Saturday, February 28, 2009

The single most horrifying image Charles Addams ever drew:

(The cover of 1970 cartoon collection My Crowd, which was also reprinted in the backmatter of 1995's The Charles Addams Mother Goose, a reprinting of the 1967 children's picture book published by Simon & Schuster)

Remember kids: It's okay to cheat, but only if it's the only way you can win

Because apparently I can't do anything even vaguely comics-related without writing about it on the Internet, here's what I typed while watching the latest episode of The Brave and The Bold that was posted on

—Let’s see, there’s a vulture, perched on a sign that says Sergio Station…Holy shit, this is gonna be a Jonah Hex team-up, isn’t it?

—Sweet; it is.

—And The Royal Flush Gang is preparing to have Hex drawn and quartered, over a train track, where a train is due…? So they’re going to cut him in half while he’s being quartered…? Harsh. Oh no, they’re just quartering him; they’re just using the train whistle to get the horse to run.

—Batman wears a sombrero and poncho over his costume. He is truly a master of disguise.

Fuck yeah, they said “Bat-Hombre.” It wouldn’t be the Brave and the Bold without someone referring to Batman as “Bat-Hombre” at some point….

—Hex and Batman clothesline a dude riding a horse with an actual rope. Man, they fucked that guy up.

—I would really like to see Batman get himself a proper cowboy hat, as Hex suggests.

—This one’s called “The Return of the Fearsome Fangs.” I don’t know what that means.

—What’s that white eyebrow master eating on? Is that a rice ball? Damn, now I want onigiri….

—That cloud of falling arrows thing is so goddamned played out, I never want to see it again. I’ll forgive it here, since this is a kids cartoon, and they may have only seen it, like, twice already.

—Er…The Terrible Trio…? As ninjas…? Weird.

—Are their vultures in Japan? Or China? I don’t know if that’s biologically/geographically accurate, but I’m not going to look it up, now or later.

—So there are only like six guys all together, and they somehow shot 500 arrows all at once?

—Ha ha, the poison dart the eyebrow master was shot with contains “five deadly venoms”…

—“He’s too fat…” Ha ha, Fat Bronze Tiger…!

“—with pride.” Ohh…

—Young, in-training Batman wore a bat mask, like from that one Lady Shiva had him wear near the beginning of “Knights End.”

—How come this Wong Fei fellow doesn’t wear a mask/helmet, and yet he’s their master, training them to get in touch with their animal totems and what not? What’s his animal…?

—Animated Bronze Tiger. Jeez. To think that I would live to see the day where Bronze freaking Tiger is in a cartoon show.

—Oh shit, Batman took his cape off. Things are about to get serious.

—I like the edge to Bronze Tiger’s voice. I’m glad he doesn’t just have the same generic Black Male Hero voice common in cartoons like this.

—I guess the tiger mask sort of echoes the one he used to wear in the comics too (Although lately they’ve been drawing it as a sort of actual tiger’s head.

—What is that move Wong Fei just busted out, a No Shadow Kick? It’s fucking sweet.

—Hmm, Fox looks more like a hyena with that big-ass hump….

—You know, I’m not sure “When outmatched, cheat” is the best moral for a kids cartoon show.

—In the first one of these I saw, Batman got turned into a gorilla. In this one, he turns into a bat-mutant. They’re really not afraid to transform Batman in this show, which seems noteworthy to me. Batman rarely turns into a gorilla or bat-monster in the comics any more (Although he did turn into a bat-monster similar to this one in an issue of The Brave and The Bold that was collected in the last Showcase Presents book. (This makes sense though, as transforming Batman increases the number of possible action figures based on the show, doesn’t it?)

Friday, February 27, 2009

Every time Kelley Jones draws Batman's computer in Batman: Gotham After Midnight

he draws it bigger and more elaborate. Here's what it looks like in this month's issue #10:

It's really too bad that Gotham After Midnight is only a 12-issue series. Given another ten issues or so, at the rate the Bat-computer's growing, Batman would be climbing into a Death Star with multicolored lights just to check his e-mail.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

I don't want to tell you guys how to decorate your own trophy room or anything,

but is it really such a good idea to keep a Nazi robot named "Murder Machine" around the house like that?

(Panels from Justice Society of America #24, written by Matt Sturges and illustrated by Fernando Pasarin)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Weekly Haul: February 25th

Avengers: The Initiative #22 (Marvel Comics) So they’re going to try calling the Thor clone from Civil War “Ragnarok” rather than “Clor?” And they really think that will stick? It’ll never happen; Clor’s got, like, a three-year head start at this point.

So this issue concludes the Clor vs. Everybody fight, with the old New Warriors playing a big part, if you like those guys, and Tigra apparently deciding not to abort the Skrull baby or babies growing in her tiger lady womb.

I’m looking forward to the issue focusing on whether or not she’ll decide to have her half-Skrull/half-tiger/half-human baby (or babies!) or not. Pro-Life or Pro-Choice—Whose side are you on?! That’ll definitely get Marvel some more of that mainstream media coverage they like.

I’m still not quite used to Humberto Ramos’ art here, and I kinda hope he goes away soon, because I don’t think I’m going to get used to it on this book with these characters.

So, does anyone on the other side of my computer screen know who this green-haired lady named Geiger is, and why she wears denim shorts pulled down to her thighs, and how she runs around in them?

Batman: The Brave and the Bold #2 (DC Comics) The same week Jaime “Blue Beetle III” Reyes made his other media debut in the cartoon this series is based on was the very week DC announced they’d be canceling his monthly series. So I suppose it’s fitting that the week the final issue of Blue Beetle ships also sees the release of an issue guest-starring him.

