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.

Friday, June 29, 2007

The Outsiders #28

The Outsiders #28, February 1988, DC Comics
writer: Mike W. Barr
penciller: Erik Larsen
inker: Mark Farmer
letterer: Albert Deguzman
colorist: Adrienne Roy
editor: Andrew Helfer

For my penultimate review, since I’ve read so many number one issues this year, I thought I should experience the other side of a series by analyzing a final issue, and fortunately I found one to my liking and have been reserving it for this post for eleven months. As I’ve explained a few times before, though I grew up on superhero cartoons and action figures, I didn’t become an avid reader until my father recovered a box of nearly discarded comic books and left them at the foot of my bed. That fateful morning, I read Amazing Spider-man #347, and while I loved the story, Erik Larsen’s pencils grabbed me in a way I hadn’t been before. His work seemed so stylized and expressive to me, unlike the rigid promotional pieces that adorned the Super Powers packaging or minicomics, that I had to have more – thus, a collector was born! So, for this final issue of The Outsiders to sport some more of his early work, I feel like my yearlong effort has come full circle.

Such is the plight for the Outsiders’ Looker in this issue. In a retelling of her origin, Looker explains that her average appearance was transformed when the underground Abyssian race claimed her as an heir to their throne, and though her husband rejected her new beauty, she embraced her heroic responsibilities, eventually joined the Outsiders that rescued her from underworld war. Now, beckoned by the Abyssians again, who have in turn been besieged by a splinter group of Manhunters, Looker is captured by and must confront the Abyssians’ self-proclaimed (and therefore evil) princess, who has mimicked Looker’s powers and, in their climatic battle, takes them away, returning the heroine into her former, plain Jane self. The rest of the Outsiders ably assist her, and even when one of them falls, the ragtag heroes defeat the Manhunters dutifully. Surely theirs is a Pyrrhic victory, proving that no good deed goes unpunished, yet touched with the promise that the Outsiders will rise again. You really can’t keep a good superhero team down.

If I had been a fan of the Outsiders when this issue was originally released, I might have been peeved that their final adventure was incorporated into a multi-title crossover – in this case, the Manhunters-centric Millennium, but writer and co-creator Mike W. Barr manages to let his team shine despite the mire of other titles’ happenings. In fact, by bringing the Manhunters to the Abyssians, he makes the poignant point that no corner of the DC Universe is safe while highlighting the inner conflicts of one of his protagonists, which is a fair and balanced approach to the crossover epic in general. By confronting the Manhunters almost effortlessly, while at the same time these aliens are giving the Justice League a run for their money, Barr takes this story to an predominantly introspective arena – a place where I’d prefer to see a favorite series end, anyway. Yeah, I’d be peeved, but only until I finished reading the issue.

And what can I say about Erik Larsen’s art? You know I like, though this issue obviously isn’t his best work. These early Larsen samples are really just teasers of what his style would become; under the intricate inkery of Mark Farmer, Larsen betrays his love of Kirby and keeps a simple line to many of his characters’ expressions. When he’s illustrating his own characters, Larsen is much more detail oriented, perhaps because the only true critic of this intimate subject material is himself, sans the baggage of previous creators’ interpretations. While this effort is evident in the current Savage Dragon series, I was recently fortunate enough to discover the Dragon’s very first, pre-Image appearance in the Gary Carlson-driven fanzine Megaton. In the second issue (I found #2, #4, and #5), the Dragon appears briefly as a bounty hunter out for the alien Vanguard, a foreshadowing of their first meeting in Larsen’s Image/Highbrow Universe. Of course, I couldn’t find the follow-up issue featuring their slugfest, but even this quick cameo exudes Larsen’s care for his own creation. The Outsiders #28 is still an eye-catching action packed issue, with expert page layouts and fluid fight sequences, but as in most cases, context is the key to a greater understanding of this work. Art is funny that way.

First issues operate under the presumption that their respective stories will successfully introduce their story in such a way that the reader is instantly invested in their characters and implications. Who would've thought that a last issue could have a similar impression even (or especially) when it's inadvertently and ironically someone's initial experience with that title? Barr and Larsen assert a familiarity with the Outsiders, with nudges toward their long time fans, while remembering that every comic could end up being someone's first. Indeed, everybody that first comic, the one that made them decide, "Yes, I'm going to wipe out half of my savings this weekend to collect every appearance of this character!" or, "No, I don't like it, and further I'm going to make an effort to beat up everybody that does." Of course, I fell into the former category . . . and after a year of complete immersion, I'm more steadfast than ever.

I'll see you at the finish.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Strange Galaxy #8

Strange Galaxy #8, February 1971, Eerie Publications

The A Comic A Day project has been an incredibly challenging undertaking, not so much because I’ve had to read and review a comic book every day for a year despite my sometimes busy schedule. I initiated this blog under the presumption that I was reading a comic book every day anyway, so why not just read one I’d never had before and chronicle my thoughts about it? Of course, venturing out of my own collection in search of different and eclectic books was the scary part, assuming I’d inevitably encounter issues and even genres I just wouldn’t like. The “comic book magazine” was one of those gambles. If my experience could be likened to an astronaut’s launch into the unknown, these magazines were strange galaxies, indeed.

Yet I enjoyed each and every one of them. From the Epic Illustrated I reviewed on the second day of this project to the Heavy Metal issue I read around Christmastime, each book has offered a variety of storytelling and artistic techniques I never would’ve experienced before. These anthologies are proof that the length of a comics story doesn’t matter in the face of a dynamic concept and stylized illustration, and further that these shorts can be combined to create a sampling of what any given genre or era has to offer. Today’s issue, Strange Galaxy #8, features seven stories about space and death, both respectively dark abysses that pose introspective and exploratory inquiries about the unknown. Just as these anthologies show us more about the comics medium, these questions reveal more about the nature of man. Strange Galaxies therefore is evidence of both phenomena!

The best way to review this magazine is by breaking it down by story, with a brief synopsis and review, as follows:

The Unknown: When a band of astronauts venture into space, they’re overwhelmed by the experience and driven to madness perceiving the stars and planets in the same visual dimension as from Earth; Mars looks like a tennis ball, and Jupiter, a balloon! The concept is a laughable one but presented with a psychological, thrilling succinctness – a perfect first story for a book with a title like Strange Galaxy. Also, the art in this story was brilliant, and it reminded me of today’s Eric Powell. Dark and dramatic, this tale might’ve actually dissuaded an entire generation from the youthful hopes of becoming an astronaut!

Planet of Horror: Another tale of interstellar exploration, this yarn depicts a band of “glory hunters” in pursuit of a long lost scientist, and when they find him leading a utopian society, he brainwashes them into remembering a horrific experience and sends them home in the hopes not to be disturbed again. Unfortunately, their boss hid cameras in their equipment and discovers the truth, only to fall by the scientist’s laser gun. This story could be a contemporary analogy for international invasion, simply elevated to a cosmic scale, so I appreciated its suspense and vitality.

Space Monsters: Has a story ever had a clearer title? Yes, heroic astronaut Don Benton and a hapless tagalong reporter face an army of space monsters under the mind control of a large radiated brain, and when Benton fashions a lead helmet for the brain’s capturers, they defeat the gray matter and escape. This adventure starts strong but jumps the shark in its brief eleven pages, still providing a rollicking good time for readers. Again, the art was definitive of this genre and era, beautiful to behold though a little stiff for its correspondingly melodramatic narrative. The panel of Captain Benton fighting like a “trapped canal cat” leaves something to be desired . . .

But not as much as The Moon is Red, a parable about a lunar colony struggling to achieve political vitality. Clearly the weakest in production, this story has the strongest potential, but something holds it back from achieving the reverence of the other three space adventures. Perhaps I was merely lost in its lofty study of an early civilization, in this case tainted by alien despots, and coupled with the torrent love affair of its future king and queen. Too many threads for an already high concept plot, is all. Still, the weakest of this anthology is still compelling by today’s standards, a fun, pulpy space epic.

The last three tales in this magazine take a macabre twist starting with Voodoo Doll, in which a professor of the supernatural acquires some voodoo clay from a forbidden grave in Haiti, and, despite his self-imposed logic, begins using it toward his own ends, killing “enemies” in his realm of academia. Of course, this strange tale takes a Monkey’s Paw turn when the prof’s admiring son makes a doll of his father with the clay, and though the professor locks it in a safe to assure his safety, he ends up suffocating as if he were imprisoned himself. This is a plot truly deserving of a Twilight Zone episode.

Flaming Ghost and Terror of the Dead are similar in that they embrace the supernatural with little explanation behind their climatic, frightening anomalies. For example, in Flaming Ghost, a jealous mortician burns his potentially cheating (but not really) wife alive, and when he taunts her ashes, she arises from the urn in a skeletal form to throw hubby in the flames for a taste of his own medicine. What befuddles me most is how such a human-sized skeleton could squeeze out of an urn, but if this story teaches us anything, it’s not to underestimate the dead.

