Sunday, August 28, 2011

Happy Birthday Jack Kirby!

Jack Kirby would have been 94 today. What a tremendous creative force he was. In Japan, Tezuka Osamu is rightfully known as the "god of comics," but in America, that distinction has to belong to Jack Kirby. With a little difference. I'd guess practically everyone in Japan knows of Tezuka, but most non-comic readers in the US wouldn't recognize Kirby's name and couldn't tell you who he was. He didn't sell himself or make himself a brand. He just imagined and dreamed and put his characters out there in hundreds of books.

The general public does at least know the Incredible Hulk (co-created with Stan Lee). And quite a few met Captain America (co-created with Joe Simon) this summer. Other Kirby creations are obscure to outsiders-- Kamandi, Orion, Mister Miracle. Some are vaguely familiar-- the Thing, Silver Surfer. Whether or not his name is known, his influence is out there in pop culture through the sheer number of characters and concepts he invented by himself or in collaboration with others. Inescapable!

So to those of us who bleed in four colors, Kirby was, is and will always be the King. Enjoy a piece of chocolate cake in his honor today.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Kid Flash is powerless against the alligatorid crocodylian

When your superpower is running extremely fast, you should stick to solid ground-- concrete, turf, asphalt, the Bonneville Salt Flats. Sure, several members of the Flash family have run across the surface of various bodies of water. I assume. That certainly seems like something they would do, doesn't it? Therefore, they must have done it in some comic past. Even so, you need a running start to build up enough speed.

And you need that speed to avoid caimans. They like nothing better than to clamp down on the leg of a brightly-attired teen superhero and drag him or her down into the water, then go into a death roll until their prey drowns and they can devour it at their leisure.

That's what happens to Kid Flash, when just moments before he was hanging from one of the poles he was using to push the raft along. Kind of funny... before it turned into a scene from one of those Faces of Death videos.

But hey, guess what. This isn't the weirdest thing that happens in Teen Titans #42, "Slaves of the Emperor Bug" (1972). It seems TV shows about "picking," pawn shops and buying the contents of storage garages are all the rage these days. Those and programs about groups of jerks who work together in small businesses making things, tattooing each other and generally clowning around. Well, this isn't a recent phenomenon by any means because Wonder Girl was way into yard sales and flea markets before you were even born. In this story, Kid Flash tries to buy her a beetle-shaped brooch, but he's outbid by some nut named Johnny Carpetbag. Johnny's a local eccentric whose generosity is second only to his body odor in vastness. He gives the brooch to Wonder Girl and later that night, the jewelry starts talking to her and offering her visions of a golden-hued warrior in battle with a giant salamander.

The brooch demands Wonder Girl return it to its rightful place, which turns out to be a skull-shaped temple deep in the jungles of the Yucatan. The whole groovy gang heads down a river in a large raft. Kid Flash gets mauled by the caiman, Wonder Girl fights a jaguar and then a poisonous snake and our old pal Johnny Carpetbag arrives and turns out to be the minion of a giant beetle that wants to eat the Titans, but has "other plans" for Wonder Girl, who he asks to embrace him as his "warrior girl."

Yeah, we're going to have to talk about this one in greater detail sometime soon.

Monday, August 15, 2011

I finally tracked down that "The Kirk Cries Yipes!" bootleg by Jimi Hendrix

Even bold space explorers like Captain James T. Kirk experience moments of terror. Depicting one of these humanizes them for the readers. I'm just not convinced Kirk would yelp the word "Yipes!" even if a papier-mache Eiffel Tower threatened to crush him. This is a sequence from Gold Key's Star Trek #7, "The Voodoo Planet" (1970). The Enterprise crew encounters yet another space jerk, some deposed Earth ruler named Count Dressler, who has mastered the art of voodoo magic. Using his full-size replicas (which must have cost a fortune to build) and a laser beam-ray, Dressler destroys some of our most famous monuments before Kirk and Spock overcome psychosomatic pain to put an end to his idiotic revenge scheme.

The cover to this comic is awesome, by the way. It features a groovy psychedelic duotone Spock head in high-contrast magenta and purple containing some asymmetrically-cropped publicity photos of Kirk and McCoy all on a green background suitable for framing. I love the cut-out style type Gold Key used for the title, too. Far out, mannnnn!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

It's easy to tell you're not in heaven...

Yeah, I don't think so either, Capt. Kirk. This is a page from the Gold Key Star Trek series, namely issue #9, "The Legacy of Lazarus." This particular story may or may not have been written by Len Wein, but the art is definitely by Alberto Giolitti or someone in his employ doing a fantastic Giolitti impression. How's that for clarification? Well, someone's responsible, dammit, and I hope we can get to the bottom of this the way Kirk, Spock, McCoy and the rest of the Enterprise crew solve the mystery after they beam down to a planet where the entire population appears to be made up of Earth history's greatest-- and worst-- figures.

How do they handle social engagements? I mean, I can't imagine Winston Churchill inviting Adolf Hitler to his dinner parties no matter what planet they're stuck on-- it's bad enough when they meet out on the street, as they no doubt do just off-panel on this page. Those are probably tense moments. Somehow, I think Hitler and Herman Goering there probably spend most of their days skulking around together, ostracized by the likes of Henry VIII and Cleopatra's personal assistants.

