Friday, May 29, 2009

Open Forum: Do Superheroes Drink Revisisted

Frankly, we had a lot of jokes left over on this topic ...

Wolverine famously enjoys himself a brewski. What isn't generally well know is that Logan's healing factor reacts in a peculiar fashion to the consumption of beer, converting it into Nyquil. It takes a lot of Nyquil not to kill Cyclops as he sleeps.

Jon: I've been giving a lot of thought to Wolverine's drinking habits, particularly his famous predilection towards beer. You'd assume he'd be drinking some particular Canadian brand, but the more I look at the guy, I'm thinking - you know, he's this life-long bachelor with a string of illegitimate children, and everyone in his immediate circle of friends is (to be kind) half his age, if not much younger, or in fact a bunch of thirteen year-old girls. So my thought is that he drinks PBR, and also he's been listening to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

Matt: The Silver Surfer explains to you that in his endless voyages through the ponderous ebon void, studded with the flickering fires of creation itself, he has never found an elixir that can take from him the memory of his beloved Shalla Bal, with who he drank Rose-colored bubblewines from the banks of a crashing river before our world had even risen from its own tumultuous origins. He keeps going on about this for quite some time.

Leonard: Black Widow drinks an incredibly expensive brand of Russian cognac. She lets her dates buy her two or three rounds and then she seems to get really drunk and flirty, and asks them to try it. Five rounds later they're being escorted out of the restaurant by a team of paramedics with an industrial-strength stomach pump, and she orders another snifter (her ninth) and finishes her meal with a tight, knowing little smile on her carmine lips.

The Wasp will only drink alcohol if it meets two of three criteria: (a) frozen, (b), containing passion fruit, and/or (c) ending in "tini" but not starting with "mar".

Booster Gold likes Kahlua and Coke. Meet him just once; you’ll find out within five minutes, when he asks you if you’ve ever tried Kahlua and Coke, like he does everyone. He’s downright evangelical about it. (Batman almost vetoed his JLA membership over the issues.) The sad thing is, he thinks it’s a crazy drink from the far future, and that us poor 21st-century peasants will totally have our minds blown when he introduces us to Kahula and Coke, and the fact that pretty much everyone in America first tried it at 14 while raiding their parents’ liquor cabinet never dims his enthusiasm.

Ghost Rider drinks at least a fifth of 100-proof Jack Daniels every half hour. It just runs out the bottom of his skull and drips all over his leather jacket, but he keeps drinking it just the same. Occasionally the flame from his head will catch it afire, making a lovely blue-orange flame that burns for long minutes, suffused with the smell of scorched cowhide.

Ed: MODOK loves a Cuba Libre.

Matt: The more I think about it the more convinced I am that Superman's a beer drinker. Dude grew up in Kansas.

Jon: I know most folks say that Superman doesn't drink, and sure, why would he (or for that matter, why wouldn't he, just to be a jerk, or to get on YouTube? "Watch me down this crate of Fleischmann's in forty seconds and not yak!"). Still, I like it when Superman has the occasion to go into a bar (in the comics, that is, not in Superman III, for reasons that are self-evident). This is because of what is possibly my favorite movie trope, wherein the good guy goes into a bar, and the bartender asks him "what's your poison," and the guy replies "Milk." And every time, there's some sort of situation which proceeds subsequently thereafter, either the bartender giving the guy a hairy eyeball, or a bunch of other tough guys gather around the milk-drinker and start pushing him around, and then a fight breaks out and, naturally, the milk-drinker just lays fresh tile with anybody giving him shine. And then, you know what happens? You know what happens every time? THEN THE BARTENDER GIVES THE GUY HIS MILK! He had it all the time! Of COURSE the bar stocks milk! Of COURSE the tough guy bar where tough fuckers are throwing soup bones and shivving each other and having at Jodie Foster on the pinball machine twenty-four seven has milk, they need it for the White Russians.

Austin: Luke Cage - Guinness Stout with a shot of Jagermeister dropped in the glass. That's called "Black on Black Crime" and it's Luke's job to eliminate black on black crime! It's also nasty as hell but gets you fucked up fast, which is very important.

Brodie: The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turles drink PIZZA SHOTS! DUDE! RADICAL!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

[Insert Your Joke Here]: Rao's Homemade Sauce

Just like Mom-El used to make!

Now, you- leave your "joke" in the comments.

Open Forum: Do Superheroes Drink?

We here at Seebelow* drink, and we've all been to conventions, so we know that comic book creators drink, but the real question is: Do SuperHeroes Drink? The question was put to the Seebelow* staff...

Brodie: One time when he was in high school, Peter Parker snuck one of Uncle Ben's beers and drank it alone in his room. When he stumbled to the bathroom later that night, he accidentally knocked over Aunt May's favorite vase. Aunt May assumed the fragile boy had caught a chill, but Peter knew the beer was to blame. Haunted by guilt over the incident for days afterward, Peter vowed to never touch alcohol again. "I can't! I don't dare!"

Matt: Based on rereading Avengers #200 for the post I just made, Superheroes DON'T DRINK ENOUGH.

Jon: As a rider to Matt's sentiment, I think we know that whatever Ms.Marvel drank, it contained enough rohypnol to get a rhinoceros raped.

Brodie: Elongated Man drinks Gingold for the stretching, Southern Comfort for the crippling inferiority complex.

Jon: Nowadays, all the Elongated Man drinks is formaldehyde and rainwater that's seeped through six feet of dirt.

Leonard: Wonder Woman literally never drinks anything but wine. She goes through at least three bottles a day, and once, when Superman asked her if she wanted water with a meal, she said "To go swimming?"

Matt : Tony Stark stares at your joke with cold contempt. He loves each and every variety of alcoholic beverage human beings have invented as if they were his own children. He would probably also stick metal pour spouts into his own children, he is after all insanely drunk.

Leonard: Dr. Strange doesn't drink at all (it would disqualify him from scolding Clea for her once-a-year birthday champagne), but sometimes when he's out with the guys, he claims to be a connoisseur of single-malt Scotch whiskey. Everyone knows he's a poseur, though, because he pronounces their names all wrong. (He says his favorite is "Del Winey".)

Matt: Hal Jordan likes Body Shots. Many an alien belly button has been encrusted with lime and salt after Hal passed through. (Then again, we also know Hal enjoys 13 year old girls, like Wolverine, as long as they use power rings to give themselves adult bodies first).

Jon: Haha, silly, Wolverine is not a 13 year old girl!

Matt: Wolverine most certainly is a 13 year old girl ... on the inside, where it counts.

Ed: In a fit of gluttony, the Blob once drank the entire contents of a 1981 Volkswagen Scirocco's gas tank on a dare.

Jon: Man, so did I.

Ed: Robin found the key to the Wayne Manor wine cellar when he was twelve. Since then he's been steadily and resolutely drinking tens of thousands of dollars of Louis XIII de Rémy Martin cognac. Rémy Martin estimates that Bruce Wayne is responsible for nearly 2% of their global sales, yet strangely, Wayne admits that he has never tried any.

Austin: How the hell does that "Bruce Wayne drinks ginger ale and pretends it's champagne" schtick work anyway? Rather poorly I imagine. Sure, I can buy that he's got a couple-three hoity-toity gentleman's club waiters and bartenders on the payroll that he trusts to keep mum about this kind of thing. But he can't possibly rely on this little clique of bat-mixologists full time when he's gadding about town keeping up the irresponsible billionaire playboy routine. Sooner or later someone is going to pour him some actual fine champagne and he's gonna have to drink it. My theory is that it depends on who's writing, as befits the most famous Mary Sue in fiction.

  • Grant Morrison's Batman drinks absinthe.

  • Frank Miller's Batman drinks Mickey's Big Mouths.

  • Grant Breyfogle's Batman drinks Zima (per Leonard)

  • Bob Kane's Batman drinks straight rye.

  • Denny O'Neill's Batman drinks whatever he saw James Bond drink in his last movie.

