Monday, August 31, 2009

Now Mickey Mouse is Spider-Man's Boss!

So now you know Disney will pay four billion dollars for Marvel and its 5000 or so characters. But you're no doubt worried about what this means for comic book fans. Have no fear and rest your weary head, True Believer! With the help of some of my inside operatives, I managed to... borrow... some of the internal memos from both companies regarding the impending sale and here's a sampling of what we can expect in the coming year:

1) The Avengers move their headquarters to a secret compartment within Cinderella's castle in the Magic Kingdom at Orlando's Walt Disney World Resort.

2) Kitty Pryde returns from space and, upset over his betraying her, replaces Lockheed the alien dragon with Elliott the invisible dragon.

3) A 12-part yearlong Kingdom Hearts-style crossover where Dr. Doom, Pegleg Pete and Cruella De Vil join forces against a heroic team led by Mickey Mouse, Spider-Man and Wolverine.

4) Wolverine becomes an actual anthropomorphic wolverine who loves to demonstrate clumsily how "everyman" copes with life's little problems or plays sports.

5) Hank Pym redesigns all the Audio-Animatronic figures in the Magic Kingdom in Janet van Dyne's image. Ultron immediately invades their circuitry but his inability to move at any kind of speed or with any kind of fluidity or grace allows Power Pack to defeat him easily.

6) Reed Richards replaces all the monorails with interstellar rockets. Resort guests frequently return from space grotesquely mutated; eventually Brian Michael Bendis reveals Richards intended this all along as part of a secret cabal of geniuses.

7) Storm, She Hulk, Invisible Woman, Spider-Woman, Xi'an Coy Manh and Dazzler join the Disney Princess line-up. Rahne Sinclair becomes their sidekick and endlessly combs their long, luxurious hair.

8) Peter Parker's new job? Cast member at Anaheim's Disneyland.

9) J. Jonah Jameson redesigned to resemble Uncle Walt closely in both looks and personality.

10) Entire Marvel universe replaced by cast of High School Musical. Comic book sales increase to early-1990s levels.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Tokyo (American) Comic Book Report: Melt-Banana Edition, August 2009!

I just blew in from Tokyo where I saw the always tremendous Melt-Banana in a rather intimate setting, Shibuya O-Nest. One act after another, each topping the last for energy and strangeness until MxBx took the stage for a surprisingly small and relatively subdued audience-- at least compared to the orgiastic frenzies of violent "dancing" that usually accompanies their performances.

Given their touring schedule, Melt-Banana is no doubt coming your way and soon, so get out and see one the most entertaining and powerful acts in rock.

While in Tokyo to indulge my first love (avant-sound), I hit Harajuku's lovely little comic book shop, Blister to indulge my fifth. Or sixth. No, it wasn't Free Comic Book Day; I was just too lazy to take a new photo. But the store looks pretty much the same, so you're not missing anything.

I picked up Batgirl #1, so be prepared for a lavish Cass-centric review later this week. I also bought New Mutants two, three and four. The first issue was sold out; is it an ominous sign the later ones were plentiful? I also got a lot of Hellboy-related books, mostly BPRD; these are comics I particularly want to read and share with my students. My most exciting discovery (bear with me, I live in Japan and am very much out of the loop) is DC's Wednesday Comics paper.

Jeebus, that is the best darn thing DC's put out in years. That's the real DC universe, the one I remember from when I liked their books, only it's in a newspaper format. And the creator line up? WOWEE! If I seem to have a sort of love/hate-Jekyll/Hyde relationship with DC, here's something they've done that appeals to the better angels of my nature. All two of them. That it's dedicated to Archie Goodwin is just too perfect. Finally, DC produces something aimed at me. If only they added a Cassandra Cain feature to it, I'd be in fickle-ass nerd heaven.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Jack Kirby's Birthday Should Be a National Holiday

August 28th. If I ever have a family, we're always going to take that day off to honor the memory of Jack "The King" Kirby, who is hands down my favorite comic book creator of all time. And not only for his vastly influential comic book work, but also because I've read so many wonderful stories about him from people who knew him personally and he just seems to have been an all-together awesome sort of person.

Even if he'd never put pencil to paper, I'd have a warm spot in my heart for someone who hated Richard Nixon and loved chocolate cake (and especially Roz) that much.

So happy birthday, Mr. Kirby! They may never let out schools to honor your memory, but whenever I read your comics or the reminiscences of your friends and colleagues, it's summer vacation 1974 all over again for me.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

I Feel I Have to Address the New Batgirl

After all, I am Japan's #1 Cassandra Cain Batgirl fan, the person who bought every single issue at the old Shibuya Blister and completely depleted their Batgirl back issue supply. So I feel as Japan's leading expert and representative of Cass Fandom United (CFU, an organization I just made up while typing this sentence and of which I declare myself First Citizen and dictator-for-life) I should say something about Batgirl #1. So here goes...

I haven't read it.

I know from reviews and message board rants Cass abruptly removes her uniform and disappears into the night wearing only her underwear. And I know Stephanie Brown takes the uniform home and then starts wearing it to fight crime. Which obviously makes Stephanie Brown the new Batgirl. That's not really a surprise.

