Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Anyway, not a real review, just some impressions.
Gary Frank's a good artist but he needs to tone down the "I'm INSAAAAAANE" expressions he uses for characters. I can handle it on Lex Luthor, cause, well, he's Lex Luthor. It's just weird looking at a picture of Lana hiding in a cornfield when the expression on her face says "They'll never find the bodies."
Also, so far Gary's trying way, way too hard to draw Clark Kent/Superboy to look just like Christopher Reeve. There are a few panels in this comic that approach pure mastery... the full page spread where Superboy catches Lionel Luthor's truck as it prepares to go splay is really well done all told... but it's detracted significantly when I look at the next page and I see teen Chris Reeve staring out at me.
The plot tries to incorporate pretty much every Superman as young boy scenario out there, from Byrne's football playing popular jock kid to the classic Silver Age bookworm version to Smallville (complete with heat vision whenever Lana Lang kisses him) and as a result, it's kind of messed up. It doesn't help that it's Geoff Johns so I expect everyone to die horribly on every page. Lex Luthor's story works pretty well so far, however, and I liked seeing Lena Luthor again.
The Legion of Super Heroes appearance worked pretty well. I liked that Lightning Lad alone was more concerened with young Clark as a person rather than a legend or a fundamental part of the time stream, and his manipulation of Brainiac 5 worked elegantly enough. I was happy they didn't include the original "The Legion fucks with his head first" aspect of the story, as Clark comes off as more shy and timid in this version and it would have seemed like kicking a puppy.
In fact, one of my main problems with the story is that they're overselling the shy and timid aspect. At one point Clark asks Saturn Girl what he did wrong in a way that makes him seem rather slow witted. This isn't a major concern, but it's still kind of weird.
And there's a Krypto appearance in issue #2. Can't say anything bad about Krypto.
Clearly, this is a re-retcon of the retcon of the Silver Age origin when Byrne took over the book. That origin was itself built out of many previous Golden and Silver Age tweaks to the story. Since it's Geoff Johns, I'm honestly relieved at how much it doesn't deviate from what you might expect. I'm cautiously willing to read more.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
I suppose we should be glad he didn't decide to try that in New Orleans.
I just get such a massive kick out of raving asshole Superman. Let's not mince words: the Siegel and Shuster Superman is a crusader against social inequity, a champion of the little guy, and a grinning, smug as all hell complete fucker who is just itching to fuck with you before he throws you into the harbor. He will deliberately crash head first into your propeller if you try and fly to safety, too.
I wish I had scans of the issue where Superman, in his Clark Kent identity, comes upon a man who has committed suicide after realizing his purchase of stock in an oil company has ruined him because the two gentlemen running the company prefer selling shares to actually drilling for oil. In short order Superman buys all the stock available in the company (coming right out and saying that he wiped out Clark Kent's savings to do it... at one point he buys $5000 worth of stock from a buyer, in 1938, implying that Clark Kent's got some cash stocked away) then runs out to the derelict well the company owns, knocks out the night watchman, and drills for oil himself until the well strikes some. We're then treated to the spectacle of the fraudulent stock swindlers hiring goons to kill Superman (in his cover identity as 'mysterious guy who buys stock in worthless companies that suddenly aren't') because he refuses to sell his shares back to them, followed of course by the inevitable 'Superman lets the goons kill him, then gets up and beats them half to death while smirking' sequence.
We then get Superman demanding a million dollars for his shares: the crooked oil men pay, because the well is worth many millions. Superman promptly changes into his costume, breaks into their homes, kidnaps them, drags them to the well and forces them to watch as he destroys the derrick and throws a gasoline cocktail into it, setting it ablaze. That's right, Superman set an oil well on fire. Perhaps it's even still burning. The best part is, he pockets the million dollars.
It's majestic, in its way. Sure, the evil oil guys had it coming. They even hired assassins, so you really can't feel bad for them. But the magnificent bastardy Superman displays as he methodically dismantles their lives, toys with their thugs, and finally takes all their money while burning down their property is just... I mean, seriously, why can't we have this Superman around when we live in the age of massive govenment bailouts? Then again, do we really want to see Superman hanging Bernie Madoff from a flagpole? I know most people would probably not accept Superman heading into GM and destroying the place over its safety record. Not to mention pretending to be an undead spectre just to screw with a hit and run driver. (I seriously cannot get enough of 'Superman as car safety demon'.)
I get why Superman had to mellow out, and I'm a huge fan of the complicated Weisinger-era mythos of the character. But man, every time I read one of these stories (Superman versus giant yellow rats on Luthor's volcano island! Superman vs pinball machines! Superman vs... Yale, I guess? I'm not sure. Some ivy league college football coach who hires assassins to stab opposing players, I don't know if the sport was just rougher back then) I'm just in awe of how didactic, bombastic and even outright insane (Superman forces a munitions manufacturer to join a foreign military in order to gloat as the guy almost gets killed a few times, then forces the opposing generals into a fist fight, and this somehow fixes everything) these stories get. The Ultra-Humanite first tries to take over Metropolis' cabbies, and when this fails, he unleashes the Bubonic Plague! With no stops in between! He doesn't go from cabbies to, say, ambulance drives, he leaps straight from "I will control all the gypsy cabs in Metropolis" to "I will wipe out 90% of all humans and make a superior race" in one go.
Of course Superman routs him, because if there's one lesson to these stories, it's that scientists can never win against brute force that's very smug.
Monday, October 12, 2009
You do have to give Kirby credit for understanding that the Marquis De Sade was pretty up front about tyranny and how he'd go about it. So many writers just use Desaad as a sniveling henchman and toady, but Kirby always depicted the relationship between the two much more subtly. Desaad is often the only one willing to tell Darkseid off. Admittedly, he usually ends up paying for it. "Once upon the throne of kings" and all that. I wish other writers could grasp that complicated relationship: when Paul Levitz managed to have Darkseid actually miss Desaad, he got the point of what Desaad does for the figure of Darkseid as an evil force. (Then again I hail from a country where people are totally okay with torture so maybe I expect too much.)
Please, though, fuck the Eternals. It's not even that they're a bad idea, it's just that Marvel already has too many cosmic entities patterned after various mythological figures. The Eternals would work perfectly as a stand alone, doesn't interact with the Marvel comics in any way story/setting, but having Ikaris and Thor hang out is just too weird. Thor actually is a god! It's weird! Having the actual Greek gods running around in a setting with cosmic powered immortals who were thought to be the Greek gods is just storytelling hash, you end up with story after story trying to reconcile the two. And frankly, multiple stories (even ONE story) that are just excuses to explain minor points of comic book trivia aren't really compelling. I was surprised that I didn't hate Gaiman's Eternals more. (I honestly don't have any major complaints about it even. I was surprised too. I didn't like it, but it didn't actively enrage me.)
They used to call Marvel "The House of Ideas" but aside from Kirby, Ditko and a few others like Steranko it often seems like the only idea was "Wouldn't it be neat if the skies rained shit down on superheroes?" which, to be fair, was a fairly novel idea at the time. (I'm actually giving Ditko incredibly short shrift here, which is totally unfair of me, but bear along) - stories like Brave New Day bore and disappoint because they borrow heavily from the "Look at all the crap Peter Parker has to go through" without any of the "Lost city full of whacked out freaks" aspects of Marvel's Silver Age. What Marvel needs now is a passel of wildly creative types and a moderately clever guy with a real editorial flair to round them all up and make them produce good stuff without letting their egos out of check so that we don't get a year of Norman Osborne running the world.
Sunday, October 4, 2009
Most people read that, maybe snigger a little at the clever Linux joke or don't get it because like the majority of human beings they could not care less about computer operating systems. Either way, they get that its a joke, laugh or don't, and move on.
I spend six hours saying "But there's no way for your nerves to interact with the USB port in any useful or meaningful way! You'd need more hardware than currently exists, it's not just a software problem, he'd just have to rip the USB port out again later and install whatever adapter will allow chemical based nerve impulses to be read by a USB device" and then we're off to the races and it takes me days to get my brain to slow down and laugh at the joke.
This is entirely the fault of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. You have no idea how many hours of time I obsessed on just how loud Black Bolt actually would have to be to blow up a city by speaking.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Seriously, no one loves Walt more than I do. But this is hire and salary, man. This is Jeremy Irons doing the Dungeons and Dragons movie with that especial flair that says "I want some additions to that Irish Castle I bought." This is "Weezie and I aren't getting any younger and I want to buy a jaccuzi" in four colors. Go ahead and find a couple issues of this book. It's as if Walt took a nap while he was scripting it.
