Monday, December 31, 2007

Tomorrow Stories #1

Tomorrow Stories #1, October 1999, America's Best Comics
writer: Alan Moore
artists: Kevin Nowlan, Rick Veitch, Jim Baikie, Melinda Gibbie
letterer: Todd Klein
colorist: Wildstorm FX
assistant editor: Eric Desantis
editor: Scott Dunbier

Tomorrow's A Comic A Day challenge begins . . . today!

New Year's Eve is a day of excitement and anticipation, so what better day to begin A Comic A Day: Year Two? Actually, what I'm anticipating is infrequent access to the Internet in the next few days, since my girlfriend and I have moved to a wirelessly sheltered part of town, so I thought it wouldn't hurt to have a review in the chamber. Who says New Year's resolutions have to wait for the new year?

I think Alan Moore can relate. After a few years of relative inactivity in the comics scene, the acclaimed writer of The Watchman burst back into the industry with his America's Best Comics imprint, featuring fan favorite series like Tom Strong, Top 10, and this, Tomorrow Stories. Featuring four eight-page tales in an anthology-style format, Moore caps off this inaugural issue with a vivid essay about his futile road trip to visit a vacationing Todd Klein, in which he realizes that most of his collaborators live or vacation in predominantly rural settings. "Maybe this is a book of collected rustic dreams about technology, about civilization seen from far away." Indeed, each of Moore's Tomorrow Stories are actually colorful blasts from the past, in their own respective ways.

Consider the misadventures of Jack B. Quick, boy inventor. When Bessie the cow suffers from bovine night-fits, Jack finds a loop hole in Einstein's theory of relativity and creates a mini-sun with a quantum-enhanced vacuum cleaner. Jack's little big bang inadvertently creates a little galaxy, complete with planets and moons that inconveniently orbit around town. Just when Jack acclimates his neighbors to their new resident cosmos, the galaxy implodes, and Bessie plugs the resultant black hole with her protruding butt, now time-stuck in mid-air forever. "Best of all," Jack explains in an attempt to look on the bright side, "according to Einstein's general theory, we should still be able to milk Bessie, although she'll only yield buckets of x-rays." Even without the x-rays, even the most casual reader can see through the lingual slapstickiness of this first Tomorrow story and recognize just how much fun Moore must have had crafting it.

Unfortunately, the adventures of Greyshirt aren't as light-hearted. In "Amnesia," an amnesiac finds himself bloodied and standing above a seemingly murdered woman. When he hears of an eight-time hammer killer prowling the streets, he assumes he is the maniac and spends the subsequent pages running from himself, until Greyshirt and the police find him and pursue him. The presumed paranoid perpetrator darts into a warehouse and stumbles onto a security guard, and shortly thereafter Greyshirt captures him. In a not completely unexpected twist, Greyshirt explains that the fallen woman from page one was actually the presumed hammer killer, and that our protagonist's amnesia is the result of her first blow to his head, before tripping and braining herself. In another, more surprising twist, our hapless victim reveals that he murdered the security guard in his attempt to flee, since, "I thought that if I was going to be executed for eight murders . . . then one more wouldn't make any difference." Initially, Rick Veitch's art wasn't my cup of tea, but by the last page, I deemed his shadowy strokes the perfect compliment to Moore's tale of muddied morality. In this pulp world, the hero's shirt isn't the only thing that's grey.

The First American and U.S. Angel's adventure is much more contemporary, but the lead hero's gee-whiz mentality echoes of a simpler time. When the super-villainess Gerta Dammerung blames the television violence of The Jury Swinger Show for her latest armageddon-inducing crime spree, the First American and U.S. Angel infiltrate Swinger's set, where, after nearly succumbing to his eerie mind-deteriorating effects, they unmask him as an smarmy alien whose show "made us feel embarrassed for our entire species, lowering our self-esteem and softening us up for an alien invasion!" What begins as a tongue-in-cheek commentary on American daytime television turns into another slapstick satire, which makes me wonder, was Moore poking fun at the circus that is Springer's ilk, or the out-of-this-world mentality of the American superhero?

The Cobweb's story is the Moore's most ambitious of the four, both structurally and artistically. Starring the pulp heroine the Cobweb, this adventure begins with the sudden debilitation of beautiful debutantes around town. When the Cobweb discovers that they share a mutual admirer, she tracks him down and discovers his knack for mad science, which he uses to trap our heroine's spirit in a toy doll, just like the vulnerable bachelorettes. While trapped as the villain's proverbial menagerie, artist Melinda Gibbie depicts the women's perspective with Victorian-like, picturesque pencil sketching (Doll-O-Vision, as it's called on the story's title page), which captures the eeriness of their predicament. Moore's insistent alliteration protects the yarn's light-hearted pulp factor, though, establishing a tale rife with distinct vapid femininity and obsessive compulsion. In his own way, Moore's subtle point could be that women like Paris Hilton are toys whether a desperate mad scientist captures their soul in a Barbie doll or not.

Yes, while each of these stories boast an admiration for comic genres of the past, quantum vacuum cleaners, grapnel hook walking sticks, alien talk show hosts, and puppetron beams are definitely touchstones for the technology of tomorrow. Alan Moore has always been ahead of his time, but Tomorrow Stories epitomizes his ambition for fun, open-ended comic book storytelling. Though the series are vastly different in attitude, Tomorrow Stories picks up where The Watchmen left off. Whereas the latter affirmed comics' significance in contemporary culture, the former boasts a timelessness that proves comics will always be a viable, enjoyable storytelling medium.

With such optimism, I can't think of a better way to start another A Comic A Day . . . not to mention the new year.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

A Year Called Comics, part 8: "A Comic A Day, Year 2: Prologue"

A Year Called Comics, part 8: A Comic A Day, Year 2: Prologue
(The final installment of my eight-part year-end analysis of the A Comic A Day challenge, and the prologue to its sequel, A Comic A Day, Year Two!)

The waning end of this holiday season means two things for me: (1.) the hope that those dreaded Spider-man 3 action figures will finally sling off of Target and Wal-Mart toy shelves, and (2.) the coming of my next 365-part A Comic A Day project. I approach this sophomore effort with mixed emotions; while I'm very proud of what I accomplished between July 1, 2006 and June 30, 2007, my attempt at a conclusive eight-part analysis became inconsistent to the point of nonexistent, inadvertently tainting the sanctity of my year-long daily commitment. Leave it to me to justify this apparent laziness with another year's worth of day-by-day commentary, if only to claim that I was "recharging my batteries" for the new challenge!

Alas, above all, my intended emphasis with A Comic A Day isn't its consistency so much as its content. As I implied in my very first post on June 2, 2006, anyone can read and even review one comic book every day for a year (and if I start a trend, more power to the people!), but my intent is to offer meaningful insight into "the comic book" as a conduit for literature and art, separately and as a cooperative unit. (I guess anyone can do that, too, but, really, who has the time?) Even an issue like that old, beloved, coveted-for-commercialism's sake Venom cameo in Darkhawk must contribute something to the medium, hence its (then) success; therefore, every comic book deserves such analysis, if only to explain why it left the editor's desk in the first place.

Also, please remember that I believe every comic book to be somebody's first comic book, or at least should be partially created and analysed as such. Even an issue from a book like DC's current continuity-mired Countdown should offer some sense of exclusivity for the new reader that just liked the iconic cover image of Superman, or something. I can't imagine that Marvel wants to deter anyone with fond childhood memories of Captain America from ol' Winghead's title just because the character's dead. Of course, my inner fanboy can't resist commenting on the trappings of comic book culture, but occasionally donning the "newbie goggles" may assign value to an issue I'd otherwise prejudge and disregard. The comic book is an art, but it's also a business that always needs new customers.

Yes, on a personal level, the A Comic A Day project has inspired that inner fanboy of mine to new heights, exposing me to authors, artists, and genres of comics I've never experienced before. Several creators have been kind enough to comment on their respective reviews, and one of my favorite colorists Adrienne Roy dropped me a line after that June 2, 2006 introduction. These connections, some of which have resulted in complimentary comics for yours truly (Jealous?), have enabled me to keep my fingers on the pulse of comic book culture, and in my own completely infinitesimal way, keep the blood flowing.

Of course, A Comic A Day: Year Two will boast some characteristics all its own. While the fundamental rules haven't changed, I've modified them to broaden the project's horizons. Here is a list of the amended guidelines, pasted from that first (and seemingly my favorite) post, with said amendments in blue text for distinction:

Beginning January 1, 2008 through December 31, 2008, I will read one complete comic book every day. Further, I will chronicle this exercise by posting a daily review of the comic book I've read, including a brief synopsis of its story to assure that I didn't just "look at the pretty pictures." Incidentally, one day constitutes the time between 12:01 a.m. and 11:59 p.m., at least on my watch, so the issue must be read by then. Further:

1. I can only read one issue from any given series throughout the ACAD year. Therefore, if I read Action Comics #1, I cannot attribute any other issue of Action Comics to the challenge. (However, in this instance, other titles featuring Superman would still be in play, if only for one issue each.) Titles that have "rebooted" into different volumes with distinct number ones (i.e. The Brave and the Bold) count as two separate series; also, titles that were read for A Comic A Day: Year One can (and in some cases will deliberately) be revisited in Year Two.

2. I cannot attribute any comic books or graphic novels from my current collection to the challenge; my daily dose of graphic goodness must come from a comic book that I have never read before. I can attribute future issues of titles I currently collect to the challenge, but only under restriction of the rest of the rules on this list.

3. A maximum of four out of my seven weekly reads can come from one of the "big two" publishers, DC and Marvel Comics. This limit guarantees exposure to several other, potentially independent publishers at least three times a week. Further, A Comic A Day: Year Two will feature "WWWednesdays," a weekly look at a different webcomic.

