Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Some Kickstarter campaigns of note

I feel weird about Kickstarter, the crowd-funding site that some comics folks use to bring their projects to life, instead of going the traditional route of securing a publisher. 

I've backed a couple projects there before (some Jim Lawson comics, Mystery Science Theater 3000*) and been pleased with the results, so I'm not, like, opposed to it or anything, I just think it's weird when certain creators or certain projects show up there, given the fact that they seem like they should be the exact sorts of comics that publishers should be fighting one another to publish, rather than something that the creators have to turn to crowd-funding to produce. (That said, I suppose it just might be a weird prejudice of mine against crowd-funding as a publication model; perhaps there are reasons Kickstarter is more appealing to a creator than working with a publisher, I don't know. I didn't ask any of these creators.)

Case in point? Jeff Smith, the Eisner and Harvey-winning cartoonist extraordinaire whose resume includes Bone, RASL, Tuki: Save the Humans, Shazam! The Monster Society of Evil and Little Mouse Gets Ready, an artist who was on the pointy end of the spear of getting comic books in libraries and re-popularizing comics for kids again, is seeking to publish his early, pre-Bone (proto-Bone, in his words) college comic strip, Thorn, which used to run in the Ohio State University school paper The Lantern when Smith was a student there. (I've seen some of these in the 2008 book Before Bone, published in conjunction with his Wexner Center for the Arts show Jeff Smith: Bone and Beyond, and they're pretty fascinating to read in the context of the Bone that later saw print). 

One would think an artist of Smith's stature would have his pick of publishers, but Thorn: The Complete Proto-Bone Comic Strips 1982-1986 and Other Early Drawings is on Kickstarter. Again, maybe this is Smith's first choice, and he didn't even consider going with a publisher, but it strikes me as...wrong that a major publisher wouldn't want involved with the project, as relatively niche as it might be. 

As of this writing, there are 16 days left to go on the campaign. For $30, you can get a trade paperback version of the book, for $75 you can get a hardcover. 

If you've been a regular reader of EDILW for a long time now, you probably know my love of Kelley Jones' art knows no bounds, and little has excited me more than getting a new Kelley Jones comic, especially a new Kelley Jones Batman comic. In fact, I'm so fond of Kelley Jones that if Kelley Jones walked up to me on the street and asked me for, say, $50, I'd gladly give it to him. So obviously I was onboard with a Jones-related Kickstarter.

And this one looks like a doozy, as it also involves Dracula and cartoonist Matt Wagner (best known his Mage and Grendel, but, like Jones, he has plenty of great Batman comics to his name as well). Dracula Vol. 1—The Impaler is written by Wagner, drawn by Jones and will be the first in a series of graphic novels telling the life story of one of fiction's most famous characters. 

It seems like a perfect project for Dark Horse Comics or DC Comics, both of which have worked extensively with the creators in the past, or even Dynamite, where Wagner has been writing the adventures of other famous pop culture icons, like Zorro, The Shadow, The Spirit and the Green Hornet. Whatever though. Like I said, I would be happy to hand Jones money if he asked for it; if I got a Dracula comic by Jones and Wagner in exchange, well, who could ask for more?

As of this writing, there are 16 days left on the campaign. For $45 you get a hardcover version of the book, with either a Jones or a Wagner cover (I chose the Wagner cover, since I'd be getting all that Jones are on the inside).  

Finally, there's something that's only kinda sorta comics that is nevertheless near and dear to my heart, and was a big part in my falling in love with comic books in the first place: The old Palladium role-playing game based on Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird's original, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Strangeness

I and a friend of mine had played a little Dungeons & Dragons around the time we discovered these books, which featured black-and-white illustrations by Mirage Studios artists Eastman and Jim Lawson (in addition to being based on the early, Mirage issues of TMNT, they also included some short comics from Eastman and Laird, all of which I believe have since been collected repeatedly, including by IDW). 

Palladium quickly overtook D&D in our affections, and between us we had all five of the TMNT sourcebooks, plus a few of the related After The Bomb books, which also involved mutant animal characters. We were playing these as I was buying my first TMNT comics, which brought me into a comic shop and well, here we are thirty-some years later. 

I'm delighted to see that Palladium is bringing the books back in a pair of collections, even though I have some reservations about the way they're doing it; mainly, there will be new covers and everything will be color-ized, which, in addition to never looking quite right to my eyes (I didn't care for the colorized versions of some Mirage comics that IDW has published over the  years), means the Turtles will be wearing their cartoon colors, rather than all wearing red, as in the original color covers of the original black and white covers.

