Wednesday, May 12, 2010

I have just ten things to say to you.

1.) I don't have any snide remarks, salient criticisms or political points to make about the above political cartoon by David Fitzsimmons of the Arizona Daily Star at all. I just really like it. I noticed it—in black and white—at the top of an opinion page in an open newspaper on a table in a bakery the other day and was super-excited by design of whoever that woman was (I couldn't tell at an upside-down, walking-past glance).

I'm not so crazy about the elephant, whose face is oddly detailed compared to the other two figures (it's even got liver spots on the side of its human-like head!), but both the Elena Kagan and the President Obama are awesome. I love how few lines are used to make them each up, and the quick, sketchiness of the features (like how the oval of Kagan's nose overlaps with the line of her cheek, for example).

That's also a fine looking Obama...recognizably Obama, but unlike everyone else's version of Obama. I would love to have seen Fitzsimmons drawing his Obama on the page. Did he start with that severe straight line from the neck tie down to the hem of his pant legs, and build from there?

At any rate, it's a great drawing.

While looking it up online after briefly spotting it in the wild, I came across some more Kagan-related cartoons, two of which I thought worth mentioning.

First, here's one by Tom Toles, one of my favorite political cartoonists working today (As point of fact, one of the few who I know by name):
That is one gigantic label he's got Kagan wearing. Considering the context, it doesn't seem necessary at all, either...if you're aware a lady was just nominated to the Supreme Court, and there's only one lady in this cartoon with a building labeled Supreme Court in it, then you've gotta assume the lady is Kagan, right? Her label is so big, it can't even fit in that lion's mouth!

Finally, here's an interesting one from R.J. Matson of The New York Observer:

I'm sure most of you recognize the reference:

How well-known is that first Peanuts strip, do you think? I wonder how many of the folks who see the political cartoon will recognize the homage to Charles Schulz. It works either way, of course, but if the reference isn't apparent, then maybe it doesn't work too well as an homage...?

It was certainly a pleasant surprise to see this one though.

If you'd like to see scads more Kagan cartoons, and compare and contrast the various ways political cartoonists addressed the subject, you should definitely check out Daryl Cagle's Political Cartoonists Index "Nominee Kagan" gallery, which is where two of the above images were swiped from.

2.) New York Times columnist Ross Douthat seems like kind of an odd duck, at least judging from the few pieces of his I've read. Like that one about how Jews don't have their own Middle-Earth or Narnia the way Christians do, or the one about how CNN should be more like CNN already is or...well, best not to even get into the things he's said about gay marriage, birth control and the Catholic Church child rape scandals (It probably didn't help my esteem for Mr. Douthat that the first time I ever heard of him was in this gross story he told about his love life, which made him seem like a real creep. Or, as Wonkette memorably described him, a "Misogynist Neck-Beard.")

I know, I know, deadlines, pressure, you gotta have something to fill that space—I worked in newspapers before too, and I'm well aware of the fact that I still write a ton of dumb shit all the time because I have to have blog fodder to fill the blog. Of course, I'm generally writing about Batman comics and in-development superhero movies for the blog portion of a comics and nerd-culture website (and being compensated accordingly), not writing for The New York Fucking Times (and being compensated accordingly).

But this isn't about me. It's about Ross Douthat. And Iron Man.

Douthat's latest dumb column is headlined "Prisoners of the Superhero Movie," and is a sort-of-but-not-really response to that Matt Zoller Seitz superhero movie takedown on Salon that everyone who writes about comics has felt obligated to talk about this week (I'm working on mine now! I'll finish 'er up as soon as Law & Order:SVU ends!), and a comment from Chris Orr about how Iron Man probably would have been a fine movie without actually having Iron Man in it, due to how awesome Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark is.

[F]rom there, it’s an even shorter leap to questions like, “what kind of movies would a clean-and-sober Robert Downey, Jr. be making if he wasn’t already signed up for ‘The Avengers’ and ‘Iron Man 3’ and the sequel to last’s year ‘Sherlock Holmes’ (which was basically a superhero flick dressed up in Victoriana)”? Or “what kind of films might Jon Favreau/Bryan Singer/Sam Raimi/Christopher Nolan have directed if they hadn’t been sucked into the superhero vortex”? Or “wouldn’t it have been nice to see a Heath Ledger/Christian Bale confrontation in which they weren’t saddled with the grim conventions of the comic-book blockbuster?” Or … well, you get the idea.

