Wednesday, October 20, 2010

APE 2010: My Super Powers

I can review flyers, right?

Okay, My Super Powers by Neil Brideau, isn't a flyer, but it is a single piece of paper, folded in half, making a four page comic book. Such a format isn't uncommon at the Altnerative Press Expo -- in fact, it's often the norm -- but if you left this little piece of art anywhere else, a layman may incorrectly dub it "a flyer." So, I'm putting it in layman's terms. I'm not a superhero, after all.

Apparently, Neil Brideau is. In fact, he's my kind of superhero: the type with powers anybody can acquire, with enough sheer will. He has out-run the bus he missed. He has a bottom stomach in all-you-can-eat restaurants. Apparently, his hugs are great. See, regular super powers. Like Batman, but without the travel, the fortune, and the perpetual vengeance. So forget Superman or Spawn -- Neil's are the powers that just might save the planet one day.

Seriously, Brideau's strip is a charming little slice of life that boasts a latent love of comics and an appreciation for the minutiae of life. Hey, who cares if it's just one piece of paper? This is the kind of comic absolutely anyone can read, quickly, and happily.

Here's Neil's blog.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

APE 2010: Dancing with Jack Ketch: The Life of Jackson Donfaire, Notorious Pirate

I flew into San Francisco on Saturday morning. I returned to Phoenix on Sunday night. Somewhere in between, I had the pleasure of picking up some of the best independent comic books self-published today at the annual Alternative Press Expo, and as is my custom every year, I'd like to review as many of them as I can, albeit in short bursts.

As I read through my swag pile over the next few days, if all of the comics I bought (or traded for) at APE are as good as Josh Shalek's Dancing With Jack Ketch: The Life of Jackson Donfaire, Notorious Pirate, I'm in for a treat. This impressive 40-page minicomic tells the story of, you guessed it, Jackson Donfaire, the son of an escaped slave that manages to elude his would-be masters and stow away on a pirate ship. Through a series of mishaps and twists of fate, Jackson experiences a taste of power, confronts the tragedies of his past, and embraces the promises of his new future.

What I liked best about Josh's story was its historical roots; with a base in early colonial slavery, and a surprisingly down-to-earth portrayal of the classic pirate, one could be led to believe this yarn is spun from real events. Shalek's art betrays a whimsy to his writing style, at times reflecting the style of old Playboy gag panels or The New Yorker comic strips, but his characters offer real depth, just like the ocean to which they're bound. Above all else, Jackson's story is a human one; the pirates stuff is just, well, added treasure.

Josh's work can found at his website, Falling Rock National Park.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Batman: Snow

Batman: Snow (DC Comics): written by Dan Curtis Johnson & J.H. Williams, illustrated by Seth Fisher

A year and a half into his career as the Batman, Bruce Wayne is both tired yet determined to continue his one man war on crime. When he realizes his few friends in arms are limited by their allegiance to the law (James Gordon as a cop, and Harvey Dent as a lawyer, of course), Batman assembles a small, diverse of talented individuals that could offer research and reconnaissance to his cause, and at first their efforts are successful. Unfortunately, parallel to their efforts in capturing an up-and-coming crime lord, the origin of the villainous Mr. Freeze is unfolding elsewhere in Gotham City, and when the plots collide, the results are certainly a snowball of circumstance Batman can no longer control. In the end, Batman dissolves the group and resolves the only partnership that could really benefit him is one involving someone willing to listen to his every marching -- somebody that can watch his back. Good thing the circus, with their feature act the Flying Graysons, are coming to town . . .!

Seth Fisher's art is this story's true selling point, as the artist passed away way before his time and this work stands along Green Lantern: Willworld and Flash: Time Flies as his most mainstream, superhero work. I hate to say it, but honestly I'm not a fan of Fisher's Batman. His work is simply too detail-oriented to depict the Dark Knight as the living shadow many artists personify; for better or worse, Fisher's Batman is way too human. I do like his Mr. Freeze, and the character's incremental development from scientist to hallucinating madman suit Fisher's eclectic style perfectly. Above all, Fisher's passion for illustration is prevalent throughout the story (originally published in single issues of Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight) and is greater evidence that the industry lost a star way too soon.

Mr. Freeze has always been one of my favorite villains, but I hadn't thought of him as Batman's first super-powered villain until this storyline. Indeed, thanks to his suit, his strength and defense is more than an average person could handle, so when Mr. Freeze's bosses and the Gotham underworld work together to weaponize that cryogenic technology, everybody's in over their head, especially Batman. Further, while Batman always brags about flying solo, he is in fact one of the neediest characters in comics, and this story ambitiously and successfully sets the tone for both Bruce Wayne's need to work with others and why he's just so darn picky about it. Batman realizes his limitation as one lone ranger in Gotham, but as events unfold in Snow, he also discovers how a group of conflicting personalities becomes a greater liability than its worth. As much as this is Mr. Freeze's origin, it's also that of Batman's feelings toward Robin and the Justice League. Robin's the kid he was able to mold into the perfect partner; the Justice League is a bunch of adults with different, oft unyielding methods and opinions. Mr. Freeze gave Batman a good reason to have a cold shoulder.

This review was originally published in KaraokeFanboy Weekly #4.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Remembering Comic Con 2010

The First Cut Is the Deepest

Everybody that regularly attends the San Diego Comic Con remembers their first San Diego Comic Con. I first attended in 2000, when my buddy Brent and I scoped out the small press section in anticipation of unveiling our self-published K.O. Comix the following year. I only attended one day, a Saturday, and was overwhelmed by the immensity of the event. Still, despite dense crowds, I approached some of my favorite writers and artists effortlessly, getting autographs and asking about writing technique. I fondly remember brief but meaningful conversations with Jeph Loeb and Greg Rucka. The whole ride home, and really most of the year in between, I eagerly anticipated 2001 and sitting on the other side of the exhibitors' table, like they did.

When that fantasy became a reality, it was a rollercoaster of realized and disappointed expectations all at the same time. Firstly, fellow fanboys weren't mobbing us for our little self-published comic, like they did in my delusions of grandeur, but periodically we experienced brushes with fame, like when a plain-clothed George Takai flipped through our book, or when we realized we were just a few tables down from Phil Hester and Ande Parks. While we weren't of the same caliber as our favorite personalities in the comic book industry, those exhibitor badges still made us one of them, an honor we wore proudly.

Then, one year, it was over. Comic Con became the premiere pop culture event of the year -- not that it wasn't already, but the media was now covering it more heavily than ever before. The small press section was already split into two, and now Comic Con International had more applicants than they could accommodate. We were placed on a waiting list, for naught. Brent and I became (gulp) mere attendees. We had to wait in growing lines like everyone else. We didn't have a table to house our swag, or chairs to sit in when our tootsies got tired. Worst of all, we weren't contributors, with comics of our own on sale. We were just consumers. Of course, this didn't stop us from attending, but the experience certainly wasn't the same.

I've heard friends tell similar tales. One of my fellow fanboys started attending Comic Con in the '80s, before film, television, and video games consumed the exhibit hall, and one could just slip into a panel without worries of long, potentially cut-off lines. Featured guests were comic book writers and artists, period. Even in 2000, I knew Comic Con was a multi-media event. Who could really blame Hollywood for seizing a chance to travel to San Diego in July, especially when they could write off the trip as a marketing expense?

Convention Retention

This year, I finally found a way to make the Con work for me. My girlfriend and I only purchased Friday passes, so I knew my time was limited. I made a list of the comics I hoped to find and set a goal for the amount of money I'd spend on them, and I was determined to chat with old friends in the small press section. Along the way, I decided to pass out my latest comic personally, sans table or booth, despite any awkward obligation on the receiving end. I'd purchased my Mattel exclusives on-line so acquiring those action figures in the fulfillment center was more of an errand and less of a chore. Overall, I'm satisfied with the results. I scored great deals on comics and put my fingers on the pulse of small press again. I even saw my favorite artist Erik Larsen drawing Spider-man and his flagship character, Savage Dragon (below). I actually felt that same excitement that gripped me back in 2000, when I went to Comic Con with the hope of experiencing comic book culture in a way I hadn't before.