Luckily, they seem to have thought of the exact sort of snob that I am, as in addition to the new, colorized versions, they're also publishing black, white and red editions: "For those who want to enjoy a blast to the past version of the books more akin to the originals, this is for you." Neat! I backed at the level that would get me those versions of the two collections, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Strangeness and TMNT Transdimensional Adventures. 

As of this writing, there are 28 days left in this campaign, and there's a huge swathe of options of what you can get, from $50 for the Other Strangeness Collection all the way up to special dice and miniature figures. 

This is the end of this blog post, so you can now leave EDILW and head over to Kickstarter where you can support any or all of these worthwhile projects. I hope you will; I'd like to see them all reach all their stretch goals. 

*They're currently trying to raise funds for a fourteenth season, by the way, and they're doing it here, rather than through Kickstarter this time. 

Wednesday, October 04, 2023

A Month of Wednesdays: September 2023


G'nort's Swimsuit Edition #1 (DC Comics) Fare like this from my favorite superhero publisher doesn't exactly make me regret not visiting the comic shop every Wednesday any more. Originally solicited as G'Nort's Illustrated Swimsuit Edition (you can still see the original cover at comics.org, which I've posted below), DC apparently backed off too closely echoing Sports Illustrated, changing the title and its font before publication. 

Unlike most of DC's seasonal specials, 80-page giants containing eight to ten short stories, this one is mostly recycled material, collecting all of the publisher's swimsuit variant covers from earlier in the year. Variant galleries like this are, I think, not a bad idea, and there are certain titles and certain themes I wouldn't have minded a nice collection like this of, however the downside is that, because all of these have been previously solicited as individual comics covers, none of the images are really new or surprising.

They are all mostly okay, and they do feature the work of some of my favorite comics artists, including Mike Allred, Nicola Scott and Babs Tarr, among plenty of other DC regulars. The images are all mostly stately and tasteful, often to the point of sterility, with few really provocative images, with the possible exceptions of the contributions by Frank Cho, Tarr and maybe Scott (who approaches brokeback in her posing of Dick Grayson). 

More problematic are the pair of new comics included within. These are, to put it as blandly as possible, not very good.

The first is entitled "Baewatch" (get it?) and is the work of writers Julie Benson and Shawna Benson and artist Meghan Hetrick. It features a rather random assortment of supeheroines—Black Canary, Vixen, Poison Ivy, Batgirl Barbara Gordon and a Huntress—enjoying a day at Gotham City Beach, which the city made from land reclaimed from The Penguin. No sooner does someone remark that The Penguin is likely to retaliate somehow then the heroines note the presence of a nearby oil pipeline, and scouting reveals a bunch of SCUBA goons under the direction of the villain, wearing a one-piece swimsuit and floating in a bubble.

They save the day, make some jokes at the Penguin's expense, and return to enjoying a day at the beach.  What's problematic about that? Well, if you've read a comic book featuring Vixen since, say, the turn of the century, you'll be aware that artists generally depict her power—which is to mimic the abilities of animals—by drawing an image of the animal she's channeling in the background. It saves the writer having to have her explain in dialogue that she's flying using the abilities of an eagle every time she takes flight. 

The problem is that the Bensons, Hetrick and apparently even editor Katie Kubert have been misreading her powers, and thinking that, rather than artistic flourishes that appear in panels featuring Vixen using her powers, those flourishes are her powers, and that she creates images of the animals she's channeling, which she then can control, kind of like a Green Lantern manipulating light constructs. How else to explain the fact that, when Vixen uses the powers of a shark to investigate the pipeline, she's surrounded by a glowing yellow shark shape, a shape that she later uses to "bite"—again, she's not using the power of a shark's bite to let her bite like a shark, but the shark-shape does the biting—and, later still, Black Canary rides on the shark shape. 

It's weird.

And sure, this story is just an eight-page lark and yes, perhaps I am being the stereotypical nerd reader nit-picking a trivial aspect of it, but, on the other hand, knowing a superhero's super-powers is pretty much the most basic aspect of making a superhero comic, and it's unusual to see one of the biggest superhero publishers in the world dropping this particular ball in such an embarrassing fashion.

The second story reads so much like an inventory story, that I wonder if it was actually commissioned for this special, or if it was cut from one of the previous summer or Pride specials and just got used here. It's by writer Steve Orlando and artists Paul Pelletier and Norm Rapmund and entitled "Out There." 

The Authority's Midnighter and Apollo are enjoying a day at the Coast City beach in one another's arms—a sign in the background of one panel says its Coast City Pride—when Midnighter picks something up on the military bands. They don their super-suits over their bathing suits and head into action. It seems the ship the USS Incredulous is being attacked by a great ape. 