To be honest, I was ready to throw an apoplectic fit right here on this blog when I read how Bryan Q. Miller handled the change-over. But I thought, "Don't be more of an idiot than you usually are. Don't go off half-cocked based on a few reviews and angry outcries. Sleep on it. Wait until you can actually read the comic to see how it plays on the page." And you know what?

Thanks to this interview, I'm even happier now I didn't throw a hissy fit. I'm even cautiously optimistic.

Why? Because while I have no interest whatsoever in Stephanie Brown as either Spoiler, Batgirl or Queen of England, I kind of like what Miller is saying here and he's done something I thought impossible-- he's whetted my appetite for what will happen to Cass in the future and how she got to the point of quitting.

It seems he actually has some kind of plan. We'll see if the overall DC narrative needs allow him to develop it to anyone's satisfaction.

Flash forward one year:

DC Honcho: So, what have you got planned for us in Batgirl this summer?

Batgirl Writer: I'm planning to conclude my Mother's Day storyline with something really heavy duty. Steph and Cass track Lady Shiva down to the hidden fortress in the Himalayas where she's secreted Steph's mom and there's this seemingly hopeless battle they're forced into against an army of--

DC Honcho: Outstanding! Tie that in with our World War Ape crossover. The Joker uses Gorilla Grodd's technology to turn all our heroes into apes for four months' worth of books.

Batgirl Writer: But... my story has to do with emotional catharsis. Sure, it's action-packed and involves a certain level of violence but ultimately I'm dealing with themes of troubled mother-daughter relationships and how they can be resolved through--

DC Honcho: Great! Have Steph do that as a Capuchin monkey and make Cass a... a... I dunno...

DC Second Honcho: A marmoset.

DC Honcho: A marmoset?

DC Second Honcho: My kids love marmosets.

DC Honcho: Okay, Cass is a marmoset.

DC Second Honcho: Also, she's dead.

Batgirl Writer: Wha...? She's dead? When did this happen? I was--

DC Second Honcho: Two months from now in Red Robin. She gets insanely jealous of Red Robin's status in the Bat-family, reverts to evil and falls off a building while trying to kill him.

DC Honcho: Is this before or after she becomes a marmoset?

DC Second Honcho: I think it might traumatize my kids to see a marmoset die in one of our books.

DC Honcho: No, no. We can't kill a marmoset. Unless... Well, could we get some mainstream press coverage out of this? One of those "Comics aren't just for kids anymore" stories? A little "Biff! Pow!" with me doing a talking head thing on MSNBC?

DC Second Honcho: Kill the marmoset.

Batgirl Writer: Cass. Her name is Cass.

DC Honcho: Whatever the fuck her name is, she's dead as Julius Caesar in Red Robin. Have her turn into a marmoset next month in your book.

Okay, all frivolousness and gentle, good-natured joking aside, for now it seems Cass will somehow be part of this book's supporting cast. That they didn't kill her or immediately turn her evil is possibly good news. And even though I hated the five-page preview for its likeness to a trailer for the type of brain-dead aimed-at-teens-and-college students summer action movie-- perhaps an original vehicle starring Ashton Kutcher or else a sequel to something starring Vin Diesel-- I wouldn't watch if you paid me to, I am going to try to buy Batgirl #1 at the relatively new Harajuku Blister if it hasn't sold out.

And I promise to give the entire issue a fair reading.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

And This is Why I Don't Like Corporate Storytelling...

Dwayne McDuffie got the nod to write Justice League, supposedly DC's flagship title. Dan Didio even made a big noise about McDuffie using his Milestone characters:

The great thing is, we have Dwayne McDuffie who is one of the owners and creators of the Milestone characters working for us and also of course, writing Justice League of America, so he’s going to finding ways to incorporate the characters into the storylines that are going to be unfolding within Justice League.

And said the book was McDuffie's for as long as he wanted to write it. We all know now how that story ended.

Apparently, despite his being handed the keys to kingdom as it were, McDuffie ended up not having nearly as much creative control as he would've liked. He wasn't permitted really "[to find] ways to incorporate the characters into storylines." Why? Because company-wide crossovers and character use in other titles prevented him from telling the stories he'd planned:

I’ve had virtually no input into the composition of JLA. It’s DC Comics’ flagship book. They tell me who to put on the team, based on their needs elsewhere in the universe, and I do it. I believe I had influence in getting rid of Red Tornado, but even there I was forced to put him back in his body about two years before I had planned to…

There are a large number of changes coming up, mostly due to members leaving in the aftermath of Final Crisis. Again, I had little to no influence on how the team is shaking out. Dan and Eddie are allowing me to frequently guest star several characters who by rights should be written out of the book because of what’s going on in their titles. They also acquiesced to my request for a member rejoining the team (as soon as another project is done with him in about eight months). That character will be my first addition to the team, roughly two years after taking over the book.

