Wednesday, February 29, 2012

One thing I've learned about comics and the Internet this week

After reading three (three!) posts on David Brothers' blog where Marvel editor Stephen Wacker showed up in the comments to fight it out with Brothers and seemingly all of Brothers' commenters (Post #1, #2 and #3, if you missed 'em), and a post on Brian Hibbs' Savage Critic site responding to some of the concerns in Brothers' original post about the consequences of Marvel's double-shipping certain titles in certain months that Wacker also showed up in the comments thread of, I'm wondering if maybe Wacker isn't the Marvel editor equivalent of that "Bloody Mary" urban legend.

You know, like if you mention him on a comics blog, he suddenly appears in the comments thread. I'm going to test it out.

Okay, ready?

Stephen Wacker...

Stephen Wacker...

Stephen Wacker...


Update: Well, nothing so far. Maybe I was wrong. I'm going to take my laptop into the bathroom, close the door, turn off the light and try reciting his name into the mirror while typing it into this post now. Just a sec.

Okay, I'm all set.

Stephen Wacker...

Stephen Wacker...

Stephen Wacker...


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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Yes, "mud"...

Gabby, the talking monkey sidekick of Jack Cole's Spirit clone Midnight, takes on the Nazis with whatever weapon is on hand in the story "War Over Iceland!" from 1942's Smash Comics #32.

Here's a panel from the very same story: You know, I'm a fairly well-read guy. I graduated from a private, college prep high school, and went on to minor in history at a good college. I also have two rather loquacious grandfathers who served on the frontlines of the European theater during World War II.

And yet, if it weren't for comic books, I would never have had any idea how deeply weird World War II actually was...

Monday, February 27, 2012

Wanda Gág's Tales from Grimm

As a children's author and illustrator who grew up listening to relatives reading her old world fairy tales and who could speak German herself, Wanda Gág was ideally, almost uniquely suited for the task of of translating, editing and illustrating collections of the Brothers Grimm's tales.

Two such volumes exist. The first was 1936's Tales From Grimm, in which the renowned author collected 16 different Grimm's fairy tales to freely translate into English and illustrate.

In her introduction, she explains the genesis of the project:

The magic of Märchen is among my earliest recollections. The dictionary definitions—tale, fable, legend—are all inadequate when I think of my little German Märchenbuch and what it held for me. Often, usually at twilight, some grown up would say, "Sit down, Wanda-chen, and I'll read you a Märchen." Then, as I settled down in my rocker, ready to abandon myself with the utmost credulity to whatever I might hear, everything was changed, exalted. A tingling, anything-may-happen feeling flowed over me, and I had the sensation of being about to bite into a big juicy pear.

When, four years ago, I was in the midst of a Hansel and Gretel drawing, the old Märchen magic gripped me again and I felt I could not rest until I had expressed in pictures all that Märchen meant to me.

She read them in their original German, and began by making literal translations of her chosen stories. Finding that some of the stories which seemed so simple and colorful in German turned "think, lifeless and clumsly" when translated literally into English, she decided to try and do a free translation of her own, seeking to preserve the flavor of the originals with her own English words.

Gág discusses her process quite a bit in the introduction to the first volume, why she made the choices she made and how the audience for fairy tales has changed even within her own lifetime.

I can't tell you how good a job she did translating the tales, or how some of her specific translation choices affected the stories, or how they might compare to different choices different storytellers have made over the years. While I've read all 16 of these stories elsewhere, generally in Andrew Lang's "color" anthologies, I think but also in various Grimm-specific collections, I don't know anywhere near enough about the tales to even hazard vague guesses in the direction of criticism of a particular translation or collection. (Not knowing any language but English doesn't help, either).

Among the more popular tales in this volume are "Hansel and Gretel," which leads off the collection just as drawing it set Gág on the path to making the book, "The Musicians of Bremen," "Cinderlla," "Rapunzel," "The Frog Prince" and "The Fisherman and His Wife."

A color illustration of a scene from Rapunzel is used on the cover, and provides a nice example of Gág's plump, young, child heroines and bent, crooked but well-dressed witches, as well as the same sort of dreamy, flowing landscape that was evident in Gág's picture books.

Above the table of contents is this image...It's simple enough in intent and construction, but almost baroque in the amount of swirly little images pouring out of the book at its center. Based on that single image alone, I think Gág succeeded in conveying through a drawing what reading her childhood book of fairy tales must have felt like.

There are a half-dozen full-page illustrations in the first book, and each story begins with a title page, bearing the name of the individual tale and a design-like image to suggest what will follow.

Here are a few from this volume: Smaller illustrations appear throughout the text of each story, and most will begin with an image similar in shape to the one above the table-of-contents, resting atop a block of text like a decorative piece.

Here, from the second volume, 1947's More Tales from Grimm, is an example, from "The Hedgehog and The Rabbit": And here are some of the larger illustrations from the first volume, one of Cinderella beneath her magic tree......(remember, this is a collection of tales from Grimm, not tales from Disney)...and here as an illustration from the climax of "Snow White and Rose Red"... My favorite image in this volume is perhaps a little illustration from "Three Brothers."

That is the story of a father with three sons he loves equally. Unable to decide which of them to leave his house to when he dies, he proposes they each choose a trade and go off to learn and master it, and then they would return and "he who has learned his trade best shall have the house."

One of the brothers has become a barber, and to demonstrate his skill,

He took his mug and soap, and quickly whipped up some suds while the rabbit was running toward them. Then, just as the rabbit ran past them at top speed, he lathered the little animal's chin and shaved it, leaving enough fur for a stylish pointed beard. All this time the rabbit had been running as fast as he could, and yet he wasn't cut in any way.

And this is the image that appears beneath that paragraph: I love everything about that picture, from the look on the rabbit's face, to the style of beard he's sporting to the way Gág expressed motion—you'll see speed lines around the bounding and astonished rabbit, as he apparently looks back at the barber who just shaved him while he was running by, but look closely at the rabbit's hindquarters, and you'll see Gág has drawn suggestions of after-images as well.

