Monday, November 19, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Arrow and some comics.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 02, 2012

Happy Halloween

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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