4. As long as the selection contains a complete original issue's worth of material, my daily dose can come from a graphic novel or serial collection, possibly read at a bookstore or a library. This stipulation offers potential exposure to a variety of comic book eras, styles, and creators despite any given issue's limited availability -- not to mention my financial, ah, restrictions. Exposure to the respective weekly webcomic will focus on a single storyline's worth of material.

5. I must post a daily review of the comic book or strip I've read, unless something dramatic occurs to my computer or Internet access, in which case I will post all unpublished reviews as soon as technologically possible.

6. I reserve the right to add to or edit the contents of these restrictions, as long as these additions maintain the integrity of the A Comic A Day challenge.

The last time I posted these rules, I gave myself a little less than a month to prepare for the challenge. This time, I have a little less than a week! See you next year . . .

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A Year Called Comics, part 7: Hey, Kids! Reviews!

A Year Called Comics, part 7: Hey, Kids! Reviews!
(The seventh in an eight-part year-end analysis of the A Comic A Day challenge!)

A few years ago, I read a critique of the current comics climate, specifically regarding fledgling independent creators that choose to write more about comics than to write original comics. My A Comic A Day challenge officially casts me into that first category. Oh, I’ve written and self-published several comics and zines with friend and incredible artist Brent Otey under the moniker K.O. Comix, some of which have been distributed through Diamond, displayed on local comics shop new release stands, and even critiqued by well known review sites. However, despite these minor though significant successes, our interaction with potential readers at conventions in San Diego and San Francisco often plunges us into a perpetual analysis of the comics industry, of what readers want, and how the medium can adapt to retain relevance in an increasingly visual, digital age. (Yeah, we’re pretty deep.)

So, am I going somewhere with all of this pompous self-promotion?

Indeed, to offer an explanation for the growing read-and-review versus pen-and-publish community: blogging about comics creates an awareness and inspires an introspection about what they, as an art form, offer the audience, and while time consuming, the “instantly available to the public” nature of the blogosphere has become ironically more satisfying than the lengthy process of self-publishing or portfolio-submitting. Heck, I can confidently say that by indulging a daily writing habit through A Comic A Day, its end and subsequent vacancy in my life finally thrust me to draw something for public consumption, evidenced by my participation in Young American Comics’ 52 Comic Challenges and my growing ComicSpace page.

Apparently the real lesson to be learned by reviewing comics is how to shamelessly plug. Go figure.

Yet, that’s the point. Even in an age where comic books are the inspiration for film and song (yes, song, unless you think Jay-Z’s “Kingdom Come” was named after a Bible verse), the medium struggles with its validity, attempting to honor its campy roots while desperately trying to shed that gooey, cheesy skin. Now, the viability of these characters may not be apparent to many, thanks to Spider-fication of nearly everything since the success of his movie franchise. (Seriously, what can’t you buy with Spidey’s mug on it? Er, don’t answer that.) Yet, for lifelong fans of these characters’ native comic books, we’re quite accustomed to the decade-long cycle of “redirection;” for awhile, Spider-man will be the down-on-his-luck but head-above-water hero Stan Lee intended, then, suddenly, his identity will be exposed, Aunt May will get shot, and Parker will spiral into a bipolar depression . . . only to return to his roots a few years later. (Sprinkle in some clones or a Civil War for good measure.) If creators felt stable with their, well, stable, why would they shake things up so often, and so dramatically?

Storytelling isn’t a good explanation. Many of these characters survived for over fifty years without a freshly murdered loved one motivating their heroism. Creating a gimmick to increase sales is a more logical explanation. Yes, I’m likening Infinite Crisis to Burger King’s latest Hit Moms commercial campaign. It sparks interest in something you’ve always known was there, plain and simple.

This observation doesn’t have to be a criticism. I like seeing Joe Quesada tour Civil War on talk shows like The Colbert Report. I enjoy joining hundreds of fans in line for a midnight premiere of 30 Days of Night, though I’m confident many of them haven’t read a single of its comic stories. Attention and commercial viability is what will keep this medium I love alive in such a visually clustered, pop culture driven society!

Which, to answer my original inquiry, is why comics warrant review! Amidst story-driven gimmicks, alternate covers, and multi-media crossovers, the comic book is still an art form, uniting words and pictures in sequential, emotion-evoking storytelling. From spandex-wearing brawlers to coffee-sipping bawlers, every comic has that in common, and A Comic A Day taught me to appreciate “the issue” as a singular entity, sans the context of its original publication . . . or even the issues that came right before or right after it. One of the harshest e-mails regarding a review was my take on Bone #20; I believe I dubbed the issue transitory, bridging a gap between plot points, and thus difficult for a Bone first-timer like me to appreciate. The commenter chastised me for not realizing how great Bone is, which is true – and even transition issues are purposeful – but as one judging the book as if it were my first (first comic, especially), I couldn’t evoke a personal sense of commitment. (Incidentally, I deleted the comment because of its crude language. This is a family blog, people!)

Consider a single segment of the Sistine Chapel: where God’s and man’s fingers touch. If you just saw those two hands, you wouldn’t know they tell the whole story of creation without context! Yet, the partial image still captures craftily rendered hands, with a potential message in itself. The comic book has this potential, and like those hands, can make a connection between creator and creation.

Anyway, while the first year of A Comic A Day began as an idle brainstorm to better understand the nature of comics and subversively determine how to create some of my own to establish a similar link with my potential audience, it became a virtual exploration through an endless museum of graphic literature, and in 2008, the journey will continue. Yes, a second year of A Comic A Day looms on the horizon, utilizing these lessons to establish a more focused analysis of comic books, and to . . . well, constantly plug them. The specifics of this focus will appear next month, in A Year Called Comics, part 8: "Another Year Called Comics: Prologue." (Yes, I love these titles, and all these plugs!) After all, a review really is just a plug, either positive or negative, and, in so many words, I figure the longer I stick my finger in it, the more likely a spark of originality will hit me eventually! Even comics’ greatest minds had to read one before they changed the medium forever, right?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Star Trek: The Manga: Kakan ni Shinkou (Exclusive to Geek in the City)

Read about my brief encounter with Wil Wheaton, and my review of Star Trek: The Manga: Kakan ni Shinkou, at Geek in the City right now!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Action Comics #855 (Exclusive to Geek in the City)

Action Comics #855, Late October 2007, DC Comics
writers: Geoff Johns & Richard Donner
artist: Eric Powell
colorist: Dave Stewart
letterer: Rob Leigh
associate editor: Nachie Castro
editor: Matt Idelson

2007 not am year of Bizarro! Of course, in Bizarro speak, this truly is the year of Bizarro, with a “bizarre” clone of Clark Kent appearing in the forthcoming new season of Smallville and, count ‘em, two trips to Bizarro World in as many months via DC’s eclectic Superman titles. While Grant Morrison’s interpretation of Bizarro World was as ultimate as All-Star Superman intends to be, even featuring a Bizarro Bizarro (the straight-talking Zibarro), Geoff Johns and Richard Donner take a much more traditional, almost appropriately square look at the Bizarro concept, using the Man of Steel’s most peculiar villain to further cement Donner as an influential contributor to Superman’s legacy. At the end of this first chapter, Bizarro threatens to destroy his own planet . . .

. . . and, while his threat is sincere, I’m actually more interested if Johns and Donner can finish what they’ve started this time . . .

Read the rest of my review at Geek in the City!

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

A Year Called Comics, part 6: Hey, Comics! Kids!

A Year Called Comics, part 6: Hey, Comics! Kids!
(The sixth in an eight-part year-end analysis of the A Comic A Day challenge!)

If the kids in your neighborhood haven’t begun school yet, they soon will – a sign that, despite the heat and whatever else the calendar might say, summer is effectively over. I work with children at an on-campus after school program, so I have the pleasure of sharing many kids’ first day of school, and of finding the niche that will help them transition out of the humdrums of summer more successfully. Sure enough, inquiring about their favorite summer movies did the trick. “Transformers!” one of the children excitedly (and expectedly) exclaimed. “Spider-man 3!” offered another, disproving the stereotype that kids can’t remember what they had for breakfast, let alone a movie that came out three months ago. The Simpsons and even Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer were among the others mentioned, whereupon I realized . . . this generation is inheriting the cartoon and comic book standards of my generation.

Even though comic books really aren’t for children anymore, when repackaged and marketed as big screen special effects fodder, even the Silver Surfer can still make a seven-year-old all wide-eyed. Is this the phenomenon truly keeping contemporary comic books on life support?

Before I explore that question, I feel compelled to elaborate on its validity. Some may insist that comic books, specifically the superhero variety, are still all-ages friendly, particularly because of its protagonists’ incessant needs to dress up in pajamas and hang out in clubhouses all day. (Yes, the Justice League Watchtower is the coolest cosmic clubhouse ever. Don’t get me started . . .) While comics still cling to many of their juvenile trappings, and rightly so, their subject matter no longer caters to the elementary school set, creating some of the most contrived and controversial paradigms in literature’s history. Consider Identity Crisis, penned by New York Times best-selling author Brad Metzler and responsible for DC’s latest crisis-turned-countdown du joir, the catalyst in which is the implied rape and eventual, brutal death of Sue Dibny and her unborn child. These sequences are challenging behold, yet almost chuckle-worthy in context: “the implied rape and eventual, brutal death of Sue Dibny,” wife of a superhero dubbed the Elongated Man. His nose twitches at the thought of danger, for crying out loud! What kid didn’t love a classic Carmine Infantino Elongated Man story? What kid really could now, knowing how the stretching sleuth’s story ends?