Likewise, in Terror of the Dead, a gravedigger gruesomely collects the dead, vilest parts of his tormentors, like the tongue of the town gossip or the torso of the high school football star. Unfortunately, when the digger’s unrequited love is mistaken for dead, put in his care only to arise and reject, then murdered by his hand only to tell her fellow corpses about the creep’s injustices against them, these body parts form a strange Frankenstein-like uber-bully and effortlessly kill him. I liked these tales, but since Voodoo Doll had a mystical methodology behind it, I had a hard time embracing this “strangeness for strangeness’ sake” style. Then again, this mag isn’t called Strange Galaxy for nothing.

Although the A Comic A Day challenge will be complete by the time I venture to the San Diego Comic Con this year, I’ve resolved to seek out more anthologies like this there. I may not be reviewing them for public consumption, but the point of this project was to expose myself to new things. What would be the point if I didn’t stick to these new interests? What would be the point of venturing into a strange galaxy if one didn’t intend to stay there awhile, no matter how many monsters or ghosts lurked around the corner?

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Flash #309

The Flash #309, May 1982, DC Comics
writer: Cary Bates
penciller: Carmine Infantino
inker: Dennis Jensen
colorist: Gene D'Angelo
letterer: Milt Snapinn
editor: Mike W. Barr

While Marvel's superheroes have attained iconic status in worldwide pop culture and continue to star in their own feature length films, DC's roll call are the founding fathers of the genre, a feat that needs no supplemental media to prove its significance. However, while fans have criticized DC's (and, really, Warner Brothers') inability to produce comics-to-film projects as quickly as Marvel (sixteen films from the House of Ideas pales to DC's three in the last decade . . . and I'm including Catwoman), the Distinguished Competition has conversely cornered the television market, producing the undeniably successful Smallville and a multitude of animated series and straight-to-DVD animated specials. In fact, considering these shows, the WB may be responsible for more total hours of filmed entertainment than Marvel since the comparison became viable in the late '90s (inspired not by Spider-man, but Blade). So, all that is to say, I'm standing by the DC stable. I may not agree with the current direction of the DC Universe, but I have plenty of nostalgic canon at my disposal.

Which is why I was so excited to read Flash #309, which is actually a timely review considering last week's tumultuous events in the Scarlet Speedster's life. Since I'm not collecting The Flash and have been blissfully ignorant of most of the 52-related phenomenon, I'll confess I'm not completely privy to that latest issue's details, but a flip of the book gave me a fair impression of its implications. Again, I may not agree with this direction, but it proves the point the issue of The Flash that I read today solidified: of all of DC's canon, the Flash is the most influential to the superhero genre. Now, I know what my fellow fanboys might be thinking -- when compared to Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and even Captain Marvel, why would the Flash hold the distinction of "most influential?" I mean, he really just runs, right? Yes, he does, which is my point exactly. The Flash has always been a progressive, as a concept and as a character.

First of all, in his original Golden Age incarnation, the Flash was a gamble, because his sole power was but one of Superman's -- a concept not as well defined in the hit-or-miss superhero cavalcade of the '40s, but true nevertheless. Further, the Flash's reboot, the first official revamp in superhero fiction, initiated the Silver Age and redefined the way comics told stories. Despite their many interpretations through the '80s, superheroes remained colorful campy adventurers until DC's first Crisis, you know, the one on Infinite Earths, in which the company actually sacrificed one of their own to again usher a new generation of characters into their ranks. Indeed, before Robin and Superman died or Batman suffered a broken back, Barry Allen willingly bit the big one, becoming the first widely known superhero to die. None of the other similar gimmicks inflicted to DC's other heroes have lasted as long. The Flash has always been racing ahead of his time.

Which brings me to The Flash #309, a refreshingly villain-free story that epitomizes why the Flash is the most innovative superhero of all. In this issue, a refugee from a warring future travels back in time in search of a legendary Justice Leaguer to help him save his people, and he finds and mistakenly attacks Barry to harvest the Speedster's power. Of course, the Flash eludes his attempts and discovers his motives, which originally included commandeering Green Lantern's ring. The weird little creature's (assumed to be the next evolutionary stage of man) search wasn't for the hero himself but the weapon, and while he surmises a way to take the Flash's speed, Barry comes up with an alternative plan: traveling back further in time to the point of his super-heroic origin, the Flash gives the alien the chemical-drenched clothes he was wearing when struck by that fateful bolt of lightning, effectively creating a Flash for the future! Unfortunately, this Flash doesn't last long, defeating the monster in the future by grabbing it and accelerating his molecules to the point of mutual spontaneous combustion. See, even in the 98th century, the Flash is hailed as a selfish hero . . . which is what I've been trying to get at in the first place.

As both a character in the continuity of his comic book universe and as an icon of the industry, the Flash has always given of himself to assure victory and success. In the case of his Silver Age transition, the Speedster actually abandoned his original secret identity, becoming the re-imagined Barry Allen, and though Jay Garrick eventually returned as an active member of the Justice Society, Barry has since held the longest stint as the Fastest Man Alive (with Wally West and Impulse carrying the torch afterward). Further, in order to assure that such an epic crossover like Crisis on Infinite Earths boasted relevance and viability, Flash was the hero on the chopping block, willingly, even. Heck, the Flash live action series, though short-lived, set the stage for DC's contemporary tradition of bringing its heroes to the small screen. Superman may have been the first superhero, but the Flash has held the title of being the first to make some ultimate sacrifices.

I don't have to talk about how incredible Carmine Infantino's art is in this issue, do I? Definitive for the character and the era. Perfect superhero dynamics, perhaps DC's answer to the Romitas at Marvel. 'Nuff said.

Perhaps DC is taking the slow and steady method to producing its live action feature films. Yet, when it comes to producing heroes, those who put others before themselves . . . they've always been able to do that in a flash.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Robinson Crusoe #1

Robinson Crusoe #1, November 1963-January 1964, Dell Publishing

Something about the teasers for Live Free and Die Hard has inspired me to catch its midnight premiere later tonight, an outing I’ve heretofore exclusively reserved for comic book movies only. I don’t remember the previous three films as vividly as I would, say, the Lethal Weapon franchise, but Bruce Willis’ triumphant return as John McClain, like Harrison Ford’s donning the Indiana Jones mantle again, is downright inspiring. Truly, McClain is the Robinson Crusoe of our generation . . . and until today, I had no idea who Robinson Crusoe was.

Oh, I knew Robinson Crusoe was a famous literary figure, a shipwrecked victim of circumstance that inspired various similar stories, probably including Gilligan’s Island and Tom Hanks’ Castaway. I didn’t know Crusoe’s adventure was credited as the first penned in English, formatted as a legal document to add a layer of realism to the account. Unfortunately, those accomplishments are lost in this Dell comic book adaptation, but considering that I, and undoubtedly countless youth that first read this issue 1963, didn’t know the whole story in the first place, this issue definitely accomplished its mission. Who says comics can’t be educational, too?

In fact, I didn’t just learn about the plight of Robinson Crusoe, but I learned from it, and if I’m ever stranded on a deserted island (if any still exist), I’ll definitely take a page from his playbook to survive. See, based on this comic, Crusoe’s first move was to salvage what supplies he could find on the wrecked ship, then find shelter in a cave, around which he built a literal picket fence to protect his abode from predators. Living off of wild goats’ milk and tortoises for a time, Crusoe eventually learns that he isn’t alone on the island, and he saves a native from a band of cannibals, inadvertently earning a companion he dubs Friday. Held at bay on the island by the cannibals’ village on the neighboring mainland, Crusoe and Friday nearly rescue a passing ship’s crew until they suffer the same fate as Robinson’s vessel – so when another arrives, our heroes are hesitant to help, but when that crew conquers its pirating betrayers, Crusoe and Friday have a one way ticket home.

And how long was Crusoe on that island? Try twenty-eight years, two months, and nineteen days! He puts it best as he leaves his island prison: “After all these years, I feel as if I’m leaving home rather than returning home!” Take that, Tom Hanks! Four years later, you cracked up and starting talking to a volleyball!

Assuming this adaptation is somewhat abbreviated from Daniel Defoe’s original novel, the anonymous contributors to this issue kept a suspenseful pace throughout this version, and the artist’s sketchy ink style, not unlike Rick Leonardi’s, avoided a sloppiness by favoring fluidity, epitomizing the rugged nature of our protagonist’s struggle. For a comic book from the early ‘60s, when artists seemed to prefer solid visuals (and in fact were often the primary storytellers, with the writers layering some semblance of script on afterward), this style strikes me as a bit of a gamble, especially with such reverent source material, but the effort is successful. I certainly didn’t feel stranded in a barren comic book; this issue offers plenty of entertainment.

Interestingly, indicated as a number one, Robinson Crusoe seems to tell the entire tale, so unless our hero gets stranded again, like some strange Lost season finale twist, I don’t see this continuing as a series. Just well, though. There are plenty of other classic works of literature I wouldn’t read otherwise if not as a comic book.