Location, Location, Location

Of course, after Comic Con, the news media at large over-analyzes the event, a tradition as steadfast now as camping outside of Hall H, and the one that bothers me most. More so than A-list movie star cameo appearances, these analyses elevate the Con past its comic roots, making it a sociological experiment pop culture pundits can mock for both its scope and substance. When you read, "Is Comic Con too big for San Diego?" the author is often really asking, "Why is Comic Con too big for San Diego?" Conjecture that the Con will move to Las Vegas is the mainstream media's way of begging it to move there -- to an adult playground they can better understand. The Los Angeles area has been suggested, too, probably because Spider-man and Edward Scissorhands can already be found outside the Mann Chinese Theater, so the locals are used to the weirdness.

Alas, trust me, Hollywood loves San Diego. It's far enough away to be vacation but close enough to make transporting a whole faux Stargate reasonable and cost-effective. Move Comic Con to Anaheim or L.A., and you won't see Angelina Jolie there again. She deals with those paparazzi everyday, and enduring the 5 Freeway's crush isn't worth a hour in a panel for 4000 fans. Move it to Vegas, and the cost of transporting set pieces like sky rockets . . . well, sky rockets. What I, and most others that attend, love about San Diego is how it absorbs the Con so effortlessly now. It becomes the city, and the city becomes the Con. In Vegas, Comic Con would just be one of a million other things happening -- and worst of all, if it happens in Vegas, all that awesome stuff just might stay there, and I'd like to remember taking a picture between Teela and Evil-Lynn, thank you very much.

The Pen is Mightier . . .

This year will suffer from the Hall H stabbing incident, as well. In the post-Con analyses I've read, folks attribute the sudden violence to the event's exponential growth, and its inability to shuffle the crowd in a way to please everyone. The perp's problem was his neighbor camping through one panel to view another, right? I've griped about this issue, too, but I've never felt compelled to strike! Unfortunately, for the immediate future, all attendees will have to live with this stigma, that we're just that into it. The Westboro Baptist Church's protests, as silly as they were, could've been vindicated in that moment, especially in the "eye for an eye" justice of the incident. How policies will change to avoid incidents like this has yet to be determined, but I'm certain that word of next year's convention events will be preceded with changes to make sure Comic Con isn't in the cross hairs of another controversy like this.

Bringing It Full Cycle

Oh, and let's not forget the biggest news of the weekend: Tyrese got a speeding ticket on a bike courier. Thanks for keeping us in the loop, TMZ. The lesson is clear -- Comic Con is a fluid thing, perhaps moving too fast for its own good. It's only worth the ride when you decide to grab the handlebars and steer yourself through the experience.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Movie Review: Batman: Under the Red Hood

When I first heard that the next DC animated feature was going to be Batman: Under the Red Hood, I wondered how the film would pull off a story incorporating critical details from The Killing Joke, A Death in the Family, and Infinite Crisis. Apparently, Bruce Timm had similar concerns, or so he confessed at the San Diego Comic Con panel that premiered the film. Fortunately, writer Judd Winick pitched the film thoroughly and excitedly enough (via telephone conference from San Francisco to Burbank, to boot) to earn the green light. As a fan that always prefers the source material to cinematic adaptation, I must say, Under the Red Hood is the exception, and not because of what Winick managed to cram from decades' worth of comics into a mere 70 minutes.

It's because of what he didn't.

First of all, the story of Jason Todd is a cornerstone to my comic book collecting career. I vividly remember buying a Batman comic book three-pack from K-Mart when I was a kid, perhaps even before the box of comics my dad scored at his moving job that changed everything, and, anyway, those three comics were Batman #408-410. On the heels of Year One, which I knew nothing about at the time, the origin of Jason Todd was rebooted to boast more humble beginnings as an orphan surviving in the streets of Crime Alley. As a child on the verge of adolescence, I loved this interpretation, and especially its contrast from Dick Grayson's Robin -- while the Dynamic Duo was still a team, their relationship was truly dynamic now, truly multi-dimensional.

Then, Jason died.

I knew Jason was going to die, because I'd seen issues of A Death in the Family on newsstands a few years prior, but I never knew the whole story: how he and Batman met, his controversial role as the second Robin, and the circumstances around his death. The trade paperback of A Death in the Family cleared up everything, and as a young person still developing his concept of death, not to mention how these make-believe superheroes affected my real life, I cherished these tales. As I grew familiar with the flakiness of death in comics, I grew particularly fond of writer/editor Denny O'Neil's quote on the back of the trade: "It would be a really sleazy stunt to bring him back." That's how I knew; Jason was dead, and death carries permanent consequences. It's everybody else's job to live with those consequences.

Then, Jason returned.

Through a series of convoluted cosmic circumstances, DC Comics found a way to bring Batman's second ward back, but it wasn't as quick as that beloved four issue story that killed him. No, DC took years to hint at Jason's resurrection, first in the high profile Jeph Loeb/Jim Lee collaboration Hush, then through a series of stories and finally an annual that offered the final piece of the mystery to Robin's defiance of death. Ready? When an angry Superboy from a parallel earth punched the multiverse (the hub of endless multiple realities), Jason Todd from a realm where he survived slipped into our world -- that is, the one where he was six feet under. He clawed his way out of the grave, was recovered by Ra's Al Ghul, and after a maddening jolt from a Lazarus Pit, when a bit nuts and became him own man. I told you they were convoluted circumstances.

For Under the Red Hood, Judd Winick put that story on a diet. First of all, no cosmic crises. Too much indigestion. Secondly, he kept the return to Jason Todd linear, without offshoots like Hush getting in the way. He presents the story as chronologically as possible: Batman has a new partner, Robin was captured and murdered by the Joker, then a mysterious man wearing a Red Hood (like the Joker did before he became the Clown Prince of Crime) rapidly takes over Gotham's underworld. I won't elaborate and spoil the minute details, but stripping this story to its bare bones makes it much more emotionally effective, and from a marketing perspective, more universally approachable.

That the action kicks butt certainly helps. The Red Hood is very explosion-happy, but the fisticuffs are what makes this cartoon not your daddy's Batman. From Batman and Nightwing's scrap with Amazo (one of my favorite recent comic book bouts, and one I'm grateful made the transition to film) to the climatic battle royale between Batman, the Red Hood, and the Joker, every blow has fluidity, purpose, and impact. The fighting actually moves the story along, rather than breaks it up to keep your interest, and since both elements are good independently, watching them work together was even better.

I will say, though, that I was amused by how every action sequence ended with a shot of a tight-lipped Batman, trying to process it all. It became redundant and therein kind of hilarious.

The film is quick witted, too, thanks in no small part to Neil Patrick Harris as Nightwing. When you think about it, Dick Grayson is comics' first and most prominent child star, and like NPH he has found a career in adulthood independent of that image. I wasn't as nuts about Joe DiMaggio's Joker as the crowd at the screening was, probably because I, like many others, am used to Mark Hamill's high-pitched inflection and cackle. DiMaggio's Joker was a bit more understated and even-toned; in short, it was masculine, as only DiMaggio could be, and I've never perceived the Joker as something less than a force of nature before.

Now, I'm a sucker for last lines. Forget Dickens' "best of times, worst of times" shtick; anybody can write a poignant first line. I'm most interested in all-encompassing last lines, those that sum up the tone of the piece perfectly, and maybe leave you a bit wanting. I won't ruin it, but Under the Red Hood has it. I feared the typical pan upward toward the Gotham skyline, or the standard swinging superhero sequence, but Winick was wise enough to give us something more, something that practically explains the entire motivation behind the film, not to mention the Batman/Robin partnership. Further, the way he pulls it off really couldn't have been done in the comics, not in established continuity. So, I'm grateful for this retelling. It doesn't make bringing back Jason Todd any less of a stunt . . .

