Wednesday, June 27, 2007
Any and all thoughts on any comics this week (including the Sinestro Corps event) will be transcribed to this space as soon as the writer can afford to buy his comics without selling another kidney.
Saturday, June 23, 2007
Thursday, June 21, 2007
The Internet is all abuzz with the news about the upcoming wedding of Oliver Queen and Dinah Lance a.k.a. the super-heroes known as Green Arrow and Black Canary. It cannot be denied that this marriage does have people talking, though opinions about the marriage and its’ potential success are diverse and divided.
Many cite the editorial mandate behind the impending marriage that has left little time for the long-dead romance between the two heroes to be properly rekindled as a cause for concern. Others worry about the independent Black Canary being turned into a submissive sidekick or a doting doormat in the up-coming Green Arrow/Black Canary book that will pair the two up as husband, wife and crime-fighting partners. But what really astonished me is the large number of fans who summed up their reason for being against the marriage in one sentence.
“I don’t like Ollie and I don’t see what Dinah sees in him.”
Given Ollie’s characterization over the past few years in the comics, I can see their point. After all, it is hard to see the good points of a man who – thanks to retroactive continuity - abandoned a woman who bore his child, cheated on his long-time girlfriend with a friend’s niece and generally been depicted as a liar, a cheat and utterly incompetent as a father, a boyfriend and a superhero.
But that is not Green Arrow! Not to me at least.
My Green Arrow is the one penned by Kevin Smith, who walked out of Paradise to do the right thing.
My Green Arrow is the one penned by Denny O’Neil, who became a champion of the little guy and refused to back down from an argument when he felt he was doing the right thing – even with the rest of the Justice League standing against him.
My Green Arrow is the one penned by Dwayne McDuffie on Justice League International, who was a cool uncle to the younger heroes as well as the team conscience.
This shocked some of the people who I explained this to, who only knew of Ollie’s character from off-hand references in books they had read or from the last few years of the Green Arrow comic. Some of them had never even read a single issue of Green Arrow and based what they knew of the character from what they heard on message board postings. But even after I told about some of the great stories that showed Ollie’s heroism, a few still said they didn’t believe there was anything admirable about the character of Oliver Queen.
This led me to ask myself – what do I admire about Oliver Queen? And maybe it was Father’s Day this past weekend that led to the thought but I had something of a revelation.
At his core, Oliver Queen reminds me of my dad.
Like Oliver Queen, my dad was a hippie back in his college days. Like Oliver Queen, he was a deep believer in Civil Rights and Women’s Rights – though he freely confesses that he didn’t mind the benefits of being able to meet a lot of young women who didn’t wear bras at rallies. Like Oliver Queen, my dad has stylish facial hair which I’ve been lucky enough to inherit. Like Oliver Queen, my dad is very political and is outspoken about his opinions. But most of all, like Oliver Queen, my father is an outspoken defender of those who can’t defend themselves.
My favorite story of my father the champion comes from his days as manager of a national chain hardware store, which shall remain nameless. This store had made arrangements with the local high school to allow several special-education students to work in the store for a few hours a week in order to give them real-world job experience and a chance to practice social interaction in a relatively controlled setting.
One of these students was boy who was very smart but very non-verbal. Like many people with communication disorders, he did not respond well to non-specific audio cues. He would turn around at the mention of his name but not to “Hey you!” A woman stumbled upon this boy as he was stocking the shelves. She was, by the accounting I heard, the wife of a city councilman or some other rich hotshot.
The woman asked the young man for help, not knowing of his condition. The young man, unable to speak, walked away from her to find someone to help her. She began to shout at the young man and began berating a store employee who, after returning with the boy, asked how he could help her.
My father was called out of his office, told only that a customer wanted to see him about the student employees. When he got there, the entirety of the class was gathered around to comfort their friend who was distraught from the yelling. Although he couldn't speak, he could certainly understand everything she was saying. The teacher and her aides tried to keep order in the face of one angry woman, six upset students and a growing number of infuriated employees.
“Are you the manager of this store?”
“Yes ma'am, I am. What seems to be the problem?” my father said.
“This employee of yours ignored me. He walked away and sent someone else."
My father explained, patiently, about the arrangement with the local school and how the boy had a condition that made him ill-suited to answering questions.
“You mean he's a retard?”
“He has a communication disorder. That's-“
“You let retards work here?!”
This was shouted, it bears repeating, in front of the children in question. All of whom were already concerned that their friend was upset and rather nervous about this angry shouting woman. It would only get worse.
“Ma'am, that word is –“
“You should put signs around their necks so that decent, normal people don't waste their time talking to them!”
My dad says he remembers smiling as he looked at the kids.
“Exactly what would you like the signs to say, ma’am?”
“I am a retard. Please don't talk to me!”
A pause. And my dad gave her the biggest smile he could.
“Fine. I'll be all too happy to make up those signs and put them around their necks... as soon as you let me put a sign around YOUR neck saying “I am a bigot. Please don’t listen to a word that comes out of my mouth!”
I’m not sure what backlash offending this rich and connected woman might have had against my dad’s business. But he doesn’t doubt for a moment that he did the right thing. And neither do I.
And that same spirit is why Oliver Queen is my favorite fictional hero.
Because no matter what I think of the writer of his book and no matter how boneheaded I feel the storyline of the month is, that core of the character cannot be changed by any amount of bad storytelling. No matter what happens, Oliver Queen will still always be the man who will speak his mind, damn the consequences and say "no" to the rich, the powerful and the complacent who think they can always get their way.
And that’s why out of all the heroes I read and write about on a daily basis, my dad is still my favorite real hero.
This column is respectfully dedicated to John Morrison, who taught me how to pick my battles and speak my mind.
Yeah. I promise never to do that again.
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #541 - Ah, Wilson Fisk. You have been missed, sir. Anti-climactic as this issue is regarding the confrontation between Spider-Man and Kingpin (we already know that Fisk will escape the prison brawl unharmed, thanks to recent issues of Daredevil) it is effective in building the drama regarding an injured Aunt May. And full props to JMS for the reference to Stan Lee's story with Peter having to donate blood for Aunt May's transfusion.