Don’t get me wrong. I completely understand how and why comics have matured, and as a seven-year-old with an inconvenient twenty tacked on the front, I appreciate a story with some elements to which I can relate. The fact that comics had a Mrs. Elongated Man made the malleable manhunter a little more believable – not to mention similar (and more prevalent) directions in the Superman and Spider-man titles. Like marriage, death is an understandable adult variable, as well; acknowledging the consequences of superheroes’ exaggerated bravery and vigilantism makes these icons even stronger. The challenging dichotomy is, similar to the trappings of capes and tights, these “real world” elements that make comics grown-up are mired in a juvenile context, too. Regarding death, nobody stays dead, implying that a loved one (if sidekicks can be considered “loved ones”) can return from the grave if you only really wish it so. Batman can shrug off a broken back like Wile E. Coyote shakes off a two hundred foot cliff drop. What’s the point of making comics adult if its grown-up embellishments don’t have the stick-to-itiveness of adulthood?

No wonder comics need the freshness of a new medium! In film, whether on television or the silver screen, popular legends are unencumbered by decades’ worth of continuity or emotional baggage. Clark Kent can love Lana Lang again, Elektra can die again, and the Silver Surfer can be a threat again – yet all for the first time. Sixty years and dozens of incarnations later, Batman can begin . . . again (and again). For all of the inconsistencies we diehard fans criticize in these adaptations, we often fail to recognize that these rebooted franchises are really the only gateway to these characters for a new generation, and if the essence is captured properly, the rest will take care of itself. Kids will find their local comics shop, because they can only watch their Hellboy DVDs so many times. They’ll want more.

Further, these heroes’ transition to adulthood is an able model for maturity! Consider Batman, the ultimate man-child, still reveling in those tragic moments of his youth but transforming them into an adult mission of justice. (Incidentally, his wealth is the failsafe between fantasy and kids in the real world jumping around our rooftops – not that the latest All-Star Batman and Robin gets that.) Heck, perhaps the comics-to-film phenomenon handles this unavoidable element better than comics can; by watching Tobey McGuire, and consequently Peter Parker, grow up, children inevitably recognize that the responsibilities of going to college and getting an apartment are just as important as fighting Dr. Octopus or the Sandman. The Spidey film franchise accomplished in three installments what the comics did in twenty years. Time is of the essence when actors cannot remain sixteen-years-old forever.

It’s funny when the kids at my work think they’re teaching me something new about comics. A child will see Spider-man 3, flip through a graphic novel at Borders, then tell me, “Did you know that Eddie Brock is actually supposed to be older than Spider-man? Or that the Sandman really had nothing to do with Uncle Ben’s murder?” I’ll smile and nod knowingly, not so much at the information, but because I can rest assured that this generation will eventually embrace these summer blockbuster icons as the humble funnybook heroes I’ve always loved, in their native medium. We adults aren’t always so open-minded about such things, shaking our walking sticks when things change around us too quickly and suddenly the Hulk’s father becomes the Absorbing Man, or something. No matter the time of year, we always have something to learn.

Monday, August 27, 2007

A Year Called Comics, part 5: When the Real World Intrudes . . .

A Year Called Comics, part 5: When the Real World Intrudes . . .
(The fifth in an eight-part year-end analysis of the A Comic A Day challenge!)

This summer did not go as planned. I had hoped to write one part of my year-end analysis every week through July and August, with a new direction for A Comic A Day beginning on Labor Day, but the San Diego Comic Con wiped me out completely. Blogging the Comic Con was an enjoyable introspective experience, but the effort added an unexpected creative crust on an already hectic weekend, so, since then, I've felt exhausted of comic book oriented insight. After five days of back issue flipping, movie trailer viewing, and obscure celebrity sighting, what more can I possibly explore? The challenges of my day job (no, I don't blog for a living, though sometimes I wonder) certainly don't help, either. So, I've been thinking, am I done? Is this year-long exercise over, bowing out of the blogosphere with an uncharacteristic whimper? Has 'nuff truly been said?

No way! In fact, the comic book as a storytelling medium is a veritible how-to guide for overcoming a personal or professional slump! Whether Peter Parker is struggling to pay for Aunt May's medicine, or Tom and Lily are overcoming the trials of a long distance relationship in the indie fan favorite True Story Swear to God, comics reveal that even a superhero is challenged by the commonplace obstacles of the average Joe. Further, how they leap over those hurdles is what makes a protagonist a hero in the first place . . .

I'll never forget learning about "the elements of literature" from my elementary and junior high school teachers, particularly the various kinds of conflicts. You remember them: person vs. person, person vs. society, person vs. nature, person vs. self. (If I've forgotten one, forgive me, Ms. Wisdom. Yes, my seventh grade literature teacher's name was Ms. Wisdom.) These paradigms, an obvious concise interpretation of real life's struggles, pervade every medium of art, from still-life painting to sculpture to comics. Especially comics. The cover of Action Comics #1 is a classic example, setting a standard for the superhero genre in more ways than one. Yes, on the cover of the first superhero comic book, Superman isn't battling an evil scientist or an alien warlord. He's smashing a car on a rock, while bystanders (possibly criminal, nevertheless pedestrian to the first-time reader) flee in terror. See, the Man of Steel's first depicted conflict wasn't person vs. person. His struggle was, and perhaps always has been, person vs. society.

Comic book protagonists have always been outcasts, from the orphaned millionaire to the Flaming Carrot to the Eyeball Kid. While obscure indie characters like Serenity Rose or Dim-witted Darryl claim a certain success in the recluse market, they owe a great thanks to, of all icons, Captain America and the incredible Hulk, the former of whom exists out of his own time, and other of whom blatantly just wants to be left alone. Could Jade Jaws' cries for peaceful isolation be the precursor to Serenity Rose’s gothic, existential murmurings? Would the Hulk have spent lunch in high school smoking under the bleachers with the rest of the rejects?

Though our heroes face these societal struggles, they manage to remain, to operate, and oftentimes even to uphold society’s standards – but not without a price. Many times in its rich history, comics have gone to war, from the likes of Our Fighting Forces and Cheyenne Kid to the more secretive or Kree-Skrull varieties. In latter examples, ever since our national morale stopped depending on these protagonists’ victories, the price of combating evil has become more apparent, as if the comic book as an entity is warning us, “Sure, we’ll parallel the trials of reality, but not without a price!” Enter Bucky, or rather, exit Bucky – or would his death, summarized after Cap’s return in The Avengers when Stan Lee remembered Winghead had a sidekick, have been as embraced in the midst of World War II? ‘Twas the beginning of the end for comics as an escape from reality – Spider-man’s late rent turned into Harry Osborn’s drug addiction, and Superman’s shaking hands with the President turned into the gruesome assassination plot of the recent Warren Ellis opus Black Summer. “You want us to become more like you?” comics challenged. “You got it . . . in spades.”

Still, our heroes persevere. They fight and get moody and have a cosmic team-up or a nervous breakdown, and they get through it. They’ll even claw their way out of the grave, if they have to. (Or retro-punch. Whatever.) Really, how many times have we been “promised” that “after this story, things will never be the same again,” only to have things return to sameness a year or two later. Can you believe that an entire generation of comic book readers hopped onboard when four Supermen roamed the Earth, an armored Batman killed criminals in the streets, two Spider-guys battled for the wall-crawler’s mantle, and the Hulk was gray? How long did all of those epics really last? So, too, are life’s hardships – trying while in our midst, but eventually just as fleeting. We should be so grateful that an old foe isn’t attempting to clone us in a lab somewhere. Considering our individual hardships, what would an army of us endure?

Interestingly, the end of any given comic book story is bittersweet. While Peter Parker manages to pay Aunt May medical bills and Tom and Lily come to grips with their torrid romance this time, what will next issue bring? Despite the conflict type, they all have their endurance in common, which is ironically exactly what one needs to overcome them. In the case of my year-end analysis, what’s a little wasted time between a blogger and his objective? Labor Day is right around the corner. Seems I have some work to do.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

A Year Called Comics, part 4: Comics Go to Hollywood

A Year Called Comics, part 4: Comics Go to Hollywood*
* Alternative Title: Hollywood's People Will Call Comics' People . . .
(The fourth of an eight-part year-end analysis of the A Comic A Day project!)

Before I dive into this week’s retrospective topic, I would like to join the fan community and offer my condolences to Mike Wieringo’s family. Wieringo’s passing was untimely and unfortunate considering the talent he offered the industry and the connection he maintained with his readers, both evident through his frequently updated website and consistent contributions on various message boards. I was already reading Robin when he became the regular penciller, but his dynamic style breathed new life into that book and truly captured the essence of a youth-oriented title, bordering on cartoony while still maintaining a sense of realistic motion and emotion. His work on Ex Parte #1 was an unexpected treat during the A Comic A Day challenge and still stands as one of the few first issues that stirred me to find the ones that followed. ‘Ringo had that effect on people – his work and personality inspired fans to enjoy the intricacies of any single sketch, panel, or page, while simultaneously eagerly anticipating what came next. The only good thing that can come from his early passing is more artists wanting to be the kind of gentleman he was.

Transitions truly fail in cases like this; so, here comes my regularly scheduled essay, already in progress . . .

This year’s Comic Con is almost a month old, but headlines and analyses are still breaking like the press is still in San Diego. Orange County’s free liberal newspaper OC Weekly just published an extensive article on their reporter’s Con experience, and my NBC affiliate aired a half-hour special last Sunday morning “from the convention floor” as a thinly veiled promotion for their upcoming fall line up, including the heavily hyped Chuck and the return of The Bionic Woman. Thanks to its plunge into the mainstream, Comic Con coverage has become schizophrenic at best, reinforcing the show’s “nerd prom” status with montages of attendees’ freakiest costumes while boasting the venue as “the next Cannes” for science fiction film. When Nic Cage and Dane Cook squeeze the Con into their respective promotional tours, San Diego is the cat’s pajamas; when friends march around the Gaslamp District as the Emperor’s Imperial Guard, it’s a dog and pony show. Either way, this collision of subcultures speaks to the current state of comics.