. . . but now it seems a little less sleazy.

Batman: Under the Red Hood will be released on DVD, BluRay, and On Demand July 27.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Can YOU Find the A-Team?

I posted my thoughts on the new A-Team movie, and the phenomenon surrounding the franchise, here.

Enter: Whiplash!

Mattel unveiled their latest Masters of the Universe Classics figure a few days ago: Whiplash. While for many He-Man fans, Whiplash may be a rather minor minion in Skeletor's army, I remember the character fondly, not so much for who he is, but for how I first met him. My family was vacationing in Florida, and we found and bought Whiplash after the highlight of our trip, a day at Disney World. For the long flight back to Connecticut, I stood Whiplash on my folded down tray, swinging his spring action tail and waiting for the moment I could pit him against He-Man when we finally got home. In the midst of potential boredom, that single action figure helped my imagination soar, even as we did quite literally over the east coast. For that, I'll always be grateful to Whiplash. He earned his name that day, because I don't mind snapping backward at the memory.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Anyone Can Be Chosen

If ever a single sentence has evoked so much fanboy ire, it's, "Anyone can be chosen," the tag line on the Green Lantern movie promotional materials in the latest issue of Global License magazine. (Check it out here at /Film.) Of course, true fans understand that not just anyone can be chosen to wear the Green Lantern ring, but if the comment threads I've read are any indication, just about anyone can have an opinion about it. More cool-headed fans have tried to assure our peers, this is just a trade magazine, and that tag line may not be the final slogan used in public to promote Green Lantern, but the seed of doubt has already been planted.

Unlike my fellow fanboys in cyberspace, if this is the new mantra of the Green Lantern, I totally understand. Simply put, comic book fans alone cannot sustain comic book movies. Yes, we are legion, but we aren't as numerous as we think we are -- and if we were, too many of us feel entitled to bootlegging movies over seeing them in the theater anyway, decreasing the revenue studios need to see to keep a franchise alive. What big budget films like Green Lantern need are general audiences -- literally, anyone. As impossible as it is for us commoners to think in numbers like that, those are the millions of dollars Hollywood needs to spin a profit from a venture like Green Lantern. So, we can't have an exclusive attitude like the Guardians of Oa. We have to let everyone in . . . or there's no green. Ah, see what I did there?

Now, does this mean Ryan Reynolds' Green Lantern is a Joe Blow that just comes upon the most powerful weapon in the universe? I hope not, as much as I understand that niche feature films need general audiences, I think they also need to retain the spirit that made the property timeless in the first place. For all of the special effects we should expect from Green Lantern, I hope Warner Brothers remembers Hal's most effective weapon: his fearless will. Without it, he couldn't even muster up a boxing glove. Maintain the character's integrity, and folks will be lining up to watch a regular guy like Hal Jordan kick the crap out of a cosmic terrorist like Sinestro whether they've heard of Green Lantern or not. As for us fanboys . . .?

We can say we were there first. We've been here all along.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Phoenix Comic Con Coverage: How to Draw with Todd and Greg

Spawn artists Todd McFarlane and Greg Capullo presented a how to draw comics workshop at the Phoenix Comic Con on Saturday, May 29. The tutorial was a basic demonstration of superhero illustration, with an emphasis on the face and hands.

"If you can draw faces and hands," McFarlane explained, "you can get a job in comics." He further described successful character drawing in comics as acting on Broadway because dramatic body movement is essential in both media.

McFarlane was very complimentary of his partner Capullo, saying, "The artists [comic book fans] like know how to position their camera, and Greg is the best artist I know. He can put the camera anywhere in the room."

Capullo encouraged young artists to keep drawing and accept honest criticism. "An editor gave me the best advice, a guy named Larry Hama," he recalled. "'You're in the Big Apple now,' he said to me. It took me two years to take his advice."

While describing the importance of movement, McFarlane mentioned that he was recently directing a video game commercial. He didn't reveal any details, other than that the actors were carrying swords and shields.

The artists also took a humorous interlude to discuss how to play Pictionary. McFarlane explained that his wife always draws animals the same way (see image above), and essentially asked, how hard is it to add a trunk to make your drawing an elephant?

"Whenever we get picked for a team, people are always like, well, great, now we're going to lose!" McFarlane joked. "Guys, we have the same 20 seconds as you! If you can't tell, we are usually very slow, very anal, very detailed about our drawings."

Perhaps that explains the fate of Image United #3.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

The Real "Black Spider-man"

The Internet is abuzz with Donald Glover's Twitter campaign to become the first black Spider-man. Peter Parker is a kid that lives with his aunt in Queens, New York. Why isn't he black?

Seriously, Stan Lee has said in more than one interview that the charm of Jack Kirby's costume design is how any kid can wish to be Spider-man, as the hero is covered head to toe. Just like President of the United States, perhaps now their wish will come true.

Phoenix Comic Con Coverage: Stan Lee Reveals, "I'm My Biggest Fan!"

Stan Lee had a busy weekend.

Stan Lee's Rock'n Comic Con is Pasadena, California launched last weekend, but that didn't stop Stan "the Man" from visiting the Phoenix Comicon, as well, where he answered questions for a ballroom of thousands of fans. Among the usual questions about how his characters were created, Lee answered inquiries about breaking into the industry, Disney's purchase of Marvel, and which of the numerous comics he's written is his favorite.

"I honestly don't know how to break into comics as a writer nowadays," he confessed. While artists can show editors their portfolio at conventions, he explained, writers just have pages of text. "If you want to write for comics today, get something else published first," Lee recommended, commenting on novelists and screenwriters becoming comic book writers, too. Regarding Disney's acquisition of Marvel, Lee said, "No company is better at marketing than Disney . . . and no company tells better stories than Marvel . . . It's a perfect marriage."

When a fan thanked Stan for helping him overcome his autism, Lee replied humbly, "I never took it that far. I created a blind superhero, and a superhero with a heart problem . . . but I'm going to take this back to the guys at the office and see what we can do!"

Finally, when asked of his favorite personal work, he said, "Fans ask me this all the time, and sometimes I say, the issue of Daredevil where he has to protect a blind cop, I'm really proud of that one . . . Then I think, oh, the coming of Galactus in the Fantastic Four was a really good one . . . and the truth is, I'm my own biggest fan! I like everything I've done!"

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Bloody Hell

A Comic A Day took a few days off, but this story on Yahoo begs for attention. The Captain America movie will be filmed in England. Well, this explains the Red Skull's bad teeth . . .

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Justice League: Generation Lost #1

Justice League: Generation Lost #1, DC Comics
by Judd Winick (writer) & Keith Giffen (writer/breakdowns), Aaron Lopresti (penciller), Matt Ryan (inker), Hi-Fi (colorists), Sal Cipriano (letterer)

I was lucky to collect the entire Keith Giffen/J.M. DeMatteis Justice League International run when a comic book shop in Placentia, California shut down and sold its back issues for 10 cents each. I devoured their entire run, including some Justice League Europe crossover issues, and developed an affinity for many of the characters, those lesser known in the DC Universe but still at one time a part of the prestigious JL . . . well, I, but the League nevertheless. Giffen and DeMatteis' dialogue made the characters believable, approachable, and more human than super -- an innovation that took what Alan Moore did in The Watchmen and infused it with the emotion he forgot: humor. The Justice League International has become a retrospective inside joke among fanboys, but Giffen and DeMatties resurrected comics' first super-team, before Morrison did, before Meltzer did (and that's New York Times best-selling author Brad Meltzer). That's no laughing matter.

I confessed on Wednesday that I didn't read "Final Crisis," nor did I read "Identity Crisis," but the ramifications of those tales still ripple through the DC Universe, and know that they've essentially deconstructed everything Giffen and DeMatties developed in Justice League International. How many of those key characters were tortured and killed? The Elongated Man and his wife . . . Blue Beetle . . . Max Lord -- Were writers using the JLI roster to target characters that would have just enough emotional resonance with readers, but not destroy the sanctity of DC's core properties? Just as I enjoyed seeing these characters in their heyday, I grieved for them. I didn't grieve their deaths -- because they aren't real, you know -- but I mourned that loss of realism. In the mix of a cosmic crisis, they were simply less like me.

