Thursday, December 30, 2010
Actually, I spent the first four or so months of 2010 in Japan, the final 8 looking for a job and my comic book obsessions have always been peculiar to myself—so what I found noteworthy this past year is probably going to seem a bit skewed. Enjoy the When Comic Books Ruled the Earth retrospective, Top 10 style!
10) Green Lantern? You Poor, Poor Bastard. You probably shouldn't judge a movie by its trailer, but you certainly can determine if it's something you'd like to see. And Green Lantern isn't something I would like to see. Not even as an in-flight movie on my way back to Japan. (November)
9) Onion A/V Club Writer Fired for Writing Review of an Unpublished Book. And becomes endlessly repeated in-joke on the message boards there in the classic A/V Club tradition. What if you were assigned to write a review for a book that hadn't been published yet? How would you handle it? Hopefully, you wouldn't do what this guy did and write a review of it anyway. It cost him his job, spawned a minor war of words between a comics blog and various A/V club regulars and now we have to put up with a lame-ass reference to this incident on practically every comment thread at the Onion. (December)
8) Cassandra Cain Returns to DC Continuity. And for once, Cass-fans don’t have to take to the web to angrily denounce it! While the in-story reason for her absence doesn’t appear to make any sense and despite some rude treatment the last few years at the hands of various writers and artists, Cass bounced back in 2010 courtesy of… Fabian Nicieza? Who saw that coming? She made a 5-page appearance in Red Robin #17 and was appropriately bad-ass and taciturn. Thanks, DC! (November)
7) Scott Pilgrim vs. The World Changes the Game… and Flops! Edgar Wright's colorful and fun adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley's Scott Pilgrim graphic novels garnered positive reviews but couldn't turn them into ticket sales. The end result is an odd little one-off comic book movie adaptation with a game cast and a crackerjack soundtrack that’s probably destined for cult status. (August)
6) Spider-Man Musical Determined to Kill Its Cast. Spider-man Broadway musical all about your friendly neighborhood guy who wears webs on his costume and swings from webs while spinning webs debuted with impressive production credentials—Julie Taymor as director and co-writer, music by Bono and the Edge. How could this thing fail? Massively! Apparently, the Sinister Six took offense at their lack of inclusion and sabotaged the whole thing. $65 million, a disastrous opening night, brutal reviews and a stuntman in the ICU… and a legend is born! (November/December)
5) Walking Dead Kills for AMC. AMC’s The Walking Dead series debuted to much acclaim and… uh… killer ratings. Then producer Frank Darabont axed all the writers. Okay, I should have made some kind of zombie-related joke there. I’m sorry. I let you down. I let my family down. Through six episodes, Darabont and his team took Robert Kirkman’s comic characters into places strange and unfamiliar. It’s “loosely adapted,” I suppose. While I’m a huge fan of the books, I’m glad they’re not just throwing those stories up on the screen. I like the idea the TV show can still hold surprises. Especially the second season debut where Rick gets turned into a zombie and eats Dale. Oops! Spoiler alert! (October/November/December)
4) Meanwhile, Batman Rises. This time with Pop-n-Fresh as his sidekick for more warm-from-the-oven storytelling fun! Director Christopher Nolan scored a huge financial and critical hit with his The Dark Knight sequel, buoyed by the late Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning turn as the Joker. As befitting such an anarchic character, a lot of ridiculous rumors have been swirling about this production—including the ever-popular “Robin Williams as the Riddler” and "Cher as Catwoman" ones that pre-date modern European history—but one thing is certain: it will be called Bram Stoker's Tyler Perry's Crow T. Robot's The Dark Knight Rises: The Motion Picture Part One: Fellowship of the Rings (Human Centipede). (October)
3) Yazawa Ai Released from Hospital. Renowned mangaka Yazawa Ai continues to recover from a mystery illness that led her to lay down her pen and ink and put her massively-popular serial Nana on indefinite hiatus. While it seems unlikely she’ll continue her work anytime soon, we wish her a happy and healthy 2011. Take care of yourself, sensei. Your fans will always love you! (April)
