Saturday, September 11, 2010

Alan Moore drives fans crazy by telling it like it is

Watching the comics internet explode over this recent interview with Alan Moore is fascinating. Few folks have the ability to push so many people's buttons by just telling the truth. If you haven't read it yet, head over to Bleeding Cool now and read the whole thing, in which Moore goes into detail on recent dealings with DC over Watchmen.

Tom Spurgeon at Comics Reporter has a well-informed and even-keeled reaction that I find myself agreeing with on every point. One of his points is that there is going to be a certain segment of the internet that will degenerate into the "Alan Moore is crazy and should go away and shut up and stop bad-mouthing our beloved DC Comics." That absolutely happened in all the expected spots, like the comments thread for the original interview, which was running more than 200 entries when I read through it yesterday. I was surprised however to see a story headlined "Alan Moore Goes Beyond Paranoid in His Latest Crazy Old Man Rant" at the normally decent Comics Alliance

Interestingly, there's not a lot new in the interview. Most of the details of this have been addressed in some way in previous interviews with Moore or his collaborators. A lot of folks take issue with Moore saying he's not friendly any more with some of his collaborators who continued to bring up topics that he had asked them to avoid. My own interview with Dave Gibbons back in 2008 regarding his book on the making of the comic, Watching the Watchmen, he said the following:

At a very early stage, Alan said to me that he didn’t really want to — he was pleased I was enthusiastic, but he didn’t really want to discuss it with me at all. And in a recent conversation he said that although he was always very happy to talk to me and he thought I’d acted impeccably as far as "Watchmen" was concerned, he really didn’t want to talk to me about it anymore. That’s his position, and I’m very keen to retain Alan’s friendship, and if that’s what it takes, then so be it. I have actually today sent him a copy of "Watching the Watchmen," which scrupulously only deals with the graphic novel and make no reference to the Hollywood production. So I’m hoping that he will at least enjoy that.
So if Moore says Gibbons broke this request, especially to float trial balloons from DC over sequels or prequels of some kind, I can't say I agree that it's Moore who's acting poorly.

The thing that has gotten everyone really riled up is Moore's comments about the current state of the comics industry and the talent within. Here's what he said:

When Dave Gibbons phoned me up, he assured me that these prequels and sequels would be handled by ‘the industry’s top-flight talents’. Now, I don’t think that the contemporary industry actually has a ‘top-flight’ of talent. I don’t think it’s even got a middle-flight or a bottom-flight of talent. I mean, like I say, there may be people out there who would still be eager to have their name attached to WATCHMEN even if it was in terms of “Yes, these are the people who murdered WATCHMEN”. I don’t want to see that happen.
Which was followed by this:

At the end of the day, if they haven’t got any properties that are valuable enough, but they have got these ‘top-flight industry creators’ that are ready to produce these prequels and sequels to WATCHMEN, well this is probably a radical idea, but could they not get one of the ‘top-flight industry creators’ to come up with an idea of their own? Why are DC Comics trying to exploit a comic book that I wrote 25 years ago if they have got anything? Sure they ought to have had an equivalent idea since? I could ask about why Marvel Comics are churning out or planning to bring out my ancient MARVELMAN stories, which are even older, if they had a viable idea of their own in the quarter-century since I wrote those works. I mean, surely that would be a much easier solution than all of this clandestine stuff? Just simply get some of your top-flight talent to put out a book that the wider public outside of the comics field find as interesting or as appealing as the stuff that I wrote 25 years ago. It shouldn’t be too big an ask, should it? I wouldn’t have thought so. And it would solve an awful lot of problems. They must have one creator, surely, in the entire American industry that could do equivalent work to something I did 25 years ago. It would be insulting to think that there weren’t. That’s just my suggestion for a way that DC could remove themselves from this thorny impasse, but we shall see.
A number of creators took umbrage at this, but I think anyone taking the time to understand what he's saying realizes the point is not that Moore thinks all the current DC and Marvel creators are hacks — it's that the mainstream comics industry as embodied by DC and Marvel has not stepped up to the plate and delivered an original work that compares well to Watchmen in the past 25 years. 

And he's right.  

Commenters keep bringing up all their favorites as counter-arguments, but these lists almost always include a raft of corporate-owned, work-for-hire projets like Marvels, Kingdom Come, New Frontier and All-Star Superman. I like all those, but if you're objective and honest with yourself none of these has the heft or ambition or scope of Watchmen. I doubt any work on corporate owned superheroes in the current publishing environment or from the past 25 years comes anywhere close. Even your best arguments for great post-Watchmen comics, which I would say include Neil Gaiman's The Sandman and Jeff Smith's Bone, are exceptions to a lot of rules and sprang from the publishing environment of 20 years ago that no longer exists today. I doubt either could find an audience in the same way today. And that's Moore's point.

Having seen audio and video interviews with Moore (there's plenty on YouTube), I think people who are lambasting him a bitter, paranoid jerk are reading that tone into the interview. I have yet to see, hear or read an interview with Moore where he offers anything but thoughtful answers and his tone is cheerful and positive. He talks about Watchmen because people keep asking about it and he obviously doesn't mind answering in detail.

Which is the best thing about Alan Moore, who obviously realizes it is important to answer questions about the way the industry works. What's clear from the long history of comics, starting with Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster and certainly not ending with Jack Kirby's artwork or the Watchmen contract, is that the major publishers have always exploited talent and their creations for great profit and used the threat of blacklisting and banishment from the industry to hide such basic information as how many copies any book sells to what creators are paid — all to ensure that the power and the money comics generates stays in their hands. Moore has the courage to walk away from all that and the sense to speak out and expose what most everyone else would keep quiet about and allow to continue unabated. 

The arguments that "you can't expect corporations to behave any differently" or "those details are private" are assumptions built into modern American corporate culture that should be challenged. If you want better comics, you empower the creators. If you want the current industry, where too many talented creators' voices are submerged in endlessly recycled crossover events that play to a consistently shrinking audience, then hope that people keep their mouths shut. 

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

FF Re-read: The Fantastic Four #6 (Sept. 1962)

“Captives of the Deadline Duo!”
Script by Stan Lee
Pencils by Jack Kirby
Inks by Dick Ayers

This issue sees a big improvement, as Lee and Kirby create a story that reads naturally and fills out the entire 24-page issue without resorting to the episodic chapters that marked the earlier issues. It’s also got some stunning artwork from Kirby, who seems to have become comfortable with the characters. Everything just clicks — the characters feel like they belong in this story and the way everything unfolds makes sense (at least in a story logic way) and the resolution is satisfying.