Sometimes I try to imagine what the 1970s would have been like if comic-book movies had dominated the cinematic landscape the way they do today.

His basic point is...murky. Either he's just using the idea as a springboard for a round of decade-specific fantasy casting. Or, perhaps, simply that the films of the seventies would have been worse, and, given how influential that decade's films were, then perhaps modern film history as we know it would have been altered for the worse...?

I was intrigued by the launch point of his fantasy casting though, that last sentence in the block quote above.

What would the 1970s have been like if comic-book superhero movies dominated the cinematic landscape the way they do today? Well, there would have been a lot of cheesy movies with a lot of terrible special effects.

As someone who has a Google alert set for the word "superhero," I've read way too many stories about how the 21st century, post-9/11 zeitgeist is responsible for the rise of the superhero in pop culture. I'm sure some psychological /cultural forces in play with the phenomenon, but there are also much more likely explanations. As far as the rise of the superhero movie goes, however, clearly the computer-driven leaps and bounds that special effects technology have gone through since the '90s have been the prime factor.

Can you imagine an Iron Man movie in, say, 1975? Or a Spider-Man? The Hulk? Hell, could you imagine a series of Batman movies a decade or less since the Adam West show was a hit on TV? Running down the list of Douthat's fantasy seventies super-movies, the only one that seems do-able with the special effects technology of the time—somewhere between that which you could see on superhero TV shows like Lou Ferigno's Hulk and the Shazam! show on the low end and Star Wars on the high end—would have maybe have been the X-Men (lasers and lightning bolts could be drawn in during post, magnet and psychic powers would have been easy enough, etc). But then, why would anyone have made an X-Men movie in the seventies, or at any point before their early nineties super-popularity? (Similarly, why would anyone have made a Batman movie prior to the late-eighties, when Frank Miller and a few creators immediately before and immediately after him solidified Batman's new, serious, camp-free Dark Knight persona? The year 1989 was about as early as a Batman live action movie could have been made.

I can't imagine an animatronic or stop-motion Hulk or Iron Man in a big, successful movie, nor can I imagine a live-action Spider-Man swinging on a web line in a 1979 movie that would look like anything different than a guy in a funny costume swinging on a rope, in the same way Johnny Weismuller swung on vines as Tarzan decades earlier) and, of course, without a successful live-action Spider-Man, would any studio even bother with a Hulk or Iron Man movie?

Which is another big factor in the ubiquity of superhero movies—momentum. X-Men and Spider-Man got made, in large part, because Blade got made...and turned a profit. Everything we've seen since was made because X-Men and Spider-Man were huge hits. No matter how many misfires and (financial) disappointments there are, occasional hits like Iron Man and The Dark Knight provide momentum to make Green Lantern and Thor and so on.

If some unlikely visionary had made a superhero movie in the early seventies* to kick off an honest-to-God decade-long superhero movie trend, it would have had to also make a Scrooge McDuckian money bin worth of profit for there to have been a second or third superhero movie, as it takes more than one to be a trend.

Godammit Ross Douthat, you've made me think about this way too long!

3.) Yesterday Johanna Draper Carlson posted a link to this post on Collected Editions, regarding which key DCU trade collections are currently out of print. Of those discussed, I think the number of Geoff Johns-written Flash collections are probably the most head-scratching, as Johns is DC's most popular writer, and both Johns and DC have invested a lot in his work on the Flash (in a lot of ways, Johns' subsequent Green Lantern work used the template he used on Flash).

Final Night, like Zero Hour, is something it seems like DC should obviously have available for readers in some form given the primacy of Hal Jordan in the DCU and the sales charts at the moment—those are the stories where he sacrificed his life to save the galaxy in an attempt to redeem himself for unmaking and trying to remake all of existence while, it's since been retconned, he was possessed by Parallax.

Parallax and the events of those stories played a major role in the just finished Blackest Night, surely someone's going to read those comics and want to see what they were referencing for themselves, right? Why not make it easy?

Likewise, I was surprised to see how much Nightwing is out of print. The Chuck Dixon-written Nightwing, like all Nightwing, wasn't exactly great comics, but they were decent Batman Lite stories, and since the Dick Grayson-as-Batman Batman and Robin is currently one of DC's (and the direct market's) best-selling comics, surely there's more interest in Grayson than usual out there right now, right?