In the wake of "Brightest Day," I think Justice League: Generation Lost is trying to reclaim that spirit. Max Lord, JLI benefactor turned mind-controlling super villain, is back from the fatal neck twist he experienced by Wonder Woman's hand, and all of the earth's heroes are on the look-out for him. Booster Gold feels neglected in the search, but he also knows Lord best and actually succeeds where even Batman fails -- and finds the guy. Of course, he's too late, and Lord accomplishes the seemingly impossible: he makes the world at large forget he ever existed. Only Booster, Captain Atom, Fire and Ice know of Lord's legacy now, which will undoubtedly make them look a little nuts -- like the laughing stocks they were before, perhaps? Either way, by putting them against their more mainstream counterparts, Winick and Giffen have made them more like us again. Really, they're the only four heroes in the DC Universe that know what we know. Talk about being able to relate.

I enjoyed this issue, and though it isn't of the "bwah-ha-ha" variety, it was just light-hearted enough to maintain the spirit of the superhero genre that I love. Whatever Max has in store, I think it has the potential to bring out the best in everyone, including this creative team. If this truly is a brighter day, I may be on board. An entire Giffen/DeMatteis run on Justice League International? Ten cents an issue. A series that drags me back into the DCU at large? Priceless.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Weekly Haul: The Return of Bruce Wayne #1, Savage Dragon #160, The Sword #24

This week commemorated new beginnings and bittersweet endings for many of my favorite comic book characters, most notably including Bruce Wayne in the highly anticipated Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne. I confess, I didn't read "Final Crisis," and if you didn't, either, we can both share in the general knowledge that the story supposedly ended with Batman's death by Darkseid's Omega beam -- and the general ignorance of whatever that means. Apparently, Bruce Wayne wasn't killed, just sent back in time, where he's now destined to fight his way back to the present. In this first issue, he mumbles and stumbles his way through Vandal Savage's tyrannical reign over primitive man, harnessing the superstition of a bat-god and recruiting a faithful sidekick along the way. It's a relatively straightforward tale by Grant Morrison standards, beautifully choreographed by Chris Sprouse. In my opinion, Sprouse succeeds in the heroic chin department, from his depiction of the Midnighter, to Tom Strong, now to Batman. The Morrison formula rings true, almost to a fault in such an anticipated storyline: supposedly, according to a time-jumping Justice League, if Batman makes it back to the 21st century on his own, "Everyone dies." Morrison used this motif in JLA many times: if the heroes win, they really lose, and in this case, we can only imagine what kind of cosmic ju-ju hangs in the balance of the Dark Knight's return. The proof is in the pudding, though; we know Bruce Wayne will return, hence the title of the series, so the fun isn't in the destination, but the journey.

Savage Dragon #160 concludes the six-part "Dragon War" story arc, with the now evil Dragon fighting his worst enemies, infused with his blood and powers. The past few issues have had Dragon eating easily besting his foes and eating his doppelganger's brains, and this issue really isn't that different, but the action is all kinds of bloody fun. The only significant development is Dragon sparing his children's lives -- this time -- despite the anticipation for their inevitable, potentially fatal confrontation. Despite the absence of plot in favor of unadulterated violence, the lingering questions is, what happens next? The lack of development results in endless possibility, a tool Larsen uses in his favor. Consider me a hopeless fin-addict.

This week's most bittersweet issue is The Sword #24, the series conclusion. I've been following this series from the beginning, a remarkable two-year run that inspired me to find the Luna Brothers' other works, including Ultra and Girls. This is their most impressive story to date, one I hesitate to summarize because I highly recommend it. I will say, The Sword is the perfect modern mythology, exploiting the timeless power of words and our inherent need to feel in control despite the circumstances against us. Dara is one of the most durable characters in comics, in more ways than one, and her journey is one of tragedy and victory and tragedy again. Despite her fantastical circumstances, we wonder if we wouldn't do the same thing in her place, and we both envy and feel sorry for her. You could almost say it's a double-edged sword.

That's this week, in a nutshell. Solemn endings and exciting beginnings -- thanks to the engaging mythos of comics.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

What Batman Can Teach You About -- Immigration?

I think this Huffington Post writer -- an obvious fanboy -- is using today's "Return of Bruce Wayne" release to push a socio-political agenda that really doesn't have anything to do with comics, let alone Batman. Needless to say, the Clayface connection to immigration is a stretch, but I can't help but admire anyone willing to take two buzz-worthy topics and combine them in a keyword-rich article, if that's what it takes to garner some web counter hits.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Yahoo's Supervillain Style

Just in time for summer, Yahoo has posted a Supervillain Style Guide. Their rogues gallery is surprisingly eclectic, ranging from the original Supergirl film right up to Whiplash in Iron Man 2. Not mentioned is Michelle Pfeiffer from Batman Returns, a memory burned into my brain since I was a pre-teen, for obvious reasons.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Free Comic Book Day 2010: War of the Supermen #0

War of the Supermen #0, DC Comics
by James Robinson, Sterling Gates, Eddy Barrows, J.P. Mayer, Rob Reis, John J. Hill

Who cares about Superman?

I mean, really? Superman is to comics like The Simpsons is to South Park -- just when you think you've thought of something new for a superhero to experience, you realize Superman has already done it. First of all, he's comics' first orphan, so the whole "avenge me" theme is taken -- and technically was before even Batman, as you can say Supes' heroism is his attempt to make sure another planet isn't destroyed under the weight of its own ignorance. Further, how many times has Clark Kent's identity nearly been compromised? That story's been done to death. The love triangle? The fallen teammate? The reformed nemesis? Death itself? Superman's been there, done that . . . and survived, not only as a franchise, but as the first and most well known superhero of all time. So, why should I care about him? No matter what you throw at the Man of Steel, I know he'll pull through.

Enter War of the Supermen.

I haven't read a Superman title in years, but based on this Free Comic Book Day preview, I understand that the bottle city of Kandor recently burst from the bottle and a full fledged civilization again, somehow ruled by Superman's enemy, General Zod. Therein lies a blatant defiance of one of Kal-El's trademark characteristics -- he is no longer unique. Sure, readers were introduced to Supergirl, Krypto the Superdog, a few super cats and horses and monkeys here and there, but Superman was really the one and only of his kind, an alpha male with god-like powers among men. Zod and the thousands of other Kandorians now affected by Earth's yellow sun diminishes that strength completely! When everyone else is super, too -- you're really just a man, Superman.

Now, these Kryptonians are waging war on Earth. Even the Justice League has just one Superman, so what hope do they have against an army? And will Superman be willing to take the life of a fellow Kryptonian in battle, knowing every casualty marks one more step toward his being an endangered species -- again? Perhaps that's what's best, after all -- not so much "a world without a Superman," but a world with only one Superman, the one with the moral compass that points in humanity's favor.

This free zero issue doesn't address these questions directly. No, it's just the launching pad for the inevitable multi-title epic assured to consume the Superman titles this summer. Sure, Zod and Supes bandy about punches and philosophies, but asute readers can tell some crises of conscience are on the horizon, and with writer James Robinson at the helm, I hope the best is yet to come. Yes, I'm interested. I actually care about Superman again.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Free Comic Book Day 2010: Iron Man: Supernova

Free Comic Book Day Iron Man: Supernova
by Paul Tobin, Craig Rousseau, Veronica Gandini, Dave Sharpe

Iron Man: Supernova, Marvel Comics' all-ages Free Comic Book Day offering, starts with a side-by-side series of panels contrasting the respective starts of Iron Man's and Nova's day -- specifically, Tony Stark's luxury versus Richard Rider's dorm room squalor. The dynamic is fun and interesting, with the implication that despite the differences in their personal lives good guys will always have a quest for justice in common. Well, unfortunately, the implication ends there as our heroes don't pursue justice but the Red Ghost's villainous monkeys loose in the city. Aided by another, shape-shifting chimp, of course Iron Man and Nova save the day, but it's a strange story, and not in the classic "DC Superheroes Fight Super Gorillas" kind of way -- just in a "monkeys are awesome so let's put 'em in a comic for kids" way.

