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Archive for the ‘Comics’ Category

Twenty Years Into My Future

April 29th, 2008 No comments

From The Brave and the Bold #70, February-March 1967

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Let The Bitching Begin

March 6th, 2008 No comments

Costume photos from the upcoming film adaptation of Alan Moore’s seminal graphic novel Watchmen have just surfaced. Some folks are already pissed off because Nite Owl doesn’t look enough like a pudgy Adam West in tights.

Look, I get it: the Nite Owl of the original story is a somewhat pathetic fortysomething who recognizes the absurdity of dressing up in a Halloween costume to fight crime. But if you put a live actor in this outfit:

You get this:

Which is fine if you’re going for comedy. If you put Arthur from The Tick in a trailer for a general audience unfamiliar with Watchmen, they’re going to assume it’s a spoof. Which it’s not. At all.

Besides, the “tubby guy in tights” deconstruction has been done–repeatedly–since Watchmen was published in 1986. It’s not just The Tick, which at least played largely to the fanboy base, but one that pretty much everyone has actually seen: The Incredibles. Hell, even DC Comics’ Blue Beetle–the character that provided the basis for Nite Owl–went through his own portly phase.

There are other ways to express Nite Owl’s character without making him look like a schlub in a leotard.

Me, I like the costumes. But what do I know? I thoroughly enjoyed the film version of V for Vendetta, and even got a kick out of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. So my perspective about Alan Moore adaptations is suspect. (Alan Moore would certainly agree.)

The photos give me hope that the filmmakers are at least trying to do justice to the source material, as does the news that they intend to produce “Tales of the Black Freighter,” the story-within-a-story that parallels the main plot, as a DVD extra. It’s the sort of thing you could never do within the movie proper, but it’s perfect for DVD. Maybe they’ll produce some of the other sidebar material from the original novel as well.

The Old Frontier

March 3rd, 2008 No comments

Last week, Warner Bros. released Justice League: The New Frontier, the second in a series of direct-to-DVD animated features based on DC Comics characters. Unlike Mask of the Phantasm and the various spin-offs of the late, lamented Batman: The Animated Series, these new films aren’t derived from an existing TV cartoon, but are adapted (more or less) from the comics themselves.

The first of these, Superman: Doomsday, was based on the infamous “Death of Superman” stunt, which was less a story than a six-issue fight scene. Even though I love Superman, I skipped that one because I’m sick of Doomsday being treated as the central event of his mythology, rather than a cynical, overhyped marketing gimmick.

The New Frontier, however, was a good book: a six-issue miniseries which retold the introduction of the Silver Age of DC’s superheroes against a backdrop of late ’50s Cold War-era paranoia. That’s not to say that it was one of those depressing desconstructions of the heroic myth; if anything, it was written by someone who seems to understand what makes characters such as Superman, Batman and even the Green Lantern so iconic.

What I liked most about the film, besides its depiction of DC’s Silver Age in its prime, is that it really captures the pulp sci-fi flavor that informed that era. The late ’50s weren’t just about prejudice and fear, but wonder and hope. Anything was possible, the future was right around the corner, and it would come on the nosecone of a mighty, silver rocket to the stars.

With that in mind, the story centers around test pilot Hal Jordan before he becomes the fearless emerald crusader the Green Lantern. We first meet him in the midst of a dogfight on the final day of the Korean War, where his innate pacifism runs up against his instinct to survive. Traumatized by the experience, he takes a job at Ferris Aircraft where he learns that their plans are much more ambitious than mere military fighters.

Meanwhile, we get the early adventures of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, and the Martian Manhunter, not to mention appearances by Green Arrow, Aquaman, Adam Strange and the Blackhawks, all of whom ultimately team up to stop a prehistoric horror literally threatening to wipe mankind from the face of the Earth.

It’s wonderful stuff all done up in a retro style that nicely captures the original artwork. Highly recommended.

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He’s Paid In Birdseed

March 3rd, 2008 No comments

There are several reasons I love this cover to the debut issue of The Many Adventures of Miranda Mercury.

One is that it’s actually the first page of the story proper. The interior of the book picks up right where this kick to the face leaves off. I don’t know that any other title has done this, but in an age of comics that are little more than one full-page splash panel after another, it’s nice to have one that uses its own cover to give you an extra page of story. Plus, it’s a nice throwback to the days when covers enticed readers with a sense of the action within, rather than a static pose of the main character.

Second is the little box in the corner that says “Ages 10+.” I appreciate not only the attempt to provide guidance to parents, but also the suggestion that this was written for someone other than twentysomething mouth-breathers.