The second volume is a much bigger one, but a less complete one—there are over 30 tales included, but Gág passed away before it saw print. There's a long forward written by Carl Zigrosser, one of her two "literary and artistic executors" (with her husband Earle Humprheys being the other) explaining that "the text had reached the stage of final revision," and that while there were about 100 drawings to choose from, only about three-quarters were in their "final pen-and-ink form."

They decided that they were passable illustrations, and to proceed with using them. With many, a reader might not be able to see the difference, yet there are several that are exceptionally sketchy by Gág's standards.

Take, for example, this image that appears above the first page of "The Wolf and the Seven Little Kids": This was what Gág's images look like before completion, a sort of final draft. While it's not her best work, it is fascinating to be able to see a sort of in-progress image like this, and to be able to compare it to her other, more finished work.

Even the cover of More Tales has an unfinished, sketchy look—it appears to be an image from "The Star Dollars," in which stars rain down from heaven, becoming silver dollars before they hit the ground. As you can see, the shapes are quite indistinct.

The tales collected herein are probably a bit more obscure than those of the first. "Thorn Rose, The Sleeping Beauty" being the most well-known today, although "The Shoemaker and The Elves," "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" and the aforementioned story of the wolf and the seven little goats are probably still fairly well known. One of my personal favorites, "Jorinda and Joringel" is also in here, and I think "The Six Swans" is probably pretty well-known—if not in this exact form, then from other variants.

One of my favorite stories in this collection turned out to be—quite to my own surprise—was "The Mouse, The Bird and the Sausage." I've read this one before, but it didn't really strike me as terribly interesting. An anthropomorphic foodstuff—made from pieces of an animal, no less—living with anthropomorphic animals just never sat well with me, conceptually.

Gág's version opens like this:

Once there was a tiny cottage and in it lived no people, only a mouse, a bird, and a sausage. There they had kept house most joyously together for many years, and had even been able to save some money besides.

Each of the three cottage-mates had a daily task to do: The bird flew out to get wood for the fire, the mouse got water from the brook and set the table, and "the big, fat, jolly sausage cooked the meals.

If you're wondering hos a sausage cooks, well, when it's time for dinner, he gets into the pot and swishes himself a round a little in the soup or vegetables, "so as to salt or flavor them."


But Gág's drawing of the sausage is so charming! The three little friends' idyllic life comes to an end when the bird listens to some gossip from another bird, becomes convinced that the others are taking advantage of it, and so they all switch jobs and, as a result, die horribly.

Gág depicts her sausage moments before his rather predictable death, when he still looks cute and funny......Aw, look at his darling little shoes!

Gág does a similarly strong job in anthropomorphizing the stars of "The Straw, The Coal and The Bean."

Let's look at two more images from More Tales, which illustrate the unique nature of the book's illustrations, given there are some unfinished ones alongside finished ones within.

Here is an image from the climax of "Iron Hans":It's a fairly finished image, but there's still a degree of sketchiness to it, mainly in the shadows in the folds of the characters' clothes, and in the lines of their hair and on the ground they stand upon. It's all there, of course, but the line work isn't as crisp as usual, the image not as bold. I'm not sure how much more Gág had to do here, but it looks like an illustration some 90% or so finished, just missing the final touches.

Earlier in the book is a full-page illustration for "The Six Swans," and while it's a more ambitious image, filling a page and boasting a rather elaborate setting and background for its two characters, one can still see pencil guide lines around the girl and her hair:Note how finished the vegetation looks, too. In this image, the forest seems to be as important a character as the protagonist, and the secondary character who finds her hidden in a tree.

The Grimm's stories are well worth reading wherever you can find them, but obviously I recommend seeking out Gág's versions. There's a folksier, home-ier, more child-like feel to them than those lush, lavish illustrations you'll find in, say, the Lang color fairy collections, and it's interesting to see a writer translating and re-writing them and then illustrating them herself.

Essentially, Gág developed a dream project for herself, went ahead and did it and, in the process, demonstrated some of her greatest strengths...while accentuating the strengths of her source material.

Sunday, February 26, 2012


I kind of want a pair of these. I'd like 'em to run around the house in and make the little capes flap.

I think I would have liked 'em when I was a runner in high school (cross country and track), but the thing is, you'd have to be really, really fast to wear 'em. Like, if you wore them in a race, you'd look a little like an asshole, and if you were bad—like, if you didn't come in first place every race, or maybe in second at the absolute worst, you'd look like a total a-hole.

Given that, I probably only would have been able to wear 'em my senior year while running the 400-meter dash, which was my best event and which I tended to win all the time, but then, the little capes would probably offer a little drag, and the 400 is a short enough race—basically a very, very long sprint—that a second or two added to one's time for drag could end up losing you the race.

Anyway, to any family members who are accidentally reading my blog, remember, I have a birthday coming up...


Oh my God, was I actual right about something...? I'm not sure that the ICv2 article counts as proof, but the fact that a reboot of DC Universe continuity would make large swathes of pre-reboot, no longer relevant storylines collected in trade paperbacks less attractive to readers just makes sense. Classics and continuity-lite evergreens would of course be unaffected, but why on earth would you read, say, those old Blue Beetle collections is a new Blue Beetle series was overwriting them? (To answer my own rhetorical question, because they seem a whole lot better).

Anything JLA or Teen Titans related, recent big events like Brightest Day and Justice League: Generation Lost, 20 years worth of Flash comics, the majority of post-Crisis Superman comics...none of that stuff seems to "count" anymore.

At least for the moment. I do believe DCU continuity is going to de-reboot at some point...


Mark Millar, who talks about his comics almost exclusively in Hollywood and movie terms, and who has completely re-focused his comics writing from publisher-owned superhero franchise work to short, movie adaptation pitch-ready high-concept, creator-owned series, wants you to know that he hasn't gone Hollywood.


Last week's links post contained a couple of links to articles about Kevin Smith and at least one of his cohorts. Here's one I neglected, a September 2011 article from Flavorwire headlined "The Suicide Bomber: The Implosion of Kevin Smith", which details how the writer/director allowed his irritation at bad reviews of Cop Out to turn his Red State into a direct-to-DVD release (for all intents and purposes).