If the point of including Nova was to introduce him to new readers, I don't think they'd be interested, because he contributes little to the story aside from a few quips and a little inadequacy, something Spider-man could've easily delivered, too. Nevertheless, I won't be surprised if a New Warriors cartoon is on the horizon now -- a property that could contend with DC's forthcoming new Teen Titans 'toon. Otherwise, this issue was only monkeying around.

Finally, as expected, Iron Man 2 dominated the box office this weekend. I'd hoped it would beat The Dark Knight's record, but I guess The Avengers need something to assemble for . . .

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Free Comic Book Day 2010: Iron Man/Thor

Free Comic Book Day Iron Man/Thor #1, Marvel Comics
by Matt Fraction, John Romita, Jr., Klaus Janson, Dean White, VC's Joe Sabino, Alejandro Arbona

I'm going to celebrate this weekend's release of Iron Man 2 by looking at Marvel Comics' Iron Man-centric Free Comic Book Day offerings. Interestingly, Marvel released two issues featuring the armored avenger this year, teamed up with another character undoubtedly to prime the general audience for their inevitable cinematic debut. This issue, for instance, costars Thor, as he and Iron Man discover that a corporation terraforming the moon is inadvertently causing climatic havoc on earth. Of course, the scientists are a bit too mad to see the error of their ways, so our heroes have to smash things up. That the tech used to make this moon city possible is cribbed from Stark Enterprises makes for an interesting dilemma with Iron Man, but it also gives him the right to bash up an apparently otherwise sovereign nation. So goes politico-innovation.

Matt Fraction writes our heroes in a way that presumes they aren't very familiar with each other -- that they aren't longtime team mates. If they weren't actually called "the Avengers" at one point, I'd think this issue was intended for the movies' continuity -- and maybe it is, just in a broader context. As a reader that avoids multi-title crossovers like the recent Civil War, I appreciate these stand-alone tales; they preserve the characters' spirit sans context. Also, we get to explore issues without fear of said context; a rogue city on the moon could be a big deal in the Marvel Universe, but this is just a Free Comic Book Day one-off, so we can put it out there without really worrying about it again. Finally, Romita just absolutely nails it as always; if he isn't a millionaire by now, handling some of Marvel's most successful properties, it's a crime.

While I was waiting in line to see the Iron Man sequel Thursday night, I read this issue, and a little kid nearby asked to see it. He asked me who Thor was, and as I briefly explained, I realized this issue had done its job. Now, when the Thor movie comes out next summer, he'll at least recognize the character. You can't buy that kind of marketing . . . and I didn't! The comic was free!

Friday, May 07, 2010

Movie Review: Iron Man 2 (Warning: Spoilerish!)

In the opening act of Iron Man 2, our hero is on top of the world -- literally, as he leaps from a plane, rockets around exploding fireworks, and lands on stage at the Stark Expo amidst dancing cheerleaders and a roaring, adoring crowd of thousands. With his characteristic arrogance, Tony Stark takes credit for world peace, both before his fans and the Senate, and the scary part is, he may be right. In his quiet moments alone, though, either backstage or at the bathroom mirror, Stark is still a man divided between his roots and his destiny, and more so than any battle between armored avengers, this is the driving conflict behind the fun, cinematic masterpiece that is Iron Man 2.

Of course, I use the term "masterpiece" loosely. This isn't Hamlet, or Pride & Prejudice or even (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) -- it's a movie based on a comic book about a guy in a cool robot suit, but like the first Iron Man film, Jon Favereau puts some heart in this summer blockbuster . . . by having his lead character take out and put in his own fake heart, over and over again. Apparently, the ARC technology Tony utilized to save his life is now also a techno-cancer, killing him slowly unless he finds an alternative power source. Meanwhile, the son of his father's former, dishonored partner has recreated the ARC tech and aims to dethrone Stark, first on his own then with the resources of competitive corporate tycoon Justin Hammer. It's a multi-layered plot incorporating espionage, legacy, and redemption, not to mention good old fashioned comic book good guys versus bad guys stuff.

However, I dare say the movie drags in the middle, exploiting the subtleties that made the first Iron Man film a truly stirring character piece. Stark's morality is still in question, jeopardized now by his fledgling mortality. Couple that with the omnipresence of S.H.I.E.L.D., an inside joke turned full fledged subplot here, with the Black Widow only so much window dressing until the end . . . like anyone's gonna complain about that. Pepper Potts becomes both an icon of the modern woman and the subject of bipartisan ridicule, and James Rhodes rides the line between confidant and Judas so delicately, he may be the film's only truly uncompromised hero, standing up for absolutely everything he represents. Even Favereau gives himself a bit more screen time, thankfully as well paced comic relief, but since all of these players need their fair share of our attention, the space between explosions threatens to drag.

Fortunately, the explosions are loud and really cool, culminating to an action scene that should please fans of Iron Man's frequent "armor wars" and casual popcorn munchers alike. I was afraid Don Cheadle would look too diminutive in his War Machine armor, and in the shadow of Terrence Howard's understated performance as Rhodey in the first film. In fact, I think Cheadle's doing his best Howard impression until the middle of the film, when the character truly goes out on his own. Mickey Rourke's Russian accent is impressive, too, and his stone-faced Whiplash/Crimson Dynamo foe is one obviously at peace with his tragic lot in life, which is ironically a life of constant war. He's actually a well-centered contrast to Downey's desperate Stark, who we only really root for because we want to be him, flaws and all if it means hanging with those women, wearing that suit. Downey is simply the best casting in comic book movie history. 'Nuff said.

And, Garry Shandling steals the show. His bloated face should win Best Supporting Actor, and I mean that in the best way possible

If this sequel exploiting its original's subtleties, it also totally subdued a few of its predecessor's strengths, namely the international subplot that made Iron Man a hero with global roots. In the first film, Iron Man is born in the Middle East and returns there when he sees terrorism at its worst. This film is very Stark-centric, including the secret to his father's legacy, which is slated to change the future -- for right now, anyway, it's just changing him. We almost need one more film to put it all together -- so, okay, maybe this isn't a masterpiece. It's definitely the brush stroke of some master storytellers -- with a masterpiece in the making.

Ah, but that's the point of these Marvel movies now, isn't it? The Iron Man franchise, the Hulk, Thor, Captain America (all of whom appear ever so briefly one way or another here) -- the if the side-by-side fight with Iron Man and War Machine are any indication, a capable director should be able to handle multiple heroes on the same battlefield, each with their own strengths and talents in play. Tony Stark may be a may divided, but something tells me all of the pieces of his puzzle will come together . . . when the Avengers assemble!

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Can't Blog Now . . .

. . . waiting in line for Iron Man 2. Complete with Slurpee cup. Wait . . . Stark . . . behind you . . .!

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Free Comic Book Day 2010: Fractured Fables & Sonic the Hedgehog

Fractured Fables (Free Comic Book Day Edition), Image Comics
contributors: Michael Allred, Laura Allred, Tim Daniel, Bryan Talbot, Camilla d'Errico, Edison Ya, Ed Brisson, Doug TenNapel, Alexander Grecian, Christian Ward, Derek McCulloch, Anthony Peruzzo, Ted McKeever

Image Comics' Fractured Fables is the company's latest themed hardcover collection, akin to its 24Seven and Popgun, featured warped and/or deranged interpretations of beloved fairy tales. From short nursery rhymes like Hey, Diddle Diddle to more linear tales like Little Red Robin Hood, apparently no nursery rhyme is safe from the dementia of the modern comic book artist, including personal favorites like Doug TenNapel. His "Rumpelstiltskin" rivals Bryan Talbot and Camilla d'Errico's "Red Riding Hood" for my favorite of this sample issue, as they parallel the spirit of the original fairy tale with just a little crack in their integrity (a fracture, if you will) that makes them fun and modern. The all-ages appeal of this collection makes it an ideal Free Comic Book Day teaser, as kids enticed by the Iron Man fare might pick this one up, too, and taste what less mainstream comic art looks like. The timelessness of these fables makes them vulnerable to equally timeless interpretation, and since their original language is so vivid, the comic book is the perfect place to recreate that original magic. It's like the wolf in grandma's clothing -- sweet on the outside, but packing a bite if you get too close.