CONAN #41 - After months of waiting, it is here. - Part One of Tim Truman's adaptation of Robert E. Howard's Rogues in the House. While quite a bit has been adapted and added-on (Conan is decidedly more verbal in this first part of the tale) the gist of the story is captured perfectly and indeed Truman remains truer to the original story than even Roy Thomas was in his adaptation of the story for Marvel Comics. Thumbs up from this die-hard fan of the world's most famous barbarian.
COUNTDOWN #45 - Well... that was... anti-climactic. And am I the only one confused as to who most of the Moinitors are working for now?
FLASH THE FASTEST MAN ALIVE #13 - Okay, I've never been the biggest Bart Allen fan - especially after he was forcibly grown up, forcibly aged and forced into becoming The New Flash - but to have the book end like this is just disrespectful.
HELLBLAZER #233 - The more and more I read Andy Diggle's take on John Constantine, the more I wish he was writing Green Arrow past the upcoming Green Arrow: Year One. Diggle had delved into the past of John Constantine and the continuity of other writers with a glee and zeal not see in many writers besides Geoff Johns. Still, this issue, based on a throwaway bit during Paul Jenkins severely underrated time on the title, is a real treat as we see Diggle move John back toward being the John Constantine of old rather than the more generic mystical hero written by Denise Mina over the last year. If you aren't reading Hellblazer, now is a great time to start.
JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #10 - By the same token, re: The Flash, while I have always liked the character of Wally West - there had to be a better way to bring him back than this. Was there really THAT much outcry against the current Flash book that we had to waste three months of time in JLA and JSA to bring Wally back the same week that Bart dies?
SAVAGE TALES #2 - A bit flat compared to the first issue. The Sonja story ends in a predictable manner. The Atlantis story feels far too slow. The story with the Hunter seems a standard middle chapter. Only the continuation of the story of how The Old Ones from Lovecraft's books came to Earth seems to hit the high-mark set by the first issue. Not a bad book by any means - but the first issue seemed much more exciting by comparison.
ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #110 - Okay, Bendis? I know you have a major man-crush on Moon Knight. And I know that the Ultimate Universe characters are, for the most part, different people than the Regular Marvel Universe. That being said... I don't like Daredevil threatening innocent lives and meaning it. I don't like Danny Rand being a whinny bitch. I don't like Doctor Strange being an incompetent poser. But mostly, I don't like Peter being robbed of the moral victory he wins here just because you wanted to make your version of Moon Knight look like a bad-ass. Okay?
Saturday, June 16, 2007
I love Waid's work but I've just never gotten The Legion of Superheroes... so I'll be glad to have him writing a book featuring characters I like.
Also, there's a fair to middling chance that with Waid writing Trickster again, Underworld Unleashed might still be canon. :)
2. Dwayne McDuffie, former writer and producer of the Justice League cartoon, is taking over JLA... AND he's writing the Ollie/Dinah wedding special!
It's not Gail Simone but it's one of the few other writers whose name can get me to try a book I wouldn't ordinarily read. And as nervous as I know everyone is about the Ollie/Dinah marriage... at least we can be assured that the wedding issue will be top-notch.
Now... can we get a guarantee that Judd Winick is NOT writing any potential Green Arrow/Black Canary team books?
Ah well... it can't all be good, can it?
Friday, June 15, 2007
Salutations comic-readers of the world! It is I, Victor Von Doom – Supreme Ruler of all Latveria – once again exercising Doom’s right to speak freely upon matters of great importance.
Those of you who have missed Doom’s earlier missive may well wonder ‘Why would one with the might and clout of Victor Von Doom need to speak through a humble magazine devoted to illustrated fiction? Surely the major news networks would bow to the whims of one so famous and so powerful?’
And indeed they might, were most of the American media machine not currently perched like fat pigeons outside the cell of one Paris Hilton, awaiting the latest news on her imprisonment. A sad, sad statement upon your society. In Latveria, we do not allow such worthless people to retain wealth and grow lazy off the labors of others. Nor are drunk drivers punished with mere imprisonment – or they would not be, had Doom not outlawed personal civilian motor vehicles and thus indirectly ended the scourge of drunk driving! Advantage: Doom!
But despite the many flaws of the American society and media, Doom must admit that while your mistakes are plentiful, many of you do seem to try and learn from your errors and ensure that they will not be repeated. This would explain why Doom found Fantastic Four: Rise of The Silver Surfer to be a much more tolerable film than the first film based upon the battle between Doom and the accursed Reed Richards and his family!
Now, your American film critics may speak at length of how the visual effects quality has improved considerably and that the performances of the actors are engaging and closely match the personalities of Richards and his family. Doom does not deny this. But such frivolous discussion is not Doom’s purpose here. Nay, Doom shall speak of what is truly important – how did the filmmakers portray the glory that is Doom?
Poorly, it must be said. Though in fairness Doom doubts there is any filmmaker, writer or actor who could do Doom true justice without Doom’s hand to guide them. The theatric arts, amazing though they are, are a poor thing to simulate the awesome power that is Doom. Still, considering the pitiful results of their last outing, the film-makers do improve greatly upon their past mistakes – though the weak, high and very American accent of Australian actor Julian McMahon is a still an unworthy match for the dulcet baritone voice of Doom! Still, there has been much improvement.
1. The Power of Doom
First and foremost, the metallic skin that the movie Doom was cursed with in the last film is quickly and permanently removed. Doom would have preferred for some scaring to have remained as a visual reminder of what Richard’s incompetence had done but Doom will take what Doom can get and be thankful that the movie Doom did not have cloven feet and the power to vomit flame retardant foam as in your most recent biased Fantastic Four comics.
2. The Armor of Doom
Doom is finally clad in the amazing armor that is Doom’s trademark. Though it is not until the climax of the film that he does so, we do see the movie Doom working on his armor throughout the film until the moment when... ah, but that would be telling. Suffice it to say, Doom does finally appear in his full glory by the film’s end.
3. The Wisdom of Doom
My words of how Doom should be played seem to have reached the writers and actor. While still far from worthy of the name Victor Von Doom, Julian McMahon does the best with what the writers give him. We see attempts made to portray Doom the Master Manipulator and Doom the Master Scientist, with some success.
