Thursday, June 30, 2011
Friday, June 24, 2011
I later learned these were from Tomb of Dracula, drawn by Colan and inked by Tom Palmer. From then on, I was a dedicated follower of Gene Colan's work, even when his penciled art elevated substandard writing. The pull, the appeal of a Gene Colan art job was just that strong. When I picture Colan's art in my mind, I imagine his freely distorted his figures, the challenging perspectives, amazingly rich ink washes he laid on his work for Warren's Creepy and Eerie magazines and inventive page layouts with panels like shards of a broken mirror. He was a master of shadow, of mood and atmosphere.
There are a lot of artists whose work I totally adore, but only a handful I'd give anything to draw exactly like. Gene Colan is one of those and always will be. A tremendous talent. A legendary artist. Thanks, Mr. Colan.
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Writer: Mike Mignola
Artist: Richard Corben
Mike Mignola and Richard Corben team up for the sixth time* for this touching and gruesome tale in which Hellboy takes his despondent pal Roger to South Caroline so they can investigate a haunted mansion. Roger has every reason to be down—he’s a “15th century homunculus,” which apparently means he’s a big, rock-like naked guy with gray skin, an iron cap riveted into the center of his chest and some kind of block and chain chastity device covering his crotch. Roger appears to be and acts more or less a man, but he’s still figuring out what it means to be human. Hellboy, the human/demon hybrid with a blue collar attitude towards his job of punching folkloric creatures and Lovecraftian space demons, is the perfect guy to give Roger advice on the topic.
The haunting involves animated corpses, a witch and long-held family grudges. Mignola balances the weirdness with an affecting portrayal of a confused Roger, who despite his strange origins possesses an innate decency. He desperately wants to do the right thing, if only he knew what that was. As with "Makoma" and "The Crooked Man," Richard Corben proves to be an ideal match for this kind of moody, dark Hellboy story. He’s not the kind of artist who gets hung up on classical anatomy, but he gives his stumpy characters solidity and presence with his unique method of modeling, a kind of mottling or stippling. Whether it’s Roger’s stonelike skin or the mossy corpses and fungi-covered walls of the mansion, Corben is your go-to guy for sickening textures and miasmic atmospheres. Looking at these pages you can almost smell the damp plant-life and epic decay surrounding Hellboy and Roger. Corben's characters wear facial expressions that are frequently borderline comedic, but then he treats you to a stark panel where someone’s had a hole blown through her chest with gore draining out in a big red gusher. Yeah, unique. There’s not another Corben out there and we should treasure the one we have.
While I certainly don’t begrudge Mignola his forays into comedy, these uneasy tales of generational crimes and identity questions are the ones that stick with me long after I’ve closed the comic. It’s nice to revisit the tragic Roger and find Mignola amplifying those themes by exploring his character. Knowing Roger’s fate makes this story all the more poignant. "Being Human" is touching, grotesque and altogether memorable, the kind of stand-alone issue that's as rich if not richer than most multi-parters. It makes me long for the days when creators knew how to craft a story in one perfect, self-contained unit.
*Correction. Someone pointed out this isn't the third collaboration between Mignola and Corben. With the economy being the way it is and all, I've had to let go a lot of my staff. The fact checkers were the first to get pink-slipped. And while corrections are welcome and appreciated, for future reference only I am allowed to be snotty in this blog.
@sonnova Someone stole my bike. All Cassandra Cain fans will be questioned.
-Adam Beechen, Writer ("Robin," "Hench")
It's pretty sweet. Very Mike Sekowsky-esque. In fact, if I didn't know better, I'd swear it was an actual cover from the 1970s. There are few comics I love more than DC's gorgeous books from that era, from the late 60s into the mid 70s when you might find Sekowsky, Alex Toth, Neal Adams, Bernie Wrightson, Mike Wm. Kaluta, Gray Morrow and even Wally Wood and Al Williamson on occasion handling the art. With Joe Kubert covers to Russ Heath illustrated stories starring Sgt. Rock. Oh, and a fairly well-known guy by the name of Jack Kirby writing and drawing a few titles. A Nick Cardy cover, a Gil Kane 8-pager, a Sergio Aragones gag strip, Curt Swan drawing Superman. Horror, superheroes, romance, Westerns, sports.
It's not nostalgia. You're not indulging in nostalgia when you look at Picasso or listen to Mozart. Those comics weren't awesome. They ARE awesome.
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Writer: Mike Mignola
Artist: Kevin Nowlan
Writer Mike Mignola and artist Kevin Nowlan do an EC Comics/50s sci-fi flick riff in this beautifully drawn and colored but somewhat slight and unaffecting story about Hellboy investigating cow mutilations in the American midwest. While the Hellboy has always had its light moments—a quip here, a funky monster there, the main character's name—and a diversion into full-on comedy starring Big Red himself is more than welcome after a spate of stories where he’s suffered horrifically, this one never becomes more than simply that, a diversion. For a title character Buster Oakley remains a cipher; it’s really hard to care much for his wish or whether or not he gets it. In fact, I’m left confused as to what his wish really was. He seems to be a nerdy Satanist, but he ends up the scientific plaything of flying saucer jockeys. The tenderhearted farmer who tears up when confronted with the grotesque carcasses of his beloved livestock has much more substance and the story might have been better served making him and his wife the focus.
The bulk of the plot has Hellboy fist-fighting old school macrocephalic aliens (Nowlan misses out on the chance to make them ultra-grotesque Wally Wood-type octopus creatures). The notion of aliens advanced enough to cross time and space reduced to having to duke it out with an intruder is amusing, and Hellboy's wisecracks are fun. It’s certainly nice to see him doing something other than moping about his destiny or fighting creatures from European folklore. I have to applaud Mignola for changing things up as far as Hellboy's paranormal punching bags go. I love vampires, werewolves, witches and the Fair Folk as much as anyone, but there are still Yetis, skunk apes, lake monsters, Moth Men and Mad Gassers of Mattoon out there as well. How about Hellboy going a round or two with the hodag? Alom-begwi-no-sis? Kuchisake-onna? Hanako in the toilet?
