Friday, August 31, 2007

Whatever Happened to that Legion Project?

Way back in March, I mentioned a scholarly book on The Legion of Super-Heroes that I was trying to put together. In that earlier post, I put out a call for submissions, and I don't think I've mentioned the project on this blog since. Did people fail to send submissions? Did I give up on it? Did the project die?


It's very much alive. In fact, the almost-completed first draft (still waiting for one or two more essays) is nearly 400 manuscript pages of Legion coolness. The finished book won't be available until 2008 (just in time for the 50th Anniversary, as planned), but just to tease you, here's a list of a few of the chapters that you'll be able to read in what is tentatively called Teenagers from the Future: Essays on the Legion of Super-Heroes:

• James Kakalios on "The Legion's Super-Science"

• Richard Bensam's "The Perfect Storm: The Death and Ressurection of Lightning Lad"

• Jeff Barbanell on "Shooter's Marvelesque"

• Scipio Garling on "How the Legion Transitioned Us from the JSA to the JLA"

• Sara Ellis on "Architecture and Utopia"

• Chris Sims on "The (Often Arbitrary) Rules of the Legion"

• Alan Williams on "Gender Identity and Homosexuality in the TMK Legion"

And dozens more!

The book is going to be fun, funny, informative, scholarly, and exciting. It will cover the major eras of Legion history, looking at the way the book reflected the culture of the time and predicted social changes of the future. It will explore historical trends, artistic trends, and storytelling trends in relation to the Legion's various creative teams. It will make you weep with joy.

I'm quite proud of how this book looks so far, and it's not even finished yet. When you plan out your budget for next Spring, set aside a few extra bucks for Teenagers from the Future. Trust me, you'll like it a lot.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Secret Upcoming Project--A Preview

I can't say much about this project yet, but when I mentioned how I'm working on a dozen different projects, this is one of them. The artwork for these two pages is by my friend, the amazing Todd Casey. Enjoy this very brief tease...

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Countdown to Adventure #1: A Review

This was a pretty light week for comics, and although I enjoyed the relatively insubstantial first chapter of "Escape from Bizarro World" in Action Comics #855 and the Bart Allen memories from Teen Titans #50, the best comic I read today was one of the unlikeliest. Saddled with a text-heavy, crossover drenched cover, "The SPACE ADVENTURERS from 52 RETURN!," "The ORIGIN of FORERUNNER REVEALED!," Countdown to Adventure #1 turned out to be a nice, goofy opening to the eight-part series.

The lead story features the three characters from the "Odyssey" story that took place during 52. Since the end of that series, Adam Strange has been hanging out with his family, Buddy Baker, aka Animal Man, has been hanging out with his family (and doing some stunt work on a local movie set), and Princess Koriand'r, aka Starfire, has not been hanging out with anyone, really, since she's been strangely asleep in the Baker family's guest bedroom for basically the entire time. Ellen Baker insists that they call someone (like the Teen Titans) to let them know about Starfire's condition, but Buddy says that he knows Starfire would want to be left alone to heal. This doesn't really make much sense, and it's hard to believe that Buddy's year of hanging out with the girl somehow led him to believe that the best way to respond to a comatose space princess is to totally ignore the problem and assume it's what she would have wanted. If someone collapsed on your doorstep, would your first response be to pull them into your guest bedroom to sleep it off? And even if you did that, wouldn't you begin to worry after a few days of her not waking up? Buddy lets her sleep for WEEKS, and just smiles when his wife ridiculously complains that, geez, they might want to let the professionals handle this.

But the sleeping Koriand'r is a fun plot device, which allows writer Adam Beechen to include a scene where the once-and-hopefully-future-mullet-king Cliff Baker (young son of Buddy) tries to sneak a pervy picture of the sleeping Starfire to school so he can show off to his friends. The picture's confiscated before it can do any damage, but one can imagine the pre-pubescent sex comedy that might have erupted if Cliff's goal had been attained. Beechen wisely avoids letting the attractive high concept of Porky's meets Weekend at Bernie's meets Flash Gordon take over the book, and the entire hot-alien-princess-asleep-in-the-guest-room subplot gets derailed the moment Koriand'r wakes up (refreshed! and wearing short shorts!), confusing poor Ellen, who doesn't seem to know if she's more jealous of the vulnerable, sleeping Starfire or the flirty one who's awake in her kitchen.

But what about Adam Strange, you ask? He returns from his R&R, all jet-packed up and ready to go, only to receive an unexpected pink slip. In his absence, he's been replaced as Planetary Protector of Rann (that should probably be written in all caps--or at least you can say it in your head really, really loud) by, coincidentally, the star of the very movie Buddy Baker's doing the stunt work on. Talk about convergences! What are the odds? The best part is, this new guy sports the same jet-pack and head-fin style as Adam Strange, but his name is the oh-so-more extreme STEVEN "CHAMP" HAZARD. Imagine all those Carmine Infantino Silver Age Adam Strange stories, then add Rob Lefield and multiply it by the awesome, and you get Champ Hazard, Protector of Rann. Poor Adam doesn't stand a chance. The new guy's an American Movie Star. That carries a lot of cache on a planet billions of light years away from Earth.

When the two go at it like the alpha dogs they are, it's kind of hard to tell them apart, since they are wearing the same costume, but it doesn't really matter, because you know it's all a lead up to Adam Strange abandoning Rann to team back up with his ol' 52 pals (which will possibly happen, maybe, someday. But not in this issue). And with Rann protected by STEVEN "CHAMP" HAZARD, who needs the old sad sack anyway? (Whine, whine, whine...oh I lost my family but they came back to life, and then the planet disappeared and I thought I lost them again, and then I went blind for a year and didn't even get to see how hot Starfire was in person...and so on.)

As much as I'm mocking this book, I really did like it. Beechen knows what he's doing with these characters, and it's a fun, silly bit of comic book goodness. Ignore the fact that it's marketed as this uber-crossover title. It's not, really. The 52 stuff is backstory, but not necessary to understanding the characters, and the Coundown connection is irrelevant, because the second half of the book--the Forerunner story--is not very interesting. You don't need to read that part. Just stick to following the further adventures of Adam Strange, Animal Man, and Starfire. (My guess is that the next issue will feature all three characters getting kicked out of their houses--You can imagine the scene on Rann: Adam Strange comes home to find Steven Hazard's jetpack hanging on the coat rack as Alanna says, "sorry, honey, but he IS a movie star." While in the Baker residence, Ellen finally flips out and chases Buddy out of the house with a broom because he LET A HALF-NAKED ALIEN PRINCESS SLEEP IN THEIR GUEST ROOM FOR A MONTH.)

Good times.

And, maybe there's even hope for the Forerunner story. Next month she battles not just one Nazi but an entire Nazi Justice League! The fight we've all been waiting for.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Morrison Convergences: From JLA to Batman

I'm working on about a dozen different projects these days, in addition to regularly updating this blog and giving you weekly podcast greatness. I'll discuss some of my other upcoming projects in the days ahead, but one of the things consuming much of my time this month is the research for a second Grant Morrison book. Tentatively subtitled The Psychedelic Years, the book will analyze the author's work from the early to late 1990s, centered around his three major titles of that decade: The Invisibles, Flex Mentallo, and JLA. Today, as I reread JLA #16 (cover-dated March 1998), I was struck by an interesting convergence between the most recent, Grant Morrison-penned Batman issue, and this nearly ten year old Justice League story. I'm not surprised by the convergence, especially since I wrote an entire book about the recurring patterns in Morrison's work, but it was interesting enough to make me think about the way ideas and images are often recycled.

If you remember your 1990s comics, you'd recall that JLA #16 features the villain Prometheus (who had posed as the heroic Retro--winner of the "Join the JLA for a Day Contest) and his attempt to infiltrate the Watchtower and eliminate the League members one at a time. Take a look at his dialogue in this panel here. "I'm taking them down one by one," he says. "Ten Little Indians." This is, of course, exactly the premise (and Agatha Christie plot) that we see in the current Batman #668. The difference is in the execution, as the JLA story is full of superhero bombast and fisticuffs while the Batman story is all mood and suspense. Nevertheless, it's a clear example of Morrison returning to tell almost the same story after nearly a decade. (And, in both cases, the story seems to be one of the highlights of his run on the titles.)

