a pre-Captain America Steve Rogers.

Wonder if this mini will also finish before The Twelve?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Upcoming Comics and Reviews

When you look at the art previewing the upcoming Doc Savage/Batman one-shot and the pulp-world it's hard not to get excited. The one on the left which has now expanded out to show Doc as well as the Spirit, Blackhawk and Rima (and friend). The others, they have Doc looking much like an amalgam of his pulp roots and the covers by Bama in the 60s and 70s. Great stuff.

If only Azzarello wasn't assigned to the project. Here's what he had to say at comicbookresources.com:

CBR: What were your thoughts on Doc Savage coming into this project? Are you a long-time fan or did you have more of a working knowledge of the character?

BRIAN AZZARELLO: “Fan” might be a strong word but I was definitely aware of him. I read a lot of books when I was younger. If [DC] wanted Doc Savage straight ahead Doc Savage, I probably wouldn’t be involved but the way that we’re doing it, I’m pretty excited about it.


Will readers need prior knowledge of Doc Savage heading into the one-shot or the series?

What. Do you think I want 10 guys reading this?

Ten guys in their seventies.

Those 10 guys in their seventies are going to be the guys who get pissed off. “He obviously doesn’t understand Doc Savage. That’s not my Doc Savage” That’s exactly what I want them to say.

But I guess your hope is to bring them around, as well?

What I’ve found is when people hate what you’re doing, they follow it even closer. But this is not for them. We’re taking these characters and like I said, we’re creating something new. They can be made relevant and viable

Honestly, I don't understand this attitude and actually being proud of it. One, there's that little bit of dismissal age-ism. Imagine you turn it around and say, "We're writing this for the cynical intellectual snobbish comic-shop guy fans, you know, the fat guy living in his mom's basement at age 40 that has never been laid in his life." Sure, not all comic fans fit that description, most of them don't probably. Guess what? The same can be said for Doc Savage fans, there's more than ten of us and a lot of us are under 70 (I'm only a little only over halfway there). Honestly, if you think that's all the fans of the character has, why is a publisher reprinting the original stories, why are comic shops carrying them and why did DC pursue getting the license? Because, there's more than just ten geriatric fans.

Then to go and brag about how his character won't be like the original character? Should not the goal of when you are working with an established character is to get the character "right"? Wouldn't you brag about how readers would be reading the book and saying, "that's exactly right! He nailed it!"

I understand the need for making changes to fit the medium. The last thing you want to do is to copy the pulp novels too closely. Apart from the fact that books and novels have different strengths and pacing from comics as well as just the changes in time, styles and perspectives. But, the goal should still be one of fidelity, to tell stories that are true to the spirit and gist of the characters while remaining exciting reads. Dent did that himself. As his writing style changed, as the times changed from growing out of the Great Depression to a world at war to a post atomic bomb Hiroshima era, Doc and his peers also went through changes. The post-war Doc novels especially have a changed, more subdued and human Doc. The humor often in the stories is more situational, wry and ironical than the frequent sophomoric and slap stick antics of Monk and Ham.

Frankly, I think a big problem of today's comics is precisely because they don't just do straight-ahead honest stories of the characters. Instead, the stories are often about continuity while sacrificing that continuity that made the stories attractive and relevant in the first place. Instead of setting out and writing what amounts to being a giant cross-over storyline (albeit all contained in one comic) that is about establishing the continuity and the characters on one Earth, set out to tell actual stories with the characters. We don't need a separate Earth, there was nothing really in DC's last series with Doc and the Shadow that explicitly said they weren't in continuity. They're too busy re-inventing the wheel and making more work for themselves. This kind of world building is often self-limiting (no superpowers rules for instance although Doc and the Shadow went up against invisible men, giants, men with super-speed, that had teleportation devices, etc) and ends up restricting more than it allows. It was a problem of the various universes Jim Shooter had a hand in crafting. Most did ok while it was solely his vision, but the limitations imposed strangled the sense of wonder and larger than life aspect that govern superhero books. Superheroes were allowed, but magic, super science and equally colorful villains were severely curtailed. By the time Valiant took steps to correct it, the books were already floundering.