On Sunday night, I briefly examined the concept of television series adaptations, but during the past year, I haven’t had a chance to study the phenomenon from other media. I would imagine that, despite the stereotypical verbose vernacular, classical literature makes for the best comic book adaptation, since, as one of the primary forms of entertainment in its time, prior to broadcast media, its content had to stimulate its audience, asserting mental imagery that makes for perfect inspiration for sequential art. Were the forefathers of literature writing comics two hundred years before the medium was invented? Perhaps no form of art is really an island . . .

Monday, June 25, 2007

Creatures on the Loose #30

Creatures on the Loose #30, July 1974, Marvel Comics
writer: Doug Moench
artist: George Tuska
inker: Vinnie Colletta
letterer: John Costanza
colorist: L. Lessman
editor: Roy Thomas

As the A Comic A Day challenge comes to its inevitable close this week, Creatures on the Loose #30 is the last Marvel comic I'll be reviewing and thus will be evaluated as such. You see, when Timely Comics became the legendary House of Ideas under the incomparable creativity of Stan Lee and his onslaught of superhero titles, Marvel developed a definitive identity as a comic book publisher that even its long-standing rival DC Comics hadn't yet achieved. Rather than waste his supplemental pages on short stories or crudely illustrated back-up features, as other publishers did, Stan Lee broke the fourth wall and communicated with his audience, founding the Bullpen, Stan's Soapbox, and FOOM, Marvel's official fan club. Lee and company quickly established that the company could be as dynamic an entity as the characters they featured, a phenomenon that affected the industry to this very day.

In fact, one might presume that the Bullpen Bulletins page was comics' first blog, offering a behind the scenes perspective and creative insight to its fans while inadvertently documenting the development of a cultural shifting corporate identity. That's quite an item!

Indeed, Marvel had created a monster, for which they were more commonly known prior to the advent of their superhero canon, and Creatures of the Night is a successful blend of these genres -- indicative of why I chose it as one of the last comics to review this year. This issue stars Man-Wolf, one of Spider-man's rogues, in a solo adventure essentially against himself. See, Man-Wolf is really astronaut John Jameson, Daily Bugle publisher J. Jonah Jameson's son, whose fusion with a celestial pendant transforms him into a werewolf under a full moon. Though readers are treated to a glimpse of this back story, the real action begins when Jameson transforms, tears up his apartment, and lunges into the street, where he coincidentally rescues a helpless couple from a pair of muggers before ex-CIA agent, now special agent Stroud catches up to take the monster down. Stroud pursues Man-Wolf to the Statue of Liberty, where, after a climatic tussle, the beast falls into the ocean. The next issue blurb not only teases that Man-Wolf survived but that this is just the beginning of his tale . . . pun intended!

This issue is classic Marvel, from the trademark simplicity of a protagonist battling his own demons to the dramatic angling of artist George Tuska's page layouts. Tuska blends the Kirby and Romita styles expertly to capture that mighty Marvel manner, which some could criticize nowadays without the knowledge that such similar illustrative efforts were strategic in establishing the company's visual identity. This isn't "the swipe," but the standard of its day. Further, by focusing on supporting characters from Spider-man's ongoing series, fans gain a grander appreciation for all corners of the then-expanding Marvel Universe, nudging that sense of superhero wonder while reinforcing their roots in horror and monster yarns. Yes, Marvel was the Universal Studios of the comic book set, and though its consonant-centric lumbering behemoths aren't as memorable as Frankenstein or the Mummy, fresh takes on the werewolf motif kept Marvel's younger audience interested. Even in today's market where less isn't more anymore, and more still just don't seem like enough, how many villains, especially B-listers like Man-Wolf, get their own series, albeit a serial? Even the Joker's book, which circulated within a few years of Creatures, didn't fare as well in the long run. In this case, the emphasis is less on the characters' status and more in the strength of the story -- which is incidentally, I dare say, a thriller.

Arguably, very little happens in this issue, and like many issues from this era, the captioning is a little much, particularly since the imagery speaks for itself (panel description: Man-Wolf tears up stuff, next: repeat), but I had a similar reaction to Image's Free Comic Book Day offering The Astounding Wolf-Man. It's all foundation work with a bigger scheme, so that writers in future issues can, ahem, shoot for the moon.

Personally, I didn't know much about the Man-Wolf until this issue, fleshing out the origin points of which I was already aware. In fact, the last time I encountered the Man-Wolf was a little over a year ago when I purchased the Spider-man Legends Man-Wolf action figure, a hesitant buy since I'm oblivious to the character, yet I'm a sucker for attempting to collect and display my favorite heroes' rogues. (The toy aisles are packed with Batman and Spider-man variants; it's those bad guys that are so elusive, much like their comic book counterparts!) However, before that, the world met John Jameson (sans pendant) in Spider-man 2, in which he was abandoned by Mary Jane at the altar. Incidentally, I presumed that the third film would tie up that thread by spotlighting a John more determined in the astronaut field than ever, rocketing to the moon and inadvertently bringing back the alien symbiote, which is how the '90s Spider-man animated series introduced Venom, I think. Resolving the one conflict would have transitioned effectively into the other, implying an even stronger sense of continuity between the films and maybe even a cinematic Man-Wolf debut. Perhaps that project is yet to come -- Spider-man 4: Rise of the Man-Wolf! Call me, Sony!

Honestly, it doesn't matter who our heroes fight, because Marvel has assured us that reading the adventure will be fun regardless of the conflict. Heck, they'll even transform some B-list baddie into a bonafide bridge between superhero and creature comics, instilling him with a sense of mystery and sympathy that wouldn't have resulted from some annual appearance as a rogue elsewhere. Stan Lee and his band of merry Marvelites were the real creatures on the loose back in those days, producing comics of a creative quality that still rivals today's new release shelves! In fact, even without the inclusion of Man-Wolf, the Marvel Universe is so rich, its corporate identity so strong, that John Jameson made his way onto the screen anyway. I mean, he's a supporting character to a supporting character, for crying out loud! Thirty-three years after Creatures on the Loose #30, the Man-Wolf, and the company that spawned him, still have their claws.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Emergency! #1

Emergency! #1, June 1976, Charlton Publications
writer: Joe Gill
artist: Byrne Robotics
editor: Geo. Wildman

If you live in Southern California, or pay attention to news stories with nationwide appeal, you'd understand its residents' wariness toward itself law enforcement and emergency personnel. With headlines about Sheriff Lee Baca allegedly giving celebrity inmate Paris Hilton preferential treatment and about the unfortunate, bloody death of a patient on the floor of the Drew King Medical Center waiting room, one might be hard pressed to remember when police officers, doctors, firefighters, and paramedics were genuine folk heroes worthy of television shows like Emergency! Admittedly, I've never watched an episode of Emergency!, though I imagine it would only run on TV Land anyway, but based on the first issue of its Charlton Comics adaptation, I get the impression that this television series (so, subsequently, its comic book series) honored its law enforcement and first response team protagonists. From the eye-catching watercolor cover by (Joe?) Staton, depicting firefighters harrowingly saving an unconscious victim from a burning building, we the readers instantly understand the dichotomy of their mission; while their faces betray their own fear, they act anyway, which is a true mark of heroism. Who saves even Superman can't feel a little fear flying into fight now and then?

Fortunately, since this is the first of my seven last reviews of my consecutive year-long A Comic A Day personal challenge, and thus a strategic choice, this issue offers two opportunities for analysis: one, as the aforementioned adaptation of a TV series, albeit one I haven't seen, so two, a comparison piece for an comic adaptation of a show I love, The A-Team. Yes, Mr. T has made a few appearances here already (and earned a mention as one of my "man-crushes" in my recent LiveJournal posts), but only recently did I acquire three of Marvel's The A-Team books -- cheaply, I might add. While '80s nostalgia is in full swing with both TMNT and Transformers in theaters this year, some back issues will forever be relegated to the twenty-five cent bin. Honestly, just finding those comics, on the heels of acquiring all five seasons of the original TV show on DVD no less, was priceless.

But I digress. First, Emergency! #1 was a compelling comic book, with a dramatic first page splash of an ambulance hitting the street in response to, well, an emergency. Dual plotlines converge when a warehouse fire is traced to a hospital victim with radiation burns; the warehouse's owner is initially suspected because of his abnormal cache of radioactive material, all of the drums are legally registered. So, some attention falls on the mystery burn patient, who ends up eluding a prolonged hospital stay and seemingly has a rap sheet for numerous crimes, including theft and arson. Paramedic John Gage takes the case, which is initially befuddling since plenty of police officers are around to help, but his emphasis on the potential biohazard of his suspect permits some suspension of belief. Really, I would imagine that investigations like this are tangled in red tape, and only in retrospect did I realize that the media and their inherent exploitive skepticism of "the process" were absent supporting characters, but that speaks to the contemporary pop culture standard of celebrity and law enforcement. Much like this review, Emergency #1 hits a wall when Gage learns where his suspect might be hiding, and for several pages he talks about hitting the joint:

"He hangs out with a bunch of punks at Leo's Grill."

"I've got an idea where he might go, Dixie!"