Apparently, the entire ship is one big prison for Doom Patrol villain The Brain, and his long-time ally Monsieur Mallah is trying to free him, making a point of telling the "World's Finest Couple" that Mallah and The Brain are a couple themselves—somewhere along the line, Grant Morrison's old Doom Patrol joke got taken seriously enough that the pair became a romantic coupling, so desperate for gay representation was the publisher once upon a time.  

Our heroes solve the villains' problem, but not in the way Mallah initially envisioned. And that's it. Orlando doesn't do anything particularly funny with the set-up—remember, there's a French-speaking gorilla in its eight pages—are anything particularly clever with the characters' super-powers. It's mainly notable as a superhero power couple vs. a supervillain power couple. Nice art by Pelletier and Rapmund, though. 

Also included in the collection is a prose piece that's supposed to be a journalist's interview with G'nort and the team at the magazine talking about his centerfold, followed by some magazine-like stats on G'nort and a repeat of the cover image, featuring G'nort in what appears to be a Justice League locker room. There's also a fold-out image which I guess is the real centerfold, but it's Poison Ivy by Jen Bartel, not G'nort.  

The whole affair is a great deal cheaper than the usual $9.99 that the seasonal special generally cost, but still, this was not $5.99 well-spent. 


Batman/Superman World's Finest Vol. 2: Strange Visitor (DC Comics) The second volume of Mark Waid and Dan Mora's Batman/Superman team-up title opens with a one-shot story resolving the issue of Robin Dick Grayson being lost in time during the events of the first volume; here, he ended up in the late 19th century, where he joined a circus, and where he has a mysterious murder to solve before he can let Superman and Batman return him to his own time. This issue is drawn by Travis Moore.

From there, the second volume begins in earnest with the next  full story arc (if you're wondering about the devil Nezha from the first volume, his story continued in Batman Vs. Robin, reviewed in the previous installment of this column). 

A teenager with a familiar origin story—his dying world is about to end, so his parents put him in a special shuttle and shoot him to safety on the planet Earth, where the sunlight gives him super-powers—enters Superman, Batman and Robin's world, although his origin story has a few notably twists from that Superman's, the first of which is that he's not from another planet, but from another Earth in the Multiverse. 

The heroes take him under their wing, as he adopts the persona Boy Thunder, and they take turns training him, while Supergirl talks to him about survivor's guilt and trauma, and Robin introduces him to the Teen Titans, as Waid and Mora continue to grow the new Silver Age their depicting in this title. (There's also a nice, surprising but very welcome appearance from another minor hero, called on for his specialty). Meanwhile, a team-up between The Key (who here resembles his 1997 JLA #8 makeover, rather than his real Silver Age appearance) and The Joker threatens Gotham City...and then the strange visitor himself, when they get him in their clutches, and seek to exploit the darkness in him for their own purposes. 

Boy Thunder, whose real name is David, ends up being another modern DC superhero, one who, as an adult, plays a key role in a Waid-written classic (This revelation, which might not have been completely necessary given the end of the book, is somewhat clumsily communicated). So if you're wondering why Superman had a Silver Age sidekick that no one remembers, well, that is of course explained as well.

As with the first volume of the series, this is pretty much perfect DC Comics superhero story-telling, from one of the writers who is best at it, and a tremendously exciting artist who breathes exciting new life into DC's stable of characters. 

Superman Vs. Meshi Vol. 1 (DC) Daily Planet reporter Clark Kent gets an hour for his lunch break, but given that he can go anywhere on Earth almost instantaneously thanks to flying at super-speed in his guise as Superman, he can have lunch anywhere in the world he wanted to. And lately he’s been really into Japanese food, flying to Japan–a three-second trip from Metropolis–to dine at chain restaurants there. That is the entire premise of Superman Vs. Meshi (that’s "Superman Vs. Food"), a delightfully weird new manga featuring the culinary adventures of the Man of Steel.

Clark Kent is in the middle of being scolded by boss Perry White when they’re interrupted by Clark’s grumbling stomach. He's dismissed to go get lunch, and he asks office crush Lois Lane to join him. She declines, and while he would normally be heart-broken, he's actually kind of happy. See, there's an all-you-can-eat yakitori lunch special at Torikazoku in Japan, and while it would be crazy for Clark Kent to fly there in an airplane to eat, it's no big deal for Superman.

"One Superman for lunch," he says, striding confidently into the restaurant, where they treat like any other customer ("They’re very welcoming here, even to someone who's clad in tights from the neck down," Superman thinks. "Maybe it's because cosplay culture has become prevalent in Japan, too.") As he waits for his order, the thinks of the first time he tried Japanese food, being gifted with some yakitori during a super-battle in Japan, and the flavor was so good it set-off his heat-vision. Since then, he's been coming to Japan for lunch as often as he can.