A little more substance would have elevated this team-up of powerhouse creatives. Ultimately, "Buster Oakley Gets His Wish" feels like one of those Gen13 Bootleg out of continuity one-offs; those were generally superior to the actual series, but in this case the expectations are just too high. But hey, sometimes even Hellboys just wanna have fun.
Sunday, June 19, 2011
Script: Kathryn Immonen
Art: Phil Noto
Jubilee always was a trend follower. When hanging at the mall all day was in style, that’s what she did. Now sucking blood, staying up all night, hanging out with Bella Swan and burning to ashes when exposed to direct sunlight are the fad, so Jubilee’s become a vampire.
I have no idea when Jubilee became the monster du jour but I believe it must have happened during one of those multi-book crossover events Marvel dumps on us every other month or so, with all the X-people fighting vampires; after all, the cover copy reads "Curse of the Mutants Aftermath." Characters refer to Jubilee's transformation and discuss how she even turned her old pal Wolverine into a vampire as well. This has understandably left the other mutants a bit wary of Jubilee, so they first keep her in a glass box as if she were Hannibal Lector’s favored daughter. After that, she moves into a nice stainless-steel business hotel room complete with a mini-fridge full of bottled Wolverine blood. I'm not sure if vampires prefer their blood chilled or at room or body temperature, but the magical red stuff flowing through Wolverine's veins is the only thing that can keep Jubilee's vampiric bloodlust in check. The X-Men and all their employees want to make sure there's plenty on hand. But what Jubilee doesn't know is they're keeping a running total and adding the charges to her bill.
Despite such apparent expertise, I have to admit my knowledge of Jubilee is kind of spotty. When I lived in Japan my workday ended at 9pm and I tried to get home in time to watch re-runs of Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends on the Disney Channel; more often than not, I came in too late and ended up watching the last few minutes of X-Men, the cult-fave cartoon from the 1990s with Jubilee as a major character. Since then, I've mostly thought of her as the spunky kid archetype, a smart-ass Kitty Pryde substitute; you know how the X-people always have to have an underage girl on the team for Wolverine to mentor. The Jubilee of my mind spends her days at the mall, wearing totally outrageous clothes ten years out of date and talking in the kind of sassy teen slang a middle-aged male comic book writer would come up with having watched a few ABC "TGIF" family sitcoms.
I bought the first issue of Wolverine and Jubilee because there wasn't much on the shelf that day and I simply hate walking out of a comic shop empty handed, especially one that seems to have about 5 customers a week. I read it a few days later, expecting little from it beyond some pretty art. To my amazement, I found myself engaged and interested in Jubilee's dilemma. For the first time in my hardboiled comic reading life, I actually cared about this character.
Writer Kathryn Immonen's achievement becomes all the more impressive because Jubilee's problems stem from the essentially silly premise of a world where superhero mutants can become vampires. Actually, in this world, the idea of mutation itself is mostly a catch-all excuse to create arbitrarily powered characters. Someone might have bird wings, another might look exactly like a frog and exhibit frog-like behaviors. And look, here comes Dracula to drink their blood. Deftly avoiding camp, Immonen crafts an affecting portrait of a young woman possessed of strange new powers, isolated and vulnerable as a result. Jubilee is uncomfortably slung between fight and flight, at war with both her elders and her contemporaries, the very people she once counted on as family.
In the opening scenes, Immonen wisely doesn't try to out-Juno Diablo Cody. Jubilee's quips are witty, but not supernaturally so. After more than half an issue of confrontations with several first- and second tier characters-- including Armor, her own replacement as resident purveyor of underage spunkiness and quips-- Jubilee becomes enchanted with a mysterious woman who also turns out to be a vampire, ever so briefly involves herself in human trafficking, then goes into summer blockbuster heroine mode, with brains to match her vampiric brawn. It turns out she's to be made a hostage so Wolverine will kill something or someone. Never forgetting she's writing a superhero story, Immonen does a fine job in the story's second half with several action-heavy sequences admirable in their weirdness, such as the scene where Wolverine confronts a zombie accountant who has a disarming way of keeping himself fed, or when one of Jubilee's few age-appropriate friends Rockslide-- looking like the lovechild of Ben Grimm and Badrock from Youngblood-- goes to a laundromat and ends up fighting a talkative dragon. Towards the end, Jubilee finds herself climbing down a battleship inside some kind of featureless void full of floating Egyptian pyramids and the Baltimore Hotel.
It's one thing to write about featureless netherworld pawn shops; it's another to make these ideas work as two-dimensional visuals. Fortunately, Noto's art is outstanding as well. While the backgrounds are somewhat sterile-- possibly due to the coloring-- the characters aren't generic heroic types. Wolverine has the doughy face of a barfly air conditioner repairman, while Jubilee sports messy hair and rolls her eyes in exasperation whenever she sees through Wolverine's clumsy attempts to help her regain her footing in the context of her new un-life. Or maybe they're clumsy attempts not to have to kill her. Whatever they are, they irritate Jubilee because they frequently involve either forcing upon her the company of Pixie, a ludicrously conceived character with pink hair, elf ears and fairy wings left over from those crushed Ritalin-snorthing, rave-happy pre-Millennial years we call the late 1990s, or simply stabbing her in the neck with a loaded syringe. But how tall is Jubilee supposed to be? I've always thought of Wolverine as a shorty, topping out around 5'4" or so. Yet he towers over Jubilee during their sparring sessions and heartfelt yet edgy father-daughterish conversations.
There is something of a letdown after the final battle, though. Immonen and Noto forgot to tell us if Jubilee is the sparkly kind of vampire.