"Unless I miss my guess, Davin will head for his buddies -- and that means Leo's Bar and Grill!"

"I'm sure he's hanging out at a place called Leo's Grill."

"I hope Davin is in Leo's Bar and Grill."

That's four pages' worth of anticipation that builds to a conversation Gage and an officer have with Davin when they finally find him at, yes, Leo's Bar and Grill. While his punk friends offer some resistance that leads to a climatic shoot-out, a moment of poignancy concludes this investigation when the nurse beholds a dying-from-radiation-poisoning Davin and muses, "Why do people wreck their lives like this?" Though she might have been pondering the nature of crime in general, we the readers never really find out why Davin himself was such a fiend for radium chloride . . . his motive is never revealed, and in fact never really called into question! Perhaps it's just that valuable -- apparently it has the ability to poison punks, and potentially good crime stories.

Still, if Emergency! was intended to attract a wider audience to its native TV show, I say mission accomplished. If I catch it on my DirecTV preview guide, I'll definitely select it, if only to see if live action holds up to the intensity of adapted graphic storytelling.

Interestingly, when I first read this issue, I missed the artist credit as "Byrne Robotics." Indeed, this comic features some of John Byrne's earliest work in the industry, and though his signature is initially obscured by his attempts to capture the likenesses of the television series' cast, further examination reveals some traces of his work, even by today's standards. I confirmed these facts on Wikipedia but couldn't find Emergency! on Byrne's own bibliography at Byrne Robotics. Could he be ashamed of this work, even with its blatant support of our nation's law enforcement and EMT officers?

However, the A-Team proved just a few years after Emergency!'s heyday that one need not be on the right side of the law to enforce it. Until I read their Marvel Comics adaptation, I never realized that their hoarsely asserted backstory from the opening credits of their TV show (sans season five, by which time they'd jumped the shark with a techno remix of their signature theme song) was the broadcast equivalent of Marvel's one or two sentence origin synopses at the top of their title pages in the '70s and '80s. No wonder The A-Team makes for such a marvelous read! Credited as the art director, John Romita obviously went to great lengths to make sure that the A-Team was drawn the Marvel way, and though "average Joe" characters like Murdock and Face lose some similarity to their actors' likeness in the transition, definitive characters like Hannibal and B.A. are on point. In fact, in some panels, Hannibal's cocky smirk looks more like something from the pages of a Mad Magazine spoof strip, but I understand that this comic book series parallels the show's first season; Hannibal's character developed a real gravitas in seasons two and three, especially in the episode "Deadly Maneuvers." Again, but I digress.

What Emergency! #1 lacked in the motives department Marvel's The A-Team makes up for in spades. In fact, having read issues #1 and #2, while some of the "mysterious" motivations are too transparent to truly illicit intrigue, others are a bit too far-fetched for my liking. For example, in the first issue, B.A. insists that his old friend has nothing to do with a diamond heist despite evidence to the contrary, and later we learn that his old buddy is in fact an FBI agent working undercover. Seriously, I saw it coming a mile away. Then, in issue #2, when two Asian brothers, co-creators of a multi-million dollar video game company (in 1984?) hire the A-Team to find their kidnapped father of two years, Pops reveals that he kidnapped himself to start a cult bent on ancient Japanese traditions. Oh-kay. That's a plot so mundane I would have saved it for season five.

But, hark, what's this? A potential The A-Team/The Greatest American Hero crossover? When B.A.'s old buddy reveals that he's an FBI agent, he explains that he and his partner Bill Maxwell have been on the case for awhile. Die hard fans (like me) will recognize Maxwell's name as the "spook" that discovered the alien super suit with Ralph Hinkley in the '80s series The Greatest American Hero! We never actually see Bill, but the reference isn't that surprising considering both TV shows were products of Stephen J. Cannell Productions. Was Marvel hinting at a possible Cannell-verse? Unfortunately, fans never saw such a crossover really come to fruition. I guess that's what fan fiction is for.

Unlike Emergency #1, which caught my eye because of the Charlton bull's eye and that Staton cover, I can't imagine folks that didn't watch The A-Team were suddenly inspired to do so because of the Marvel comic book, which, based on its cover imagery, was just another Mr. T vehicle in the early '80s anyway. Seriously, a Saturday morning cartoon and a cereal weren't enough for the Baracan one? Actually, by issue #2, the interior story featured more of the others' trademarked personalities, which was a relief for comprehensive fans like me . . . and I did develop a greater understanding of what comic book adaptations need to tick. Fortunately, both of these series had that critical ingredient: character. Though a bit bland and repetitive at times, Gage is a heroic figure, determined in his quest while realizing the big picture, as well. If only the character of contemporary law enforcement would be so highly regarded. Nowadays, the television emphasis is more on the legal process, thanks to successes like Law & Order and Boston Legal. When it comes to cops, perhaps because of those controversial headlines, they reserve the right to remain silent. Who can blame 'em?

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Omega Men #21

The Omega Men #21, December 1984, DC Comics
writer: Sharman Oaks
artist: Alex Nino
letterer: John Castanza
colorist: Carl Gafford
editor: Marv Wolfman

I've been hoarding this issue of The Omega Men since last summer, since a comic book by such a title seemed like the perfect issue to review on this, the beginning of the final week of A Comic A Day. Unfortunately, you know what they say about the best laid plans, and today our local American Cancer Society Relay for Life threatens to consume all of my day, so today's read must be a brief experience. It's just as well, since, despite my wait, the Omega Men didn't make a significance impression on me, which might explain why they've been spared DC's recent scouring of the B-list characters "who's who" for the sake of their new weekly epic crossovers. However, interestingly, this issue's synthesis of warring alien cultures and personality-riddled robots is remarkably similar to a first season episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation I was watched on the G4 Network. Specifically, the robot Questron, which incidentally looks like a walking Xerox machine with a monitor for a head, inquires about the definition of love in this story, a seemingly unrelated element that smacks of character development akin to Data's constant inquiries about humanity. The sheer innocence that pervades these futuristic protagonists is charming and refreshing in comparison to the pulp hero rip-offs that usually star in space adventures like this. In fact, while Alex Nino's art was incredible (if a little dated), these pages were too washed in pink and purple tones, the oft utilized shades of a techno-ruled future. (Remember, this comic was published when Simon was a cutting edge interactive game.) Ultimately, too distracting. So, though this may be the last issue of The Omega Men that I'll read in a while, I have an exciting line-up of issues for this last week, building right up to our last one. In the meantime, I offer the first A Comic A Day rerun, if only to clarify my reasons for ditching today's effort:

Spider-man, Storm & Luke Cage, May 2005, Marvel Comics/American Cancer Society
contributors unlisted
originally posted March 8, 2007

Every year I volunteer for the local American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life, a twenty-four hour track and field event designed to raise money and support for cancer prevention, research, and survivorship. I picked up this special comic book at a related event last night, read it on the road this morning, and surprised to find a genuine superhero adventure smoldering beneath an anti-smoking public service announcement. Luke Cage is coaching a citywide track team but his star runner has been enticed by a secret syndicate encouraging the kid to smoke and through his race, led by a new supervillain appropriately dubbed Smokescreen. Cage, Spidey, and Storm break up the ring and get the athlete back on track – literally, I guess. The writer maintained the integrity of the message while preserving a sense of adventure and wonder for a younger audience, the intended readership for such a preventative lesson. The artist also implemented a solid sense of page layout and drama, in the old mighty Marvel manner with a touch of Mike Wieringo influence. The creators should have been credited for their successful efforts, I say, but I can understand why they weren’t. Preventing cancer is the real inspiration for this issue. It’s the kind of enemy anyone can fight, with a little time. It’s the kind of cause that calls everyone to be a hero.

Friday, June 22, 2007

The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones #34

The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones #34, March 1986, Marvel Comics
writer: Linda Grant
penciller: Steve Ditko
inker: Danny Bulanadi
letterer: Diana Albers
colorist: Ken Feduniewicz
editor: Ralph Macchio
EIC: Jim Shooter

With Steven Spielberg's picture of Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones generating buzz about the adventuring archaeologist's long awaited fourth film, I thought an issue of Marvel's The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones would be in order. Fortunately, I had this one waiting in the wings from a twenty-five cent back issue bin dig a few months ago. Indeed, the comic book collector, in his often dusty quest to find obscure, possibly misfiled gems in countless comic shops' long boxes, can easily relate to Indiana Jones and his global exploration of the planet, particularly when that journey takes the whip wielding professor to the most cobweb ridden corners of forsaken cultures or civilizations. While the new Jones movie is sure to show us how the character has evolved since his pre-WWII adventures, it may show us how we've changed, as well.