This situation definitely sucks for McDuffie himself and for the readers as well, but I can't imagine this stuff with JLA and the Milestone characters came about because of the kind of perfidy no less than Tony Isabella suggests in the comment section at Pop Culture Shock:

As I’ve said elsewhere, I think DC’s main interest in the Milestone characters and the Archie super-heroes and the Thunder Agents and Doc Savage et all is to keep anyone else from using them. Well-done self-contained universes featuring those character would compete very favorably with the current DCU and, for that matter, the Marvel Universe.

Why would a company pay money just to eliminate competition, then sit on potential profit-makers? Why pay money and then not try to make that money back somehow? To suggest otherwise seems... well... a little too conspiracy theory for my tastes.

I'm not saying DC absolutely doesn't do this, just that it seems unlikely unless they truly are somehow evil. And I just can't believe that without actual proof. You know, a behind-closed-doors mission statement or Time-Warner strategy memo of DC's seeking some kind of monopoly or something. It'd make much more sense for them to buy or license the characters (which would fulfill the function of preventing their use by competitors) and then actually use them to make a profit (which would fulfill their function of being a corporation).

That's why I think it's more likely Dan Didio was telling the truth and DC acquired all those Milestone characters-- perhaps merely to use Static, as some suggest-- with just those kinds of big plans for some or all of them but things didn't or couldn't work out because of how many writers and editors they have crafting the overall narrative.

If the summer crossover The Death of the Infinite Final Identity Crisis Gods team have their own plans that include killing the central figure in your monthly narrative, suddenly putting someone else into the costume for whatever arbitrary reason or denying you use of a character you deem absolutely essential to your plot, then you have no choice but to change everything you painstakingly set up in order to maintain your status as a team player and preserve the corporate narrative.

How can a writer work under those conditions? Not well, I'm afraid. It seems your job would be merely to plug in other people's ideas and provide dialogue, perhaps covering for plot holes and whatnot-- remember Identity Crisis, the big prestige project from a few years ago was literally riddled with them like the big hunk of moldy Swiss cheese it really was and other writers had to clean up the mess in the monthlies afterwards and Jim Starlin couldn't actually end Death of the New Gods satisfactorily because a lot of the Fourth World concepts he was dealing with were due to come to their conclusion in Final Crisis, ultimately rendering his story pointless-- until you're not actually a writer, per se.

You're kind of a facilitator. A copywriter like the people who put all those words on the cereal boxes for the most part. Forget about writerly techniques such as foreshadowing or character development. Your plot points might get erased before you even get to them, and the character you needed for your big story moment may be unavailable when the time comes.

As a reader, I just can't get behind a kind of authorship or enjoy a comic book story where ten or twenty people with conflicting needs have a hand in a single ongoing narrative and may moot it at any point. A writer gets on a series and can't generate any kind of narrative momentum and is constantly undermined by big events. Consequently, there's no plot development I trust, no character I can fully enjoy for fear he or she might be desecrated unnecessarily at some point due to the whims of the group-think approach.

It's practically an axiom in films the more screenwriters you have, the worse the movie's going to be. With that in mind, I'm thinking of doing a series of essays on characters and stories ruined by corporate authorship. So outside of the creators of those occasional books that are just incompetent dreck for other reasons (the aforementioned Identity Crisis and the lamentable Redemption Road Batgirl mini and the Batman "As the Crow Flies" storyline I mocked the other day, for example), I can't fault anyone on an individual basis for any of this stuff. Corporate authorship at this level is simply a poor system for producing fiction. It does writers a disservice, ruins character development, renders stories moot seemingly at random, opens the editors to all kinds of paranoid charges, creates narrative chaos and ultimately undermines the idea of "story" itself.

Astro Boy: Another Plank in My Comic Book Internationalism Platform

While I'm on the subject of how American comics are merely a relatively tiny part of the worldwide phenomenon that is the comic book, one of my favorite Tokyo hotels has a blog with an entry discussing Astro Boy.

It's almost impossible to understate the importance of Dr. Tezuka Osamu to comic book history. He's a guy comic fans should mention in the same breath as Will Eisner and Jack Kirby and we could probably make a case that Tezuka's influence and importance is categorically greater than either gentleman's. His work ranged over a wider series of genres than theirs-- everything from animal stories to fantasy to science fiction, from literary adaptations to children's stories, from bizarre medical dramas to porn. This genius creator even did a biography of Buddha. While Kirby will always be "The King," in Japan Dr. Tezuka is "The God of Comics."

Anyway, according to this blog entry (which you really should read because it's cool and has some fun photos and I'm staying at this hotel next Saturday night), apparently if you go to Takadanobaba Station, which is located in Takadanobaba ward (the birthplace of Astro Boy himself), you'll hear the melody of the Astro Boy animated series instead of the normal Yamanote Line departure bell. I did not know this, but I've heard it many times before and I'll definitely keep an ear open the next time I'm passing through Takadanobaba. Which will probably be some time next weekend.