Saturday, June 18, 2011
You don't need a 12-issue crossover series with some prologue and epilogue miniseries bookeending it or a lot of press conferences. You just run a house ad: "Superman was like this; now he's like this. Have fun!"
When someone's right, she's right. And she clarifies something that was half-formed in my mind. Rude's work has always had "multiple levels of content." His sequential work is both straight adventure and a sort of comedic riff on the inherent goofiness of superheroes. There's always been an element of comedy about it in the dynamics of his figures and his designs of strange aliens and robots with which Rude fills his Nexus pages. In Mike Baron, he had a writer with a similar take, which is why their approach meshed so well and why they produced so many classic stories.
In much the same way, when you look at his paintings like "Cowgirl," you can see Rude drawing on the influence of great pin-up artists, but also playfully commenting on them. The image can be read as simply sexy or as a subtle send-up of sexy artwork. That's where Rude's appeal comes from, beyond his impeccable technique. That's why his art is as fun to look at as it is dazzling with its rendering.
This is all the more impressive because I'm going to guess Ms. Woodward isn't all that familiar with Rude's comic book work where this is more apparent. Whenever I run into a top-flight artistic mind like Ms. Woodward's, I'm just blown away. I was lucky enough to have a couple of professors with a similar sharpness when I was studying art and graphic design at the University of Georgia. One of them accurately called me out on something in front of class and it was a lesson well learned. Of course, I also had some uncommunicative clowns, but I don't dwell on them as much as I do the positive experiences with the good ones.
I wonder if DC's reboo-- er-- relaunch and its resetting of any number of characters means the Wednesday Comics project has become redundant. If so, that's too bad. The first one was the perfect series for the nostalgic reader and the second one promised some Rude artwork. Now it seems as though DC is trying to have it both ways and fun oddities like Wednesday Comics may not have a place. We'll see!
Monday, June 13, 2011
It's by someone calling himself "monkeymarc," who also has the good taste to list Cass as his "favourite Batgirl." Let's look at it a little larger. She looks a little like up-and-comer Hayley Kiyoko, doesn't she? Nice loose, energetic style. Even though I prefer action poses to these static portraits, this one has a lot of personality in that tilted head. Usually the half-lidded eyes and parted lips would say "sexy" or at least "attempt at sexy," but I'm getting more of a narrowed-eyes mugshot vibe. Oh heck, no wonder he's so good-- I was just looking through his gallery and he's Marc Laming, a pro with DC/Vertigo and storyboard work to his credit, plus his favorite artists list starts with Alex Toth and includes Frank Robbins and Noel Sickles.
I'd like to see more of Marc Laming's work. Especially if he gets to work on a certain little character we call Blackbat.
Sunday, June 12, 2011
Dani Moonstar's young, fit and fabulous so her preferred swimsuit is the one she was born in. That's all fine and dandy when doing laps in the pool at the Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters with her best bud Xi'an Coy Manh. Ever helpful Xi'an is always on hand with a warm, dry towel.
But swimming nude isn't always appropriate. Even Dani, with her clothing-optional lifestyle, knows that! That's why she always packs an actual swimsuit or two when she and her teammates head down to the Amazonian rain forest. You always want to undress to impress because you never know who's going to be watching when you impulsively dive into the piranha-infested waters of the mighty Amazon River.
Here Dani sports a skimpy yet classy black bikini with a strapless bandeau top with a ring at center bust. As we've already seen, she's not shy. Dani believes-- and we agree-- black offers visual drama, but very little in the way of protection when a school of those carnivorous little fish makes an appearance. Whether she's cutting her way across the surface of the water with an athletic Australian crawl or fighting for her life against underwater predators, Dani is always a sensation in her black two-piece!
Rescue maneuver two? How often have these mutants practiced rescuing each other from fish, and just how does rescue maneuver two differ from the first one or the third one? Oh, forget all that! If rescue maneuver two consists of looking as fabulously hot as Dani while waving one arm in the face of danger, sign us up for the New Mutants water safety course!
It'd certainly be a shame if those piranha devoured Dani, because then we wouldn't get to see her on the sands of Rio de Janeiro's legendary Ipanema Beach in this dazzling green number. Dani has the build for this green halter strap bandeau top with side tie bottoms. It's a little on the risque side, so wear with care!
Dani loves her bandeau tops. She recommends these for anyone who shares her small-chested physique. And while it blew Dani's mind when we told her some people prefer more modest swimwear, she pulled herself together enough to suggest they try something similar to her friend Amara Juliana Octavia Aquilla's classic red maillot. The legs aren't so high-cut they're overly revealing. Amara wisely accessorizes with a wide-brimmed white hat to match Dani's jaunty yellow chapeau. Just because you're from an ancient civilization that names Apollo as one of its deities, sun-worship doesn't mean you have to court skin damage and cancers. Protect your face with a strong sun block and shading head gear, and limit your time under Apollo's rays. As you can see, the Brazilian sun is already baking poor Amara's brains!
Want to avoid the sun altogether? Then do what best bros Sam Guthrie and Roberto da Costa do: a little night swimming. Yes, it's skinnydipping, New Mutants style. We're already seeing a bit of Dani's influence in Sam's swimwear choice-- bare skin!
As Roberto says, Ipanema is the place to be, so let's join the New Mutants on that fabled beach once again, where the beautiful people-- in Dani's words-- "flaunt it-- with a vengeance!" And so do our young heroes.
Shy Rahne Sinclair-- she of the fair Scottish complexion-- favors a sensible t-shirt cover up over what appears to be a black one-piece. In deference to her friend, Dani dials back the skin display. Just a touch; she is Dani Moonstar, after all. Here she dazzles in a white one-piece but with typical Dani derring-do. Look at that plunging neckline and those high cut sides! You may think only our Dani could get away with this, but this style is tres trendy this season, replacing the monokini we're so very over. If you've got the confidence for this brilliant backless number, Dani says, "Go for it!"