This issue starts off with a terrific splash panel in which Kirby draws New York City like a real place. The buildings have just the right amount of detail to sell this version of New York as a real city full of different types of architecture and the little details that make everything work from the water tower to the vents and the awnings. And it completely grounds and sells the entire scene, making the appearance of the Human Torch dramatic and believable.

I also like that Lee and Kirby fill the city with real people walking around, seeing this stuff happen and talking to each other about it. The reactions are varied and add to the believability of the story, even though it’s not really clear why Sue likes to hang out invisible in crowds.

Friday, June 25, 2010

FF Re-read: The Fantastic Four #5 (July 1962)

“Prisoners of Doctor Doom!”  
Script by Stan Lee 
Pencils by Jack Kirby
Inks by Joe Sinnot
Letters by Art Simek

One thing missing from The Fantastic Four until this issue was a good, original and unapologetic villain. And while today’s readers know for sure that Doctor Doom would go on to be the defining antagonist of the series, this first appearance only hints at what is to come from this character.

This issue is a very small step down from the previous issue. A lot of what happens in this issue falls back on some of the Atlas-style conventions that Lee and Kirby seem to be so intent on trying to escape.

We get our first look at Doctor Doom on the cover of this issue, which is nicely designed to convey Sue’s separation from the group but lacks the dynamism of the previous issue’s cover. The coloring also is weak — too much of that unusual gray shade that was common on Marvels of this era, plus the unusual choice of green for Doom’s mask and armor. I do, however, like the different colors for the word balloons.

Inside, Doom is introduced on the splash page playing chess with figures of the FF, with a couple of ominous-looking tomes titled “Science and Sorcery” and “Demons” perched nearby, along with a vulture of all things! Since it never came into play in the story, I always assumed it was a statue of a vulture. But Doom does have a pet tiger later in this issue, so maybe keeping exotic animals was part of the original idea for the character.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Al Williamson, 1931-2010

Word has been spreading  today that one of the all-time great comics artists, Al Williamson, has died at the age of 79.

I never met him, so I’ll let others fill in the details of his life and career, but I love his art and he remains one of my favorite artists of all time.

Like most fans of my generation, I first saw his work on Marvel’s adaptation of The Empire Strikes Back and was completely and totally blown away. I loved Marvel’s Star Wars series, which was the first series I really collected as both a young reader and later as a collector. And even though I loved the series when it was drawn with incredible energy and dynamism by Carmine Infantino, I always wished deep down that there was an artist out there who could also make the comic look more like the movie.

And that artist was Al Williamson, who was working with co-penciler Carlos Garzon and writer Archie Goodwin on adapting Empire. It was gorgeous stuff, conveying the romance, the humor and the adventure while still capturing the special appeal and look of an actor like Harrison Ford. I loved it and was more than a bit disappointed when Williamson didn’t stick around as artist after Empire.

But he wasn’t gone completely. I didn’t have access at the time to the Star Wars comic strips that Williamson was doing with Goodwin because my newspaper didn’t carry it. But I definitely looked forward to Williamson’s return with Star Wars #50, which came out about a year after the Empire movie and was another landmark for the series.

I soon drifted away from comics and came back about four years later, thrilled to find one of the first issues of Star Wars I picked up when I started reading comics again was a “lost” Goodwin-Williamson job in issue #98. Jumping back in, I found that he, Garzon and Goodwin also had adapted Return of the Jedi in a four-issue series, as well as another classic Harrison Ford role in Blade Runner.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Williamson was a prominent inker at Marvel in particular, giving a lot of my favorite comics from Wolverine to Daredevil a distinctive, professional polish.

His Star Wars work was rediscovered along with the entire Star Wars phenomenon in the early 1990s. Dark Horse republished not just his Empire and Jedi work, but also turned the newspaper strips into color comics for which Williamson contributed the occasional new page and covers.

I also finally got a chance to see Williamson draw one of his favorite characters when Marvel published in 1995 a two-issue Flash Gordon series drawn by Williamson and written by Mark Schultz.

The 1990s also finally gave me a chance to read some of the work Williamson had done early in his career thanks to Gemstone Publishing’s reprinting of the EC Comics line in a new line of color comics and annuals. There I got to see at last the stuff Williamson had done early on, and it was as classically beautiful as I could have hoped. I particularly liked his adaptation of the classic Ray Bradbury short story “The Sound of Thunder,” in Weird Science-Fantasy.

I never got to meet or speak with Williamson, so I have no idea beyond others’ recollections what he was like as a person. There’s still lots of Williamson art to enjoy, with IDW adding this summer Secret Agent Corrigan to its Library of American Comics series of reprints.

Looking through samples of his work today, I can’t help but be struck by the detail and care that he obviously put into creating both fantastic worlds and also believable characters. I wish more of today’s comics artists could capture even a fraction of Williamson’s ability to make his characters look like they’re real flesh-and-blood humans, or convey a character’s attitude so clearly with a natural pose.

I’m sorry to hear he’s gone. But I know that even if I should someday stop reading comics completely, I will always never forget the beauty of his artwork and the impact it had on me as a both a young comics reader and as an adult admirer of art.

I’ll finish with a small sampling of Al Williamson images I pulled from my collection and scanned today. If you’ve never seen it, I envy you and encourage you to seek out his work. It’s worth it.

 Splash page for “Upheaval” from Weird Science-Fantasy #24 (EC Comics, 1954), as reprinted in Weird Science-Fantasy #2, (Gemstone Publishing, Feb. 1993)

 Splash page to Bradbury’s “Sound of Thunder,” from Weird Science-Fantasy #25 (EC Comics, Sept. 1954), reprinted in Weird Science-Fantasy #3 (Gemstone Publishing, May 1993)

Splash page for “Food for Thought,” from Incredible Science Fiction #32 (EC Comics, Dec. 1955) reprinted in Incredible Science-Fiction #10 (Gemstone Publishing, Feb. 1995) 

A 1970 strip from Secret Agent Corrigan taken from Library of American Comics #1, IDW’s Free Comic Book Day release in 2010.

 Interior Empire page showing a bit more of this scene than the final movie did, also from Marvel Super Special #16 (Marvel, 1980).

Interior page from Star Wars #50 (Marvel, Aug. 1981).

Page from the adaptation of Blade Runner appearing in Marvel Super Special #22 (Marvel, Sept. 1982).

 Key scene from Return of the Jedi, as seen in Marvel Super Special #27 (Marvel, 1983).

Splash page from Classic Star Wars: The Vandelhelm Mission (Dark Horse, March 1995). This one-shot featured a re-colored reprint of Star Wars #98 (Marvel, Aug. 1985).