I'm less surprised to hear about Batman: No Man's Land, a story which is more of a branding effort/status quo a la "Dark Reign" than a story-story, and the related Bat crossovers like Legacy and Cataclysm. I read portions of those in singles, and I'd have no idea how you'd collect them into trades, or why you would. Maybe something like a Showcase Presents is the way to go...?

Showcase Presents definitely seem the best way to handle books like Underworld Unleashed and summer annual crossovers like Armageddon 2001, Eclipso: The Darkness Within and so on. Of course, they're of relatively recent vintage and I thought there were royalty issues which made cheap, phone book-format, black-and-white trades of such material undoable for DC, so maybe that will never happen. But since the way many of their big crossover events used to be written and sold—a short miniseries that crossed over into an issue or annual of everything—it seems to be the best way to do it. Particularly since they tend to not be the sort of thing anyone would wanna pay for to get in a fancy schmancy omnibus edition.

Anyway, there are a lot of trades out of print that you would maybe think should be in print. I mean, there are Magog and Red Circle trades being released as we speak.

4.) When I first saw this Joe Jusko cover image for a Boom miniseries, the first thing I thought was that maybe it was for a Marvel comic entitled What If...The Punisher Was Conan?. I want to read that comic. The comic it actually is—Hawks of Outremer, based on a lesser Robert E. Howard property—looks like something I might want to read as well, though.

5.) I have a review of Solomon's Thieves by Jordan Mechner, LeUyen Pham and Alex Puvilland at Blog@ if you're interested. It occurred to me after writing it that, based on my years of working in a public library, Solomon's Thieves is exactly the sort of historical fiction that is pretty popular among prose readers, but which I would never, ever pick up and devote the time to if it were told in prose. Tell a similar story with excellently cartooned images, however, and I'm all over it. Weird.

6.) I updated last Thursday's post about Rick Spears' illustrations for the prose book Tales of the Cryptids with a link to Spears' website. Apparently I'm not the first person to wonder if he's the same Ricks Spears who wrote Teenagers From Mars and Black Metal, since his homepage starts with the words "No, I'm Not the Comic Book Writer..."

7.) Here is an account of an actual conversation I had with a non-comics reader, age 56, earlier today.

"Batman," he says dramatically, picking up a copy of Batman #698 I have in a to-be-returned-to-the-library pile on a table near my front door. He idly flips through it, and starts offering a dramatic reading of a page he lands on at random: "'Someone's killed off three of your old friends. Or roommates, if that's more accurate. I just want to know why.' 'Hell if I know. People make enemies in this town. Anyway, it's none of my business.'"

He glances at the cover, then says, "Hey, I thought that the Joker was dead."

"That's the Riddler," I answer. "But the Joker's not dead. Batman's dead at the moment. That's not the real Batman in there. It's the original Robin. The original Batman was sent back through time, but I think he comes back this week."

"But no one knows this isn't the real Batman?"

"None of the bad guys know."

He flips the page and does another dramatic reading of a panel.

8.) After years of resisting temptation, I finally broke down and borrowed some Cromartie High School from the library (Why was I resisting? Well, I'd heard from so many people that it was so good that I imagined it must be good, and the covers all looked so cool that I assumed I'd buy it one day, so I'd just wait to read it after I bought it). I would just like to report that it is, as you may have heard from others, a really funny series. It took me about a volume to get used to the peculiar pacing and style of character design and joke delivery, but once I did, I've been enjoying each chapter more and more. I'm on volume five at the moment, so perhaps it takes a plunge in quality somewhere down the line, but so far? So good.

9.) Back in...geez, 2007? (I've been doing this that long?!)...I wrote a post about the Batman vs. Etrigan fight in Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle's Detective Comics #603, and mentioned that this was one of my favorite Batman panels:
Recently reader Thiago Fernandes wrote in to share with me a "cover" panel of that panel, from 1996 prestige format one-shot Batman/Demon #1, also written by Alan Grant and drawn by David Roach: And now I've shared it with you.

10.) Quick programming note: I'm going to go out of town to visit my not-so-local comics shop, pick up the last three Wednesdays worth of releases and, upon returning, read the hell out of them. It's therefore quite possible I won't have an update tomorrow, but, if that's the case, there should be a pretty huge one reviewing all those comics on Friday.