It doesn't matter, though, because his nanda-parbat drunkenness suprpression training and bat-sober-up pills kick in when they need to.

Brodie: The Thing will drink damn near anything... as long as it's on the rocks!BA-ZING!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Battle for the Hoodie: The Return of Batman Jones!

Battle for the Cowl concluded yesterday, and unlike American Idol, the title went to exactly who everyone assumed it would.  That's not to say there weren't surprises in Battle For the Cowl #3, though.  Even more surprising than the miraculous reanimation of Rod Stewart's corpse on Idol were these three panels (realigned for this blog):

Now I've never heard of Batman Jones before, but not being the biggest Batman-fan ever (or Kurt Busiek), I figured there was a strong chance this was a returning character I'd simply not ready about in the past.

Turns out, I was right. Kind of. Read all about the original Batman Jones here.

I have no idea why, but I'm already looking forward to seeing more of this modern incarnation of Batman Jones and 'm not even kidding.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

It's A Wrong Idea: Zen Intergalactic Ninja

The mid 80s was a nutty time for comic books. Alan Moore and Frank Miller had pretty much shut the door on the Bronze age, and the industry was falling all over itself to mistake 'complex characterization' for 'needlessly violent and probably wearing a dark coat.' Sales at the time were primarily generated by the demographic I represented at the time; stupid teenagers with pocket money who thought comic books were a wise investment strategy.* Also, ninjas were at the height of their relevance and popularity. It was a scary time.

In 1987 there were a few ways you could guarantee a book would sell at least the first issue. It could feature ninjas. It could have a title that followed the formula "Age+Affliction+Martial Arts Occupation+Animal." It could be Gritty. Or, it could have some sort of shiny, flashy, cover gimmick. As the combination of martial arts occupations and animals dwindled, ninjas and cover gimmicks became the mainstay. It's should be no surprise that 1987 is when I bought the first issue of Zen Intergalactic Ninja. It slacked off a little on the second rule, but it's generally understood that observing all four was pretty tacky anyway.** Not that Zen escaped being tacky.

The issue was held closed by a metallic blue sticker, it caught the eye from across the room and said "You'll have to ruin my collector's value if you want to read me. Better buy two!" If there was any doubt that this first issue would indeed have some value as a collectors item, a passage at the top of the page clearly states "COLLECTORS EDITION." This is followed by the confusing "Includes Never-Before-Seen Material." Quite frankly, never before seen material is something I rather expect from a first issue.***

The cover art features a naked blue man with questionable anatomy, and no mouth, holding a stick. He's scowling, I think, it's hard to tell with no mouth. Rendered against a solid black background in an air brush style that can loosely be described as "Not Good Enough For A Van" the cover manages to display little to no information about the setting, the story, the character, or why he's wielding a length of carved bathroom plumbing. You just gotta buy the book and break that shiny collectors seal.

Unfortunately, even after you do that, few of your questions will be answered.**** The setting turns out to be some kind of luddite swamp planet that has no signs technology or civilization other than a lady sitting in a glowing bubble. I don't expect alien planets to be festooned with spring break revelers waving their titties from a balcony or a Starbucks pastiche every 200 meters, but I think it's reasonable that any planet featuring a lady in a glowing orb protected by creatures with manufactured weapons have some rudimentary signs of industrial infrastructure. Maybe a sidewalk or something.

The story takes a staggering, but standard, 28 pages to detail a hike through a swamp, a few fight scenes and a negotiation for trade of precious jewelry. This all sounds reasonable until you discover that the fight scenes are generally concluded in 3 panels, and the negotiation consists of little more than a mugging, that again takes no more than three panels. Zen spends more time leaving his insectoid space ship and returning to it than he does anything else. Fortunately, to break the tedium of watching him hike, we're treated to Zen blasting out quality one liners like "Zen's Koan: Where there's bubbles, there's trouble!" This is a line that is so preposterous, on so many levels, that I feel the book should have been subtitled "I hate you."*****

The characterization of Zen is as thin and brittle as injera******, but not nearly as tasty. Reading this book you never really understand where Zen is coming from, or why. We get the vague idea that he does what he does as some sort of mercenary. Which is a pretty ninja thing to do, but not really very zen if you ask me. On the second to last page we're gifted with two whole panels of introspection that deliver most of the character's available motivation. Whatever he does, he's been doing it for three hundred years. Which, if you ask me, is a long time to be wandering swamp planets and beating up silent broads.

Bad story and shallow characters are nothing new for comic books though, not even in 1987. It's a popular fad among comic book writers to explore a popular character by making them unappealing and offensive to a degree that devoted fans of the character are driven to the internet to complain endlessly about just what color Bat-Man's shirt should be.******* Many of these comic books choose to balance the insipid stories with interesting art. Perhaps the beloved character, transformed from a noble crime fighter to a psychotic potty mouthed kidnapper, will stand in dramatic light and yell with gritted teeth and bulging neck veins. Kids love that shit.********

Zen Intergalactic Ninja is bolder than that though. This book doesn't need the crutch of art to foist its confusing dishwater story on the audience. In fact, the art appears to be something of a side issue. A minor element of the artistic statement the creators are attempting to make. So minor, that it may have been left as a task for a child. Or perhaps a well trained elephant with access to art supplies.

The entire book is illustrated with an air brush technique that takes liberty with perspective, anatomy and consistency to a degree that would make Rob Liefeld blush and mutter. Zen's head changes shape from panel to panel. His musculature is rendered in ways that are frightening and surely painful. The masking between elements appears to have been done with a garden spade. Each creature depicted appears to have an individual light source for every muscle and chitinous bulge. It's perhaps no surprise that the element most accurately and carefully rendered in this High School Art Fair style are the breasts of the unconscious antagonist. They are the sort of breasts that defy gravity and reality in the way only a teenager can believe and cosmetic science can produce.*********

I have it on some authority that Zen Intergalactic Ninja has reached a degree of cult status over the years, getting treatment from the likes of Mike Mignola, Sam Keith and Mike Esposito. Quite frankly, this astounds me. It's like drawing a smiley face on a broken brick and hurling it through your neighbor's window. Sure it has a pretty smile, but it still broke the vase that grandma's ashes were in.

Several years after this opus first issue was released, Steven Stern and Dan Cote, who created Zen, sold the property to Archie Comics and changed the focus of Zen from Hardened Space Ninja Mercenary Thief to Environmental Hero With A Message For Kids. From what I can tell, this was the defining moment in the publication history of the book. Remarkably, despite all of the problems, this book has, and in contrast to the general rule that 'anything claiming to be a collectors item is typically no such thing', the first issue of Zen Intergalactic Ninja retains a relatively high resale value. According to Comic Book Price Guide, my issue of Zen Intergalactic Ninja prices above $12.

From what I hear Zen had something of a revival in 2008 and Devil's Due Publishing said it was going to release a new ongoing series. The DDP website is mysteriously bereft of any information about a past, present, or future, Zen comic. Even the Zen Intergalactic Ninja official website makes no mention of it, so I can only presume that at some point last year DDP woke up from a coke fueled Vegas bender and realized they'd made a mistake. With any luck Zen is as dead as every other ninja from the 80s.

Except Sho Kosugi. He's cool.

*Pro tip: it's only an investment if you ever sell it.
**The 80s were a time of excess though.
***First collectors issue! 28 pages of reprinted art and a five page letter column!
****Note: The book will never explain how he keeps his stick attached to his back when he never wears a shirt.
*****I hesitate to call it dialogue, because it's never really clear if Zen is talking out loud.
******That's a tasty thin Ethiopian bread. Look it up.
*******I'm looking at you Frank Miller.
********Still looking at you Frank. Seriously, cut that shit out.
*********The misogynistic tendencies of comic art something that should be touched on in more detail later.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Friday, May 15, 2009

No Thank You: Comics We Will Never Read, Week of 05/20/2009

We here at SeeBelow* are devoted readers of all kinds of comics: good, bad, and really quite unbelievably bad. But there isn't enough time for us to read everything, and to be honest, there's a lot of stuff issued each and every week that we wouldn't touch even if we were stuck in a doctor's waiting room for all eternity. So every Friday, we'll check in on Comics We Will Never Read.