I love these goofy old comics. As I've related here before, these were difficult to find when I was growing up. Coming across one was always a treat. I'm not sure why Kirk and McCoy are wearing lime green shirts with black turtleneck collars, but it makes me happy. Disgraced historian Alexander Lazarus and his museum-quality replica people all turn out to be complete jerks in the end, but in what other comic can you find a blood-crazed Abraham Lincoln attacking people with what appears to be part of a kite frame or canvas-stretcher?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Dangerous Ladies Cass Cain Black Bat cosplay is awesome even in an unfinished state!

Thanks to Nathaniel, my source for all the best Cass Cain news, is this link to a video for some fantastic Black Bat cosplay. Yeah, that's how good cosplay is born. They did a Cass Batgirl at some point, too. All their costumes are eye-poppingly good. Comic accurate and well-portrayed. Cos-artists. That's what they are. Cos-ARTISTES.

DC may toss the character in the garbage, but the cosplay lives on...

Happy 50th Anniversary, Fantastic Four!

Hey Reed, Sue, Johnny and Ben! I love you guys! No matter what Marvel does to you, you'll always be the First Family of Comics.

The Fantastic Four was not my favorite comic when I was a kid. I liked the Saturday morning cartoon versions, but it wasn't until my then-favorite artist, John Byrne, took over the magazine's writing and drawing that I started reading it. From what I remember of the letter pages, other readers felt Byrne recaptured the aura or specialness or mood of the Stan Lee-Jack Kirby era, and I wanted to know what that meant. If it meant stories about a group of people who obviously loved each other-- despite their occasional spats-- and household drama growing to cosmic proportions, along with a lot of creepy sci-fi-type menace, then I knew I had to somehow read those old issues.

But who had $1,500 to spend on a comic book? That was the going price for The Fantastic Four #1 at the time. I think. I bought a few cheap issues from late in Kirby's run as artist-- they looked dynamic and kind of slick, thanks to the Joe Sinnott ink polish, but the stories themselves didn't do a whole lot for me. They just seemed like the same tired stuff I was reading in other comics. Fist fights and villains in garish costumes. The hoary Marvel bombast courtesy Stan Lee: "If This Be Flatulence!" "By Arthropods Denied!" "If Thine Eye Offend Thee, Doctor Doom!" "A World Dies Screaming as Black Bolt Orders Pizza Pies!"

Marvel eventually reprinted the series in their Marvel Masterworks hardcovers-- which were also ridiculously expensive-- and then various other more affordable formats, so I was finally able to read the series from the beginning. The first few issues were crude, with rushed-looking art and clumsy stories. The characters were mere ciphers, barely more than stock types. The scientist, the girlfriend, the kid and the...

The Thing. That's what The Fantastic Four had going for it, right from the start. The Thing. Looks like a monster, has the broken heart of a man. And the stories began to improve. By issue #5-- the first appearance of longtime Marvel mainstay baddie Dr. Doom-- Stan the Man and Jolly Jack had gelled and the Marvel Era as we came to know it was born. Reed, Sue and Johnny became more believable as flawed individuals, their enemies original. From there things just got better and better. The book developed a tone unique among comics at the time, at least the ones I've read. I'm trying to avoid historical generalizations here, because I wasn't born until The Fantastic Four was almost seven years old and I'm hardly a historian.

But you know what I mean. The marriage of the superheroic with the supermundane. One minute Reed Richards would be espousing some idiotic theory with Sue Storm petulantly demanding he spend more time snuggling with her, the next the Thing and Johnny Storm would be tearing up the place with their interminable sibling warfare. And then and only then would the issue's menace appear. Dr. Doom again. An alien child. The Skrulls. The Impossible Man. Irving Forbush. Danny Kaye. The New York Mets.

Despite his having been an established pro since the 1930s, it was during this time Kirby's art took on its characteristic visual power and he became the Kirby we know and love today. By the time Chic Stone took over on inks, Kirby had established himself as the King of Comics. Then came Joe Sinnott and his more polished finish and you had the Marvel House Style, a visual lexicon that matched Stan Lee's endless hyping and hucksterism-- the kind of comedic self-aggrandizing style that's so much fun to parody. 1940s army slang mixed with beatnik expressions and Madison Avenue ad-man copy, the occasional foray into Shakespearian syntax. 'Nuff said, True Believers!

The ideas began to flow at a feverish pace. I can't even keep them in order! The Inhumans, The Watcher, Silver Surfer, Galactus, the Blue Area on the Moon. The Yancy Street Gang. Wyatt Wingfoot. Alicia Masters, the gentle, blind sculptor whose love for Ben Grimm made the poor guy's life even more beautifully tragic. It seemed like every issue of The Fantastic Four was in danger of exploding from the pressure of too many concepts and characters against the thin skin of the gray newsprint they were printed on. How could one slender comic book contain so much? Look out! IT'S GONNA BLOW!