Writes Jason Bailey of it:
It is easily his finest film to date, but most moviegoers will remain completely unaware of it, because Smith has undercut its success at every turn with his own hubris, greed, or ignorance. Or, perhaps, all three.
The details of a tour in which various actors are left to wilt on stage while Smith takes questions from the audience are pretty cringe-inducing too.

(By the way, I kinda-sorta reviewed Red State on the blog here, although you'll have to scroll down quite a ways to get to it. Despite being square in Kevin Smith fan demographic, I was completely unaware of the film's existence until I saw its cover on the DVD at the library and picked it up, thinking it was some sort of modern horror movie/political take on The Most Dangerous Game)


Writing for The Oregonian, Steve Duin suggests Frank Miller might be fairly ill at the moment.

I hope Frank Miller's not really in too bad of shape, and I especially hope it's not something neurological, because then I'll feel pretty bad about all the times I've wondered aloud if he's lost his mind, given his weirdo paranoid Holy Terror and out-of-nowhere fantasy rant against his imagined version of the Occupy movement...


Cool. Sadly, they've already gone through the best part of the "First Class" story, in which Mags and Chuck just hang out, bromanicng each other, and trying to recruit mutants to their cause.

Maybe X-Men: First Class 2 can be set entirely within that one montage scene in X-Men: First Class....


Huh. Jim Lee said the greatest Darkseid story of them all is a story that wasn't a Jack Kirby one...? Weird.

I don't care for the construction of Lee's cover for the upcoming Justice League #6. It's laid out kind of weird. Like, it's hard to even see Cyborg on it...

I don't like Ivan Reis' variant cover for the same issue much better.

It looks like a detail from a Todd McFarlane Spawn comic...or one of those issues of Spawn after McFarlane left, and guys who used even more little lines took over the art.

I generally like both Lee and Reis' interior work these days, so I guess it's more cover construction. The thing I like about Darkseid visually is that he's basically like the silent movie Golem made the Boss of Evil, or a sort of evil monument to Evil, or even a living monument to himself. In a mini-dress.

These images make him look more...generic, I guess. A smooth-finished Thing with fire eyes, striking generic poses.


Whew! Wouldn't want a Batman comic to ship without a tie-in to that big owl-fighting storyline.

It's too bad they canceled Batman: The Brave and The Bold; they coulda had Sholly Fisch and Rick Burchett work up a story where Batman must team up with Earth-3's Owl Man or something...


Is it just me, or do they look like a bunch of assholes in this image?

Don't get me wrong, that can be a good look for the JLA—I like those Alex Ross posters where they look like a bunch of smug, assholes, too—but in this image they all just seem really, really, really...asshole-ish.

Aquaman looks like he's angry with me personally, like he read one of my negative reviews of his new book and isn't happy. And Superman...I don't know. Every time I've seen some of these new costumes, especially Superman's, I've been unable to shake the feeling that he's not the "real" Superman, but an Elseworlds version. Those costumes coupled with some of these expressions really emphasizes this League's look as not the real Justice League, but some sort of evil alternate League from the future or a different dimension.

(I assume they will have a Satellite base again? I liked the moon base the best, but I think there should be a rule where every time their HQ gets destroyed by a writer, the next writer has to think of a newer, cooler base in a location that hasn't been used previously. I wonder if New 52 JLA ever had a cave in Happy Harbor now, or if they went straight into an orbital satellite after fighting Darkseid five years ago...?)


I haven't linked to Tucker Stone in a while, so here's a link to his latest "Comics of the Weak" column, a good example of Tucker doing what he does best, starting with the too soon! headline, in which he goes there simply to call out a recent, shitty comic (I don't know, I guess it's shitty; he seems to think so, though The Onion's AV Club liked it...whose tastes do yours line up with more?), and his reference to the lauded Scott Snyder Batman arc about Batman fighting owls as "he hipster douchebag version of that old Batman mini-series by Jim Starlin, The Cult."

And here's Stone and Joe McCulloch reviewing a trio of new-ish movies, all three of which I can't wait to see.


Here's a pretty nice piece from Kelly Thompson about women in comics, with some nice images, like the chart-like image of female athletes, and some good quotes, like this one: "It’s important to remember that idealization of the form is not the same as sexualization of the form."


I hope creators and editors read Thompson's piece.

I think the folks at DC did internalize a lot of this sort of criticism prior to the reboot, and while they still have their "big, sexy problem" with certain characters, I wonder if that's them being terrible more than them not getting it.

Like, maybe the decision was made at some point that, "Okay, let's have some T+ ladies known for their provocative costumes and attitudes about sex, and have them serve as the focal points of all this icky stuff we've been inserting in all our comics these last five-to-ten years now, and maybe keep the random T-and-A out of Batgirl and Wonder Woman and Justice League and Birds of Prey."

I'm just guessing; I don't actually read most of their books anymore, so I'm going by flip-throughs, covers and reviews and reporting, but if the company's portrayal and usage of Catwoman, Starfire and Harley Quinn got worse after the reboot, many of the other female characters got better, less-revealing and more practical costumes.


One of the main points Thompson makes in that piece is that while most male super-characters are given idealized forms based on the bodies of athletes, while most female super-characters are given idealized forms based on the bodies of porn stars and supermodels.

During my life-time of reading, it seems like the specific type of athlete that most male super-characters are given bodies based on are weight-lifters and body-builders, with few, notable exceptions (John Romita Jr.'s slim Spider-Man coming to mind most immediately).

I think it would be fine for male artists to look to the bodies of female gymnasts, swimmers and dancers and martial artists for inspiration, or maybe soccer players and runners, depending on the heroine. But I hope few look to body-builders for inspiration.

That look has often seemed...wrong to me when applied to male superheroes. Like, Superman doesn't get his prodigious strength from his muscles, but because of crazy solar/gravity super-science powers.

Likewise, Wonder Woman need not have the body of a body-builder just because she has super-strength. Her super-strength is "magic."