Third–and this is by no means a lesser point–is that one of the bounty hunters unsuccessfully trying to collect Ms. Mercury’s head is this guy:

A freakin’ killer cardinal. My college team was the Ball State Fighting Cardinals.

I buy very few comics a month, and usually wouldn’t even look twice at a title that wasn’t from DC or Dark Horse, but this one was written up on one of the blogs and I found it intriguing enough to sample. Happily, I quite enjoyed it.

One thing I find especially appealing is that it’s about a black superhero who is based neither on a pre-existing white character nor a blaxsploitation stereotype. Even better, Miranda’s race doesn’t enter into it at all. She’s the future’s greatest adventurer–a habitual achiever of the impossible–who just happens to be black.

If there’s a downside to the book, it’s the central gimmick of starting the series with issue #295. The conceit is that Miranda and Jack have been adventuring for years, and we’re only now coming in as things build up to the climatic–and presumptively tragic–issue #300. I think the characters and the flavor of the setting are strong enough to stand on their own as an ongoing series.

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The Black Dossier

January 2nd, 2008 No comments

Last night, I finished reading The Black Dossier, Alan Moore’s recent follow-up to his popular comics miniseries The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. And by “finished” I mean “skipped over all those tedious text passages and suffered through the unsatisfying, short and obtuse comics sections.”

Unlike previous LoEG projects, this one is less a straightforward narrative than a collection of articles, comics and pastiches of various works of literature, all concerning various incarnations of the League. It’s certainly a handsome and intriguing volume, with sections printed on various paper stocks and, in the case of the tipped-in Tijuana Bible, different sizes. It all sounds good until you sit down to actually read the thing. I am not a Shakespeare fan at the best of times, so the last thing I want to read for entertainment is a pastiche of one of his plays written in Olde Timey English.

Same goes for most of the other distractions from the main story, such as it was. I may get back to them at some point–and I’ll admit that Jeeves and Wooster vs. Cthulhu sounds like it would be worth a chuckle–but I didn’t have patience for them last night.

The original miniseries appeared to be built around the deceptively simple premise “What if the greatest figures of Victorian fantasy fiction (plus Mina Harker from Dracula) formed a superhero team?” That’s pretty much all the movie adaptation of LoEG turned out to be, and although it’s a heresy to say so, I rather enjoyed the flick on its chosen level. The comics themselves, being written by Alan Moore, offered a great deal more depth. Furthermore, he expanded the premise to incorporate all manner of classic (and not so classic) literature, and reading the books became an extended game of “spot the unbelievably obscure reference.”

One of the big problems with The Black Dossier is that that game takes center stage. Rather than being a story about famous figures of literature and their adventures together, it’s page after page of cameo appearances by characters you’ve never heard of (plus Mina Harker from Dracula). That was fun when it was going on in the background and one could experience an occasional “Aha!” moment, but not so much when everything is background.

What really surprised me is that despite being set in the 1950s rather than the 1890s, I probably caught fewer of the references this time. Too many appear to come from early to mid 20th Century British pop-culture rather than anything familiar to a worldwide audience. I did recognize some ’50s movie aliens during the British spaceport sequence, and there was an amusing gag (requiring a perhaps too elaborate setup) revolving around the kids’ puppet series Fireball XL5. I enjoyed Moore’s attempt to tie together 1984, The Prisoner and James Bond, but too little of the narrative was so recognizable.

Then, in the last twenty pages or so, the wheels went completely off the cart and I was suddenly confronted with a blackfaced whatsit and a couple of horny manikins taking our heroes off on a cruise into a 3-D phantasmagoria, complete with a pair of 3-D glasses designed to make the reader look exceptionally stupid. I didn’t get the point, and I couldn’t care anymore.

In the end, I think that The Black Dossier doesn’t do anything at all by way of trying to do far too much. The presence of characters from all manner of fiction–mythology, literature, comics, movies and TV–suggests that the premise has moved well beyond its roots and become impossibly unwieldy. If all fictional worlds coexist in a single reality, how can any of them make sense? When Adam Strange, Dagwood Bumstead and Dobie Gillis can team up to face the combined threat of Count Yorga, Count Dooku and Count Chocula, it’s just pointless madness, the equivalent of the noteworthy fanboy spoof song “The Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny.” Who’s the winner? Not me.

If Democrats Had Any Brains, They’d Avoid My Colossal Metal Fist

October 14th, 2007 No comments

Who knew that Ann Coulter built a giant robot?

Panel from Metal Men #15, August 1965.

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Submitted Without Comment

October 11th, 2007 No comments

Panel from Star Trek #39, published 1976 by Gold Key.