It’s as if to say see Jaime Reyes fans, even if his own book is no more, the character will endure. (And he’s in an issue of Teen Titans this week too, if you can stomach that book; I couldn’t even make it through this preview. Where does Eddy Barrows find the inspiration for his costuming choices?)

I dug the first issue of this comic quite a bit, but I found this issue thunderously disappointing. (I added it to my pull list at my local comic shop, but may rethink that and just decide whether to purchase it each month based on flip-throughs, if it’s going to be this hit or miss).

It’s still written by Matt Wayne, and while the script here seemed a bit weak, there were a couple of neat ideas in it. I liked the idea of Batman tutoring Jaime in chemistry, for example, and I particularly liked the scene of Batman sitting around the Reyes family table for dinner, eating chicken with his gloves on. The idea of Batman hanging out with other heroes’ families always makes me smile; like, when he has pie with the Kents, for example.

There’s a two-page Superman team-up, which seems off (I guess I haven’t seen that many episodes of the show yet, but I thought Superman, like Batman’s traditional supporting cast, were off limits for some reason), and then Batman stumbles upon a crime wave being perpetrated by characters from “Craft of War,” an online fantasy game that advertises on billboards in El Paso (?), which The Thinker has taken over (The Thinker, by the way, is the garish-looking body-made-of-green-1’s-and-0’s version from JSA).

It’s pretty by the numbers, which wouldn’t be so bad if it looked as nice as the last issue did, but it doesn’t. This time out Phil Moy provides the art and it’s not very good looking. The designs are those of the show, but they seemed executed in a not-quite-right kind of way, and many of the background-less panels look rushed, their meaning sometimes a little too hard to decipher.

Batman: Gotham After Midnight #10 (DC) The same mix of completely insane visuals by Kelley Jones and a readable but unremarkable script by Steve Niles that I’ve come to expect after so many issues. Only two left to go, and by the end of this one it seems like the climax has begun, as Batman faces down Midnight and a gang of his mind-controlled villains after swearing that, “One way or another, this ends tonight.”

Dr. Doom and The Masters of Evil #2 (Marvel) Dr. Doom leads the Circus of Crime in a pitched battle against the Masters of Evil, as part of his plan to determine which team would win such a fight. Doom’s apparently not as smart as you’d expect a guy who builds robots and super-armor would be—aren’t the names of the two teams information enough to decide which is ht emore powerful team?

The art this issue is a bit of a mess. Pencil credits go to “Patrick Sherberber with John Buran and Scott Koblish,” whatever that means exactly, and Terry Pallot and Koblish get credit for inks. On the whole, it looks like a rather hastily drawn example of something in the Humberto Ramos/Duncan Rouleau school, but with varying levels of clarity and sharpness in the inks. A few of the pages near the end look positively unfinished, as if they were colored on top of sketches, without any finished pencils or inks.

The issue includes a five-page preview of Eric Shanower and Skottie Young’s Wonderful Wizard of Oz #3, which Marvel’s retailing at $3.99 per 22 pages, because they’re evil. Why is an all-ages title so costly? The eight-issue series will run you $32 in singles, and it’s hard to imagine Marvel selling the collected version—even a hardcover—at over $30.

The villains really are in charge at Marvel these days I guess…

Green Lantern #38 (DC) Oh fuck yes, Geoff Johns’ GL has gone from the peculiar balance its struck between awesomeness and stupidity and has plunged into the realm of full on super-insanity. In this issue, Red Lantern Hal Jordan, wearing a Green Lantern ring and a Red Lantern ring, starts puking up blood at his foes, but he can manipulate his blood puke to form shapes and images with it, so there’s this sweet panel of him shooting up a geyser of blood puke, which then turns into red missiles made of blood puke, which shoot out at his foes. He tries to electrocute Sinestro in an actual electric chair. Catholic Blue Lantern Saint Walker gets down on one knee and proposes marriage to Hal, and then he’s wearing three different colored Lantern rings, leading to one panel where he’s wearing a fucking rainbow colored tunic, his Lantern costumes Russian nesting doll beneath one another. And Carol Ferris joins the Violet Lanterns, who are all women of various alien races, but all of who are humanoid enough to have breasts, exposed and somehow supported by those goofy new open-front Star Sapphire costumes. And we get to learn another Lantern oath, which means more of Geoff Johns’ glorious poetry:

For hearts long lost and full of fright
For those alone in blackest night
Accept our ring and join our fight
Love conquers all
With violet light!

Yes! This new army, The Violet Lanterns or The Star Sapphire Corps or The Pink Ladies or whatever, they are apparently a bunch of spurned ex-girlfriends who are so emotional about the fact that Hal Jordan is now doing it with younger, blonder ladies who insist on being called “Cowgirl” that they become part of a space army…? I guess…?

Holy shit, Green Lantern is the best. At the rate things are going, GL will be the All-Star Batman and Robin, The Boy Wonder in a few months’ time.

The Incredible Hercules #126 (Marvel) “Double size!” screams a banner atop this comic, which costs $3.99 instead of the usual $2.99. “Lies!” I scream back. There are only 32 story pages in this issue, and while I’m not so hot at math, I do know that 22 x 2 = 44, not 32. There are five pages of illustrated text recapping the saga of Herc, but that still only takes us up to 37 pages. You still owe me seven pages, Incredible Hercules #126!

Oh well, I suppose I should be happy I got more than 22 pages for $3.99. This is the company that sold 16-page Astonishing X-Men: Ghost Boxes for $4, so I shouldn’t be surprised if they gave me 15-pages of comics and a punch in the face for $3.99.