Comic book adaption movies are pretty hit and miss, but that's not the real problem. The real problem is when we start to see comic book adaptions which are clearly transparent money grabs made by studios who think any property is ripe for adaptation. Worse than that, though, are the reverse: movie, tv or novel properties made into comic books with no real purpose or goal other than "We gotta rip a hunk of that pig off as fast as possible." Pretty much every Buffy, Star Trek, Star Wars, etc etc comic is like this, even the ones written by the people involved in the original property: go ahead and read Joss Whedon's Buffy comics for some of the most self indulgent tripe ever published.
There is no good way to transition from the first three paragraphs to this next one, so here goes.
The return of Barry Allen? No one cared. Well, no, no one cared outside of the weird cabal of endless nostalgia addicts running DC Comics. To be fair, Marvel proved they're not immune with Brand New Day, the comic which supplies us all with the hot Spider-Man trying to get laid by random women action that has nothing to do with, say, spinning a web any size or catching thieves just like flies. (Doesn't anyone read comic books for violence anymore, I ask you?)
Comic books where the art looks as if the artist picked up a copy of Entertainment Weekly and decided the cast of, let's say Fringe (just to pick out one show with actors who look constantly surprised) will be playing the Avengers this month are just impossible to read without snickering. "Yeah, I think Pacey was a good choice to play Thor this month!"
Let's not even discuss Greg Land. We all know he photoshops porn stars and wrestlers into costumes, let's just pretend it's not happening.
It's totally happening though. But again, let's pretend it isn't.
The common uncomfortable truth linking everything I said above? All of these comics sell. People buy bad video game tie ins, bad movie tie ins, comics with traced/photoshopped art, self indulgent nostalgia trips and we're only going to see more of all of them to come.
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
WARNERS EXECUTIVE 1: Did you see those stories about Disney buying Marvel?
WARNERS EXECUTIVE 2: How could I miss it? It was all over!
WARNERS EXECUTIVE 1: They got a ton of free press out of it and are going to get to control all those characters in the long run.
WARNERS EXECUTIVE 3: We should've bought Marvel, damn it!
WARNERS EXECUTIVE 1: I You said it!
WARNERS EXECUTIVE 2: I wonder if there are any other major comic book companies we could purchase.
INTERN: Uh... you mean besides DC?
WARNERS EXECUTIVE 1: What's that?
INTERN: You guys do realize you already own DC comics, right? Batman? Superman? The only comic book library that's deeper and richer than Marvel's?
WARNERS EXECUTIVES: WE WHAT?
Monday, September 7, 2009
Seriously, two issues in, and I'm so fucking bored I'd rather go read something by Chuck Austen. At least by now Chuck would have tried to convince me that Lutherans are out to use a Volton-style robot to convince the Beast he's the reincarnation of John the Baptist or something.
To sum up: Sharon Carter shot Captain America with a gun that didn't kill him but instead put him into some weird form of time stasis that leaves a corpse behind and yet jumps your mind around between points in time. Or he's jumping around in time because Sharon blew up the device the Red Skull was going to use to put his mind in Cap's body once he fished it out of time. Or he's jumping around time so we could have yet another anguished scene of a time traveler who knows the future but can't change it what the fuck they did this exact fucking story back in Death Be Not Proud when Cap went back and had to watch helplessly as he and Bucky tried to stop Zemo and the rocket plane at least that time had size changing robots fuck this.
Meanwhile, the good guys (including cyborg-arm Bucky 2009, who's not dead) stumble around like idiots and are routinely out-thought by Norman Osborn. Frankly, I find the recent attempt at Marvel to build up Norman Osborn laughable. This is a guy who once impaled himself on a 'cross of tin', guys. Him and his 'New Avengers'... you might as well have Kraven the Hunter come back from the dead as the next villain, at least he unambiguously beat Spider-Man, he didn't just steal the dude's baby. You know what I see when I look at Norman Osborn? I see his bad orgasm face in that story where he knocked up Gwen Stacy with super-fast aging twins that looked like Gwen and Peter's kids because that's who they were supposed to be before Marvel editorial decided it would be better if I had to see Norman Osborn have an orgasm instead. And yes, I'll admit it may well have been the most evil orgasm ever committed to paper, but that doesn't make me scared of him as the prime villainous mover of a story.
Two issues in and its so bloody tedious. Something better happen soon, that's all I'm saying.
I'm gonna go reread my Sleeper tpb's now.
Friday, September 4, 2009
The real issue is not that Batman has a ward in short pants. The issue is that Batman has run through three (four?) of them at this point. Not to mention ancillary hangers on: Batman, the dude who lost his parents in an alley, spends a tremendous amount of time trying to build a new, surrogate family made up of himself, his ridiculously competent zen master commando medic butler, and a legion of angsty teenagers. Wayne Manor is second only to Xavier's School as far as putting teens in costumes at this point.
Last time I said Superman was lazy. Well, here's how that works: this is a dude who has, at points in his career, been shown to move planets around. Even if you ignore that, in a recent comic book he blew up an object the mass of Earth's Moon before it crashed into us. We're talking ridiculous, near godlike power. Which he does nearly jack with, if you think about it. It's not surprising Zod in Superman II thought we were his pets. If anything, it's Superman's hands off policy that allows the people of Earth the illusion of free will, I suppose.
Even ignoring things like friction (yeah yeah frictionless aura) how does the Flash avoid killing everyone and everything around him? Mass increases as you approach C (the speed of light) and it's been shown in at least two comic books that the Flash can approach light speed in order to increase his mass enough to punch out a Kryptonian-class enemy. Does he have the ability to control his mass? Because otherwise every footstep he takes at near light speeds should crack the planet in half as his mass approaches infinity. How does he manage not to cause the atmosphere to follow him around? Seriously, thinking about the Flash for any length of time could actually drive you into a Lovecraftian gibber fit.
Spending more than five seconds worrying about the physics of a comic book character means you're goddamn horribly broken somewhere in your head, by the way. The Flash isn't real. Calm the hell down.
But he should cause shockwaves that would pulverize cities!
He's. NOT. REAL.
Almost all supervillains have really, really stupid plans. Granted, they can't all be as bad as when Chuck Austen had exploding communion wafers cause the Rapture, but even guys like Luthor and Dr. Doom come up with some astonishingly ridiculous plans from time to time. (My favorite Doom plan is the one where he took over the world using neuro-gas, only to expose himself to the gas and forget that he had absolute control over everyone. Seriously, right now, if Doom realized it, he could just tell everyone to obey him and they would. We'll assume that the gas has worn off by now because Doom tends to give people orders all the time and you think he'd get suspicious the second time Spider-Man said "Yes sir!" and left.) Frankly, if all the super heroes were busy that week, it's likely that Darkseid would be foiled by, say, a cat.
Cerebus is a marvel of independent comics publishing. Many of the stories Dave Sim chose to tell were masterful. That being said, a lot of them suck, are insanely overwritten, boring, or even trite, and the guy's thesis on gender relations sounds almost as insane as Oscar Kiss Maerth's theories on human evolution. Most comics fans know this already, but I've had six people now come up to me with a shellshocked look after having discovered Cerebus for the first time and then being exposed to Sim's essays. So in case you haven't read him yet,he's a genius, and he's written an absolutely painful essay.
Seriously, the Flash isn't real, stop worrying about the planet collapsing into his gravity well as he approaches infinite mass.
Yes, I do actually worry about that from time to time. How fast, exactly, does one have to be going before one's mass is greater than the planet Earth?
It's a comic book it's not real!
Can someone explain to me why the Punisher is still being published, by the way? Are comics readers just that hungry for Mack Bolan pastiche?
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
by Geoff Johns, Totally The World's Greatest Comic Book Writer
Sometimes, fans will come up to me at Cons, or reporters will email me, or sometimes I sit down at a table at a fancy restaurant right next to a bunch of people who are already eating dinner and don't have any idea who I am and I'll just start eating right off of their plates, and these people, they'll ask me "What's the secret to writing an exciting Geoff Johns comic book?" or they'll get all angry and yell "Who are you? What do you think you're doing?" and then they tell me to get away from them and leave their shrimp scampi alone and I run away before the manager can throw me out of the Red Lobster. But what's the writing secret behind one of my totally awesome comic books? Wow! What a question!
I guess I never really thought about what makes those fifteen or sixteen scripts I dash off every month so special and appealing - I just put pen to paper and the words flow, LOL! So I called my good friend Greg Rucka for help. "Greg," I said, early this morning around three a.m., "I've been asked what makes my comic books so great, and I don't know what to say!" Greg mumbled something like "Geoff, 52's over, I can't take the blame for any more of your gory newsprint executions."