Illyana Rasputin, freshly released from the dreary netherworld of Limbo, chooses a flirty magenta triangle string top with matching bottoms. Just the thing for a half-demon/half-girl enjoying a day on the sands of the world's sexiest beach. Sam rocks some daringly short green suit in a gym style, while Roberto lives up to his native land's reputation for sensual swimwear and dons the tiniest of black Speedos. Lucky for him all that time fighting the Sentinels and the Hellfire Club and their Hellions has left him with a rippling physique. Look out, man-fans!
Meanwhile poor Doug Ramsey has made a classic beginner's mistake in choosing a suit too small for comfort. Better luck next time, Doug. You're our first cautionary tale.
And here are our next two!
A teen dressed like a pole dancer giving someone else swimsuit advice? Ironic, huh? Illyana has quite the bangin' bod, so it would be hard for her to wrong sporting a string triangle top and bottom, and yet she does! Oh how she goes wrong! Illyana's choice of material here is unfortunate. Metallic silver is better suited for an extra dancing in the background of the Bada Bing! on TV's The Sopranos, not a semi-evil sorcerous on vacation on some sun-splashed Greek island.
The supermodels in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue might wear suits a size or two too small, but that doesn't mean you should. Unless her secondary mutation involves skin as tacky as double-sided tape, Illyana is one raised arm away from a nipple slip that will make her an Internet meme forever. Before spending all that money on your suit, ask the salesperson for advice on fit. Style, cut and color can't salvage your look if your suit's too small.
Or too large! While sentient alien machine Warlock certainly knows how to hunk-a-fy his ordinarily spindly circuit-covered body, those denim cut-offs approximately 20 sizes too large impress no one! Try something different, Warlock--
Oh, for the love of... Actually, that's an improvement. Rock on, Bikini-Boy! Speaking of improvements, here's Doug looking more relaxed in a pair of red swim briefs, even if they're smaller than his Ipanema suit. As we've learned from Dani, the best accessory for any swimsuit is self-confidence, and Doug is so full of it!
Speaking of Dani--
Here she is in another one-piece with an extreme neckline, this time in marvelous magenta. Dani is indeed our go-to girl for amazingly sexy swimwear looks! Rahne has covered herself again, donning an orange windbreaker over an athletic black singlet. Sam shows off his Kentucky upbringing in a pair of cut-off jeans more suited for the ol' swimmin' hole or the creek-- provided the his former coal company employers haven't blown both to hell and back looking for the black rock-- than the Mediterranean. Cautionary tale number 4!
Roberto simply wears the same Speedo he always wears. If something works, why change?
And there you have it. From naked morning swims to the swankiest resort beaches in the world to secluded islands most are too poor to ever visit, the New Mutants have got you covered. Even if they themselves aren't!
Saturday, June 11, 2011
Like Superman. Do you remember how in Pulp Fiction how Mia Wallace tells Vincent Vega about "Elvis people" and "Beatles people" then doesn't ask him which he prefers because he's "definitely an Elvis man?" No, you don't. It was a deleted scene. Are you a Pulp Fiction fan? Oh, then I'm sorry, you've seen it. Of course you remember it.
I'm a Beatles person. But there are also "Superman people" and "Batman people." I'm a Cassandra Cain person, but I'm also mostly a Superman person. Superman represents humanity at its finest, even if he's not-- strictly speaking-- a human being. Superman is symbolic of our optimism. Batman represents humanity having its worst day. He's the personification of our pessimism. I choose optimism over pessimism every time. Almost every time. To be honest, DC makes it very difficult sometimes. But just as Vincent Vega is trying to listen, I'm trying to see the upside to DC's relaunch.
They've already impressed me with the new Katana costume, enough so I'm going to sample Birds of Prey to see if her characterization matches it. Let's see if DC's biggest, brightest, most important character will have a similar effect. Here's my take on these initial images of the costume redesigns for Superman and his Super-Family. First up-- Rags Morales.
Morales will be illustrating Grant Morrison's scripts for the new Action Comics #1. DC's The Source blog says, "Superman defends a world that doesn’t trust their first Super Hero."
And I can see why. This Superman looks like a brute, reminiscent of the more primal Superman from his earliest appearances in Action Comics when he seemed a little wild and dangerous. I'm not sure what to make of a hairy-armed Superman wearing an officially licensed crewneck Superman t-shirt and a towel for a cape a la Marvin of Superfriends fame. Something has happened to him and his distressed jeans from American Eagle and it's pissed him off enough he's going to totally destroy that giant rock.
Dramatic artwork. Don't you want to know why he's killing that rock and why it's angered him so much his eyes have turned a glowing heat-vision red? As much as I hate, hate, HATE Identity Crisis and think it's a poorly conceived and plotted piece of crap, it's still a gorgeously rendered piece of crap. But then I've always liked Rags Morales's art, going all the way back to his work on Black Condor and Turok. The cape is a silly touch here given Superman's hipster street clothes, but Morales has nailed the character's strength and powerful presence.
Let's see what legendary artist George Perez is up to. I admire Morales, but I love me some George Perez!
Oh. How unfortunate.
Perez will write Superman: The Man of Tomorrow, Today #1, with art by Jesus Merino. Perez gives us a Superman in full-on "I hate my job at the Daily Planet" mode and sticks him in a super-lame costume. Maybe Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen mocked his new super-suit so hard, the Man of Steel finally snapped. The cybernetic lines in Superman's top make it look like clothing rather than the traditional man-with his-torso-and-legs-painted-blue look. That part is fine.