2) New Spider-Man Movie Series! You can’t keep a good money-making franchise down. People love Spider-Man and they also love Spider-Man movies… with cash. So when Sam Raimi, Tobey McGuire and Kirsten Dunst decided they didn’t want to make anymore Spidey flicks, you didn’t expect Sony and Marvel to just give up, did you? Now they’re taking advantage of our adoration for all things Webhead by combining it with our uncritical acceptance of that other Hollywood phenomenon, the “re-boot.” Director Marc Webb and stars Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone will take the Spider-Man movie franchise into bold, new directions. By which I mean, yet another re-telling of the origina story but in 3D and updated with even quicker editing and stylistic flash for today’s audience for whom the years 2002, 2005 and 2008… probably occurred before their birth. My New Year's resolution: Stop being so cynical. (January)
1) Al Williamson and Dick Giordano Pass. These hurt. I’ve been an Al Williamson fan almost as long as I’ve been a comic book fan and I spent years trying to learn how to draw like him before giving up. His lush ink line and flawless figure-work will always set the standard and when I think of high adventure and science-fantasy, the settings will always look as though they flowed from Williamson’s brush. His influence extended beyond the illustrative medium-- it's hard to see Han Solo with his strapped-down sidearm, super-tight pants and tall boots as anything other than the cinematic descendant of any number of Williamson's sci-fantasy heroes. Dick Giordano was not only an inker par excellence, but he was also an editor and later Vice President/Executive Editor at DC and editor-in-chief at Charlton Publishing. He brought a clean, sharp look to DC’s house style-- particularly in collaboration with Neal Adams and George Perez-- and mentored many young inkers. While some of his views generated controversy, there's no denying his immense positive impact on the look of superhero comics. Another great loss. (June/March)
Saturday, December 25, 2010
Funny the things you think of as the hours tick by on that most special of holidays. In Tokyo, young lovers strolled along the gaily decorated streets of Shibuya, Shinjuku and Harajuku. For them, Christmas is a romantic night. How like an episode of Nana it is. Let's hope the empty winds of winter don't extinguish love's flame. And let's hope Ms. Yazawa continues to recover in peace and that 2011 will be a happy year for her.
Mighty Elephant Warrior by ~supergaijin76 on deviantART
Someone should put an army of these guys into a comic. Maybe someone already has. This was a character design I did a long, long time ago before I moved to Japan and I had this insane idea I might get a job doing art for a living!
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
I haven't finished reading it, but I have paged through it and the breadth of Spiegelman's art styles has already impressed me. But I was most affected by a couple of small details in the at-times emotionally harrowing autobiographical introduction. Foremost is a scene where young Spiegelman is trying to draw Tubby, only to have his father ask him to come help pack for vacation. It turns into a lesson in space management that comes into sharp relief when the father discovers Art is engrossed in his funny book and snatches it away, shouting, "It's important to know to pack! Many times I had to run with only what I can carry!" It's easy to understand why.
I'm reminded of Hungarian physicist Leo Szilard, also a Jew. He managed to escape Europe in the 1930s, but according to P.D. Smith's Doomsday Men: The Real Dr. Strangelove and the Dream of the Superweapon, Szilard developed the lifelong habit of staying largely in hotel rooms with a packed suitcase always at the ready. It's important to know to pack.
The elder Spiegelman's Holocaust memories suffuse his son's recollections of childhood, and this becomes more apparent in two other episodes-- one where the family is returning home after a party where a former member of the Sonderkommando continues to be socially snubbed and another where Art is working on the first "Maus" and visits with his father's now elderly friends and they jibe each other over whether one's Siberian gulag was a "country club compared to Auschwitz." It's even referenced in minor moments, such as the day Spiegelman dreams of owning a dog and his mother replies, "Even before Auschwitz your father was afraid of dogs."