 Page from Flash Gordon #2 (Marvel, July 1995).

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Off the shelf: Wilson, Other Lives and Blazing Combat

Wilson (Drawn & Quarterly, $21.95, 80 pages) is the most-recent release from Daniel Clowes of Ghost World fame, telling the life story of a guy who is most accurately described as a misanthropic jerk in a series of one-page stories. At first, the format is a bit choppy and repetitive, but these little vignettes — each playing out like a little remembered incident you might tell at a party — start to add up and have a surprisingly emotional effect. Wilson’s story is a sad one and he’s not the first character of this type that Clowes has tackled, but the relentlessness with which Wilson is shown to constantly choose to be a jerk is compelling as it goes from annoying to self-destructive to sadly sympathetic. It’s not the easiest thing to get into, but it’s well worth it.

I’ve long been a fan of Peter Bagge’s talent for creating completely believable and weird characters, and his most-recent outing — the Vertigo original graphic novel Other Lives (DC/Vertigo, $24.99, 136 pages) — is no exceptions. Here, Bagge delves into a world where everyone is pretending at least part of the time to be something they’re not. What I like the most about Bagge’s characters is the realism that results from having them think they’re a lot smarter than they are. They never see past their own fantasies to the obvious real-life conclusion that’s bearing down on them, which makes the way Bagge resolves his plots all the more fun and weird. My biggest complaint with this book is that this is a $25 hardcover graphic novel from one of the industry’s giants and it’s in black and white. This isn’t new — Vertigo’s been doing this since the likes of The Quitter, The Alcoholic and Incognegro. Honestly, I’m already paying $25 — I would pay an extra $5 if that’s what it took to get this in color.

Saving the best for last, there’s Blazing Combat (Fantagraphics, $19.99, 208 pages), an amazing collection of the stories from the short-lived cutting-edge mid-1960s Warren Publications series. These are all short stories in the mode of Harvey Kurtzman’s Frontline Combat, but with a 1960s edge to them. They’re all written by the outstanding Archie Goodwin, with a few assists, which for most fans would be reason enough to buy this comic all by itself. But then you throw in some of the most amazing art, all of it sharply and expertly reproduced, and you’ve got some real dynamite here. This book includes prime artwork from Joe Orlando, Gene Colan, Reed Crandall, John Severin, Alex Toth, Al McWilliams, Wally Wood and Russ Heath. And there’s fantastic bonus features, including interviews with original publisher James Warren and Goodwin on the book and the troubles it faced getting distribution after being labeled an “anti-war” book in the early days of the Vietnam War, and the original color covers by none other than the late Frank Frazetta. If all that doesn’t sell you on this as a must-buy, then you may need professional help.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

FF re-read: The Fantastic Four #4 (May 1962)

"The Coming of Sub-Mariner!"
Script by Stan Lee
Pencils by Jack Kirby
Inks by Sol Brodsky
Letters by Art Simek

A lot is happening in this issue, which improves significantly over the previous one in pretty much every respect.

Despite the cover, which is easily the best so far, the Sub-Mariner doesn’t show up until about halfway into this issue. I’d like to know if there were many fans who picked this up because they like Namor. At this point, he hadn’t been gone from comic book stands very long, having last appeared in a short revival attempt in the mid-1950s.

This issue starts off with Reed, Sue and Ben dealing with the departure of Johnny at the end of the previous issue, leading to a pretty effective page 2 recap of The Fantastic Four #3 that quickly brings readers up to date. I don’t know if Stan and Jack consciously decided to establish this kind of issue-to-issue continuity or if it just came about organically, but this kind of attention to details must have thrilled fans who took their comics seriously back in 1962.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Off the Shelf: Jonah Hex: No Way Back

Jonah Hex: No Way Back (DC Comics, $19.99, 136 pages) is better than it needs to be, which I mean anyone who buys this book because they like the upcoming movie version will no doubt feel they got their money’s worth.

As a graphic novel, it’s a solid Western tale that is not without some pretty obvious rough edges.

The gist of the story by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray is that Jonah Hex discovers from his dying mother that he has a half-brother. With her death, Hex heads to meet the brother he never knew he had and lay their mother to rest. This is far and away the best part of the story, as it highlights the tragedies of Hex’s life and provides a convincing contrast to his violent nature.

Less convincing is the nominal villain of the story, a bandit named El Papagayo who wants revenge on Hex’s family. While El Papagayo provides an excuse for some good action sequences in the book, this element feels very tacked on — as if it was added solely because the book needed an action element.

Tony Dezuniga, who was known for his work on the original 1970s Jonah Hex series, does an outstanding job on the art for this series. His storytelling and compositions are relaxed, confident and clear, while the scratchy finish — assisted by John Stanisci — is a perfect fit for the genre.

Dezuniga also deserves credit for bringing some taste and class to the art. The script calls for a number of rather gruesome scenes that Dezuniga draws with just the right mix of restraint and clarity so that it’s always clear what’s happening without being gratuitous or ostentatious.

Which brings me to the one part of this book that really annoyed me, which is the use of eye dialect in writing Hex’s dialog in particular. (Eye dialog is the practice of writing a character’s dialog phonetically to convey a heavy accent. Chris Claremont used this a lot in his Uncanny X-Men run on characters like Rogue, whose lines were written like “Ah shore do, shugah!” rather than “I sure do, sugar!”) I think this is a technique where a little goes a long way — a few lines early on to establish the accent can let readers assume it continues through the book and let the writer put the emphasis more back on what’s said than how it’s said.

And in Jonah Hex: No Way Back, I found it very distracting. Other characters had distinctive speaking patterns or used terms common to dialog in the genre without going to the extent of Hex near the end saying, “Guilt ain’t sumpthin’ Ah live with. Ah figger guilt is a disease that eats yer soul.”

Maybe it’s just me, and it won’t bother anyone else. Which is fine because despite its rough edges the positives of this book clearly outshine the negatives.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Off the Shelf: Wednesday Comics

Wednesday Comics (DC Comics, $49.99, 200 pages) is even more impressive to look at in the spiffy new oversize hardcover edition. The strips read much better (and more quickly) grouped by feature than they did one page a week.

The quality of the strips is overall pretty good, but they obviously are not equal, so here’s a strip-by-strip rundown of this very cool comic.

Batman, by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso, kicks things off with a slight disappointment and is not as good as I was expecting given the creators. A basic detective story whodunit in which a banking magnate dies and the suspects include his son and his trophy wife, is simply serviceable. Risso doesn’t seem to have time to find his legs in the new format and doesn’t have the freedom to cut loose with the sex and violence he draws so well.