But the belt with square studs and those armored boots/greaves? Totally unnecessary and quite ugly. Perez's art is every bit as dynamic and cleanly detailed as ever-- he's one of those rare artists who's managed to maintain a peak well past all expectations, and he was pretty solid even early in his career-- but this revamped costume needs to be revamped already. Keep the shirt, rework the belt, loose those horrible, horrible boots that would've embarrassed even the beefcakey cast of an old Italian gladiator movie! Mr. Perez, with all due respect, if you're attempting to give Superman's footwear a high-tech look to match the rest of his leotards, go check out some athletic shoes or ski boots or something, anything; don't dig out one of your old jobs for Marvel back in the 70s. It looks like Superman stole them off some second-string Iron Man villain.
On second thought, there's such a mismatch between Superman's top and bottoms, maybe someone-- was it you, Dan Didio?-- used the old Mighty Men & Monster Maker toy to design this and forced it on Perez.
Let's look away from this accident scene to Mahmud Asrar's pleasant surprise.
Way to go, DC! For too long the bare middrift has been the visual cliche signifying "this is a teenaged girl" character. Aybar's Supergirl drawing gives her an otherworldly, dignified appearance. What? No navel ring or lower back tattoo? The new Supergirl costume with its long sleeves, shawl/cape arrangement and stylish over-the-knee boots actually covers more girl than I'm used to in my DC comics. I can't get over a Supergirl wearing more clothing than an Olympic gymnast and not looking like Lindsay Lohan in the middle of a 2-week coke and booze binge.
I applaud the attempt at updating the Superman logo, but this design isn't working. It needs to be tweaked ever so slightly because it looks like someone stuck the shield-shape around some tiger-stripes. Resolve the "S" inside and you'll have it. And speaking of the shield, echoing it that closely in front in that yellow accent piece is overkill. That would work better as an oval reminiscent of her cousin's old belt buckle or even a rectangle. One of Supergirl's lesser known powers is making impossible boots work without the help of spray-on adhesive. The open knee look is an interesting but ultimately unwieldy and distracting attempt to build visual interest.
It may sound as though I just ripped it apart, but this is far more successful than the new Superman costume and it's a massive improvement over Supergirl's previous look. I might have some nits to pick with its detailing, but I love the overall concept.
I'm just not sure how Supergirl will be portrayed by writers Michael Green and Mike Johnson in their Supergirl #1, but DC promises, "Supergirl’s got the unpredictable behavior of a teenager, the same powers as Superman and none of his affection for the people of Earth." Well, many teenagers are cheerful and hard-working, DC, with a passion for learning and volunteering. But I suppose that kind of Supergirl won't appeal to today's edgy comic fan obsessed with all things Twilight, Gossip Girl, Hellcats and MTV's Skins. Come on, I'm just teasing.
Everyone knows all teenagers hate to be helpful and cheerful. It's angst or GTFO! All I ask is that the new writers refrain from using any variation of the phrase "trying to find her place in the world" when giving interviews. Thanking you in advance, sirs.
What's next? Oh yeah, this guy.
This is the first image from one of DC's more surprising experiments-- Superboy in the Shell: Fly Alone Complex by Japanese comics master Masamune Shirow. In this wild departure, Superboy is actually a bit of sentient code inside a computer matrix in some far-flung cyber-future where the traditional DC superheroes may or may not have existed. And there's nudity, lots and lots of it. Plus violence as Superboy passes between his virtual world and what may or may not be the real one to battle international terrorists and code-hackers. Shirow explores themes of technology gone amok and transhumanism, as well as more personal issues such as sexuality, identity, friendship, trust and what's for lunch.
This is the one Superman character I really couldn't care less about. Superboy? Is this the clone of Superman again? Bleeccccchhh. I have no idea who drew this, but Superboy #1 will be written by Scott Lobdell with art by R.B. Silva and Rob Lean with apparently some Shirow-ian influences. It's a cool image, and definitely a departure but this is one book I could only get interested in if it were actually by Shirow. Sorry, fellas. Hope plenty of fans feel differently!
Friday, June 10, 2011
But here's what I really want to talk about.
Cassandra Cain. And the silence from DC regarding her. While trying her best to soothe understandably upset Oracle fans, Simone hints at two things. One, that many of these characters are being re-set to earlier points in their careers:
This is a huge wave going through the DCU, and part of that wave is that most of the Bat-verse, and the DCU at large, are going to be shown a bit earlier in their careers, a bit less experienced. We don't want the characters to already know everything. As time goes on, at both DC and Marvel, characters notch up so many victories that we often start to think of them as infallible, which is kind of death for adventure fiction.
And two, that for now, there are zero plans for Cass in the new order:
I know people are worried about Cass and Steph. All I can say is, I cannot imagine that those characters won't have a role in the new DC. It just seems very unlikely. If no one else is using them, don't be surprised if they show up in Batgirl in the near future. They are awesome.
It could very well be that point one answers point two-- Cass will be re-set to before she became Batgirl. It could also be Simone just isn't privy to DC's plans for Cass because she's not the one writing the character. For now. Grant Morrison has already revealed Batman Incorporated-- with its international league of Bat-associates, it's the book that's most likely the best fit for Cass-- will continue with a new #1 in 2012, so perhaps she'll soldier on in the Blackbat costume as if nothing's changed. In this case, no news would be good news (as they say in the news industry right before they get fired for being wrong about no news being good news).
This is interesting:
When Steph was announced, I don't know if you remember, Jill, but there was a massive outcry from the readership. Massive. They felt that it was a betrayal that an Asian character, Cass Cain, who was much beloved and tremendously popular as Batgirl, was being replaced by a blonde-haired white girl. There were angry letters and threats of boycotts, the whole thing.