LOL, "GORY!" What a great word!
"Why don't you call Grant," he said (Grant Morrison scares me, Greg knows that. He's just being a silly-billy).
But anyway, I asked again and Greg started telling me how all stories have to have things in them, to give them "Struck Sure" - whatever that is - things like Plot, Conflict, Motive ... a whole bunch of things! I wrote them down, and then thought real real hard about how my stories must have lots of those things, because they're so popular! So, "with that in mind" (that's a smart thing Grant Morrison sometimes says, in his scary Scotchman accent), here's my list of ways that you can write just like my totally excellent comic book stories!
- All stories have to have "conflict," I guess, which is basically a thing that happens when someone has a knife and tries to stab you with the knife and you don't want him to stab you with the knife. The stabbing is like a conflict! Personally, what I think makes for a good conflict is screaming, explosions, or there being a whole lot blood everywhere all the time. If you're writing a big "event" comic, then consider a screaming explosion of blood - that's extra conflicted!
- People say that it's really difficult to write human emotions. These people are dumb - there's only seven emotions, and each of them has a color, and you can't feel more than two at a time. Easy-peasy!
- An "Antagonist" is a guy who throws a lot of explosions at the hero. A "climax" is when most of the explosions happen, and the "denouement" is the part where someone's head gets punched through.
- It's really important to "build tension" in a story. That means you don't just have explosions happen, sometimes the bad guy gets to say something really sarcastic first and THEN the explosion happens.
- All characters have to have motives, which is a thing that makes them want to do the things they're doing. For instance, bad guys? They're usually insane, or zombies, and that's their "motive" for being evil. Now you know what a motive is, but you should come up with your own motive, because those two are my motives and I don't want you stealing my ideas.
- Movies and plays are usually divided into three acts: The Setup, The Confrontation and The Resolution. I don't know why they don't just make explosions of screaming blood happen all the time instead, because that's what I do and it seems to work out okay. I don't even know what a "resolution" is, but I guess it's probably when the hero vows to never let any explosions happen to his loved ones ever again. (PS When he does that is a really good time to get his wife and kids killed)
- Everybody knows the "Big Three" characters, but there are lots of lesser-known characters floating around who have "potential". Potential is a word that means "getting your arms torn off or your heart punched out for no reason". Potential is my favorite thing.
And there you have it - twelve great tips on how to write excellent comics just like me! More than anything, though, I think the most important thing is for a comic book writer to retain his sense of childlike wonder towards the world, to be able to look at it through the eyes of innocent youth - I mean, not TOO young, not like six or seven years old or anything gay like that, but maybe like thirteen. You know, puberty, when everything was really confusing and aggravating but you could get into some of the movies that totally showed tits sometimes or a guy getting stabbed in the chest, and they weren't really any good but they were SHOCKING and provoked a reaction and you confused that with any sense of worth? Either that or also you can just crib from old Mark Waid comics too. Peace out!
Monday, August 31, 2009
Robert Iger, CEO of Disney said "This transaction combines Marvel's strong global brand and world-renowned library of characters including Iron Man, Spider-Man, X-Men, Captain America, Fantastic Four and Thor with Disney's creative skills, unparalleled global portfolio of entertainment properties, and a business structure that maximizes the value of creative properties across multiple platforms and territories"
As part of the deal, Disney will acquire total ownership of Marvel, including "more than 5000 characters." Ike Perlmutter, current CEO of Marvel will oversee Marvel properties under the direction of Disney.
I'm not sure what to think of this. My instinct says it sucks, at the very least from the perspective of market and product homogenization. The deal still has to be approved by the Marvel shareholders, and has to pass some anti-trust barriers, but I think it's safe to assume it's a done deal.
Disney to Acquire Marvel Entertainment [Marketwatch.com]
Sunday, August 30, 2009
Animal Man is basically just Ambush Bug but taking itself much more seriously.
Batman is essentially every bit as impossible as Superman. Yes, that's right: even a billionaire with years to dedicate to training in exotic martial arts and criminology couldn't do all that stuff. Let's be honest: Tony Stark is a far more realistic portrayal of how a billionaire who decided to fight crime would go about it. Drunk off his ass and in a armored suit that kept bullets from hitting him, and with as much ordnance as he can possibly afford. (Thankfully, realism in comic books is completely unimportant.) If you're one of those fans who says things like "Batman is a self-made man" (if you don't count the billions of dollars he inherited, I guess) or "I like Batman because it's possible anyone could be him if they trained hard enough" (no amount of training will allow a normal human being to defeat 20 armed men) then you're kind of missing the point of comic books.
Man-Thing came out before Swamp Thing. Man-Thing's first appearance is cover dated May of 1971, Swamp Thing's in July of that year. That's right: Swamp Thing is in fact a retread of Man-Thing. Don't worry, they're both ripoffs of the Heap anyway.
For a guy who constantly complains about his terrible luck, Spider-Man has nailed some ridiculously attractive women over the years.
Wonder Woman was created to be a bondage fantasy. No matter how you try and dress her up as a symbol of feminine empowerment, she's still a bondage fantasy in a star spangled unitard. Go ahead and read some of her Golden Age appearances, she comes right out and tells people she's going to tie them up and make them submit to her. It's not subtle. Moulton-Marston was a complicated fellow.
Behind the Scenes videos that showcase the creative teams of comics should make sure that they don't showcase people who look like their souls have been replaced by pure evil after a long, painful hollowing out process. (Seriously, rent the new Green Lantern straight to DvD video and watch the Blackest Night preview, you will be convinced that at least two of the people involved are themselves zombies.) Victor Garber is ridiculously well cast as Sinestro, btw. The guys voice just oozes menace.
The Ultimates was never really all that good. At best, it was old Avengers scripts with tits and violence thrown in. At worst, it was written by Jeph Loeb so they ramped the incest up to 11.
No, seriously, he's lazy. Really really lazy.
Friday, August 28, 2009
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
And, I guess, there are probably people who haven't read Hellboy, like say, Yanomamo warriors, appellate judges or philosophy 120 professors. There's no hope for the first two, but the latter is in luck.
Sara Cole, writing for Popmatters.com, has produced an article that not only covers the origins and essential details of the Hellboy story, but also delves into deconstructing the titular character's motivations, Mignola's attempts to define what constitutes humanity, and adds a little sprinkling of Giambattista Vico to tie together the conclusion. It's the perfect article for someone who's never heard of Hellboy, but wants to have a coffee house conversation about what it means to, you know, really be human, and a demon.
The Boy Who Would Be The Beast of the Apocalpyse: Mike Mignola’s Hellboy, Mythology, and the Human [Popmatter.com]
So, either you read Legion of 3 Worlds or you didn't. I did, because George Perez was drawing a Legion of Super Heroes stories with three Legions of Super Heroes in it. (Is that how we work the plural of Legion? The Romans didn't make that clear for me when dealing with Legions of Super Heroes.) I'm neither a huge fan nor a detractor of Geoff Johns, if only because I keep remembering that there but for the grace of God we could have had Chuck Austen as the hot DC writer instead.
And to be fair, I don't dislike Johns' take on the Legion. Sure, it's yet another retcon, but come on: we've had so many Legion reboots by now that they were running out of cute ways to combine numbers with the word 'reboot'. Johns' approach - every Legion you ever read about is valid because they come from one of many DC fictional universes - is at once Silver Age enough to tickle me (and I'm long on record as having disliked what Crisis on Infinite Earths did to the DC Multiverse) while it does for the Legion what they somehow missed doing back when there were sixty million alternate Supermen, Wonder Women, Green Lanterns and Hawkmen... it gives them the same metafictive weight as their 2oth/21st Century predecessors. I'm okay with Waid's Legion being the Legion of Earth-Prime. I'm okay if not actually excited with the Adult Legion of the Johns' Action Comics run being around and still interacting with Superman. I'm okay with the Connor Kent/Kon-El clone Superboy being back from the dead (although I really don't get the Lex Luthor connection) and Bart Allen, too, why not?
No, my real problem is with Superboy-Prime, the alternate version of Superman from Earth-Prime who first debuted in a DC Comics Presents back as Crisis on Infinite Earths and who went from an earnest young kid with the power of a Superman and no idea how to live up to it (and who was even aware of Superman, since in the DC Universe's fictional metacommentary on itself Earth Prime is supposed to be OUR world, and so OUR comics are what's published there - basically, you and I live on Earth Prime.) to a monstrously egotistical and moronic teen jackass who punches people's heads off while whining that no one likes him.