Bruce Campbell. Rosario Dawson. Leonard Nimoy. Mr. T. No, this isn’t a casting call for a straight-to-video sci-fi thriller about mutated vegetation versus the military (though I’m still fleshing out my screenplay, The Roots of All Evil, coming to a dusty video bin near you). These are some of the celebrities that have contributed to comic books that I reviewed during the A Comic A Day challenge. Now, despite Hollywood’s recent cannibalization of all things comic book lately (including, as I explained, Comic Con), the line between comics and the silver screen has been blurred for some time, most notably since a certain George Lucas set up shop in a certain San Diego convention center some thirty years ago. The sign on his simple table, proclaiming, “Star Wars: Novel – December, Ballantine Books; Comic Book Series – February, Marvel Comics; Movie – April, 20th Century Fox,” was a prophetic look at the state of print entertainment, evolving from mere words on the printed page to their interface with sequential illustration in comics, then to their inevitable reinterpretation on film. Actually, I can understand Hollywood’s inherent connection to sequential art – most movies essentially begin as a comic strip anyway, more popularly dubbed “a storyboard.”

The real question is, why has the door swung the other way? What compels actors and directors to consider comics as a creative outlet, when they have all the machinations of Hollywood at their disposal?

Considering the examples I’ve already cited, and a few more from the A Comic A Day canon, I can think of three engrained answers: (1.) clouting creativity, (2.) eliciting exposure, and (3.) laboring legacy. When I first read Man With the Screaming Brain, published by Dark Horse Comics, I knew that the miniseries was based on a screenplay co-written by Bruce Campbell, but I didn’t know the screenplay was shot as a Sci-Fi Channel original movie that aired a few months after the comics’ release. Such ignorance sparked the following comment from my review of Screaming Brain #3: “Maybe the real benefit of filtering a screenplay through this graphic format is to visually study what would translate into reality, and what’s best left on the page. If Bruce Campbell tested this process at the beginning of his career, something tells me he’d have plenty of comics to his credit today.” Thankfully I visited Campbell’s on-line resume before biting my cyber tongue, where the actor/director himself commented, “The comic is closer to what the original intent was – dark and noir-like.” Therein lies my first point; some natives to Hollywood may have discovered and utilized comics as an outlet for the creativity they couldn’t express via cinema. Based on my haphazard point, sometimes the restrictions of reality filter our otherwise boundless imaginations, and sometimes a capable artist is simply more capable of capturing our ideas than a camera can!

While some actors are keen to express their creative sides, I wonder if some perceive the comic book industry as merely another medium to conquer. When I saw Rosario Dawson’s name and likeness on the cover of Occult Crimes Task Force #1, I assumed that her role in the series was just that – a name and a likeness shared for mutual benefit. However, after saying as much in my initial review of O.C.T. #1, an angry comment encouraged me to do some research, and I found the following statement by Dawson: “O.C.T. – Occult Crimes Task Force . . . It’s one of the most exciting things I’ve ever done in my career. I get to be creatively outspoken. I have total say on the look and sound of it. As an actor, I usually show up for my part of the movie, but I don’t get to talk about the edit or how they sell it. With this, though, I really get to be involved.” So, Dawson contributes a look and some character development – just like an actress would with any other script. As I’ve mentioned before, though her name follows the writer’s credit with an ambiguous “with,” I’d feel more comfortable with it after the artist’s listing. She contributed a visual, just like an illustrator, to a story that used the first act of Men in Black as a plot template. I’m not ungrateful for the attention garnered by her participation, or other actors that volunteer their ravishing good looks, but I’m also not willing to let her reputation overshadow the medium by exaggerating her role or input. What’s the point of using a comic book as some celebrity’s vehicle if it only drives you back to her?

Yes, I know this sounds like I’m a “hater” (or so that angry comment said), but I’m not above calling out my own heroes for similar funnybook follies. Mr. T has appeared in at least two comic books of his own (excluding Marvel’s The A-Team series), contributing little else than his likeness and his love for his momma. While his comics portray the morals he tried to instill in his other projects, I’m not too na├»ve not to realize that these titles were the graphic equivalent of Mr. T’s famous cereal – just one more thing to thrust him into the spotlight. Well, I pity the fool that doesn’t enjoy him there!

Finally, since some comic book companies pander to Hollywood types for their involvement, the industry has inadvertently become a refuge to those seeking to cement a legacy. The screenwriter for Tim Burton’s Batman, Sam Hamm, penned a few Detective comics after his cinematic success to secure his Caped Crusader cred, and Back to the Future scribe Bob Gale provided the first Batman “No Man’s Land” arc to remind fans that he could write urban plight better than the rest of ‘em. (Come on, like “Alternate Hill Valley” wasn’t your favorite part of the BTTF trilogy, too!) Specifically, though, Richard Donner’s recent “Last Son” story arc in Action Comics strikes me as the most legacy-grabbing move of all, as if the nostalgia kicked up by Bryan Singer’s cinematic homage granted Donner’s direct involvement (pun intended) in one more Superman adventure. “Don’t forget what I did for the Man of Steel,” Donner subversively shouts from his co-writer credit, “because Warner Brothers certainly hasn’t!” (Seriously, Singer’s last shot of Brandon Routh’s Superman soaring over Earth was the film equivalent of an artist’s swipe; if he could’ve signed it “After Donner & Reeve” he should have.) Embittered sentiments aside, Donner’s name on any given Superman comic book is an unquestionable example of corporate synergy – and my question is, in that case, who is the real star of the show. Just look at the latest Justice League hardcover compilations; New York Times bestselling author Brad Metzler’s credit is larger than the title, Justice League of America! Able to leap a forty-year legacy in a single bound, eh?

Unfortunately, comics are to blame for this phenomenon, whether it’s really damaging or not. When the artist became more acclaimed than their subject matter, “celebrity” became a contending concept in the industry. Look at how far comic book contributors have come, from blatant anonymity in the Golden Age (unless they hid their signature on a splash page) to above-title cover credits today. Who wouldn’t want that kind of artistic acclaim, and how easy can one acquire if he is already in the performing arts business. Heck, how many actors are simply acting like they dig comics just to explore that avenue of success? Is publishing-a-comic-book Hollywood’s new starting-a-clothing-line?

Then I saw Raw Studios’ Bad Planet. Yes, Thomas Jane’s name is first in the list of contributors’ credentials, but if I hadn’t read the press releases and known to look for it, Lewis Larosa and Tim Bradstreet’s striking cover and interiors would’ve struck me first. In fact, Jane’s name is completely unimposing, even on ads for the series. Nowhere have I seen, “Thomas Jane from The Punisher fame dabbles in horror comics with Steve Niles!” He does not “star” in the book, nor is his name attached with an ambiguous preposition (because “and” seems more straightforward to me than “with,” thank you very much). Further, I saw him lurking behind the Raw Studios’ booth at Comic Con, and while he might’ve joined a panel, his name was emblazoned on promotional material like the Cages, whose love for the medium apparently deserved a ballroom-sized forum for one-sided discussion. I haven’t seen Jane in the post-Con press that still plagues blogs and local cred-seeking newspapers, either. Perhaps some celebrities do want to write for writing’s sake. Perhaps, no matter how famous, everybody’s inner child still just wants to make comics! Perhaps, as more comics break into film, more Hollywood types will simply remember their first crush on storytelling and finally decide to make the first move. That’s a special effect to which anyone can relate.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Plug: Geek in the City & LiveJournal

Plug: Although the A Comic A Day challenge is over, and my year-end analysis has slowed to a crawl, I am still contributing "Comic of the Week" reviews at Geek in the City, a Portland-based website with awesome insight into all things film, comics, and generally geek. Check out my reviews of the first three World War Hulk issues, and my latest, Batman #667.

While I'm plugging away, I should also mention that I've updated my LiveJournal three times this week, reviewing my latest encounter with a Monkee, Boy Shakira's impact on entertainment, and the unfortunate demise of The Weekly World News.

Stay tuned for more A Comic A Day news and reviews!

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Movie Review: Superman: Doomsday

Movie Review: Superman: Doomsday
San Diego Comic Con DVD premiere: July 26, 2007, 8 p.m.

Superman must be a terribly challenging character to write. On one hand, Superman is Earth's first and most powerful superhero, vulnerable only to Kryptonite, magic, and women whose names begin with "L," so devising an original, truly original opponent is the fictional equivalent of God making a rock so heavy even He can't lift it. Yet, on the other hand, Kal-El is the orphan of an entire world that is actually willing to conceal his abilities to become a part of ours. That chunks of his home planet weaken him is both a physical and spiritual vulnerability; those little green rocks are proof that Clark Kent really isn't from around here and will never truly be human. Still, Superman is comics' most enduring character, mastering print, radio, and film in multiple capacities, so stories about the Man of Steel surely aren't difficult to come by. So why would DC Comics and Warner Brothers Animation decide to reincarnate any Superman story, even the most widely known and highest selling in the companies' rich history, for a direct-to-DVD feature length release?

Because, in its simplest form, Superman: Doomsday is the perfect Superman story. Here's why . . .

First of all, when "The Death of Superman" story began all those years ago, I didn't wait in line for the black-bagged final blow issue, because even in my formidable youth I knew that Superman wouldn't stay dead. Further, had I committed to the story, it would've lost me somewhere during the "four imposters" arc, because my Phoenix suburb simply didn't have enough lawns for me to mow and earn the money necessary for those years' worth of stories. So, when I heard that Warner Brothers Animation was going to launch their adaptations of classic DC epics with Superman: Doomsday, I wondered what pertinent plot points they would include to make a single, self-contained film. After all, "The Death of Superman" isn't just long but also mired in early '90s continuity, including an agreeable, redheaded Lex Luthor. Would Bruce Timm, in his seeming allegiance to these characters' core, retain these dogmatic details?