Now as much as I love Stan Lee, the day New York subways start using the "Merry Marvel Marching Society Theme Song" as their departure music, then I'll dethrone Dr. Tezuka and put The Man up there in the pantheon of Comic Book Gods.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Consider That Bottle Hoisted: Kudos and Many Thanks to Mr. Muller For Helping Fix This!

So we basically e-mailed bombed an innocent party, and learned a valuable lesson: the truly powerful are beyond the reach of justice. Still, all's well that ends well. Right? Right?

RE: Save the Voices of Futurama‏
From: Futurama (address deleted)
Sent: Mon 8/24/09 10:06 PM
To: 'Joel Bryan' (address deleted)

Dear Futurama Fan,

Thank you for voicing your strong support for Futurama and the original voice cast. We appreciate the time you took to fire off a thoughtful and/or concerned and/or homicidal e-mail message to our casting director, Scott Muller. (Rest assured, not a single one of these e-mails reached the actual decision-makers at 20th Century Fox Television. For future reference, please note that Scott Muller is in fact one of Futurama's biggest fans, and was instrumental in bringing about the return of the cast. Please hoist a bottle of Olde Fortran for Scott!)

Speaking of the cast returning... good news, everyone! The cast is returning! All of our series regulars are back in action for Season 6. Billy West, Katey Sagal, John DiMaggio, Maurice LaMarche, Tress MacNeille, Lauren Tom, Phil LaMarr, and David Herman are all on board and have already begun delivering their customary virtuoso performances. The all-new Futurama episodes are slated to air on Comedy Central beginning in June, 2010.

We are extremely grateful for the outpouring of support for the series. Your loyalty over the years has kept the show going through its original four seasons on FOX, its subsequent reincarnations on Adult Swim and DVD, and now its Bendiferous return to life on Comedy Central. See you in the (near) future!


David X. Cohen & Matt Groening

From: Joel Bryan

Sent: Saturday, July 18, 2009 5:51 AM
To: Steve Albani (Comedy Central, address deleted); Scott Muller (Scott Muller Casting, address deleted); Melissa Sugiura (MTV, address deleted)

Subject: Save the Voices of Futurama

Dear Messrs. Albani and Muller and Ms. Sugiura-

If the vocal cast of Futurama is changed I will not watch the new episodes. The original voice cast is an integral ingredient to the creative entity that is Futurama. No Billy West, no John DiMaggio, no Katey Sagal and no Maurice LeMarche (among others) equals no viewers. So while I understand the necessity for profit-making with any television program, I seriously believe you're endangering the success of Futurama and actually harming the bottom line with the decision to recast the show, a mistake similar to the efforts of the Coca-Cola company to manufacture and market "New Coke." Please reconsider.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Joel Bryan

Do-It-Yourself Comic Booking in Japan: A Look at Comiket Courtesy One of My Students

Well, I’d hoped to be going nuts over the three most recent Nana volumes, but has royally screwed up my order—pay twice for something? No thanks—but instead I’m here to tell you a little something about Comiket.

What’s Comiket? Comiket is a Japanese-English contraction for Comic Market (the Japanese use contracted word-combos more so than acronyms), a twice-yearly doujinshi convention held in Tokyo. What’s doujinshi? Hold on a sec…

Introducing American Comics to a Japanese Audience

As you probably know, I teach English in Japan, and I like to have my students read books, magazines and comics as part of their homework. I usually recommend translations of Japanese comics, especially Viz’s amazing work on Yazawa Ai’s Nana. But being a full-fledged comic geek, I like to share American comic culture here. People tend to be interested in American comics—not so much the stories or characters, but the format. A slim magazine in full color? And it’s monthly? How strange! A student asked me if she could read some so I grabbed a random sampling from my collection and gave her Batgirl, Astro City, BPRD and Hellboy. And possibly something else I’ve forgotten.

Batgirl and Astro City did nothing for her, but she loves BPRD. It’s taking her longer to read it than either of us anticipated, so by way of apologizing she printed out and gave me a booklet called “What Is the Comic Market?” It’s a “presentation by the Comic Market Preparations Committee,” dated February 2008, and it gives an insider’s overview of the Comiket.


The Comic Market Preparations Committee defines doujinshi as “magazines published as a cooperative effort by a group of individuals who share a common ideology or goals with the aim of establishing a medium through which their works can be presented.” They further state:

Originating from the world of literature, fine arts, and academia, doujinshis experienced unprecedented growth in Japan as a medium of self-expression for various subcultures centered around manga.


At present, books edited and published by inviduals with the aim of presenting their own material are also considered doujinshis. As a norm, doujinshis are not included in the commercial publishing distribution system. The primary goal of doujinshi publishing is that of self-expression of one’s own works—Oridinarly commercial profits are not the primary rationale for doujinshis endeavors. Their distribution is limited in scope.

So basically, doujinshi are amateur, self-published comics, magazines and even video games (if I’m reading the report correctly). The “do-it-yourself” aesthetic applied to comics, comics made by small collectives of like-minded people.