Kamandi, by Dave Gibbons and Ryan Sook, is a flat-out tribute to Prince Valiant and its peers in the classic adventure strips genre. Gibbons eschews balloons and scripts the story Prince Valiant style, with blocks of text that combine both narration and dialog. And it works extremely well with the classic look of Sook’s artwork. The lush, illustrative art deviates radically from the iconic Jack Kirby version, but Sook sells it with detail and elegance.

Superman, by John Arcudi and Lee Bermejo, is a gorgeous looking comic that combines old-school illustration with terrific modern coloring. I saw some of these original art pages at San Diego last year, and Bermejo and colorist Barbara Ciardo deserve credit for the best-looking Superman comic in years. The story mixes the action with the human side of Clark Kent to mixed results, though I can’t say the fault lies with Arcudi entirely as DC has for years focused on the man at the expense of the super when it comes to the Man of Steel. Fans of today’s Superman comics will dig it; the rest of us can just look at it and drool.

Monday, May 17, 2010

FF Re-read: The Fantastic Four #3 (March 1962)

"The Menace of the Miracle Man"
Script by Stan Lee 
Pencils by Jack Kirby 
Inks by Sol Brodsky 
Letters by Art Simek 

Something really amazing happens this issue, as the book and its characters take over the book in the last half and start to run away with it, leaving behind a pretty pedestrian plot.

But first, there is some interesting stuff to talk about early on in this issue, starting with the cover, which announces the arrival of both the Fantasti-Car and the superhero costumes. It also is the first issue to feature the famous slogan “The Greatest Comic Magazine in the World!!” And for some reason, I’ve always been aware of a major anatomical error in Jack Kirby’s drawing of the Human Torch that was mentioned in the Overstreet guide listing for this issue. Before I had a reprint or chance to look at a copy of this issue, I was always curious what it was and a bit unimpressed when it turned out to be that the Torch has two left hands. I’m sure this was just a mistake on Kirby’s part, not caught by him or Stan Lee due to the speed with which they were cranking out material at the time. 

It’s also interesting to note that this was not the original cover. The rejected one — reproduced in a lot of places, including the second Marvel Masterworks volume of Fantastic Four — was more in line with the monster-hunters, investigators of the unknown vibe of the first two issues. There also are original, inked pages that show Sue and Reed wearing masks as part of their costumes, which sported a different logo with a stylized “FF” instead of the numeral 4. (You can see those images here.) These images make it clear that there was a lot of back and forth going on about how far to take Fantastic Four into superhero territory.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Tomorrow is Free Comic Book Day!

Tomorrow is the first Saturday in May, which means it's Free Comic Book Day!

It's hard to believe this is the ninth Free Comic Book Day — or how radical the idea seemed way back when it started.

Now, we've got this cool video ad with voiceover from Kevin Smith, plus almost every shop (in my area at least) is doing some kind of event or signing.

Of the local events, I have to say Collector's Paradise in Canoga Park has an impressive lineup of creators signing, including a bunch of Top Cow folks (including Marc Silvestri), Bongo Comics' chief Bill Morrison and writer Marv Wolfman. Earth-2 Comics also has some top talent, with writer Mark Waid appearing at the Northridge store. Closer to home, Comic Odyssey in Pasadena actually scored a signing with Stan Lee from noon to 2 p.m.  Tumble Creek Press is taking part in a FCBD Festival at 4 Color Fantasies in Rancho Cucamonga. Meltdown in Hollywood is working with Archaia Studios Press with Fraggle Rock comics creators Sam Humphries and Jeremy Love. And Golden Apple has signings all day with folks like Hulk writer Greg Pak and Manhunter writer Marc Andreyko.

I don't know if I'll have time to hit more than one or maybe two of these, but I definitely will be getting free comics from somewhere!

The freebie I'm most looking forward to is the Dark Horse Magnus/Dr. Solar preview. If you've been reading this blog for a while, it shouldn't surprise you to learn I was a big fan of Jim Shooter's work on the early Valiant titles, and I look forward to seeing him return to these characters.

Beyond that, I hope to come across a few surprises. If you need to find a participating comic shop near you, visit, and they'll help you out.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

'Kick-Ass' and 'The Losers': A Tale of Two Comic Book Movies

We’re just about exactly ten years into the wave of comic book movies kicked off with the surprise success of Bryan Singer’s first X-Men movie in 2000, and the number of comic book movies both set for release and in development still appears to not have peaked.

The most-recent one-two punch of Kick-Ass and The Losers (with Iron Man 2 just around the corner) shows both how far comic-based movies have come while also demonstrating their limits. Having caught both movies the past few days, it’s clear that Kick-Ass is the superior film of the two, though The Losers is not without its charms.

Of course, Kick-Ass was always meant to be movie. The comic book first hit about two years ago (read my review of issue #1 here) and it took until just recently to bring “Book 1” to a conclusion at eight issues. When this book came out, Millar was riding high on the then-upcoming release of Wanted, the movie based on his Top Cow series. Wanted was a hit, and it was made clear in a couple of interviews that the experience on Wanted made Millar want to develop more creator-owned material that he could sell to Hollywood. Kick-Ass was the first such series, with the Image series War Heroes also cast in the same mould, and now his most-recent series, Nemesis.

Millar loves to push buttons, and arguably does it quite well. His comics take rather obvious premises and then takes them to an extreme. Wanted, for example, was about what if the villains won? War Heroes is about superheroes in the military. And Kick-Ass is the obvious what if some kid really did try to become a superhero? This works much better when Millar is playing with his own creations as fanboys are remarkably resistant to anyone messing too much with established icons.

The movie version of Kick-Ass, as adapted by director Matthew Vaughn and his co-writer Jane Goldman, sticks really closely to the comic and successfully retains its subversive tone and Millar’s button-pushing antics. The way the film plays with and subverts the conventions of the superhero genre works for movie audiences now that superheroes have become standard Hollywood fare. Movie audiences are now as familiar with the standard superhero arc as Dave Lizewski is in the movie, and you don’t have to be a comic book obsessive to understand that by becoming Kick-Ass, Lizewski is trying to live out the same arc as Peter Parker, Tony Stark and Bruce Wayne have: finding the hero within as a way to find purpose in life, save the world and get the girl — even if nobody else can know about it.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Anaheim Comic Con makes a play for the mainstream

It was a big weekend for comic conventions this weekend, with the inaugural C2E2 landing at last in Chicago. While most of the comic book publishing industry was there, I was heading south from L.A. to the Wizard World Anaheim Comic Con, which was more full of pop culture celebrities than comic book folks

Let me talk about Chicago first. This was the first show in Chicago put on by Reed Exhibitions, a sister company to Reed Business publisher Variety that has extensive experience putting on trade shows all over the world. It’s best known to comics types for putting on Book Expo America and New York Comic-Con, which has shifted from chilly February to fall for this year’s fifth annual gathering.