Thankfully, when Timm expresses that he sought to capture the spirit of the death of Superman, he did just that, essentially using DC's years-long epic as a rough outline to tell a brand new story, which is, as I asserted, the perfect Superman story. (Note: "Perfect" does not mean "best," which is a distinction only someone that has beheld every Superman story can make, and you'd have to be Big Blue to find that kind of time!) To wrap up the plot of Superman: Doomsday in a spoiler free sentence, when an alien juggernaut is unearthed and begins to destroy Metropolis, Superman fights the super-soldier to the death, and as the world mourns, Lois Lane, Jimmy Olson, and Lex Luthor find distinct ways to mourn, some of which threaten the sanctity of Superman's spirit and Metropolis' safety and prompt the Man of Steel to return. Convoluted, right? Ultimately, Superman: Doomsday is an excellent cause and effect film, epitomizing how the loss of Earth's greatest hero would affect his loved ones, his city, and the world.

Further, while I once believed that Doomsday was merely the brainchild of an editorial decision to create a much-hyped, high selling comic book arc, Superman: Doomsday establishes the behemoth as a legitimate element to the Superman mythos. (I still have similar reservations about Bane, though a good Batman story could persuade me otherwise.) Thanks to his depiction in this story, Doomsday is Superman's perfect antithesis, even more so than Lex Luthor; whereas Kal-El's Superman identity is a well thought out guise for heroism, Doomsday is a mindless strength machine void of care or concern for life. Clark goes to great lengths to conceal his identity and fit in with humankind, and Doomsday goes to great lengths to simply destroy it. His motive is as pure as the Man of Steel's -- only much more fatal, obviously. Now, don't get me wrong: I don't think Doomsday's creators intended this spiritual connection any more so than Siegel and Schuster envisioned Superman as an allegory for immigration and the American dream. Both were created with profit in mind, but that's the rub, anyway -- both stand little to gain alone.

Despite its brutal action sequences, which earn the movie's PG-13 rating by WB's previously kid glove standards, Superman: Doomsday is a surprising character study of Superman's supporting cast, as well. The Superman/Lois Lane love story is finally unleashed, addressing their inherent love triangle, and Jimmy Olson's dependency on celebrity is explored as a subtle comedic subplot. The scenes with Ma Pent are absolutely heart wrenching. Of course, Lex's grief propels the plot, eerily resonating with Michael Rosenbaum's interpretation of the character and his need for a yin to his irrepressible yang. At the risk of leaking a spoiler (which means skip to the next paragraph, spoiler-haters!), the use of cloning in the second and third acts of this film are less of a tether to the source material, or even an atmospheric "scary movie" element, but more of a scientific cry for help. Despite his lamentations, perhaps Luthor can't achieve king of the mountain status, because it would alleviate his constant need to be better. As Lois' newfound heroism throughout the film attests, Superman has that affect on everyone.

Visually, Superman: Doomsday actually doesn't deviate too much from similar Warner Brothers Animation projects from the past. Not that it's a bad thing, because anything under Bruce Timm's ink brush and watchful eye is masterful, but his "recasting" of the characters (as he described in their new designs in the panel following the film's Comic Con premiere) boasts only minor changes to the original animated series' look. Honestly, everybody looks a little skinnier, from Lois' figure to Luthor's sunken cheeks. Superman and Doomsday remain respectively and comparatively massive, but that's to be expected. Also, the directing team did an exceptional job maintaining both a contrasting universal and domestic perspective, pulling the camera view back when it needed to be, exuding a grandiose essence to a story that really deserved it. At the risk of dropping another spoiler (yeah, that means next paragraph again), though we are deprived of the windows-shattering blow that finally brings Doomsday down (Timm and co. animated that sequence in the Justice Lords episode of Justice League anyway), a truly cosmic sense is applied to the monster's demise, which implies the potential of his destruction. Superman: Doomsday looks as good as it feels and maintains the integrity of the franchise's reputation in . . . well, a single bound.

Unfortunately, this DVD isn't slated for release until September, but the wait is truly worth it. I didn't anticipate that famous black-bagged issue of Superman those years ago because I didn't know what to expect, but with Superman: Doomsday, the knowledge that the death and return of a hero is handled so reverently, not to mention that I've ironically already seen the film, makes me want to rush out and buy it all the more. After seventy years of success in every medium imaginable, writing a good Superman story must be a doomsday in itself . . . but, when done right, it's by all means the easiest and most fun thing to watch.

Monday, July 30, 2007

A Year Called Comics, part 3c: Convention Revolution

A Year Called Comics, part 3c: Convention Revolution
(The third of an eight-part year-end analysis of the A Comic A Day project!)

After five days of dwelling amongst superheroes, Storm Troopers, and celebrities, waking up and returning to work this Monday morning seemed mundane and melancholy, and I actually really like my job. In fact, my office boasts many of the posters I’ve acquired from Comic Cons in the past, and in a week or so, my new Iron Man and DC Universe posters will join them. So, since I live in a proverbial anticipatory bubble for the Con all year long, a little post-event depression is natural and healthy, right?

Or am I really the only one that would genuinely endure another two hours of traffic in a mere eight-mile stretch for just one more day? (No, I'm not plugging anything Marvel there . . .)

If you haven’t been to Comic Con, or any other “convent” kind of convention, even a casual perusal of the photo round-ups at Comic Book Resources or G4 TV’s website will transport you to what looks like another world. Yes, it’s just San Diego, but for five days (I’m including Preview Night) California’s southernmost beachside city becomes an Earth-2 in itself; while still a world without superheroes, their spirit is so palpable that they needn’t exist to make a difference. Further, and perhaps more importantly, the fourth wall between artist and audience is torn down, and fans of multiple genres get to shake hands and ask questions with the architects of our escapist media. Although meeting any given writer, illustrator, or actor is proof that the characters they’ve created aren’t real (and, no, I didn’t need a reminder, but I’m convinced some of my peers do), that connection adds a make-or-break enhancement to the entire entertainment experience. Can you believe that the Star Wars empire began with a humble table at the Comic Con? How many attendees blew off that ambitious geek, only to worship him a year later? Artists actually dare to breach the fourth wall more than we think, via storytelling tricks, editorials and letter columns, and now message boards and e-mailers. The convention is just the natural next step.

Further, frankly, without the Comic Con, my A Comic A Day project may never have reached fruition, which is why the pop culture phenomenon has warranted a three part review (not to mention my news-oriented updates at Geek in the City). Despite my frequent frustrations with comics’ continuity content, printing or production quality, or niche-oriented marketing, the medium is an art first, with every issue a makeshift gallery of words and pictures sprung from the contributors’ passions. Watching an artist sketch a quick Batman grimace for an eager fan or perusing old original comic book pages, complete with crudely glued text captions, is a visual treats that reminds even the most hardened fan of our preferred industry’s charm – that before a comic book becomes a bagged, boarded, and filed addition to our collection, every page is a day’s labor from some artist’s ink-stained fingertips. Shatter wasn’t as influential as its era thought it would be, as the first completely computer generated comic book, and I say thank Granny Goodness for that. “Shatter” is exactly the word for what that could’ve done to comics.

With all of this emphasis on art, I would like to digress to say that, as a Warren Ellis fan that, like almost 10,000 others, receives his Bad Signal e-mailer sometimes thrice a day, hearing him talk during his Avatar Press sponsored spotlight panel was a delight. Beholding his wit was the intellectual equivalent to watching a talented artist draw, but on cases of Red Bull and cigarette deprivation.

Making such a connection with fans seemed to be the driving force behind this year’s Con, starting with a gag reel starring Jon Faverau introducing the audience to a clip of preliminary Iron Man animation, only to jokingly play the Hanna Barbara style cartoon from the ‘60s and ‘70s. This good humor continued through Stephen Spielberg's’s Indiana Jones clip, in which he sincerely expressed that every scene is shot with the franchise’s fanbase in mind, then he introduced Karen Allen, reprising her role from Raiders of the Lost Ark, by carrying in a chair reserved for Dr. Marion Ravenwood. Sometimes, however, a definitive disconnect with the audience was detected, like during the Masters of the Universe Mike Young Productions DVD release panel, in which almost every question was answered with a “cannot discuss at this time” type response. A prototype He-Man action figure, utilizing the classic design with a modern sculpt and points of articulation, was briefly on display in the Mattel booth, but the panel regarded it with a very “meh” attitude. This dichotomy represents the potential for an audience’s long-term investment in any given franchise to swing either way via the artist/audience rapport. Sometimes, establishing a connection with fans is the existential equivalent of signing over a creation’s ownership to them.

So, the real question about the Comic Con is, has Hollywood devoured its spirit? The G4 crew asked this question during their four hours’ worth of coverage on Thursday and Friday, with the at-home audience favoring “no” by a narrow percentage. Still, one cannot help but observe that only half of the exhibit hall is diminishingly reserved for comic book retailers. Speculation that the Con will change venues or splinter into two shows will run rampant for the next year, with allegiances to either decision undoubtedly as fervent as the Lutheran/Protestant division, or something.

At the beginning of this three part series-in-a-series, I asked if your town could accommodate thousands of geeks for a five day nerd-a-thon. If you live in San Diego, based on traffic, parking, and hotel accommodations, I dare say that your answer is rapidly approaching the negatory category. Heck, the Comic Con can hardly accommodate itself anymore. The influence of comic book culture has exceeded room capacity.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

A Year Called Comics, part 3b: Convention Convolution

A Year Called Comics, part 3b: Convention Convolution
(The third of an eight-part year-end analysis of the A Comic A Day project!)