That's true. But a sizeable chunk of that outcry wasn't just the replacing of Cass with Steph. It was also that before doing so by having Cass quit being Batgirl-- in the most asinine, perfunctory way imaginable short of her slipping on a banana peel into the path of an oncoming steamroller or being beaten up and murdered by a baby-- they wrote her completely out of the DC universe as if she'd never existed, turned her into a grotesque Dragon Lady stereotype, mooting the entire character arc of her monthly series, returned her as an evil Batgirl, stuck her in Batmand and the Outsiders and just as quickly jerked her out again, involved her in a shamefully slapdash miniseries, set her up for new adventures, then wrote her out of the DC universe again at the beginning of a storyline in which by the nature of her relationship with its central figure she should have been a major player. And then more vague promises before having her show up again seemingly repaired for the foreseeable future. And now a huge, potentially game-changing announcement involving almost DC character that's ever existed in the company's long history... except Cass. To understate the matter, fans tend to find such things unpleasant.
Especially when, with such a track record, DC could just as easily do worse to Cass and her long-suffering fans.
However, in lieu of hard info and in the interest of generating some good will for my favorite DC character, I'm going to try my best to stay positive and use my mighty brain to convince my uncertain heart my good friends at the company that owns her wouldn't do something quite so stupid as put us through all that again, not when they so recently gave Cass a compelling new identity and sense of purpose. Which is why I'm going to keep grinning as if my face had been badly Botoxed by a doctor of uncertain credentials operating in a seedy strip mall also featuring a massage parlor, a title pawn establishment and more empty storefronts than tenants.
Yes. See how happy I am? See my smile? It's a big, big smile of love and joy and it means I'm anxious to see what Morrison's going to do with Cassandra Cain in Batman Incorporated volume 2! Or what Gail Simone's going to do with her in Batgirl volume infinity! But would it kill someone at DC to include something to that effect in one of their many relaunch press releases?
Thursday, June 9, 2011
Jim Aparo, bless his heart, never quite got the katana. His version of Katana's namesake weapon-- which she apparently nicked from Elric of Melnibone-- usually looked like a scimitar straightened straightened by some gifted yet demented blacksmith. And Katana's costume was less samurai and more Indonesian, with a side of McDonald's and some Genghis Khan for dessert. Actually, now that I'm on a roll, she looked like one of Ming the Merciless's soldiers from the 1980 Flash Gordon flick. Or maybe she was angling for Ming's job all along.
While I lived in Japan for 6 years, I didn't meet too many samurai or ninja. Yeah, I hate to disappoint you, but there aren't a whole lot of ancient families living the bushido code in the high-tech urban landscapes of Tokyo and Osaka, no rooftop battles at night between American costumed heroes and hundreds of black-clad assassins. No haughty businessmen who spend their off hours railing at their kids for not upholding the family's honor who are also secretly training sword-wielding armies to protect their virginal daughters against the handsome yet deadly oldest son of their hereditary enemy clan. I'm not sure if they all live in a certain prefecture and I just didn't get up that way, or if they were all around me and their ancient martial arts powers of invisibility hid them from my idiot eyes. But I did see a few suits of samurai armor in museums. None of them were 100% magenta+100% yellow/100% yellow. Maybe those are too valuable to display. Or maybe I needed to order a tsukimi baga to catch even a glimpse.
The recent Wonder Woman design looks like a random assemblage of clothes meant for a motorcycle mama on her way to Sturgis and cluttered up with handmade jewelry from one of those stores that also sells dreamcatchers and tie-dyed shirts. No theme, nothing really tying it together other than bad taste. Katana's, by contrast, features authentic touches with the shoulder and wrist guards, sleek lines, interesting mask and elbow pads giving it a splash of color. Her gray face-- make-up?-- is reminiscent of a Noh mask. You look at it and you instantly get who she is and what she's all about. Okay, I admit ogling artifacts in glass cases certainly didn't make me an expert on Sengoku jidai arms and armor, but I like to think I know a bad ass when I see her. And baby, this new Katana is one of those.
She also reminds me a little of this guy:
Wednesday, June 8, 2011
My understanding is DC's trying to provide new readers a "jumping on point," and that strategy involves more classic versions of their characters. No more multiple Batmen-- Bruce Wayne will be wearing the pointy eared mask and scalloped cape. The iconic characters, hence the traditional Batgirl. I'm not convinced. It's kind of difficult to discuss these "iconic" characters and put them into perspective because we're comic fans. We know their narratives intimately; it's almost as if they're real to us, friends or even family. Or-- if Google image searches for "Batgirl" are to be believed, even lovers.
Sorry. That made even me shudder. Do NOT do a Google image search for Batgirl. I've written quite a bit about Cassandra Cain and you really do not want to know what Google keywords bring more traffic to those posts than any others.
To the public at large, however, Batgirl is probably less Barbara Gordon than that chick in the rubber costume from the 60s or 70s or whenever or that other chick who was in that one Aerosmith video where she and Liv Tyler got kinda semi-lesbianish and whatever happened to her anyway?
Go to a shopping center and ask a random selection of passersby if they know Batgirl's real name. Before you're arrested, you're bound to get some interesting replies, most of which will include the words "what," "the hell" and "are you talking about?" Commissioner Gordon's daughter? Paralyzed? You lying jerk! Gary Oldman didn't even have a daughter in that movie I saw!
What will those people care? While putting Barbara Gordon back in the Batgirl suit is probably exciting for one segment of already-committed comic fans-- and obviously is for Gail Simone, who will be writing this series-- I'm not convinced any of the new readers DC hopes to appeal to with this reboo-- sorry-- "relaunching" have any particular allegiance to the traditional comic book version: "I would've bought that new Batgirl series thingy, but I didn't recognize her without the mask, so I gave it a miss."