This issue features Hercules and Amadeus Cho in action without one another. The lead, 22-page story is the kinda sorta secret origin of Marvel’s Hercules, set back when he was a beardless youth wearing a dead lion as a neck pillow, which explains how he came to be a prince and where he got his leather leggings. It’s drawn by Rodeny Buchemi and Greg Adams, and it’s pretty decent, though pretty divorced from the Marvel Universe proper, which is sort of unusual for this title, as the mix of Greek myth and Kirby/Lee myth is what it’s generally fueled by.

That’s followed by the ten-page “The Search For Kirby,” in which Amadeus enlists the unwitting help of Bruce Banner (and later gets the help of The Hulk) to track down his real pet coyote, which was replaced by a Skrull during the “Sacred Invasion” arc. It’s funny and even a little touching. The art here is by Takeshi Miyazawa (colored by Christina Strain) and it is fantastic. I especially liked the scene where Banner and Cho face off, and we see how similar their wardrobes are, which plays nicely off of Pak and Van Lente’s portrayal of the pair as different sides of the same brilliant, anti-hero scientist coin. Great stuff.

Justice Society of America #24 (DC) It’s kind of fun to watch artist, co-plotter and scripter Jerry Ordway sweat while struggling mightily to make some sort of sense out of the state of the Marvel Family after what Judd Winick, Countdown and Final Crisis did to them.

Mary Marvel, who became evil in Countdown because apparently Black Adam’s evil is contagious, then got better, then got evil again and then got extra-evil when New God Desaad possessed her but was then cured when Darkseid’s evil was defeated in Final Crisis is evil again because, um, because… “I tried not to change after we beat Darkseid, but…I kept hearing it scream in my head. The wisdom, strength, stamina, power, courage and speed of the Black Marvels.” Okay…? She’s still dressed like Desaad dressed her though. That’s kinda weird.

As for Freddy Freeman, Billy’s just like, “I hoped to contact Freddy, but his powers aren’t derived from the wizard anymore. Look, I don’t understand this shit either. Did you read Winick’s series? Jesus. Let’s just ignore it and try to move on here, okay?”

Basically, it’s members of the JSA from back when Captain Marvel was on the team journeying to the Rock of Eternity to fight with the Black Marvels, and an unexpected ally from Ordway’s own Power of Shazam! run showing up to mention some dues ex machina-style fixes, perhaps ones that will work as continuity patches.

By the way, what’s up with Hawkman and Hawkgirl? Are they dead or what? Who knows; it doesn’t come up.

This is an Origins & Omens issue, and the back-up is written by Matthew Sturges and drawn by Fernando Pasarin, and, I’m sorry to say, it doesn’t fill me with much confidence for the upcoming Sturges/Willingham run on the series (and confidence was already pretty low after struggling through their Salvation Run). The old guys talk about how old they are, new characters are being recruited (Is that The Shade’s son in Rome…? And please don’t tell me that’s Little Boy Blue in D.C….) and apparently Magog is working on some sort of rival JSA team? You know, like in the 47-part storyline that just wrapped up?

Please note Atom-Smasher’s crotch on the cover. Why is his bulge so small? Alex Ross can do bigger and better than that! Or is Atom-Smasher, whose power is to grow to great heights, unable to change the size of his genitals in relation to the rest of his body? I bet that’s frustrating.

Superman #685 (DC) Another issue of James Robinson rushing to get the pieces in place for the new Superman status quo, with Mon-El getting cured, Superman deciding to move to New Krypton, Lois and Ma being supportive of his decision to abandon them, and some other heroes being asked to step up and protect Metropolis while he’s gone. Javier Pina draws the issue.

The Origins & Omens back-up, also written by Robinson but drawn by Pablo Raimondi, features Mon-El/Lar Gand having coffee with Ma Kent and setting himself up with a secret identity. I think he needs to start rocking a new superhero name too, because Mon-El and Lar Gand are equally lame. Let’s see…Super…Hmmm…Super…Superlad? Superguy? Super…Okay, I give up. Valor? Can he use Valor, or will that cause a version of the Legion to cease to exist somehow?

Trinity #39 (DC) Yeah, this issue’s a bunch of fighting! The back-up is actually a middle-up, with Tom Derenick penciling a Konvikt-centric flashback to the “Battle of Gotham” that occurs during the Mark Bagley-penciled “Battle of Metropolis” that accounts for the beginning and end of the issues. It’s all the heroes of the altered, trinity-less earth versus the Dark Trinity and all the villains of the altered earth for all the marbles. And then the trinity, still in their altered, Egg World god-forms show up. Next issue I expect even more fighting.

Ultimate Spider-Man #131 (Marvel) Man, this “Ultimatum” storyline is so weird. In this issue, Spider-Man finds Ultimate Daredevil just straight-up totally dead in a pile of rubble. Did he get a death scene in Ultimatum, or is this it? If so, it’s awfully odd that he just sorta dies off-panel like this. Something tells me that Brian Michael Bendis could have done an alright story about the death of a Daredevil, and that a lot more people might be more interested in it than, say, that goofy Ultimate Origins story he did, or anything that’s been going on in Ultimate X-Men or Ultimate Fantastic Four for the last couple years.

As I think I mentioned last issue, I do kind of appreciate the way this big, dumb, unnecessary crossover/event story has been integrated into USM—as a big, out-of-left-field event that completely (and somewhat unwelcomely*) derails everything else. I mean, that’s probably how the end of the world would be in real-life, right?

Not that this is necessarily the end of the Ultimate Universe. I still can’t wrap my head around a cosmic reboot of USM. Bendis plays it a bit more like the Ultimate Universe’s 9/11, in a scene near the beginning where Ben Urich calls a loved one and J. Jonah Jameson tries to work through the crisis.