Sonic: Hide & Seek & Destroy, Free Comic Book Day Edition, Archie Comics Publications
by Ian Flynn, James Fry, Jim Amash, Matt Herms, Teresa Davidson

I didn't know Sonic the Hedgehog was still around, at least in comic book form, but here he is, just as zippy as ever. This sample issue is a little too mired in back story for my tastes -- wait, back story?! In a comic book inspired by a video game about a hedgehog that runs fast? Believe it, considering this title has thirteen trade paperback collections and at least one spin-off series (ha, pun) -- and, as I wrote, this issue carries that history forward, referencing past events to tease about things to come. Fortunately, it kind of reads like a video game level, too, as Sonic infiltrates a boss's lair to encounter a big baddie -- in this case, a amalgam creature of previous big baddies, an homage to Sonic legend, no doubt. Fans of the character will probably dig this issue, but as a layman to the Sega franchise, it was just a fun but fleeting read.

Interestingly, characters like Sonic represent the modern fairy tale. The game console is like the Brothers Grimm, or the Mother Goose, and the franchising that results is akin to the constant retelling. I mean, when Sonic first came out, I was a kid; now, at 30, I can only assume kids as old as I was then are picking up this Free Comic Book Day offering with the same of fervor I had holding that video game controller. More power to 'em. Somebody has to carry these stories forward.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Free Comic Book Day 2010: Irredeemable & G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero

Irredeemable/Incorruptible: Free Comic Book Day Edition, Boom! Studios
by Mark Waid, Peter Krause, Jean Diaz, Belardino Brabo, Andrew Dalhouse, Ed Dukshire

Imagine, superheroes are real. You know, Superman, Batman, Iron Man, and the rest. People flying, fighting crime, trying to make the world a better place. Pretty awesome, right? Now, imagine that Superman goes totally nuts. Who could stop him? Welcome to Mark Waid's Irredeemable. Many writers have tried to explore dynamic themes within the superhero genre by creating archetypal parallels to Superman, Batman, Captain America, etc., from Kurt Busiek's Astro City to The End League, just to name a few, and the corrupted ubermench isn't new, either, from Miracle Man to Supreme . . . So what makes Waid's story so different? Well, he isn't pulling any punches, that's for sure, as we watch his proverbial Superman lobotomize his teammates or murder their families. Further, we can only presume his sudden villainy the result of mankind's relentless selfishness, but his motives really aren't clear. Fortunately, if this series' title is any clue, we'll have plenty of time to figure them out. The dilemma is, if the world's greatest hero suddenly became its most dangerous threat, would you hope for his defeat or redemption?

Interestingly, Waid pursues that inquiry in Incorruptible, a sister title that has the world's most notorious bad guy suddenly reformed and determined to stop his nemesis from killing the rest of the superheroes and destroying the world. Ironically, on the surface, these two men are still just fighting each other, something they were doing before the paradigm shift, but now with totally different goals in mind. What would it take to redeem an established super-villain? Exactly how many times would he have to save the world? The overarching theme is really one of power -- namely, if you have it, what do you do with it? And how long before it changes you? Are standing irredeemable or incorruptible your only ultimate options?

G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #155 1/2, IDW Publishing
by Larry Hama, Agustin Padilla, J. Brown, Robbie Robbins

In G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #155 1/2, writer Larry Hama picks up where he left off with Marvel Comics G.I. Joe #155 lo those many years ago, via the creative freedom and adoration of IDW Publishing. I wasn't a big G.I. Joe fan as a kid, so many of this issue's nuances are lost to me, but I appreciate Hama retaining the timelessness of this potentially dated franchise. Since the Cobra of the '80s, America has seen terrorism at its worst, and the potential to take a military-themed franchise down that road exists -- thankfully, not here. Sure, this issue begins with Cobra storming the Senate chambers, but it's an assault as fantastical as Skeletor charging Castle Greyskull. Ultimately, it doesn't matter, because it's all make believe. Hama also maintains a dark sense of humor throughout, playing to the child in any G.I. Joe fan. I'm not chomping at the bit Hama's return to the franchise, but it's nice to know Joe's in good hands, and Free Comic Book Day was a good time to celebrate it. After all, just knowing is half the -- okay, okay. I won't go there.

Ultimately, these two issues have something in common : a spotlight on the bad guy. Well, much to my delight, reading about the bad guy can be a good thing . . . and they'd appreciate that, at free, these comics were a steal.

Spider-man Foils Comic Book Theft!

One of the best stories to come from Free Comic Book Day. Unfortunately, stealing a comic book on Free Comic Book Day seems like a crime with its own built-in defense. "Uh . . . I thought they were free?" Hey, they can't all be Doc Ock knocking over a bank, okay?

This just in: I've read the Flash and some Jedi guard were available to help capture this mastermind. This is turning into a multi-title crisis, for crying out loud!

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Free Comic Book Day 2010: Green Hornet & Archie's Summer Splash

Green Hornet: Free Comic Book Day Edition #1, Dynamite Entertainment
contributors: Kevin Smith, Phil Hester, Jonathan Lau, Ivan Nunes, Simon Bowland, Jai Nitz, Colton Worley, Romulo Fajardo, Jr., Matt Wagner, Aaron Campbell, Francesco Francavilla, Brett Matthews, Ariel Padilla, Giovanna Guimaraes

Dynamite Entertainment has developed its niche in the comic book industry by developing classic, beloved properties like the Lone Ranger, Zorro, and Red Sonja for a modern audience, and based on the advertisements in this preview issue of their Green Hornet franchise, the Phantom and Vampirella are soon to come. In just a few months' time, though, the Green Hornet has become a powerhouse for Dynamite, its main title producing four spin-offs, with names like Kevin Smith, Matt Wagner, Phil Hester, and Brett Matthews at the helm. Their FCBD offering is a glimpse into all these titles, and with so much material to spotlight, I'm afraid the result is all splash and no substance. Kevin Smith's wise-cracking Green Hornet sets the tone, but if anything stands out throughout this issue, it's a city besieged by crime and its need for a hero. The supplemental titles under the Green Hornet umbrella, specifically the ones featuring Kato, seem to explore the legacy of said needed hero, but again little content offers the stories' context. Am I interested in learning more by picking up an issue? Oh, absolutely. May this also be a fleeting thought that passes as soon as I move on to the next free comic of the day? Quite possibly, with so many series to choose from and little to help discern them. Sensory overload may have harshed this Hornet's sting.

Archie's Summer Splash #1, Archie Comics
by Dan Parent, Rich Koslowski, Jack Morelli, Glenn Whitmore

Archie has attracted a lot of press lately, thanks in large part to his forthcoming wedding and the ironic timing of a new gay character, but this free issue is rather bland in comparison, ever struggling to make this classic cast relevant to today's youth culture. When Pembrooke Beach is closed for the summer due to an oil spill (a device undoubtedly devised before current events, though strangely timely), the snobby Cheryl is forced to slum with our friends in Riverdale. Then, as Archie and his band practice for the Zowie-palooza concert, Cheryl gets jealous ans wants a piece of that action, too, so she forms her own girl band, Blossom. Fortunately, Archie and his pals turn the tables on Cheryl by tricking her into a change in venue, leaving Blossom to perform to an empty beachfront. It's a straightforward tale of adolescent jealousy, one part Mean Girls, one part The Heights -- a dated reference, but seemingly appropriate for an Archie story. Frankly, the only reason we care about the Riverdale gang is because they've been with us for so long. Equally interesting, though, is the presumption that they might not be missed if they were gone. Perhaps growing up and getting married is the best thing for Archie . . . Maybe he'll finally give up comics.