I really liked H.G. Peter's Wonder Woman upon his original design, when she was almost waifish and girl-like. It really accentuated the wondrous nature of her power. Like, not only is this normal woman able to, say, lift an elephant over her head, but this frail-looking girl is lifting an elephant over her head.

I'm okay with Wonder Woman seen as more beautiful than built, patterned after a super-model or actress instead of an athlete (She was also magically made to be beautiful, after all), although I think she can look both beautiful and strong, as tons of artists have done over the years.

Wonder Woman as Barbie doll doesn't work, and Wonder Woman as small girl doesn't quite work anymore (due to all the interpretations in the years since Peter first drew her...the young girl who is nevertheless super-strong visual strategy works well for Supergirl and Mary Marvel though, who are girls rather than women)

I think the George Perez or Phil Jimnez designs are pretty spot on. And I've seen great J. bone and Darwyn Cooke Wonder Woman designs, too. Even Alex Ross' Wondy is usually pretty good, although his Wonder Women can sometimes creep me out with their Lynda Carter-ishness.

Anyway, Wonder Woman's the heroine I think of immediately when reading these sorts of discussions, and I think DC is—visually—getting her right at the moment. Her character still seems a bit off to me, but hers is one of the all-around best DC Universe books at the moment, so if DC wants her to be more of a warrior hero than a superhero these days, well, at least her comic book is good.


So have you guys been keeping up with the return of Shotgun Reviews this past week or so?

If not, you missed former "Best Shots" comics reviewer and former DC editor Janelle Asselin's two-part contribution, "What It Feels Like For A Girl (In Comics) Part 1 and 2.

It's...well, the word "Ugh" was the one that kept running through my head while reading her posts, and I felt really sad when I got done. But they are worth reading.

What's weird is that I'm really quite fascinated by the making of comics (I think more so in the "olden days", in a pre-digital, pre-"Everything's an IP" age, but I still want to know, like, what DC Comics' office looks like or to ride the elevators at Marvel HQ or whatever), but the more I hear about it, the more awful it seems.

And whether the stories about what making comics is really like these days, either from people who work in the field sharing negative stories, for the obvious reasons, or from people who work in the field sharing positive stories (which so often tend to seem fake and douchey).

It's weird hitting your mid-thirties and realizing a thing you wanted to do since you were a little kid probably isn't something you really want to do after all (like I need another thing to have a midlife crisis about...!)


Here's an interesting post from David Brothers at his site, discussing what Marvel's decision to ship their monthlies more-often-than-monthly is affecting the art of their line.

Once upon a time, when aritsts drew in house styles or from character designs, it really didn't matter so much who showed up to pencil a particular Archie or Superman short story. Like, kids could still tell when Carl Barks was drawing Donald Duck vs. someone else, and especially astute fans would notice, the fans who would grow up to be crticis and writers-about-comics and comics creators themselves, but I think by and large in old-school superhero comics, having a different artist show up now and then wasn't as big a deal as it is now.

Now individual styles are encouraged, and there don't seem to be any character designs for super-comics (Read every Batman comic form, say, March of 2009, and you'll find every single one has a Bruce Wayne with a different hairstyle, build and height, for example).

I don't read enough Marvel to care at this point, but seeing artists changing constantly in a book you're reading can be incredibly wearying, and something that would get me to drop a book eventually, unless all the artists are excellent and then, even if it's not ideal, that's probably okay (but how often does it happen that a book needs lots of fill-in artists, and all of the artists are equally as good as each other?).

It does seem like another instance of a short-term positive (more issues in readers' hands per calendar year means more $3 and $4 deposits from them in that calendar year) that adds up to a long-term negative (in addition to devaluing the artist and making ugly comics, as Brothers points out, it makes the product unattractive to more people...I would assume. Based on the fact that I hear folks complain about changes all the time, but never hear anyone say, "The thing I like about this book is you never know who's going to be drawing it next!")

Saturday, February 25, 2012

So what will Marvel Studios follow The Avengers movie with...?

Well, it looks like the Marvel movie universe is only one bearded demigod away from the line-up of the most sensational new super-group of all...

Coming in 2014! In my head!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Comic shop comics: February 29

Aquaman #6 (DC Comics) This is probably the weakest issue of Geoff Johns and company's new volume of the series. The artwork looks pretty off, with Mera—who takes the lead role in the story—looking strangely elongated and even somewhat misshapen. This is most likely due to the fact that regular pencil artist Ivan Reis is here credited with layouts, while regular inker Joe Prado is credited with finishes. I appreciate the attempt at consistency, but given the result, the title might have been better-served by a fill-in artist, as this particular story is something of a done-in-one, temporarily changing focus from the story of a no self-esteem asshole named Aquaman being pissed-off at the surface-worlders for not liking him as much as he wants them to, to focus instead on a no self-esteem asshole named Mera being pissed-off at the surface-worlders for not liking her as much as she wants them to.

(Now that I think of it, I wonder why it is that I like Namor's pissiness with the surface world, but don't like Aquaman and Mera's...? Is it that they seem to be more entitled and, well, douchey about it? More insecure than Namor, who seems to hate the surface world plain and simple, while the Aqua-people hate the surface world for not loving them...? Or simply that it was Namor's schtick first?)

Anyway, in this issue, Mera goes to a grocery store to buy dog food, and there she meets a comically, ridiculously sexually aggressive grocery store manager, who, within one second of meeting her, asks if she's biologically compatible and how her costume comes off, touches her hair and grabs her side. He does this after sexually harassing a co-worker, and, in both cases, in a grocery store full of other shoppers and employees, including at least one cop/security guard?

I see what Johns was going for, but its a little...much, and might have worked a bit better if Mera found herself in a bar or confronted by a drunk guy on the street, rather than a sexual predator in an apron at the grocery store.

The art doesn't help. I don't know if it was deadline pressure or what, but the art in the scene doesn't serve the story well. The manager tells his first victim that she'd look prettier with make-up on, even though she a) looks exactly like Mera, whom he's head-over-heels in desire-to-molest with, and b) sames to have the exact same amount of make-up on as Mera and all the other women in the book. Also, the grocery store seems to be abandoned—a better setting for his advances—up until Mera snaps his arm, at which point a panel reveals the store is jammed to the gills with other people.