And meanwhile, a lot of loyal readers who have already been reading all about Barbara Gordon and loving her are now royally upset. Plus another character is getting the Heisman treatment. Hey, maybe this time they won't kill her off. You've got that going for you... at least... Pissing off Barbara-as-Oracle fans-- for whom she has an intensely symbolic importance-- and Stephanie-Brown-as-Batgirl crowd-- those who made their outrage known during the Robin Memorial Case Conflict-- doesn't seem like a smart move. Unless, of course, the angry go ahead and buy this book anyway because they're just that hardcore about reading comics. Especially comics written by Gail Simone.
That's this story's ultimate twist. Simone is one of the most popular writers for the fans most disgruntled by this abrupt change, plus she's as solid as they come at DC. I'm not a big fan of hers-- I've read more message board posts by her than comics-- but I did enjoy Simone's version of Gen13. While somewhat rambling, it was still entertaining, witty and full of well-written characterization. I especially appreciated Simone's take on Sarah Rainmaker, the most misused, ill-served character from the original series. Simone dumped some of the more strident elements (products of the MTV's Real World/frat boy aesthetic of the first series) and gave Rainmaker a bruised toughness that was touching and effective. But the character Simone is most associated with is Barbara Gordon, of whom she appears to be an unabashed fan. As a writer she comes across giddy about being on this book.
Wow! Shades of the whole "Cassandra Cain turns evil" controversy all over again, minus the shabby scripting. We all have pleasant memories of those fabled days, similar to the family reunion where that estranged ne'er-do-well cousin Cornelius Vandershot-- he who dropped out of Harvard, Yale and Princeton and ended up attending a state university and eventually living on a collective farm in British Columbia before becoming a lawyer specializing in personal injury suits-- attended with his harlot of a wife-- she of the untamed eyebrows and unshaven pits; she claims to be an author of some repute but I've read the titles of some of her "works," nothing but trash-- a-and so drunk on spirits he collapsed at the dinner table, giving Aunt Lydia such intense vapors she took to her bedchambers and hasn't been seen since, communicating her needs through a perpetually-locked double door by means of a silver bell.
Well, you can't make everyone happy all the time. Good lord, the DC writers, artists and editors have learned that lesson time and time again over the past 10 years or so. As far as I know, we still don't know what's going to happen to Cassandra Cain! It's going to be a long, hot summer!
Friday, June 3, 2011
"Maybe they'll flourish and help bring about the utopia you're looking forward to, where janitors don't get paid."
Here's a snippet of the retailer letter from Bob Wayne (you can read it in its entirety in the The Beat article) that set it off:
DIGITAL To clarify from my last note, we will be at “price-parity” for same-day digital. No DC digital comic will be cheaper than its physical counterpart at launch. Same-day (a.k.a. “Day/ Date”) parity pricing is for the first four weeks of release; thereafter, the digital titles will follow our standard pricing, with $2.99 comics dropping in price to $1.99, $3.99 comics dropping in price to $2.99, and so forth. Keep in mind that our goal with our 52 new #1s will be to ensure that the physical comic book is more compelling than ever!
The best parts of the discussion are Busiek's exchanges with a rather excitable guy calling himself Darryl, who doesn't "have time" to "mince words" and absolutely will not pay more than 99 cents for a digital comic (although I wonder if his resolve would waver at 1.01). Busiek uses insider knowledge and experience to shoot down every single one of Darryl's points, one after the other, but Darryl keeps coming back with a new argument. The last one I read has something to do with "putting the kabosh" on the idea DC's having financial difficulties and makes the fairly outrageous claim that DC's potential profits on digital comics will be "found money."
Yeah, I don't get it either.
I sympathize with Darryl, though. If DC were forcing me to buy their digital comics at an outrageous price, I'd be pretty angry about it, too. Poor guy. I don't know how DC thinks it can get away with this. And I can’t contradict him because as he energetically points out, “the customer is always right” and he’s the customer. At one point he seems to suggest he’s the only customer. What Busiek, Dan Didio, Jim Lee and Bob Wayne can’t dispute is Darryl knows what he’ll pay for his comics and DC can suck it if they don’t match his price.
I can dig it, Darryl. I'd rather pay less than more for something, too. I'd love to set my own price for everything I want and indulge myself in my every whim. Who wouldn't? Actually, I kind of do already, but the end result is I do without a lot of things. My utopia doesn't involve janitors working pro bono-- it's a land just over there, just around the river bend, where the living is easy and DC and Marvel have joined together just to give comics away for free, or maybe even print certain titles with me as the sole demographic, like one starring Cassandra Cain, Dani Moonstar, Xi'an Coy Manh, Hellboy, Conan and the original Teen Titans all partnering up in running an ice cream stand in a small college town. I'd LOVE that, especially if I get to choose the creative teams for each arc!
Maybe where Darryl and I part ways is I know I’m not the sole reader of DC’s product. I'm not even in their audience demographic for their monthlies anymore, and I’m gradually learning to accept this fact. I’m a niche inside another niche. Lately, I’ve found myself pleasantly surprised that DC is still meeting my comic reading needs—they’re just doing it with Showcase and Swamp Thing reprints and Neal Adams and Jack Kirby hardcovers and the occasional—just occasional—Cassandra Cain story. I'm even allowed to buy comics from Marvel, Dark Horse, IDW, Image, Fantagraphics and... gasp... manga publishers! This is the agreement DC and I have reached, our little accord. Because the iTunes/music analogy has been so popular in this discussion, look at it this way-- I’m not angry at Lady Gaga for not appealing to my listening tastes and not even trying to by giving me her music for my personal quoted price. I’m too busy listening to Melt-Banana.
At the same time, I do wonder why certain comics feel more expensive to me now than any ever did when I was a kid and a comic cost 35 cents. In those days, I only received a dollar a week allowance-- enough for two comics with something left over for maybe a Tangy Taffy or a Mountain Dew. In the past 20 years or so, I can't think of a single Marvel or DC comic I've bought that cost more than 1/3rd of my weekly income, yet I often feel the hit to my finances disproportionately. When I was a kid, I didn't think of the price other than in terms of "How many comics can I buy today with this much money?" Now I think, "Is this book worth it?"