Each chapter of Superman Vs. Meshi, subtitled Superman Vs. Something-or-Other, finds Superman indulging in a new Japanese meal, spending most of the time talking to himself about how good the food is, how the components of the meal come together and work on his palette and so on. There's some traditional superhero action and Superman mythos maintenance in the set-ups, but the meat of each story is Superman's meal.

And so after an early-morning, rather boring meeting with the Justice League–the version here apparently inspired by that of the feature film–Superman flies to Japan for an "all-star tempura bowl," the "Justice League of tempura bowls," in which various ingredients are compared to each of the superheroes.

 In perhaps the most unusual World's Finest team-up ever, Superman whisks Batman from the high-end Gotham City traditional Japanese restaurant Bruce Wayne rented out so they could talk about justice (seriously) to Japan, where Superman orders for him. ("You're the Dark Knight… …so the black-vinegar-sauce chicken and vegetable set meal is obviously the only choice.")

When he arrives for lunch one day to find all the restaurants closed, he settles for a Japanese convenience store, only to discover they are nothing like those in Metropolis ("I thought I just stepped into an amusement park!").

And, in maybe the weirdest story of the batch, he goes to a sushi restaurant, only to find Aquaman loudly carrying on talking to the sushi; apparently fish can still speak to him after they've been cut up and prepared with seaweed and rice into lunch ("It’s a little hard to explain," Aquaman tells him. "It's like the ocean tells me everything. So I can hear the voices of the fish.")

One may not be all that interested in Japanese cuisine–that’s certainly not why I picked the book up–but chances are Superman's enthusiasm for the subject, and the slightly surreal juxtaposition of the world's most famous superhero acting as a point-of-view character introducing his unexpected new obsession, will win one over. It's a comic book unlike any that Superman has ever appeared in, and given the character’s 80+ years of comics adventures–not to mention television and movies–that in itself is something of a feat.

Sure, it's occasionally pretty silly–as when Superman tries his movie trick of reversing time to stop his crunchy noodles from getting soggy–but in the context of a standalone manga like this, it works perfectly well.

The artwork, by Kai Kitago, is a nice compromise between traditional Western style superheroes and manga, the story-telling following the rhythms and patterns of the latter; his Superman and Clark look like they are rather heavily influenced by Christopher Reeve. Whether one is already an experienced manga fan–and this does read right-to-left–or used to American Superman comics, this should prove a pleasant amusement. (Note: I had planned on reviewing this for Good Comics For Kids, but Johanna beat me to it; she seems to have liked it as much as I did, so there's two recommendations for you).

Zom 100: Bucket List of the Dead Vol. 11 (Viz Media) If you were worried the book was becoming a little too religious during the "Pilgrimage of the Dead" story arc, which started last volume and wraps up with two more chapters in this volume, writer Haro Aso and artist Kotaro Takata course-correct rather quickly with "Cruise Ship of the Dead," a two-part arc that finishes out this volume. In fact, the shift from the spiritual to the carnal is so sharp that a reader might be forgiven for experiencing a bit of whip-lash.

In the concluding chapters of "Pilgrimage," our heroes continue on their walk to visit 88 temples, running into trouble midway through when some escaped convicts discover that they are "rich" with canned goods and seek to rob them—and take Bea captive. Though they intend to rape her, they first interrogate her about the source of their wealth, which puts her in a bind, as she's not supposed to lie at all during the pilgrimage. Don't worry, everything works out okay for our heroes...and even one of the villains, who is visited by a kindness he doesn't seem to deserve, and may have restored his faith in humanity (gradually lost after a life-time of being taken advantage of).

And then, that arc, done, our heroes visit Onomichi City, where they take in the calm inland sea, half expecting to see a luxury liner cruising by...and then they do. A fancy yacht filled with scantily-clad hedonist invites them aboard ("Our only rule is that you like to party!"), an invitation Kencho is quick to accept, and the others more reluctantly do, since the boat's apparent captain mentions some researchers on an island, the object of our heroes' quest (when they're not ticking items off their bucket list, of course).

They're mostly all terribly out of place on the yacht's ongoing bacchanal, until a fairy tale-like twist introduces zombies into the previously zombie-free safe space of the boat (Oh, and apparently the water is no escape from zombies...not if they are close enough to you when they hit the water, anyway). There's some advancement of the barely simmering romance between Akira and Shizuka, and a cliffhanger that should force them to deal with their feelings for one another, as they wash up on a seemingly deserted island together, separated from the rest of the group.

I've seen what I assume are more than enough zombie apocalypses to last me a life-time, in manga and in other media alike, but I've yet to tire from Akira and company's adventures through this one.