Thursday, May 21, 2009

Here's Dan the Man on Cassandra Cain's future...

I got this from some sort of convention panel coverage from a site that shall remain nameless but as certainly served my purpose:

"Cassandra is appearing in one of the Battle for the Cowl one-shots – I think the Network one shot. She will also be appearing in the Streets of Gotham. There are bigger plans down the road, as she is a very viable character. Jason Todd was always a plan for in the Countdown books. He is front and center in The Battle for the Cowl in the DC books, and he has been a major player for a while. The goad is – characters who can support a series for a period of time, we give them a chance to shine."

I like this part: "There are bigger plans down the road, as she is a very viable character."

Emphasis mine. It's as I've been saying all along. You just have to give her to the right writer and you can have some really kick-ass, darker storylines in the Batgirl suit or in some other identity. Hacky miniseries do no one any favors. All I ask is just don't kill her off.

Just don't kill her off.

Or let Adam Beechen write her ever again.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Kevin O'Neill on League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Century: 1910 in PW Comics Week

PW Comics Week has an interesting interview with artist Kevin O'Neill in which he discusses the influence of Mad Magazine on his current League of Extraordinary Gentlemen work. I'd never really considered that but in retrospect it seems so obvious. So much detail, so many little side jokes and references. When you read League, it's not enough to scan the dialogue and look at the main action in each panel; for the full experience, you need to go deeper. The subtext is as involving as the text and you can find annotations online that are incredibly detailed an in-depth.

I recently read Black Dossier and enjoyed it very much, but with its simple chase plot, it seemed a bit like League Lite. I've always admired George Orwell, but the way Alan Moore worked 1984 into the story seemed a bit forced. Even in a world where Queen Elizabeth I has been replaced by Queen Gloriana from Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queen (fitting since he wrote it to kiss Elizabeth's royal butt in the first place), I tend to doubt the UK could go all totalitarian socialist complete with newspeak, IngSoc, proles and telescreens and back again so quickly. Still, with League's recapitulation of so many literary characters and situations you just have to give into it and accept almost anything in fiction as possible grist for Moore's plots. And even though I'm also a James Bond fan, I really thought Moore's and O'Neill's savaging of him as "Jimmy Bond" the misogynistic thug was hilarious and dead-on. Also, Orlando makes a fantastic addition to the team, and it's easy to see how enamored Moore has become with the character since teasing him/her in the previous League story-- Orlando gets most of the best lines. While all of O'Neill's stylistic changes in the background material are certainly dazzling themselves, the colorful, violent and somewhat sexy Orlando biographical strip is easily my favorite.

The most breathtaking aspects of Century: 1910 are the Bertholt Brecht/Kurt Weill segments. It's not so much that Moore creates new lyrics for songs from The Threepenny Opera to relate them more closely to his plot, but what's truly thrilling to a lit-geek like myself is how he connects Captain Nemo to those particular characters through the device of having Nemo's daughter play the role of Jenny Diver, or Pirate Jenny. Having Brecht's The Caucasian Chalk Circle and briefly touching on The Threepenny Opera back in my lit major days, I appreciated Moore's audacity. It made me laugh, too. I also admired how at one point, Moore twisted Threepenny Opera's actual ending while keeping its satirical deus ex machina nature. That, my friends, is the work of a true virtuoso.

Interestingly enough, Weill's wife Lotte Lenya not only won a Tony for her performance as Jenny in The Threepenny Opera, but also later menaced Sean Connery as James Bond in From Russia With Love and at least partially inspired Frau Farbissina from the Austin Powers movies. One has to wonder if Moore and O'Neill will somehow tie this all together in the upcoming Century: 1969 installment. O'Neill's dismissive comments about the "Swingin' London" seen in Austin Powers could mean it was on their creative radar at the time...

Anyway, I've been thinking about reviewing Black Dossier and 1910, but I might just leave it at this: 1910 is the best comic I've read so far this year and really got me excited about League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and fiction in general. And like Mina, I prefer Orlando when he's a woman.