The bulk of the issue revolves around Spidey encountering the Hulk in New York, and trying not to set him off while they work to rescue folks. It’s all decent stuff, although, as is often the case with Bendis’ work on any title, it doesn’t seem like a complete chapter as much as a chapter of a chapter.

Stuart Immonen gets in a dynamite two-page spread, showing a skyscraper underwater from inside, and it’s a great single image, showing the bizarre, alien nature of the natural disaster as well as its apocalyptic scope far better than any the other drawings of waves I’ve seen flipping through the other Ultimatum books.

Wolverine: First Class #12 (Marvel) Wolverine and Cyclops fight over a different girl than usual in this issue, which sure feels like a last one from writer Fred Van Lente, although I’m not sure if it truly is (Peter David will be scripting the next couple at least). It ties in to old school X-continuity a lot more directly than most of the past issues, which I’m not sure would prove more or less appealing to old school X-Men fans, as I am not one o them. A note on the first page says this occurs after 1981’s Uncanny X-Men #150, and it opens with the X-Men around a fire on a beach of an island Magneto raised up from the ocean.

Chuck sends Kitty on a scouting mission of a mysterious temple, this time teamed with Cyclops instead of Wolverine. It’s mostly a study of Cyke and Wolvie though, as Kitty (and the readers) learn how the two are different from one another. Also, a Lovecraftian horror is faced and defeated.

It’s a nice little character piece, and one that seems to bring Kitty and Wolverine’s relationship to a new plateau after the preceding 11 issues, which is why it feels a bit like a final one to me. Scott Koblish provides the art, and it may be the strongest I’ve seen in the title so far, although I don’t care for the way Ulises Arreola colors it (Like most Marvel comics, it seems way too over-colored for my tastes, although the way things are going at the Big Two, pretty soon Tiny Titans will be the only book whose colors I dig).

*Not a real word, but I refuse to think of a better one to review this comic here.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

I'm not sure if anyone's ever pointed this out before or not, but Rob Liefeld doesn't seem to be a very good artist

Few industry figures are as controversial as Rob Liefeld, who neatly divides almost everyone who experiences his comics work into either the love him or hate him camp. Actually, sometimes it sort of seems that everyone is in the hate him camp; I only personally know one comics reader who likes his work, and comics critics seem pretty unified in their assessment of his work as something between a joke and an aesthetic crime.

I can't say that I hate his work, or even dismiss it too strongly, as I have very little experience with it. Most of what I've seen of it is couched in other people talking about it. For example, Dick Hyancinth's extremely insightful (and balanced!) look at his work in these posts, or this amusingly written list of "The 40 Worst Rob Liefeld drawings." (I think I might have "read" a whole issue of Onslaught Reborn, re-diaalogued by Christopher Bird, but I can't seem to find it now. Did I dream that? Because that's a pretty weird, nerdy dream, even for me).

Otherwise, the longest in-an-actual-comic-book exposure I've had to his work was, let's see, the few page Aquaman sequence he did in a Jeph Loeb-written jam comic Superman Christmas issue, where Superman gave presents to each of his League teammates (Liefeld drew the Aquaman sequence, which, at the time, impressed me as a nice bit of stunt-casting, given it was the '90s-designed bearded and harpoon-hand Aquaman), and a "Bloodwulf" short from 1993's Darker Image #1, which I remember hating more for the shocking writing than the art (It was an extremely transparent Lobo swipe/parody; since Lobo is already a parody character, it's kind of hard to read Bloodwulf as a parody when brazen plagiarism seems the more obvious answer).

But Youngblood? X-Force? Cable? That stuff? Never read any of it. The covers and pin-ups I've seen are enough to let me know that they are quite clearly not my cup of tea.

So last night I thought about Rob Liefeld's art for an hour or two, which is longer than I've probably ever thought about it before, and I had a thought about why it might look the way it does.

For the last month or three I've been doing a Tuesday afternoon column for Blog@ looking at the Diamond shipping list for the following day's releases, and I usually do a one-panel cartoon of some sort to accompany it. In this week' shipping list, the thing that jumped out at me the most was the number of Obama covers a whole month after the inauguration, including one for Youngblood, Liefeld's signature series (although he seems to have turned over the writing and art duties to others).

So that's what I decided to make my column header cartoon about this week.

Drawing celebrity likenesses is pretty damn challenging, and talented folks like Erik Larsen, Todd Nauck and Phil Jiminez have shown how much trouble they have with Obama in recent weeks. It was hard to imagine that artist with such a notoroiously...individual style would succeed where someone with somone like Jiminez, who has such a meticulous, photorealistic style stumbled.

I thought about drawing Obama (whose likeness, by the way, I'm also pretty bad at drawing, as you can see here and here; in my defense, I'm not a professional artist, and accept no money for my drawings, nor does anyone have to pay to look at 'em) with as many of the sorts of elements Liefeld is notorious for. Like giving Obama gigantic shoulder pads, a Cable-sized gun with no handle, a mouth full of a slime, 150 teeth, hidden feet, and so on.

As I was scanning through Youngblood covers though, I settled on trying to draw Obama in the same pose as this goofball with a goatee on the cover of Youngblood #8.

So looking at the image for a visual guide, I did a quick sketch of the pose:

When I sat down to do the final one, which turned out like this—
—I was surprised that once I drew the basic outlines of the figure (the head, the kidney bean shape of the shoulders, the arms and left quadricep) and then, well, that's about all there is to it.