“The Greatest American Hero” Mini-Series (Catastrophic/Arcana Studio), $3.50

The incompetent superhero series you mildly tolerated as a child is back, in shabbily drawn comic book form! Special bonus pathos: it’s written by GAH actor William Katt, who has plenty of time on his hands these days.

Robert Jordan’s “Wheel of Time”: Eye of the World #0 [Previews Exclusive Cover] (Dabel Brothers Productions), $3.99
At last count, Robert Jordan’s turgid “Wheel of Time” series of fantasy novels stands at 827 volumes, to be expanded before completion depending on how well the current installment sells. So why not spend even more money on a comic book adaptation which, given the current pace, will be finished sometime around the year 3014? Special bonus variant cover version so they can charge more money!

Final Crisis Aftermath: Dance #1 (DC), $2.99

Okay, with Joe Casey at the helm, there is a slight chance this might be readable (though, with Chriss Cross doing the art, there is a much less slight chance it will suck), but seriously, how many fucking Final Crisis spin-offs are there going to be? I mean, is DC fandom really dying to find out what Japan’s “Super Young Team” are doing après-Crisis?

The Boys: Herogasm #1 [Virgin Variant Cover] (Dynamite Entertainment), $2.99

Garth Ennis brings us more superheroes having loveless, abusive sex. There’s not a single appealing word in that title other than “The”.

Let’s Find Pokémon Crystal! Softcover (Viz Media), $11.99

Let’s not and say we did.

The duty of a writer of pastiche is to resemble the original - Thomas and Windsor-Smith vs. Busiek and Nord on Conan

(Reposted from my now defunct typepad site)
It's hardly a suprise that I enjoy Robert E. Howard's writing, I've said it enough times. As a result, my hesitation to read the recent relaunch of an ongoing Conan series by Dark Horse Comics may or may not be surprising. On the one hand, I enjoy every single Conan story written by Howard himself, but on the other, I can't stand Lin Carter, L. Sprague de Camp or Robert Jordan's attempts to write him. And I've had mixed feelings about Kurt Busiek as a writer in the past. I've liked parts of Astro City but disliked Marvels, and haven't felt strongly enough about his other work one way or another.

It doesn't help that I've been re-reading the original Roy Thomas stories as Dark Horse has collected those, and frankly despite an ominvoric attempt to take every REH story that's not nailed down and adapt it as a Conan tale (and some stories neither about Conan nor written by Howard - at one point, Thomas adapts C.L. Moore's classic Shambleau which basically takes balls of molten steel the size of small planets... why not adapt Moby Dick? Hell, who knows, maybe he did, I haven't read past volume 6 of the reprints yet) Thomas does a really good job of making a Conan who resembles the original, a lot better than most fans of Howard would be prepared to admit, I think.

This is in part due to a general hostility towards the 'non-canonical' interference of later authors interpolating their own versions of Conan, generally less intelligent, less interesting Conans to be sure, and to be fair Thomas' Conan is less intelligent and capable than Howard's is. But Thomas isn't writing straight pastiche here, he's adapting the character and his milleu to the comic book form, and paradoxically to bring Conan to four color life it's actually necessary to present him as, well, less superheroic. This is most easily seen in the development of the series from the first few issues, which are drawn by Barry Windsor-Smith in a rather typical Kirbian four color style and which feature time travelling wizards, pictures of moon landings, and apes straight out of the silver age. Frankly, they don't work. It's only when Thomas and Windsor-Smith focus on Conan's exploits as a young, untried thief and adventurer new to the southern lands of the Hyborian Age that the series begins to find itself, and frankly in order for that change to work Conan cannot seem as indomitable and omnicapable as he often does in Howard's work.

Yeah, I can't believe I just argued that for Conan to work in the comics he has to be toned down, but it's true, at least for the first issues of Thomas' run. Howard's character is admirable because, in his first appearance, he's already an experienced man, a former reaver, a King, learned in both lore and the hard language of violence, still capable and willing to draw steel but not the fur-clad near savage he once was, and because Howard chose a non-linear way to produce new Conan stories we always met him at some different point in his career, always informed of his ultimate destiny but able to see him through new eyes... a young savage in Zamora climbing an elephant tower, a reaver along the southern coast called Amra the Lion, a frontiersman on the Aquilonian border to Pictland. Thomas' series, on the other hand, was progressing in a linear fashion from younger to older, and as a result Conan needs room to change and grow in a way that he didn't in Howard's stories. For the most part, it works. It helps that, despite the general sneering of the Howard fan at the comics, Windsor-Smith's portrayal of the man helps capture the 'panther-like ferocity' so oft remarked by his original chronicler.

To see Barry Windsor-Smith's work on Conan in Volumes 1 through 4 of the collections is to see an artist continually improve in almost surprising leaps and bounds. The artist who draws the first few stories would seem a pale imitation of the man who painstakingly illustrated Red Nails if not for the fact that we know it's the same man, and while Smith has never been a bad artist, it's telling to say that if Gil Kane had done two issues of the book at the early stages of the run, Smith might well have never come back to it. But by the end of his run, he could leave the book in Kane's hands and then decide to return, and in fact was even a better choice for interior artist on the title. Considering how much I love Gil Kane as an artist, that's saying a BIG something, but it's still true. As good an artist as Kane was, by that time Smith was even better. He perfectly suited the character and subject matter.

Having said that Thomas did a better Conan pastiche than some of the most famous authors ever to touch the character, and having said that Smith did wonderful, character defining art for the book, how then do I rate Busiek and Nord, the writer and artist who launched the modern series?

They do themselves proud. In fact, I was very surprised to find that, while I still prefer Thomas and Smith, I really enjoyed Busiek's take on the character. Unlike some of his superhero work, which can be somewhat drenched in maple for my taste, Busiek writes a sparse, lean script on the six plus issues of the book collected in the Dark Horse paperback entitled The Frost Giant's Daughter and other stories. Unlike Thomas, who often chose to adapt REH stories about other characters into Conan stories, or non-REH Conan stories, or even non-REH, non-Conan stories if he liked them enough, Busiek appears to be taking the established Howard stories and using them as a frame to give himself room to write all new tales of the Cimmerian. It allows him to stamp the stories as his own from the start without being nearly so beholden on the interpolations of writers like Carter and De Camp, although it's clear that like them he keeps the essay A Probable Outline of Conan's Career by Clark and Schuyler somewhere in mind, in terms of the chronology of Conan's career. I found myself impressed by Busiek's ability to present Conan as smart, young, eager, brave, and vicious in turn in his stories, while still retaining just enough youthful naivete to believe the legends of lost Hyperborea. Nord, for his part, usually does a rather remarkable job portraying the moody and violent land of the northern Hyborian wastes, and might well be at his best in the issues set in Hyperborea itself, where Conan confronts the horrible cost of the magical paradise he's come so far to discover. Nord's art isn't perfect - at times he renders the future King of Aquilonian with a simpering, slack-jawed grin simply not suitable for a man who would rather let a poet stab him than destroy an artist, but such missteps are rare.

Luckily, in the volumes I have assembled I can compare and contrast the two creative teams by looking at one story they both adapted: Howard's The Frost Giant's Daughter. Nord and Busiek choose to open with scenes of headless bodies laying dead in the snow as seen from above, while Thomas and Smith give us a vast panorama of the dead against the white with two small figures in the center of the dead, two last warriors coming to blows alone amidst the corpses. Nord chooses vivid, jagged motion and grotesqueries to set the piece in a distinctive style, while for Smith there is instead a clean, stark spareness to the lines as Conan slays the last member of Hymdul's band and later chases the daughter of Ymir across the snowy wastes, intent on catching her for his own lusts. I can't say which approach is better. I prefer Windsor-Smith's rendition of the daughter of Ymir and the frost giants, but Nord's dynamism is visually appealing and suits the story well.