The market will inevitably decide the digital pricing issue and what formats survive in the long run as it does on everything else offered for sale. DC feels this price parity structure is in their best interest, and I’m pretty confident the marketing people and accountants and whatever other executives were involved in this process at Time-Warner have taken into consideration more angles than either Darryl or I realize. We’ll all find out together come fall when we see the numbers. Until then, I can't and won't fault DC for making an effort not to alienate or even ruin retailers while chasing those digital readers. They're not taking the "destroy the village in order to save it" path. Scorched earth and all that. I don't think the industry has come to that pass, an apocalypse with DC devouring retailers in a cannibalistic frenzy while savage motorcyclists war on the highways for fuel.
I think it's important for DC to take this path because I seriously doubt John and Janie Dontcareaboutsuperman would buy any comic books-- paper or digital-- at 99 cents, or even if DC paid them to. Most people don't read comics not because the monthlies are too expensive. They don't read them because they don't have any desire to read them at any price. This is one major reason WHY monthly comics are so expensive. Fewer readers and higher overhead means raising prices to maintain profitability. DC can't just assume at 99 cents they'll pick up whatever number of new customers-- readers they then have to retain-- to offset their costs. I seriously doubt they'd want to set up a situation where their digital comics are in competition with their paper comics at the cost of all those comic book shops they still need for now and into the foreseeable future. And like it or not, publishers and retailers are doing all of this to make money, not to steward superhero icons for pure altruism or some sense of duty to pop culture.
At this point I have to admit while my intuition rarely failed me when it came to choosing which train to take in Tokyo's spaghetti-like tangle of train and subway lines, it frequently falters when it comes to this comics industry stuff. I hope with all my heart DC succeeds fabulously, changes the game and enters a new golden age of stability and profitability. I hope those elusive readers do come to "sample the wares," as Jim Lee put it. Not just sample them, but stay and join with the rest of us comic book fans every Wednesday or whatever day companies release the new comics in the utopian future. We might even get our cheaper comics then. In fact, DC might even stop harassing poor Darryl with 2.99 and 1.99 digital comics and offer him some at 99 cents.
But whatever happens, the one thing I'm absolutely certain of is I'll continue to carefully pick and choose which books and formats and companies deserve my hard-earned money. If I dig on some of these new DC books, I'll buy them, happily so. If not, there are still plenty of other books out there to read, digital or otherwise.
And to be honest, I'm selfishly hoping that in the mass of DC's new #1 titles, there's one called New Teen Mutants and Their Titanic and Barbaric Ice Cream Stand starring Hellboy. With the first six issues written by Kurt Busiek and drawn by Mike Allred, with Nick Cardy covers.
Well, my ideas are probably stupid, but obviously, something had to happen. Marketplace pressures and declining readership and all that. So here's DC's answer and it's made a huge impact already. The industry watchers-- the real background/corporate wonk types-- can speculate on how the digital distribution and price points will affect retailers. Things will change. But as for the reader, I'm not convinced everything DC's doing here is all that impressive.
It will be interesting to see what Dan Didio means when he says, "This was a chance to start, not at the beginning, but at a point where our characters are younger and the stories are being told for today's audience." Jim Lee tells us, "You're trying to have your cake and eat it, too. You're trying to keep the iconic elements there, but at the same time freshen up the look so that people are intrigued by what they're seeing and hopefully come and sample the wares." Senior Vice President of Sales Bob Wayne offers this: "Some of the characters will have new origins, while others will undergo minor changes. Our characters are always being updated; however, this is the first time all of our characters will be presented in a new way all at once."
Actually, that sounds kind of like a step back in terms of expectations, especially given the breathless reportage on news outlets like USA Today or the ridiculously overstated Parallel Universe on MSN story that actually begins with "Holy deja vu, Batman!" If you ignore the headlines above them and the lame copy wrapping them, the quotes make it all sound pretty tame. Less than revolutionary.
What I'm reading into this is, "We want you to be excited about our huge new DC, but rest assured, it's really it's the old DC with a few visual and story tweaks, new numbering and a digital delivery system that initially costs the same as our regular printed publications, some of which will actually briefly be more expensive."
What remains to be seen is if any of this really will make people come and "sample the wares." None of the other revamps, relaunches or massive events have managed to do this and this one doesn't come close to matching some we've already slogged through just to end up back where we started. Who knows if the public at large-- the non-comic readers, the ones who go to the movie theaters to see Christian Bale as Batman but then don't go directly to their local comic book shops to read about Dick Grayson as the same-- will be as interested or as excited about this as the comics blogosphere is right now? If you have a lot of energy invested in the idea of same-day digital delivery or the industry in general, then you've probably got your eyeballs all over this story and-- like me-- you're letting people know your opinion. But if you don't care anything about superhero funnybooks, this is one of those "Must be a slow news day" stories.
Is this another one of our highly concentrated comic fan hurricanes that will spin itself 'round, then blow itself out far out over the Sea of Irrelevancy? I think it is. Sure, I'm anticipating the changes, but I doubt any of my friends even care. They don't read comics. They don't want to read comics. They're not waiting around for you to give them a reason to read comics on their iPads or Kindles. I hope I'm wrong, because it's nice to see DC's creators and executives so fired up about their company and its products, which I've thought of as moribund for quite a while now, but I don't really see a major influx of new readers as a result of any of this. And if the narrative changes aren't well received, they'll be lucky enough just to hold onto the old ones. So they're hedging their bets a little with the revamp. Playing it safe. They probably could've just launched the digital distribution and left off the rest, but I suppose everybody wants to feel involved, to generate some DC-love out there in a world where DC is all but ignored.
And I'm left saying, "Big deal. Good luck, but big deal."