All in all, it's a pretty skippable issue. The art's not as good, the writing's not as good, and doesn't advance the story of the last six issues, aside from revealing Mera's retconned origin (which is actually no longer a retcon, since DC rebooted their university between Brightest Day and the launch of this series) and showing that she's just like her husband, only maybe even more violent.

Captain America and Bucky #627 (Marvel Entertainment) Writers Ed Brubaker and James Asmus has Cap fight some robots, and some robots fight each other. It's pretty plot-heavy, with nothing much to it beyond that plot. Artist Franco Francavilla's artwork is the chief pleasure, my favorite parts being a sorta clever two-page spread in which the main panel is star-shaped, with smaller panels outside the borders of the star featuring Cap chucking various Cap-bots to the ground.

May favorite panel was one in which Cap throws a whole pile of shields at his foe. I guess his shield always bounces or circles back to him like a boomerang when he tosses it, so he doesn't really need it, but I think it'd be funny to see him always bringing along a wheelbarrow full of shields to pitch at especially resilient foes.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Meanwhile, at Robot 6...

Today at Robot 6, my column focuses on Nancy Goldstein's 2008 prose book about Jackie Ormes, Jackie Ormes: The First African American Woman Cartoonist. You can read it here.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


What's this?

Well, there' s a story behind it.

Troy Brownfield, a former colleague at Newasrama and friend of the blog, is launching a new webcomic entitle Sparkshooter next week. Troy's writing and artist Sarah Vaughn is drawing. (The Beat has links to two relevant interviews and the teasers, so I'll direct you there instead of re-linking to all the same places.)

To celebrate the launch, Troy resurrected Shotgun Reviews, and has been posting contributions from many of those who have written for the site in the past. My contribution is "The Lemur Rises," a one-page superhero gag strip that Troy and writing partner Matt Brady scripted as a bit of a lark when they were originally planning to pitch a Batman comic or something to DC (They ended up doing a short story in Batman 80 Page Giant 2011 #1, which I reviewed here, if you're interested).

They never ended up using the strip I drew, so whoever clicks on over to Shotgun Reviews now will be among the first to see it. When they conceived it, Batman Inc was just starting and the no one outside of DC's inner circle could have conceived of the New 52 reboot. The idea was to think of a joke international Batman, and The Lemur was their pitch for the Batman of Madagascar.

I had a lot of fun making it, as I got to pretend that I was a real, big boy, grown-up comic book least for an evening or two. They had a few ideas for what a costume should look like—they wanted a Captain America-like cowl with human ears sticking out of the sides—and so I spent one night drawing different versions of a superhero costume that seemed to say both "Lemur" and "Batman of Madgascar" (which, if you've ever tried to design a lemur symbol equivalent to Batman's chest emblem, you'll know is a lot harder than it sounds). And then they sent me a full script, so I got to try my hand at drawing something someone else wrote.

It was done on a piece of eight-by-eleven inch printer paper instead of index cards, which is what I usually draw on for the little strips I post here (and used to post at Blog@), but was draw in pencil and ink pen and colored with colored pencils as per usual.

Anyway, that's a whole bunch of words about that. Check it out if you like, and bookmark the site for Sparkshooter—it should be good, as you can probably tell from the art in the teasers.

But wait, there's more!

I have two posts of possible interest up at ComicsAlliance today.

The first concerns Archie Comics' latest headline-seeking storyline, in which the Occupy movement comes to Riverdale (which will feature at least one swell-looking variant cover from EDILW favorite Jill Thompson, whose renditions of the familiar characters are pretty amazing). Give it a read, and hey, good news! The comments thread below it isn't even toxic yet!

The second concerns an issue of Amazing Spider-Man shipping in May, by Mr. and Ms. Immonen—the pair answered a handful of questions about their issue, their guest-star and their collaboration. Read that too, if you like.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Marvel's May previews reviewed

Everyone knows the drill, by this point, right...?

• Spider-Man is stuck in a world where Peter Parker never existed!
• And reality is coming apart!
• Guest staring the Avengers!
48 PGS./Rated T …$3.99

More pages than the ASM one-shot below and the two bi-monthly issues of ASM solicited for May,for the exact same price! Is this a great value, or are all the other ASM comics incredibly poor values?

• From one “Ends of the Earth” to the other, Spider-Man isn’t the only hero fighting free the globe from Doctor Octopus’s treacherous tentacles in this extra sized story!
• And the dying doctor has some wicked worldly associates of his own.
• Guest staring: Big Hero Six and Union Jack
32 PGS./ONE-SHOT/Rated T …$3.99

I hope Spidey fares better against the Secret Six then whoever it is that's writing these solicitations this month is faring against the English language.

Avx: Vs #2 (of 6)
Fight Poster Variant by STEVE MCNIVEN
• The premier tie-in to AVENGERS vs. X-MEN!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99 (EACH)

Those…don’t sound like very fair fights, do they? I mean, I guess Spidey can maybe take Colossus if he stays out of arm’s length, but I can’t see a way for Gambit to not have his ass kicked by Captain America. Try turning his shield pink and explodey, Remy! Maybe that’ll work…?

• One of the Avengers must betray the team to fill their destiny with the Phoenix.
• A game-changer for the Avengers franchise...and it is not who you think!
• Comics legend Walt Simonson is back!!
32 PGS./Rated T …$3.99

You mean fulfill, right?

• Avengers versus the Zodiac! But who is behind the Zodiac?
• PLUS! The reappearance of a team of characters you’ve been clamoring for!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

The original Defenders? The Champions? The Headmen?

What’s up with the hammer in Hulk’s right hand? It looks like its handle has been inserted straight through the middle of his hand, rather than being held in his hand. I guess it’s probably a coloring mistake…?