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My Own Boiling Point Is 56.7 Degrees Celsius

October 7th, 2007 No comments

In the ’60s, we got to the moon by flying through a PICTURE of the moon.

While my love of so-called “Silver Age” (1956-69 or thereabouts) DC Comics remains unabated, I have to admit that in rediscovering them through the massive reprint volumes known as Showcase Presents I’ve found that all too often, they…well, let’s just say that they’re not quite as good as I remembered.

Must be a Russian robot.

The Showcase books, which reprint entire runs of comics in chronological order, aren’t necessarily the ideal format for these stories. Consuming issue after issue in one go rather than waiting a month or two for the next installment highlights their repetitive and formulaic nature.

Submitted in support is the most recent volume, featuring the Metal Men. This unusual super-team debuted in 1962, in issue #37 of the original Showcase title. Showcase (no “Presents” back then) was a book which tried out new characters and concepts, with the most popular given their own titles. “Metal Men” was originally intended as a mere fill-in story, but the heroes were so well-received that they appeared in four issues before spinning off into a bimonthly series which ran for another seven years.

Lead became so concerned over his atomic weight that he developed an atomic eating disorder.

The Metal Men were robots created by the brilliant Doc Magnus, each a shape-shifting humanoid endowed with the properties (and anthropomorphized personality) of a metallic element: noble Gold, strong man Iron, slow-moving Lead, hot-headed Mercury, weakling Tin, and beautiful Platinum, the latter the only female in the band.

Look, I said it was the ’60s.

It was established from the beginning that the effectiveness of the Metal Men as superheroes stemmed from their imperfections. The “responsometers” that governed their actions left them with human-like emotions, ironically making them better at their job than mere robots would have been. On several occasions, Doc built duplicate Metal Men without this flaw, and the dopplegangers inevitably proved a danger to others.

Platinum (aka Tina) got the worst of it, exhibiting stereotypically “female” behaviors as only a ’60s comic book writer could envision them. While the other Metal Men were loyal to their creator, Tina was in love with Doc, and said so…constantly. Doc had to keep reminding her that she was “only a robot.”

Get used to this line of conversation. It’ll come up again.

As I mentioned, comics of this period frequently repeated themselves, often for the benefit of new readers. You could bet that most of the following would occur in any given Metal Men story:

  • Mercury would arrogantly declare that he was the only metal that was liquid at room temperature.
  • Doc would tell Tina that she was not a woman, and that she should behave like a robot.
  • The Metal Men would announce their respective atomic weights and/or boiling points. DC Comics were scientific like that.
  • Tin would fret about his uselessness, then rush the latest menace in a foolhardy and ultimately futile gesture. (Each time he met another pathetic fate, the other Metal Men commented on his bravery. To them, it seemed that “bravery” was expressed as pathological, self-loathing suicide.)
  • Tina would act like an unpredictable woman, forcing Doc to remind her that she was, in fact, not one.
  • One or more of the Metal Men would die horribly, to be rebuilt in a later issue. (The very first story killed off the entire team.)
  • Did I mention that Tina was really a robot? And not a girl?

Just another day at the office for Tin.

The Doc and Tina relationship got pretty sick. Doc kept promising to ship her off to the Museum of Science (or, as I prefer, Museum of SCIENCE!!!). This he eventually did, but they sent her back because the patrons complained.

Museum goers are a tough crowd.

That’s because the Museum of SCIENCE!!!, when gifted with a metamorphic, self-aware work of unparalleled genius–which could stretch itself thinner than a human hair and was capable of pleasuring others in ways of which human women had never dreamed–could think of nothing better to do with it than to lock it in a glass coffin and demand it to stand very, very still. And they were dissatisfied when it began to mope.

I can hear the families now:

“Mommy! That robot lady is crying!”

“Well, naturally, Jenny. She’s a sentient being put on eternal display in an enclosure slightly larger than herself. Now, eat your ice cream while you appreciate her endless, living hell.”

I know that rationality was not the order of the day here, but it occurred to me that if one was a scientist who had committed to donating one’s fabulous platinum robot to the Museum of SCIENCE!!!–and had, in a previous story, built a second model without those pesky human behavioral traits–one would really be an asshat to give them the crying one.

That’s Doc Magnus, inventor and asshat.

Only 37 more times. This issue.

Welcome Home

May 3rd, 2007 No comments

In 1961, DC Comics introduced the concept of parallel realities to its readers with a classic story called “The Flash of Two Worlds.” The superhero known as the Flash accidentally crossed over into another dimension and met his older counterpart, whom he’d previously believed to be only a fictional character.