While the character of Movie Doom is played in a most unsympathetic manner (What else would one expect of an American propaganda piece?) he is at least depicted as a credible threat of enormous power in this film. And his grand scheme to seize the power that is his destiny is based off of one of Doom’s most famous adventures. And while Movie Doom is defeated through means that even Doom could not have foreseen, the field is left open for Doom’s triumphant return should another one of these so-called Fantastic Four films be made.
Rest assured that Doom has plans to counter this bigoted film franchise with a self-financed film directed by the most famous filmmaker of Eastern Europe. Of course Doom does not usually lower himself to watch such low entertainment as most American films but Doom has read many message boards regarding this director and Doom concludes that, much like Doom, this true genius is not appreciated by The American People.
For now, if one must see a biased and inaccurate account of Doom’s struggle with the accursed Richards and his family, this film would be far preferable to any other film made thus far.
Still... one day very soon... the day will come when Doom shall get his cinematic just desserts!
Doom’s Day! Written and directed by Uwe Boll. Starring Doombot #37 as Victor Von Doom. Await it in the summer of 2010!
Thursday, June 14, 2007
Of course, I could just wait for the weekend... but then I'd have no time to write reviews!
COUNTDOWN #46 - Now, more than ever, the only part of the comic I care about is the scenes with The Rogues.
Uber-Mary doesn't really interest me, even if we DO get panty-shots of her new gothic costume.
Jimmy Olsen doesn't really interest me. I thought he was supposed to die, anyway?
Jason Todd... well, I'm interested to know how the H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks nobody has turned him into Batman, who still wanted to put the smackdown on his errant, thug-killing son the last time I checked. I doubt it will be explained, unless it turns out all of this IS taking place on another Earth.
Oh wait... they specfically mention "New Earth" in this issue.
Well, there goes that theory.
FABLES #62 - 5 Years and still one of the best books on the market.
GREEN ARROW #75 - Our long national nightmare is finally over!
Judd Winick's Green Arrow died as it lived. With all the villains escaping, the heroes being made to look like idiots and plot-holes so large that not even Superman can leap them in a single bound.
I will give Winick credit in their being ONE moment that is perfect - that is when, with Black Canary held at swordpoint by Deathstroke, Ollie tries to appeal to Slade Wilson's sense of honor instead of fighting.
What? The Battling Bowman trying to talk his way out of a fight? How is that perfect?
Because more than any hero save Superman, Ollie is a deep believer in the idea that everyone has some good in them. He may act cynical but like Rick from Casablanca Ollie is trying to convince himself something he doesn't really believe is true. So he falls to his knees and asks Slade to honor the terms of surrender that every soldier of nearly every nation is asked to respect - when the enemy throws down their weapons and begs for mercy, you grant it - while reminding Slade that he had always been a man of honor, even as a mercenary.
Which he was. Until Winick started writing him as a major villain and master criminal in every book he writes. But I digress.
Sadly, this is not enough to negate all the rank stupidity in the rest of the book.
* Ollie's big plan for fighting Deathstroke, who can plan circles around him in miliseconds, is to do things so stupid Deathstroke would never believe he'd do them - like setting a warehouse on fire with him and Dinah inside or electrifying the metal supports of said warehouse.
* Deathstroke apparently spent millions of dollars and killed eight men in order to get a one-shot dose of diluted Noxium, that only weakned the Justice League instead of killing them. What's Noxium, you ask? Read on... and then groan as you realize that Judd has apparently begun ripping-off ideas AND character names from Superfriends.
* Deathstroke holds Canary hostage, somehow having gotten his sword into her mouth. We get treated to several close-ups of Dinah... a steel shaft between her lips, as she looks up at Slade TERRIFIED. And so does every Black Canary fan's worst fears about her place in any upcoming GA/BC book written by Winick come true.
* Ollie needs the JLA to show up and rescue him in his own book... and yet they can't stop Deathstroke from escaping.
* The JLA apparently DID stop Drakkon from killing Mia and Connor "by being fast enough" and yet they didn't incapacitate him, allowing Drakkon to escape along with Deathstroke once the Deus Ex Machina bomb went off.
* The whole solution that allows Tuckman to become the new Mayor. Now, granting that it's a fictional city - I do believe that there is NOWHERE where the law dictates a candidate dropping out of an electoral race ends the election. At least, in Texas it didn't when Tom Delay, facing a MAJOR defeat following his being brought up on ethics charges, attempted to drop out of the race and let a new candidate be appointed only to be told "Uh... nice try, Tom. But you're staying on the ballot, rain or shine."
* Ollie needs Batman to make a chemical solution that, packed into two arrows, will melt The ENTIRE Big Damn Wall between the rich and poor of Star City and leave nothing but the smell of milk and honey. Silly as it is, I won't quibble with the science here. I'm just wondering why... WHY did Winick make THIS the point where we let Ollie and his family have a victory with the one thing they actually WOULD need Superhuman help in accomplishing?!? I understand the need to make bringing the wall down the victory of Ollie AND Green Arrow and his family... but having Batman hand them the solution just cheapens it. You'd think Ollie, who designed the chemical solutions for all his trick arrows to do equally improbable things, could have done it! Hell, you might as well have the JLA tear the wall down if it comes to that... like they should have done a few months ago!
Ah well. It is over. We think. We hope. We pray.
Hey, it's a post. :-P
1. If you could resurrect any comic character who would it be?
Deula Dent. Because she has too much potential to be snuffed out to try and turn Jason Todd into a real hero. (My theory on where Countdown is heading with him.)
2. If you could ensure any comic character stayed dead, who would it be?
Jason Todd. He's an empty concept that only came about because Jeph Loeb decided to play the ultimate fake-out game with his readers in Hush and then Judd Winick stupidly decided it would be a good idea, which he didn't bother to explain until it came down to "Uh... magic punches!"
3. What comic character do you hate that everyone else seems to love?
Hawkman. Any of them.
4. What comic hero would you NEVER want to switch lives with?
Kyle Rayner. I have a hard enough time with my distance relationship with a girlfriend with cancer - I don't even want to think about having to deal with three dead girlfriends, a dead mom and the worst of my girlfriends coming back from the dead to annoy me with the fact that one of my teammates reimagined her into existence and that she was, quite literally, not the woman I fell in love with.