From there, it was already time to move on to the filigree—the clothes, the face, the little Liefeldian lines. Usually when I try to imitate someone else's art style, even for a quick piece like this, it takes forever, no matter how simplified the art might be (Bryan Lee O'Malley, for example, uses very few lines, and yet it took me a dozen tries to make a Scott Pilgrim head that looked enough like a Scott Pilgrim head that I assumed readers would recognize my intent).

It occurred to me then that maybe Liefeld's art looks the way it does because he skips some of the steps often associated with drawing. Perhaps he just sketches out the basic shapes of the figures, and then finishes them, going from rough sketch to detail work without anything in between.

Now, I don't know how Liefeld works, or even how most comics artists work. But in the sorts of how-to books I used to read in grade school, and in the ones I see in the library today, the ones with the step by step instructions, they always start with a few broad shapes, and then get progressively more detailed.

Like, say there was a four-step process involved with instructions on how to draw a unicorn. Step one would be two big circles for the front and back of the body, and a little circle for the head. Step two would be drawing lines to connect them into a horse-like shape and drawing lines for the legs and so forth. Step three would be drawing the unicorn body around that shape. And then step four would be drawing the horn, the mane, the tail, the eyeballs, the whiskers, and whatever details you wanted.

But if Liefeld were to draw that unicorn, perhaps he would just go from the three circles from step one to the detail work of step four, without worrying how the pieces fit together exactly.

Does that make sense?

Let me try this. Okay, here's a (light, pencil) sketch of the basic shapes that seem to be in that pose at the center of the Youngblood cover.

Sorry it's so light. I shoulda used pen. Okay, I imagine that's how a lot of comic artists might start out a panel or image, if only to have a good sense of what amount of space they're going to dedicate to a particular figure.

From there, they might slim it down a little, and start to include lines that would represent the skeleton of the figure. They might start to draw the body within those rough shapes, making the head shape more oval and human, making the bean-shape of the shoulders a little more shoulder-y, filling in where the stomach might be, or the rest of the leg, or perhaps the other leg (I can't tell on that Youngblood cover if the brown pointy thing coming out of the central figures right pectoral is supposed to be his foot, or the point of a shoulder pad Badrock might be wearing).

So maybe that would look something like this—

And then, once the the space-staking-out shapes have been turned into something closer to the figure being drawn, the artist might finish the drawing, drawing the flesh and clothing over the imagined skeleton and muscles.

But perhaps Liefeld just puts the skin and clothes over the initial shapes, ignoring the human skeleton and muscles. That would explain not only why his figures are so wildly anatomically incorrect, but why there's no real consistency to the anatomic features. (What he does with a human body can't simply be excused as a style, because it's so inconsistent; he doesn't make the same choices over and over).

So that's my theory: Maybe Liefeld goes right from the vaguest shapes to a finished product, without bothering with the mechanics of the figures. I'm sure a lot of artists don't bother sketching out skeletons and bodies either, but I bet those artists can do so because they've drawn enough bodies that they can kind of intuit where the bones would and should be under the skin and clothes of the people they're drawing.

I can't imagine why he might do this. It's not a simple matter of laziness, although there's certainly an element of laziness to some of his work (Why isn't that jumping figure on the cover centered? Why is the one hand visible, but the other going off the page like that?). Certainly all those little lines, the arm hairs and wrinkles and skin folds and scars and shadows take a damn long time to draw, perhaps just as long as it would have taken Liefeld to make sure he was drawing the limbs the same length, or to glance at himself in the mirror and see if he could do that with his head, or look to his left and see where his forearm muscle began and ended.

It makes me a little sad to think about Liefeld's work at all, let alone to this extent. Because he's so popular and, as far as I've read, so rich doing the art he's done, there's little incentive for him to grow or change in anyway. Liefeld's art, as it's been and as it is, worked and continues to work for him.

And yet comics history is not going to be very kind to him. Sixteen years have passed since that shitty Bloodwulf story in Darker Image, and yet all that seems to have changed about his art is that it now involves computer coloring that didn't exist in the early '90s. Meanwhile, Jim Lee, another artist whose work in the early '90s did nothing for me, has grown into an almost completely different artist in those same years.

Of course, if you can't be a great artist, being a rich and famous one isn't bad as far as consolation prizes go...

Eli Kochalka and I have the same favorite Super Friend

I don't normally read the letters pages of the Johnny DC titles I read—although I do always look at the cool pictures that get submitted by young readers—so I missed the fact that the last issue of Super Friends (the one with the fantastic Pirate Starro J. Bone cover) had a letter and a drawing from Eli Kochalka, the son of cartoonist James Kochalka, and one of the stars of his dad's diary strip American Elf.

The last time I went to check out the elder Kochalka's online strip, I noticed an item about the younger's letter and drawing in the back of Super Friends #12.

Here's a scan from my comic:

So Eli Kochalka's favorite is Aquaman, and he loves the Atlantean Ace, huh?

You know what that means?

It means that it is James Kochalka's responsibility as a father to write and draw an Aquaman comic for DC.

Well, I've blogged about

Beasts! Book 2, and I've blogged about Lilli Carré’s The Lagoon, so I might as well blog about Lilli Carré’s contribution to Beasts! Book 2.

Here's a badly cropped scan to her contribution:

That's the tikbalang from the Philippines, a "nocturnal man-horse" with "legs so long that, when it sits, its knees extend up above its head." It tries to trick travelers off their paths, and can assume a human form to do so.

It's a really cool-looking monster, and I like Carré’s highly detailed forest and her use of color here.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Review: The Lagoon

I’m as impressed by, enthusiastic about and fascinated with the broad powers of this medium we call comics as the next guy (or more so, depending on who I happen to be standing by at any given moment), but I’ll be the first to admit that there are some things comics are somewhat inadequate at addressing, particularly when compared to other media.