So, today's theme was classic characters and their sticking power. Apparently, the lesson is, presentation is a powerful tool in the battle for contemporary significance -- finding the balance between too much and too little substance.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Free Comic Book Day!

I scoured the greater Phoenix area for all that Free Comic Book Day had to offer, and while I didn't acquire all the free comics available, I had a blast observing how different shops celebrate the event. I went to ten different stores in the Valley, and eighty percent of them were bustling with activity -- all ages activity, I might add, which made the day particularly fulfilling. I know comics can bring out the kid in us, but thankfully they still bring out the kids, too.

Honorable mention goes to Jesse James Comics; he must've given away as many comics as he sold, which was a lot by any indication of the line at his cash register. Drawn to Comics and Atomic Comic Phoenix had impressive sidewalk sales, with guest artists galore. Hero Comics hosted the colorful characters depicted above -- and the geeks seemed more excited to take photos with them than the children did!

By midafternoon, I was bumping into other ambitious travellers trying to collect all the designated FCBD swag, but I don't think we were all successful. In the coming days and weeks, I'll review the issues I scored and lament over the ones I didn't. Overall, though, I was grateful to spend the day with my fellow fanboys in Phoenix. If the multi-generational gathering was any indication, comics may yet rise from the ashes, like that fiery bird itself.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Free Comic Book Day is Coming!

Tomorrow is my first Free Comic Book Day in Phoenix, and I've mapped out all of the stores I'll be frequenting in an effort to collect all of the issues available. Of course, the experience and the issues I acquire will be thoroughly reviewed here.

Alas, the buzz of the day is the first picture of our Marvel Movie Universe Thor! It isn't much, but I like what I see so far . . .

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Gunplay #0

Gunplay #0, March 2008, Platinum Studios
writer: Jorge Vega
artist: Dominic Vivona
colorist: Nei Ruffino
letterer: Shawn DePasquale
“Penny Dreadful” story writer: Priest
“Penny Dreadful” story illustrator: Keith Mellon
editor: Dave Collins

Since the Jonah Hex trailer went live today, let's look at a western comic: Gunplay #0. This issue, featuring material that won the 2007 Comic Book Challenge, is an interesting zero issue offer, because it isn’t a prologue to an upcoming ongoing series; instead, Gunplay #0 is a preview edition that (presumably) reprints the first twenty-two pages of an eighty-eight page graphic novel. It’s a daring gamble, selling content that will be available again later, in its entirety to boot, yet, for only a dollar, readers have a chance to see if Gunplay is an investment they’d want to make in the first place. In an analogy suiting this issue’s story, it’s a high noon callout, and Gunplay is daring us to join it in the street in front of the saloon.

Ah, but if you were looking for happy-go-lucky western fare, Gunplay is not the book for you. Inside of just these twenty-two pages, the reader is faced with the bitter truths of slavery and racism, the merciless, hands-on violence of a pre-industrial age, and the perversion of religion. I can only wonder what the remaining sixty-six pages of this graphic novel have to offer. Despite its callousness, Gunplay #0 is an thought provoking reading experience, not to mention a steal at a measly ninety-nine cents, considering that the lead 22-pager is followed by the first three chapters of a short fiction western piece by Priest and Keith Mellon. Both stories boast the same crude themes and engrossing violence and offer a no-holds-barred insight into how wild the west really was.

Unfortunately, this issue did take a few liberties in its presentation that distracted me from its content. Namely, on the first page, our hero, a black Union soldier forced to roam the countryside with a supernatural gun, mutters something to himself, evidenced by a speech balloon with tiny lettering, probably a two-scale font. You can tell that it says something, so I strained my eyes to make it out, and read, “This font is so small we can’t make out what he’s saying.” Now, why even have the speech balloon if I’m going to feel like a fool squinting to read it, or, if what he mumbles is actually important to the story down the line, why not just imply speech with some traditional squiggly lines? This unnecessary blurring of the fourth wall took me out of the story before it’d begun, and only the shock value of the following pages’ violence sucked me back in. It was an unnecessary rollercoaster ride.

So, will I step out into the high noon sun for a showdown with the Gunplay graphic novel? Honestly, I don’t think so. I’m not familiar enough with the wild west genre to actually embrace it for what it really is -- a crude game of life and death in the shadow of our country’s developing moral compass. You’re more likely to see me cowering behind the swinging saloon doors, seeing who comes out standing. Yes, holding true to the analogy, I might just wait to read some reviews of the whole thing before I use this #0 to gauge my interest. Leave it to a comic book to give the call to draw.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Darkwing Returns!

My most anticipated series of the year, thus far. I'm not kidding. DW is back! Now, as an original comic book, Darkwing Duck has the potential to satirize many of the trends that birthed his satirical character in the first place. Fingers crossed from a superhero book that doesn't take itself too seriously, while still telling a serious superhero story!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Iron Man in USA Weekly

Robert Downey, Jr. and Scarlett Johansson were interviewed in this week's USA Weekly, a Sunday newspaper insert, but John Romita, Jr.'s poster was much more engaging. Check out this detail, courtesy my camera phone. Between this and Kick-ass, I hope Hollywood is giving JRJR his due!

Weekend Box Office

Unfortunately, The Losers and Kick-ass failed to impress at the box office this weekend. Doesn't help that I haven't seen either of them yet.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

No kitchen is complete . . .

. . . without an autograph from Stan Lee! Thanks to my buddy Konrad for scoring this one!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Spiderman: Grim Hunt

For several months, Marvel has distributed free comics to tease significant upcoming events or titles. I haven't collected a Marvel comic in at least a year, so I appreciate the glimpse into what's going on, even if it doesn't entice me to make an actual purchase. A few months ago, a Spider-man preview comic revealed that the web-head would soon be up against some of his most classic foes, some of whom had been revamped with a modern look (I guess Electro's mask is a little dated -- like it was "cool" back in the '60s!), and I admit a tug toward the wallcrawler, a hope that the return of villains like Vulture and Mysterio would hearken a simpler age . . .

Of course, I was wrong.

Apparently, Spidey's foes returned as agents of Kraven the Hunter's family, seeking revenge for their long-dead patriarch. In the latest free offering, Spider-man: Grim Hunt, Peter Parker experiences a hallucination via a captured Madam Web, as she tries to show him the Kraven family's scheme. While Michael Lark's art is clean and dramatic, this teaser chapter only inaugurates another unnecessarily dark chapter in the web-head's life. Okay, yes, Stan Lee decided to make Spider-man a hard-luck superhero that faces every day problems like his young readers. Parker's world was never meant to be as cheery as, say, Superman's, or even the Fantastic Four's. Still, ailing aunts and bouts of unemployment are a far leap from tackling identity-threatening clones and deals with the devil. I can't relate to a Spider-man battling forces on a spiritual level, or that falls victim to intricate ancestral conspiracies. Where's the "neighborhood" for that "friendly neighbor Spider-man" -- hell?

Spider-man's ongoing problems, while heart-wrenching, shouldn't dominate the otherwise wise-cracking hero he was intended to be. If the problem is too dark for a quip, it's too dark for Peter Parker, period. It doesn't jive with his world -- and if it ever did, he'd never face it without the help of a mystical partner, like Dr. Strange. Also, those original tales never choked the life out of months' worth of story. Sure, Aunt May was in and out of the hospital -- but at least she made some pies in between! How long did that "clone saga" last? Years?! Now, how long has the Kravens' plot been brewing under our noses? How long will we be subjected to it before "everything you knew about Spider-man will change -- again?!" It's a tiresome, unimaginative circle. For this True Believer, the grimmest hunt of all is a modern, effective single-issue Spider-man story. You know, something I can show the kids -- the kids that inspired Peter Parker in the first place.