5. Should there be more dinosaurs in comics?
Yes. But there should be even more gorillas.
And here's the meme! If you want in, just comment!
1. Leave me a comment saying, "Interview me."
2. I will respond by asking you five questions. I get to pick the questions. (They probably won't be the same ones you see above!)
3. You will update your blog with the answers to the questions.
4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview someone else in the same post.
5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
SOURCE: Male heroes draw comic fans
(Side-Note. Isn't that one of the worst headlines ever? It sounds like Captain America and Iron Man are doing caricatures on the street!)
The basic upshot of the article is that it puts forth three main ideas:
1) The reason why comic book movies that center upon female characters do worse than comic book movies centering upon male characters is because most men are uncomfortable with powerful women.
2) Fantastic Four is some kind of exception to this rule because the three main male characters balance out the one female, who is in many ways the heart of the team.
3) Jessica Alba as Sue Storm is a step up from Halle Berry as Catwoman, because she gets a costume that covers her whole body.
And what experts do they get to promote this idea?
The guy who runs Comics2Film and one of the bimbos from G4 TV, which is described as a channel for "video gamers and comic-book devotees".
This seems a bit inaccurate as the only time I can remember G4 covering anything remotely related to comics was when they had some of their staff at The San Diego ComicCon - and then they seemed to be more interested in the girls dressed as Princess Leia than interviewing Jeph Loeb. But I digress.
Let's just say I think there's got to be someone a bit more qualified to discuss women in comics and fanboy psychology. Someone who works for a comic company? A psychiatrist who is an expert on human sexuality and how men view women? At the very least, someone whose career doesn't depend on being vapid eye-candy for a bunch of stoner frat boys who use words like "pownz" in every-day conversation?
Just a thought.
Anyway, this article just disturbs me because:
1) The real reason Spider-Man and Superman made more money that Catwoman and Elektra had more to do with...
a) Familiarity. Nearly every kid knows who Spider-Man is - hardly any know who Elektra is.
b) Advertising. Spider-Man and Superman were more heavily promoted than Catwoman and Elektra. And despite all the movies having PG-13 ratings, Spider-Man was marketed as a family film while Catwoman featured a hot woman in bondage gear. Not exactly the type of thing to make mom want to take the kids out for a day at the cinema.
c) Quality. Superman and Spider-Man were made by experienced film directors who were fans of the comics and endeavored to stay as close to the look and spirit of the original books as possible. Catwoman had absolutely nothing in common with the comics on which it was based - apart from the name of the character - and was made by a special-effects man and first-time director. I know for a fact that fanboys - perfectly heterosexual, red-blooded American fanboys - stayed away from Catwoman in droves simply because they heard about how far it deviated from the comics. The fact that Halle Berry was wearing next to nothing was not even a consideration.
2) I never thought I'd see the day when Sue Storm is held up as the vanguard of feminism in superheroines. The woman who was the epitome of the girl hostage through the 60's who evolved into a stay-home mommy who just happened to be one of the most powerful superbeings on the planet?
And lest I be misunderstood on this point, let me say this. I do believe feminism is about choice. You can choose to have kids and stay at home with them just as easily as you can choose to focus on your career. It doesn't make you any less of a woman or a womyn to want to devote your life to raising a family.
It's just that the idea of Susan Storm as a feminist icon - after all the insane and undignified and stereotypical things that have happened to her because of her gender over the years... the Eskimo said to the air-conditioner salesman, "I'm not buying it!"
3) Fantastic Four is also an established franchise, so it's doing so well probably had more to do with that than their being a female character in a body-covering costume. And let's not forget - that costume is TIGHT. And tight is just as bad as skimpy.
I dunno. Anyone else have any thoughts on this?
Sunday, June 10, 2007
This week, I became a Scholar in Residence for an on-line course on Information Resources and Services for Graphic Novels and Comic Readers. Or, in plain English, I'm helping one of my old professors give librarians who want to know more about comics and manga a crash course in Graphic Literature 101.
It's been great fun so far and the work has given me a renewed enthusiasm for the genre. And what is more, it's had me go back and reread and rework some of my old writings into lectures regarding points that either were not covered in the reccomended readings or not covered well enough to my liking.
What follows is an expansion upon a piece I wrote over three years ago regarding the various Ages of Comics. Quite a bit has changed in the last three years and I thought it worth noting that the Ages seem to have shifted again.
IN THE BEGINNING (PRE-HISTORY TO 1938)
Ignoring all discussion of cave paintings being an early form of comic book, mythological heroes such as Hercules and the Catholic Saints being the world’s first superheroes and the point that many periodicals in the 1800s featured illustrations to go with their short stories, it is generally accepted that the first comics as we know them today were published in the early 1900s. It began when newspaper publishers realized there might be a market for collections of their most popular comic strips. This led to the publication of original material in the same format and the art-form began to develop.
THE GOLDEN AGE (1938 TO THE MID-FIFTIES)
One of the few points the majority of historians agree upon is that the so-called Golden Age of Comics began with Action Comics #1 and the first appearance of Superman.
Now, Superman was not the first tights-clad crime-fighter. Nor was he the first comic hero with unusual powers. But Superman was the first character to mix elements of the legendary hero (amazing powers far beyond those of Mortal Man) with the traits of a mystery man/masked hero (secret identity, theatrical clothing such as capes and tights) and develop a major following – a following that turned Detective Comics (soon to be renamed DC Comics) into the world’s largest publisher of superhero stories and sparked a host of imitators.
Superhero books continued to grow in popularity throughout World War II, with heroes such as Captain America fighting Nazi Ubermensch. Still, it is worth noting that superheroes were but one genre among many at this time, with war comics depicting ordinary soldiers still just as popular as the adventures of The All Star Squadron. Westerns, romance and true crime comics were also major genres at this time.
But immediately after the war ended, the superhero genre began to slowly become less popular as horror and true crime novels began to grow in popularity. By the start of the 1950's, all but the most popular of the superheroes had lost their books. Even Captain America was canceled and All-Star Comics- the book of The Justice Society, the first superhero team book ever - was changed to All-Star Western.