The reason I hate the kid, though, isn't that he's a strutting, preening jackass who blames everyone but himself for every bad thing that's ever happened to him, though. Shit, if that's all it took to set me off I'd have had a meltdown within five years of my birth. No, what pisses me off is that the kid is effectively a kind of smug, leering in-joke at comics fandom.
I'm the first to admit that I find fans and fandom irritating. I used to post occasionally on Scans_Daily, after all, and I found their attitude of entitlement and sneering contempt for the people actually making the comics they read unbearable and pretentious. Even as I partook in it. Shut up, I know I'm a hypocritical asshole. Anyway, when you get to the end of a comic book it's taken months and months to get out (hey, you hire George Perez and tell him he can draw any member of the Legion who has ever existed, what the hell do you expect to have happen?) and you see the ultimate villain of the story lurking in his parents basement demanding grilled cheese sandwiches while posting menacingly to DC Comics messageboards then the joke, she is dead.
I'm not saying its not apt.
I'm just saying it's not particularly funny or clever. It's too easy. Yes, we get it, Superboy-Prime is what those annoying trolls on message boards would be like if they had Superman's powers. Thanks, Geoff. We needed this in depth exploration of nerdraging. It's compelling storytelling.
It's a shame, too, because I actually like the majority of what Johns is doing with the Legion, and I'm interested to keep reading it. I like that he's embraced competing narratives, different versions of the LSH and found a way for them to all coexist while still writing the stories he wants to write. I liked his idea for the Time Trapper as a sentient, rebellious timeline that constantly changes and reinvents itself in its battle with the Legion, unable to determine which of the many timelines and realities it can see is the one it has to destroy. I even liked the idea of Superboy-Prime's punishment being what he'd always longed for, a return to his home, only to find the people he'd wanted and loved no longer could stand the sight of him.
But the basement scene? Frankly, it's too much like saying "Get it, get it?" after you tell a joke. Yeah, we get it. If you really feel you have to explain the joke this much, man, it's probably not all that funny.
"During his presentation at the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Chip Kidd shows the various Japanese Batman Toys he came across during his project, Bat Manga."
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Anyway, here's my crazy long angry Watchmen piece.
In 1998, Gus Van Sant decided the world needed a remake of Psycho, the by-then world famous movie by Alfred Hitchcock. He assembled a cast (including Viggo Mortensen, Julianne Moore, Vince Vaughn and Anne Heche) and proceeded to make a film so rigidly derivative of its inspiration (which was not, by the way, the novel Psycho by Robert Bloch, the source of the original movie - Van Sant went so far as to bring a DVD of the original film to the set and recreate continuity errors from the first film) that it failed to provide any real energy or tension of any kind. In attempting to slavishly homage the first movie, Van Sant created sterile, lifeless film rather than art.
In watching Zach Snyder's version of Watchmen, several scenes in particular were so thoroughly and blatantly intended to be reconstructions of panels from the various issues of the original limited series that they may well have been simply lifted from the book and displayed on screen in the original Gibbons art. Yet, much as Van Sant failed to provide anything the source he was adapting did not already say and in the process made a film that fell to the floor of the theatre with a wet thud, Snyder's Watchmen crashes through the screen as dead as the dogs it so lovingly hurls through windows, their skulls split open. Worse still, not only does Snyder often fail to take any real time to adapt the original source in any way aside from using it as a storyboard, when he does decide to make changes he almost universally detracts from the story.
Watchmen is a twitching ruin of a film wrapped up in the most colorful tinsel Snyder could find, a movie which not only insults the intelligence of the viewer no matter his or her relationship to the source material - my wife, who has not read the comics nor has any intention of doing so, found the movie so tedious and the violence so pointless and lacking in narrative weight that she
almost fell asleep, kept awake only by a particularly bad job of balancing the sound in the theatre and some scenes that took the gore a touch over her comfort level, while I was grinding my teeth any time Matthew Goode opened his mouth. Seriously, what the hell was he doing? - but manages to be plodding and tedious despite constant hyper-kinetic scenes of violence and sex.
Honestly, part of the reason I hated the movie so much is that it's boring, once you get past the eye candy.
It's not bad in a MST3K sort of way. It's competently shot, most of the actors range from good to
very good (Malin Ackerman seems to be on heavy horse tranquilizers for much of the film and I've already mentioned Matthew Goode as Adrian Veidt, a performance made possible by the Snidley Whiplash Foundation) with particular praise being due to Patrick Wilson's performance as Dan Dreiberg.
Billy Crudup's Manhattan was serviceable, although it was somewhat marred for me by his choice to deliver his lines in a voice not entirely dissimilar to that of an ATM machine. Still, the flashback sequence gave him more of a chance to turn in a nuanced performance in a very few lines and he did an excellent job making John Osterman seem like someone real and human in
that time. Matt Frewer turns in a delightful small performance as Moloch, Stephen McHattie does good work as Hollis Mason even if Hollis himself feels completely out of place in the film, a gun on the mantle that never gets fired.
Again, my wife turned to me at one point and said "Whatever happened to that old guy?" and I
had to explain that he was supposed to end up dead. I was even pleasantly surprised by Jackie Earle Haley and Jeffrey Dean Morgan in their roles as Rorschach and the Comedian, respectively. There were scenes that, taken out of the context of the greater film, worked very
well. I thought the credits as a means of establishing the world weinhabit in the film was inspired, music choices helped reinforce the period, and the visual effects were often inspired or purely gorgeous.
Unfortunately, a lot of people (including director Snyder and screenwriters David Hayter and Alex Tse) spend an awful lot of time and effort desperately constructing a meticulously exploded world detail by detail, only to forget to provide this elaborate construction of almost breathtakingly stylized violence, elaborate grotesqueries, exquisite images and fetishization with anything to say.
Considering that the original source that was so thoroughly dissected and pinned to the screen for us by these people was so fraught with ideas, the effort that must have gone into avoiding them to the degree that Watchmen does as a film is rather staggering. You have to have real talent and work very, very hard to manage to take the original comics, reproduce much of them so faithfully that it's like walking into a gallery of photographs of the pages taken at odd angles and yet prevent all but the most broad strokes of the original story's themes and ideas from coming through.
In a way, it's a triumph, a masterpiece of style beating substance brutally and throwing it out of a window so we can lovingly watch each shard of glass float suspended before plummeting to the ground below.
Paradoxically in a 'adaptation' that fails on many levels to adapt anything, a film where the director and writers seem resistant if not outright horrified at the idea of trying to make the story inhabit the new artistic medium it's being created in, rather taking the original text as a kind of animatic or storyboard, the film also manages to fail when the screenplay or director feels compelled to deviate from the source. The reason Ozymandias' plan had a chance of succeeding in the comic is because, in a world on the brink of nuclear armaggedon, a gigantic squid monster appearing in New York and killing half a million people with a psionic death scream was so alien that it would not immediately cause the calamity it was intended to prevent.
But having Dr. Manhattan appear to have blown up several cities across the world presumes that the hostile nuclear armed powers of the time would wait to launch their missles and not simply let everything fly the second a big explosion took place in a major city. I'm sorry, but
it doesn't make any sense at all. The second Moscow went up, missiles would be headed for the USA, especially when the movie clearly shows us that Moscow is already under attack by Adrian's device before it moves on to New York.
Sure, the explosions are keyed to Dr. Manhattan's energy signature. Why would that keep the Russians from nuking the US? The Russians expect Dr. Manhattan to do things to them. They know he's American. They're afraid of him. The movie spends two hours pointing out that they're willing to go to the brink of war in the face of him. In order for the plan to have worked, New York would have had to have been hit first. So in just this one example of the film deviating from the original story it manages to butcher it and makes itself insipid even if you don't remember the original story at all. You're trying to prevent nuclear apocalypse?
You don't nuke people! The giant squid works precisely because it is absurd, ludicrous, so completely out of the pale that its sheer implausibility forces people to stop before unleashing their own destruction while also providing an enemy that is unfathomable, alien and yet still
possible to defeat (since clearly the body in the New York City aftermath is dead) while Dr. Manhattan as global annihilation is familiar, as nuclear as the other warheads, and provides at once no more threat than the stockpile of warheads we've already had mentioned several times in the film, while also being totally unstoppable.
Why should his act unite the world? They can't do anything about it. There's no 'alien corpse' to give the world a rallying sign, nothing that can be stood up to and fought. There's just a blue god who wipes cities off the face of the earth for the terrible crime of being populated by a species that... was about to wipe those cities off the face of the earth.