It's funny how the character looks completely on model while Azarello talks about how different the character will be (without actually saying anything of substance in what the character actually IS). Maybe we can hope this is all just hyperbole on his part.

Dominic Fortune: I thought it was pretty cool that Chaykin was returning to a classic character of his after 30 years and in the time period that spawned him. It's a Max title and Chaykin is known for "adult" fare in his comics. So, when I saw nudity in an online preview, no big surprise, but then just a page or two later in a scene that is supposed to pass as being witty banter is the repeated use of a very vulgar and derogatory word. I know blue collar workers, guys that worked in prisons, and people with rather colorful language after a beer or two gets in 'em. And, it's a word I've never heard used outside as being the female equivalent of using the "N" word on an African American. There were "adult" comic strips in the Saucy pulps that are far tamer by comparison. Pass.

What also surprises me is not just that it's in the comic. The comic will be probably be bagged. This is not the first time that I've seen such material pop up in online comic book sites. I assume that they still operate largely under the radar, but they could quickly find themselves in legal trouble presenting adult material without any kind of safeguards that minors don't see it. They are basically asking for legal trouble.

The Marvels Project: As much as I'm leery of anything written by Brubaker these days, I will go on the record and say that the promos online not only look promising but actually enjoyable. I will definitely give it a look-see.

Cry for Freedom or Daddy, what's a threesome?: I'm not getting this Justice League book, all that seems left of Robinson are what flawed his comics beforehand: the self-appointed savior of obscure characters while miring them with extreme character flaws, tearing down established characters to make his pet characters look good and turning heroes into villains. And, the events and thinking that underpin this book... hamstringing the main JLA book written by another writer, rebooting the League all over again, and various characters that I'd be hard worked to care less about, it would be hard to make a title that I'd be more disinterested in. But, they actually succeed.

They give us this little conversation. What was Robinson thinking? His editor? That they're working on a Kevin Smith movie?

Are they even aware that they are writing superhero comics with characters established before they were born? It's totally inappropriate for the characters and comic they are in. The dialog could have been anything, but he chose some questionable sophomoric fanboy level speak that reflects poorly not only on GL but two characters that he has never written or has anything to do with this title. It's not as vulgar or explicit as the Dominic Fortune material but it's also far more out of place and inappropriate contextually.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen - Century: 1910: Alan Moore's preoccupation of the sexuality and sex lives of fictional characters has gotten so excessive that it pretty much ruins this title, it distracts attention from the basic core conceit of the book. If I wanted to be reading a lurid bodice ripper erotic romance, I'd pick one up. I enjoy reading Anne Perry's Victorian set novels and they deal with a lot of the sexuality and mores of the era and the double standards and such. However, her novels treat the issues a little more honestly, providing context and addressing the double standards while at the same time really exploring and presenting the milieu and interesting characters and plots. It's old hat with Moore's works, almost all of his stories deal with sexuality and repressed desires in some way. Maybe that's why it's getting tired at this point. He can be a good writer, he does his research, the League is a great concept and idea, and there are some great little scenes in this book. But he cannot help pushing those buttons in stories that don't need it. Meanwhile, the characters have become subservient to serving his sexual agenda. The character Carnacki is nothing like his actual stories, so he serves no real purpose other than being just another name droppee easter-egg cypher. It ends up being a caricature of an Alan Moore story, to the point I have to double-check to make sure he's the writer and not one of the wannabes.

Doom Patrol: You know of those relationships. The ones you know that are bad for you. You can list all the reasons why on a piece of paper. However, you think, "this time is different, they've changed. This time will work." And, you are left banging your head against the wall when it turns out as bad as knew in your heart that it would, maybe worse. That's how I felt picking up the Doom Patrol comic written by Keith Giffen. I had given up on Keith Giffen as a creator, coming to the conclusion that he hasn't really tried to write characters as they came to him. Instead of finding things inherently interesting about them, he looks for ways that he can change them to make them interesting to him. The list is long of characters that he has changed: Dr. Fate, Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, Blue Beetle and Booster Gold, Legion of Superheroes, Ragman, etc.