Is this when the Golden Age ended – with the slow death of the superhero genre? Some think so. Others say it came later in 1954 when the book ‘Seduction of the Innocent’ killed off the rest of the industry.
What’s ‘Seduction of the Innocent’, you ask? An article in and of itself.
The brief version is that a noted psychiatrist, after years of waging war on the comic publishers over “indecent content”, wrote a book that got a lot of attention and the major publishers established a voluntary code of conduct – The Comics Code Authority – that all but made it impossible for any genre except superheroes to be published.
This is why, even today, the superhero genre is synonymous to comics with the majority of Americans.
Fun Fact: Later comic-book writers would, in retroactive continuity stories, explain away the disappearance of superheroes in the 1950s by tying them into real world events or events based on those real world events. For example, the Justice Society was said to have chosen forced retirement rather than reveal their secret identities to Sen. Joe McCarthy, who found all the mystery men “suspect” and demanded that they unmask on live TV or be arrested.
For a good tale of the Golden Age heroes of DC Comics and an alternate time-line story of how they dealt with Post-War life, I highly recommend the graphic-novel The Golden Age by James Robinson.
THE SILVER AGE (THE MID-FIFTIES TO THE EARLY-SEVENTIES)
The Silver Age came about as a direct result of the creation of the Comics Code Authority, which allowed little leeway in what could and could not be shown in books that might be read by impressionable young children. Faced with the prospect of bloodless westerns and horror comics without horror, many writers and publishers turned to the one genre that still allowed them to show some excitement; superheroes.
Most mark the start of the Silver Age with Showcase #4, published in September 1956. This issue marked the first appearance of Barry Allen, the second man to be called "The Flash". The original Flash had been an aspiring college athlete who gained amazing speed powers after a chemistry accident in his college classroom. The new Flash was a forensic investigator who gained his powers after being struck by lightning and thrown through a shelf full of chemicals.
Allen's creation came about as a result of a desire to retool some of the old superhero concepts into more scientific models. This mirrored the new emphasis on science and math in the public school system at a time when we were all still worried about the Russians getting a death ray into orbit with the launching of Sputnik.
This would later lead to revamps of other heroes, such as changing Green Lantern into one of a corps of intergalactic police officers armed with fantastic rings created through alien technology rather than a simple train engineer with a magic lamp and ring.
One major point of contention worth mentioning here is that some people - mostly Marvel Comics fans and devotes of Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, - point to Fantastic Four #1 as the true start of the Silver Age.
Why? They point out that Fantastic Four was a landmark book, depicting for the first time heroes who really didn't want to be heroes. Whereas most heroes of the era took great joy in their powers and in serving humanity, the Fantastic Four were composed of…
1. A war veteran turned into a hideous, by most accounts, rock monster.
2. His best friend, a detached scientist who'd rather be in the lab than trading blows with bank robbers.
3. Said scientist's girlfriend, who wanted nothing more than to be a normal mommy and housewife someday.
4. Said girlfriend's teenage brother, who was more interested in retooling his car and using his powers to pick up girls than he was in saving the world.
Now, I'll be the last person in the world to disrespect the contributions that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby made to the genre. Lee was the first writer to try and put real problems and complex personalities into his characters. And Kirby was one of the spiritual godfathers to the genre, who revolutionized the way perspective was used in comic panels and was no mean writer himself.
Still, it cannot be denied that while The Fantastic Four WERE an important contribution to the tone of the Silver Age, they were created in response to the popularity of the Justice League of America. The Justice League of America was a superhero team made primarily of retooled Golden Age superheroes, including Barry Allen; The Flash.
Still, as heated as the beginnings of the Silver Age are, there is even greater debate as to what event marks the end of the era. Most of those who argue the subject generally agree upon the end of the Silver Age falling within the same rough span of a few years but there is little consensus as to what specific event marked the end of the Silver Age and the beginning of the age that followed.
I say "the age that followed" because even the name of this age, and its' very existence is a point of contention among comic historians. There are some who put the end of the Silver Age even further ahead than the early 70s, marking its’ end with the death of the hero who they believe started the Silver Age. Barry Allen sacrificed himself to save the universe from being ripped apart at the seams in Crisis on Infinite Earths #8 in early 1986.
1986 would prove to be an important year in the comic industry and the start of the last agreed upon turning point for an age to start with. But that is getting ahead of ourselves, as we still have the most argued upon age to deal with.
THE BRONZE AGE (THE EARLY-SEVENTIES TO 1986)
The most contentious age of the four rough widely-accepted ages that comics' history is divided into, The Bronze Age boasts a number of "beginning" points.
The only major agreement between all those who argue one major event over another is that most of the comics of this time began to tell mature, reality-based stories for the first time since the introduction of the Comics Code. Indeed, many of the "starting points" involve books that were published in defiance of CCA guidelines in order to tell a story that could make a difference.
Many mark Amazing Spider-Man #96-98 (May 1971) , where Stan Lee wrote a subplot about Harry Osborn's problems with pill-popping and Peter saving his "tripping" friend, all the while wondering how he could do such a thing to himself, as the start of the Bronze Age.
A scant three months later, DC would go one-step further in Green Lantern/Green Arrow #85, when they revealed that Roy Harper a.k.a. Speedy, sidekick to Green Arrow, had become a heroin addict while trying to infiltrate a gang. While Marvel got their anti-drug issue out first, DC won more attention for being more specific about what drugs were involved (heroin vs. "pills") and in giving the addiction to an actual teenage superhero rather than the superhero's best friend.
The Green Lantern/Green Arrow series itself is held by some as the start of the Bronze Age. The book had been simply Green Lantern until Issue #76, when it was taken over by the new team of writer Dennis "Denny" O'Neil and artist Neal Adams.
O'Neil had the idea of teaming Green Lantern with fellow JLA member Green Arrow, whom he wrote as an idealist liberal like O'Neil himself. He then began to push the genre by doing stories centering upon political issues and moral quandaries. No more would Green Lantern fly off to stop intergalactic bank-robbers; not when he had to reconcile his soul with the difference between upholding law and order and serving justice. Who should he help? The property owner attacked by his renters or the young man arrested for speaking out against the landlord who selling his land for a huge profit while leaving dozens homeless?