Similarly, the film manages to steal the great impact of the final encounter between its protagonists while still striving to reproduce it panel by panel: it's awesome to see Dr. Manhattan punch through the glass roof of Adrian's redoubt, but not only does the story fail to deliver any of the real tension (we never have to consider Adrian as possibly being right thanks to Goode's performance channeling Vincent Price's later years on mescaline) but when Rorschach dies, we get Nite-Owl watching it happen, which changes his complicity in events and makes the romantic movie ending almost obscene. You know, the one where he and Laurie make out in his living room while talking about the omnipotent blue boogeyman keeping the world in line and Laurie delivers Dr. Manhattan's best line (the one that rebuts pretty much everything Adrian has ever done or worked to do) gutting the last chance for the film to make a point like a trout in the process.
Every creative decision made in the last third of this movie to deviate from the source ruins it, while every creative decision to hew blindly to the source in the first two thirds leaves it devoid of any real identity or message. Like I said, it manages an almost impossible feat, you really almost have to admire its sheer craft. It's like watching a team of masons painstakingly craft an outhouse out of Belgian Marble.
I could go on. The scene where Rorschach reveals the reason for his violence and brutality is weakened by elision: removing the scene with the gas can, hacksaw and handcuffs makes a simple, brutal explosion of violence out of what had been a far more complex turning-in, a murder that is also an act of violence by Rorschach against who he had been.
The sex scene between Laurie and Dan managed to be rather faithful to the comic while at the same time totally missing the point (and being quite frankly a lot more like a bad Cinemax film than I was expecting). And Rorschach's narration, which works fine in the comic, actually could have benefited from some pruning in scenes where we have tools like music to help set a mood.
In the end, if I had never seen the comic book, I would have dismissed Watchmen the movie as a
visually interesting, ambitious failure on the level of Ang Lee's failed Hulk movie. But because I know how much better it could have been, I end up totally disgusted with it. It abandons the heart and mind of the original in an attempt to stuff and mount the body after pulling them out.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Those of you familiar with the work of humorist-writer-scold James Lileks will also be familiar with the sensation of thinking that he’s a schmuck even when you agree with him. Such is the case with his recent review of Watchmen.
Lileks is a very good humorist, and a skillful and perceptive archivist of cultural detritus. He is also, unfortunately for those who enjoy his work in those fields, a pedantic and short-sighted right-wing scold, an inveterate foe of the unconventional, and one of the worst cultural critics in the world. He’s wonderful at finding something funny to say about things, and terrible at finding something intelligent to say about them, with a keen grasp of what they are and no grasp whatsoever of what they mean. He also only knows seven things, and the two most important are these: The Sixties Ruined Everything, and Anyone Who Doesn’t Like Conventional American Politics And Culture Is Basically Just A Dad-Hating Punk Who Smokes Dope And Complains About How, Like, Mall Security Guards Are Totally Fascists, Man.
These points are hammered home in spades with Lileks’ Watchmen review; we both disliked the movie, but for distinctly different reasons. Let’s take a look.
The characters. Small point, but I wish the movie had characters I enjoyed. Silk Spectre was awful; Nite Owl was pudgy-dull, with all the gravitas of a hospital administration bureaucrat, and yes I know that’s the point; Dr. Manhattan was interesting, inasmuch as whispering superbeing with cerulean salami hangin’ free is interesting, but you have to admit it’s difficult to identify with a character who has Mars as his personal chill-pad.It appears not to have occurred to Lileks that Alan Moore made Dr. Manhattan difficult to identify with for a reason, and if it had, he would have complained about it. He goes on to say that the most unpleasant characters are the most interesting ones, a banal observation to anyone who has paid any attention to the development of the novel for the last 150 years or so, but a shock to Lileks, who writes books but does not read them. It will no doubt come as a surprise to him in a decade when he’s nosing through his daughter’s freshman-year coursework and he discovers that Madame Bovary is not especially likable.
I dislike any movie that makes me wonder whether that’s a good Eleanor Clift impersonation.Lileks, apparently, lives in a world where he is constantly inundated with movies that demand of him a judgment on the quality of their Eleanor Clift impersonations.
The source material. Look. I love graphic novelsName three.
and this one gets props for upending the Superhero Mythos when it did, but great writing it isn’t, and brilliant insight it lacks.Sure! It’s only the most highly praised book in the history of the comics medium; but great writing it isn’t. One wonders, if Watchmen lacks it, what graphic novel he thinks contains actual brilliant insight. The Avenging World? Ironwood?
I much preferred “Marvels,” which came along later, and had better artWell, of course you did.
the illustration in “Watchmen” never bowled me over, and the coloring was often horrible.There’s a lot of smart comics fans who would agree that Dave Gibbons’ art wasn’t the best fit for Watchmen, but the coloring? Seriously? His enjoyment of what’s widely regarded as the best superhero comic of all time was ruined by the coloring?
From here in 09 I could smell its 80s roots - dated, sorry, tired politics that lack anything other than sullen adolescent angst and dorm-room bong-session insight.And here we get to the heart of it: Watchmen was an anti-authoritarian book with a rebellious (and arguably leftist) viewpoint, and from Lileks’ neo-Zhdanovite soap bucket, nothing with those qualities can possibly be any good. Never mind its intricate structure, its clever narrative, its savage moral lessons, its masterful dialogue, its thematic daring, its heartrending emotional moments: it is clearly of, by, and for a bunch of snotty dope-smoking pseudo-intellectual teenagers.
Reminded me of the Dark Knight comics: Reagan was President, which somehow explained why the cities were such horrid dystopias. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Doesn’t it? Some how?Just in case you’re missing the subtlety here, Lileks is accusing Frank Miller — one of the most conservative creators in the comics industry, and a guy who unabashedly glorifies the totalitarian vigilante aspect of Batman — of being a leftist tool.
Same here: the reign of Nixon (Jeezum crow, Nixon) ties in with urban decay, filth, moral calumny, and all those incidents of debauched decline Rorschack [sic] decried as he walked the mean streets.Ha ha, those crazy hippies! Still attacking Nixon, just as if he still had some kind of cultural or political influence on America! This sentence is so ridiculous it’s hard to know where to start: did Lileks somehow miss the part of Nixon’s presidency where the country was plagued with urban decay and moral calumny? Did he think that Rorschach — the book’s most obviously right-wing character — was decrying conservative rule? Did he even pay attention to how things were during Nixon’s term of service, and the reason he was driven from office?
I may be particularly sensitive to this stuff because I get rashes when the ideas and tropes of the Sixties are trotted out as prima facie truths - as though a reference to Vietnam and a snippet of Simon and Garfunkel is like some scriptural quote I’m expected to swallow without question.
Actually, he gets rashes when the ideas of the Sixties are mentioned at all.
One exchange stuck out - by which I mean, it made me roll my eyes so hard I almost tipped the couch over. “What happened to the American Dream?” Owl-guy says to the Comedian, after they’ve dispatched a late-night demonstration demanding more police, instead of masked vigilantes. “It came true!” grins the Comedian, meaning, all the violence and oppression and fear and war.The Comedian, of course, is presented as an amoral nihilist, but that won’t stop Lileks from vaporing about this throwaway line:
It’s all very deep when you’re in high school and the ‘rents are being total Nazis. At this point, though, no one’s used the term “American Dream” without scare quotes since the second episode of “Laugh-In,” so any piercing insight may ping off the skins of viewers who don’t stamp around the mall glowering at the Phonies.And there we go again: anyone who questions the rightness of Lileks' grandpa’s conception of the greatness of our country is a huffing, puffing, teenage jerkoff who hates Dad and Santa Claus and sulks around the house spelling America with three Ks. Any criticism whatsoever of the country, its economic system, or even its leadership (when that leadership happens to be Republican) reduces you to this Holden-Caulfield-Meets-Abbie-Hoffman stereotype.
It’s an artifact of the 80s counterculture, an echo of the dyspeptic souls who masked their hatred of humans with high-flown concern for humanity, a bizarre example of reality denial: the war they insisted was an inevitable outcome of the US posture in the 80s never happened, so they remake the era with Nixon at the helm and kill millions to force us to come to our senses so we won’t do the thing . . . that we didn’t do.Because Reagan did not actually carry out the nuclear war ‘80s liberals nervously feared he would, the criticism of his overaggressive, pointlessly expensive, and often ineffective Cold War gunboat diplomacy is therefore a “bizarre example of reality denial”, and those citizens of this and other countries who feared that America or Russia might annihilate their families in order to make a political point were consumed with a “hatred of humans”. Also, it’s funny that he says liberals have to invent a false reality in which a third-term Nixon brings America to the brink of war in order to fight communism, since in our (real) world, the actual Nixon considered nuking Vietnam, and supervised the illegal bombing of Laos and Cambodia which killed tens of thousands of people. Who needs fake Nixon when we’ve got the real thing, eh, Jim?