Marvel Comics has made Spider-man: Grim Hunt available on-line, too.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Kick-Ass Kicks . . . Well, You Know

Kick-ass and How to Train Your Dragon were neck and neck for the number one spot in this weekend's box office, but Mark Millar's brain child pulled ahead. From Kick-ass to The Losers to Iron Man 2, the next few weeks promise to be very generous to comic book fans. Let's see if the fans will return the favor . . .

Thursday, April 15, 2010

New Reese's/Iron Man Commercial

My girlfriend and I visited Southern California last weekend so A Comic A Day took a brief hiatus. Before we left, I quickly posted my amusement about the latest Iron Man 2/Reese's campaign, and when I tried to look up the commercial on-line today, I found this press release. Apparently, there's no wrong way to take a stab at fifteen minutes of fame!

While I still can't find the commercials on-line, I'm sure you'll catch 'em (especially the Dr. Pepper one featuring a Stan Lee cameo) during prime time until the beginning of May, but in the meantime, Reese's Iron Man site is amusing in itself.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

New York's Real Superheroes

Via Yahoo. I'm grateful the article treated these folks with respect, but it's a fine line before they face their greatest Kryptonite: mockery.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Eight is Enough

On the heels of Patrick Jean's Pixels sensation on YouTube (it's awesome), someone has broken the Asteroids record. When it comes to bits, I guess eight is enough.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

An Evening with Kevin Smith

Like countless others, I first met Kevin Smith via Clerks. I don't remember if my old pal Travis and I rented it or found it on cable, but I was mesmerised by both its pop culture complexity and raunchy simpleness. Since my young mind couldn't wrap itself around this black and white enigma, this one part purely innocent/one part perverted cinematic blip, I dismissed Kevin Smith altogether (in retrospect, an ironically black and white decision), until his writing stint on Daredevil several years ago. Suddenly, the amateur filmmaker that talked about comics and science fiction was contributing to it, so I just had to take a peek. His scripts were lofty and ambitious, but I appreciated Smith's respect for the comic as a storytelling, character-driven medium. By the time Kevin was resurrecting Green Arrow, he had found his stride and pulled back on that panel-choking inner monologue text. By then I had seen and developed a better appreciation for his films, too, especially Chasing Amy and Dogma. I had become a Kevin Smith fan.

So, years later, on Saturday, April 10, 2010, my girlfriend and I are sitting in the Orpheum Theater in Phoenix, and the guy next to me shares that he had driven from Albuquerque that day to see his hero, Kevin Smith. He asks if I have the Zack and Miri Make a Porno DVD -- because apparently Smith's lack of commentary is disappointing and he wants to ask if Kevin will eventually record one -- and I respond honestly, that I don't. (I don't have the heart to tell him I haven't seen the movie at all.) Stunned, he asks why I'd even come to see Kevin live, then, especially considering the presumed cost for our excellent seats. (Again, I don't have the heart to tell him I scored the seats from Craigslist.) I'm tempted to tell him that origin story, the night at Travis's, the gradual discovery and admiration of Smith's self-funded journey into movie-making and comicdom, but I simply reply, "I like his comic book stuff." The guy nods knowingly, forgives my ignorance, and guides our conversation in a direction easily tread by a View Askew novice like me. I'm grateful.

Kevin strolled on stage, his Silent Bob overcoat replaced by a bathrobe, and on the heels of his recent debacle with Southwest Airlines, he told an engaging story about a road trip to Canada in his gay friend's "prom bus" and how it inspired him to rent a tour bus to Phoenix. It was a funny, let's-get-this-out-of-the-way monologue, a great way to harsh that topic and move on to the Q & A session that fuels these evenings with Kevin Smith. I don't remember the first question, which he answered within just a few minutes, because the second question was about his latest flick Cop Out, and he spent a good 20 minutes talking about that experience. Apparently, Bruce Willis is something of a diva, which I suppose isn't too surprising considering his length of time in the industry. Still, Willis has starred in several comic-inspired films (Unbreakable, Sin City, The Surrogates), so I thought the two would share that camaraderie. If they did, the connection was shattered by Smith's ignorance of camera lenses -- "Never tell an actor you don't know your lenses!" Willis hissed at Kevin during filming. Fortunately, Smith's ability to conjure the ghost of Willis's Moonlighting character during one tender scene in Cop Out was enough to make the strife worthwhile.

Amidst a slew of inquiries that focused primarily on film and Hollywood, I was happy my fellow funnybook fanboys represented with a few decent questions, the best of which was if Kevin "hears" any particular actors' voices when he's writing comic characters. Like many others, I was overjoyed when he answered that he hears the Batman: The Animated Series cast for those iconic characters, i.e. Kevin Conroy for Batman and Mark Hamill for the Joker. When asked which non-powered DC character he'd wish to be, Smith comically dismissed the question by answering Barbara Gordon, so he could look at himself naked in the mirror all the time, and chill in a wheelchair and surf the web as Oracle, something he tends to do a lot anyway.

Another highlight of the evening was Kevin's recollection of George Carlin. I had the pleasure of seeing one of Carlin's last performances in Anaheim just months before he passed away, so the subject is a dear one for me, as well, and I was grateful for Smith's candor and compassion. He spoke of his family's love of George (ironic, considering the strong Catholicism of Kev's childhood), how they watched his HBO specials together, how Kevin was happy to become friends with Carlin via filming Dogma and Jersey Girl. Kevin explained that George took the acting process very seriously, even comedic cameos like in Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back, how it was indicative of his inherent inquisitive nature. "Even in death," Smith shared (and I'm paraphrasing), "George was generous, because he made people reconsider Jersey Girl. Critics ripped that film to shreds, but when George passed, they had to reconsider it because it was his largest role." Kevin summed up George's life best when likening it to his last book, which he recently read: "When it was over, I just wanted it to keep going. Kind of like George himself; it was just over too soon."

By the end of the night, after witnessing a Hollywood filmmaker talk so endearingly to his fans, I didn't blame myself for shunning Kevin Smith in my childhood, because even now he remains an enigma. I mean, how many bona fide directors would show up in your hometown, stroll on stage in a bathrobe, and engage in a no holds barred conversation with his fans? Interestingly, Smith confesses that he doesn't count himself a director at all, but storyteller, which makes sense since he's such an engaging one*, behind and without a camera. I'm glad I was smart enough to realize that in time.

* I didn't touch even half of what Kevin talked about, due in large part to its adult subject matter, but I'm sure you can YouTube "Kevin Smith Phoenix" and find what my fellow attendees recorded. That's even cheaper than Craigslist!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

To Be Thor Not to Be, That Is the Question

Wearing a Thor shirt on a restaurant patio in Phoenix, a passer-by blurted, "Whoa, nice shirt, bro! You know who's playing him in the movie, right?" I indulged him the moment and asked who. Sometimes fellow geeks just gotta get it off their chest, via something on mine.

An Evening with Kevin Smith, prologue

Look at what I did tonight! Full write-up tomorrow . . .

Friday, April 09, 2010

Deadpool & Ninja Unite!

My girlfriend and I tried and failed to get into a sneak preview of Kick-ass last night, and even though we weren't in time to see the movie, we were treated to this sight. Thank you, Atomic Comics costume contest!

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Coming Attractions . . .

Front page of Yahoo this afternoon. Seriously, who could've predicted that Iron Man would lead Marvel's stable of cinematic masterpieces?

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Thinking Outside the Long Box

I'm alphabetizing my comics again.

Until now, I've had them divided by companies, with DC, Marvel, and Image in their own boxes, and a slew of indies in the rest. Now I'm putting them all together, like in most comic book shops, so I can easily file new purchases. This is no easy task; this random pic represents a third of the collection. Makes me wonder how other collectors do it, if at all. Suggestions?

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Hulk Smash Egg!

This must be "acknowledge April holidays a few days too late" week, as my girlfriend and I dyed Easter eggs yesterday, and I'm posting this picture today. Talk about "green eggs and ham!"