Certainly this issue is about change, as a previously harmless lighthouse keeper transforms into a power hungry mad sorcerer under the influence of a stolen ancient amulet, once the magical of a civilian that sought to abolish the seven mystics ruling them. When this lighthouse keeper, Ian Soames, hired master thief Amanda Knight to steal the artifact from Connecticut's National Museum, Indy tracked her to Estry Island, where they battled an Army of Darkness like band of resurrected skeletons under Soames' spell. Though Indy finds the aid of an old man with a connection to the Earth's mysterious leylines (a phenomenon occasionally used to explain unknown happenings in literature; in comics, reference Detective #617), Soames eventually corners Jones and Knight in his watchtower, a fatal mistake when "Junior" realizes that the lighthouse is the source of the sorcerer's power. Long story short, he recovers the amulet and the girl gets away, but few characters in cinema really comprehend that you win some and you lose some more than Indiana Jones. Though this issue's dialogue is a bit long-winded at times, I understand that writer Linda Grant was attempting to infuse her plot with the witty banter that made the Indiana Jones franchise so charming, but the chit-chat subdued some of the action that propelled this story and slowed its momentum a bit. Still, she balanced elements of magic and the mundane successfully to create a raucous tale with some semblance of a moral, with a message about preserving the past to preserve a safe future -- not that a theme is particularly important in this case. Actually, the pretty pictures are yet another distraction; Steve Ditko's pencils were a pleasant surprise when I first opened this issue, though I wish he had inked his work, as well. Much more reserved than his "Marvel Age" signature style, Ditko's characters were still expressive and melodramatic, and though he attempted to offer the occasional caricature of Harrison Ford, he used the actor's features more as a chiseled inspiration than a template. Ditko's layouts needed more room to breath, but such is the cost of blowing a lot of hot air.
So, you get action and adventure. Archaeological intrigue. A power-hungry villain and a tirelessly meddling woman. And, caught in the middle, the insufferable Indiana Jones, the everyman with a dose of courage and an obscene knowledge of global history. Just as Batman is the powerless superhero, Indiana Jones is just a few fine characteristics away from being one of us. No wonder we can't wait to see him again. Based on that picture of Harrison Ford, he's already whipped!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Highwaymen #1

The Highwaymen #1, August 2007, WildStorm Productions
writers: Marc Bernardin & Adam Freeman
artist: Lee Garbett
colorist: Jonny Rench
letterer: Rob Leigh
assistant editor: Kristy Quinn
editor: Scott Peterson

How many times have you seen a movie on its opening weekend and had no idea what it was about? Seriously, have you ever taken in a new movie with no information other than your impression of its poster? At ten dollars a ticket, even films with appealing trailers are gambles in entertainment, as we viewers run the risk that the flicks' best snippets of dialogue, most dramatic moments, or most action-packed sequences are the trailer itself, luring us in for an hour and a half of anticipation for scenes we've already seen. At an average price of $2.99, comic books are less of an investment but just as much of a gamble. A comic's cover is its proverbial poster, a visual synopsis of its tone and story, but in a medium that admittedly recycles old ideas and material, readers run a risk of buying something they've essentially already read. (This week's release of Mythos featuring Spider-man begs the question, "Exactly how many times do we need to read Spidey's origin?") For instance, when I saw the cover of WildStorm's new series The Highwaymen, I was intrigued that I hadn't heard of it before but fearful that its "fast cars and hot women" vibe was too close to the disappointing Chuck Dixon series Rush City. Still, since I had similar misgivings about WS's Ex Machina, which I've resorted to collecting in trade form, I decided to gamble and make a cold purchase -- not my first in recent months, but definitely my most cognitive.

So, is The Highwaymen a worthwhile read, or simply a wrong turn . . .?

Just as the first ten minutes of a film make or break an audience's attention, the opening sequence of this inaugural issue, which I read in the comics shop, sold this issue for me. Depicting a shapely female special ops agent breaking into a facility for the contents of a safe, her expertise is impressive, but her attitude is compelling. Finding a piece of paper, the object of her mission, she muses, "Paper. How retro." Now, not to shift any unwarranted emphasis on myself, but I've often wondered how long before paper becomes obsolete and have drafted a story concept or two with similar commentary. The Ghostbusters' Egon Spengler said it best, "Print is dead," and though Captain Picard boasts an impressive collection of ancient books in his twenty-fourth century ready room, he still receives his most significant via PADDs. So, as a story, The Highwaymen made a connection with me. The question is, did it keep its grip?

Yes. I will pick up the next chapter, and since the WildStorm website identifies this issue as one of five, if it maintains this outing's level of intrigue I'll undoubtedly remain aboard until the very end. The parallels with Ex Machina are striking to me, since my regret fueled this purchase in the first place; just as Vaughn's series is about a former hero that ventures into politics, The Highwaymen is about a pair of retired transporters in the year 2021 that reluctantly reunite to complete one more mission for President Clinton, whose pre-taped video is a call from beyond the grave to find a woman, presumably a "deafcon dangerous" test subject from a defunct government project. The sending of this message was triggered by the special agent's theft at the beginning of this issue, and just as her bosses killed her for the security oversight, they seem equally dead set on defeating this book's namesake before they dig too deep. Everyone is still fairly ambiguous in their identity and significance, but the combination of Die Hard-like action and The Manchurian Candidate political conspiracy are enough to pull me in.

With a similar emphasis on dead presidents in Warren Ellis' news-making Black Summer, 2007 is shaping up to be the best election year for comics since the President Luthor arc.

Artistically, the Brian Stelfreeze cover exudes a cinematic potential that inspired my initial comparison to movies, but the interior art by Garbett is a bit more subdued. Even the most explosive sequences in this issue, and there are two, are conveyed through tight shots, with little breathing room to grasp the wider consequences to these actions. Yes, we see our heroes use a city bus to collapse a shopping mall parking garage on their pursuers, but did their risky maneuver elicit any collateral damage? The reputation of the Highwaymen is established as urban myth, apparently asserted through action figures and similar franchising, but will the urgency of their current mission evoke public attention and exposure? Further, with President Clinton playing a stimulating role in this plot (not to mention the allusion to another former President Clinton, which is a toss between prophecy and wishful thinking), will the media become a supporting character in this epic? An eighty-year-old Rush Limbaugh coughing up "I told you so's" regarding a forty-year-old defunct but still dangerous Clinton project would be hilarious. But I digress; Garbett's strength is his character work and the way he illustrates emotion. Best described as Quitely-meets-Keown, his human form has a natural fluidity but his sequential work is missing something that puts the work completely over the top. Hopefully future issues will help him get up to speed.

Which is what this issue is, really: the promise of an action-packed, suspenseful car chase, maybe even across America. The players are in place, and we know their basic motivations; writers Bernardin and Freeman are obviously eager to switch gears toward the meat of their story. Perhaps therein lies the different between movies and comic books; unless the film is billed as the first in a series, a movie is essentially a solitary entity, and even if it disappoints at ten bucks a ticket, it's a one time commitment that can never be revisited again (unless you stumble across Congo on USA late one night). Comic books imply a sense of dedication and customer continuity. Even from a shallow collectors' standpoint, I have the first issue, so why not just buy the subsequent four more, for completists' sake? Unfortunately, when I buy a comic and make such a commitment, I want to be taken for a ride. Only time will tell if the Highwaymen can really take me anywhere.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Generic Comic #1

The Generic Comic #1, April 1984, Marvel Comics
creators unknown

The Generic Comic is essentially a template for how to create a comic book the Marvel way. Its cover summarizes its efforts perfectly: "One neurotic Super-Hero type with a variety of personal problems; one bad-guy bent on world domination through arcane means; assorted villainous hench-people; the hero's nefarious employer, pathetic family, and well-endowed girlfriend; a plot containing a conflict, a sub-plot, a resolution, a plot twist, and as many fights as it takes to full up the rest of the pages." While this stripped description initially strikes the reader as a satirical jest, these characteristics are truly the qualifiers that establish a successful superhero story. Still, the one element that the writers of this disclaimer couldn't identify, the element that no one can clearly define, is whether this story connects a general audience.

Reading this description, Stan Lee's groundwork on Spider-man is the first reference that comes to mind, though many other commonplace heroes from several different comic book publishers. Yet, Spidey was the first superhero with "real world" problems, and his awkward adolescence, coupled with his cool costume and quirky powers, guaranteed a dichotomy of familiarity and wonder for his young readership. Does the hero of The Generic Comic make the same connection?

In my opinion, unfortunately, no. Though The Generic Comic boasts all of the building blocks of a superhero action-adventure, it's means to that end are a bit too ridiculous to accept. For example, at the beginning of this story, after our nameless hero bids farewell to his girlfriend, traveling to visit an ailing relative, he regrets that he cannot afford to give her a better life then visits his younger brother, experiencing his third month in a coma. One circumstance would have been sympathetic enough, but the two combined expand beyond sympathetic to obscenely pathetic. Afterward, the hero inexplicably develops super-strength due to an over exposure to, of all things, his collection of glow-in-the-dark paraphernalia. He spends his day trying to cover up his new bulging muscles and powers, and after a vow to use his skills for good, he encounters a villain with the hypnotic ability to decrease one's confidence. Our hero fits his old football helmet with a walkman to drown out the bad guy's suggestions, and though he saves the day, he loses his chance at a promotion when his boss is exposed as the guy that hired the villain in the first place. At one point in the story, our hero quips, "This is a coincidence which practically defies belief!" I couldn't have said it better myself.