Obviously, it was an omnipresent theme in the Spiegelman house, informing even later tragedies. As trite and weathered an observation as it is, I can't help but wonder if these things become your inheritance in the same way your mom's hair or your father's mouth or both of their mannerisms and concerns repeat themselves in you. Almost genetically. Both my parents lived through the Depression, but my father, having been born the year it began, bore the marks of growing up dirt-poor the rest of his life. And so now so do I, unlike a lot of my friends who had Boomers as parents and so have a kind of carelessness to their optimism.
You know, despite almost all of them being on the anti-anxiety medications I've eschewed because I'm too far gone to even ask for help.
Anyway, I really had only the most basic knowledge about Art Spiegelman and his work, and now I've got this gorgeously designed and art-rich-- in full color-- book to experience. It's one of the best gifts I've received in a long time!
Thursday, December 16, 2010
Santa Claus has prepared a video message for Scott with his PNP - Portable North Pole console.
Knives thought you would like to watch it!
To watch it, click here:
To ask Santa to make you a personalized message, go to http://www.portablenorthpole.tv.
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Script: Zeb Wells
Art: Leonard Kirk
Colors: Guru eFX
As history has shown us, Dani Moonstar and Xi’an Coy Manh are my two most beloved comic characters. It was hard not to love Dani—writer Chris Claremont let her take over as her book's de facto lead character and many of their adventures were told largely from her point of view, at least until Claremont’s pet character Magik (she appears to have touched on many of the underlying BDSM elements in his writing more effectively than Dani ever could) joined and supplanted her.
Why did I like Xi'an? Because if ever a character needed reader support, it was her. Poor Xi’an barely got a chance to do much of anything beyond being kind of awkwardly formal before Claremont blew her up in a castle. The kids mourned her for about half the next issue and then it was Carnival time in Rio. Sic transit Xi'an. it wasn’t until she returned to the book years later that I really began to appreciate her thoughtful, nurturing nature and the hidden coil of steel inside.
When Marvel announced they were bringing back the original team for a regular ongoing, it was like a nostalgia fan’s dream-come-true. Writer Zeb Wells showed a deft touch with the characterization early on—his New Mutants are older, somewhat wiser but still with recognizable personalities. Dani is still tempestuously angry, Sam is still a nice guy to a fault, Xi’an is still responsible and caring… but with a few darker elements to round out her personality. Unfortunately, we no longer live in a world where a monthly comic stands on its on, and all too often the team’s story got lost in X-Book crossovers, some of which resulted in the main characters being reduced to mere cameos in their own book. For shame, Marvel.
Now Wells and artist Leonard Kirk are telling their own self-contained epic, its name a callback to a “classic” storyline from my wilderness years when I abandoned superhero comics for novels and short stories. I have no idea how the new story relates to the old, but I do know the re-cap on the first page sets a new record for the use of the word “Limbo.” This is apparently where some evil (is there ever any other kind in comics?) United States scientific/military organization has turned kid mutants into scarred, tattooed killers and it seems to be at least partially the New Mutants’ fault. Kirk goes nuts with the double-page spreads while our heroes fight these post-Goth freaks—one doesn’t have a face, just what appears to be a large stoplight in its place and another is covered with disgusting red scabs; so much so, his name actually is Scab.
Wells and Kirkman manage to keep readers on track even with all those modern storytelling quirks like flashbacks that jumpcut to present time (when I was a child, comics usually relied on funny-bordered panels to do this) and the endless fighting. Punch, kick, stab, blast. Almost the entire book is one big fight scene in some kind of hell world reminiscent of some of the weaker Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes.
You know, when that dork Riley Finn was hanging around and the main villain was a Frankenstein’s monster made from dead soldiers, demons and robot parts, but the even mainer villain was something called “The Initiative,” which functioned similarly to Wells’s “Project Purgatory.” In short, I hate stories about military guys mixing it up with demons and other such nonsense. Didn’t do much for me on Buffy, doesn’t impress me here.