Oh... and I certainly don't object to all the nudity. That's a strain that seems to be increasing as we go along.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

In All the Speculation About Who the New Batgirl Is, We're Forgetting the Most Important Thing!

And that is, what's going to happen to Cassandra Cain? The teaser pic so many people are discussing is obviously someone in her uniform, with the stitched-in mouthpiece ripped away revealing a smirking face that seems specifically designed to reference and refute Cassandra Cain.

You know, "Hey, kids! The horrible Cassandra Cain era is over. Here comes the real Batgirl!"

Still, I'm so far out of the loop I could be wrong. I haven't read any of this "Battle for the Cowl" stuff, and I didn't see any Batman and the Outsiders issues while I was in Tokyo, so I'm not too up on Cassandra's current status. The last I saw of her, she was getting a goopy, tacked-on happy ending to that dreadful Adam Beechen mini-series that seemed to shed readers like Capt. Kirk shed his shirt. The lesson learned from that fiasco should have been that people don't want to read absolute drivel, not that the character should be killed off.

So what's it going to be, DC? Would the DC powers-that-be have Bruce Wayne finally adopt her with the promise of cementing her status in the Bat-family, only to eliminate her as Batgirl or possibly even as a character just a few months later? What DC giveth with the right hand, its left taketh away?

Look, I really don't care who takes over the Batgirl costume. I have nothing emotionally invested in that identity per se, or in any of the potential candidates besides Cassandra Cain. She was the first DC character in years to engage my interest. So there's no way I'm going to spend hundreds of dollars dragging my ass to Tokyo to buy the new series if it's not Cassandra, and it doesn't look too hopeful for her these days. They've managed to absolutely destroy her since her own title ended-- lame ass "Dragon Lady" villainy, poorly-written comeback... and now this.

To what end? What else can they do to Cass besides kill her off now?

On the other hand, if against all odds it is Cassandra, life in Japan is going to get even more expensive for me starting in August. Failing that, make mine... er... Top Shelf? Thank god there are alternatives to the mainstream when they cut out your heart and laugh while doing so. Top Shelf Productions has the new League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series from Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill, and that's everything a comic book should be. That's the kind of thing I'm willing to shell out the extra yen to obtain.

And about the Batgirl teaser itself-- It's a pretty good drawing, boob focus and all. I'm actually surprised at the artist's restraint in not also somehow working her ass into the image. Nice proportions, clean lines. The funniest thing is how some comments I've read in various places say the large breasts and hips rule out its being a teenage character. Too womanly, they say. Come on, people, this is a mainstream superhero comic we're talking about. When was the last time a teen actually looked like a teen and not a twenty-something former underwear model playing a teen on an episode of some CW series?

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Free Comic Book Day... in Japan!

Saturday, May 2nd, found me in Harajuku for Free Comic Book Day, Japanese-style. "World Characters Store" Blister-- as far as I know the only place in Japan to find American comics other than a very few mainstream titles at certain bookstores-- participated in Free Comic Book Day, but they've given it a twist. Since Free Comic Book Day coincides with Golden Week, that wonderful time of the Japanese calendar where three major holidays drop at once so everyone (and I mean everyone) hits the road in search of fun and amusement, Blister has expanded it to several days and renamed it Free Comic Book Day Deluxe.

The store's exterior looks somnolent in this photograph, but that Saturday they had quite a few shoppers inside, lured by the promise of free magazines and a 40% off sale for back issues inside. Towards the rear of the store, the staff had set up two tables with several long boxes of comics on each, and Japanese comic fans were eagerly digging through them. The selection was heavily weighted towards DC, Marvel and Dark Horse. Oni and Fantagraphics-- to name two companies not represented at all-- fans were just out of luck.