In the end, an old man prefers that which he came to know first, but I can't say I dislike Busiek and Nord's work on Conan so far. It's some of the best work Busiek's ever done.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

McFarlane wants to do another Spawn movie, which proves once and for all that I did something very evil in a past life

I mean, what else is there to say about it? Who was clamoring for a new Spawn film? Whoever you are, I hate you more than every language ever created by human beings can possibly convey. It would take me twenty years just to invent the grammatical structure of a new language entirely dedicated to talking about how bad Spawn is for me to explicate how very much I hate this idea.

In other words, I don't like Spawn very much and I don't want a new Spawn movie. Just let it die already!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Game Theory: Who Is Superboy?

A friend of mine was asking me, the other day, about the Superman Family, and the plethora of Super-Boys and Super-Girls, and if there was ever a Super-Woman (There have been a few, and none of them have been any good really), and mostly he was trying to get me to help him wrap his head around Super-Dog.

"Was there really a super-dog?"
"Yep, Krypto, he was Superman's pet dog from Krypton."
"What the -? Really? Did he have super powers?"
"Sure, he was super strong, he could fly, he had heat vision..."
"Was the heat vision in black and white?"

What I ended up telling him was that you don't really have to get your head around Krypto, you need to get your head around Superboy. And what you need to know about Superboy is that his real super-power isn't that he can fly, or is super-strong, or is invulnerable, but rather that he is the boy who gets everything he ever wished for.

Superboy is a kid who loses his home and his kind, loving parents, and then immediately acquires another home and another set of kind, loving parents. Some time later, he's bemoaning that he hasn't got any sort of super-playmate with whom he can romp among the asteroid belt nor fly around the sun, and lo and behold, that very same issue, along comes his own personal pet dog from Krypton, complete with super-powers and ready to play!

He worries that his parents are so very old, and so that they can continue to care for him, they become young! He mopes that he hates lying to his friends and wishes he didn't have to hide his secret from them, and then voila, in the same story his trustworthy pal Pete Ross happens upon Clark changing into Superboy during a particularly violent storm, and becomes his secret confidante! He grumbles that he has no other super-powered teenage friends to share his burdens, and taa-daa, super-powered teenagers from the 30th century appear as if by magic!

(One of the things which used to bug me about the old Superboy series - and which did on Smallville as well - was how the younger versions of the Superman cast all made their way through Smallville eventually, meeting Clark Kent or Superboy along the way. Teenaged Lois Lane, reporter Perry White, Aqua-BOY, young Bruce Wayne and Oliver Queen, they all traipsed through Smallville at least once and made Superboy's acquaintance, long before they gathered together as adults. Now, I see that as more of Superboy's wish fulfillment, that the people he meets whom he likes are wished back into his life as he grows older).

The wishing power only works, though, when Superman is a boy, and the wishes are selfish. When it's time to become a man, when he adopts responsibilities rather than chooses to be cared for, then it doesn't work - which is one of the sadder things about Superman, and one of the reasons I like the folk components so much.

His adopted parents finally do die, at the same time that Superboy is leaving Smallville and becoming Superman. He cannot save them because he no longer wants them to live to take care of him, but to live because he loves them, and to live for themselves. For the same reasons, he can never free his friend Mon-El from the Phantom Zone, nor enlarge Kandor (I know he eventually did, but he shouldn't have had), nor marry Lois Lane (or Lori Lemaris, or Sally Selwyn, or so on), and really should never be able to have children, because these are all wishes for the safety and happiness of others, and that he has to fight for, and ultimately fight for them only to fail.

So, you know, that's kind of neat.

[The image for this entry comes from the terrific blog, The Magic Robot]

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

It's a Wrong Idea: Eminem/Punisher

Ever since his historical crossover with 1950s remnant Archie, The Punisher has been looking for another weedy white guy who is overly jingoistic about his hometown and cruel to women to team up with. He’s finally picked one, and now over on, you can read the story of Eminem and the Punisher: Kill You.

Or you can just skip it since I read it for you.

Written by Fred Van Lente with art by Salvador Larroca, the story starts out with Frank Castle arriving after an Eminem Concert and murdering all of Slim Shady’s security gaurds. Why? We find out it’s because he’s there to save Eminem from being killed by hired hitman Barracuda. Of course, he could’ve simply warned them, helped them protect the rapper, or even probably stayed at home and let them do their jobs themselves, but instead he murders innocent men, which results in Barracuda actually kidnapping both Eminem and the Punisher.

It’s pretty much all that stupid.

****in' ****, indeed, Marshall.  ***in' ****, indeed.

Once kidnapped, Barracuda for reasons that are briefly but completely unsuccessfully explained, does not kill Eminem nor the Punisher, but instead takes the on a boat ride from Detroit a few hours out into Lake Eerie (I guess) and plans to kill them by throwing them into the water instead.

Now we’re dealing with a story about two ostensibly heroic or at least likable* white dudes teaming up against the stereotype of the scary giant black man who says things like “I be freezin’ off my favorite parts” and, honest to God, at one point gives us an “Aw HELL no!”

Eventually Eminem borrows a chainsaw from an ice-fishing Gene Hackman (conveniently, the elderly angler is a BIG fan of the misogynist rapper) and gruesomely hacks up Barracuda while the Punisher does juuuuuust barely more than nothing.

Thanks, Gene.  And I loved you in "The French Connection."

If this comic was supposed to make me more inclined to buy Eminem’s new album or Punisher comics, it fails pretty miserably on both counts. Also, it fails to make a single "Punish Yourself" joke in the whole comic.  See, I'm barely familiar with Eminem's oeuvre and I was still able to quickly out-clever this whole self-satisfied "aren't we badass" affair.

For a much more enjoyable Eminem/Superhero comic connection, just watch the video for “Without Me” again. It takes itself a lot less seriously.

* There's really no indication that these guys are meant to be likable, but I have to assume that was the intent.

It's A Wrong Idea: Identity Crisis

Deep breath, Matt. Take a deep breath.

The problem I had with Brad Meltzer's Identity Crisis when it first came out was the same problem I'd have later with Marvel's Civil War storyline. Well, one problem I had with both of them, anyway. Each has so many problems, really. It's somewhat like running to the bridge of a listing ship and finding out that not only has it hit an iceberg, but that command of the vessel has been assumed by the world's foremost naval disaster fetishist. He's masturbating furiously at the wheel while the boat sinks into the icy waters of the Atlantic.

In short, the thing's a disaster and instead of knowing that, the person in charge is thrilled with each and every second of it.

The basic plot structure of IC is a murder mystery, which is probably why Meltzer was hired to write it in the first place. Sue Dibny, wife of the Elongated Man (Ralph Dibny, a loveable Plastic Man derivative with an interest in detective work) is murdered and her corpse incinerated. Then suspicion falls on Doctor Light, a 70's era villain who modern audiences know less from his appearances in Justice League and more for getting whupped by the Teen Titans a lot in the company of guys named Psimon and Mammoth.

We soon discover that Sue was in fact assaulted and raped one day while alone on the Justice League satellite by Doctor Light, who was then discovered by about half of the JLA. They then decide to allow Zatanna, the magician member of the team (You know, the one who wears fishnets all the time) to use magic to wipe Dr. Light's knowledge of the rape he's committed from his mind, and also to tinker with his personality to make him less effective at evil.

Batman finds out and so they also wipe his memory of their wiping Dr. Light's memory.

There's more awful to this story, and it's been five years since it came out so I probably don't need to worry about spoilers even if I thought it could be spoiled, but I'm going to take some time to go over why the central conceit of the story strikes me as somewhat ridiculous.