O'Neil's work on Batman during these same years is also heralded by some as the start of the Bronze Age. In these years following the release of the purposely campy Batman television series, the Batman comics suffered from the same type of cornball humor and hackneyed plots. With the introduction of new villains such as Ra's Al Ghul, O'Neil slowly turned Batman back into The Dark Knight Detective with a heavy emphasis on the dark and the detective. The giggling criminals were put to the wayside for a bit as Batman was made into a James Bond figure; saving the world through the use of keen intellect, raw cunning and a heck of a lot of wonderful toys.
Still, what is probably the most popular "start" point for the Bronze Age is The Death of Gwen Stacy (Amazing Spider-Man #121, June 1973) . Countless writers have marked that event as THE major turning point in the life of Peter Parker, which still haunts him to this day.
In fact, writer Kurt Busiek based the last issue of his famous Marvels mini-series around her death and titled the last chapter "The Day She Died", paralleling her death with "The Day the Music Died". As much as the death changed Peter Parker, it would shape the comics-reading public even more. Marvel Comics had broken the unspoken rule that the hero ALWAYS saved the girl at the last moment and it was truly a momentous occasion.
And there are dozens of others points that can and have been argued as the start of this new age of comics. Conan The Barbarian #1 (1970) brought a hero who had no qualms about killing into regular publication for the first time in years. Giant Size X-Men #1 (1975) is often held up, as it introduced the first major superhero team made up of an international cast.
Still, for my money, I have to agree with the infamous Unca Cheeks of the much missed Unca Cheeks Silver Age Comics Site in that the defining end of the Silver Age and start of the Bronze Age had nothing to do with a single comic story. It had to do with the movement of a legend.
In 1970, amid arguments of unfair treatment among other problems, artist and writer Jack Kirby would leave Marvel Comics - the company that he had helped found as Timely Comics and helped reach new heights in the 60's - in order to continue his work with his former competition at DC Comics.
Marvel was never quite the same after Kirby left and DC grew all the richer for his years of experience. While some of Kirby's creations are looked upon with a fair amount of ridicule today, his creation of The New Gods and The Fourth World left a heavy mine of material that has been put to good use by countless scribes since. And let us not forget he created Darkseid, who is probably the best new villain Superman has recieved in the last fifty years.
Still, it is widely agreed that no matter what kicked it off, the Bronze Age did come to a definite end in the mid-80's with the introduction of the first inter-company crossovers. While crossovers between individual books were nothing new at this point, doing a major story featuring dozens of characters from several books was.
Marvel was the first to attempt this with Secret Wars' (1984) , a story in which Spider-Man, The Hulk and several members of the Fantastic Four, Avengers, Defenders and X-Men were pulled from the Earth by a being called The Beyonder, who wished to test the strength of both "good" and "evil" in an epic battle on an abandoned planet.
A year later, DC Comics would publish the twelve-part story Crisis on Infinite Earths. The story centered upon the villainous Anti-Monitor, ruler of the Anti-Matter Universe, who attempted to destroy the myriad of matter-based realities. Many heroes were killed and numerous Earths destroyed. In the end, only one universe survived and the refuges of the various destroyed worlds were absorbed into the reality of this new Earth.
This was as much a house-cleaning project as it was an attempt to match the success of Secret Wars. DC scrapped the history of numerous alternate Earths in an attempt to make their comics more accessible to new readers who wondered why in some comics Batman was married to Catwoman and in others he wasn't.
This brings us to 1986 and the books that lead to the creation of the next age of comics.
THE DARK AGE (1986 TO THE MID-NINTIES)
There are two books which it is generally agreed ushered in the fourth age of comics: Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns. Both of these comics were mature, thoughtful and definitely darker looks at the superhero than had ever been seen before. Watchmen was particularly gruesome, having starker portrayals of death, sex and adult subject matter than any mainstream comic beforehand. Still, despite its more graphic content, DKR was all the more shocking as it took two of the most familiar superhero icons in the world (Superman and Batman) and set them to war against one another in a dystopian future.
Both comics were critical and financial successes, inspiring a great deal of commentary from critics outside of the traditional comics-reviewing media. Spurred on by this success, the publishers began trying to market more titles exclusively to adult audiences.
DC had the most success with this, establishing the Vertigo Press imprint to better label their more adult-oriented properties. This included such notable series as The Sandman and Hellblazer, both of which started out as standard DC titles. Never making the jump to Vertigo, but no less controversial, was Mike Grell's Green Arrow, which drew sharp criticism and high praise for its' accurate, if unsettling, portrayals of vigilante justice and the violence involved.
Marvel never had the success with an adults-only imprint that DC did, but this didn't stop them from trying. As the age progressed, violent heroes like Wolverine and The Punisher became more popular, with the latter hero supporting several solo titles at the height of his popularity.
The anti-hero as a figure would eventually become the paradigm of choice for many creators and many more traditional heroes had darker sides grafted onto their personalities, no matter how poorly this fit their character, in an attempt to be more "gritty". In one particularly grievous example, the Green Lantern Hal Jordan, who had been given superhuman powers for being the bravest and most honest of men, had his background changed so that he was serving time for drunk-driving and was responsible for the death of his best friend.
Image Comics, founded in 1991, would go to press with a stable of original characters made up of almost entirely of anti-heroes. While Image's comics sold quite well initially, they drew sharp criticism from some for excessive violence and poor writing.
Despite this, many of the more established comic companies began trying to imitate the success of the new kids on the block. Artists with styles similar to the "Big Seven" artists who founded Image Comics were given job preference over the more traditional artists, in the hopes of winning over new readers. New gimmicks, such as restarting titles with #1 issues and alternate covers were tried, to win the dollar of the many comics fans getting into a burgeoning collector's market. And then came what many say was the final nail in the coffin: character death events.
The precedent was there long before even Image was founded. It was 1988 when DC conducted a telephone poll to determine if Jason Todd, a street kid who Bruce Wayne had adopted and trained as the new Robin after the old Robin left for college, should be killed by The Joker as part of an on-going storyline. The fans chose death, with a mere 72 votes out of thousands deciding the world's most famous sidekick's fate.