By all accounts, this was a show very much like New York — focused on the publishing side of comics. Pretty much all the top writers, artists, editors, publishers and retailers in the comic book business were at Chicago, and it sounds like anyone who loves and reads today’s comics would have had a total blast. As you would expect from a company like Reed, the show appears to have been very professionally run and I particularly like that photos of the main hall showed large windows that let in some natural light to the place, which is always nice at these shows. The usual comic book news sites — Newsarama, CBR, Bleeding Cool, The Beat, Comics Reporter, etc. — were all there and extensively covered the industry announcements.  Few of those announcements struck me as particularly fantastic — there’s always creative churns on long-running titles, a few new titles to announce, etc. But it does sound a like a terrific show that I hope to catch one year soon, especially since I’ve never had the luck to visit Chicago and would like to do so.

Since I wasn’t going to Chicago, I was already planning to spend a day at the new Anaheim Comic Con, when Newsarama’s Mike Doran emailed with some panels they needed covering. If you haven’t seen them already, head over to Newsarama and you can see what I live blogged from a joint Stan Lee and Avi Arad panel, as well as the 1960s Batman TV show cast Q & A and writeups on the Empire Strikes Back 30th anniversary panel, the William Shatner panel and a panel with Superman movie producer Ilya Salkind.

I was unsure what to expect from the new Anaheim convention. I had been to a number of previous Wizard World shows — two in Long Beach, two in Los Angeles and one in Texas about five years ago — and found them varying widely in quality. The first show in Long Beach was quite good, but each subsequent year seemed to slide a bit as the programming never developed beyond publisher promotions and the number and quality of exhibitors appeared to be either static or declining.

But this is a new version of the Wizard World shows. It is less focused on the comic book publishing industry and more about celebrity appearances, collectibles and cosplay. If you must have your comic book industry presence, this model is not going to be satisfying for you. But for the vast majority of people who attend shows like Comic-Con International: San Diego or New York who are less interested in comics and more interested in an overall pop culture experience, this kind of show is going to scratch that itch perfectly.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

L.A.'s Comic-Con Bid Looking Up

It looks like we can expect an announcement soon on whether Comic-Con will be moving from San Diego and if so, where.

The field has been narrowed down to either Anaheim or Los Angeles, with advocates for both sides (as well as keeping it in San Diego) making their cases on various sites and on Facebook. (I think Las Vegas in the summer is a poor choice for a consumer-driven, family-oriented event. It has lots of hotel rooms, but with 100,000 people coming to town they won’t be cheap. Also, its convention center is isolated and has outdoor areas that won’t be comfortable to anyone in 105 degree July heat.)

Last week, a pretty impressive Facebook page promoting Los Angeles as the new home of Comic-Con was launched. It features some nice color drawings from Doug Davis, who does the editorial cartoons for The Downtown News. It also lays out a very confident and compelling case for Los Angeles as a good home for the convention. They did a good job of dispelling myths about the area that are easy to believe if you haven’t been in the area in a while.

I have spent a fair bit of time down at L.A. Live in the past six months, seeing movies at the new and excellent Regal Cinemas (all digital screens, great 3D), visiting the Grammy Museum, eating at the restaurants (The Yard House, Trader Vic’s, Fleming’s Steakhouse) and heading over to Staples Center to cheer on the Kings, who take on Vancouver in the first round of the NHL playoffs. Yes, this spot that once was a dirt parking lot next to the freeway has, especially with the opening of the new J.W. Marriott Hotel and the Ritz Carlton hotel and residences (I hear Hayao Miyazaki bought the penthouse for $10 million and made the builders customize the column placement to accommodate his feng shui requirements), is on its way to becoming a world-class entertainment district.

San Diego meanwhile has responded with movement on a plan to expand the convention center and add the space Comic-Con has been requesting.

But it seems to me that the Los Angeles bid is gaining momentum, with the professional Facebook page, my gut feeling that the San Diego move is too little too late and a comment from AEG Group President and CEO Tim Leiweke at a civic event late last week about pending announcements for major new conventions coming to town.

Monday, March 29, 2010

FF Re-read: The Fantastic Four #2 (Jan. 1962)

"The Fantastic Four
Meet the Skrulls From Outer Space!"

Script by Stan Lee 
Pencils by Jack Kirby 
Inks by George Klein (again, that’s the best guess from Mark Evanier, whose opinion in such matters is eminently trustworthy) 
Letters by John Duffy 

The second issue picks up pretty much where the first left off, developing and adding certain themes and motifs the series would repeat endlessly. It’s also a wildly uneven story, but one whose highs outweigh the lulls.

The Fantastic Four continue to be anti-superheroes in this issue — eschewing costumes and hanging out in everyday settings such as Reed’s apartment and a hunting lodge. Apparently, they are already quite famous by this point — the cops all know the FF on a first-name basis and, in an early scene, Sue is given high celebrity status by a jeweler who, frankly, should have known better than to let the Invisible Girl see his famous jewels. But at the same time, they’re also freaks that people are quick to turn against at the slightest provocation. (Apparently, the polarized opinions of 1960s Marvel Universe foreshadowed the current political discourse in the United States.) This dichotomy more than any other has come to define the Marvel style, from these early years through the present day.

This issue begins with the Fantastic Four having apparently gone bad. The Thing destroys an oil-drilling platform off the Texas shore; Sue steals a valuable gem; Johnny melts a marble statue; and Reed reaches into the power station and shuts off the city’s power. These latter two stretch plausibility. If Johnny could get hot enough to melt marble (more than 3,000 degrees), the crowd of onlookers would have been incinerated. And electric utilities are too complicated to just “turn off” with one switch. 

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

FF Re-read: The Fantastic Four #1 (Nov. 1961)

"The Fantastic Four!"
Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
Script by Stan Lee
Pencils by Jack Kirby
Inks by George Klein (at least that’s the best guess from Mark Evanier, whose opinion I trust in such matters)
Letters and logo execution by Artie Simek
Colors by Stan Goldberg
Production and logo design by Sol Brosky

Fantastic Four #1 is a fascinating comic, as much for the ways in which it doesn’t stand out as much as for the ways it does.