Another convergence, from the very same JLA story, comes on the page immediately following Prometheus's Agatha Christie allusion. As you can see in this panel here, a crooked house appears, representing entrapment in Limbo (Limbo turns out to be Prometheus's base of operations, as he's a "crooked man," and in the issue #16 story, he teleports the angel Zauriel there for safekeeping). This image of a crooked house seems to converge with Batman #668 also, specifically with the J.H. Williams III cover. In issue #668, Batman is never literally shown inside a twisted house--the cover is a symbolic image, showing the hero trapped helplessly in a disorienting environment as the grip of the Black Glove threatens his life. The house is a metaphor, on the cover, of his current emotional state. It's not much of a stretch to connect that convergence with yet another: Arkham Asylum--a graphic novel predicated on the idea that a house (the asylum) is the fragmented psyche of Batman.

I don't know if Morrison directed Williams III to depict a type of crooked house on the cover of Batman #668, but the covergence remains. The patterns continue. To make a convergence of our own, let's recall the words of the multi-dimensional being Iok Sotot from Morrison's first major superhero comic: Zenith. He blissfully declares, "I love to watch the mindless patterns they make in spacetime."

Monday, August 27, 2007

Wolverine #56: A Review

Last week I listed Wolverine #56 as one of my most anticipated comics of the week. I said, "Jason Aaron is great. Howard Chaykin is great. Maybe, together, they will make a great story. It's gotta be better than the last Wolverine arc, right?" I was correct.

Jason Aaron is great. His Other Side miniseries was the best war comic of this decade (not that he's had a ton of competition in that genre lately), while his Scalped is the best Vertigo comic being published right now. If you're not reading Scalped, you're crazy. You are literally, not metaphorically, a lunatic, and you will probably end up in some sort of asylum if you're not careful. It's that good. It will keep you sane with its greatness.

Howard Chakyin is one of the all-time greats, for a variety of reasons, although as much as I love American Flagg! (and I do love it! I even own an original Chaykin page from the series, and I own very little original art--it's basically that page, a Cowan Question page, a Sienkiewicz New Mutants page, a Case Doom Patrol page, and a Quitely JLA: Earth 2 page. Those creators and those particular comics have deep personal meaning for me), and as much as I love his Shadow, I think Chakin's most beautiful work is on the Blackhawk miniseries. He may have peaked as a comic book artist in the mid-to-late 1980s, but I still love his art, and his chunkier, broad-chested and wide-hipped character work these days adds a sense of weariness to the heroes and the villains which inhabit the more recent stories.

The Aaron/Chaykin collaboration on Wolverine #56 produces the best single-issue Wolverine tale that I can remember, and one of the best self-contained Marvel stories I've read in ages. It's a fantastic issue. I've been quite disillusioned with Wolverine over the past year, and although I've been picking it up since Millar's excellent run, I haven't really been reading it all that attentively. I liked parts of the Guggenheim run, but it began to feel repetitive by the end, and the Loeb run was a bunch of meaningless revelations beneath some seemingly out-of-place Bianchi art. I would say that issue #56 is a return (albeit briefly, perhaps) to greatness for Wolverine, but I don't know that any issue of the series (in this volume or the last) has ever been quite as good as this one.

The story itself, at least in it's conceit, is reminiscent of Eisner's Spirit. Many of the great Spirit tales focused on a minor character, usually someone pathetic in their way, who crossed paths with Denny Colt, but the story was actually about the minor character's rise and fall (or just their fall from grace). Aaron and Chakin, in Wolverine #56, give us the story of the lonely and misguided Wendell, a man who may never have achieved greatness, but he has also never sunken so low as he has by the time of this story. Wendell shows up to work, awkwardly attempts banter with his colleagues, and then performs his daily task: shooting a giant machine gun into a pit. Inside the pit, of course, is a battered and bloody Wolverine. How he got there is irrelevant. Why Wendell (and the other employees) shoot him is irrelevant (to them). It's their job. And they have to do it every ten minutes to keep Wolverine from healing enough to climb out of the pit.

The story is a touch of Kafka, and a slice of The Twilight Zone, combined with that Eisnerian sense of pathos, and yet, it's a Wolverine story as well, as the title character uses his wits and his feral gifts to combat the unstable Wendell and earn his freedom.

Technically, this story fits into current Wolverine continuity, which is now mired in deep conspiracies and the shadowy machinations of some mysterious "Romulus" character. I'm not very interested in any of that, but I am interested in this single issue. It's a strange, off-beat Wolverine story that never worries about getting the character into costume. And even without a traditional fight scene, it manages to show what is so cool about a character who has been overexposed and underwritten for years.

Yes, Jason Aaron and Howard Chaykin can make a great comic book together, and they have. Pick up Wolverine #56. It's the only Wolverine you'll need for a while. And it's enough.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Geniusboy Live On Demand Radio--Episode 3

A mere week after Episode 2, Episode 3 of the Best Podcast Ever is now available for your listening pleasure. Join Ryan and I as we explore the genius of "X-Men: Endangered Species," ponder the greatness of Tiny Titans, revel in upcoming movie previews, attract another dubious sponsor, and discuss who would win in a wrestling match: Ryan or Millard Fillmore.

We now have a podcast page at, so if you'd like to leave an e-mail for our podcast, or record an audio comment, check out the page there. You can also subscribe to the podcast via that page, so you never have to miss an installment!

Or you can listen to Episode 3 directly by clicking on the title of this blog post.

By the way, this episode is freakin' awesome!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Batman #668: A Review

Batman #668, by Grant Morrison and J.H. Williams III, is an excellent comic book. As the second installment of the three-part "Club of Heroes" story, it expands the story both inwardly and outwardly, creating a metafictional context for the Agatha Christie-inspired mystery while advancing the murderous plot.

The issue begins with a three-part sequence, labelled "Eight Years Ago," drawn in a generic 1970s superhero style. The conspicuous use of benday dots in the color scheme (along with the radical shift from Williams III's "normal style") indicates that this sequence takes place not only in the past, but it takes place in the "comic book past"--a time when stories, and the characters inhabiting those stories, were more simplistic. The Legionary's dialogue, "Ah, c'mon fellas, we're here to promote world peace and trade crimefighting methods" undescores the naive sweetness of the past. Since we have already seen the Legionary brutally mudered in the "present day" story of issue #667, this three-page flashback provides a brilliant contrast to the way things were (in regard to the past of these characters, and in regard to the past of Batman himself, who was just as corny in his 1950s comic book appearances) and the way things are today (with each character having gone through an off-panel revamp or two, as I described in my look at the previous issue, and Batman having remained a much darker incarnation of himself ever since the mid 1980s). Throughout the issue, Morrison and Williams III play with the resonance of the past on the events of the present.

Actually, Morrison seems to be playing with that theme throughout his Batman run. As much as his iteration of Batman is self-declared attempt to return the character to the Neal Adams "hairy-chested love God" version, and as much as Morrison explores the nature of Batman doppelgangers and variations, the dominant idea throughout all of Morrison's issues so far seems to be the legacy of the past. Batman had to deal with the consequences of his tryst with Talia, he's re-opened the "Black Casebook" which is his attempt to reconcile the supernatural and science-fictional elements of his history, and now, Batman's reunion with minor (some would say ridiculous) characters from his past has resulted in tragedy. Even the much-maligned prose issue featuring "The Clown at Midnight," fits into that scheme, since Morrison's Joker is terrifying exactly because he constantly reinvents himself with no regard for the past. He's a character without the weight of a consistent legacy, and that's where his evil derives.

Batman #668 fits firmly into that thematic structure, but that's not necessarily what makes it good. What makes it good is Morrison's use of Batman as as detective, the expansiveness of the implied mythology of these minor characters, and the stunning work by J.H. Williams III.