Like sound. Sure, some creators are wizards at evoking particular sounds—Doug Moench, for example, can create onomatopoeia for virtually and sound effect, and certainly the Walt Simonson and John Workman can make a reader flinch at the thundering and roaring of their action scenes—but rhythms? Melodies? Songs?

They may not be completely impossible to convey in comics, but, if not, they’re awfully close to impossible, and certainly can’t hang with, say, film or live theater.

Now Lilli Carré’s graphic novel The Lagoon (Fantagraphics) would be an impressive work regardless of the way it faces the challenge of sound in comics, but that’s the element I find myself most in awe with a few weeks after my first reading of the book.

The story is a short-ish one at just 80 pages, and although a few stories are told from one character to another, much of the narrative occurs through the actions Carré depicts. This leaves a great deal up to the imagination of the reader, which (as is so often the case) makes for a slightly challenging but extremely engaging reading experience.

There’s a family of four—a grandfather, his daughter and her husband and their daughter—who live in a house near a lagoon. In the lagoon lives a creature that sings a very beautiful song on certain summer nights, a song that’s so beautiful that it sticks with those that hear it, it lures them to the edge of the lagoon to listen in and, occasionally, it compels listeners to walk down into the lagoon, where they’re never heard from again.

So what’s such a song sound like, and how would an artist draw it on a page?

I don’t know the answer to that first question, and I don’t think Carré does either. The fact that music can’t be transmitted through comics effectively is turned into a benefit here, as the reader can’t hear it, can’t even really imagine it, but knows it’s there, due to the visual representation of it. Carré simply draws a white ribbon through the art, the color of a dialogue bubble, only elongated, and draws a stream of music generic music notes through it.

It wafts through the panels like smoke, or like a delicious smell in an old cartoon, so the reader’s eyes can see where it comes form, where it goes and what it does, but not how it sounds. The impression is that it’s a song so beautiful you can’t know how it sounds without actually hearing it for yourself.

A weakness of the medium is thus turned into a strength for this particular story; Carré practices comic book judo!

While the siren song of the lagoon creature is the most important sound in the story, there are plenty of others. The grandfather sings the lagoon creature song as best he can; he whistles it and taps it and sometimes taps his piano meters mindlessly in his sleep. A group of neighborhood cats sing their song at one point, the girl plays the piano, the metronome atop it goes TAC TAC TAC. Sometimes these things occur in various combinations.

Here, for example, is the grandfather singing along to the cat yowl song:

I hesitate to say much of anything else about the plot, but it is the exact sort of story I like the most, the kind my college writing teachers referred to as magical realism. The kind where there’s a more or less normal person or people, and then something fantastic happens, and it’s not necessarily explained to death or even treated as fantastic, it just matter-of-factly occurs, and the plot proceeds from there. That’s the case here; there’s a family that lives in a neighborhood near a lagoon where a creature sings.

The art is such a stark black and white, often with more black area than white, that I now find myself intensely curious about how it was created. Were white pages filled with black ink, or the blackness removed from those pages to create the whites? Much of the story occurs at night time, and Carré’s use of color is thus especially effective, as the same characters and settings are so thoroughly transformed by the time of day.

It’s also pretty funny. For example:

Ha ha, I love that.

And there’s a later, better scene where the granddaughter discovers her grandfather in a weird place doing a weird thing, and that weirdness is shrugged off just as casually as the fantasy of the lagoon creature.

It’s kind of too bad I didn’t get around to reading this until this month, as it definitely would have made my best-of 2008 list had I read it a couple of months ago. Ah well. A great comic is still great whenever you read it. And The Lagoon? It’s a great comic.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Three reveiws of three comics featuring two heroes who conceal two-thirds of their faces with their helmets and visors

Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files Vol. 11 (Rebellion) is the latest of the black and white phonebook-like collection of Judge Dredd adventures. It offers a couple hundred pages of stories from 1987 and 1988, all written by the John Wagner and Alan Grant team, and illustrated by the sort of all-star roster of artists that are pretty much par for the Complete Case Files course: Steve Dillon, Jim Baikie, Brendan McCarthy, John Higgins, Cliff Robinson, Brett Ewins and others contribute.

The most memorable story is both the biggest and the last one in the book, the 26-part “Oz” storyline.

Mega-City One skysurfing champion Chopper is rotting away in a cell, busted for illegal skysurfing (a future sport that’s exactly what it sounds like; surfers pilot flying surfboards), unaware that world championship Skysurf 10 is coming up in Australia, and that the loudmouth, maybe offensive to real-life Aussies Jug “The Wizard of Oz” McKenzie (any EDILW readers from Australia who have read this story who care to comment on …?) seems like a lock to win (and regularly trashes Chopper’s rep).

In the midst of being transferred, he managed to escape custody, and then attempts to skysurf all the way to Australia, which means a seemingly impossible journey over The Cursed Earth and over the ocean.

Meanwhile, the judges are being stalked by some sort of mysterious super-judges calling themselves The Judda, and Dredd journeys to Oz to arrest Chopper on the infinitesimal chance he manages to somehow arrive their alive (Dredd is, by that point, the only human being on earth who actually wants to arrest Chopper and prevent him from competing in Skysurf).

It’s a pretty great story, folding a series of the random-ish, episodic adventures of Dredd stories in general into a big, long, epic story (Highlights include Chopper’s battle with some bizarrely drawn (by McCarthy) giant birdmen who speak in outrageous Mexican accents and an encounter with a killer robot chef, and the extremely ‘80s sports movie formula Supersurf event itself.

