Friday, February 25, 2011

One of the things that has bothered me about the recent depictions of Captain America was not the sudden shift in how Captain America's costume was drawn (with the mail armor being on the outside and covering just his chest and shoulders, and pouches on his belt), but the depictions became retroactive. And the costume underwent other changes. The boots, the pouches on the belt, the mask, and the "A" on the mask differed depending on which "realistic" artist was drawing. Since no one seems willing to call the artists to task on keeping the character actually on model, there's no consensus on just what constitutes Cap costume. For decades, artists had no problem with each drawing Captain America in keeping to his actual costume and still being true to their artistic vision. Now as shown in issue #616, the artist on the cover and the artists doing the interiors cannot even agree what Captain America's costume looks like.

Issue 616 is meant to be an artistic tour-de-force, yet the artists all are drawing different costumes. It's not merely artistic license, some of the artists are being more detailed than others, some depict his mask as a cowl another as a helmet, some are drawing plain leather belts vs the belt with pouches. One artist gets a pass in that at least the costume he's drawing is a variation of his first appearance with the triangular shield, but the others should all be the "same" costume and they clearly are not. I'm not saying we should go back to the days of having Neal Adams redrawing Kirby's faces of Superman, an artist should be able to express his style providing it's in keeping with the appropriate tone of the book, but the character should at least look "correct". Can you imagine a similar book starring Superman and each artist drew him with different belts and boots and chest emblems, but with all the stories taking place around the same time in his history (and none of them close to being accurate to how he was depicted during that time period).

Dwayne McDuffie Still a bit stunned by the death of Dwayne McDuffie. As a fan of golden-age comics, I'm not shocked when hearing of creators from the forties passing away. Heck, even many of the greats that came to prominence in the Silver-Age are at least in their late 50s now.

That his death came just as a big project of his was garnering press and about to come out makes it doubly tragic.

I won't say I was a huge fan. He was a name I recognized. And, I looked forward to his taking over the JLA book as his work on the JLU cartoon as writer and story editor showed a man that knew how to tell complete stories while layering in themes and subplots, so each story was enjoyable on its own but regular watchers/readers would be rewarded with more subtext and richness overall. But, otherwise, I cannot say I followed his writing with any great faithfulness.

Sadly, it didn't translate well to his work with the JLA book. A big part of that was that he was hampered first with subplots that the previous writer introduced but had no intention of staying on the book long enough to follow through on. And, when that was not dictating the shape of his stories, editorial fiat of who and who could not be on the team, of doing stories that would be continued in other books, and other crossover tie-ins (something he obviously disagreed with as he wrote a manifesto arguing against that very thing among others). He was sadly dumped from the book unceremoniously after he spoke out against editorial practices. This didn't seem to hurt his relationship with DC too much as he still worked on their animation projects such as the upcoming All-Star Superman animation video.

Reading his views on continuity and how it should probably be used is wonderfully insightful and funny. I have thought a similar thing myself in the last couple of years, but he was apparently arguing about it some time before even I came to that conclusion (though my buying was already reflecting it, as I was bailing on "family" books since it was impossible to get just one without a storyline suddenly arising that required buying the whole family of books).

One of the things I respect him for was his work on bringing more minority characters to comics, especially when he and a couple of other creators created the critically acclaimed Milestone Universe of characters published by DC Comics, being a showcase for various all-new non-cliche minority heroes as well as a place for minority creators to have a voice with characters that weren't mainly white heterosexual males. He and Milestone didn't merely champion minorities of their own cultural background, either, but worked for a better presence of minorities in general. He co-created Shadow Cabinet, a superhero group made up of multiple ethnicities and sexual persuasions. Milestone also published Xombi, created by John Rozum, featured an Asian American, one of the very few in comics, much less one in his own book. McDuffie would later use him in his Justice League book where in an alternate reality the character became Green Lantern, and a cool one at that. It's another one of the sad ironies, when he was doing the Justice League book, DC was talking about bringing the Milestone characters into the DCU continuity and back to prominence. But, other than a crossover with the League title and a mini, it's only now that several of the books are being solicited. Looking forward to Xombi myself. 

An outspoken passion for the medium, always striving to move it forward and expanding the readership. Helping to open the way for creators and minority characters (mostly by creating NEW characters and riding the coat-tails of talent NOT the corpses of previous characters). And reaching out to kids and potential new readers though helping create hours of entertainment with superhero cartoons with solid quality writing. He died young, but what a legacy and challenge he leaves for the rest of us.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Byrne goes Jurassic!

John Byrne currently has two mini-series out. One, the continuation of his independent series a while back Next Men. The other is a mini set in the Jurassic Park universe titled Jurassic Park: Devils in the Desert. While the latter naturally has dinosaurs, the former also featured a down covered Tyrannosaurus Rex who has eaten one of the central characters of the series! With the second issue of both out, Byrne reveals a talent that doesn't manifest itself very often: dialect.

I talked last time how in Spider-Girl we had a writer not only having Johnny Storm and Reed Richards talking in the same voice but used the exact same words! Byrne isn't one I normally associate with strong dialogue. Generally the opposite actually. His heroes often have a tendency to talk in a universal formally educated dialect of stilted dialogue. But, in the second issue of JBNM, we have the African American woman Tony thrust into the Civil War South, Nathan finds himself among soldiers of WWII, Jasmine is in Elizabethan England, while Jack is a priest some decades in the future. Not only does Byrne nail the atmosphere in the artwork, but he establishes each group with believable speech idioms and dialects. In "Devils in the Desert", the differences are a bit more subtle as almost all of the characters are from the same area of the American West. Indeed, there's even a clunky expositional "As you know, Bob..." type speech as the Sheriff explains his relationship and personal past to a deputy who should already be privy to the information unless one or the other is new to the area. Overall, though various characters show individual characteristics through the way they talk. It's no Coen Brothers film, but it's refreshing nonetheless.