First, the detective bits. As I've mentioned elsewhere, Batman rarely uses his supposed detective skills. Even in Paul Dini's earlier Detective Comics stories, which are pretty good self-contained stories, the Riddler plays the role of the detective, and then Batman kind of explains what was really going on in the end. We don't see Batman doing much detecting throughout the course of the stories. And most writers ignore the detective stuff entirely, moving from one fight or pursuit to another, without much care in the small details of observation. Since those pieces are often ignored, it's nice to see Morrison taking advantage of that side of Batman. It's not like the issue is revolutionary in the way it shows these detective moments, but it's nice to see. Morrison gives us clues, like the number of times the Legionary was killed, and a card with a bit of Latin. He gives us chicken grease and a mysterious light source. These are conventions of the detective genre, nothing we haven't seen on television before, but they're conventions because they are an intrinsic part of that type of mystery story. And that's what Batman #668 is--beneath all the "legacy of the past" stuff and the metafictional representations of the "Batmen," drawn in the styles of various other arists--it's a mystery story. A good one. I don't know whodunit, but I'm curious to find out.

Second, Morrison and Williams III use the iconography of comic books (both verbal and visual) to create an entire mythology around the Club of Heroes--characters who made less than a handful of appearances in previous stories and were created to represent what their original name impled. They were the "Batmen of All Nations," and their characterization was a stereotypical as their costumes. The French Batman looked like Musketeer (hence his name), the Native American Batman wore feathers, the British Batman was a knight, etc. While Williams III draws each character in a way which implies that each of them has undergone revisionism (which I won't go into here, since I covered it in my review of #667), and thereby uses a visual shorthand to imply a depth of characterization (even a stereotypical one) missing from the Club's previous appearances, Morrison uses apparently throw-away lines of dialogue to refer to a world outside the story. The Musketeer refers to "those years in prison" and his "old adversary Pierrot Lunaire," the Legionary lost his city to "a madman called Charlie Caligula," and the Gaucho explains that "the blue scorpion is the calling card of the assassin Scorpiana." Yes, those are ridiculous character names that match the stereotypical portrayal of these "Batmen," but they imply the Morrison has created histories for these sad, doomed heroes. Scorpiana, Charlie Caligula, and Pierrot Lunaire will doubtful play any kind of role in the story (I doubt they are clues, although I don't know for sure), but just by mentioning them in the story, the issue feels larger, more expansive, and more imaginative. It's basically a locked-room mystery that takes place in the world between the imagined past, the "real" past of Batman, and the recontextualized present.

Third, Williams III is in top form in this story. The conceit of illustrating each character in the mode of another artist (or style) could be a disaster, and I can see how a reader might find it off-putting even in this issue, but I think Williams III pulls it off brilliantly. One could argue, perhaps, that it's a bit like watching Who Framed Roger Rabbit, with all the competing layers and character designs clashing against one another. But that's where its beauty lies. It's a self-aware approach to comic book art, surely, but the clash of styles acts not only as a visual shorthand (as I mentioned above), but it matches the lack of harmony within the Club of Heroes as well. They clash, both artistically and personally. It fits. But Williams III doesn't stop there, with his artistic playfulness. He uses a batwing design to frame a sequence, interrupted by the sillouette of a black gloved hand (representing the machinations of the mysterious villain). And in a virtuoso two-page spread in the climax of issue, he justaposes three layers: a six-panel top layer, with the final three panels falling off into the following page as the climactic image is revealed beneath; a glove-shaped panel as the middle layer, revealing the death of another victim; and two partly-obscured nine-panel grids as the bottom layer, revealing the romaticized, sweetly naive past of the victim. It connects the legacy of the past theme with the thriller plot and emphasizes the level of the threat while showing character reactions. All done with style and beauty. It's a remarkable two pages.

Morrison's Batman run has been interesting since the beginning, but his collaboration with Williams III has moved this three-issue arc into the top tier of Morrison superhero stories. Batman #668 is not only the best comic of the week, but I think the "Club of Heroes" will be remembered as one of the Batman highlights of the decade.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Unknown Comic Book Authors Of The Decade Of The 1970's

Hello, loyal readers! Richard Oldstate here. My good friend and ice-fishing companion Timothy has asked me to fill in for him during his trip. While I lack Mr. Callahan's encyclopedic knowledge of the comic book medium, I make up for it by being several inches taller. I also have much cooler facial hair. And so I begin:

The 1970's was a turbulent and exciting period in the comics industry. It was a boom period full of experimentation, both on and off the page. Many trendsetting authors and artists began their career during this amazing period, while others showed a brief flash of brilliance only to quickly burn out, like a light bulb with substandard filament.

Earl Somerlath (b. 1947) began his comic career, as many before and after, as a fan. He would read comics by the dozen and overwhelm editors with his frequent letters. No continuity error was too small, no typo too insignificant for one of Mr. Somerlath's scathing letters to the "editor" (quotations his). One particular nineteen page letter, which focused solely on the scientific inability of a dog flying a spaceship, greatly impressed a young publisher by the name of Hal Turtin. Mr. Turtin decided that Somerlath's strongly worded missives and obsession with historical minutiae would make him the perfect man to craft a series of more realistic super hero comics.

The first comic penned by Somerlath, The Amazing and Verified Exploits of the Super-Mustachioed-Man, was a gigantic success, selling over three hundred copies in the first year alone, a very impressive number for that era. The book, featuring the exploits of a gay 90's barkeep with a well kept handlebar moustache and the "most striking arm-garters south of 4th street," enjoyed an impressive (again, for the era) twenty-three issue run. Greatly enjoying the books many profits and yearning for more, Turtin convinced Somerlath to give one of the books many minor characters his own title.

The resulting title, The Ombudsman, attracted less success. Although fans and critics alike marveled at the realistic depiction of a 19th century Norwegian fishing village, they quickly grew tired of stories about maritime fact-checking and the ethics of journalism at sea. The title lasted only four issues.

The news wasn't all bad for Somerlath. The slight success of The Amazing and Verified Exploits of the Super-Mustachioed-Man allowed him to concentrate on more personal and less commerical works, none of which he ever completed. During this period, he also dipped his toes in the sea of Hollywood, penning unsolicited and unread scripts for Jaws 2, The French Connection 2, Bullit 2, Bullit 3, Murder on the Orient Express 2, and Kramer vs. Kramer 2.

Desperate for another hit to saving his dying company, Turtin again turned to Somerlath. Over a long weekend in Wilkes-Barre, the two hammered out the details for the the title that would surely set the world of comics on its ear. Thrilling Tales of Cunning!, as conceived by Turtin and Somerlath, would feature three stories an issue, each with a tale of everyday men and women overcoming adversity and defeating the bad guys with nothing but pluck, common sense and good, old-fashioned, American ingenuity.

Not much is known about the cross country trip Somerlath took after that weekend in Wilkes-Barre. He left Pennsylvania on Friday with his wife and two children. He arrived at his home in Sacramento the following Thursday. His wife and children were nowhere to be seen. He was a broken man who cried at the drop of a hat or the honk of a passing car's horn. He spent the next fourteen days locked in his study, writing.

When he emerged, he did not hold the Thrilling Tales of Cunning! script in his hands. He held something different. Something new. Something the world of sequential art had never seen.

Factual Tales of Cowardice was not the hit Turtin was expecting. Though exhaustively well-researched, this three issue anthology series disappointed fans and critics alike. The fact that every story ends with the de facto "hero" running away, being beaten senseless, or breaking down in tears as his wife and two children are set afire before his eyes by a gang of renegade bikers does become a bit off putting.

After the complete failure of Factual Tales of Cowardice, Turtin fired Somerlath and the two never spoke again. Somerlath self-published one title: Kat Fancy. This detective title, about an eighty-three year old, seven-hundred and four pound women who solved crimes from her sick bed with the help of her eleven cats, suffered from many of Somerlath's bewildering creative choices. Firstly, Somerlath, never an artist, chose to draw the book himself, which explains why he chose to set it entirely in the tiny sick room of a elderly, morbidly obese invalid. Every panel contains the same drawing of a women in bed, surrounded by cats. Secondly, Somerlath greatly undercuts any possible drama inherent in a detective story by writing in his introduction, "cats are the slowest of tamed beasts and are incapable of even the most rudimentary English. Their attempts at detection would be laughable at best. Please enjoy the following made-up, implausible story."