That’s an exciting idea. Getting together with friends and collaborating on a comic that reflects your interests and creative ideas. That’s one thing I miss about playing in bands—that feeling of collaborative effort, of shared adventuring. Marvel Comics used to sell us that myth with the whole “Marvel Bullpen” thing, when actually most of their artists were living out in the suburbs and commuting in once or twice a week for meetings. But wasn’t it nice thinking all these guys like Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Don Heck and Marie Severin all hung out in the same big room with drawing tables, laughed it up while drawing Galactus eating Pluto and Spider-Man tossing web-balls at the Human Torch while Stan Lee played his ocarina?

Doujinshi circles make this fun fantasy a reality. Working together to make something creative and enriching, like music. Comic books. Something not beholden to corporate structure, authorship or ownership. It’s your comic, yours and your friends, and you sell it directly to the readers. Therefore, it can be anything and doesn’t have to rely on marketing or trend-watching.

Although if you wish it to, then that’s up to you as well.


The first Comiket was held in 1975. There were 32 circles (circle is Japanese-English for group or club and is used in contexts ranging from school-sanctioned activity clubs to informal fashion subculture groups) participating with about 700 total attendees. One of the most recent Comikets featured 35,000 circles with a peak attendance of 550,000 people. So many people move through this event crowd control and flow are major concerns. The organizers place circles whose doujinshi are expected to prove most popular near the loading docks so the lines can be arranged to move outside the building and ease floor congestion.

The Comiket is so popular and well-attended certain train and bus lines change their operating schedules to accommodate the human traffic.

The demographics fascinate me. They’re not what I expected at all and seem almost like my ideal for comic book fandom. I’m not sure what the gender breakdown is for your typical American comic book or sci-fi convention, but I imagine women are well-represented among the fans. To an extent. And even then you have to deal with the concepts of "safe spaces" and locker room/boy's club mentality. However, for Comiket, general attendance graphs show 57% women and 43% men attending. Even more exciting are the creator circles with 71% women versus 29% men involved in making comics and this form of doujinshi self-expression.

Granted this isn’t ostensibly professional work, but can you imagine if American comics—amateur or professional—were two-thirds female-created? Do you think you’d be reading condescending articles about what girls can do at conventions guaranteed to piss you off with their retrograde views on fannish gender expression? And how would it affect storylines and readership? Personally, I’d love to find out because my gut tells me they’d be better (they could hardly be worse). I’d probably find a lot more to read among the mainstream books, by which I mostly mean superheroes.

I can’t think of an American equivalent to Comiket. I know there are plenty of Western DIY comic book makers out there (and many of them are probably women), especially on the web. And they more than likely have little conventions or symposiums I know nothing about. But can you imagine half a million people in the United States showing up to buy homemade comic books? I can’t imagine half a million people showing up days in advance just to buy the professional stuff!

Sure, the San Diego Comic Convention got 125,000 to 140,000 people over its three-day course this year, and the New York Comic-Con drew around 77,000 (note the New York International Auto Show had over 1 million attendees, by the way). Those numbers are peanuts compared to Comiket. And how many of those people are there to actually buy comics and how many are there to ogle Megan Fox or listen to Joss Whedon or whatever Hollywood types were on hand to shill their latest TV shows or movie projects, most of which have only a tenuous connection to comics? At the Comiket, there may be cosplay and professional presentations but the comics—the homemade comics—remain the primary focus, the purpose-driver.

It's a Manga World and We're Merely Living in It

Sometimes I think American comic books are merely a bump on the ass of the great body of comic book culture, and that body makes its home here in Asia. It’s not that manga are making inroads into American markets, it’s that American markets are finally catching up with the rest of the world.

Even when you read smart articles about how comics aren't as doomed as everyone thinks, among all the high-powered reasoning you rarely find an acknowledgement that what we think of as comics, meaning strictly the American stuff, is paltry compared to what's produced in Japan, the rest of Asia, Europe and South America. They still tend to miss the point that American publishers may need "new voices" and "new delivery methods" but they are ultimately just a fraction of what comic books entail.

DC and Marvel might be losing readership, but even if they end up selling their characters off piecemeal and closing shop forever, comic books will continue. And most comic book fans won’t even notice the American mainstream is gone… because they’re only vaguely aware it even exists in the first place.

How is that Japan can generate such enthusiasm for comic books, with broad reader acceptance, greater choices of genres in the mainstream and a what amounts to an inverse gender demographics among creators and readers... and the American comic book industry can’t?

And wouldn’t it be a cool cultural exchange if I helped foster a Hellboy/BPRD fandom in Japan?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Visiting Comic Book Locations in the Real World

I live in Japan, right? Right! One thing that really delights me living here is my ability to visit specific locations from movies I've seen (Lost in Translation or Battle Royale, for example) or books I've read (The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, After Dark and Shogun to name a few). I'm not a huge anime or manga fan, but it thrills me to ride the shinkansen or visit a mountainside and see sights similar to the backgrounds in Miyazaki Hayao's movies. Whenever I'm at the famous Shibuya scramble just outside the station's Hachiko Exit and glance over at the Shibuya 109 building, it feels as though I'm walking through an issue of Nana.