And finally, it did. Lee and Kirby began repeating themselves and soon Kirby was off at DC creating a new universe. But let me tell ya, the first 51 or so issues of The Fantastic Four are pop art masterworks. The encapsulate a lot of the vibrancy of the 60s. Watching Lee and Kirby grow into their creative powers issue by issue is a lot like listening to the Beatles' recorded catalog from beginning to end. The comics are very much of their time and in that, they're timeless.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Is this the first Cassandra Cain as Black Bat cosplay ever?

Well, is it? I'm a fan of well-done cosplay. For that matter, I'm also a fan of crappily-done cosplay. But I'd rather praise the cosplayers who get it right and creatively embody the characters they portray than make fun of those who choose poorly. Let's praise, shall we?

These two look fantastic and obviously I couldn't be more thrilled with this person's decision to go as Black Bat. She looks better than most of the comic book depictions I've seen so far. The Robin's snazzy, too. The photo description lists Damian Wayne among its tags, so I'm going to guess this young woman is portraying that particular version-- but I prefer her in the role to the hateful little comic book character.

My suggestion to DC? Kill off the comic kid right at the start of your relaunch, loosely base the new Robin on this cosplayer, and then do a team-up book featuring her as a neophyte hero being mentored by Cass. Obviously, I'd buy it.

Friday, August 5, 2011

And now a belated look at Andrew Garfield in the new Spider-Man costume

It seems like the Sam Raimi/Tobey Maguire/Kirsten Dunst Spider-Man movies were too recent-- and the second one too awesome-- for a complete reconfiguring, but I'm not the person who makes these decisions. If Hollywood had listened to me, the Fantastic Four movies would have been Cold War period pieces stylistically akin to Mad Men, with the Thing in place of Don Draper, instead of product-placement-heavy sitcoms. This year, the producers of X-Men: First Class took the retro approach and I didn't bother to see it. So what do I know?

Okay, Andrew Garfield in his Spidey suit
. The guy looks the part. In some of the poses-- if that's actually him and not a stunt double-- he's got the body type and language down perfectly. He looks as though he stepped right out of a Steve Ditko page. That's a good thing. The costume's texture works for me-- but why does it look so dirty? How does that material stand up to an ordinary household washing machine and why hasn't Peter Parker attempted to find out? He is a would-be scientist, after all. Or perhaps it requires dry cleaning and he's too afraid of giving away his secret identity. Whatever the reason, it seems a shame Marvel's most amazing character has to run around in duds that look as if they smell of sweat and accumulated city grime.

Even as a hardcore old school Spider-Man fan, I can live with the American Chopper-style detailing around the gloves and the on the spider emblem. I only wish they'd used the belt motif from the comic book costume. There's too much of a "slingshot" swimsuit effect going on here, and it makes Spidey look a little crunched.

I'm not exactly waiting with clenched fists for this movie. I do like the cast. Garfield seems an excellent choice, Emma Stone impressed me in Zombieland, I love me some Sally Field (go Norma Rae!) and I respect Martin Sheen. But Marc Webb is an unknown quantity-- while his surname seems to qualify him, I haven't seen (500) Days of Summer. A Spider-Man movie could plausibly have a lot of thematic overlap with a romantic comedy-drama. I need more data!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Let's all look at Henry Cavill as Superman why don't we?

There it is, the picture you've all already seen! It's the first image of Henry Cavill as Superman from the upcoming Zack Snyder movie Man of Steel. Or is it Superman: Man of Steel? It's all about Superman, I take it. As a Superman fan and a loudmouthed jerk with a stupid blog about comic books, I feel I have to add my opinion to the hoopla and hullabaloo no doubt going on right this minute.

Cavill looks the part. As for the costume, the movie is still two years away, and I haven't seen Cavill-Superman in action. That will be the real test. If he can project Superman's power and charisma and basic likability and the special effects people give some weight to his landings so he seems like a superhero and not a featherweight CGI homunculus, it will work. From what I've read the movie is still in pre-production so this might not even be the final version. If everyone screams loudly and long enough, they might change it. I'm not in love with it-- I don't like my Superman looking as though he's just come from a Kryptonian funeral-- but I don't hate it, either. In fact, I prefer it to the suit Superman will wear in the new DC reboo-- er-- relaunch. Those ugly boots really kill that one for me.

This photo is the perfect Zack Snyder image, though. Dark, artificial, polished to the point of looking like the inside of a particle accelerator and projecting almost as much warmth, ultimately jumbled and confusing, a shallow exercise in a certain aesthetic over substance. I've seen two Snyder movies, 300 and Watchmen, and neither of them appealed to me. Actually, 300 made me physically ill. I don't think I was in its target audience demographic and it played mostly as the opposite of everything I like in a movie-- I tend to prefer story over plot, characters over types and conversation as opposed to screaming out bombastic nonsense. On the other hand, Man of Steel has an unimpeachable cast. And with Snyder at the helm, it's not likely to be a snoozefest like Superman Returns.

Still, the first thing I thought of when I saw how shiny the new Superman costume was:

Snyder and company might want to do everything they can to avoid coming any closer to this.