Mainly because it's so damned ugly. Not Kirk's art; it's rock solid. The setting. The mood. While I’m sure if there’s a hell, it would also be ugly but that doesn’t mean I particularly want to spend any time there with a bunch of stock mad scientists and stalwart military men doing the ol’ “the end justifies the means” routine. Especially when it also involves specifically trying to push my gross-out buttons with scenes of surgical mutilation and lunatic doctors covered with gore.
But what does impress is how-- despite the reliance on wall-to-wall mayhem and self-consciously edgy story elements-- Wells manages to keep up his strong characterization. Especially of Dani.
There’s a moment where Dani’s tough-chick façade threatens to give way and it’s a startlingly real reaction for someone trapped in such a hellish scenario. It's a well-observed moment that finds the secret cause of Dani's hard-ass stance, and shows Wells knows his cast inside and out (I just don't want to see their insides quite so often)-- it's one that hearkens back to the first few issues of the original series. Wells's choice adds layers to an already enjoyable character.
That’s the kind of stuff that made me read the original New Mutants despite its frequent descent into silliness and/or barely-concealed sexual fetishism and keeps me reading the new version even with all the blood and guts and plot encroachment from other books.
As for Xi’an? She doesn’t get to do much here. And in a universe where Professor X can receive a brand-new clone body and completely human-looking androids and cyborgs frequent their local Starbucks, just what in the hell kind of justification is there to stick Xi’an with some kind of Robocop-inspired bird claw thingy for a leg? Either design her something that doesn't look like it weighs 500 pounds or get that woman some bionics… STAT!
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
I dig me some Nick Cardy art, but his wartime service is part of his life I know absolutely nothing about. Well, let me correct that-- if his Wikipedia entry is correct, Cardy was in the 66th Infantry Division and designed their "black cat" patch and later served as an assistant tank driver in the 3rd Armored Division. He got two Purple Hearts. Now I know a little bit about Cardy's military career.
Cardy was one of those artists I'd frequently heard of but had never really given much thought to when he was doing covers and interiors. TwoMorrows Publishing's Comic Book Artist magazine had a real 1960s-70s focus and they'd occasionally run a small black and white image of one of Cardy's many DC covers. It's kind of difficult to judge someone's artwork at that size, but it was enough to get me thinking, "Nick Cardy's one of those guys whose work I really need to investigate." It wasn't until I moved to Japan and DC started putting out those Showcase Presents: Teen Titans books bursting at the seams with Cardy-ian goodness that I really caught on.
Wow! What I'd been missing!
Nick Cardy is an incredible artist. Strong anatomy and traditional storytelling skills-- but with this unique loose zig-zagging ink line to model shadows on his figures; it gives them a three-dimensional quality traditional feathering can't match, and the swirling quality denotes movement and energy. Cardy's figures have weight and form, but they also seem to dance around the page. As a result, he's now one of my all-time favorites and something of an influence on my own little doodles. I spent quite a lot of time between my ESL classes laboriously copying Cardy figures-- alongside my various clumsy Alex Toth rip-offs-- in my sketchbook and failing miserably to match him.
If you've caught the Nick Cardyfluenza from me, you should also check out TwoMorrows's Nick Cardy: Behind the Art. I haven't read it yet, but it's on my wish list. Wanna add it to yours?
Friday, December 10, 2010
Oops. Busted. Writing a review for a book that won't be published for another 8 months is either the most amazing example of clairvoyance the world has ever seen, or else someone's need to contribute and earn a little holiday cash overwhelmed his or her good sense. As A/V Club editor Keith Phipps writes in his apology:
I don't want to speculate on the writer's motivations, but I can say that in no way was the publisher of the book, IDW, involved. This sort of behavior is absolutely unacceptable, and we will not be working with the writer again in any capacity going forward.