It's clear that Meltzer loves the Satellite Era of the JLA. It came clearly through in his later run on Justice League itself. with the Red Tornado storyline, and it comes through here as well. Meltzer's JLA is the one that forgave Snapper Carr for trying to kill them as the Star Tsar, the one that fought Dr. Light in the first place. I don't doubt that Mr. Meltzer knows that the satellite computer contained an alien being or that the satellite was constructed using Thanagarian, Kryptonian and even Oan technology. As someone who read a lot of those same JLA comics, the idea that the writer of a major event comic was also steeped in them didn't exactly bother me, until I read IC.

I'm sorry, but having Sue Dibny murdered and then having her rape years before be the suspected catalyst for the murder (and worse, having it turn out that the aforementioned rape didn't really have anything to do with her death, so it's pointless and horrifying, albeit a classic red herring) manages to take those late silver/early bronze age JLA comics and spits on their corpse. Not only does it reduce Sue to an object, her only purpose in the story to be raped and murdered so that we get dramatic tension between superheroes and get to see the formerly fun loving Elongated Man reduced to emotional ruins, but it also flies in the face of the same JLA that once forgave a man for trying to kill them.

The satellite era JLA as they appeared in the comics of the 70's and 80's would not tamper with criminal's brains. They weren't Doc Savage and his men in a pulp era story, they were costumed super heroes at the tail end of the period where, at most, they might have their relevance questioned in a story. Furthermore, while Dr. Light was always portrayed as a villain who would attempt to kill the JLA in various light-based deathtraps, it's a pretty far jump from that to cackling, sadistic rapist. The whole thing plays out like a fumbling attempt to inject 'relevance' into comic books that are nearly twenty years old. I have no doubt in my mind that Brad Meltzer knows and loves the JLA, and yet, his first choice when writing the very characters he loved was to make them morally complicit in covering up a rape, to the point where they even violate Batman's mind to do it.

This conceit aside (and it's a bad one to start with - I mean, the story goes so far as to make Sue Dibny be pregnant when she's killed to amp up the pathos) the story that unfolds from it doesn't really do it any favors. We have Deathstroke the Terminator defending Dr. Light (who, as we just pointed out, often held off the whole JLA, including Superman and Green Lantern) from a group of super heroes in ridiculous badass style, we have the current Robin's father getting killed by Captain Boomerang for no real reason that I can determine aside from keeping alive the somewhat ludicrous 'The families of super heroes are in danger from an unknown killer' subplot, and both Captain Boomerang and his target die for it. At least we get a male supporting character's pointless death to serve the purpose of affecting the superheroes in addition to a female supporting character. Since we can't change the superhero, we'll just kill everyone he knows for drama.

And in the end, as I mentioned before, Sue Dibny's death had nothing at all to do with her rape at the hands of Dr. Light. No, like every new episode of Law and Order you've ever seen late at night on A&E while waiting for something else because you didn't think you'd need a Tivo (don't even try and figure out who all those people are, everyone you remember from the show is dead or quit years ago) the ultimate secret is that Jean Loring, one of Sue's friends and a former superhero wife herself, is in fact behind everything. The reason? She decided she wanted her ex-husband Ray "The Atom" Palmer back, and so instead of going to him and saying "Hey, Ray, I'm still in love with you" she thought it would be better if she stole his size-changing belt and went on a walkabout inside her best friend's brain to scare all the superheroes so that her ex would come see if she was in danger.

The worst part about this plan? It actually works. Ray comes back to save Jean from a staged hanging and ends up in bed with her, which just makes the eventual denoument of this whole sordid mess (locks her up in Arkham and vanishes) even more painful. I mean, Jean was a lawyer. A successful one, too. Also, while Ray was struggling with a teaching position at a minor league college and playing superhero on the side, Jean was off having extramarital affairs (and even eventually leaving Ray for the guy she'd been sleeping with) and was hardly pining for Ray. (To be fair, Ray ran off to South America and hooked up with a six inch tall alien princess, so... never mind.) So in the process, one female character manages to get raped, then murdered so that another female character can become a neurotic, obsessed murderer who kills people in order to get her ex back.

Did I mention that she didn't mean to kill Sue? That she accidentally murdered her friend by walking inside of her brain but luckily happened to have a flame thrower with her to incinerate the body? That's some good thinking there. Imagine if she forgot the flame thrower? Likewise, Jack Drake (Robin's father) died because Jean hired Captain Boomerang to kill him, but she sent Jack a gun and a note warning him because she didn't intend for him to die. That's right, she hired a dude who is so skilled with a boomerang that he can face off against a man who can run at the speed of light but she totally figured that gun she sent would even things up. The fact that Boomer managed to get shot at all is the rough equivalent of Bill Buckner's infamous slip up during the 86 World Series, it's a fluke that really shouldn't have happened.

So we have a formerly intelligent, successful woman reduced to deranged idiot who plots out crime sprees, another formerly intelligent, successful woman reduced to a charred husk (and oh no, she was pregnant! Because being burned to death isn't bad enough people) and a loving flashback to the satellite era JLA, with added rape and mindfuckery. This is not even mentioning that in a story with Superman, the Martian Manhunter, Green Lantern, the freaking Batman... nobody puts this thing together? The JLA stands around like idiots for seven issues.

I've barely even mentioned stuff like Deathstroke making chumps of six superheroes because, you know, whatever. The story's already so stupid I can't bring myself to care that it jobs the JLA to make a guy named Deathstroke the Terminator look good. Seriously, pare that name down. I also didn't really heap enough scorn at the idea that we needed a magical brain wipe to explain why Dr. Light was played more for laughs when Wolfman and Perez used him in The New Teen Titans. I mean, I was okay assuming Wolfman wrote him differently because he wanted to use him less as a dire threat and more as a foil, but then again that was because I didn't know about his being a rapist.

If Meltzer thought that making Dr. Light a rapist would in any way restore credibility to him as a villain, he was wrong. Instead, we get a story some years later where Dr. Light is turned into a candle after kidnapping several women, dressing them up as the Teen Titans, and raping them. You know, I'm so glad we as a society have moved away from silly, fumbling Dr. Light and towards hardcore rapist Dr. Light.

In the end, Identity Crisis is a love letter to the satellite era JLA stories, but it's so misguided and deranged that it comes off less like a love letter and more like a smeared page of notebook paper covered in strange stains talking about how it will always, always, alwaus love you and if you leave it will have to kill you. Plus, it kicked off Infinite Crisis, or as I like to call it, Captain Superboy's Head Punching Extravaganza. I'm sure we'll rant more about that later.

Monday, May 11, 2009

It's A Wrong Idea: Marvels

[Originally posted at Gone&Forgotten]

Had a chance this weekend to re-read Marvels, the much-ado-about comic which Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross helmed, back inna early 90's or so. It's not exactly Watchmen, or even "The Watchmen of its day," but I suppose it's still correct to call it "pivotal" since it spawned so many superhero stories told from the everyman's perspective (By which I mean "Everything Kurt Busiek and Mark Waid wrote after that, pretty much.")

For those of you who missed out, the book follows photojournalist Phil Sheldon through more'n three decades of living alongside and photographing super-heroes in action. Oh, and being outraged - OUTRAGED, I TELL YOU - at the lack of gratitude felt among the steak-and-potato set for the cape-and-cowl set.

I was impressed as hell when I read this thing the first time around. Alex Ross art aside (though I still think it woulda looked better on newsprint, retro-billy as I am), they did some interesting things - like the fact that Phil Sheldon's photographic portfolio is composed largely of famous covers and splash panels from assorted Marvel titles down the years, thus retroactively inserting him into these famous scenes and making him an essential element to their history. Also, that the mutant girl in issue two or three, I forget, is from this old EC Wally Wood story, but that's neither here nor there.

In any case, rereading it now, I find it pretty weak. Characters are one-dimensional, dialogue is flat, and I think it's inarguable that the whole story could have been told in a single issue. Mostly, though, this story is more of a superhero porno than Hustler comics ever was. If you'd like to see a comic fan whack off over his childhood idols (and adulthood idols, for that matter), this is the series for you.