• It’s lawyers in love as Matt Murdock finally makes some time for assistant district attorney Kirsten McDuffie.
• The best reviewed comic of the year continues as Waid and Rivera welcome aboard new artist Chris Samnee (Ultimate Spider-Man).
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$2.99

Actor Ryan Reynolds played Deadpool in 2009 film X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Ryan Reynolds played a guy buried alive in 2010 film Buried. And Dave Johnson draws Deadpool buried alive on the cover of Deadpool #54.


Say, Waid and Samnee could present a totally hardcore pornographic sex scene in this book, with full-frontal male and female nudity, even penetration shots, and as long as they do it all in “Daredevil vision,” it could still be totally PG, huh?

HULK #51 & 52
• General Ross is being haunted by ghosts from his past… but WHOSE ghosts are they?
• Red Hulk wants answers, but so do… RAIZO KODO and THE FORGIVEN?!?!
• Does salvation lie in the hands of the LEGION OF MONSTERS?
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$2.99 (EACH)

One of these days I really have to sit down and figure out what order to read what collections in to catch up with Parker’s Red Hulk comics…

Cover by LEE WEEKS • A five-part, weekly punch-fest that explores the ever-evolving relationship between the Gamma Goliath and Earth’s Mightiest Heroes!
• Hulk vs. the 60’s-era Avengers: Captain America, Iron Man, Giant-Man, Wasp and Thor!
32 PGS./Rated T …$2.99

Cover by LEE WEEKS
• Red Hulk vs. the 2000s-era Mighty Avengers…Black Widow, Wonder Man, Ares, Sentry and the Wasp!
32 PGS./Rated T …$2.99

Weekly? $2.99? Okay, I’m in—don’t let me down , guys!

MARVEL ZOMBIES Destroy! 1 & 2 (of 5)
Cover by MICHAEL DEL MUNDO • At long last! The BEST-SELLING Marvel Zombies franchise returns!
• A.R.M.O.R. is called upon to rescue a reality where the Nazis won WWII… with ZOMBIES!
• Howard the Duck brings in Nazi-fighter extraordinaire DUM DUM DUGAN and a squadron of fighters known as Ducky’s Dozen!
32 PGS./Parental Advisory …$3.99 (EACH)

The problem with zombie comics is so many people are making them that almost any twist you can think of has already been done. See how excited they are about that last bullet point, for example?

Let’s see what’s showing up in comics shops tomorrow….Oh, look!
NOV110695 NAZI ZOMBIES #1 $3.99

(That said, I totally have a high-concept zombie mash-up idea that would be very popular that no one’s used yet, but I don’t’ know what to do with it, as I don’t have any interest in drawing zombies, and it would take me like 10 years to draw an action/adventure/horror comic anyway)

Nice covers by Michael Del Mundo!

• Captain Marvel reborn to unite all Kree!
• Captain Marvel, The Protector and Ms. Marvel vs The Avengers!
• Who is Minister Marvel and why has he drawn the Phoenix to the Kree homeworld?
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

Captain Marvel reborn, huh? As a great man once said, “Fool me once, shame on…shame on you. Fool me…you can’t get fooled again!”

I’m pretty sure Kaare Andrews is trying to make me throw-up with his Ultimate Comics covers…

Say, I think Doom looks pretty good in white. That’s the cover for X-Men #29, by Will Conrad, by the way.

You just don’t see much hair-pulling in superheroine fights these days, so good on artist Mark Brooks, I guess.

Meanwhile, at ComicsAlliance...

I have a pretty big interview with EDILW favorite and Glory/Shadoweyes/Wet Moon/Water Baby/The Abandoned creator Ross Campbell up at ComicsAlliance today. You can read it here. It's pretty substantial, and well worth a read if you're a Campbell fan or interested in the way women are portrayed in comics or the design and drawing of comics characters in general.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Note: Last year's Incredible Change-Bots Two is just as incredible as 2007's original volume

The other day I was in a dollar store and was amused to find this Transformer robot in the toy section:So amused that I almost bought it, but ultimately decided I would rather have more money in my wallet than another Transformer toy I'm too old to play with collecting dust. As you can hopefully tell from the cellphone pictures I took, his name is Ejector, and he transforms into a toaster.

I don't remember seeing him in any of the movies, but I assume he was in one of the first two, probably during one of the "funny" bits I blocked out of my memory.

I tried to remember if there was a robot that turned into a toaster in Jeffrey Brown's strange nostalgia parody/celebration of the original Transformers cartoon/pleasure of playing with toys as a kid, The Incredible Change-Bots, as it seemed like there probably should be one: I know he had a microwave character named Microwave who, like the Decepticon tape recorder Soundwave housed smaller robots within himself, although Microwaves robots were little robots who could turn into a package of microwave popcorn and a bowl of soup, and they were named Poppy and Soupy, respectively.

That's when I realized that by some strange oversight I never actually read Brown's sequel to The Incredible Change-Bots, The Incredible Change-Bots Two.

So I ordered it and, upon its arrival, I sat down to read them both back to back.

There is no toaster character. The only robot that can transform into a common household appliance to appear in the second volume that wasn't in the first volume is Laptopor (You can probably guess what he turns into).

As someone who grew up watching Transformers every day after school at 4:00 p.m. (and G.I. Joe every day at 4:30), and whose birthday and Christmas wishes revolved around their toy line (along with those for G.I. Joe and He-Man), I was a big fan of Brown's original book. The situational humor and gags were funny by themselves, although the many digressions spent on exploring questions the cartoon raised were certainly the highlight for me. You know, why were the Transformers fighting in the first place, why didn't the Autobots ever give chase to the Decepticons after defeating them, why were fleets of random vehicles with no drivers considered "disguises" and so on.

Brown further gave his characters the sorts of names and designs that made them seem like they came out of his childhood notebook—there's a Megatron analogue named Shootertron, for example, and a race car named Racey—that gave the endeavor a refreshing naive quality. While the characters were analogues to Transformers characters, they weren't analgoues in the way that, say, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' Watchmen characters were inspired by the Charlton characters, or even the more obvious and clumsy ways that some of Mark Millar's more recent high-concept, "twist" characters are stand-ins for Captain Marvel and Batman.