In short, someone did something stupid and got fired for it, just in time for the holidays! Do you realize what this means? It means bankruptcy and scandal and prison. That's what it means. One of us is going to jail - well, it's not gonna be me!
I just hope there's some sort of Christmas miracle in this person's future. Perhaps involving an angel second class and a life-affirming lesson about how a single person's existences touches that of many others, ending with all the Onion A/V Club writers joining in and singing "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" segueing into "Auld Lang Syne," while Zodiac MotherFucker counts up the monetary contributions.
Also, I want to take this time to reaffirm my own sense of journalistic integrity, even if this is merely the blog of an opinionated dumbass with too much time on his hands. I hereby renew my most sincere promise all my reviews will be of real comics I've actually read. Some of the reviews themselves may or may not be faked, but the comics will always be real already-published books and magazines you can buy (or illegally download, if that's your thing) for yourself. Actually, come to think of it, some of the comics may not even exist.
Furthermore, in the interest of full disclosure here, I don't even exist. I'm a fictional human created by a comics-loving collective of woodland creatures. Chipper field mice do the typing on this tossed-out laptop the animals found (put into working order by a brilliant but morally suspect rat), while a clever old owl does the thinking and dictates the words. There's a shy deer involved and several not-very-bright rabbits, but their contributions are as yet indistinct and hazy. Somewhere lurking in the mix is an evil old crocodile, so ancient his hate has been building in darkness for untold centuries...
Friday, December 3, 2010
Publisher: DC Comics
Script: Fabian Nicieza
Pencils: Marcus To
Inks: Ray McCarthy
It took forever. First I had to move all the way back to the United States from Japan, get a job, work on Black Friday, get paid, show up on a day the comic book store happened to be closed, bust my ass at work one more afternoon, then write a third-party, out-of-state post-dated check under an assumed name while wearing a disguise (a white linen suit with matching fedora, dark sunglasses and a bushy black mustache) but I finally experienced the long-anticipate return of Cassandra Cain to the the pages of a DC funny book.
And , to be honest, it’s been so long since I read (or even wanted to read) an in-continuity DC monthly, I have no idea what’s going on in this story. This one stars Tim Drake, a character I've long loathed for some random, idiotic comic book fan reason. He’s graduated from the Robin costume to the Red Robin one and I don’t know if this is a step up or merely a sideways one. But that’s not important right now. What is important is Cassandra Cain. This is the only reason I bought this comic. I freely admit I’m one of those insane, impossible-to-please Cass Cain cultists and I had to see how scripter Fabian Nicieza handled her.
So how do I feel about Nicieza's take on Cass? The opening scene is pretty clichéd—somehow superheroes always show up whenever someone’s being mugged. They jump from the rooftops just in time, kick a little ass, then disappear into the night, kind of how Rambo always knows what tree to hide in out of all the trees in the jungle so he can drop down on some unsuspecting commie soldier. Are there dozens of other muggings, burglaries and murders occurring at the same time? Probably. The whole superhero gig seems like a complete mis-allocation of resources. But these scenes are pretty effective in letting a reader figure out a character’s modus operandi.
In this case, it’s Cass conveniently showing up at one of your standard issue street muggings. Nicieza has Red Robin narrate throughout the brief action sequence—he’s a little awed, gives us Cass’s backstory and lets us know in no uncertain terms she’s badass: “Cassandra Cain, the former Batgirl, remains one of the most dangerous fighters on the planet.”
As for Cass herself, Nicieza depicts her as fairly taciturn and off-putting, and it's a welcome change for a character that has been written so randomly and poorly over the past few years-- when the DC creators can be bothered to include her in a story at all-- she's developed an almost tesseract-shaped personality. Nicieza's Cass drops subject nouns, speaks in short declarative sentences, doesn’t mince words, seems to understand some language other than English (Nicieza uses the classic Claremont "I'm speaking foreignese!" trick with the greater than/less than signs) but doesn’t deign to speak it herself. And when she finishes the conversation to her satisfaction, she jets without so much as a “By your leave” or a “Kiss mah grits, Mel.” She’s obviously a woman who lets her actions speak for her—which is how she should be.