See, I think the difference between this generic story and Spider-man's early days is that Stan Lee couldn't have anticipated the connection he'd make with readers of all ages. He gave awkward adolescents a hero to whom they could relate, and he gave readers a hip, subversive social commentary. In this series' attempt to recreate that magic, they fail horribly, in that the most successful connections made with readers are often the most unintentional or surprising ones. To package a comic under the presumptions of these paradigms is a bit pompous on the creators' part. Further, the art work in this issue is barely acceptable, and while some panels are solid, others appear to have been drawn by a third grader. A generic comic should at least offer generic art, which would be good enough not to be bad, but average enough not to blow readers away. If the story goes to these lengths . . .

This generic comic book idea is a concept that has been attempted again in recent years, and though the premise is interesting, its implementation is guaranteed to fail. The specifics necessary to establish a unique identity to this series and thus an intrigue for a general audience are ironically and intentionally denied by the point of the title in the first place. Further, though I acquired this issue for fifty cents, I can't help but notice its sixty cent price tag, which is what the other comics of its time cost. Should a generic comic book cost a little bit less? In my opinion, that's certainly what it's worth.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Star Wars #50

Star Wars #50, August 1981, Marvel Comics
writer: Archie Goodwin
artists: Al Williamson, Tom Palmer, Walt Simonson
letterer: Ed Stuart
colorist: Don Warfield
editor: Louise Jones
EIC: Jim Shooter

Three decades ago, an unsuspecting movie-going public stumbled onto one of the most successful cinematic franchises of all time. Can you imagine being one of the first few thousand to have seen Star Wars back in the summer of '77? Without the burden of its epic legacy today, do you think you would have genuinely enjoyed the movie back then? Heck, did Star Trek fans understand that their beloved series would henceforth compete with George Lucas' brainchild for the title of "greatest space fantasy of all?" It's difficult to pinpoint the moment a phenomenon is truly born, but we can easily chart its lifespan -- thirty years, marked by the release of countless action figures, comic books, Underoos, and a galaxy's worth of supplemental merchandise. As a self-styled fanboy, one would be hard pressed to avoid the Star Wars legacy . . .

. . . and I am one of the few to pull it off. Compared to many of my peers that embraced George Lucas as their lord and savior since infancy, I discovered Star Wars much later in life. I became familiar with the characters in the fifth grade via my friend's action figure collection, and I finally watched the films a year or two later. My friends laughed when I gasped at the revelation of Luke and Leia's heritage, as if the knowledge was as common as the real history we'd been learning in school. Even then, prior to the releases of the prequels and the peak of its action figure production (yes, there was a time when Star Wars toys didn't consume the action figure aisles at Target), the Force was a pop culture phenomenon, winning the hearts of five to twenty-five year-olds the world over . . . all equally assumed just as socially inadequate. Indeed, is Star Wars to blame for the fanaticism commonly attributed to the modern geek? How fervently were geeks dressing up like their favorite sci-fi characters before the advent of the Storm Trooper?

But I digress. I was fortunate enough to find some issues of Marvel's old Star Wars comic book series at a swap meet last weekend, and though I had quite a selection to choose from, predominantly between numbers twenty-nine and sixty, I opted for number fifty. As a self-proclaimed "collector's issue," I (correctly) anticipated a self-contained story, and the credits, listing Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonson among the contributing talent, certainly didn't detour me. What sealed the deal was the iconic cover by Tom Palmer, a visual blend of the space odyssey drama conveyed by the films' posters and a definitive comic book sensibility, cramming all of the key characters together for the ultimate team shot. While admittedly not a big time Star Wars fan, the more I look at this cover, the more it may become one of my favorites, thanks to its effortless summation of the characters' personalities and attitudes.

The story was just as inclusive. Taking place between episodes five and six, "The Crimson Forever" takes careful strides not to disrupt the continuity of the original movies while also seamlessly incorporating all of the fan favorite characters into one cooperative adventure. Remember, at this point in Star Wars lore, Han Solo has been delivered to Jaba the Hut in his carbonite entrapment, and Lando and Chewbacca are at the helm of the Millenium Falcon in an effort to rescue him. However, in this issue, the Falcon is intercepted by Princess Leia, who beseeches the pair's help in finding a cure for a plague dubbed the Crimson Forever, since it turns its victims red, staring endlessly into space. Unfortunately, Luke is among the victims, and in his feverish state he experiences a hallucination not unlike his visions on Dagobah in Empire Strikes Back, involving a spectral Darth Vader, Obi Wan, and Yoda. Meanwhile, Chewy recounts an early Han Solo adventure about two mystical rubies that, when separated, result in a similar illness. Needless to say, the gang solves the mystery and rescues their friends, and though the story is relatively inconsequential to Lucas' grand scheme, I can imagine that this series as a whole satiated the Star Wars fan base between films.

Heck, like I said, I'm not even a fan, but it kept me interested.

I am grateful for Star Wars, because as a franchise it helped hone the fanboy subculture into the action figure clamoring mob that it is today. The phenomenon is easy to mock, but even students of Joseph Campbell's philosophy on literature and heroism reference Star Wars for its homages paradigms and archetypes of the past. More so than the story itself, the legacy of George Lucas' galactic tale has become an epic in itself, spanning thirty years of pop cultural significance. Like the Crimson Forever, there is no end to its influence . . . but no one seems interested in finding a cure. Especially not George Lucas' wallet . . .

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Jam: Super Cool Color Injected Turbo Adventure from Hell! #1

The Jam: Super Cool Color Injected Turbo Adventure from Hell! #1, May 1988, Comico the Comic Company
by Bernie E. Mireault
editor: Diana Schutz

The cover of The Jam: Super Cool Color Injected Turbo Adventure from Hell! #1 reminded me of a work by Paul Grist, featuring a seemingly average Joe with a touch of transparent personality garbed in an outrageous superhero suit not unlike a character from Jack Staff. The Jam, however, is the most domestic superhero I've ever seen, and perhaps the most American. Out of work, the Jam, a.k.a. Gordie, spends a day running errands in this issue, and after depositing a check, he stumbles across some bank robbers and thwarts them in his civilian clothes, with actually little mention to his vigilante persona. He takes down the thugs simply because it was the right thing to do, and he establishes himself as a moral standard even when one of the thieves offers a stashed part of the take for their release. Unfortunately, "no good deed," and Gordie is mistaken for one of the gang and is hauled off to jail, where the Jam's lawyer friend arranged his release. In retrospect, it's an ineffective twist in the story, but the kind of treacherous luck that might befall Peter Parker on his way to Aunt May's surprise birthday party, or something. In the end, when Gordie's girlfriend laments about their financial woes, the Jam suits up and finds the lost, stolen cash, and though his conscience struggles with the decision, he keeps the dough to pay for their woes. Again, proof positive that the Jam is the most normal hero I've ever read; his tale is a volley of luck and circumstance, a real slice of life in the mundane existence of an urban avenger. Following yesterday's World War Hulk, this was a much more grounded read, a refreshing, insightful piece of storytelling. Though this issue initially impressed as a Paul Grist riff, it actually has a strong voice of its own, and it asks a poignant question: If you were a vigilante, would you always do the right thing? For the world? For yourself?

Sunday, June 17, 2007

World War Hulk #1

World War Hulk #1, August 2007, Marvel Comics
by Greg Pak, John Romita, Jr., Klaus Janson, Christina Strain
letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
assistant editor: Nathan Cosby
editor: Mark Paniccia
EIC: Joe Quesada

Forget his producers, sponsors, financial investors, and fans. Michael Bay owes a great deal of thanks to Old MacDonald. Let me explain: the "summer vacation" as we know it is a result of America's rural roots, when kids took the season off from school to help their families on the farm. For some reason, this schedule stuck even after the Industrial Age, and a century later, Hollywood has established a rich tradition of offering its grandest projects, like, say, Michael Bay's forthcoming Transformers, when children have the whole day to kill. It's an entirely different kind of crop, that's for sure. So, what does this analogy have to do with Marvel's latest crossover World War Hulk? Well, based on its first issue, this epic is being produced with the vigor of a cinematic masterpiece; further, Romita, Janson, and cover artist David Finch bring an Ocean's Thirteen stardom to the series as Marvel's top artistic talent. Yet, with so many World War Hulk tie-ins slated for July and August, the Marvel Bullpen is truly paying homage to Old MacDonald and utilizing its families talents, presenting an event many fans may prefer even over its real cinematic offering, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer.

At least I didn't have to wait in line for this one. The question is, would it be worth the wait . . .?