Let’s start with the cover. First, I love the logo. Every time Marvel decides to change the FF logo, it’s an unspoken strike against the current creative time. Which is not exactly fair, to be honest, but it inevitably reverts to this original version and to me it’s as much a part of the book as the Baxter Building, Willie Lumpkin and all the rest. The lettering style is very much of the times, but at the same time wholly suited to type of book this was to become and very different from the style in vogue at DC and other publishers. Plus, whoever decided to print it as large as possible and in that awesome red ink against the white background was a genius. It was one of the major drawbacks of the original Masterworks and the Marvel Milestone Edition to change the logo to black. The image of the monster is fairly typical for what Marvel was putting out at the time. There’s a weird bit of copy in the blurb about these characters being “together for the first time,” which is true. But it also implies that they’ve appeared separately before, which is impossible since three of them never appeared in any form before this very issue.

Public panic over superheroes would be a running theme through Silver Age Marvel, reaching its heights in J. Jonah Jameson’s diatribes against Spider-Man and the anti-mutant public sentiment in X-Men.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Fantastic Four re-read: Introduction

Being a busy adult means that it is much harder to find the time or willpower to re-read long runs of favorite comic books. In my mid-teens, I often would pick about 10 or 12 comics to read each night before going to sleep and could easily power through a year’s worth of the old Marvel Star Wars or The New Mutants or Alpha Flight in a couple hours before turning out the lights. Most of the runs of comics I know by heart are still ones from those days, in large part because I was reading and re-reading them. I also used to devour new comics as soon as I got them home each week. These days, they often sit around in stacks waiting for me to carve out some time on the weekend or the occasional evening to get to them. Rarely do I find time to go back and re-read much. Because of that, there are some classic runs of comics I have accumulated slowly in recent years that never got a complete run through, and that’s what I’m going to rectify. I fully admit to lifting the idea from other blogs ( in particular, where they’ve been re-watching Star Trek and re-reading The Lord of the Rings).

I’m starting with The Fantastic Four by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. The reasons why should be obvious: this was the superhero comic book that launched what came to be known as the Marvel Universe. It was the backbone of Marvel's rise to prominence in the Silver Age. It also was one of the best lengthy series that Lee or Kirby ever contributed to. And it remains essential and very good comic-book reading to this day.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Amazon kicks in $25 credits in omnibus apology

Looks like Amazon is doing something to make up for the all the canceled Marvel Omnibus orders.

I and many others have received a follow-up email in which the internet bookseller apologizes by bestowing a $25 credit for future purposes. Which is not bad result, considering the deals were too good to be true anyway. And with the discounts Amazon normally applies on the Omnibus books (about 35 percent), everyone should be able to get one of the books they wanted at a really good price. Or at least they will once Amazon restocks.

I have to add a rather nice little addendum to this story. Today, I stopped off at Legacy Comics in Glendale on my way home from a business meeting to pick up this week's new comics. This is a really good comic shop — they're well stocked in just about everything and had a pretty complete selection of Omnibuses, Marvel Masterworks, DC Archives, trades, etc., on the shelves. But they also have a pretty good sale shelf, which just happens to include a number of Omnibus volumes at half off, including Spider-Man Vol. 1, X-Men Vol. 1 and the one I happened to pick up, Secret Wars.

It was not as cheap as what I thought I'd get on Amazon, but I was able to make the decision to buy it with the actual book in my hand and a price tag on the shrink wrap that guaranteed the price. Plus, I got to chat with the clerk about the series — we agreed it was in many ways a Marvel must-have — and how I once owned the full set of comics but sold them at some point and regretted doing so.

So, thank you, Legacy Comics. I hope anyone in the area who wants to get their hands on those books at a real discount stops by your lovely establishment.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Amazon omnibus orders canceled

So the cancellation order finally came for my dirt-cheap Marvel Omnibus order. Here's what they said:
Our records indicate you recently ordered 'Secret Wars Omnibus
Secret Wars II Omnibus
Golden Age Marvel Comics Omnibus Volume 1 HC Jelena Kevic Djurdjevic Cover
The Death of Captain America Omnibus
Madman Gargantua (Madman Comics)'. Unfortunately, due to a pricing error, we sold many more than expected. In fact, we completely sold out — we don't have any in stock right now, and we're not even sure if we'll be able to get more.
As a result, we've had to cancel your order. I realize this is disappointing news, and I'm so sorry for any inconvenience this causes.
You may want to check our website from time to time to see if this item is available. If anyone is selling it, you'll see a "More Buying Choices" box on the product detail page; if it's not available from any sellers, you might see an "Order it used" or "Alert me" link. "Order it used" allows you to place a pre-order for the item in case another seller lists the item for sale later. "Alert me" allows you to sign up so we can e-mail you when Amazon has stock available for purchase.
I'm sorry I don't have better news. We hope to see you again soon.

Not that this was unexpected, but it's not like Amazon never runs such sales. Ain't It Cool News frequently posts news of flash DVD sales on Amazon featuring huge discounts for short periods of time, so it was worth a shot to get a chance at those books so cheap. 

It's interesting that their reason for canceling the order is they sold out of those books, not the glitch itself. It sounds like some people are getting at least some of the books they ordered. Maybe if I'd ordered huge quantities they'd have honored at least a few of them.

Maybe next time. 

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Go buy Marvel omnibuses from Amazon right now!

Thanks to a tip from Bleeding Cool, go to Amazon as quickly as possible and scoop up the Marvel Omnibus titles you've been putting off buying. Normally priced anywhere from $75 to $100, tons of these books are currently selling on the site for $14.99 all the way down to $8.49!

Titles include X-Men Omnibus Vol. 1, Wolverine Omnibus Vol. 1, The Ultimates Omnibus Vol. 1, Secret Wars and Secret Wars IIGolden Age Marvel Comics and even the non-Marvel $125 Madman Gargantua! I picked up a few of these myself, as these prices are almost too good to be true .... so let's hope this isn't a glitch that will result in the worst-case scenario of Amazon not honoring these prices.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

DC Decision on Rumored New Watchmen Comics Will be Telling

The comics blogospher has been abuzz over a report from Rich Johnston over at Bleeding Cool about plans within DC to publish new prequel and sequel comics to Watchmen. The report states this initiative to capitalize on the success of the original graphic novel — now reported to be DC’s best-selling title ever — is a pet project of Dan Didio and made possible by the departure of publisher Paul Levitz, who resisted previous efforts to sequelize Watchmen.

Johnston has a pretty good track record on this kind of thing, so I’m inclined to think there’s something to this. And with announcements pending on Warner Bros.’ plans for the new DC Entertainment, such a project being the first thing out of the gate for the post-Levitz DC will tell us a lot about the company’s future.