The real-world explanation for the two Flashes was that DC had retired most of its World War II-era superheroes by 1951, but later editor Julius Schwartz began to revive them with new origins. The Flash was the first, and within the context of his storyline, the inspiration for his superhero identity came from reading comics of the original, Golden Age Flash.

So, when writer Gardner Fox wanted the two Flashes to meet, his explanation was that they existed on two Earths which occupied the same position in space, yet which vibrated at different frequencies. “Earth Two” was born.

Later, it was established that all of the Golden Age heroes–including alternate versions of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman–existed on Earth Two, and meetings between the Justice League and their older counterparts in the Justice Society became an annual event.

The idea was popular enough that other parallel worlds were added to the cosmos, including Earth Three, home of evil analogues to the JLA, and even Earth Prime, where you and I live.

Eventually, as DC began to buy out other comics companies, their own pantheons of heroes were introduced on still more parallel worlds: Earth X for Quality’s Freedom Fighters, Earth S (as in Shazam!) for Fawcett’s Marvel Family, and Earth Four for Charlton characters such as the Blue Beetle and the Question.

Actually, by the time Earth Four vibrated into view in 1985, DC’s editorial team had decided that today’s kids found the multiverse–as it had been dubbed–too complicated. (It was never a problem for me.) So they held a year-long event called the “Crisis on Infinite Earths” which saw the destruction of the parallel realities and their eventual merging into a single Earth with a shared history.

And then the problems really began.

Turns out that one world really wasn’t big enough for all those heroes. While the duplicate Batmen and Supermen–which, unlike the various Flashes and Green Lanterns, were essentially the same character–were eliminated, that still left an awful lot of very similar characters in action, only now they were always tripping over each other. The Justice Society characters were retired and even exiled to limbo, but remained too popular to stay there.

And then there was Hawkman. No one could ever figure out how to reconcile the Golden Age Hawkman with his later counterpart, but oh, did they try. And try. Until no one could figure out what the hell Hawkman was anymore.

My beef with the loss of the multiverse was that it meant that my own favorite hero, Captain Marvel, had to rub elbows with Superman. There were a couple of problems with that. Not only did Superman’s presence make Cap largely redundant and essentially strip him of his “World’s Mightiest Mortal” mantle, but the Marvel Family’s whimsical world simply didn’t fit in with that of the more “realistic” DC characters. And so for twenty some years, Cap languished in the outback of the DC Universe, suffering under a succession of writers who simply didn’t know what to do with him.

Over the years, old-school fans complained about the missing multiverse, but DC was adamant that it wouldn’t return. (Despite this, they continued to publish any number of “Elseworlds” books featuring alternate versions of Superman, Batman, etc.) Then, last year, they teased with us a major crossover event called “Infinite Crisis,” which briefly revived the parallel Earths before squashing them once again into a single continuity. It struck me as another big “fuck you” to long-time readers.

Next came “52,” the just-concluded follow-up series, spread out over 52 weekly issues. While the number 52 was invoked in many ways throughout the storyline, the big reveal came this week in the final installment: for reasons I do not claim to understand, 52 parallel Earths survived the most recent squashing.

Initially exact duplicates of the primary reality, they were attacked by old-school Captain Marvel villain Mr. Mind, an alien worm who (again, for reasons that are beyond my humble comprehension) transformed himself into a universe-devouring monster. Each “bite” he took out of them somehow changed their histories, and this was the result:

Okay, it may be awfully convenient, but damn…the multiverse is back! Halle-damn-lujah! It’s twenty-two years late, but the sight of the Marvel Family on their redubbed “Earth Five” filled my heart with joy! And ironically, it was one of Cap’s old villains that made it possible.

Welcome home.

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Graphically Novel

March 21st, 2007 No comments

With both DC and Marvel regularly releasing large collections of their old comics, there’s fun to be had in taking panels out of context:

Hawkman and Hawkgirl receive a dubious honor from the leaders of an unfortunately-named planet.

From Hawkman #11, 1965

And here’s a nice piece of purple prose, courtesy Marvel writer Gerry Conway.

Or, as we call them, air conditioners.

From Marvel Team-Up #5, 1972

The following may be my all-time favorite comic-book caption.

I also relish a rock ’em, sock ’em rhubarb. ‘Specially if it’s in a pie.

From Justice League of America #47, 1966

Not really from a comic book, but here’s Superman providing his own sound effects.

Little known fact about the Man of Steel:
He’s also known to shout “Kapow!,” “Phoom!” or even “Zort!” in the heat of battle.

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