Somerlath never wrote another word after Kat Fancy. Today he resides in Oxnard, California and can be found sitting quietly at his great-niece's swim meets.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Another Trip, New Releases, and a Guest

I'm going to be out of town for the rest of the week, so no more updates until this weekend guest blogger Richard Oldstate will be taking over this blog for the next few days. I hope you enjoy his forays into comic book history.

My trip means I'll miss New Comics Day, which is always slightly disappointing (who wants to wait?!?!?), but this week is even more so with a bountiful array of cool comics being released.

Here are my Top Ten Most Anticipated Comics for This Wednesday. Buy them and read them before I do!

10) WOLVERINE #56--Jason Aaron is great. Howard Chaykin is great. Maybe, together, they will make a great story. It's gotta be better than the last Wolverine arc, right?

9) MARVEL ADVENTURES FANTASTIC FOUR #27--It's a Guess Who's Coming to Dinner with the Inhumans! I love the Inhumans so much. No doubt Black Bolt will spoil the meal with an off-color comment. That wacky Black Bolt!

8) BLUE BEETLE #18--This is one of DC's best serialized comics that actually has an ongoing story, character development, subplots, and all that other stuff they stole from Marvel (and rightly so). If you're not reading this, then it just might be THE BEST COMIC YOU'RE NOT READING. If you are reading it, then you are my friend.

7) ANNIHILATION CONQUEST STAR LORD #2--Rocket Raccoon in The Dirty Dozen in space. Yes!

6) ASTONISHING X-MEN #22--Am I the only one who regularly reads this title but has only a vague memory of what's going on? I think the X-Men are still in space, right? And Colossus is going to destroy the planet? Or did that already happen? Has it been a while since issue #21? I don't even know anymore. But it's still the best X-Men comic on the stands no matter what.

5) SPIRIT #9--It must be a good week when a Darwyn Cooke comic lands at the number 5 slot. As much as I'll miss Cooke when he leaves this title after issue 12, I'd much rather see him do his own stuff, actually. Will Eisner's ghost is too constraining for an artist of his caliber.

4) SUPERGIRL AND THE LEGION OF SUPER HEROES #33--I like this new direction of the Legion so far, even with my problems with the consistency of Calero's otherwise excellent artwork. I wish Tony Bedard had a year or two on this title to develop his approach fully, but it looks like he's going to be booted in a few months in favor of (probably) Jim Shooter. I am hoping for the best, but not-so-secretly fearing the worst when that happens.

3) THE ORDER #2--This is my impression of Matt Fraction: "I am Matt Fraction. I write comics that are AWESOME. Seriously." And, it's just so true. This comic is going to be great. I can taste it.

2) IMMORTAL IRON FIST #8--This is my impression of Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction, together. "We are Ed and Matt. We write comics that are AWESOME, especially when we write them together, and double especially if they involve kicking and huge kung-fu tournaments." Oh, man, the only reason this comic isn't #1 is because of...

1) BATMAN #668--You may have heard that I think Morrison is pretty good, and I kind of like J.H. Williams III, especially when he's drawing, well, anything. This is going to be a great issue. The Club of Heroes! Death! Mystery! Romance! (Well, probably not Romance) Fanciness! Spectacle! Maybe I'll find a shop while I'm on vacation, read this in the store, put it back on the shelf, and then actually buy it from my local shop when I get home. No, maybe I'll buy two copies and give one to a homeless orphan to cheer him up. I'm sure this comic has the power to heal.

Monday, August 20, 2007


Here's a little something that's totally unrelated to comic books or pop culture, but it kind of pisses me off.

Whenever I read a message board post or a blog entry and I hit an "IMHO," I want to scream. But I don't, since that would wake the children.

I avoid the internet abbreviations as much as possible in general, but I find "IMHO" to be an atrocity. That's right: an atrocity.

At what point should you ever need to qualify your statements with a "In My Humble Opinion"? We all KNOW it's your opinion, because YOU were the one who wrote it. You don't have to say "IMHO Stephen King is a great writer," or "Tony Danza is underrated, IMHO." What the hell does "IMHO" add to your statement except to say that you are expressing your opinion weakly and maybe we shouldn't pay any attention to it? Just come out and state your opinions, and maybe even provide reasons to support them, but don't ever, ever waste your time typing the I, the M, the H, and the O.

"IMHO" sucks the life out of the world. Don't fall prey to it.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Older Posts: The Highlight Reel

I've picked up a lot of new readers (like you) over the past two months, and the nature of blog reading is such that if a post is not on the front page, then it's usually ignored. So, here's a quick rundown of some goofy, insightful, scholarly, or asinine things (you can decide which is which) you may have missed from previous weeks:

My ill-fated attempt at a semi-regular recurring one-panel strip of great profundity: Superhero Leg One, Superhero Leg Two

Why Neal Adams pisses me off: The Deadman Hardcover

Artistic analysis that didn't end up fitting into my book after all, so I blogged about it instead: Steve Yeowell is good

A bit of an e-mail exchange called an "interview" with Grant Morrison's biographer: Craig McGill

A week of looking at "independent" creators I like a lot: Matt Fraction, James Kochalka, Dave Roman, Jeff Lemire, Bryan Lee O'Malley

And, even though it's recent stuff, don't forget to listen to the NEWEST EPISODE (what we like to call Ep. 2) of my podcast: Geniusboy Live On Demand Radio. It's even better than Geniusboy Live Ep. 1!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Geniusboy Live On Demand Radio--Episode 2

The eagerly-awaited second episode of the BEST PODCAST EVER* has finally arrived. Thrill to 32 minutes of conversation on such diverse topics as Q-Bert, Seth Rogen, X-Men: Endangered Species, World War Hulk, and, of course, Sam Jones as Flash Gordon. Ryan and I have delivered everything we've promised this time around.

Let us know what you think by leaving some comments below! We'll read them on the air next week.

Listen to the podcast or download it here: Geniusboy Live EPISODE 2

Or, if that one's not working (or taking too long to load), you can find a link to a speedier download HERE (it's at the bottom of that page--ignore all the ads).

* as stated by my son, after I told him exactly what to say.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Magical Ice Cream is Good

The Joseph Campbell heroic quest, distilled into sequential images that may or may not make any sense. With dragons and ice cream.

Created by random children from the city streets with help from Word Street and me.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Comics Rockin' the Rockwell

This November, the Norman Rockwell Museum in Western Massachusetts will begin a six-month long comic book exhibit. It's going to be really cool, and here's why: (1) The show will largely focus on contemporary comic book artists. (I've seen the list of artists, and it's diverse and excellent.) (2) The show will be the foundation for a series of comic book workshops for kids and adults, as the Rockwell Museum tries to spread some comic book love and get people interested in the medium. (3) The early stages of the plans call for a Comics Art Festival to celebrate contemporary comic book artists and the medium itself--something in between a small-press expo and a big-time convention. (Think more panels, artist signings, and sketching than musty longboxes.) (4) I've been asked to become involved in the whole thing.

More details will follow as things become finalized, but this is an early warning: Awesomeness is coming, and it will be found at the Rockwell.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Casanova in the House. Finally!

I know I'm a week late, but what can I do? My shop didn't get Casanova #8 until this week. So here we are. Talking about the greatest comic in the history of this, one of many parallel universes. Screw that, actually. Casanova is the greatest comic in every parallel universe too, even the ones where the Nazis won World War II. In fact, on that alternate Earth, Matt Fraction publishes Casanova from his hidden base, a teched-out extra-large bathysphere deep within the Marianas Trench. Even the parallel Earth ruled by carnivorous bunnies has a Fraction-tastic Casanova comic, only the bunnies don't get the jokes. They take the comic literally and still think it's awesome.

Obviously you're all reading Casanova, because you have good taste, so I won't bother convincing you how good it is, as I kind of did HERE when I equated Fraction and Ba's work on issues #1-7 with Kirby-level greatness. Hyperbole? Nope. It's for real. Great, great stuff.

As you know, issue #8 features the art of Ba-twin Fabio Moon, and once your pupils stop constricting and adjust to the radioactive blue tones, you'll see that this kid's got skills, as you can see in Cass's vicious defeat of the dreaded Dokkktor Klockhammer. The evil Doc, who spouts the great lines, "I'm a REAL DOCTOR. AND a LAWYER. You can't stop me," is no match for Casanova Quinn, the typing-fu of Matt Fraction, or the Fabio Moon monkey wing reverse lightning brush. And that's only the beginning of the issue.