The best, most touching part of the Change-Bots, however, was the way Brown captured a sense of play in his narrative, from the sound-effects ("Bew! Byew!") to characters calling time-out in a battle because their arm is stuck or because it takes a while to set up their accessories.

The original was a pretty complete story, and did all of the above in a satisfying manner, ending with the warring robot tribes leaving Earth forever. It didn't exactly scream for a sequel, but hell, Michael Bay made three Transformers movies so far, and they've all been just awful, so why can't Brown do a sequel to a good narrative featuring warring robot clans on earth?

In the sequel, the heroic Awesomebots and the evil Fanstiscons are traveling through space together, looking for a new home (having long ago destroyed their home world of Electronocybercircuitron). The only Change-Bot left on earth is the evil Shootertron, who was seemingly destroyed after a climactic battle with his brother, Awesomebot leader Big Rig.

He's survived, but is now amnesiac, and is taken in by a kindly old couple in the Midwest, and they raise him as their own. He eventually recovers his memory though, just as the Change-Bots re-crash on planet earth, and their ages-old struggle begins anew.

Brown's art is slightly sharper in this volume, although it retains enough of it's primitive, home-made quality that it doesn't lose any of the charm of the original's slightly rougher art. With the broad, foundational elements of the inspiring franchise addressed in the first volume, here Brown is free to indulge in more awkward humor, faux melodrama and cycle through various, distinct elements of the Transformers, including the Headmasters, the ineffectiveness of fighting human beings with laser beams (mirrors thwart least until they decide to use their giant robot fists to pound the puny humans), the badges/decals used to differentiate Decepticon from Autobot, the later addition of giant robots to the line and, to my great personal excitement, Change-Bot analogues for the called "The Fantastinsectors," and Dinobot analogues......the, um, "Awesomesauruses."

Though the ending of this volume seems pretty final, and Brown has a lot on his plate these days, including work on a feature film (sadly, it's not an adaptation of Incredible Change-Bots), it does end with a "Probably to be continued...!" box, so there will probably be more some day. Brown hasn't even made any combining robot team jokes yet, so there's certainly more for Brown to cover.

Sunday, February 19, 2012


Tom Spurgeon waited almost two weeks for the "DC does more Watchmen!" announcement dust to settle, amusingly refusing to even use the words on his site when linking to various coverage, calling it "DC's new publishing initiative" and suchlike instead, before offering any of his own thoughts on the rather troubling matter, which he finally did with last week's "Twenty-One Not Exactly Original Note on More Watchmen, Written At A Slight Remove".

It's a pretty great piece and, despite giving the rest of the commentariat a good, long head start, he still got to use a great pun at the conclusion, which I don't think anyone else managed to beat him to. Here's a pretty great one-sentence distillation from earlier in the piece: "Ten days or so past the official announcement, I'm thinking More Watchmen may be best understood as a blow to comics' dignity."


I would now like to take a moment to apologize to Sam Henderson, Tom Spurgeon and Doctor Manhattan for the image above.


Talk about weird timing.

Marvel Publisher Dan Buckley recently told Comic Book Resources that they don't really do crossover events, "which is when you make a reader buy four or more different titles in a specific order to get the whole story." David Brothers was a little bewildered by that, and spent a few minutes googling to come up with one billion examples of Marvel doing the same sort of crossover events Buckley said they didn't do (I discussed this in last week's links round-up, when I wondered what Marvel's audience might consider worse: the idea that Buckley was purposely lying to them, or the idea that Buckley was so unfamiliar with Marvel's comics that he honestly didn't realize that Marvel did that very type of crossover on various scales more or less constantly).

This week Marvel announced the "Exiled" crossover event, that will launch in a one-shot and then continue with four more chapters, appearing in alternating issues of Journey Into Mystery and New Mutants. They did so pretty publicly, as part of their "New Big Thing" announcement program.


God, I love Golden Age superheroes...


Last week Brian Hibbs kinda sorta reported on his rather foggy memories of DC's presentation to the ComicsPRO retailer organization, regarding the results of the market research they did in conjunction with their "New 52" initiative.

Wrote Hibbs:
DC is actually going to release the full results of the Nielsen data, generally. Next week or something — they showed us slides, and some of that has been reported anecdotally, but we were assured of a FULL release of ALL data to ALL retailers, not just ComicsPRO.

Which means everyone in the world is going to see it soon.

This is AWESOME on DC’s part; and when it happens, all you internet pundits should try really hard to NOT be assholes about the data points, and, y’know, maybe THANK THEM for sharing something very very expensive, instead of complaining about things you don’t like about it.

Too late! Sorry, DC, and thanks for letting us know that the initiative failed to find new readers in new demographics (even though it totally depressed the hell out of me).

No, seriously, I think that, given the expense and the once-in-a-life-time elements of the relaunch, DC only got one shot at this—it was their hail Mary—and if it wasn't a thunderous, long-term success that brought waves of new readers crashing into the direct market, then it was a failure, despite how successful it looks/is/was in the short term.


A new, heavily-scripted sounding reality show entitled Comic Book Men apparently debuted within the last seven days or so in the plum, right-after-Walking Dead time-slot on AMC. As it was the product of Kevin Smith, a member of the comic book community that tends to evoke strong, mixed emotions and reactions from his fellow comics fans, it was probably always going to be somewhat controversial among comics people—and, by "controversial" I of course mean that those who are still die-hard Kevin Smith fans were going to love it, everyone else was going to hate it and "civilian" audiences were going to look at it with their heads cocked and then move on, as with most of Kevin Smith's works.

Reading The Beat's review, I get the sense that the show was about as interesting as it sounded.

Maybe it would have been better if it followed Mike Sterling around instead of the guy that manages Smith's shop...? I like Sterling's occasional retailing stories, which are usually pretty funny.

Of course, they are occasional. Retail interaction in any place of business is occasionally funny and entertaining...but only occasionally. Otherwise, it's like being at work, right? (So, for example, the scenes in which the clerks in Clerks interacted with their customers were funny, but, whether they were based on real interactions or not, they were heavily concentrated into a film-length narrative—working at a convenience or video store isn't actually all that fun, and watching other people do it is even less so).