In a word, based on this inaugural effort, yes. Though, the description "inaugural" is a misnomer, since this story began over a year ago, when Marvel's super-powered elite, Mr. Fantastic, Iron Man, Dr. Strange, and the Inhumans' Black Bolt, decided to rocket the Hulk into space, where he landed on a savage planet that eventually dubbed him its ruler. Now, I didn't read Planet Hulk, but World War Hulk #1 does a succinct job in wrapping up past events, and in establishing ol' Jade Jaws' rage. Dr. Strange puts it best: "He's never been angrier. So he's never been stronger." And the Hulk doesn't disappoint; he makes short work of Black Bolt, who had apparently beat Greenjeans before, and warns the Inhuman's peers of his eminent revenge. The Hulk isn't void of his inherent heroism, though, as he gives heroes twenty-four notice to evacuate New York, an effort that precedes his anticipated battle with Iron Man, which culminates in and brings down the Sentry's Watchtower. As the Avengers gather around the towers ruins, a sole figure emerges -- yes, the Hulk. He's just getting started.

The very pacing of this issue asserts its cinematic potential, not just as the first of a five-part miniseries but as a story in and of itself. For example, the first page is a darn near ethereal list of its creators, the print equivalent of a film's opening credits. Then, the brief flashback, the Hulk's return to our solar system, and his landing on the moon from both the residing Inhumans' and the Aerospace Space Station's respective perspectives eased us the audience into the full breadth of this adventure. From Black Bolt's defensive attack to the Avengers' evacuation of the Big Apple, the action is grand but muted, seemingly reserved until Iron Man answers the Hulk's call and eventually gets his red and yellow butt handed to him. Although I suspect that another hero was inside the iron armor, and I'll spare you the spoiler in case I'm wrong, Iron Man was a worthy first line of offense, and while the confrontation was climatic for this issue's sake, we can be sure that the best is yet to come. And, of course, that the real Mean Green/Stark face-off has yet to come.

My only concern is that Marvel might substitute substance for unnecessary supply. World War Hulk is but a five issue miniseries, but counting all of the supplemental issues on the WWH checklist, readers need thirty-seven comics to read the whole story. I haven't jumped aboard a crossover like this in a long time, perhaps since DC's similarly titled Our Worlds at War, and while we old vets know that not every issue is critical, Marvel must anticipate that eager collectors will cough up the over one hundred and fifty bucks for the whole campaign. Back-up features like blatant advertisements for other Hulk graphic novels and a shameless "buy more" essay from EIC Joe Quesada only prove my point, especially considering that those extra pages could've offered more Planet Hulk flashbacks, or, heaven forbid, more story, via Daily Bugle editorials or other such text-intensive devices, akin to The Watchmen's supplemental features. Nothing sells me more on a story than its ability to consume me completely, and with the pathos behind the Hulk's return, extra material shouldn't be too difficult to create. I mean, what's The Irredeemable Ant-Man #10 really contributing that a Doc Samson psychological profile wouldn't?

Artsitically? Romita, Jr. and Janson turn in some of their best work to date. Romita's square-jawed heroes are reminiscent of Kirby's style, that which defined drawing comics the Marvel way, and the page layout and characters' blocking are absolutely perfect, both establishing setting and background and almost focusing on the in-the-moment details that make this story the real character study that it is.

Indeed, though World War Hulk is a multi-title crossover like many other stories from the past two decades, Marvel dares to put its heroes' moral compass into a tailspin once again -- first in the political saga Civil War, and now but posing the unasked question to its readers: Were Mr. Fantastic, Iron Man, Dr. Strange, and Black Bolt right in sending the Hulk into space? Though they sought to spare Earth the Hulk's destructive rampages, their friend Bruce Banner remains inside the behemoth, and their actions brought danger and tragedy to another world's population. Is this collateral damage acceptable to our heroes? While they strive to defend innocents from the Hulk's revenge, Jade Jaws' mission is really one of avenging his fallen alien friends . . . and the queen that carried his child. If such a fate befell any other hero, would we the readers judge them? Honestly, what draws me to this series is the Hulk's righteousness; though his wayward heroism has been recklessly dangerous in the past, his cause is just now, and I'd like to see his mission smash Marvel's heroes both physically and ethically.

Plus, was that Rick Jones watching the news in Las Vegas? Will he finally take the Hulk's side once again? How long has it been since he's been around? Also, how will the Hulk react to Captain America's death? Will it affect him, or will he shrug it off as one less cape to crush?

Yes, World War Hulk has planted some seeds of thought for this reader, and I trust future issues will harvest these impressions into an equally poignant resolution. School may be out for summer, but the lessons are just beginning in the Marvel Universe . . . and I wouldn't be surprised if, by the time this all ends, somebody else buys the farm. Old MacDonald would be proud . . .

Saturday, June 16, 2007

The Rook #6

The Rook #6, December 1980, Warren Publishing
writers: Budd Lewis, Will Richardson, Jose Ortiz
artists: Alfredo Alcala, Lee Elias, Jose Ortiz

Before I read Epic Illustrated almost a year ago, the second A Comic A Day review, I'd never read a comic book magazine before. Now, with Heavy Metal and today's The Rook under my belt, the format is becoming one of my favorites. The larger page size asserts a certain sense of legitimacy to the material, and since many of the stories I've read in this format are fantasy adventures, the wider scope parallels the genre's grander scale. I'd imagine that magazine publishing is a costly endeavor, more so than the standard comic book newsstand edition, which might explain the veritable extinction of comic book magazines in recent years. It's a shame, really. The exposure of various writers and artists in a single consistent package is a commodity this flooded industry should be able to afford.

So, ironically, while The Rook is an insightful look back in time at how comics reached its intended audiences, its title character is a time traveller, and in this chapter he is trapped aboard the warship of Robar the Conquerer with legendary authors Arthur Conan Doyle and Jules Verne. With the help of some adventurous Mexican friends and a wayward up-and-coming writer in the Haitian jungles below, not to mention the fellow time-travelling Bishop the cowboy and Manners the robot servant, the Rook brings Robar's ship down. When the Rook is separated from Doyle and Verne, Doyle muses what his friend Sherlock would do, and though Verne cautions that his friend's thoughts betray madness, Holmes exposes himself as a real person (Doyle stifles an "I told you so!"), undercover on Robar's ship and surprisingly spry for a consulting detective, and saves the helpless scribes. Overall, this first story was a highly engaging one, with plenty of wink-winks toward the Rook's influence on America's history and literature, an effort much more effective than recent, similar attempts like Image's Alter Nation. While such time-spanning tales usually focus on these altercations in history, the Rook's influence is merely, and intentionally humorously, coincidental, and as his name intends the Rook is but a player in a game bigger than any of us. And we the readers are the more entertained for it.

The second story, "The Viking Prince," conversely has its feet squarely on the ground, as a travelling princess accompanied by a dwarfish bodyguard and the humble son of a woodsman are attacked by a horde of one-eyed giants! The woodsman's son, Sigfrid, instantly proves himself the bravest of the bunch, firing a barrage of arrows at the giants before they effortlessly toss him into a raging river. With Sigfrid presumed dead, Princess Freyja and the dwarfish Sampson are captured and taken to the cyclops' leader, a mystical, vengeful enemy of the lady's royal family. Fortunately, Sigfrid survived the fall and, while fleeing an underwater monster, discovered a cavern that led directly to their enemy's private cave. Sigfrid frees Freyja and Samson and fights another onslaught of serpentine monsters and one-eyed giants before the King and his men finally save the day. Just when I thought that this woodsman's son was the luckiest guy on Earth, Sampson shares that the Princess is his sister. Well, save the day, check, but getting the girl, forget it. I wonder if writer Jose Ortiz intended to connect this plot twist with Sigfrid's name, which could have been inspired by Freud. Or, since this magazine is wrought with advertisements for Star Wars merchandise, Ortiz could've just taken a page from the Lucas playbook of writing oneself into a corner. The results were entertaining and noble, either way.

The last story in this trio was the shortest and dullest, begun with a eye-popping scene about the end of humanity, until the sequence is revealed to be the hallucination of Voltar, hero barbarian, suffering from a plague and seeing things. A few pages of lamenting later, a visitor arrives, and though Voltar initially thinks the guy his savior, the knight's raised weapon tells a different story. That last splash page is very beautifully illustrated and is an excellent way to end this issue, and as a newbie to this series, I would definitely read more . . . pending Voltar's apocalypse, of course.

These three stories are vastly different, but they do have one thing in common: breath-taking art. Indeed, these aspiring artists could use this issue as a lesson in intricate ink work, as each artist utilizes his respective skills to convey detail-oriented backgrounds and the textures of human flesh rather expertly. If these stories had been each flying solo, I might not have recognized this strength, but the anthology format pulled off the cooperative effort with a visual poignancy fans of comic book art couldn't help but appreciate. I've recently read that Marvel Comics Presents may return to the shelves soon. I can only hope that such a flashback opens the floodgates for other varying formats. What would be the point of becoming a fan of the magazine format if it's already a thing of the past?