It also helps when I run into girls who dress a lot like the punk Nana herself. That happens more than you might imagine! Or at least it seems to, because Nana-girls tend to stand out in the crowd in this place where almost every young woman dresses a bit like Hachi. Any given day in Japan, no matter how mundane, is like taking an otaku pilgrimage.

Peter Payne writes a bit about this concept on his J-List Side Blog. He's probably forgotten more about this stuff than I'll ever know!

As a young comic book fan, I knew Superman's Metropolis and Batman's Gotham City didn't exist. But Spider-Man's ostensibly real New York City seemed every bit as fantastic or fabulous. I never expected to go there, and I still haven't.

So the Micronauts series gave me a bit of a thrill when an early storyline took the characters to Florida and the Kennedy Space Center; I'd actually been to those places so their stories came vibrantly to life for me, and by extension, so did the rest of the Marvel Universe. Now I live in a place that seemed even more Oz- or Wonderland-like to me as a child, when I knew it only from Speed Racer, Ultraman, Space Giants, the Chris Claremont/Frank Miller Wolverine miniseries and the occasional Sonny Chiba movie. Also Pink Lady and Jeff... but that's another story for another blog.

My current comic geek goals are Nana-related. I want to find the general locale where Nana and Hachi lived in their sunny apartment 707 and to eat a Jackson Burger at Jackson Hole, even if the restaurant has a new location. If you're a Marvel Universe fan, you should take a trip to New York and check it out. Make an otaku or geek pilgrimage. Because Peter Payne is right-- visiting the actual locations where the characters live out their fictional adventures adds a layer of realism to your favorite manga, anime or even American comic book.

Would You Buy This Batmobile?

I like Michael Crawford's... er... Captain Toy's toy reviews. For a pop culture geek such as myself, his site is not only fun, but also helpful. And this week he reviews a dilly of a product, Hot Toys' Dark Knight Tumbler. This is like something we had back in the days of big G.I. Joe and his adventure team, only amped up, ramped up and blown out the back door. It's not just a toy that somewhat resembles Batman's vehicle from the movies-- it's a hyper-realistic recreation and you can put your equally realistic Christian Bale Batman figure inside.

Would you pay $400 or more for such a thing? For me, the answer is easy: Hell no! And this is coming from someone who really enjoyed Dark Knight. I like the idea of a superhero vigilante film that eventually rejects superhero vigilantism, although I'd put the delightful teen pregnancy comedy Juno ahead of Dark Knight as my favorite film the year I saw them both.

And in case you're wondering, I wouldn't pay $400 dollars for a 1/6th scale toy of Juno's Previa, either.

But for others, the answer on Batman's Tumbler is equally easy: Hell yes! And I admire them for it. If you have the bucks and the space, this Tumbler toy is probably going to be a highlight of your collection. I'm waiting for the Ellen Page/Michael Cera two-figure collector set with matching acoustic guitars, hamburger phone, unlit pipe, easy chair and pork sword accessories.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Comic I Couldn't Bring Myself to Buy

Sunday afternoon, just after lunch, I went to one of my favorite places here. It's Yajimaya, a new bookstore on the eighth floor of May One, the huge shopping center built into Hamamatsu Station. They have an English magazine section. And by English magazines, I mean magazines in the English language, not magazines from the UK (although they do have those, too). Yajimaya carries four American comic book titles-- Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Superman, X-Men Legacy and Batman.

I have no idea why they chose those particular four. Some buyer at their distributor perhaps feels they're representative of American comics in general. The Yajimaya elsewhere downtown sometimes carries Wonder Woman, by the way. So DC's holy trinity is fully represented here in Hamamatsu.

Sunday I stood there for about three seconds wondering if I should buy Batman #688. I decided not to, despite my curiosity about Mark Bagley's take on Batman.

Ultimately, I just couldn't bring myself to pay 977 yen for a superhero comic book written by Judd Winick. With the current exchange rate, Batman #688 is about $10.29USD. Ten bucks and change for a Judd Winick-written comic? I've paid that much for non-Winick American comics here before. I've even paid around six dollars for an atrocious Batgirl comic written by Adam Beechen, and I should be beaten about the head and shoulders with a rolled-up copy of that particular book for doing so.

But to be honest, if I weren't living in Japan, ninety-nine cents is about the most I'd pay for any monthly superhero book without feeling ripped off. And for a Judd Winick-written superhero comic, I currently place my fair market value at approximately half that.

See, I read that As the Crow Flies storyline he wrote back in 2004. Batman #626-630. That's the one where the Penguin has this geneticist invent a mutagenic formula that transforms skinny-minny villain Scarecrow into a hulking monstrosity we like to call the "Scarebeast." The Scarebeast. Matt Wagner's covers make it appear Scarebeast wears a scarecrow costume (which makes a tiny bit of sense, I guess), but the Dustin Nguyen interior art just shows him as a monster... that naturally resembles a scarecrow, headpiece (and other body parts) filled with straw, alas. Is there any biological reason for this man's turning into a huge bestial scarecrow?