Its thematic tone-deafness and utter obliviousness to what made the Watchmen comic so good in the first place (hint: nobody, but nobody, thinks it was its politics) make this a perfect example of why Lileks should stick to what he’s good at. Funny he is, but a good critic he isn’t, and any insight he lacks.
Has it really been a week of Spider-Man butt whuppins already? Yes, my friends, I'm afraid we've reached the end.
Today's villain is Mac Gargon, aka The Scorpion, a villain who has always tried to use his mechanical tail to stick a sharp protrusion into Spider-Man's thorax, but a bigger thorn in Spidey's side has always been J. Jonah Jameson.
That's Jameson, the publisher of The Daily Bugle, in the foreground, gleefully looking at a copy of his paper with a picture of Spider-Man getting his butt whupped on the front page. Apparently there's also something that delights JJJ on the back page too, possibly a particularly hilarious installment of "Hi and Lois." Jameson has always hated Spider-Man, various explanations have been offered over the years, but none of them have really ever done the job. I think the simplest explanation is just that Jameson is a jerk and it's just Spider-Man's bad lick that he's gotten the biggest helping of that jerkery.
But while we do have a picture of Spider-Man getting his butt whupped on the paper, as we can see outside of the window, our favorite arachnid came back for a round two and ended the week victorious! Poor J. Jonah Jameson, in a moment he'll hear the tapping, turn around, and realize he's going to need to run a correction in tomorrow's edition. That guy has to print retractions more often than Spider-Man gets his butt whupped. And as you've learned over the past week, that's kind of a lot.
Tomorrow: I don't know. Do whatever you want tomorrow, this is really the last one of these!
Monday, July 27, 2009
Today's installment of Spider-Man Gets His Butt Whupped Week is another cover version of a famous Spider-Man cover, this time going all the way back to the cover of Amazing Spider-Man #39, drawn by John Romita (who I talked about back in the first installment of this series).
Norman Osborn, the Green Goblin, is generally considered Spider-Man's #1 bad guy, his arch enemy. I guess killing the hero's first true love will earn you that kind of cred. That's probably why, when Spidey first made it to the big screen, GG got to be the villain. Sadly, in that movie he dropped all the purple parts of his costume. Less fashion daring meant he seemed a lot less daring all together. Shockingly, after three movies and four villians, we have yet to see a shred of purple cloth yet. Here's hoping if Mysterio ever makes it to the movies, he won't be forced to be less fabulous.
For an older guy, Norman keeps up on his work out regime pretty good, doesn't he? Either that or it's the Goblin serum that keeps his glutes so tight.
TOMORROW: In our exciting conclusion, we present a picture of Spider-Man getting his butt whupped AND Spider-Man triumphant, all in one picture! How can his be? Find out when the Scorpion strikes!
Sunday, July 26, 2009
Spider-Man's butt whuppin' for today comes courtesy of The Vulture, aka Adrian Toomes. The Vulture debuted in Amazing Spider-Man #2 and is, therefore, the first classic Spider-Man villain (issue #1's villain was perennial B-lister The Chameleon).
The vulture's power? His suit slightly increases his strength, and he can fly. That's it. And the great thing about The Vulture? That's plenty. He's always been totally confident about his ability to get away with anything based on these mild and pretty common powers. "No one can stop a man who can FLY!" he would yell, flying away from a crime, unconcerned with the fact that he certainly could not fly faster than bullets.
Another great thing about The Vulture - he's old. Super crime is usually a younger man's game, what with all the running around and punching. Middle aged men in the business usually take more of a criminal mastermind
role than a physical thievery modus. The Vulture, however, is a card carrying member of the AAERP (American Association of Evil Retired Persons) and he's out there scrapping and runnin' with the youngins.
Writers over the years have fretted, repeatedly, that The Vulture's old age make him an unintimidating enemy, replacing him with a younger protege, replacing him with three upstarts. Recently, they've replaced him yet again with a acid-spitting mutant cannibal (and the only interesting scene in that story was when Spidey went to talk to old Adrian in his jail cell about the new guy). The simplicity of Adrian's powers, the unusual aspect of his age, and his general creepiness are the things that make him such a strong and memorable character. I don't know how many times new writers will try to replace him, but I do know they'll always come back to the original.
TOMORROW: Green grinning Goblins come out to terrorize!
Saturday, July 25, 2009
Curt Conners was a brilliant scientist who had a hard time dealing with the fact that he'd lost an arm (I don't know how. Possibly it was fed to a crocodile by an immortal child). One day, curt noticed that lizards are able to re-grow tails that they lose and figured that maybe if he bonded lizard DNA with his own, he might grow back that missing arm.
Incredibly, Curt had figured right! Unfortunately, he did not also figure out that it would turn him into a crazy human-hating man/lizard monster (and, for some reason, give him the ability to control reptiles).
Here, the lizard has whupped poor Spider-Man good and is trying to find the quickest way to take him back to his lair in the sewer. You just know once he gets out of this Peter isn't going to just throw the costume away, either. He's going to try washing it and washing it and washing it, but it will never be OK to wear it again.
TOMORROW: The wings of the Vulture!
Friday, July 24, 2009
BONUS: Click here if you'd like to see the static/non "animated" version of this picture.
Max Dillon was working on power lines (lookin' in the sun for another overload) when he was struck by lightning and given the power to conduct and control electricity). It's a little known fact that the same thing happened to Benjamin Franklin after the kite and key incident. He took to using his electrical powers to punish those who had voted against the turkey as the national bird and to terrorize French prostitutes (or something like that. I'm more up on my comic book villains than American history).
Also in today's picture is Peter Parker's dear old Aunt May. I'm not exactly sure what brought Electro to Aunt May's kitchen in the first place. I think maybe he was casing one of the neighbor's houses and then was drawn there by the inviting aroma of wheatcakes. What are wheatcakes, you ask? They appear to be what you and I and everyone else call "pancakes" (occasionally "griddle cakes" or sporadically "flapjacks"), but what Aunt May calls "wheatcakes." Perhaps they have a higher wheat content. I don't know, Aunt May won't give me the recipe. Anyway, she's dropping them now, so it looks like there won't be wheatcakes for anybody. Thanks a lot, Electro.
When he's not playing supervillain, Electro also has a career in movies, having starred in films such as "The Flamingo Kid," "Rumble Fish" and "There's Something About Mary (Jane Watson)."
TOMORROW: Near the lair of The Lizard!
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Today's installment of SMGHBWW is a cover version of the cover of Amazing Spider-Man #293 drawn by Mike Zeck and featuring Spider-Man villain Kraven the Hunter. I've taken the liberty of replacing the empty costume Kraven is holding in the original with an unconscious Spidey because otherwise this wouldn't be a picture of Spider-Man getting his butt whupped so much as a picture of Spider-Man being buried alive (and not actually in the picture).
Originally, Kraven was a big game hunter who had hunted every kind of dangerous animal the world had to offer and came to New York City seeking the challenge of the most dangerous prey of all - Spider-Man! The storyline this picture came from was the classic "Kraven's Last Hunt" in which Kraven has gone a bit (more) insane from his years of being defeated by Spidey and vows to finally kill the web-spinner and then replace him as a better Spider-Man.
Step one: stop wearing pants.
Step two: When you finally get a net on Spider-Man again - just shoot him for once (with a tranquilizer).
Step three: Bury him (strike that, hire someone to bury him)
Step four: Get naked and eat a ton of Spiders to become the new Spider-Man.
Step five: Find foe Spider-Man needed help to beat (Vermin the Rat Man? Really?). Beat him 'til he cries for mommy.
Step six: Having proved yourself better than Spider-Man, commit suicide.
Oh, that Kraven. Did he know how to have a good time or what?
Tomorrow: Electro! Wheatcakes! Animation (kind of)!
Spider-Man is my favorite superhero. This week, his flagship title, The Amazing Spider-Man, reached its 600th issue, so I've decided to post a week-long series of drawings celebrating Peter Parker's more colorful alter ego.
What's one of the things we love most about Spidey? His perseverance. His tenacity. His drive to keep fighting, no matter how overwhelming the odds. How he takes a liken', but keeps on tickin'.
Another great thing about Spider-Man is his fantastic roster of villains, arguably the best in comics, inarguably one of the best two (lots would probably give Batman's loony louses the top spot). The web-head's colorful criminals are a compelling group of nutjobs who are also pack a visual punch.
So, starting right now and for the next six days (I'm doing two today to catch up to where they've been posted elsewhere already), we'll highlight these two aspects of the Spidey charm by presenting a series of drawings of some of Spider-Man's most fearsome foes handing him his hat.