But, I figured, with the DP that would almost be a good thing. The Morrison-Pollack runs were creative but the characters were severely compromised properties for a mainstream title. Arcudi had an interesting revival with some fascinating stories with bizarre villains, great scenes and dialog and new characters along with wonderfully idiosyncric but dynamic art by Tan Eng Huat. The series failed though, Arcudi never really fleshed out his new characters, never provided them with motivations or real lives and backgrounds. Byrne's take was a back to the roots. While I would have preferred an in-story reboot (and there is an explanation in his run) and he had a way to do so, editorial thought it better just to start completely over. I think it's a case where he would have been condemned one way or another. At least this way, he doesn't say the revered Morrison's run was wrong, he didn't try to write a second-rate Morrison's DP, it's just ignored. If DC wanted to continue with the Morrison-Pollack version under the Vertigo imprint, why not? This way, the two takes had nothing to do with each other. One version that works very well in the DCU and another that had the luxury of telling all the adult oriented stories they wanted. Byrne's lasted less time than Arcudi's. Had he been the one to relaunch it in the 90's with Kupperberg's writing, it would have probably been a stellar hit. Here, his writing nor his art really had the same feel as earlier. In some ways it has grown, but in others it has lost some of that primal iconic power that it once held. Still, the characters were likeable and truer to their old personalities and some new appealing characters in Grunt and Nudge.

Then the infinite final countdown crises happened and Geoff Johns came up with some idea that ALL versions of the DP happened, that they had memories of each incarnation. Nevermind that the characters Arcudi created seem to be left out. Nevermind, that it has at its core a huge problem, if Morrison's take is considered real, the Chief is a manipulative clinical sociopath. It makes absolutely no sense that they would remain with him. When Waid used them in Brave & Bold, they were portrayed as being kooky, eccentric and untrustworthy. Everything positive Byrne had done was undone, the characters aren't the least bit sympathetic or even all that terribly interesting.

Strangely enough, Giffen for once followed that lead. His story portrays all the characters as being unsympathetic to us and even to each other. When a member dies and one runs off, none of the characters can be bothered to care in the least, more wrapped up in their own little worlds. He uses Rocky Davis in the indescribably improbable, unexplainable and just a bad idea role as Catholic priest and counselor (used this way in the pages of Infinite Crisis as well). Likewise the artist provides nice modern looking costumes/outfits for the team as well as a new design for Robotman. They're along the lines of nice busy outfits with seams and such and a more ornate complex body, but the more complex, the less iconic you get. The designs are completely forgettable.

There's also a back-up of the Metal Men which is a pairing that makes sense. The tones and styles of the two are comparable. Moreso, since Giffen is also writing this one. The Metal Men seem to be back to their more or less default setting. I liked the secret origin of them some years back that revealed they had all been once human, which explained why they acted the way they did and Magnus' own contradictory actions. Didn't really care for the change of him into a Metal Man of a fictional ore though. Here, Giffen is a little more to his old self in that he seems to go out of his way to make the characters even more oddball than ever. The ever reliable and field-leader Gold is more annoying and self-congratulatory than Mercury.

The problem with both parts is not only do the characters come off as being different shades of annoying that you wouldn't want to spend ten minutes with, but there isn't really any story to either of them either. There are scenes, characters interacting, but the plotting is thin, serving as nothing more than introducing us to the set-ups and status quos of the teams. The Metal Men is more of a comedy skit than a story, you know when you are supposed to laugh and all, but it is all forced and un-funny. There's more story to the two pages of the Metal Men strip in Wednesday Comics that I read. There's nothing in the book that makes you want to care what happens next. Not the self-indulgent characters, no big mystery, no real dramatic tension. It's all flat. The pictures are pretty but comics are more than just pictures.