Today's lesson in biological determinism is if you dress like a scarecrow, you turn into one when you take a magic formula. This amazing chemical soup also enables Scarebeast to produce from within his body, perhaps in a gland or sac, an analog to Scarecrow's fear-inducing hallucinogenic mist. That's some kind of amazing coincidence! I'm sure the Penguin was delighted with his creation. Imagine how much less effective Scarecrow would've been if he'd just turned into Mr. Hyde or a big ape or something non-scarecrow-related. Why, the Penguin's entire scheme might have collapsed!

Also the comic's plot.

It makes me wonder-- what would the Riddler turn into if he took the formula? Or the Penguin? And if Batman took it, would he turn into some kind of bat-creature that shoots bat-shaped bone boomarangs from its asshole? Would Robin turn into Sesame Street's Big Bird? I paid around five bucks for that comic at Seibunkan in Toyohashi (I was desperate, in the throes of four-color addiction), so I guess I deserved to have my intelligence so insulted.

Not a Winick fan.

On the other hand, Mark Bagley is an artist whose career I've followed off and on-- mostly off, to be honest-- because of a little biographical detail that overlaps with some of my own teenage hopes and dreams. Many years ago I bought the Marvel Try-Out Book and did a lot of scribble-scrabbling in it but never finished the thing. Bagley, on the other hand, not only finished his entry, he sent it in and scored himself a job. He also did it while living in my home state, Georgia. Why, we're practically... two... people... who've never met or otherwise interacted.

The sad part of this story is, as interested as I was in his winning the Try-Out contest, I've actually never read a Bagley-illustrated comic. It's not a knock against him or his art skills. He's just never worked on any title I've been interested in reading. If I remember correctly, during Bagley's pencilling stint on The Amazing Spider-Man, I wasn't reading anything but Gladstone/Gemstone EC reprints, Nexus and John Byrne's Next Men. Maybe Valiant comics, too. And I'm only slightly more fond of Brian Michael Bendis' writing than I am of Judd Winick's, so I never picked up any of the Ultimate Spider-Man books.

But with his announced Batman run and with the strange distribution of comics here in my Japanese hometown, I thought I'd finally give the guy a look-see.

But no. I just can't pay ten bucks for a Winick story just because twenty-five or so years ago the artist actually accomplished something I was too lazy and incompetent to do. I wouldn't pay ten bucks for a Winick-written comic if I'd pencilled it myself. But if someone wants to send me a free copy so I can finally connect with Mark Bagley's art, who am I to refuse such generosity?

Would You Buy This Wolverine?

Hot Toys makes some gorgeous one-sixth scale action figures. They look like miniaturized human beings! This is their X-Men Origins: Wolverine Hugh Jackman figure. I'm not a big Wolverine fan. I think, like Batman, he's over-exposed. Plus, if Chris Claremont has taught us anything, it's you write one good Wolverine story and for the next twenty years or so, every Wolverine writer re-hashes it and tries to out-badass each other to the point of cliche and self-parody.

Joss Whedon had some fun with him, though, didn't he?

I much preferred Wolverine when we knew hardly anything about him. Now we know everything there is to know about him, including his favorite toilet paper brand (Charmin Ultra Soft), and he's become ridiculous with all that vein-popping berzerker rage "I'm the best there is at what I do and what I do ain't very nice" nonsense. There's no mystery, just a humiliating origin and more than a century of convoluted adventures, kind of the poster-boy for everything I think is wrong with superhero comics these days.

To his credit, Hugh Jackman plays what I believed to be essentially an unplayable role with a lot of charm, at least in the three X-Men movies, none of which are are exactly cinematic classics. In fact, he took an indestructible jerk of a character, who could've been lost in the ensemble populating these action-adventure mediocrities, and made him much more likable and vulnerable than he needed to be. He's not exactly the comic book Wolverine; he's too human for that and so much the better. I have no idea how he comes across in the Wolverine solo flick, because frankly the trailer made it look asinine and you could probably pay me to watch it but I'm not about to pay you for the privilege.

But here he is in collectible form, and looking is free. The nose appears a trifle exaggerated and the face isn't exactly screaming, "I'm Hugh Jackman, suckas!" but he's still Wolver-recognizable for those of us who are geeks and aware of such things. He actually looks more Jackmanesque on the Hot Toys website. My favorite aspect, though, is his "Newly-developed Hot Toys hirsute muscular figure body."

Hirsute. Muscular. Figure. Body.

Just how much does Hot Toys hirsute body Hugh Jackman Wolverine cost? Oh baby, if you have to ask you can't afford it! No, I don't really know. He's not listed on Amazon Japan yet. If I have to hazard a guess, I'd say he's in the $150 range, perhaps higher. Hugh Jackman probably gets one for free!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Batgirl #1 Preview Pages

You can go check out a five-page preview of the new Batgirl series on DC's The Source blog. In it, someone wearing the Cassandra Cain costume fights the "129th Street Bangers," some kind of car gang. It features the deathless line, "Boys are stupid" to explain its somewhat nonsensical set-up and reads like a dumbed down comic book version of The Fast and the Furious. Take a moment to absorb that concept. Also, Batgirl has a grappling gun that goes "POOT." Absorb that... if you dare.