Some decisions at the Comic Con are just made for you. When the parking lots and garages are full in and around the convention center an hour before opening time, you have no choice but to troll San Diego’s Gaslamp and Little Italy districts for precious vehicular real estate. (Further, when DC skywrites “ha ha ha” to promote next summer’s surefire blockbuster The Dark Knight, you cannot help but wonder if God is actually mocking your commitment to comics.) When you wait in line for over an hour only to discover that the daily allotment for the Con exclusive you’ve wanted has depleted, you have to decide whether or not to try again tomorrow. When a hall fills to capacity for some world premiere, you have no choice but to sit next to that deodorant-free dork whose sheer mass already requires half of the seat you’ve managed to score.

Yes, at the Comic Con, sometimes you have no choice. But, before even any of those challenges, you have the chance not to make the choice. Let me explain . . .

When my friends and I left San Diego’s Hotel Circle an hour and a half before the Con opened on Friday, we thought ninety minutes would be plenty of time to travel eight miles. After all, we scored a parking space in the convention center’s structure on Thursday with only half an hour to spare. So, rather than park in a lot some distance away and take a shuttle, a completely rational option, we tried to replicate the previous day’s success – for naught. After finding an open space, getting a cup of coffee, waiting for and enduring the shuttle ride, four hours later, we landed at the Con. Our trip could’ve been expedited by skipping the gamble and seeking a spot outside of downtown’s immediate vicinity in the first place, but after we made that choice, we then had no choice.

More importantly, at the Con, I had to make the critical decision whether to peruse the exhibit hall, which is elbow to armpit full of freebie hungry geeks, or endure potentially hours’ worth of wait for a panel of interest, usually regarding anticipated movie or publishing projects. On Thursday, I opted for the latter, seeing previews of Iron Man and Neil Gaiman’s Stardust and catching a two-month premature showing of the straight-to-DVD DC animated Superman: Doomsday film. I stood around a lot, sometimes moving only inches in minutes, but it was worth it, especially since I forwent that option today to explore the showroom. I found and purchased plenty of comics I’d wanted, including Starslayer #2 and #3, which feature the first appearances of the Rocketeer, and took a risk on a few trade paperbacks that may either become instant favorites or collection-filling regrets. Either way, I can rest assured that these decisions were mine alone.

Regretfully, by my observation, the quietest places on the Con floor are the comic retailers. I spent quite a few unencumbered hours thumbing through dollar bins, blackening my fingertips with back issue dust and assured my oft forsaken backpack was safe outside of the trampling feet of a main thoroughfare. If one enjoys simulating sardine conditions, he need only lumber his way to the video game booths or movie studios’ displays. I understand that this venue is designed to celebrate the popular arts, but the greatest art exhibited at the Comic Con is corporate marketing. “Comic” precedes “Con” now in name only.

Still, I can’t complain. With both Friday and Saturday sold out, I’m grateful just to be here, and the giveaways alone are worth the price of admission, with T-shirts, posters, pins, comics, and even Mini-Mates aplenty flooding the floor like porno on the streets of Vegas. DC is promoting their latest crisis du joir, Marvel is pushing Iron Man and their DVD release Dr. Strange (for which I walked out of a world premiere with the temptation to redub the character Dr. Snooze), the CW is distributing large Smallville burlap bags perhaps in an attempt to environmentally discourage the use of plastic bags, and ABC Family is cramming Kyle XY and his navel-free midriff down everyone’s throats. Thanks to these sneak peaks and innovative promotions, I’ll be able to choose my vices wisely even after the Con.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

A Year Called Comics, part 3a: Convention Retention

A Year Called Comics, part 3a: Convention Retention
(The third of an eight-part year-end analysis of the A Comic A Day project!)

Can your town accommodate 100,000 geeks? Imagine that, for five days every year, tens of thousands of comics and film fanatics converged right down the street, clamoring for the latest pop corporate giveaways, teaser movie trailers, and C-list celebrity sightings. As hardcore as you are, could you bear it? Welcome to San Diego in July. Consuming this otherwise beautiful ocean-side city for a week, not to mention the very stratum of subversive American culture if you believe the hype reported in Entertainment Weekly and on the G4 and E! networks last week, the Comic Con is the convention of all conventions, though by no means the only comics convention of significance. So, fortuitously, the next few days’ worth of marvelous immersion will provide a real time reflection of the role conventions have played in the A Comic A Day project.

Just in time, eh?

In the past several years, I’ve attended several California comics conventions and have decided that these venues can be classified into two categories: the convening and the convent (each maintaining the popular “con” prefix, thank you very much). The convening is perhaps more classically dubbed “the tradeshow,” in which retailers convene in one place to wheel and deal their wares. The most notable convening I have attended is the Frank & Sons Collectibles Show in the City of Industry, California, which is open both Wednesdays and Saturdays, is a prime source for both one’s weekly mainstream comics and obscure back issues and collectibles, and is advertised in the Wizard Magazine classifieds every month as a testament to its consistency. Another monthly show of note is the Los Angeles Sci-Fi Convention, and, although this show frequently hosts celebrity panels, it primarily offers floor space for dealers, retailers, and small press exhibitors. Basically, a convening is little more than a cooperative pop culture garage sale, but its sheer volume promises fortuitous returns depending on your objectives. For A Comic A Day, I pillaged twenty-five to fifty cent long boxes aplenty, sometimes selecting issues based solely on their peculiarity. The convening is a prime place to establish or expand an eclectic collection.

The convent is much more consuming and, as its title implies, is a veritable sequestering of one’s time, energy, and (if you’re like me) finances. This convention is a vacation, centered on a tourist-oriented metropolis like San Diego, San Francisco, Philadelphia, or New York, and devours days’ worth of programming potential. Comic Con and Wizard World are the two most influential convention circuits, each with its subsequent mini-cons throughout the year, dwarfing other venues which still survive thanks to their niche markets. (I’m looking at you, Anime Expo.) I’ve never attended a Wizard World, but considering the Comic Con schedule, attaining a hotel room is a mere luxury considering its near twenty-four hour cycle of activities and events, including industry discussion panels and late night kung-fu movie marathons. If hygiene wasn’t an issue, I’d consider crashing at the Con itself, or at least forgoing a night in a bed for an ongoing evening of geeky goodness. I’d literally live from dusk ‘til dawn, watching From Dusk ‘Til Dawn. Think about it.

In other words, this kind of show puts the “convent” back in “convention,” with all the habits the term entails. (Yeah, that was bad. Sorry.)

As of this writing, I’ve experienced nine and half hours of Comic Con programming, including the incredibly crowded Preview Night, and I’m already exhausted. I’ve purchased comic books I’ve wanted for a long time at a very reasonable price (specifically, Dell’s The Monkees and Get Smart adaptations at two for five bucks), acquired swag that in the wrong hands will make a small fortune on eBay, and beheld footage from Stardust, Iron Man, and J.J. Abrams’ elusive monster movie. I’ve seen Abrams, Leonard Nimoy, Neil Gaiman, Jon Faverau, and enough special effects artists to open my own Skywalker Ranch. While I’m not buying back issues with A Comic A Day in mind, as I did last year, I’m still a student to the medium and its many, now multi-media facets. Forget if San Diego can accommodate the crowd. Can my head accommodate all this information?

Obviously not, since this installment in my year-end report warrants separate parts in itself. To be continued!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

A Year Called Comics, part 2: Cover Me!

A Year Called Comics, part 2: Cover Me!
(The second of an eight-part year-end analysis of the A Comic A Day project!)

There I stood, in front of the new release rack at my favorite local comic book shop, with a difficult decision to make. Two of the issues I’ve most anticipated in recent months were displayed side by side, by sheer alphabetical happenstance: IDW’s Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Space Between #6 and Oni’s Stephen Colbert’s Tek Jansen #1. One promised to climatically conclude a miniseries, the other promised to grandiloquently launch one, and while I had been anxious to quickly grab my copies from the shelf for instant consumption (three deep from the front, of course, because who knows who’s fingered that first issue!), I was unexpectedly forced to take pause and to ponder a question many fellow fanboys in that position oft consider: “Which cover do I want?”

Oh, yes, nowadays the cover does much more than protect a comic book’s interiors, and when someone (namely, me) has decided to read one issue from a different series every day for a year, the cover isn’t simply representing its respective contents, but the potential of an entire title! So, when one has every issue of, say, Marvel’s Tomb of Darkness at his disposal, which issue’s cover demands instant purchase? What does it do that the others didn’t? Check it out . . .

Like any work of art, the comic book cover intends to elicit a dual reaction from its audience: one that establishes a visual and perhaps even emotional connection and one that elicits a commercial, “I must have this!” appeal. Several months ago, when I was flipping though a local hobby shop’s back issue bin of horror-oriented comics for an entertaining Halloween read, Tomb of Darkness #14 struck me as a beautifully illustrated, comprehensive example of an ideal cover. Featuring a stitched up, lumbering hunchback, we only know what this monster looks like thanks to a well placed mirror behind its cowering victim, who has this cover’s center stage. The audience is effectively sharing the creature’s perspective, just as allured by the beautiful blonde as perhaps also disgusted with its reflected grotesqueness. This masterful instance of character blocking is coupled with the Marvelicious teaser text, “Death’s dark image! A twisted tale of vengeance from beyond the grave!” For a dollar, I felt like I was practically robbing the hobby shop of a Bronze Age work of pop culture art!