There are a few other multi-part storylines in the book, including “The Alabammy Blimps” five-parter drawn by Steve Dillon about a group of very large what-used-to-be-Alabama-based Amazons in the Cursed Earth, but mostly the contents reflect Grant and Wagner picking up on an idea they saw in the modern world of the late ‘80s, turning it around and looking at it from a few different angles, and turning it into a ten-to-twenty-page tongue-in-cheek action adventure story sometimes only tangentially involving the title character.

More recent Judge Dredd adventures are collected in Judge Dredd: The Pit (Rebellion), a slimmer, collection of a series of stories form 1995-96 set in the titular neighborhood. A sort of dumping ground for Judges who are somehow defective and being punished for it, The Pit is a particularly bad part of town policed by a particularly corrupt bunch of judges.

At least until Dredd is sent there to be the new station chief, and turn things around—ferreting out corruption and improving judicial efficiency while fighting the rather rampant crime.

These stories, which all add up to a bigger story that starts with Dredd’s arrival and ends with his departure, are all written by John Wagner, and illustrated by his Dredd co-creator Carlos Ezquerra, plus Colin MacNeil, Lee Sullivan and Alex Ronald.

Wagner plays around with Hollywood movie clichés in his usual fashion, here focusing on a variety of police movies as he introduces a series of corrupt cops and moles, an undercover cop who can’t come back in from the cold and various good cops with bad habits and double lives, culminating in an Assault on Precinct 13 meets The Alamo climax.

Though the writing here seems somewhat stronger than in the above Case Files collection—somewhat more sophisticated, or at least more serious and more focused on character drama than social satire—the art seems a great deal weaker, perhaps in large part due to the fact that it appears in color.

I prefer experience Dredd’s world in black and white, as the garish neon-green of the judges’ uniform doesn’t come through and my eyes are spared its violent clash with the red, gold and blue-black of the rest of it.

The color here looks particularly garish in general. I’m not sure if this was colorized black and white —I’ve only experienced Dredd in trade—or what, but it has a sickly, air-brushed look to it, and over-ambitious application of light and shadow effects that I find personally aesthetically unappealing.

While not quite the feast that the Case Files collection offers, The Pit is still a pretty satisfying genre meal.

Warlash: Dark Noir #2 (Asylum Press) isn’t a Judge Dredd comic, but it’s hero does resemble him. Like Dredd, he always wears a helmet with opaque lenses hiding his eyes, and only his mouth and jaws betraying any humanity (and even those are generally frowning and clenched).

Frank Forte’s sci fi superhero series reminds me a lot of Dredd actually, and not just because of his head ware. The design of the character Warlash echoes Dredd in a few places, and he similarly patrols a generic-ish futuristic city (Pittsburgh in this case), and, in this series at least, his adventures are presented in an episodic, anthology-like format, drawn by different artists.

I wasn’t exactly impressed with the first issue, and despite liking all four the artists who draw the four stories here, this isn’t the sort of book I’d be adding to my pull list any time soon, or probably even reviewing here, if I wasn’t sent a review copy (That’s pretty much the secret to getting reviewed here, publishers! While I can’t promise to review every single comic book that gets mailed to me, I do promise that I will put every single comic book that gets mailed to me in a pile on the floor of my living room, look worriedly at that pile a few times a day, and feel extremely guilty if I don’t review everything in it at some point).

The first story is part two of “Phlegm Fatale,” which began in the last issue. Like all of the stories, it’s written by Frank Forte, and this one is drawn by him as well. Warlash fights a big worm-like, tentacley monster in the sewers. I can’t tell how serious it’s meant to be taken. It ends with Warlash brandishing his weapons and saying, “Now that the playing field is leveled, let’s see how you fare against Warlash…in full fury!” That’s a joke, right? Forte draws this one too, and I do like his art quite a bit.

Next up is a story called—I swear to God—“Enter The Bladeviper.” This one is co-written by Royal McGraw and drawn by J.C. Wong. Wong’s art is also quite strong, but the story may be the visually weakest, if only because there are a few pages where I can’t figure out exactly what’s happening (This has something to do with Bladeviper’s powers, which I don’t understand, but seems to have something to do with making sharp objects move around or appear or something).

In this story, Warlash fights scantily clad Bladeviper, who looks a bit like Marvel’s Medusa character wearing a bikini and mask designed by H.R. Giger, two unfortunately placed rubies on her bikini top. She and Warlash fight each other with their various pointy weapons for a while, she releases a bunch of mutants from glass cases that Warlash must stop to fight, allowing her to steal a blood sample from what looks like Swamp Thing’s head, while using a bunch of stupid sex metaphors for the procedure.

The best part of this story, aside from the employment of “KRAKKADOOMM!!” as a sound effect, is the bit where Warslash narrates about watching a “neurovid” of an old “2D” musical from over a century ago, apparently just so McGraw can allude to the Annie Get Your Gun’s “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better” song to describe Bladeviper’s powers in relationship to Warlash’s.

Somehow Warlash just doesn’t seem like the sort who would watch ancient musicals on neurovids to me…

Next up is “The Transformation of Eduard Yan,” drawn Nenad Gucunja, in a cartoonier style with more extreme, energetic angles than the rest of the book. In this story, a couple of drug pushers cut up a junkie, who injects himself with something, and then gets thrown in the sewer, and turns into a big tentacley monster that fights Warlash.

Finally, there’s a black and white story by Steve Mannion, a continuation of the story that began in the first issue, in which Warlash fights a giant monster in the, um, sewer again.