To start with, publishing more Watchmen comics makes perfect sense from a purely business point of view. After nearly 25 years in print, the potential for new products that exploit Watchmen has been pretty much tapped out now that we’ve had the movie version, the motion comic and all the merchandising that came with that project.
And looking at the history of sequels to classics — for example, there have been multiple sequels to Casablanca in print and even on TV that flopped and are remembered pretty much not at all — if new Watchmen comics flop it’s unlikely to diminish people’s affection for the original. We’ve already got the movie version, so there’s no way a controversy would damage the property’s chance of being made.

But without additional material, there are few options for DC and WB beyond collectibles for die-hard fans when it comes to new product. You need something new on which to base another videogame, or DCU cartoon, or toys or T-shirts and books. Everything’s already been played out with the original material.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

$7 Lois and Clark: A good deal or no deal at any price?

My, how the DVD market has changed.

Yesterday, I was standing in the express checkout line at the Von's grocery store just down the hill from my house in Eagle Rock when I saw this racked next to the cheap celebrity mags and Soap Opera Digest

The price? $6.99. I can't say I wasn't tempted by the idea of getting an entire season of a superhero TV show for about the price of a couple of comic books. But then I remembered that I watched some of these when they first came on the air and didn't really care for it then — and I don't think I'll like it any better now.

But still. $6.99! 

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Blogging update: New design, new blogs, new dilemmas

If you come to this blog a lot you've probably noticed the redesign. I used a program called Artisteer to create the template, and it worked really well. It cost a bit of money to license, but having a good wysiwyg editor for this kind of thing is worth it because I have hated writing code since I had to write typesetting code by counting lines on a piece of graph paper to layout newspaper pages on the Atex sytem back in the mid-1990s.

Now that I've lived with the new design for a while, I am pretty happy with it, but may still tinker with it a bit as time permits. I definitely need to update the blog rolls and links, so send me your suggestions for additions and I'll take a look.

One site that I've come across that is definitely worth your time is Fanboy Wife. It is the funniest comics site I've seen in a long while.

Of course, this all comes just as Blogger makes an announcement about ending its FTP support. I'm still figuring out if this will be a hassle and I'll just have to move to Word Press or not. I think I can do that pretty easily if needed, but I hope I don't have to.

Off the shelf: The Rocketeer: The Complete Adventures — Deluxe Edition

The Rocketeer is something of a legendary comic book, one that I’ve heard lots about but only had a chance to read small pieces of before now. If you’re unfamiliar with this comic, here’s the basics: The Rocketeer was a throwback to the pulpy, serial adventures of the 1930s written and drawn with incredible love and attention to detail by Dave Stevens. It may have seemed like just another indie comic when it hit the stands in 1981, maybe even like just another knock off of the successful movie Raiders of the Lost Ark, which made hard-luck heroes of that era very popular.

But there’s this character, Betty, the girlfriend of the somewhat hapless hero Cliff Secord. Based on Betty Page, who at the time was largely forgotten except to a few folks like Stevens, the character focused Stevens’ incredible talent and helped make this a comic few who read it would ever forget.

Looking at this new edition, which is the first time all Stevens’ Rocketeer stories were collected in one volume and features some amazing new coloring from Laura Martin, it lives up to its reputation as one of the finest examples of popular comic book artwork. It’s also a blast to read — Stevens is mostly known as an immaculate artist, but this wouldn’t be the classic it is if he also couldn’t work up a good story to hang it on.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Turning comics fans into comics dealers

Comics used to be full of ads for jobs that kids could do to make a little cash. Like learning electronics or selling subscriptions to something called Grit. But I think the ad below is unique in that I don't remember ever seeing another ad urging kids to become local comic dealers before I stumbled across this 1974 gem in the Marvel Milestone Edition of The Incredible Hulk #181 (click for a closer look):

The basic idea is to get kids to buy a dozen comics for $2 and then sell them at cover price to their friends and family. If they sold them all at a quarter a piece, they'd make a whole buck. Having never heard of this, I can't imagine it got a great response or inspired a generation of fans to get into the comics retailing business. But this was around the time the direct market was being formed. I wonder if Marvel thought they'd get a better deal from kids than from stores, which I'm sure got a greater discount than one third.

On another note, I always liked the Marvel Milestone Edition comics, which were reprints of a single comic that included all the original ads, letter cols, Bullpen pages, etc. The first ones came out in 1991 and were reprints of X-Men #1 (the 1963 version) and Giant-Size X-Men #1, both in honor of the release of X-Men #1 (the 1991 version). When they arrived in the shop, I was a bit disappointed these were printed on modern, glossy paper as I had imagined them being true reproductions of some kind on old-fashioned newsprint. But the owner of the store I frequented at the time said I was in the minority, and he had sold far more than he expected to sell because fans liked the slick production values.

Anyway, I wonder why Marvel doesn't consider a special format for collectors, maybe a box set of fairly accurate reproductions of the original periodical comics on vintage style paper, perhaps oversize to set them apart from the originals. I recall seeing this idea done for some German-language reprints that made it over to Meltdown Comics a number of years back. I would be among the fans who would dig such an idea, should Marvel decide to reprint its classic comics in yet another format.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Super heroes in Cirque du Soleil's Viva Elvis!

I went to Las Vegas last weekend for the first time in several years, and caught the new Cirque du Soleil show, Viva Elvis!, at the new Aria Hotel and Casino in the CityCenter complex.

The show was, as usual for Cirque du Soleil, impressive and fun. The show is a celebration of the life and music of Elvis Presley, and as such features more straight musical numbers and fewer circus elements than most of the troupe's shows.

But the best acrobatic sequence by far was based on a line Elvis once uttered about loving super hero comics when he was a kid — which opened the door for Cirque to do a full on trampoline act with performers dressed in generic superhero costumes. Using a set that featured multiple trampolines, about a half-dozen superheroes bounced off the ground, ran up walls and leaped over each other and various obstacles. It was many people's favorite segment in the show and a good example of how you could do some superheroics on a live stage. It makes me more optimistic that Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark could be more than just another musical.

It also opens up some interesting possibilities. Wouldn't a Marvel Cirque show be incredible? I'm not sure how into the idea Disney would be, especially in Las Vegas, but they do have those theme parks and resorts that are dying for Marvel content and need live entertainment in addition to just rides.

You really don't want to "read" Hulk's "Grab Bag"

You won't like him when he's angry, but you'll like him even less if you make him angry by messing with his "grab bag."

Off the Shelf: The Great Outdoor Fight

There’s a lot to like in Chris Onstad’s webcomic turned graphic novel, most notably the absurd sense of humor and the faux history that forms the core of The Great Outdoor Fight (Dark Horse, $14.95).  This book is a collection of the webcomic Achewood, which Onstad has been working on since late 2001.