I eagerly devoured Tomb of Darkness #14 on Halloween, anxious to read the adventure of that ominous ogre, but to my horror, of those four reprinted tales of terror therein, it was no where to be found! The cover, which had single-handed earned my whole dollar, had deceived me! Alas, I’m still proud of that purchase because, in addition to its entertaining interiors, it represents the effectiveness of the iconic cover, the first of three cover types I discovered throughout A Comic A Day. Often reserved for number one issues, the iconic cover is a visual summation of a series’ spirit, plain and simple. As an anthology title, the cover of Tomb of Darkness #14 isn’t required to reflect any of its contents – only the fact that its interiors, like every other issues’ in that series, are eerie. Consider the cover of Marvel’s Free Comic Book Day offering Amazing Spider-man: Swing Shift, which forsakes even the baggage of a background only to present the ever-agile Webhead, conveying the unspoken promise of continuity-free superhero action! The iconic cover has become such a valuable compliment to the comic book that contemporary issues usually employ and credit “the cover artist,” whose notoriety is usually as attention-worthy as the illustration itself. Consider Dynamite Entertainment’s new Lone Ranger series and the work of John Cassaday as a definitive example; those poster-worthy covers drew me to the character, with whom I’d no other connection, and now I like everything about that book. When it comes to considering a new series, iconic covers are really just a few letters away from answering the question, “Should I pick up this issue? I can!”

Some comics aren’t as easy to sell. After all, with thousands of Spider-centric comic books available, Spidey can only be illustrated in so many different poses, even considering his different outfits over the years. No, sometimes the easiest way to cover an issue is to summarize its contents – the synoptic cover, I’ve dubbed it. Although Amazing Spider-man #4 wasn’t a part of the A Comic A Day challenge, it perfectly represents this concept; while some artists choose to recreate an interior panel for the cover’s sake, artist Steve Ditko actually conveyed a four-panel strip to introduce the Sandman, keeping the layout uncluttered and simple enough to establish the story’s villain and enrapture potential readers! (The effort has resurfaced in the upcoming Friendly Neighborhood Spider-man #24, with moderate success.) One of my favorite examples of this concept is Eclipse Comics’ The Rocketeer Special Edition #1, a three panel grid that effectively captures writer/artist Dave Stevens’ culminating trinity of subplots (and considering the eighteen months that had transpired since the tale’s previous chapter, the visual catch-up was undoubtedly necessary). Further, in addition to exclaiming captions, cover speech balloons tend to say a lot with a little about a comic book’s story; consider the cover of Lone Star Press’ Ex Parte #1 by Mike Wieringo, in which a captured alien warlord proclaims, “I want to speak with my lawyer!” This image actually acts as the issue’s first panel while still expertly summarizing its super-legal concept. In this case, one should judge a book by its cover!

Finally, I’m going to dub the last category of cover as “the black flag.” The explanation has little to do with comics, actually; see, when the Atari’s cover of Don Henley’s song “The Boys of Summer” was released a few years ago, my initial impression of the punk interpretation was positive . . . until I’d heard the line, “I saw a deadhead sticker on a Cadillac” changed to “I saw a black flag sticker on a Cadillac.” This reincarnation pulled me out of the song and, while I understand the need for modernization, I felt the lyric was forced and ultimately unnecessary. Well, I told you it had little to do with comics, but the black flag cover is effectively a revamped, ultimately reused illustration – what many artists and fans dub “the swipe.” (Erik Larsen has commented on the phenomenon in his Comic Book Resources column One Fan’s Opinion, and I sparked an Image Comics message board debate on the subject a few months ago.) Generally, while the black flag implies a certain sense of laziness, it also asserts kinship with similar material, asserting that imitation is a sincere form of flattery (hence oft crediting the previous artist, i.e. “McFarlane after Kirby”). In some cases, the concept is effective in fulfilling the roles of an iconic or synoptic cover; the cover of Boom! Studios’ Mr. Stuffins #1 mimics the Casino Royale movie poster, with a teddy bear in James Bond’s stead, visually establishing the series Teddy Ruxpin-meets-secret-agent vibe. Still, does the end justify the means? Is the black flag a funeral banner for the death of artistic originality? That debate is assuredly alive and well.

So, I know you’re wondering, which covers did I buy for those two comics I’d anticipated last week? I picked the Joe Corroney cover for The Space Between #6, boldly depicting the Enterprise NCC-1701-D and its top three officers; though I enjoyed the Worf-errific alternative, I preferred the portentous image since these characters are scarcely spotlighted anymore. Also, I actually picked the standard cover of Tek Jansen #1 over the John Cassaday variant because I appreciated its airbrushed homage to sci-fi magazines of old. As a fan and collector, these decisions had to be as intentional as the publishers’ choice to offer them, which is, above all else, a marketing ploy. If every comic book is a proverbial tomb of darkness, the cover is its revealing ray of light, and if money wasn’t an issue, I’d buy them all . . . but in that regard, I have no one to cover me.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

A Year Called Comics, part 1: Comic Shop Blues

A Year Called Comics, part 1: Comic Shop Blues
(The first of an eight-part year-end analysis of the A Comic A Day project!)

Comics are everywhere. Outside of the funnybooks we fanatics purchase every Wednesday, comics in their native strip form can be found practically anywhere print meets page – and even if you’ve survived an entire week without spotting some sequential art, comics are determinedly delivered to your doorstep in the Sunday paper. Think about that; sometime in the last century, someone thought that comics were so important that they deserved their own full color section in the most widely distributed edition of every newspaper in the country. Does any other medium elicit that kind of reverence, in spite of the fact that, as Dr. Egon Spengler has firmly stated, “Print is dead?”

So why, on more than one occasion this past year, did I have such a danged hard time finding comics?

Don’t worry; I already know the answer to that question, which is the unfortunate inspiration of my periodic case of the comic shop blues. Simply put, thanks in large part to the recycling efforts of World War II and the subsequent Senate hearings about their juvenile suitability, when comics meet books they are publicly regarded as collectibles, not story-based periodicals, and are thus horded away in the most peculiar corners of the marketplace. Only recently has the comic book, now more stoically dubbed the graphic novel, earned a section in global bookstore chains, achieving significance in the strata of pop culture as viable source material for blockbuster film-making. As a longstanding fan, the exposure is bittersweet; while the medium’s overall circulation expands, its infrastructure seems to retract, favoring mass market material (namely, superhero fare) over the full range of genres the comic book boasted in, say, those perilous ‘50s: fantasy, horror, romance, western, and detective titles, specifically.

Therefore, despite the comic book stores, antique and hobby shops, conventions and trade shows, swap meets, flea markets, Borders, Barnes & Nobles, Virgin Megastores, Target magazine aisles I frequented to acquire the over 365 comics I needed to fuel A Comic A Day, on a few memorable occasions, I simply couldn’t find anything other than capes and tights, which was only a bad thing in the context of my horizons-spanning goal. Fortunately, most of the time, I discovered plentiful caches of comics at hobby shops or flea markets, where I mass-acquired very inexpensive (ranging from a quarter to two dollars) Silver and Bronze Age issues – I fondly remember Mighty Samson #5, Space Adventures #52, and Forbidden Worlds #139 starring Magicman (from which I discovered my favorite quote in a comic book, “I've got muscles and I've got strong magic! What can beat that combination?”), to name a few. Fortunately, many of these comics weren’t overtly superheroism but rather simply toured the spectrum of science fiction through the googie lens of yesteryear. They’re the guilty pleasures of comic book collecting and unfortunately buried under dusty stacks of Life magazines at an antique store probably surprisingly near you.

So, those days when real life consumed nearly all of my waking hours and I was desperate for some graphic goodness, when I should’ve been rushing to a comic book store, I ended up rushing to the local 7-11 for the comics-centric Heavy Metal or Nickelodeon magazines.

No, I don’t think we need a comics shop on every corner, in between the Subway and Starbucks. I do think that, at a time when comics are influencing film, television, and mass merchandizing more than ever, comics shops need to adapt a more versatile sales strategy. Perhaps such shops’ success is regional, but where I’ve lived, in both Orange County and the Phoenix metropolitan area, I’ve witnessed comics shops with the most coveted storefronts in town fold like cheap spandex . . . and I was rarely if ever surprised. It’s the kind of thing that elicits the thought I think every fanboy has had: “If I owned a comic book store, I would . . .” This past year, I’ve fancied those thoughts more than ever. To liken my philosophy to contemporary politics, I’ve determined that running a comic book store is a lot like running for President: you must appeal to your base while correspondingly attracting a larger audience, proving both your commitment to longstanding tradition and your cutting-edginess toward significant trends. Specifically, your target is me, the diehard Batman fan that has decided to try Bone for the first time . . . oh, and maybe 364 other obscurities.

Now you’re dying to know how I’d run a comics shop, right? No? Good, because I’m not going to tell you. Instead, I humbly offer a few tips to those “comic book guys” still in business, in the hopes that they merge these ideas I’ve seen respectively represented at shops to create one uber­-shop, preferably biking distance from my home or work.

If you have a storefront window, use it! Comic book stores aren’t just peddling funnybooks anymore. They’re trading in viable pop culture and should capitalize on the medium’s success. Every comics shop I’ve frequented has significant storefront space, and so few of them use that built-in billboard to exploit the mainstream trends that would attract a casual customer base! For example, this month my storefront would feature Transformers and Captain America paraphernalia, since both franchises have captured headlines lately. (Not to mention that Cap stuff would celebrate the Fourth quite nicely, too!) Seriously, when kids are bugging their parents for a Bumblebee toy, where do you think they should go, Wal-Mart or Mile High Comics? With an effective storefront in a busy part of town, parents will know where to go for all of their child’s Bumblebee needs and can rest assured they won’t have to wade through aisles of guns or Tupperware. With an effective storefront, the local comics shop would have the reputation for specializing in . . . well, what’s cool that day.