First up on our parade of pain is the tubby tentacled terror of Doctor Otto Octavious, aka Doctor Octopus, aka Doc Ock! Poor spidey's being pressed to the pavement, the world seeming to crash in around him, Mary Jane in peril, and the doc about to deliver the big finish with a manhole cover.
Doc, like all the villains we'll be highlighting during Spider-Man Gets His Butt Whupped Week, was created in an amazing flurry of creative genius by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko during their inaugural tenure on The Amazing Spider-Man. Never before or since has some a classic collection of rogues debuted in such a short amount of time.
I drew this installment early on, before I realized that all the bad guys were going to be Ditko and Lee creations. Had I realized that, I might've put Betty Brant or Gwen Stacy in Doc's clutches instead of MJ. Mary Jane isn't really a Ditko creation, even though she technically appeared briefly in a couple of Ditko's issues. In those appearances, though, she was kind of like the neighbor in Home Improvment, always a flower in the foreground or something obscuring her face. She didn't dress anything like the mod party gal we came to know later and we never even saw her signature scarlet locks. I guess you could credit Ditko with creating Mary Jane's breasts, which isn't all bad, but the rest of the look goes to Ditko's artistic successor, Jazzy John Romita.
Ditko may have been the great creator, but I think Romita's pencils are the ones that really created the definitive look for Peter Parker and his pals in most people's minds, and while Ditko deserves all the praise he gets, I think we sometimes forget that.
Next up: a cover of a cover and a wild whuppin' courtesy of Kraven the Hunter!
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Jon • For my part, I am utterly uninterested in seeing anything about the world that follows the culmination of Adrian Veidt's master-plan - particularly given Moore's recent trend towards dense symbolist utopias. I think there are smaller stories that have greater inherent gravitas than a post-telepathic-squid future and some sort of speculative second generation peace built on inherited fear. (I also harbor the suspicion that, were Moore being honest with himself, he'd come to realize that there are only two stories which can come after Watchmen - either Ozymandias takes up the habit of reinforcing his Pax Phobium every few years with new spins on the old telepathic alien, and the public grows lax and restless with the idea of nebulous threats, eventually turning to new/old enemies OR he doesn't do that and everyone goes back to their old ways even sooner. We've alreadfy seen how catastrophic fear of an unseen enemy affects the world, and it doesn't change us as much as the Outer Limits would have us thing ... As I saw in someone's sig file once; 9/11 was our giant telepathic squid, and it didn't change anything).
Leonard • This is a pretty good topic, and one that I’ve unsurprisingly given a lot of thought to. For my part, I share Jon's interest in both Hooded Justice and the Silhouette, but the Minuteman whose untold story hooks me the most is poor ol’ Byron, the Moth-Man. The one time we see him, he’s clearly insane, and Hollis hints that he’s also been shattered by alcoholism, but he’s not just a run-of-the-mill DT-plagued drunk; you have to think that in Moore’s world, there had to be some underlying issue that forced him down the path of drink and madness, and I’d be keen to know what it was.
The events that triggered the passage of the Keane Act are also a perennial candidate for the Greatest Watchmen Story Never Told, as well. It doesn’t seem like it would play out as simply as it did in the comic: Dr. Manhattan aside, and it’s unlikely too many people would openly badmouth him, I can’t see how the extremely limited activities of five non-powered costumed crimefighters would so enrage the public. They’d all be limited in geographical range; even someone as skilled as the Nite Owl/Rorschach team couldn’t cover more than a few miles or thwart a few crimes a night, so it hardly seems possible that they’d be putting the cops out of business. And even if they were particularly brutal and unconstitutional, well, the American public has always been pretty forgiving of that from authority figures, particularly during the real-world Nixon Administration. I suspect there was something more, something bigger behind the passage of the Keane Act.
Finally, just because they’re always more interesting than the heroes, I’d like to get a few stories of the super-villains the Minutemen and their successors faced. We know who Moloch was, but we don’t know what he did, or how he rose to a position of such power as a mere stage magician; and it might be a kick to see Captain Axis, the owner of the giant gorilla mask at Minutemen HQ, and “Dusk Woman” or “Twilight Lady” or whatever her name was in action.
Austin • I was always really interested in how Moloch could foil or escape a real-life wizard like Dr. Manhattan as well, but what really made me go 'uh...' was what was happening behind the Iron and Bamboo curtains in the early days of Dr. Manhattan's time in the Army.
Matt • I've actually been musing about the comic books of the Watchmen universe for quite some time. For some reason I imagine Gold Key doing really well with their TV show adaptions and stuff. But in general I wonder what the fiction and especially the fantastic fiction of that world was/is like. We know there's no Superheroes... did Dr. Manhattan destroy science fiction? Did Heinlein write any of the semi-trippy novels he's famous for? Did Moorcock? Did the first wave of revival interest in Lovecraft take off?
No Vietnam, no Watergate, and a big blue glowing American god: what did they dream about? Read about? Think about?
Ed • I think, of all the material in Watchmen that I'd like to see readdressed, it's the Tales of the Black Freighter. Is the Black Freighter a ghost ship? Does it harvest fallen souls, or create them? Is there any connection between this boat, and Moore's other Black Freighter, the Nautilus? Where did the other members of the crew come from? I keep meaning to reread these portions of the book, and the supplemental material to see what other info I can glean, but I also keep meaning to clean garbage out of my front yard and wash the dishes too.
RJ • I'd like to see a short story about a once-successful Hollywood producer. Maybe a Robert Evans-type, pretty successful in the 1970s, but then had a string of flops and is now closer to Harry Zimm. No one's returning his calls, he can't scrape together funding for a new picture to save his life. He has a shoddy little office above a taqueria a couple of blocks off of West Sunset Boulevard, full of posters and props from his career, all covered in dust. Some afternoon, he's just sitting there at his desk, finishing off a bottle of Clan MacGregor when the phone rings. The person on the other end says she has foreign investors looking to put up large amounts of money for an elaborate horror film to be shot somewhere in the tropics and the failed producer is just the man they think could put the whole thing together and would he be interested? How about for a huge fee upfront and a generous percentage of the gross and foreign distribution? Oh, sure, they'd even throw some funding toward the film he's been wanting to make for years- a personal project- a picture about the sinking of the Maine. Wonderful! A comic book writer is working on a draft of the horror screenplay right now. One catch- the whole thing has to be rather secret, you see, as it involves some new processes and special effects other studios would simply love to get their hands around.
Also- the designers at Veidt's toy division- "We spent eight months on these! 'No enemies anymore'?!? That's bullshit! Jesus christ, we even laid out the fucking catalog. Damnit, I should have taken that gig at Mattel."
Monday, July 20, 2009
Friday, July 10, 2009
A visitor looks at a work by US artist Mike Kelley "Kandors full set 2005-2009" on show during the opening of the Punta della Dogana in Venice on June 3, 2009.
"Kandors"? It can't be. I mean, it sort of looks like it, but do they actually mean that Kandor?
Yes. Yes ,they do.
Mike Kelley’s synaesthetic Gesamtkunstwerk updates earlier holistic Utopias of harmony and universal communication – from the early-20th-century experiments of Russian composer Alexander Scriabin to the multimedia design environments of the 1960s – by introducing another key 20th-century myth of reconciliation and salvation: Superman. The title of the show, ‘Kandors’, references the eponymous city on Superman’s home planet of Krypton that was saved in miniature form under a bell jar by the superhero and transferred to his ‘Fortress of Solitude’ after an evil alien had shrunk Kandor and its inhabitants to the size of a toy. This transportable city-in-a-bottle is emblematic of Superman’s traumatic childhood and symbolic of the double loss he suffered of both his parents and his homeland.Very interesting, beautiful and surprising to find.
The 2009 Venice Biennale [boston.com/bigpicture]
Mike Kelley [Frieze Magazine]
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
(Bar at the Metropolis Press Club. Midday, midweek, June, 1958. Reporter 1 sits at a stool. Reporter 2 comes up, sits next to him, signals the bartender.)
REPORTER 2: Martini please, Eddie. Extra dry.
REPORTER 1: Hey, Mike.
REPORTER 2: Hey, Hanretty. (takes drink) Thanks. Could I get a burger, too? Medium-well? Thanks. So, how's tricks over at the Star-Sentinel?
REPORTER 1: Pretty good. How about over at the Planet?
REPORTER 2: Same as usual. Chasing down a story on the "Gloves" Moretti mob. Thought I'd stop in for lunch.
REPORTER 1: Yeah, same. Oh- hey... haven't seen you in a couple of weeks. Looks like I might be getting the foreign correspondent assignment.