The visual storytelling is a bit confused. Lots of those cliched overlapping "widescreen" panels all the kids are into nowadays with their video games and their whippets and their ewoks and whatnot, and way too many cropped figures. Batgirl fires her poot-gun on page two but artist Lee Garbett doesn't see fit to show her swinging on the line. You know, to relate an action to its result. Instead he renders the poot-gun panel a non sequitor by abruptly cutting directly to Batgirl diving from the air onto the speeding cars.

She might as well have shot a flare gun. Or even a real gun. Then he sends her directly through a windshield unharmed. She also somehow manages to cartwheel over the car, fire her poot-gun under the body and latch onto the rear axle-- although Garbett evidently doesn't feel we need to see how this works either, so it's not exactly clear what she's trying to do or how she hopes to accomplish it-- and lands safely on the street.


This is pretty silly stuff even by the ridiculous standards of superhero comics. As a preview, it fails to excite me about the possibilities for this new series. Actually, it makes me feel uncomfortably nostalgic for Adam Beechen's Redemption Road mini. But I don't know-- if you thought the Wanted movie was awesome and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra floats your boat, you might dig the hell out of this. I'll stick with Nana.

Is this Batgirl Cassandra Cain? Her actions and costume say yes, the dialogue says probably not. Unless she's undergone yet another personality change. In a few years, some clever writer may be revealing that Cassandra Cain's traumatic childhood left her with multiple personality disorder. I don't know enough about any of the other Batgirl candidates at this point to decide if writer Bryan Q. Miller's Batgirl characterization is right or wrong in those cases. But my gut feeling is this isn't Cassandra.

Some of the commenters suggest if she's not to be Batgirl anymore, Cass would make a killer Nightwing. I second that emotion. That's much better than that one guy's "She's gonna team up with her mom and become a villain again" suggestion from a few weeks ago. Listen up, DC! Make Cass Nightwing and do a series that's not... well...


Saturday, August 1, 2009

Well, It's Obviously Not Cassandra Cain...

Not with those baby... er... purples. And I don't mind that one little bit. I think it's high time Cass outgrew the Batgirl job. She's better than that. I don't understand why people think it's Catwoman, although she fits Bryan Q. Miller's "redemption" quote. Seems kind of like a demotion. But whatever.

No, who's wearing the suit doesn't matter one whit to me. What bugs me, what irks me and worries me is down among the comments where "[someone seriously believes] that Cassandra Cain will give up being Batgirl so she can free her mother and together they will be the greatest threat in the new Batman's rogue gallery." You know, Lady Shiva. Nevermind how Cass has always been thematically partially about will and self-determination trumping genetics or fate or what have you. You know, 73-odd issues of "You can decide for yourself your own path and don't have to follow in Daddy's (or Mommy's) footsteps," plus the whole "if she's gone evil, it must be a mind control drug because she'd never do that" episode and the Redemption Road adoption denouement.

It scares me because this guy's idea is so knuckle-headed it might actually be what DC is planning.

It would be a totally unnecessary repositioning of the character, but it's what I've specifically been dreading since the announcement of the new series. I'm still hoping against hope they'll give Cass a new kick-ass heroic role to play, something vicious and gritty but on the side of good nevertheless. Perhaps even without a costume. Kill Bill and Crouching Tiger or-- what the hell-- Deadly Hands of Kung Fu and all that as I've suggested so many times before.

Well, knuckle-headed or not, the guy's little suppositions have the ring of mainstream superhero storytelling and writer's logic about them. Yeah, I could waste a lot of time and effort pulling examples out of the various Batgirl storylines to counter them, but ultimately, they're at least as valid as anything argument I could toss out there.

Not because I really agree with them, or think they're in any way non-knuckle-headed, but simply because as I've painfully learned over the course of my comics blogging "career," my aesthetic concerns aren't those of the big companies and the run-of-the-mill comic fan. That and any character I like will eventually be ruined beyond reclamation. Yeah, it irks me he's more than likely right and anything I posit in response will be proven wrong by the actual story events and narrative explanations. In fact, in so doing I'll seal Cass' fate! I'm like Jack Crabb to Custer in the movie Little Big Man: an almost perfect "reverse barometer" for what will happen. There ya have it.

So I can't help but worry if DC wants to repeat the same mistake they've made once before with poor Cassandra Cain, then by Kirby, that's what they'll do. There probably aren't that many "Cass Fans" like me left to jerk around after all the characterization shifts they've pulled with her, and as we've repeatedly seen, there's no narrative theme or character arc that can't be undone, retrenched, retconned or just plain ignored in superhero comic books.

Well, we'll all know for sure come August 19th. But maybe it's better just to forget all that junk and just read Nana and Love and Rockets, Hellboy and BPRD and other works where the author's vision trumps corporate/editorial mandates and the creators have a better grasp of characterization, or at least one that pleases me. Hey, there's even a new New Mutants series that's getting better issue by issue. The new League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is... you know... extraordinarily good.