I didn't say anything about the series at all when it was announced, as I didn't really care, nor did I say anything about it when the title was announced, which brought about a bit of negative reaction from quarters of the comics blogosphere (due to its girl-less-ness and the fact that it seemed to be reinforcing stereotypes about comics as a boys-only clubhouse.

That was because I honestly don't care all that much about reality shows that don't involve stars dancing, or cable television in general, or Kevin Smith brand extension. But after reading The Beat piece and thinking about what I'd heard in the past, all of the really popular reality shows tend to have attractive girls (and/or boys) in them, don't they?

And by "popular" i mean shows I've heard of...and hear family members and co-workers talk about with some regularity (Jersey Shore, American Idol, Dancing With the Stars, The about toddlers, maybe? And isn't there one about cakes or something...?)

The only reality show I watch—well, watched, I don't have a television anymore—was Dancing With the Stars, and that was/is full of attractive ladies (and guys) in fancy dresses (and other outfits).


Well, no need to give The Beat the last word in the discussion of whether or not Comic Book Men is an entertaining television show or not, as ComicsAlliance's Chris Sims has since penned "Kevin Smith's 'Comic Book Men' Is a Compelling Argument Against Comic Book Stores."

Yes, but based on the images of the show I've seen on the Internet, it is a compelling case for beards.


One of the guys in the show, the one with the beard, apparently didn't care for Sims' review, and wrote CA to let them know. You can read his message in its entirety here.

It's pretty awesome, as Bryan Johnson belittles Sims and/or CA for being beneath his notice, in a message he composed and sent to CA after reading Sims' story on it, splits hairs over whether or not he called a girl mentally ill or not (he didn't use the words "mentally ill," he only said she should be scooped up in a butterfly net and hauled off, the way men in white coats treat the mentally ill in old 1940s cartoon shorts, challenges Sims to a fight and asks him to "hook a bother up" with CA's editor in chief, because she has a nice smile.

If Sims and The Beat's reviews weren't enough of an argument to avoid the show, Johnson's missive oughta do it. The very best part is where he says to Sims, "You know how the show SHOULD have been made but shockingly no one approached YOU to make one. Nor did you have the juice to get in a room to pitch one."

Every single story I've read about Comic Book Men since it was first announced, before it even had that title, mentioned its origin thusly: AMC knew Kevin Smith was into comics and makes movies, so they approached him for some sort of comics-related content to follow up based-on-a-comic show Walking Dead. Johnson is friend with Smith and runs the show Smith owns for him. So it's not like Hollywood knocked down Johnson's door and asked him to do a show, or that he had "the juice" to get in "a room" and pitch it either, is it? (Please note: "the juice" and "a room" are Hollywood lingo for...I don't know what. I'm not Hollywood enough to even know).


Abhay's response, in which he notes that Johnson and the elements of his missive makes him seem like, as Abhay says, "everyone in comics...anymore...I feel like I should be wishing him luck on Avengers Vs. X-Men."

I bet Kevin Smith's tweet-stream has more followers than Abhay's Tum-blar has tumblers though, so Johnson's letter is automatically funnier than Abhay's jokes, according to mathematics.


I posted this link back in November, but it seems relevant to revisit, given the reaction to criticism by one of Smith's inner circle this week, so here, again, is Sam Adams' "Kevin Smith's Army: How his loyal fans prop up a stunningly mediocre career" from Slate magazine. In the article, Adams noted that Smith's incredible popularity with single, loyal demographic allows him to media empire-build, with new ventures supported by enough of that group that even his worst failures generally have soft landings. In a way, that's good for Smith as a person. As an artist, it's probably terrible for Smith and his body of work (and, eventually, his legacy), as it makes him so comfortable, he has little to challenge him save his own ambitious and initiative, and he's not the worlds most ambitious writer or director or comedian or...whatever he is now. (Mogul? Celebrity? Brand?)


By the way, Slate didn't like Comic Book Men either. TV critic Troy Patterson writes:
In recent years, because of novelists like Michael Chabon and Jonathan Lethem, because of the mainstream success of innumerable movies featuring caped crusaders, and because of the excellent work of the heirs of Art Spiegelman, comic-book culture has become respectable. Comic Book Men sometimes proceeds as if its mission is to restore that culture's bad name.
Sure, but how many people listen to Patterson's podcast...?


Wanna read about The Owl? Sure you do. In fact, here's a whole Owl adventure.


So when I first read the headline "Jonathan Hickman and Sam Humphries to Co-Write 'Ultimate Comics Ultimates'", I thought it said "Sam Henderson" instead of "Sam Humphries, and I got really excited, because how cool would Sam Henderson's Avengers be...?


Well, I was surprised to learn tonight that the new Ghost Rider movie opened a few days ago, which just goes to show how plugged in to movies I am these days. I also just found out—or maybe I knew before, and then forgot, only to learn it again as if it was new information—that not only was the film to star Nic Cage again, it was directed by the guys who made Crank and Crank 2, two of the best American action movies I have seen in the last few years.

So this new movie starred Nicolas Cage, was from the people who brought us the Crank movies and was about a stunt motorcycle rider with the superpower to turn into a skeleton on fire—it was pretty much the greatest movie of all time, right?

This piece in The Atlantic (The Atlantic!) lays out why there was/is reason to hope: "There's no promise that Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance will be a good movie," writes Scott Meslow, "but if it's bad, it will almost certainly be bad in a more interesting way than its by-the-numbers predecessor."

I haven't seen it, but early reviews seem to indicate that it is bad after all, and not necessarily in very interesting ways. The source of film criticism I trust and consult the most these days is The Onion's AV Club, and there film critic Nathan Rabin notes that "The 2011 sequel is even more promising in the abstract...Yet instead of elevating the franchise, Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance ends up squandering even more potential."

And I didn't even read past the headline of this review, but man, look at that headline.


Try to wrap your head around this fact: Not only did they make a Ghost Rider movie before they made a Wonder Woman movie, they made two Ghost Rider movies before they made a Wonder Woman movie.