Friday, June 15, 2007

Gypsy Company #3

Gypsy Company #3, December 2001, Liquid Comics
writer/penciller: Dennis Anderson
inker: Le Beau Underwood
letterer: Bloated Sack Studios
coloring" Superfly Studios
editor: Shawn Mitchell

Gypsy Company #3 didn't really speak to me. I had a difficult time understanding the story, and even now, I'm not sure if I got it right: a team of heroic mystics, the Gypsy Company (cool name), is captured by an evil entity that destroys villages and enslaves children, and when they break out, they plow through the enemy's zombie army to his throne room. Though the story wasn't my cup of tea, I enjoyed Anderson's art, a macabre synthesis of Wieringo and Ramos, and the Ben Templesmith pin-up on the back cover was an unexpected treat. As an independent comic book, Gypsy Company has an attractive package that would undoubtedly appeal to a definitively goth crowd -- fans of Rob Zombie's comics might enjoy it -- but I just couldn't get into it. Different strokes.

So, to compensate for today's minimal review, I've posted my review of Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer below. This praise could be the only review of its kind on the Internet! I'd appreciate some feedback, folks . . .

Movie Review: Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer

Movie Review: Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
released June 15, 2007, 12:01 a.m.

The mighty Marvel movie machine has risen to the occasion of another summer blockbuster weekend, and its third offering this year, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer integrates the best and the worst elements of this year's predecessors Ghost Rider and Spider-man 3 to lob a family-friendly softball of a film into its annals. Admittedly, I'm not as intimate with Fantastic Four lore as I am with, say, Spider-man's, but I have a general understanding and appreciation for the Storms as comicdom's first officially dysfunctional super-family. Retrospectively, when Stan Lee's publisher asked him to create the next superhero team to compete with National Periodical Publications' popular Justice League over forty years ago, the idea of a super-family seems like a natural next step; any combination of heroes similar to the happenstance camaraderie of the League would've been too obviously derivitive. Further, the FF's raw domesticity is what has set their adventures apart from other team books and in fact established them as a paradigm for similarly situated franchises, i.e. The Incredibles. With such a rich legacy, director Tim Story has a tremendous responsibility to get it on screen, if not for the long-time fans' sake, then to honor Lee and Kirby's undaunted creativity.

Again, though I'm not terribly familiar with the source material, I'm apparently in the minority that enjoyed this sequel. Based on its trailer, I anticipated that Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer was going to be a special effects free-for-all, since its two lead characters, the Surfer and the Human Torch, were shrouded by special effects. They'd have to be, to look right. However, I was pleasantly surprised by this film's semblance of subplots, culminating in a witty, romantic, action-packed story of globe-spanning proportions. (Spoiler alert!) Simply put, Reed Richards and Sue Storm's wedding is postponed when the Silver Surfer arrives to prepare Earth for destruction at the might of Galactus, a cosmic storms that feeds off of organic energy. In cooperation with the army, the Fantastic Four paralyze the Surfer and unexpectedly reform him when their nemesis Dr. Doom briefly acquires that uber-powerful silver surfboard. Together, thanks to the Surfer-induced anomaly that enables the quartet to share their powers, the Fantastic Four defeat Doom, and the Silver Surfer destroys his would-be master and saves Earth. What do I need to know from Lee and Kirby's original incarnation of this story that would strengthen my impression of this movie?

The critical reviews of Surfer denounce the film's grasp of the core characters and most specifically condemn the choice to depict Galactus as an interstellar funnel cloud rather than the purple garbed cosmic nomad from the comics. Regarding the latter, I'm grateful for the reinterpretation. First of all, the same purists that pledge allegiance to Kirby's devourer of worlds claim that Surfer's special effects were sorely lacking, so, what would they have thought of a galactic Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, plunging his fingers into the Earth for a sip of planetary sustenance? Further, in an era when global warming is the crisis du jour, why not imply that "the end is near" thanks to an interstellar storm? The Storms versus a storm . . . Is that's ironic? Eh? Eh? I did agree with a comment I read on-line about Galactus' similarities to the Star Trek Doomsday Machine, giant maw and all, but if a cloud is going to devour something, shouldn't it have a mouth? Between the Surfer as a humanoid entity and Galactus as a cosmic enigma, I thought the two represented the usual forces the Fantastic Four fight . . . oh, yeah, and Dr. Doom.

Of the characters apparently misrepresented, I thought Dr. Doom was the weakest; in the issues I've read starring the villainous Von Doom, he is a monarch of Latveria with diplomatic credibility, making his schemes more multi-faceted than your usual mad scientist's. In this case, Doom is simply in the right place at the right time, a child of good fortune gone bad, with little real credit to his genius or power. Otherwise, I don't understand the criticism about these characters' authenticity. Mr. Fantastic is a stuttering genius that develops a sense of his own leadership potential through this adventure's circumstances, and Sue Storm is his strong, yet understandably sensitive better half. Yes, perhaps Jessica Alba wasn't the best choice for Sue, since Alba's dark complexion clashes with the Invisible Woman's blond-haired, blue-eyed features, but claims of her "whining" are greatly exaggerated. How would your girlfriend feel after five failed wedding attempts? Still, Sue adapts an understanding for her betrothed's penchant for heroics. Further, aside from the Thing's brutishness, she is definitively established as the most powerful of the group, single-handedly "holding up" a crashing Ferris wheel while her Alpha male teammates stumble over each other. So, lay off Sue Storm, already! Dunst's Mary Jane Watson she ain't!

However, my favorite scenes in this film were the moments shared by the ever-lovin' blue-eyed Thing and his buddy, "the matchstick," Johnny Storm. After his woe-is-me subplot in the first film, I was grateful for the inclusion of Alicia Masters here, though I half-expected some tragedy to befall her before film's end. I mean, Spider-man was hardly granted a happy ending, so I braced myself for a similar fate for the hard-luck Ben Grimm. Thankfully, Alicia maintains her role as benevolent girlfriend, an endearing element that sparks (pun intended) the Torch's sense of emptiness. Between his failed love life, impulsive hot-headedness, and unapologetic thirst for fame, Johnny is perhaps the most realistic of the group -- Who among us would maintain stability in face of sudden superpowers and subsequent fame? One review claims that the Torch's angst robs him of his charisma; I call it character development. Now, put the Thing and the Torch in the same room, and you have comicdom's first official buddy movie. They bicker at each other like that in the comics, right? What's so inconguent about that?

I'm not denying that this film isn't loaded with campy baggage; in fact, I think it uses its camp to its advantage. A guy that stretches, a guy made of rock, and human torch . . . what, you expected post modern dramatic dialogue? Waiting for Galactus by Samuel Beckett? Come on! I will concede that Mr. Fantastic's emo-Spidey-like dance scene was silly, but in the context of a bachelor party, it made more sense than the influence of an evil alien symbiote; plus, it's placement in the first act of the movie was a fair warning of what the audience was getting into. Peter Parker's twist-'n-shout was a definitive web-sling over the shark, and though Reed's rug cutting amounted to little more than another superfluous SFX sequence, what should a movie about a silver guy flying a surfboard through space offer? If anything, I wish the FF's dysfunction reflected the retrospective sensibilities of The Brady Bunch Movie, asserting an oblivious tenacity to the trends of their native '60s. Again, I'll concede that Ben Grimm should never utter, "My bad." Indeed.

Finally, and most perplexingly, reviews I've read criticize the film's appeal to children, as if that's a bad thing. I know that Stan Lee's original Fantastic Four scripts were subversively adult (and even more so in Uncanny X-Men), but who else than a child could really appreciate a heroic dude on fire? I know these characters are capable of incredible depth, but, for the sake of the comics industry's vitality, we adults must loosen our grip on these icons if they are to last for future generations. Further, as I learned from Spider-man 3, I'm not entertained when my heroes cannot overcome the personal odds against them -- you know, those definitively grown-up problems like, "I thought you were cheating on me, so I sought comfort with and accidentally kissed your best friend, and since he died redeeming his brief career as a villain, I guess I'll love you again, since we're really all the other has." I'll take the apparently childlike harbinger of doom/heroes save the day shtick anytime. (Incidentally, the Fantastic Four do actually save the world. What plot in Spider-man 3 didn't focus on Peter's personal stake? Some selfless hero!)

Interestingly, the same critics that dub Surfer as a "child's movie" would've preferred Galactus as a sun-sized purple giant striding star systems for food. 'Nuff said.

Action. Adventure. Humor. Romance. Aliens. Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer is a definitive summer flick, a popcorn muncher with its fair share of both flash and substance, with character archetypes that respectively appeal to all types while maintaining the superhero/supervillain standard. For a meager hour and a half, Surfer accomplishes more than the extra hour's worth in Spider-man 3, in that it doesn't resort to tying up dangling threads by simply killing the characters involved. It faces its own camp and embraces a tone that suits the story, plot holes and all. Remember, even Stan Lee couldn't explain the Fantastic Four's powers other than "a bombardment of cosmic rays." That's all we needed to know then and now, and to behold a character like the Silver Surfer retain his visual and emotional integrity forty years after his inception on the page is a testament to the timelessness of these heroes. I think Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer rose to the challenge of making an impression this summer, at least with me. Let's see if it's a harbinger for similarly successful blockbusters.

Blogger's note: Review originally posted at