Like a lot of the better comics, the premise sounds kind of absurd on the surface: A strange tradition called The Great Outdoor Fight, in which 3,000 men gather to duke it out over three days in a three-acre pitch draws the interest of a strange guy named Raymond Quentin Smuckles. I can’t tell what he’s supposed to be — teddy bear, cat, unknown type of dog — but I do know he wears glasses and a thong worthy of one of those Marvel swimsuit specials of the 1990s. Ray’s father entered and won the 1973 fight, and Ray sets out to do the same with the help of his equally strange pals Roast Beef and Barry. 

Onstad’s invented a whole history for this fight, complete with strange traditions and rules, that’s convincing and perhaps the most fun part of the strip. The humor’s absurd, stemming from the obsessions and tortured thinking of the characters. That their plots make sense, that a lot of folks will see people they know in these characters is both hilarious and down right frightening given their single-minded inventiveness in achieving the oddest goals for the strangest of reasons. 

My first reaction to the art was somewhat offputting — its intentional amateurish quality was my least favorite part of the book. But I’ve since come around and like the fact that this weird story looks like the kind of comic the strange tough-guy kid who only listens to AC/DC in the back of your middle school class would draw to prove how much more hard cord fucking weird he is than you could ever hope to be. The reaction is much the same: this is some sick stuff, but it’s also undeniably funny.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Off the shelf: Chew, Vol. 1

One of the great things about comics is their ability to surprise you, to come up with an idea too strange for other media and make it work completely.

That’s the case with Chew, Vol. 1: Taster’s Choice (Image Comics, $9.99), which is most definitely one of the weirdest and coolest comics I’ve come across in a while. None of this will be news to the many folks who picked this up in periodical form. (It’s interesting that this series caused an old-fashioned back issue run when it came out last summer, with prices rising quickly as folks caught on to the series. There’s still some life in the old ways after all, it seems.)

This is the story of Tony Chu, a police detective with the unusual gift of cibopathy — he can obtain information on objects by eating them. This has obvious drawbacks, and Chu takes the vegetarian route to avoid constantly being exposed to the fate of most proteins.

All of which would be interesting enough, but writer John Layman and artist Rob Guillory add an extra layer of strangeness by putting Chu in a world where the bird flu has made chicken illegal and made the Food and Drug Administration a major law enforcement agency akin to the FBI. Since “food crimes” are now serious, Chu’s talent comes in extra handy. And it just gets weirder and more fun from there.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Trailers: Planet Hulk and Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths

In case you missed it, last week Marvel premiered its upcoming original animated movie Planet Hulk at the Paley Center in both New York and Los Angeles. I live-blogged the post-screening panel out west for Newsarama, which you can read here.

I quite like these animated movies, especially the ones that are wildly inventive like Batman: Gotham Knight or adapt specific comic stories like Planet Hulk. I will confess to not being terribly familiar with Planet Hulk prior to seeing the screening, but I came out wanting to pick it up and read it. (It'll have to wait until I find a deal — the trade I spotted at Comics Factory in Pasadena this week cost $35!) And I just got the Blu-ray to check out for Animation (you're all checking out that site, right?)

Here's the trailer to Planet Hulk, which comes out on DVD and Blu-ray on Feb. 2, and is well worth checking out.

If there's one area where the Warner Bros. folks solidly beat Marvel on these things, it's in the animation. It's just too hard to top the crew they have over there, loaded with guys like Bruce Timm. My knowledge of these Crisis stories isn't very deep, but I still am looking forward to checking out Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths and figuring out how close it is to the comics. Plus, there's a cool-looking Spectre short on this disc written by Steve Niles that also should be fun.

Here's the trailer for JL: COTE, out Feb. 23.

Webb on Spidey; AMC taps Walking Dead — a turning point for comics and Hollywood?

It’s kind of interesting to note the attention that’s paid to comic book movies and TV shows these days because the tone of everything shows just how deeply comics have penetrated the culture and business of Hollywood.

The classic example is the announcement by Columbia Pictures that Marc Webb has been hired to oversee the next Spider-Man film, which will reboot the franchise and focus on a Peter Parker still in high school.

By coincidence, I watched Webb’s current movie, (500) Days of Summer, almost simultaneous to the announcement (and thanks to the magic of awards season DVD screeners). It's doing quite well on the awards circuit, though not well enough it seems to win too many of the awards its nominated for — it is, after all, a comedy.

What struck me the most was a scene after the lead character of Tom Finn, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, has had sex with and fallen in love with Zooey Deschanel’s Summer Finn and he walks though downtown Los Angeles, seeing himself as Han Solo in a window reflection and dancing in synch with a large crowd to the tune of Hall and Oates’ “You Make My Dreams.” My first thought was to compare it to a nearly identical scene — minus Han Solo and the animated bird — from Spider-Man 2 in which Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker walks through the park and everything goes wrong to the tune of “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head.”

There’s a bunch of questions to ask about this film, not the least of which is why reboot and the second being whether it’s reasonable for Columbia or the fans to think Webb can deliver a satisfying film on a budget rumored to be about $80 million.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Off the shelf: Captain Canuck, Vol. 2

Growing up in Canada as a kid in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I always knew about Captain Canuck. When I was in Grade 3 or 4, a friend of mine used to have a yellow T-shirt with the artwork from the first issue’s cover on it that was very cool and the envy of the rest of the boys at Grandview Heights Elementary School. Given my interest in Canadiana as well as comics, you’d think I’d be an expert on this comic.

But the truth is, I have never read a page of Captain Canuck until now. And I have to say thanks to IDW Publishing for putting this one back into print, even though I missed that they'd published it all up until now.

I’m starting with Vol. 2, which just came out, and collects the Captain Canuck Summer Special and issues 11-14. These are from, according to John Bell in Invaders from the North, “the period that saw Captain Canuck become of the finest superhero comics ever published.” And while that claim may be a bit over the top, there’s no arguing that these are some damn fine superhero comics.

The best stuff is in issues 11-13, a three-parter called “Chariots of Fire” (this came out before the 1981 Oscar winning movie of the same name). This story has a dual plot, one in which Canada has, in the 1990s, become a world superpower due to the value of its natural resources and leads the world’s efforts to repel an alien invasion. Meanwhile, Captain Canuck, who exposed the invasion and was set to lead it, stumbles back in time about a thousand years in an encounter with one of the aliens. The modern world believes the good Captain dead and simultaneously mourns him while using his death to rally the world to the impossible cause of defeating the aliens.