What I love about Casanova, besides lines like, "I could go for, like, 200cc's of...Fuckin' Awesome..injected in'ta my heart..." and "I demand truth--now. When is Casanova Quinn?" is that Fraction creates a nearly perfect super-spy action comic that captures the thrill and fun of the genre while subverting the genre at every turn. His sexy lead relaxes at the beach not with a hot babe, but with a three-faced robot who is more Ms. Modok than Ursula Andress. Then, after Casanova's recalled for the mission, and he gets his briefing, we get a six panel page (not pictured here) which at first seems to be a "calm before the storm" scene. The first panel shows the snowy woods, looking as if the sun is on the rise, the second panel is the same shot, but now day has fully broken. Except, wait. The tree on the right is now a stump? And there's snow on the stump. When did that tree get cut down? What looks like a panel-to-panel transition of an hour or two, upon closer examination, is actually a panel-to-panel transtion of days, maybe weeks. Then the next panel is the spring thaw, surely months later. Then what looks like summer. Then nightfall. Sometime. Only in the final panel does a masked character run through the scene, yelling "Mayday!" How long as the mission gone bad? What has happened? Fraction eliminates the entire mission and shows us only the fallout.

We assume the running character is Casanova Quinn, since he's the star of the book and he's doing stuff like shooting and leaping around. But it's not him, as we find out at the end. Cass is gone. And he's gone some"when"? And there's a six-armed, Chuck Taylor-wearing space cowgirl looking for him has well? All I could think about when I saw her was that she's some Kali analogue, part mother-goddess, part badass assassin. A perfect fit for the world of Casanova Quinn.

I'm sure you loved Casanova #8 too, right? It's a comic book. About being awesome.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Breaking News: Silver Surfer Defeats Doom, Iron Man

I picked up the long-awaited Marvel Heroscape this weekend. I don't have time to go into my whole history as a "gamer," but one of these days I'll tell you about my days in the high-pressure northeast Magic: The Gathering tourney circuit. My gaming is pretty much behind me now that I have a full-time job plus a writing career plus a family, but when games like Marvel Heroscape come along, I get a chance to jump back into the gaming arena by CRUSHING my three-year-old daughter and six-year-old son. We've only played the game once so far, but the Captain America/Spider-Man team controlled by my daughter was no match for the Abomination/Sillver Surfer combo. Unfortunately for us, that combo was controlled by my son, who soundly defeated both my daughter and I (with my Doctor Doom/Iron Man duo of death). Even with the early loss of the Abomination, my son was able to ride the Silver Surfer to victory.

This game is a lot of fun.

Monday, August 13, 2007

In Defense of Marvel's Ultimate Universe: Part Two

Yesterday, I discussed the major Ultimate Universe titles and explained why I thought most of them were worth reading. Today, I'll continue to (sort of) "defend" the line by looking at some of smaller titles of varying quality.

Ultimate Adventures was a wreck of a first issue. Featuring the quite brilliant artistic work of Duncan Fegredo (completely wasted on this series) along with the authorial stylings of Hollywood's own Ron Zimmerman, the series parodies the typical Batman and Robin dynamic. It's so obviously outside of the Ultimate Universe philosophy of updating Marvel Universe characters for a new audience that it isn't really worth discussing. It's just not part of the Ultimate Universe in any meaningful way, and readers of the series knew that and ignored the book almost completely. The "Ultimate" label was pasted on the title as a marketing ploy, and it just doesn't fit with everything else. I read the first issue and then gave up, and perhaps the series improved in issues #2-6, but I didn't stick around to find out because the first issue was so weak and uninspired. Ron Zimmerman hasn't done much for Marvel recently, and I can't help but assume work like this is to blame. [Note: It could be argued that this book was an attempt to lighten the "Seriously Serious" tone of the Ultimate Universe, just as the Ultimate Team-Up did. If that's the case, the moody and expressive artwork of Fegredo is the wrong choice, and Zimmerman didn't pull off the humor.]

Ultimate Six, on the other hand, was utterly excellent. With a reimagined Sinister Six via writer Brian Michael Bendis and the detailed figure work of artists Trevor Hairsine, this mini-series read like an Ultimate Spider-Man epic, bigger and badder than anything in the regular title. It was later collected and included in as Volume 9 of the Ultimate Spider-Man trade paperbacks, which proves how much it belonged as a companion piece to Bendis's work on the core series. It's well-plotted, full of appropriately fun cliffhangers, and it escalates and scale as the story develops. It reads like Ultimate Spider-Man meets The Ultimates, and that's exactly what it is, and all that such a meeting implies.

Ultimate War, however, by Mark Millar and Chris Bachalo, didn't work as well as one might hope. As a crossover between the Ulimate X-Men and the Ultimates, the series sputters through a series of relatively undramatic episodes culminating in a pointless battle. Although the series attempts to establish that the Ultimate mutants are as hated and feared as the mainstream Marvel mutants, it isn't that interesting. It can basically be summarized as: The Ultimates think the X-Men are on Magneto's side, so they decide to fight. That's it. Four issues worth. It could possibly be read as a twist on the conventional super-hero meetings, where the heroes get together, fight because of a a misunderstanding, and then team up to get the baddie. In Ultimate War, the misunderstanding IS the plot, and it just leads to senseless violence. It's Act I of a larger story, I guess, but where did Acts II and III go? This series feels incomplete and unnecessary, unfortunately. It's not Millar's best work.

Ultimate Iron Man is an interesting case, because, unlike the vast majority of the Ultimate comics, it was written by neither Bendis nor Millar (nor any other young-ish comic book scribe). It was written by sci-fi novelist Orson Scott Card (with art by Andy Kubert). Card reimagines Iron Man as a tortured-since-birth Tony Stark, who must wear a type of blue skin-armor to protect himself. The five-issue series is basically just the origin of the Iron Man armor, but Card manages to give the young Stark enough pathos to keep the story from falling into the trap of dull sci-fi techno-fetish. It certainly doesn't read like a typical super-hero comic (even a decompressed Ultimate-style one), mostly because the story beats feel more organic (which is odd to say about a technologically-focused character) and less contrived for maximum drama. As monthly comic book readers, we're so used to the big moments at the end of each issue, that when they don't come as expected, the issues can feel anti-climactic. Card doesn't completely ignore the single issues, but he seems far more interested in the overall character arc of the young Tony, who slowly becomes more vengeful and driven as the tale unfolds. The series ends while Tony Stark is still quite young, far away from his mature days as a member of the Ultimates. A sequel has been promised but remains unproduced. Without the sequel, the story of Iron Man's origin as a "hero" is incomplete.

Ultimate X4 is another strange series, mostly because it's only two issues. How many two-issue mini-series have ever been produced by Marvel? I'm sure there have been others, but I can't think of any. As its title indicates, the series teams the Ultimate X-Men with the Ultimate Fantastic Four (for the first time) as they battle the reimagined (female) Mad Thinker. Written by Mike Carey, who has taken over the ongoing Ultimate FF title, and illustrated by the stylish Pasqual Ferry, it's a fun two issues that's far more Fantastic Four in tone (and plot emphasis) than X-Men. It's good enough, but forgettable like any epic two-issue crossover series might be expected to be.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

In Defense of Marvel's Ultimate Universe: Part One

I should probably call this "Some Thoughts on Marvel's Ultimate Universe," since "Defense" is a pretty strong word for the rambling thoughts I'll surely have as I reflect on these comics, but I do feel that Marvel has done a good job with the Ultimate Universe. I don't, however, really understand Marvel's motivation for expanding the Ultimate line the way they have. Well, I do, but I'd like to hope that they have some kind of vision other than just, "it will make us money because fans will have to buy two different Fantastic Four (or whatever) titles per month, instead of just one." The basic premise for the universe is that it's an entry point for new Marvel readers. Comics people can pick up without having to know the immense continuity of the real Marvel Universe. Except, who are these supposed people? Younger readers, presumably, but then why is Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch's The Ultimates so clearly adult in content? And it seems to me that much of the pleasure of the Ultimate Universe is seeing how the creators play with the traditional characters and storylines from the original Marvel Universe. If you don't have that frame of reference, are the Ultimate Universe stories as interesting? Or maybe they are MORE interesting because then it all seems fresh and new?