*I'm now racking my brain trying to think of a successful filmmaker of the era and superhero property franchise that would have matched up, but the early seventies seem too early for any superhero character I can think of. Star Wars didn't come out until 1977; how early would George Lucas have been able to roll, and what would he roll with? It's hard to imagine a New Gods film in the seventies...or at any time since, really...that wouldn't have sucked. Jim Henson didn't do his Muppet Movie until the end of the decade, but I bet he and his crew could have turned out a pretty sweet, partially animatronic movie, although what superhero properties would work with big, articulated Muppets? The only ones I can think of are minor heroes that wouldn't have been seen as worthy of investment at that point. Superpower-less superheroes like Batman, Daredevil, Wolverine and so on were technically possible as early as 1970, but none of 'em—even Batman—would have had the Q-rating to be worth anyone's trouble..


Joch said...

I'm sure you remember, but, let's not forget the highly succesful 'Superman: The Movie' film! Written, or partly written I guess, by the Godfather writer himself, Mario Puzzo...

Granted, Richard Donner wasn't a big name then...

Shakespeare & Co. said...

As a bookseller, I can't say I'm surprised that all of the titles on that list are out of print. Not one of them strikes me as enough of a perennial to bother reprinting a few thousand copies of it when your first run sells out. Especially since buying decisions on these things are largely made by chain store buyers who are almost certainly not aware of their connection to currently important titles.

DC has an impressively extensive backlist catalog, but the objections in the linked journal are bizarre. They're not an archive whose purpose is to make available the old books you want to read eventually.

Taranaich said...

You're actually pretty close to the mark with Cormac Fitzgeoffrey being "What if Conan was the Punisher" (though Cormac was written a while before the first Conan story, and certainly long before The Punisher.)

Cormac is basically Conan on a bad day, every day: "Hawks of Outremer" is a revenge story where Cormac hunts down the people who betrayed one of his few friends. He's completely devoted to his goal, and nothing gets in his way - not even kings and sultans. It's completely awesome.

Maddy said...

Most of the Chuck Dixon-written Birds of Prey is out of print and/or hasn't been collected, too. Somehow I gotta wonder if it's partly politics. Dixon and DC didn't part well from what I remember. There's also a lot of Devin Grayson bat-comics that were never collected either, like Gotham Knights.

But yeah, add in that Geoff Johns' run on Flash isn't collected and it doesn't make much sense.

collectededitions said...

One thing I noted in my "out of print" post right off the bat was that just because I as an obsessive comics fan might find it astounding I can't get a mint copy of the Final Night trade paperback at my immediate beck and call, I understand there may not be widespread interest in Final Night overall nor would it be profitable for DC to reprint it or a bookstore to stock it. (I view my comics obsession with tongue firmly in cheek.)

My greater point, perhaps, is that this is frustrating from a comics collector's standpoint (understanding that a retailer has their own point of view) in that if you're a new Green Lantern fan, as in Caleb's example, and you're interested in Hal Jordan's past history, you can't go find a new, reasonably priced copy of Final Night without some potential extra searching.

This is to some extent outside a bookstore customer's general expectations (if you want early Stephen King, you can still find early Stephen King) and I think is in part a dilemma that's rising mainly because of the increased popularity of collections. When most comics just came out in single issues, a customer knew they would be hard to find after a certain amount of time, but I don't think anyone expected that two years after DC released Countdown to Final Crisis Vol. 4 in collection, the supply would winnow to only what's now on the shelves.

I fully grant, however, that this might be more than in part because Countdown to Final Crisis was far from a barn-burner, and that a copy of the book on Shakespeare & Co.'s shelf would only take up room for something else that might sell better or quicker.

I agree that DC isn't an archive, and their goal ultimately is to make money on the best-selling books, too. But, DC (and Marvel) present themselves as fictional "universes" -- and with endeavors like DC's Legacies, purporting that universe has a history but not making that actual history available puts lie to the idea of that universe. I recognize that constantly rebuilding their fictional history makes money for DC, just as I recognize they've no responsibility to have Final Night out there for one rainy day reader -- it's just my personal beef as a fan.

That's in part why I end by suggesting they make their collection digital, so there's availability but no warehousing fee, but I know this still comes with significant costs, too.

Thanks Shakespeare & Co. and thanks Caleb for your interest.

David page said...

The out of print problem is also shared with many 2000ad collections. The biggest most headscatching one being the third volume of Nikolai dante.