REPORTER 2: Say, that's great! Congratulations- hey, Eddie! His next one's on me, okay? So, when do you start?
REPORTER 1: Looking like June. There'll be a couple more meetings, but Lewis says it's pretty much mine.
REPORTER 2: That's just great. Wow- foreign correspondent. That's a hell of a beat.
REPORTER 1: I know, I know.
REPORTER 2: How'd you do with the tests?
REPORTER 1: Tests?
REPORTER 2: Yeah- you know, with everyone pretending not to know you.
REPORTER 1: I'm sorry?
REPORTER 2: Come on- where you come into the office one morning, everyone pretends not to know you, someone else is sitting at your desk... you go home, your apartment's got some other guy in it, your stuff is in storage?
REPORTER 1: I... ah... I just asked Lewis about it, he took it up with the managing editor, who talked it over with the editor in chief...
REPORTER 2: Really? Superman didn't clear out your apartment and hire an actor to live there?
REPORTER 1: Superman? Why would-
REPORTER 2: To give you the cold shoulder bit, really sell it.
REPORTER 1: What?
REPORTER 2: Yeah, we all did it to Jimmy Olsen last week, to see how he'd hold up, if he'd figure it out. It's all so you won't be trapped by (looks around, whispers) spies.
REPORTER 1: ...
REPORTER 2: It was tough, getting the whole staff to play along, but you know, when it's friggin' Superman, you tend to listen, you know?
REPORTER 1: Right. No, uh... they just, uh, looked over my clips.
REPORTER 2: Huh. Well, if that's the way they want to run your paper over there...
REPORTER 1: Uh, yeah.
REPORTER 2: (looks at watch, to bartender) Hey- you know what? I'd better get that burger to go. I've gotta get hustling on that deadline. Tomorrow, we're ceasing publication for a week- the whole paper's staff is playing themselves in a Superman movie out in Hollywood. Anyway, congrats on that foreign correspondent job. See you in a week! (leaves)
REPORTER 1: Yeah, thanks. (to himself) And that's why they have the lowest circulation in town. (to bartender) Another scotch rocks, please.
Monday, June 29, 2009
Expect this to be a review in parts as I simply kept finding more and more images I wanted to scan and more and more of the frenetic, high Silver Age plot I wanted to either gently chide, openly admire or even more openly mock. I'm still figuring out the new scanner, but I really have wanted to review this paperback my wife found for me in a second hand store for quite some time now.
Entitled "The Superman Story" it's a black and white paperback reprinting of Superman's origin and, at the same time, it's a hilariously convoluted... well, why should I spoil it for you? We won't even get half way through all of the crazy in this one little paperback today.
I love the idea that he knows he can melt steel with his eyes, but it never occurs to him that if he does that with glasses on he'll melt the lenses. I know I would do that.
Yes, the Metropolis World's Fair. You see, while the rest of the world has to share one World's Fair, the city of Metropolis gets a completely separate World's Fair of its own. This is why I love Marty Pasko. Well, this, and the fact that he wrote this story, where we find out that Superman is subconsciously hypnotizing every single person he meets.
Anyway, here we are at the Metropolis World's Fair and its magnificent Superman Pavilion, where throngs of onlookers will pass between Superman's magnificent thighs, directly underneath a twenty foot high super scale replica of his spandex clad genitalia, and enter into a display that contains some of the most magnificent artifacts in Superman's long history of crime fighting.
For instance, Superman is fully willing to donate the only thing in the world that can kill him, freakishly mutate him or permanently steal his powers
Yeah, I personally might have balked at that. Not old Supes, though. As long as they stick the Kryptonite behind leaded glass he is totally okay with what is essentially a glorified carnival having the radioactive rocks that are more or less his only real weakness just displayed for any rube to break the glass and take him out.
The pavilion is ostensibly part of an attempt to donate money to charity, probably because Martin Pasko realized that it wouldn't be very Superman-like to go in for a huge celebration of, well, himself without some more noble motivation than 'wow, a big statue of me, cool!' I don't hold it against him - the fact that a guy who looks just like Colonel Sanders ends up being the dude behind the whole thing, or that Colonel Sanders is really just a puppet for an even more sinister mastermind (I know, you're wondering who could possibly outdo Col. Sanders as the story's villain... well, read on, my friend, although I won't actually be answering that question tonight... I am a tease.) is really more important than whatever flimsy justification we needed to embrace to get us scenes like this.
Yes, that's Jor-El's infamous shooting of his son's dog into space. The best part is, the narrative chooses to show us the death of Krypton via Superman's use of a telepathic memory probe he invented as a teenager by studying a cache of Kryptonian weapons that included devices that could project convicted criminals into another dimension where they were doomed to exist forever as bodiless phantoms. This is so awesome. It's like you or I discovering how to invent an iPod by studying the gas chamber, really. You'll also notice the totally demented subplot of this story, which is that while wandering around the Superman pavilion coming insanely close to revealing his secret identity to a crowd of gawkers and pointing out exactly where in the exhibition hall they can find the only rocks in the world that could kill him dead, Superman is also having his memories stolen and downloaded into a clone of himself being grown and aged to adulthood at an accelerated rate in the basement.
No, seriously. That's what's happening. Did I mention that I love Marty Pasko?
So yeah, there's a Blazing Saddles homage of Smallville in the basement. Everything Superman is remembering upstairs, his clone is being walked through with a fantastic beanie on his head below. And this is just a subplot. Of course, this does beg the question of what things, exactly, Superman is remembering upstairs. And the answer is, the Kent family and their incredible sense of laissez-faire when it comes to parenting. As you can see in the following picture, the Kent family knows that if you coddle your children they'll ultimately grow up to be no good. So it's best to let them get rough and tumble with the livestock as soon as possible.
Some folks might not let their toddlers play with angry cattle. But if Jonathan Kent learned anything from his own father, it was that if you spare the gore, you spoil the child. Also, I know full well that in the back of Jonathan's head, he's secretly chortling at all the stumps he'll be able to pull up without breaking any more axles on his Zetar. Martha, meanwhile, is told by her son that he can see objects through walls and decides, basically, to haltingly restate that very fact in case the kid didn't remember what he just told her two seconds earlier. Then again, these are the folks who, upon finding a baby near the site of an exploded rocket ship, just cover the whole thing up and get away with it, managing to conceal not only the extraterrestrial infant but also his tremendously advanced spacecraft complete with a prototype faster than light engine composed of materials that actually become nigh-indestructable in our solar system. They may seem like simple farm folk but it's clear that the Kents taught Jason Bourne everything he knows about thwarting the US Intelligence community.
You never believe me, do you? You know, Jor-El gets a lot of grief for basically depopulating Krypton's pet stores in order to fire every monkey and dog he could get his hands on into space, but at least he was trying to save everyone in his world from a violent, explosive death. What the heck is the reasoning behind Jonathan and Martha's decision to raise their adoptive son to wear a leotard and get shot at, and at what point in that process did the balloon harness first crop up? Were they drunk? I don't know if they make moonshine in Kansas but I have to wonder. Soon, however, our young hero to be gets to meet his best friend.
If you think I'm going to snark on a picture that cute, you're wrong. Is that not the cutest thing? Look at his little tail wag! He's so glad that Jor-El strapped him into an untested missile and launched him into the cold, cruel vacuum of space. He's like Laika with a happy ending. Most people don't get why Krypto is such an integral part of the Superman mythology. Jon Morris once made an excellent point that Superboy is the boy who ultimately gets his every wish granted, and it's not until he grows up and matures and stops wanting the selfish things of a childhood heart that this quality fades... the safe arrival of Krypto on Earth to become Superboy's confidant and friend certainly fills that kind of role.
The reason I love Krypto is for scenes like the above. The idea that the ultimate good son and formative hero requires the stabilizing influence of a good dog to romp with, and the unique bond they shared as the only other being who could possibly understand the subtle differences in life as a super being at that time, in that place, just warms all the cockles of my horrible, blistered, black heart. Love for that dog coats each nook and cranny in an emotional Thomas English Muffin of contentment.
Not all was peaches and cream in Superman's trip down memory lane, however. We do get to see that Kryptonians who are shot into space and crash land on alien worlds use every part of the spaceship when they decide to become superheroes. Even the cockpit!
I may dig the copy out again and post more of it if folks are interested. Heck, I have scans of all sorts of old Superman stories to make fun of.
He uses his baby blankets, the seatbelt, the cockpit glass, a sliver of the frame as a needle, and even the seat upholstery to make his boots! Seriously, it's like that ship is a buffalo and he's a stereotype.
Posted at 11:20 PM | Permalink