I don't have the answers to these questions, but I have found myself reading the Ultimate Universe comics since the line's inception. I've read every single Ultimate title, with three minor exceptions--I somehow missed, or unconsciously ignored the first two parts of the Ultimate Daredevil Trilogy, and I gave up on the atrocious Ultimate Adventures after a single painful issue, but I have every other Ultimate comic book. Sometimes I feel like selling my entire Ultimate collection on eBay, and other times I feel quite glad to have read pretty much everything so far (and I want to read more). You might say, "well, he could still sell his Ultimate collection right now and keep reading the new ones as they come out." But, no, I can't do that. Either I'm in or I'm out. If I sell the set, I'm out. For good. And I'm not ready to take that step because I think the Ultimate Universe is an experiment that has worked overall, and quality stories have resulted.

Ultimate Spider-Man is the crown jewel of the Ultimate Universe. It's not sensational and splashy and much-anticipated like its younger, petulant brother known as The Ultimates, but it's been consistently good on a monthly basis. Hell, it's been more than that. It's been the best sustained look at Peter Parker that we've ever seen. The Lee/Ditko/Romita issues are classic and fondly remembered (and adored by me as I gaze upon the Masterworks reprints), but Silver Age creators (or the teams that have followed) didn't have the time or inclination to provide the type of close, deliberate look at Peter Parker's life that Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley have given us. The classic Spider-Man issues established Peter as a character, but where they suggested the pain and conflict of Peter's dual life, Bendis and Bagley bring it to the fore. I'm not particularly a fan of Bagley's style, and I'm much more excited about what replacement artist Stuart Immonen will bring to the book, but the book has been good for well over 100 issues, and it's not because of the revamped Green Goblin (which I think is a misstep) or the portrayal of the Kingpin (which is well-executed) but because, in many ways, this is the quintessential Peter Parker: Year One (told not in a short mini-series, but in extensive, nearly daily detail over the course of the series this far). I've dipped in and out of the core Marvel Universe Spidey titles over the past several years, but Ultimate Spider-Man is the only one I've bought every single month. Because it's the only one worth reading regularly.

Ultimate X-Men is a different story. True, I've continued to buy it each month while the same can't be said for its mainstream X-Men counterparts (which I buy sporadically, even now). But unlike Ultimate Spider-Man, Ultimate X-Men has been wildly inconsistent in tone, concept, and execution. The source for such inconsistency is easy to spot: Five different writers and about a dozen different artists in less than 90 issues, while Ultimate Spider-Man has had one writer and one artist the entire time. Ultimate X-Men has gone through several different phases. The first phase, the Millar years, was a Michael Bay movie with mutants. And it was fun, and interesting, even with the strange fashion choices of Bobby Drake in a do-rag and Wolverine with a soul patch. Chuck Austen wrote a little Gambit story somewhere in the mix, but like Chuck Austen's writing, the character of Gambit is not worth wasting time on. Bendis took over after Millar and turned the book into another character study, spotlighting a few heroes here and a few heroes there. Going from Michael Bay to David Mamet can be jarring, so Bendis seemed to restrain some of the more stylized aspects of his dialogue. But it was still a relatively low-key run on the title. Then Brian K. Vaughn and later, Robert Kirkman, came along. Their intention, it seems, was to retell as many of the classic X-Men stories as possible (although they seemed mostly inspired by the late 1980s/early 1990s tales, and I don't know that I should call that era "classic"), bringing in everyone from Mr. Sinister, to Longshot, to Lady Deathstrike, to Cable and Bishop. As it stands now, with the X-Men disbanded and several different mutant groups running around trying to fill the void, and with a zillion subplots running through the title, Ultimate X-Men is a bit of a mess. But here's the catch. The art has been astounding lately. Better, I think, than what we're getting on the core books most of the time. Ben Oliver and Yanick Paquette have been doing great work, but it's overshadowed by the relatively uninteresting web of plotlines. I think the comic can be salvaged once the X-Men reform as a team and the book shifts its emphasis back to Xavier Mansion, but right now it's a pretty-to-look-at jumble of ideas.

The Ultimates and its sequel, The Ultimates 2, have been the superstars of the Ultimate Universe, both in terms of fan reaction and sheer spectacle. Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch have created a frankenstein hybrid of hyper-realism (in the artwork and attempts at characterizations) and super-hero excess (in the plots, in the technology, and in some other attempts at charactization). It's an Authority-style revamp of The Avengers, but with more heart, and that's what makes it work. By creating a human scope for the super-human deeds, the comic resonates the way Ultimate Spider-Man does, but with more action, more explosions, and more "hey, that's cool" moments. The gigantic flaw the The Ultimates was the ridiculously inconsistent release schedule, which forced us to wait for a year to get the final issue of the second series. But now that Millar and Hitch have finished it up, it's safe to say that not only is it an outstanding addition to the Ultimate Universe, but The Ultimates is flat out one of the best comics Marvel has produced this decade.

Ultimate Fantastic Four, the youngest of the three ongoing series, could have potentially suffered from the inconsistency of Ultimate X-Men, since it too has shuffled writers and artists many times. But Ultimate Fantastic Four has been suprisingly consistent, and consistently good. The changes to the FF origin, made by initial writers Bendis and Millar, effectively updated the team for the new millenium and created an interesting dynamic for the team in the context of the Ultimate Universe. Instead of the "first family" or elder statesmen (and woman) as they are in the classic Marvel Universe, in this incarnation they are the prickly, precocious young guns, with Reed Richards as a teen genius. It works quite well. And throughout the series, whether in the hands of Millar, Bendis, Warren Ellis, or Mike Carey, the team has had one consistent goal: to explore the wondrous nature of the universe. So the book has been filled with strange science and weird places and cool ideas (with the exception of one terrible Diablo two-parter). And the book launched the concept of the Marvel Zombies, too. Ultimate Fantastic Four has created some continuity problems in the Ultimate Universe, since before the series was launched other characters referred to the FF (and even met them) as if they were basically the same as they were in the classic Marvel U (as if they were older, and owned the Baxter Building, etc). So that type of internal inconsistency seems to shatter the very core of what the Ultimate Universe was supposed to be, but it's only a few references, and continuity errors are bound to happen sooner or later when you're dealing with many writers over a period of several years. Nevertheless, Ultimate Fantastic Four has been a good comic, again consistently better than the regular Marvel Universe version.

Ultimate Team-Up was the ultimate (no pun intended) concept book. Each issue would feature Spider-Man teaming up (hence the name) with another Ultimate hero, and each issue (or arc) would be drawn by a guest artist who was outside the Marvel mainstream. It was, in many ways, an indy showcase book, where writer Brian Michael Bendis could play with his independent comics pals (and dream collaborators) and slowly define the rest of the Ultimate Universe (which was basically just Spider-Man and the X-Men when this series was launched). This book was inconsistent because of such a concept, and the artistic styles varied so wildly it's shocking, but it's a very cool book that was cancelled too early. I loved it as it was coming out. Look at some of the artists involved: Matt Wagner, Phil Hester, Mike Allred, Bill Sienkiewicz, John Totleben, Dave Gibbons, James Kochalka. These are some of my favorite artists in the history of the medium, and they got to work on this book (Gibbons and Kochalka minimally, but the others drew a full issue or two). [Note: I realize that those aren't the best names to demonstrate the "indy showcase" nature of the book. How about Jim Mahfood? Chynna Clugston-Major? Terry Moore?] Because Bendis used this comic to show his Ultimate versions of various heroes who later appeared in true Ultimate revamps, this series is a big problem for Ultimate continuity. When Spider-Man teams up with the Fantastic Four, they are NOT the same version as the team from the Ultimate Fantastic Four comic. Neither is the Hulk, or Iron Man, apparently, or Nick Fury, if I remember correctly. This comic was fun while it lasted, even with the continuity problems, yet it was doomed as an Ultimate title because it didn't take itself seriously. And that's something every Ultimate title apparently must do. Besides this book, the rest of the Ultimate line should have a banner on the covers which reads: "This Comic is Deadly Serious. Seriously."