The death of Robin proved to be a sales bonanza even as armchair psychologists decried what such a vote said about our society. They would be strangely quiet some four years later, when DC Comics did it again with a story that came to be known as The Death of Superman. Batman was put through a similar ringer, having his back broken and being permanently crippled during the Knightfall storyline. While both heroes would eventually recover (Superman was later revealed to be in a coma and Batman was healed by a chi-channeling doctor), the third of the classic DC Comics heroes to undergo a "death event" that year would not be so lucky.
Hal Jordan, whose home town was destroyed during the events of The Return of Superman, went mad and destroyed The Green Lantern Corps as he tried to steal away the power he needed to "put things right". This would eventually lead into Zero Hour, a sort-of sequel to Crisis on Infinite Earths spanning all of the books DC Comics published then and centering around all of the heroes of the universe trying to stop Hal Jordan from using his newfound power from destroying the universe, so that he could build paradise and in-effect, play God.
DC was far from alone in this kind of gimmick-based writing. In what is perhaps the most reviled storyline of all time, it was alleged that the Peter Parker we'd been reading about for years was not really Peter Parker, but a clone of the original who had been "killed" and thought to have been a clone himself before his body was stuck in a smokestack and assumed incinerated. This would eventually and painfully be resolved some years later, but not before Spider-Man's sales fell to new lows.
In short, writing fell to the wayside in favor of artwork. Gimmicks of both story and artwork ruled the roost. And traditional heroism would be replaced by an "the ends justify the means" attitude. Thankfully, this movement would come to an end after a decade.
THE RENNISANCE/LIGHT AGE (THE MID-NINTIES TO TODAY)
Some argue that we are still trapped in this era of barbarism. Despite a major crash in the late 90's, the collector's market for alternate covers spurred on by several popular pin-up artists still continues to move on - albeit it not as strongly. Many publishers are once again giving preferential treatment to artists over writers. And in the last few years, both Marvel and DC became more and more obsessed with big, bloody event books, such as the recent Civil War and Identity Crisismini-series.
Still, there are some signs that, for a time at least, we progressed out of the Modern/Dark Age and that a new movement was started. Change occurs slowly, of course, and as we have seen, there were some long transition periods marking the changes between the various ages.
It is my belief that some ten years ago, we entered a new era somewhat the wiser for the mistakes of the Dark Age, ready to move forward with that knowledge to create something new and wonderful as a tribute to our roots. Like the Italians who looked back at the great artistic and scientific achievement of their Roman forebears, we entered a Comic Book Renaissance.
But what event shall we say marked the beginning of this era? I can think of three candidates over five years…
1. Kingdom Come - Probably the most influential alternate future story within the last 15 years, this story was plotted by Mark Waid and painted by Alex Ross as a direct response to the increasing darkness in the comic book industry. If you haven't read it by now, you really should as the story's moral about the importance of heroes not stooping to the same methods as the criminals they fight against is more relevant in the post 9-11 era than ever before.
2. Grant Morrison's JLA - It all began with a simple idea; why not make the Justice League like it was in the good ol' days? All the big-name superheroes fighting against major, end-of-the-world disasters, once a month, every month? Simple. To the point. And bloody brilliant when a mad Scotsman named Grant Morrison pulled it off. Best known at the time for his work on various Vertigo mature titles, Morrison showed that it was possible to do a smart, mature modern superhero title with an old-school touch.
3. J. Michael Straczynski’s Amazing Spider-Man – winner of an Eisner Award for his first six-part story, Coming Home, it is theorized by some that JMS won the award not for writing the best comic story of the year but for writing the first post-Clone Saga Spider-Man story that was any good. Regardless, his uplifting tale of Peter Parker trying to help people in his new position as a teacher while fighting a super-predator who feeds on the life-force of people with animal-powers struck a cord with many readers and brought new blood into a failing franchise.
For the most part, most of the comics of the last few years have been increasingly optimistic in tone. Yes, there has been a fair amount of death and violence but the general message that good will triumph over evil rings out loudly. The Justice Society of America got their own book again during this period and it continues to be published monthly with several heroes of The Greatest Generation serving alongside the teen titans of today
So where do we stand today? Well, despite some misgivings on the return of some Dark-Age gimmicks, I believe that graphic literature in America is stronger than ever. Over the last ten years, independent publishers have begun to branch more and more into genres outside of superheroes. Horror is once again the most popular genre apart from superhero tales and Shojo-Manga style comics are bringing a new generation of female readers into the hobby.
Saturday, June 9, 2007
BIRDS OF PREY #107 - They didn't kill Ice?
THEY DIDN'T KILL ICE!
Somebody please tell me there's a reunion with Guy Gardner planned soon. Please?
COUNTDOWN #47 - You know, I'm not feeling it like I did on 52. And I don't know why.
Sure, 52 had a lot of plotlines I didn't really care about but at least I felt there was some kind of unifying event between everything. Here, everything is random. And most of what is happening doesn't seem to have any relation to any books that have come before or since.
Case in point: Not two months ago, they made a real big deal in 52 and World War III that Black Adam had the magic word that triggered his powers changed. Now, according to this issue, that wasn't true and Black Adam's angsting seems even more nonsensical. If he's had access to his powers all this time, why not continue the rampage he started?
At this point, I'm only reading it for the scenes with Trickster. I don't much care about Mary Marvel gothing it up. I don't care about Jimmy Olsen getting superpowers. I don't care to see the lost DVD extra scenes from Meltzer's Justice League. And I REALLY don't care to see Jason Todd turned into a sympathetic character.
DETECTIVE COMICS #833 - Ah. The one Paul Dini book that I know for sure is ALL him and have yet to find disappointing. This one is a Dini special. Zatanna guest stars and while Dini does personal fan service with a flashback that shows Bruce and Zatanna meeting as children even before Bruce sought her father out to teach him the escape artist craft, he doesn't neglect the recent history between the two characters that he didn't write. Identity Crisis and how Zatanna used her powers to erase Bruce's mind are referenced, adding a higher level of tension to this than your typical Dini story. But it works.
Please do not reveal the surprise guest villian.
JACK OF FABLES #11 - The best anti-hero book in the last ten years, bar none. You know you love it.
SUPERGIRL #18 - You know, I'm really going to miss Joe Kelly writing this title.