Nice production values, all around great art—everyone in here can out-draw a good half of the folks working on DCU comics and a good quarter of the folks working on Marvel Universe comics at the moment—and a great value (42 story pages for just $2.95) make this at least worth a flip-through, should you encounter it in the wild. (Or you could just do a visual flip-through here; there’s a few pages worth of preview of each of the four stories in the issue).

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Man Up, Martian Manhunter! Pt. 4: The villains of Salvation Run

Welcome to the latest installment of "Man Up, Martian Manhunter!" our occasional series on how the Martian Manhunter is constantly getting his ass handed to him by vastly weaker opponents. Today we're going to discuss Salvation Run, a terrible, terrible miniseries about the Suicide Squad capturing pretty much every supervillain on earth and then teleporting them to a cosmic Australia penal planet for a few weeks. It was collected as JLA: Salvation Run, and I reviewed it here if you want to know more about it.

Before we get to the scene in which the Martian Manhunter gets wrecked by a bunch of Flash and Batman villains, let's first review his vast catalog of powers:

—Super-strength, super-speed, super-vision powers, super-breath and invulnerability all comparable (but somewhat weaker then) Superman's

—The ability to change shape

—The ability to reduce his density to the point of complete intangibility


—Psychic powers that allow him to read minds, communicate telepathically and control the thoughts of others to a certain extent

In other words, he's kind of like Superman with a bad cold + Charles Xavier + Plastic Man + The Vision, and most of his panels should last about two panels, and go something like this.

They never do, of course. And why is that? Is it because it is just too hard to write such a powerful character? Is it because most of the people who write stories featuring Martian Manhunter just aren't terribly creative people? Yes. Or maybe, just maybe, J'onn J'onnz has a death wish, and is always deliberately throwing fights in the hopes that someone will kill him. Suicide by super-villain. There's really no other way to explain some of his losses.

Like the one he suffers in Salvation Run.

So let's first set the stage. Martian Manhunter, who has changed clothes and the shape of his head since the last time we did one of these (if you want to find out exactly why, I'd suggest you read World War III, but really, no one should have to read that), has used his powers to disguise himself as a new version of the villain Blockbuster in order to infiltrate the villains on the prison planet and report back to Batman about them.

When Lex Luthor and the other villains catch Catwoman spying on them, she attempts to deflect their suspicion, by outting the Martian Manhunter. (She knew J'onn was disguised as Blockbuster, because she caught him resuming his normal shape to call Batman; apparently, he gets better reception when he's Martian Manhunter shaped).

Having been busted by Catwoman, he resumes his Martian Manhunter shape, raises his hand like a Shakespearean actor, and explains that he's infiltrated them to see why they were sent to this planet. At that point, Catwoman adds, "And what's more? He's got some kind of communicator!"

That's when someone bounces a piece of fruit off his face, and Resurrection Man villains The Body Doubles and Titans/Outsiders Mammoth attack him. He absorbs some physical blows that a guy who can turn intangible shouldn't have to, but nothing actually threatening to him.

I like how frustrated he is by the fact that the villains won't stop to listen to his explanation. If only there were some way he could communicate information directly to their brains without having to bother having the sound of his voice heard...

Catwoman narrates her escape, thinking that at least J'onn has superpowers and can take care of himself, whereas she couldn't have fought them all off. Although he has superpowers, he hasn't eyt deiced to use any of them besides flight, and continues to gesticulate grandly while Bane and Manticore grab his cape.

Finally convinced he's going to have to fight rather than talk with the villains, J'onn stubbornly refuses to become intangible or flee, but trades punches with his attackers.

J'onn continues to think to himself how this is getting him nowhere, while Luthor and the Rogues plot. Here things get a bit confusing. (This is written by Matthew Sturges, and drawn by Joe Bennett and Belardino Brabo, so if the narrative gets murky here, I guess we have to blame them).

"I can't even see the green punk!" Captain Cold shouts, which would make sense if J'onn had turned invisible which, remember, is one of his very useful powers, but he hasn't, as the reader and all of the characters who aren't Captain Cold are able to see him. Perhpas Captain Cold simply can't see him because the slots in his glasses are so thin?

Abra Kadabra broadcasts the plan by...shouting? A magic shout? Or something? J'onn, who, remember, is also telepathic and can read minds, so should be privy to any information passed between the villains, even if it wasn't spoken out loud, as it seems to have been on this page.

Anyway, J'onn finally realizes that it might be time to leave ("I've stayed too long. There's nothing more I can do"). Wonder Woman villain Silver Swan and DC's most famous rapist Dr. Light distract the still tangible, still visible Martian Manhunter, while Heat Wave, Effigy, Tarpit, Deadshot and whoever the guy in the third panel with the red visor is shoot their fire weapons at J'onn. (Fire is, of course, his only weakness).

That's followed by a two-page splash spread of J'onn falling out of the sky, and then he hits the ground...

...and Bane checks his pulse. They've done it! They defeated the Martian Manhunter! He's not dead, by the way, just knocked out in that last panel.

I like the first of those three panels though. Let's zoom in on a few specific parts of it.

Here's a close-up of J'onn J'onnz's crotch:

This is one instance where his new costume is actually preferable to his older one. With a full pair of pants rather than the little blue briefs he used to wear, he's now free to splay himself wide open without fear of pushing any comic books he's starring in into mature readers territory.

And in the background, there's former Batman villain, longtime Suicide Squad member and current Secret Six member Floyd "Deadshot" Lawton, doing the lamest thing he's ever done:

High-fiving Green Lantern villain—Kyle Rayner Green Lantern villain—Effigy.

So you see, the Martian Manhunter is not the only one to lose his dignity in the course of Salvation Run.

Pt. 1: Doomsday
Pt. 2: Superboy-Prime
Pt. 3: Bishop