Saturday, August 11, 2007

J.H. Williams III on Batman #667

When I reviewed Batman #667 the other day, I took a stab at guessing the artistic inspirations for the drawings of each Club of Heroes member. Well, artist J.H. Williams III has revealed the sources of his pastiches in a Barbelith post (after I asked him to give us the inside scoop), and here's what he had to say:

okay here is run of style influnces for these characters and the reasons why. all of these choices were made with one sketch and feelings as i drew them for the first time...

cheif man of bats-- sort of a steve rude influence. i wanted something clean and a little goofy retro in this idea and thats what came out first shot. rude's stuff always has this sort of 50's 60's nostalgic feeling to me and i wanted that for this character. but he needed to feel like the feelings you get when you look at those old silver age comics. charming in ways but also a little silly.

raven red-- a very loose influence of basic 70's early 80's superhro comics with an almost generic quality to the costume. cheesy amd redundent. been there done that sort of feeling when you look at him.

gaucho-- chaykin. for that rough around the edges feel and machismo that all of his characters have. his outfit is definitely not based on traditional gaucho clothing. instead i went for the el mariachi desperado films look. again to enhance his macho attiude.

wingman-- very loosely based on gibbons from watchmen era. i wanted the costume to look as if this character could've existed in the watchman reality. it fits well with his attitude and feelings of being original but not really. sort of an interesting comment since watchmen was a very groundbreaking and original concept but used characters that had existed in a different form previously. make sense?

musketeer-- is influenced by mid to late 80's superhero ideas. maybe a little bit alan davis in there too. hence the simple color techniques with smooth grads for a sense of rendering.

legionary-- i wanted to convey the sort of humorous but cynical qualities of some of the comics of the early 90's. with maybe a little hint of kelly jones exaggeration in the mix. particularly with his death scene.

knight and squire-- mcguinness influence. just because i loved the way he handled them previously and i wanted them to sync up to that.

dark ranger-- definitely sprouse. i think that influence came out of the early sketch because the character really needed to feel vastly updated and different from his past appearance. and so he needed to feel really modern.

batman and robin-- no influence here just me.

the only other thing that was necessary for this story was that all of the club characters needed to feel off as well. as if they reached for these ideals that are present in the influences but fall a little short. none of them are quite up to snuff and they know it deep inside and thats why they still are awed by batman. he surpasses them on every level, hence him and robin's more rendered and dimensional quality, deeper. this was taken into consideration as well when i did the first sketches of them.

the whole idea here was to convey characters that have had real history that we haven't been privy to. they were seen a very long time ago and that was pretty much it really. and grant wrote them as if they've been having lives and adventures all along and i wanted to see if i could make them seem as if they had stepped out of their own comics and into this one. so i imagined what those comics might currently look like but none of us have seen or read them. comics from another world? these clubbers needed to have distinct character traits immediately understandable becasue of the way the story moves with them. so i thought it would be an intersting challenge to see what affect 'styles" would have on their personalities as i drew them. a nice experiment i think, which has produced interesting results. as i drew them i felt as if they were fully realized right away. they came alive.

hope this all makes some sort of sense in an exsistential sort of way. and the other reason for doing this sort of thing is because its just plain fun and allows to sort of comment about comics within the frame work of a comic itself.

Thanks, J.H.!

Period Comics: A Thought or Two

In my very long discussion of James Robinson's The Golden Age and Darwyn Cooke's The New Frontier, I barely touched upon an idea that I find exceedingly interesting: When the Roy Thomas-fueled period comics like The Invaders and All-Star Squadron hit the scene, World War II was only about 40 years old. And that seemed like an appropriate amount of time in which to set a comic book series set in the past. What if we applied that math to the year 2007, and looked back 40 years ago to the year 1967. I'm not talking about an Elseworlds-style graphic novel or mini-series. I'm talking an ongoing, episodic, super-hero melodrama which, like the Roy Thomas stuff, uses the time period as an essential part of the plotting and characterization.

Here's some of the 1967 the historical backdrop (courtesy of handy-dandy wikipedia):

--The Vietnam War.
--Apollo 1: U.S. astronauts Gus Grissom, Edward Higgins White, and Roger Chaffee are killed when fire erupts in their Apollo spacecraft during a launch pad test.
--New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison claims he will solve the John F. Kennedy assassination, and that it was planned in New Orleans.
--Joseph Stalin's daughter, Svetlana Alliluyeva, defects to the USA via the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi.
--In San Francisco, 10,000 march against the Vietnam War.
--In Houston, Texas, boxer Muhammad Ali refuses military service.
--Elvis Presley and Priscilla Beaulieu are married in Las Vegas.
--The Beatles release Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, one of rock's most acclaimed albums.
--Loving v. Virginia: The United States Supreme Court declares all U.S. state laws prohibiting interracial marriage to be unconstitutional.
--Cold War: U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson meets with Soviet Premier Aleksei Kosygin in Glassboro, New Jersey, for the 3-day Glassboro Summit Conference.
--12th Street Riot: In Detroit, Michigan, one of the worst riots in United States history begins on 12th Street in the predominantly African American inner city (43 killed, 342 injured and 1,400 buildings burned.
--The Black Panthers Party invades the city of New Haven, Connecticut setting people's lawns and houses on fire.
--Thurgood Marshall is confirmed as the first African American Justice of the United States Supreme Court.
--U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967, establishing the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
--Civil rights activists in the US succeed in their campaign to extend the definition of murder to include the killing of blacks.

Can you imagine a super-hero series, using established heroes, set against such a backdrop? After all, the major super-heroes from both Marvel and DC were already created by 1967.

Or is it only the World War II-era heroes who seem to fit in a historical setting?

If a comic book set in the late 1960s did exist, who would be the ideal creative team?

These are the things I think about. How about you?

Friday, August 10, 2007

A Movie Review: Stardust

When was the last time I actually reviewed a movie on this blog? It's been ages, and I've seen a lot of movies during that time, although not nearly as many as I once did, in the days before we had kids and my wife worked at the theater to maintain our free admission--back then I felt obligated to see every movie released theatrically, including the unbearable genius of the Dennis Rodman kicking vehicle known as Double Team. Now, we get to the movies a few times a month at most, and even though I like some of the films we see, I don't often feel compelled to write about them here. So it must be significant that I chose to write about Stardust.

Here's the reason: I thought Stardust was great.

And I didn't expect to have that reaction.

Stardust, directed by the oh-so-we-got-stuck-with-Brett-Ratner-on-X-Men-3's Matthew Vaughn and written by oh-so-you're-married-to-Jonathan-Ross-the-famous-British-TV-personality-slash-comic-book-fan-who-just-made-a-Ditko-documentary's Jane Goldman (based on the novel by oh-you-wrote-Sandman-and-that-was-quite-good-wasn't-it?'s Neil Gaiman), tells the story of young Tristan and his romantic quest to bring a fallen star back to his beloved Victoria. Which sounds nice and sweet and all, but quite dull, doesn't it? I think so, which is why I was relieved to find that it's not really about that romantic quest at all. It's about the magic of the adventure itself. It's about the seven warring sons of the dying Peter O' Toole. It's about sky pirates. It's about old men doing kung fu. It's about Ricky Gervais being a comic genius. It's about not taking itself too seriously while still telling an incredibly engaging tale.

I loved it.

It's full of strange moments, some of which are strange in a wonderful unearthly way (like Ron Weasely's dad as a goat in human form and the dead princes commenting on the action), and some of which are just strange artistic choices that could possibly hurt the movie's critical reception (like the Nothing But Trouble old-age make-up and the refuge-from-The-Birdcage performance of Robert DeNiro). But even with its stumbles, Stardust is full of excitement and fun and momentum and magic.

And I didn't expect it to be, partly because I abandoned the serialized Neil Gaiman/Charles Vess illustrated novel after the first installment, and partly because the trailer looked too dark and too ominous in tone. I went to see it thinking that maybe it would be a bit better than Eragon which was laughably bad in its Star Wars mimickry, but probably just something forgettable. Another failed fantasy movie.

It wasn't. It's not.