Yes, I know I shouldn't feel that way with Tony Bedard's comments this past week about his own plans for the book and the promise of less angst, more clothes and a comic that can be given to young girls without fear.
But in this issue, Joe Kelly gives a subtextual rebuttal to everyone who has criticized his efforts to create a more realistic, modern Kara Zor-El. And the story works both on this level and on the written level of the modern Supergirl fighting an idealized version of herself (seemingly modeled on the Supergirl of the 60s), telling her how utterly worthless she is as a hero.
The key moment of this issue as a tableau of real-life girls in tough situations. One girl cries herself to sleep for an unknown reason. Another tries to ignore her parents fighting as she eats her cereal. A third girl, over-weight and dumpy, walks home alone. The Perfect, Silver-Age Supergirl says girls like that need someone "just like Superman" to look up to and aspire to imitate. The perfect Supergirl then asks if girls like that... girls with real problems... really want to see a heroine who has the same problems they do.
Well, my answer to that - as a librarian who works with a majority of teenage girls with his Teen Library Club - is a resounding YES! Yes, they do want a hero who has to deal with the same issues they do. Not a picture-perfect Barbie doll who never makes mistakes.
Comments? You know how to reach me.
Sunday, June 3, 2007
Last year, I went to A-KON (The longest-running annual Anime/Manga convention in the USA) for the first time as a member of the press.
This year, I came as a guest.
As some of you know, in addition to my writing for ComicsNexus, I am also a member of Los Bastardos - Dallas/Fort Worth’s only professional Rocky Horror Picture Show shadowcast. And before anyone panics, don’t worry - I am far too considerate of my fellow humans to dance in my own underwear in public – much less ladies’ undergarments. My own station within the cast is Master of Ceremonies and Floorwalker, which is basically the fancy way of saying I’m the guy with the loud voice who tells people what to do, tells jokes and yells things at the screen.
Now, we’ve performed at conventions before but never one quite as big and long-lasting as A-KON. It was held this year, as it is every year for as long as I know, at the Adams Mark in downtown Dallas.
Sadly, I didn’t get very many pictures of the show and what ones I did were terrible. Sadly, our staging area was so big that the flash on my camera couldn’t quite light things up enough for anything to come out that night.
Thankfully, the show went very well. The ballroom we performed in seated nearly 800 people, so I’m told. We had it filled at least ¾ of the way by my rough estimate and all the responses I heard from people afterwards were uniformly positive. There is one bit of praise I remember the best though.
One of my duties during the pre-show ceremony is to explain the various rules of whatever venue we are playing in to the audience. No Smoking, No Throwing Things At The Actors and so on. I was asked by one of the head honchos to make particular care to note not to throw things at the chandeliers.
You’d think this is something people would be careful not to do anyway. But I was told that in the past three years, when another group of actors had performed Rocky Horror at the convention, they had always had someone throw something into the ceiling and that they had always had someone get injured by falling glass. It was a regular enough problem that they had a team of paramedics on-call “just in case”.
I’m glad to note that nothing like this happened on our watch. And afterwards, I talked to this same head-honcho and asked what he thought of the show.
“You’re great. Nothing got broken. Nobody’s been hurt. And you’re cleaning up the theater!” He grinned the smile of a nine-year-old on their tenth birthday.
“Well, we always do that after the show. Cast policy,” I explained.
“Yes, but we’ve never had the actors do that before. We’re going to get out by 3 am!”
“Well, that’s typical for us.”
“Not here! The other actors didn’t get out until 6 am and they only had the room booked until 5! And they didn’t clean! You guys are the greatest!”
Now, as a former theatre technician, I can appreciate this attitude. It’s not that theatre technicians have no appreciation of the aesthetics of a performance – our concerns are just more practical. It’s not a matter of how well the performance was received so much as it is what didn’t go wrong.
That being said, I think this was the most back-handed complement I ever heard. Being considered good actors for getting done on-time and helping clean up the mess you made is a bit like being told that you’re a good boyfriend because you don’t beat your girlfriend or steal from her.
As for the rest of my time at the convention... well, I doubt anyone would be that excited by my accounts of wandering around, talking to various professionals and vendors and hanging out with my friends who were also at the convention. Rest assured you’ll be enjoying the fruits of my labors over the coming months. I’ve arranged a few interviews with some of those professionals I spoke with. Those will be coming out on an “as they have time” basis.
And since a picture is worth a thousand words, I’ve decided to close with some of my pictures that DID turn out and some brief words behind each picture.
Emily, one of our actresses from Rocky, as a very fetching bunny girl. Yes, I know cat-girls at an Anime Con are more traditional – but we Rocky folk aren’t much for tradition.
A knight of some sort, in a costumed made mostly of duct-tape cloth or duct-tape covered-cloth. I took this one mostly for my students at the library, whom will be learning about how to make things from duct-tape cloth this week.
Cammy from Street Fighter - a good example of how proper costuming to your body-type can really make a Cos-Player shine in the crowd even if your costume is relatively simple.
Ken and Ryu from Street Fighter - a good example of how a good costume can make up for your not looking exactly like your character as a cos-player.
A group of X-Men. From left to right – Rogue, Jubilee, Dark Phoenix, Nightcrawler, Shadowcat, Colossus, Gambit and White Queen. I find it mildly ironic that with all the young Asian girls running around this convention, it is a dorky white guy I see cos-playing Jubilee. Ironic AND mildly disturbing.
I’m not sure why Elmo is in armor. I’m not sure I want to know.
Black Mage from 8-Bit Theater agrees to pose for a picture. Later, he slit the throats of numerous children in an effort to win the favors of the man dressed as Cthulhu.
Two Sailor Scouts. Because it’s not an Anime Convention report if you don’t have pictures of a Sailor Moon or two! Geek law!
Princess Zelda, as seen in the short-lived Legend of Zelda animated series. No funny comments. I just thought she looked cool and she was one of the few characters I recognized without help.
I dunno who they are but they do look cute, don’t they?
Despite Joe Quesada’s best efforts, Captain America lives!
Harvey Birdman, Attorney At Law, looks for survivors of Black Mage’s rampage that he may get their information for a class-action law-suit.
Lady Lara Croft, fallen on hard times, is forced to pose for fanboy pictures in an effort to get her guns out of hock.