Admittedly, Cassandra Cain fans have a reputation for being a little... shall we say... twitchy. And yet it turns out it's not that difficult to please this particular Cassfreak-- all it takes is writing a version of the character I can recognize from having read and enjoyed her monthly and suffered through all the horrible, intelligence insulting versions of her that have been foisted on us since. She’s in Red Robin #17 for five short pages and it’s the best Cass moment in years, without a wrong move or one of those fan-infuriating non sequitor moments (Navajo code speak? Drugged into murderous insanity? Anything by Adam Beechen?) that plague practically every Cass appearance since DC canceled her monthly book.
This is practically a gift to us from DC and Fabian Nicieza, so savor this while you can, Cass fans! God knows how the next scripter will write her when she shows up again. Happy-go-lucky wisecracker? Glitter-covered pole dancer with a snake fetish? Techno-savvy goth geek working for Naval Criminal Investigative Service?
Penciller Marcus To and inker Ray McCarthy provide clean artwork and assured storytelling; this is a sure way to get on my good side. To refreshingly uses a variety of panel shapes and sizes rather than those tiresome “widescreen” panels featuring stiff, static imagery so many other artists use these days. To does throw in some stretched horizontal panels, but he frequently breaks up pages vertically as well for pacing and variety’s sake. And he actually draws through actions—a criminal points a gun, gets a batarang in his hand, then crouches and clutches his wound in pain and there aren’t any cheats—lazy close-ups that serve only to fill space with a minimum of drawing effort and confuse readers. Late in the book as a contrast to the all the action, there's a nice 3-panel sequence where a woman I believe is called Lynx glides into Red Robin’s arms. To is an artist who actually creates the illusion of movement just like the pros used to do before tracing porn frames and mis-using Poser became all the rage.
In fact, To's work looks a bit like Alan Davis-light; it bears enough surface similarities to Davis in the way he handles various eyes, mouths and the fairly naturalistic (yet still heroic anatomy) to charm me even more. Combined with McCarthy's easy-to-read inks, it's appealing. Cass’s new costume is a bit clunky, with weird armored shoulder pads and ridiculous straps that serve no obvious function, but I like how To’s ditched the most idiotic superhero accoutrement of them all—the cape. Instead, he gives Cass a stylish short scarf. I probably appreciate that more than most because I designed a retro-ish Batgirl costume for Cass a while back that featured an extremely short cape as an accent piece similar to Spider-Man’s under-arm webs. Hey, I thought it was pretty cool. Obviously, it’s not necessary here now that Cass has relinquished the Batgirl role.
Finally, Bruce Wayne shows up as Batman in his own redesigned costume. It looks like combination of the outfit he wore in the Tim Burton Batman films and a Bryan Singer X-Men movie costume… but what’s this? Batman, the biggest prick in the whole DC universe actually shows… warmth? He hugs Red Robin, smiles, then actually says something about having fun?
This is the first time in years I haven’t wanted to slap his Bat-face. Maybe they’re going to stop trying to out-Miller Frank Miller and undo all the damage so many mediocre writers have done to the Bat-books since The Dark Knight Returns and Year One. Ever since, DC's scripters have increasingly written Batman as a teeth-gritting sociopath with all the charm of a pre-heart enlargement Grinch on three-day coke binge. I can't deny it's made him more popular than ever, but I prefer to read about human beings. Even human beings dressed like bats.
Did I just write a positive review for a DC comic starring a character I hate, featuring a cameo by one I'm overly sensitive about and another by a character who usually makes me wanna barf? Well, wonders never cease!