Clutter and cleanliness are compatible! Of course, the term “comics shop” is a misnomer, since comics shops often also offer action figures, posters, various clothing, statuettes, busts, props, and anything else on which DC can slap a bat symbol. (“Comics and comics related merchandise shop” is just too long a distinction.) As a fan of stuff, these accessories create a visually textured shopping experience, but many small strip mall spaces can hardly accommodate one month’s Diamond catalog, let alone an accumulating inventory’s worth. I’ve been to plenty of shops where I’m stepping over PVC figurine sets, or even wiping cobwebs from action figure pegs to find Captain Obscure with Safari Action Gear (not a real figure). Further, have you ever looked at your fingertips after an hour of back-issue-hunting? If the inventory isn’t going to move, how difficult is organizing it, maybe even in aisles like any other commercial business? Do shops in short distance of one another communicate, because what one store might have in abundance another might need? The comic book medium is always attempting to offer its readers clean slate – so the stores that carry them should, too.

Offer customer incentives! Many comics shops offer preorder discounts via the Diamond Previews catalog, but as I eluded earlier, this incentive only panders to the fanboy base. The way I see it, comic book stores attract three types of customers: the dedicated Wednesday regulars, the casual fans that shop for whatever whenever (which is what I’ve become thanks to the A Comic A Day challenge), and the pedestrian attracted by a trend or sheer curiosity. While weekend sales (preferably themed with trends or specific overstock) benefit everyone, a friend once told me about his shop’s “trial by issue” plan, whereby the shop actually loaned new titles to frequent customers for either future purchase or a trade to try again. Through this process, the shop doesn’t actually lose inventory but in fact potentially gains new business, as a reader daring to try anything once, if I don’t like WildStorm’s The Highwaymen #1, it doesn’t have to clutter my intricate filing system as a solo installment. How about a “buy nine, get the tenth free” card? I’d eat through those like Pac-man. “Comic book guys” should yearn to gain customers and move inventory, but if it’s simply all talk, I just won’t buy it, period.

(Aside: Despite The Simpsons’ stereotypical Comic Book Guy character, most comics shopkeepers I’ve met are really skinny, almost emo-types. Is this indicative of a more emotional subtext in the modern medium?)

Of course, the ideal comic book store is simply the one with comic books in it. While we all remember the old “this is not a library” speech, some shops, like the Isotope Comic Book Lounge in San Francisco, have embraced a “hang out” mentality. Other shops have become hubs for gaming, and Meltdown Comics on Sunset Blvd. has an oft-changing artist gallery (I caught some breathtaking Scott Morse stuff a few years ago). Recently, Atomic Comics in Phoenix landed the elusive Warren Ellis for his only store signing all year. These gimmicks are exciting, but merely bait. For all of its validity and validation in pop culture, for as frequently as one can find it, comics, like the shops that carry them, are still looking for their niche. In fact, I think it’s this floundering that makes the modern medium so ultimately accessible, as it inspires forays into different genres or artistic efforts that stretch the bounds of graphic storytelling. Sometimes the attempts are elusive, both physically and artistically, but when the chain from creator to publisher to distributor to retailer to customer (with an occasional yard sale or antique shop detour) is well linked, the bond stems well beyond any one year commitment.

If print is dying, the comic book is its last gasp, blending its two finest forms – words and pictures – into a form of entertainment that makes such an impression, its fans either clamor to make it or sell it, either way passing it on for others to enjoy. No wonder comics are everywhere.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Last One #1

The Last One #1, July 1993, Vertigo/DC Comics
writer: J.M. DeMatteis
artist: Dan Sweetman
letterer: Todd Klein
assistant editor: Shelly Roeberg
editor: Karen Berger

What a difference a year makes. In the last 365 days, I've celebrated the births of children and the death of a friend, I've travelled countless hours and miles to spend memorable time with family, I've watched our country's search for its next President begin . . . and I've read just as many comic books. One for every day of the year -- actually, more, if you count my Free Comic Book Day marathon reviews, not to mention the books I already read on a frequent basis. More than once, particularly on those days when my responsibilities at work consumed my times and energy, I wondered why I so willing subjected myself to such a personal challenge. After all, I wasn't just reading comics; I was reading comics I'd never read before, one from a different series daily, which quickly became a test of the medium's availability, not just in the quest to find a worthy issue, but in the hope that it would keep my attention in the face of fatigue or apathy. Believe me, out of over 365 comic books, even a dedicated fan like me has to drag himself through more than one of them.

Yet therein lies why I wanted to endure this challenge in the first place. The comic book is an artistic endeavor that instantly warrants interaction from its audience, from the turning of the page to the visual incorporation of text and illustration. Further, as a monthly series, most comic book titles require a financial commitment from their readers if they want to read the whole story, or at least experience any given writer's or artist's talents again. As a collector of over fifteen years, I know that the medium boasts plenty of variety, and I know what I've liked, but how can I holistically support an art form if I haven't experienced everything it has to offer? Like television with its half-hour sitcoms and hour long dramas, or film with its buddy cop movie and documentaries, the comic book has a plethora of genres and subgenres to consider. Like many since-childhood fans, I'm primarily a superheroes kind of guy, but the likes of Batman and Spider-man became just a gateway for me to experience the virtual museum of graphic storytelling that is comics. Enter A Comic A Day, my personal dare to try something different, to subject myself to an entire medium's whims, regardless yet in consideration of its diverse contributors, cultural commentaries, and changing trends.

So, the question is, have I really learned anything?

Oh, yes. The contents of those first two paragraphs should offer some insight, but after 365 days of committed reading and analysis, I need to ween myself off of the habit. So, what better way to summarize my varied thoughts than by ending the summer with weekly series of essays about this past year's findings? See, despite today's issue's appropriate title, this is not the last A Comic A Day post. You get one more quarterly report, and then an eight-part year-end analysis. I'm professional like that.

Or crazy. Which brings us to The Last One #1.

When I discovered The Last One #1 in my local comic shop's quarter bin several months ago, I decided to horde it for today's review, despite my ignorance to the issue's contents. In fact, like many of the back issues at Comics, Toons, and Toys in Tustin, California, this issue was sealed shut, so I couldn't even give it the consideration of a flip test. Fortunately, the name J.M. DeMatteis has been good to me; though I appreciate him most for his co-writing contributions to the opus that is Justice League International, I remember him most for his stint on Amazing Spider-man. Following David Micheline, DeMatteis took Spidey down a dark post-parent-impostors/pre-Clone Saga path, pitting "the spider" against "the man" in an internal conflict that made my adolescent mind truly appreciate the dichotomy of the masked superhero. (The storyline starred Shriek and Carrion specifically and deserves its own trade. But I digress.) So, with just the encouragement of the writer's name, I considered this issue. It cost a quarter. To paraphrase Frank Miller, "I bought it anyway."

Boy, am I glad I did. More than once during this past year, while I sought some consistencies between my selected reads and, say, the holiday seasons, some connections were purely coincidental, surprising, and unavoidable -- synchronicities, I'd call them. Such is the case with The Last One, for while I wax on about this past year, this issue's protagonist suffers from the passage of time, though a bit longer than 365 days. Namely, this "last one" is actually one of the first ones, the last entity from a time before Creation, "When God lived so deep in every heart that He didn't even need a Name." When man was created and these free spirits chose oblivion over the prison of "coffin-flesh," one entity stuck around, introduced in this miniseries as a hermaphroditic den-keeper for the city's lost souls. Through prophetic figurines (that look like Monopoly pieces), this being drives these orphans of fate to embrace their potential and forsaken destinies, and while this eternal is one part inspiration, he is also one part definitively outsider, as s/he explains, "The longer I live, the less I understand. Communication . . . sometimes the simplest communication . . . just gets harder and harder. We're all revolving in our little universes . . . so cut off . . ."

Enter the iPhone. Timely, indeed.

DeMatteis' script captures the ethereal in a very terrestrial way, transfiguring the existence of pre-creation entities via sympathetic text, and while his narrative borders on lofty, it steers clear of any old English or King James-like vernacular, as one might expect from material about the divine. No, DeMatteis keeps us as grounded as his protagonist, and the paintings of Sweetman elevates this dichotomy expertly. Fans of Mack and McKean would thoroughly enjoy his illustrations, because from page one they offer stimulating tangible imagery while clearly supporting the writer's spiritual themes and intentions. When DeMatteis described that his lead had features that both appeared masculine and feminine, all the while lumbering in an "elephantine body," I wondered if Sweetman would be able to put off such a description, but he rises to the challenge and in fact takes the task to a whole new level. Not to make light of his effort, our hero is one part Mrs. Doubtfire, one part Morpheus from The Matrix: a sage-like caretaker with the weight of the world on his/her shoulders and a simmering mystery brewing underneath.

The Last One was the best comic book with which I could've concluded this challenge. While my initial intentions were to close on an iconic character, like Superman with whom I began, this hero's consideration of the context of time puts the past year in perspective. In the past 365 days, I've seen over half a dozen comics to film projects. The coffee shop where I wrote that first review of Superman #300 has since closed down. But compare that to eternity? A Comic A Day doesn't hold a candle . . . and considering that my quest for these comics has revealed that the medium has a seemingly endless amount of material from which to learn, this project is still but a microcosm of one fan's lifetime experience. I could continue for years, reading one issue from a different series every day, and maintain the integrity of this process indefinitely. The comic book as an issue may be a standard twenty-two page sequentially graphic story, but as an art it's a century-old time capsule of cultural reflection, fantastic escape, and diverse talent. This issue may be the final review in a sequence of 365 consecutive reflections, but for me as a collector, fan, and student of the comic book medium, it is by no means the last one.