Marvels spends an inordinate amount of time in abject idol worship. Whereas the dynamic established is between normal human and superhuman, the basic message of this book is "Anyone more powerful, glamorous or ostensibly superior to you should be lauded and glamorized without question or criticism." Or at least, "Fail to question authority, kids, anyone who claims to be working for your best interests deserves your undying gratitude!"

Let's face it, I love me some goddamn super-heroes. But in comic books, not real life, and there ain't no two ways about it. If they REALLY existed - and I'm talking about even established, captured-the-hearts-of-a-nation super-types existing, here - I'd be up in arms about 'em, presuming I found time to leave my bunker.

I mean, why exactly would I be head over heels for masked, anonymous vigilantes whose basic concept of 'justice' involves superceding or downright abusing three amendments to the Constitution? And should I be even more excited about the ones decked out in costumes promoting an ideology, or who represent the interests of a non-populist institution, all the while participating in public displays of force which one could only call "A tad intimidating?"

Top of my head, take Iron Man for example. Metal-headed motherfucker in question is the 'private bodyguard' of an old money playboy billionaire, and the head of security for his pet pocket multinational industrial munitions corporation - you know, the one with all the government contracts for developing weapons to be used by the top secret and wholly unaccountable espionage/anti-espionage agency S.H.I.E.L.D.

And hey, not only is he this corporate errand boy for a war profiteer, he's also a member of an organization which has access to classified government documents worldwide, and on which he serves next to a ranking American military officer and living symbol of the national policy. Oh, but hey, he saved New York from that guy who erases stuff with his magic gloves, so I shouldn't suspect his motives.

Put any of these guys in real-life analogs, and is it any surprise that the hoi polloi in Marvels give no love to the Avengers? Say you had a team composed of a one-man arsenal under the employ of Haliburton, a jingoist military figure, a representative of the same pantheon routinely invoked by batshit neo-Nazis, and then a pair of Westchester WASPs with a trust fund and a federal grant keeping them living la vida Kennedy, all of whom have the power to bust into your secret crime lab-slash-birthday party and arrest your ass ...

At one point in the story, Sheldon yells at superhero detractors in the street, something like "What do you want - THE WORLD TO ACTUALLY END?" Wow, good point Phil, except ... yes, the superheroes save the world from being destroyed, but the folks who're trying to destroy the world are pretty much the flip side of their coin. Even having lost an eye early in the story, I can't believe that Sheldon somehow neglects to notice that there are just as many super bad guys as there are super good guys. Shouldn't a trained, experienced journalist be able to draw from that a notion that the powers and costume alone do not make a saint of every one of these psychos?

But then, Phil Sheldon isn't a character, he's Kurt Busiek's personal science fiction fantasy twin. Sheldon is passionate, respected, experienced and widely-traveled, he's reported from the front lines in Europe, he's waded into riots and natural disasters, he's even sacrificed a part of his body to be 'where the action is.' What better waldo to send into a 'fictionalized world' where nobody respects super-heroes, am I right? Is Kurt Busiek writing a story about heroes and their role in respect to the common world, or is he writing the ultimate foot-stomping fanboy assault against a community which still thinks any man in his thirties who reads "Spider-Man" is a virgin, a loser and a 'tard whose home address leads directly to his parents' basement?

Clue: It's the latter. Phil Sheldon isn't proselytizing to his neighbors and peers, he's yelling at your mom.

Superheroes in comics are a fucking fantasy world, where noble actions are rewarded with glory and warm fuzzies, or at least they are when you tell the story from the superhero perspective. Tell the story from the perspective of the common man, and ... jesus Kurt, why didn't you just ask Ross to draw Sheldon sucking superhero cock. He can start with the C-List, Iron Fist and Ant-Man maybe, then move up to Captain Mar-Vell and Ghost Rider, the fan favorites. Issue four, it's a World's Greatest Superheroes/Largest Gangbang at the Baxter Building! Prince Namor, eh, and you say you're on the list? You're a friend of Magneto, you say? Mister Magnus didn't leave a guest pass for you ...

I sound like I'm angry at the book, which I sort of am. Maybe not at the book itself - which is, at the worst, a pale counter-humanist fable - but at the legacy of "realistic super hero" comics it created, and the collective insult to the intelligence which followed.

Mark Waid is the greatest offender, as the few normal human beings who manage to make their way into his comics (thanks for destroying the best supporting cast in comics, Mark, Flash became so much better when every issue guest-starred every fast super hero ever and a mouthful of pathetic psuedo-science about 'speed forces' ...) do little more than reassure the hero that he is loved, admired and necessary. Rain as much destruction on a city as you like, all the citizens care about is that you saved the day, Fantastic Four! Let's give them a standing ovation, we'll clear the bodies later.

Maybe this sticks in my craw because America, as a mass, seems to be losing its ability to generate even the merest spark of common humanity, empathy or community. Everyone thinks they're goddamn Stone Cold Steve Austin, that they're a loner badass and that common ethics and manners ain't nothing much more than the setup to the joke where they cram a beer can in your eye as a punchline. And when this cavalier irrelevance of humanism starts to infect the escapist fantasy which - in my youth, anyway - is supposed to ennoble selflessness, responsibility, and flat-out heroism in the minds of kids...

Well, man.

And Marvels. Man, Kurt, whatever it is you were trying to do, I have to ask ... "What have you done?"

Friday, May 8, 2009

No Thank You: Comics We Will Never Read, Week of 05/13/2009

We here at SeeBelow* are devoted readers of all kinds of comics: good, bad, and really quite unbelievably bad. But there isn't enough time for us to read everything, and to be honest, there's a lot of stuff issued each and every week that we wouldn't touch even if we were stuck in a doctor's waiting room for all eternity. So every Friday, we'll check in on Comics We Will Never Read.

Manga Shakespeare "Othello" Graphic Novel (Abrams), $10.95

One surefire way to deaden our interest is to take a perfectly acceptable idea and turn it into manga for no discernable reason. We're mildly curious to see why the Moor is portrayed in the same vaguely Asian way as all manga characters, but not enough to pony up eleven bucks to watch a cutesy-fied, big-pupilled Desdemona get strangled to death.

Terry Moore's "Echo" #12 (Abstract Studios), $3.50

The key words influencing our decision here are the first two.

History Of The DC Universe Trade Paperback [New Printing] (DC), $12.99

Wow, a chance to pay 13 smackers for a 'history' that has already been superseded by events before it even hits the stands! DC treats its continuity like a hooker it has chained up in its basement, driving many good people insane; why on Earth would we enable them by buying something its own editors haven't paid attention to in years?

How To Cosplay. Vol 1 (Graphic-Sha), $24.99

Er, no. No thank you.

Hardy Boys Hardcover Vol. 17: Word Up (Papercutz), $12.95

Yes, it's the same old Hardy Boys adventures you enjoyed when you were young, assuming you are now very old, only in comic book form! With bad art and storytelling! Plus, they're all like NOW! And HAPPENING! And URBAN, as witnessed by the use of hip-hop slang that was outdated in 1986! Also? Manga.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Things What I Like: Scout

Earlier in the week I spent some time talking about my love of post apocalyptic fiction. I did so as an opening for a review of Wasteland, which is a fine book by any measure. I would be remiss though, if I neglected to mention what is, perhaps, my favorite comic book in the genre.


In 1986, just five years after graduating from the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art, Timothy Truman launched Scout with Eclipse. Truman was riding the success of the Grim Jack franchise he had established with John Ostrander earlier in the 80s and Scout ended up being another well received title, if not as popular as Grimjack had been.

Scout ran for an initial 24 issues and was relatively unique in the genre of post apocalyptic fiction for two reasons; the catalyst of the apocalyptic setting, and a native American protagonist who wasn't patronizing to the native American community*.

Throughout the 80s, and even into the 90s, the clear majority of stories in the genre had a nuclear exchange, or more rarely a non-nuclear war, between the two most prominent super powers the world had ever seen; The Soviet Union and the United States of America. This was a natural reaction to the fear and paranoia that the cold war had given rise to and if you aren't old enough to remember the cold war, it's difficult to explain just how pervasive these scenarios were**.