They gave me an orange plastic bag just before I entered the store. I didn't look inside until I got back to my hotel room later that evening. I was praying to the Shinto gods for the Love and Rockets comic, but instead found a Bongo comics sampler, which I judged to be the best of the lot in that it felt more like a comic book and less like a glorified house ad in magazine style. It had a clever lead story by Chuck Dixon, who I would never have associated with Matt Groening-style satire/parody in a million years. But he pulled it off, a charming little story about... comic book obsession. Dark Horse's offering was second-best, a flip book with a nice Usagi Yojimbo story and some other tales on one side and a Star Wars: Clone Wars story on the other. The Usagi Yojimbo story was enough to overcome my distaste for Star Wars and all things Star Warsian, but I can see how Dark Horse would use the Wars to attract readers. The DC book was kid's stuff, none of which particularly impressed me. Heavy on the cutesy, light on the actually cute.

I bought close to thirty comic books! I haven't done something like that since I was in junior high and my dad would drive me out to the flea market on the edge of town where I could buy four comics for a dollar. I'd dig through the boxes until my fingertips were gray and I could rub off black snakes of dust and grime, and Dad would buy turnip greens. But Blister's imported American comics were more like three to four dollars each, still too expensive but a bargain compared to their usual retail price here. New comics can run from five to ten bucks in Japan!

I stocked up on Hellboy-related comics. I picked up a one-shot written and drawn by Mike Mignola I'd never even heard of, and lots of BPRD back numbers. Those were the comics I deemed most worthy of purchase. I also found Giant-Size X-Statix #1, which I own back in the States but wanted to have here. Can't get enough of Mike Allred. I passed on Gen13 volume one books (but I was surprised to see how many they had) and just about everything from DC (because it seems they're about to screw us Cassandra Cain fans yet again... as if that poorly-written miniseries from last year weren't painful enough) except All-Star Superman. I have a weakness for that title. My weakness is that it's so damn good, and the closest thing to real Superman DC's published in decades.

Hey, DC, you know how you could keep me as a reader? Print more stuff like that and less hackwork like Batgirl: Redemption Road, then using that practically self-fulfilling flop as an excuse to dump a character I care about. Oh, who am I kidding? No one listens to me, I'm just one person... therefore the good folk at DC obviously couldn't care less if I read their books or not, despite my having grown up on a diet of Sgt. Rock, Batman and Superman. I am comic book fan obsolete.

I also picked up some back issues of Astonishing X-Men, a Shang-Chi series written by Doug Moench and illustrated by Paul Gulacy, two Dracula-related comics I know nothing about and some assorted other goodies that caught my eye... namely everything Tom Strong I could get my hands on. Love that Tom Strong! How can you go wrong with Alan Moore writing and people like Art Adams and Jerry Ordway drawing? I also bought Astonishing X-Men: Torn and BPRD: The Warning trade collections, although they were mightly pricey at close to thirty dollars each.

I came whisper-close to buying some of the action figures they have there. The Spider-Man III figure from Medicom looked pretty good and was only around ninety dollars. They had the long-haired Superman (yuck... but still, it's Superman) and various Hellboys, Spider-Mans and Wolverines. But my sense of fiscal responsibility overcame such temptations.

Anyway, yes, Free Comic Book Day exists in Japan, and it was a lot of fun. It brought back a lot of the old excitement and joy I used to get from visiting the local comic shop back in younger, more innocent days. If you live in Japan or you're visiting right now, you still have a couple of days to join in on the thrills, the chills, the spectacle of girls in wild crocheted caps digging through boxes of X-Men comics and happily chatting away about them in Japanese-- it lasts until May 6th, and Blister is easy to find. And here's another view of Spider-Man, because we all love him so:

Oh-- one more note before I go. On the second day, I saw a small family getting their free comics. The little boy specifically pointed to the Dark Horse Aliens offering. I'm not sure what that says (if anything) about the Japanese little boy market, but at least one kids knows what he likes and what he likes are slimy xenomorphs!