I've seen other reviewers comment (positively) on Stardust's tone, which they characterize as The Princess Bride-ish. I can see why they'd say that, since the movie does have a sense of humor about itself, but the movie reminds me most of Terry Gilliam's Time Bandits, or at least my childhood memory of it, with its episodic feats of imagination and wonder. Stardust is better than Time Bandits, if only because it reaches a more satisfying conclusion, but Stardust has that kind of Gilliam illogic and sense of magic that I love to see in a fantasy movie.

Go see Stardust. It's surprisingly good.

It's even better than a Dennis Rodman roundhouse kick to the head of Mickey Rourke.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Batman #667: A Review

Eight months ago, in a Wizard Universe Article/Interview, we read the following words:

"From the Batman of the future, Morrison will segue into the Batmen of the past, a.k.a. the Batmen of All Nations, a.k.a. the Club of Heroes, an international team of Batman-inspired heroes who debuted in Detective Comics back in the 1950s.

“'To me, it’s just what would have happened if these guys had been around and the stories of them had been getting told all through the ’80s, so they’ve been through deconstruction and reconstruction,' the writer says. 'It was kind of neat looking at what could go wrong with Batman. The Italian guy who was a mature type film hero has become this big, fat guy who loves eating and trades on his past glories as The Legionary. The Knight and The Squire are still active but it’s a grownup Squire and The Knight has his own Squire. The Gaucho has become a serious Argentinean superhero who is well respected—he’s the real deal. Wingman, who Batman trained in the past is now really pissed off, and doesn’t want to admit that Batman ever trained him because he wants to make his own way.'

“'It’s kind of like guys we all know and they’re all in a room and bad sh-- happens and they start getting knocked off one by one.'”

And, in Batman #667, that's exactly what we get. It's the same plot structure as Agatha Christie's classic And Then There Were None (also published as Ten Little Indians, and originally titled, if you can believe it, Ten Little Niggers), in which a group of assorted characters arrives on a mysterious island to find themselves getting killed off one by one.

What's great about the issue (and it is a GREAT issue, by far the best Morrison Batman issue yet--and I've liked his run so far, as detailed in many other blog posts) is that Morrison doesn't just resurrect these classic 1950s supporting characters, but he treats them as if they have gone through the "deconstruction and reconstruction" of the 1980s. So, when we see them, they are revisionist versions of the old characters, drawn by the masterful J. H. Williams III in the style of the imagined revision. The most obvious example is the Gaucho, who is clearly illustrated in the style of Howard Chaykin. By showing the Gaucho through a Chaykin pastiche, Morrison (through Williams III) is able to provide a subtext for the character immediately. Knowing what we know about Chaykin's work, we know that this incarnation of the Gaucho is probably a cynical anti-hero who rebels against the system and loves the sexy ladies. It's a fun, postmodern conceit used by Morrison, that positions each member of the "Club of Heroes" as a different type of stereotypical 1980s revamp.

None of this matters to the plot, necessarily, but it doesn't detract from it either, as Williams III is able to meld the different styles of artwork together beautifully, just as he did on his gorgeous Promethea run.

Besides the Gaucho, in his Chaykinesque splendor, and the Knight and Squire who have been revamped with a clean but bulky Ed McGuinness style (as seen in Morrison's JLA Classified story), other characters from the Club seem to reflect the following artistic styles:

The Australian character formerly known as the Ranger, now Dark Ranger, drawn in a Chris Sprouse style.

American Indians, Man-of-Bats (drawn in a Steve Rude style), and his sidekick Raven Red (formerly Little Raven--and drawn in a style I can't quite figure out, but it's not the Steve Rude style of his partner--it looks a bit like early Alan Davis, circa Marvelman)

The Italian Legionary, once a noble-looking centurion, now a bloated mockery drawn (possibly) in a Dave Gibbons' style (?)

Wingman, from Europe, is reimagined as a Azrael-era Joe Quesada character, complete with the armored helmet and red visor.

The Musketeer, from France of course, is drawn in a style different from the others, but I don't recognize it, although his head resembled David Lloyd's V for Vendetta design (but the figure looks nothing like Lloyd's work--I don't know who Williams III modelled this imagined revamp upon).

It's fun to play the guessing game, and to try to place the different inspirations for the style used on each character, but that's only one layer of Batman #667. There's a lot of other stuff going on, most prominently the threat of the "Black Glove" who seems to be gambling with the life of these characters.

Morrison's run on Batman may seem a bit disjointed--Ninja Manbats! Damian! Joker revised! Evil Batmen! Future Batman! and now This!--but I'm guessing that it will all link together thematically (if not narratively), and even if it doesn't, you can enjoy the "Club of Heroes" story on its own terms. It's good comics. Read it several times. Once for the mystery plot. Once for the artist guessing game. And once because it's such a cool-looking comic. And maybe one more time for fun.

By the way, Chris Roberson talks a bit about the history of The Batmen of All Nations in a January blog post, if you're interested. And why wouldn't you be?

EDITED TO ADD: When I asked J. H. Williams III on the Barbelith message board if Morrison had suggested certain artistic styles for the Club of Heroes characters, Williams had this to say: "nah, grant had no requests. he didn't know what i was doing until he saw it and he has told me he is very pleased with where i come from with things. and thanks for understanding what i'm trying to do. i really feel that having a 'personal style' can be very limiting and can cause one to not grow and learn new things. as far as i'm concerned there is always something new to be learned. that there should no 'style' per se. its an almost arrogant form of thinking in regards to saying one has their own definitive style that surpasses anything one might see around them. like their style matters more than others. like that is it and nothing else works. i think this is one of the reasons why we see so many artists stagnate. because they stick themselves into a box and they don't want to or can't get out of it after a while. they start to lose something because they aren't looking to new horizons and discovering new techniques or ideas anymore. i see it all the time sadly. many are supremely great at what they do but thats ALL they do. sort of been there done that. i never want that to happen to me and so i'm conatantly pushing myself in new ways to see what comes out. the crossing midnight covers are good example of this. and with this batman stuff, none of the style choices were very well thought out or orchestrated. it was more based on an instinctual gut reaction as i sketched them all out for the first time. this is just what came out and i stuck to it because i really liked the effect."

He is a man with amazing instincts, then. Truly superior work.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Justice League Unlimited #36: The Best Recent Comic You Probably Haven't Read

If you've seen all of the Justice League and Justice League Unlimited television episodes (as I have, and as you should), then you'll know that the animated version of the Question is as much Rorschach as Ditko. The animated Question, voiced brilliantly by The Re-Animator's Jeffrey Combs, is a terse, seemingly-paranoid, unfriendly, no-nonsense investigator who has little time for anything other than the pursuit of truth.

He's a great character who has been only used to tell one type of story, which goes something like this: The Question seems like a paranoid lunatic at first, but his crazy theories turn out to be right in the end. That pretty much sums up his role on the animated series, but it's a GOOD role, and I love his every appearance.

So, how does that make Justice League Unlimited #36 a good comic? Well, it's just a bit of backdrop for what writer Simon Spurrier does in this issue. And you read that correctly: the issue is written by SIMON SPURRIER, whom many of you may be unfamiliar with, but you won't be for long, because he's one of the best writers coming out of 2000AD in recent years, and he hit the American market hard this summer with his Image title, Gutsville. Gutsville is a twisted, Victorian noir-horror story set inside the belly of a whale. It's great. And this is the same guy who brings the animated incarnation of the Question to four-color life in the newest issues of Justice League Unlimited.

"Wild Geese," the JLU story, seems to be a twist on the traditional Question tale, as the Justice Leaguers not only disbelieve his paranoid lunacy, but seem to mock him and purposely lead him along errant paths just to keep him out of their way. But what's so great about Spurrier's story, is that not only does he perfectly capture the tone of the animated Question, but he provides a twist to the normal Question plot that you might see coming (or you might not), but it's still a lot of fun to read. And it's fun to read because of how unbelievably far-reaching and all-encompassing this conspiracy seems to be. Every urban legend, every contemporary myth, every ridiculous story from around the world factor into the Question's investigation, leading to the shocking (maybe, unless you're paying attention) revelation at the end.

It's the Question done right. It's the Best Recent Comic which You Probably Haven't Read. And it's a Johnny DC title, ostensibly for kids. It is for kids, but it's also for you, because it's great.