Interesting to note, with the second issues of both comics, I had to wait a week to get a copy. As I moved, I go to a new store to pick up any comics I decide to get. With JBNM, they sold out, with "Devils in the Desert" they claim to have been shorted in their series. Might hold more weight with me if I hadn't on another occasion overhearing the owner talking with a customer, disparaging Byrne, his fans and his forum with half-truths and exaggerations.

In "Devils in the Desert", he includes a Native American deputy. Made me think that a comic featuring the modern American West with a Native American hero would be interesting. America is a big country and its different regions are micro-cultures amongst the larger landscape. Factor in Indian tribes and traditions, there could be fertile ground with the right writer and artist. Imagine Pow Wow Smith mystery series for DC or Red Wolf for Marvel. It was one of the neat things about Gerard Jones and Mike Parobeck's short-lived series El Diablo featuring an Hispanic-American hero in Texas that seemed to faithfully get across the sense of place and culture, something as important in that type of series as it is in a D&D fantasy story. Maybe moreso since you cannot simply make it up.

Black Terror by Dynamite is one of the last hanger-ons of my collecting. Partly because rumors of it being canceled. Plus, it has either been improving or the rest of the comics have denigrated so much, it's a mostly enjoyable series. The art has definitely improved somewhat. There's still stupid or bad writing. With issue 12, he gets a new sidekick called Parrot. Who or what she is, is unclear as she seems to be some sort of by-product of the flying pirate ship. Seriously, the pirate motif is way over-done, especially considering how wrong-headed it is to begin with. It obviously springs from what the creators want his costume to symbolize over the character's actual background and history. He wears the skull and crossbones because he was a pharmacist and it's the symbol for poison. Expanding on the character should build on that, not from what we associate Skull and Crossbones with and is all the rage right now.

The writer does seem to have plans on moving the character to center. Since the beginning, he's been angry and belligerent but in the last two issues we see there's a Dr. Bob Benton also walking around, maybe he's a fractured soul (though issue 13 calls him Benson several times even as the character is sporting a name-tag to the contrary). We also get several Nedor Villains appearing although substantially changed from their GA appearances: Red Ann, Lady Serpent, a Nazi Torchman, and Electru. The writer doesn't do much to flesh them out though, they are just hirelings. All new guys? Old ones somehow still around? It's a shame because the original Red Ann wasn't really a villain and is one of the better written and drawn GA Black Terror stories. Should be noted that only Red Ann and Lady Serpent were Black Terror villains. Electru faced Doc Strange and the Nazi Torch I think was an American Eagle villain. Also, the Nazi Torch has a flame thrower attached to his forehead. Terror cuts it off and chides him for having it as his nose? I know he hangs around with superheroes and not normal people all the time, but seriously, how many people does he know with noses above their eyes? Another bit of writing that makes no sense, the Black Terror meets up with a character calling himself Black Satan. Terror recognizes him as being someone he met during the War, only that guy was a hero. Thing is, the original Black Satan looked nothing like this guy, this guy looking like an all black devil complete with pitchfork while the original wore a loose fitting white shirt, tight red pants and sported a domino mask. Nothing particularly black or Satan abut him. Terror might recognize the name, but he wouldn't find the guy looking familiar at all. I think they have gotten so caught up in re-designing and re-imagining characters willy nilly, they forget that at one time, these guys are supposed to have looked and acted like they did in the comics originally.

There are also cameos of sorts of a lot of characters we haven't seen since the early issues of the first "Superpowers" mini: Airman, Man O'Metal, Flintman, Martan (I think), Amazing Man, etc.

Hester seems to be the go-to guy to take over series that star-creators start but don't stick with. He's taking over for Kevin Smith's Green Hornet series, JMS' Wonder Woman, of course picking up the Black Terror from Alex Ross and Jim Krueger.

Time Masters: Sadly, my last DCU comic for the foreseeable future had to be the final issue of this mess of a mini-series. It started off with a mediocre premise but with some classic Silver Age and Bronze Age characters looking pretty nifty that it over-rode my internal warning bells, thinking there could be something fun in this. Should have listened. The art was inconsistent, looking like a bad Jurgens impersonation over the course of the series, there was no real central plot or story despite the premise (which wasn't really the plot or story, just the device to get the heroes together).We get an explanation of sorts that makes no sense in the final issue as to motivations of the the Black Beetle but there is still no story to it. And, all the talk about the destruction of Vanishing Point over the first half of the mini is solved by sci-fi magic as if no big deal all along. Even Rip Hunter's exposition seems to acknowledge that this was just a big waste of time. Oh, and there's a big reveal at the end that you can tell was supposed to be a surprise, but no effort was really made to set it up beyond the final issue.Oh, and the whole purpose of the Reverse Flash the last issue and this was so this could lead into/tease the next big event. If it didn't cost me money, I'd just mail the issues to DC with a note saying I didn't want them stinking up my collection and I don't want simply my money back, but the money spent on gas driving to the store and the time wasted reading it.  If you are going to produce such a waste of non-story, at least follow the example of DCU Legacies and put some top creative artists on some of the issues to make the pictures nice to look at.