Instead of featuring a nuclear wasteland as a setting, Scout had something more subtle and a little smarter. In it's own way, more likely and therefore believable. In Truman's apocalypse the environmental policies of the US had led to greater and greater ecological devastation. This wasting and polluting of the nation's resources led to increasingly harsh sanctions against a USA in ever deepening financial trouble. The result was a breakdown in law and order, with lost confidence in the government and people taking the law into their own violent hands. In 1986 it seemed a little far fetched. In retrospect one wonders if Truman is prescient***.

The titular protagonist of the story is Emmanuel Santana, an Apache Indian and former Army Ranger. He's a man with demons, literally. Santana is beset by visions and visitations from demons and gods out of the myths of Apache spiritualism. They play the roles of both tormentor and guide, pushing Santana along a path of destruction that has other Apache demons in their sights. These spirits are very real for Santana, but the audience never receives any confirmation or their corporeality , and there is some ambiguity as to whether or not Santana is actually in communion with ancient spirits, or has simply been driven insane. Despite this, Santana believes in them fully and they are each powerful catalysts and motivators in Santana's life, featuring prominently as characters in the story.

Truman treats both Santana and his spiritualism with a degree of respect and accuracy that wasn't common at the time and is still somewhat unique. The roles of the spirits and their character traits are taken directly from the Apache mythology, lending them an authenticity not often seen in American comics****. Truman rarely, if ever, delves into cliches of the American western mythology, instead relying on science fiction and fantasy elements to carry the mysticism. The spirits and Santana himself are simply who they are, straight characters played against the background of a crumbling and increasingly insane world.

The series continued after its initial 24 issues with a few short run books and even as an insert in Truman's first album, Marauder by his band The Dixie Pistols. In 1988 Scout; War Shaman was started, picking up the story 10 years after the end of Scout. The US is in even greater disarray and appears to have faced a complete or nearly complete breakdown in law and order. Santana has found a measure of peace with his wife and two children in a hidden oasis of relative comfort. When his wife dies Santana's peace is dismembered and he, his boys, and his returning demons, leave their protected valley to search for a new home, crossing paths with both old enemies and old friends. Grudges die hard when the world ends.

Scout: War Shaman was among Truman's finest series in my opinion, with art and scripting that was much tighter and cleaner than in the first volume. Unfortunately, the flood that led to the demise of Eclipse comics in the early 90s gave Scout and Scout: War Shaman a Kirk sized double fist to the gut. The flood wiped out the inventory of back issues making the book scarce. When the company went under, Todd McFarlane bought the IP for the entire Eclipse catalog. This led to years of rights conflict for Truman; not only for Scout, but also for Grim Jack as well. Two more additional Scout series had been planned, but never saw the light of day for what should be obvious, but frustrating, reasons*****.

CORRECTION: In the comments to the original article, Truman himself has responded to some inaccuracies. Truman is sole copyright and trademark owner for Scout, and there has never been an ownership conflict with Todd McFarlane or anyone else. It appears that I convoluted some of the details surrounding the problems with Grim Jack, which was publised at First rather than Eclipse, with that of Scout. He goes on to explain how problems with Grim Jack have been resolved and even mentions that Grim Jack: Manx Cat will be published by IDW later this year.

In recent years, trade paperbacks of the first 16 issues of Scout have appeared from Dynamite Entertainment, yet for some reason the remaining 8 issues have, to my knowledge, yet to be collected and reprinted. Nor have there been any trade collections of Scout: War Shaman. I can only presume that this is the result of more rights issues. Unfortunately, if you're a fan of the series like I am, then the only way to get the entire story is to scour boxes for single issues that are getting more and more difficult to come by. It's a book that's worth the search though, and if you've never read it, I recommend starting the quest now.

Originally published at []

*Not played by Anthony Quinn.
**Try to Imagine if American Idol went to war with The Daily Show and both had large stockpiles of weaponized sub-prime mortgages that could be launched from gay weddings, potentially destroying millions of cute cat videos in an uncontrolled DRM storm.
***Remember to start stockpiling water and ammunition!
****See also: Jonah Hex
*****As if you really need more reasons to get a hateon for McFarlane.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Fearsome Fauxs: Cinco de Me-OW!



*At least I think that's a woman.

Monday, May 4, 2009

It's A Wrong Idea: Don't Fuck with the Jesus, Mang!

Many years ago, Rick Veitch (he only became Roarin' later) was fired from Swamp Thing by the Vertigo bigwigs for blasphemy. All he wanted to do was show a cartoon horror salad monster giving comfort to Our Lord and Savior at the moment of His greatest sacrifice! Surely no one could could foresee that might cause offense. Anyway, "The Roarin' One" has received and completed a commission to reproduce the cover image for that lost issue, and here it is.

It may be instructive to compare it to this image from Jim Starlin's "The Death of Captain Marvel" which while equally bizarre in its combination of pulpy kidstuff and beloved religious iconography managed to get published.

The lesson here, I guess, is you can rip off the Pieta and replace Christ with a masked blond hunk from space, but don't have a compost boogieman give Him a cuddle.

Things What I Like: Wasteland

I've always been fond of apocalypse stories, even though I frequently misspell the word and find it a bit tough to roll of the tongue. It's not the word's fault though, many of these problems are my own. I don't hold apocalypse's semantic problems against it.

As a kid I loved the Mad Max series, and virtually any other story that featured dirty men with long hair dressed in football gear roving the wasted ruins in a hodge podge of recycled vehicles. Which I guess is kind of odd considering how overwhelmingly depressing stories about the end of the world can be. What with the mutants, and the cannibals and the rape gangs.*

The Apocalypse makes for compelling drama though**, and despite the dreary setting, most end of the world stories are built on the foundation of hope. Hope that in the absence of all of our technological wonders, and in the aftermath of a total breakdown of civilization, there remains a chance that heros can rise and perform good deeds, even if it is often for the wrong reasons. The plot of these stories resonates with the audience because it reflects the very real fears that most have about the delicacy of our world. Whether it's from environmental mishap or nuclear exchange, there is a persistent, and frankly arrogant, belief among humans that we have the power to destroy the earth we inhabit.

Providing an audience with an environment they can connect to is very important in engaging their attention and the aftermath of a collapsed civilization provides a convincing setting for contemporary fantasy. People turned off by most genre fiction for the unrealistic and unbelievable backdrop of either dragons and elves or of space flight and aliens, have little to no problem imagining themselves as a hardy survivor of the apocalypse.

All of which is a very long introduction to Wasteland, via a love letter to the genre of the apocalypse.

I saw the trade collection of the first six issues while browsing a bin at the Phoenix Comic-Con, I was immediately drawn by the hauntingly beautiful Ben Templesmith cover. It's evocative of the entire genre and immediately signals, "THIS STORY IS ABOUT SURVIVING THE END OF THE WORLD." Furthermore, it tickled my memory, as did the first few pages. I'd clearly seen parts of this story before, perhaps in a preview book from a previous con, or perhaps in a fevered dream brought on after unwittingly insulting a Voodoo Queen on the bus.

I picked up the book immediately, how could I not?*** Antony Johnston has presented a rare story. A subtle combination of epic plot and archetype characters delivered in a lean package that reflects the setting. There's no significant dialogue until page five and the protagonist doesn't speak until page eight. For most comics that aren't G.I. JOE #21, this would be a problem. Johnston makes it work and he does it in such a way that it not only doesn't negatively impact the story, but actually reinforces the oppressive setting of the desert wasteland the story is set in.

To support this dearth of words, Christopher Mitten's illustration is equally lean without being sparse and delivers engaging visuals. The ink reflects the story and outlines the important and bold elements while implying with subtlety the background and supporting elements. This is art that immediately and efficiently tells you what's going on. With no written introduction and minimal dialogue, the setting, character archetype, antagonists and motivations for the first act of the story are immediately and clearly established. Mitten has great lines and uses them like a surgeon, deftly rendering both action and motivation.

The audience isn't directly presented with any information about what caused the breakdown in civilization****, or indeed which civilization it may have been that failed, or when it may have happened. By the end of the sixth issue, we still don't know what the catalyst for the apocalypse is and it doesn't matter that we don't know. While that information is an element of the plot, and like the mysteries surrounding all the main characters, the details of what happened in the past are rationed out at a pace that keeps you wanting to learn more and searching the background and dialogue for hidden clues. This story isn't about what caused the fall of man though, like almost all apocalypse stories, it's about good people trying to survive in a world that's been overrun with the tyranny of the strong and morally compromised.

I think Wasteland is an extraordinarily well assembled story, and I'll be on the lookout for work by this writer and illustrator in the future. You don't have to take my word for it though, you can download the first issue from the official website in .jpeg, .pdf, or .cbr.

There's another lengthy story here about new media savvy publishers and adopting to digital distribution markets, but I'll save that for another day.

Originally published at []

*I suspect this says something very deep and troubling about me as a person, but I choose not to investigate it.
**John of Patmos knows what I'm talking about.
***I have extraordinarily poor impulse control, one of many reasons I'm not allowed access to an open bar without a handler.
****I'm guessing "out of control government biomedical research", or "simultaneous bankruptcy of Krispy Kreme and White Castle." Both would be devastating.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Back to the Roots: The Golden Age Was Insane

One of the reasons I love the Golden Age of Comics is because the heroes were far less likely to put up with your shit. Take the Batman, for example. Batman in his original appearances wasn't this ridiculously omni-capable crimefighter who hated guns and would never, ever kill anyone. Oh my no. The Batman as he appeared in his earliest appearances was a creepy bastard who enjoyed terrifying random passers-by and who would shoot you with a machine gun mounted on an airplane at the flimsiest pretext imaginable. That truck there? It contains gigantic monster freaks made by Hugo Strange, and so Batman has to shoot the drivers to protect us all. Really. And if shooting doesn't work, he'll strangle them to death by dropping a lasso around their necks and hanging them with the airplane.

"He's probably better off this way." Jesus, Batman. That dude might have had a family before a crazy criminal scientist made him into a gigantic monstrosity, you could at least pretend you hesistated before you snuffed him.

I'm not arguing (right now) that all superheroes should revert to their Golden Age personalities. As much as I love the Golden Age Superman's total disregard for human life, dignity or even the basic freedoms we all take for granted (if you don't believe me, here's the GA Superman crashing headlong into an airplane hoping to kill the Ultra-Humanite and here he is breaking into a radio station to inform the city that he's going to wreak havoc on their cars until they obey his traffic safety commands - he threatens the announcer with bodily harm just because he can) I don't really want to read him acting that way in a modern comic book. But I do find the cold, malevolent Batman of the late 30's to be an awesome character.

For example, while heading out to sea to eventually save his then-fiancee from a vampire monk, Batman takes the time to scare the living shit out of everyone just because he can.

Don't even try and tell me he's not enjoying himself there. That little smile as he stares down at the people (random pedestrians, no less) tells us all we need to know. This Batman isn't a grim, obsessed loner haunted by the deaths of his parents. He's working his grief and rage out by terrorizing the city. Fighting crime is the pretext here, it's all about scaring the living shit out of everyone.

Frankly, I miss this and wish we'd get to see a hint of it in the modern portrayals of the characters. Like I said, I don't want entire issues where Superman goes apeshit and decides to force us to enact clean water laws and enforce them by breaking into the offices of the EPA and hanging their administrators over improperly cleaned Superfund sites until they start weeping and pissing themselves, but I would like it if every so often you got the sense he might. Not often, but once in a blue moon people would remember that there was a godlike alien living among them who could, in fact, smash into the Pentagon and hang a four star general off of a flagpole if he felt like it, and there really isn't much we could do to stop him if he did. Just ask Hitler and Stalin, who Superman captured and handed over to the League of Nations before all that messy WWII stuff could happen.

Okay, it didn't really take.

Still, I enjoy the Golden Age, where Batman shot people in their sleep because he was pretty damn sure they were vampires, or possibly werewolves. It was a simpler time.

Black And White Boom: KZ Comics

KZ Comics was a short-lived, Texas-based independent publisher which popped up during the post-TMNT/Cerebus funny animal and black&white indy publishing boom of the 1980s.

KZ publisher Tom Zjaba has put the entirety of the KZ Comics catalog online in a barebones HTML format for the perusal of any interested parties (He also links to poker and blackjack games, enjoy those).

Besides the company's flagship character, Colt the Armadillo, or their other offerings such as the Dungeons&Dragons-inspired Unicorns Kings, the time-travelling Terminator clone The Eliminator, and naturally - since it was the 80s - The Middle Aged Government Tested Atom Splitting Radioactive Democratic Lefthanded Freelance Green Beret Koala Bears, you can see Zjaba's current efforts with a much more skilled collaborator - but, unfortunately, a still-stunted writer's toolbox - on the webcomic Tabloid.

Of greater interest is Tom Zjaba's "Untold Stories" behind each and every issue, where he examines in fascinating and inexplicably minute detail the decisions, reactions and realities of each and every issue which passed through the KZ Comics catalog. The stories he tells are the same stories of other amateur publishers taking advantage of the sudden and, in retrospect, seemingly inexplicable popularity comics enjoyed in the 1980s not only as potentially serious literature but additionally as sound financial investments. Fledgling artists and writers whose skills were inarguably ill-prepared for the spotlight suddenly found themselves the proud poppas of pop culture phenomena and kiddie books selling for double and triple figures in the immediate aftermarket.

As they said of the lions parading around Niagara, pride goeth before a fall. Yet these indy guys in the heyday of the brief renaissance of the Reagan years only ever developed a sense of pride because they were granted a certain level of comfort - comfort which failed them when the printers, distributors and comics shops began to close their doors in droves, and the sustainability of a comics-based economy proved to be a tetch short-sighted.

I feel for these Tom Zjaba, and I'm touched and impressed by the sincerity of his big hopes and the simplicity of his aspirations. It takes a lot of courage to talk about one's failures, and it takes something additionally ... different ... to talk in exhaustive detail about the minutae of the pedestrian process of making a comic book. He represents a certain sympathetic pathology in many small-press publishers, I recommend spending some time to read the greek tragedy of his company's short-lived flight.

For anyone who cares, here is the history of KZ Comics, a company that came and went with the black and white implosion. But unlike many other companies of that era, it was conceived years before. It was just a matter of luck that it came out during that time.

KZ Comics stands for Karolczyk and Zjaba. It was started back in grade school by myself, Tom Zjaba and a friend of mine, Dave Karolczyk. This was back in the 1970's. Later, my cousin Dave and myself formed the company as Dave Karolczyk lost interest in creating comic books. My cousin and I would write and draw stories and give them to each other to critique. It was done more for fun than anything else.

After I was out of high school, I found a comic book called Swords of Cerebus. I bought a few of them at a comic book show and loved the stories. They were collected versions of the Cerebus the Aardvark series and it inspired me to create a similar character. I had toyed around with the idea of doing a western comic book, as I was tiring of doing strictly super heroes. So I went to work on creating a western hero who was not human. At first, I thought about having him be a cow. But it just seemed silly. I even toyed with a human cactus among other ideas.

Then I went to my handy collection of animal cards for inspiration. They were a collection of animal cards that I ordered from a magazine and they sent more every month. As I looked through there, I came across an armadillo. It was a western animal, it had the hard shell and it made for a good animal. I had the animal, now all I needed was a name. I started thinking about what would be a good name. For some reason, the Colt 45 gun came to mind and I liked it. Colt the Armadillo was born!

I then went to work on a story of Colt. It was nearly identical to what later became issue #1. For some reason, when I finished it, I really liked the story and thought it had potential.

It's the confidence you have to love.


Peanuts by Charles Bukowski

Peanuts by Charles Bukowski [Progressive Boink]