Monday, June 30, 2008

Cover Up: Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars #10

In the pantheon of comic book villainy, Doctor Doom stands alone.

Sure, the Red Skull is the classic Nazi sociopath and Lex Luthor is the consumate mad scientist with an ax to grind, but Victor Von Doom has always been my favorite bad guy. Combining high technology with a medieval flair and a working knowledge of sorcery, there's very little he can't handle (and he'll let you know it).

Which is one of the reasons I like this cover by Mike Zeck so much.

In Marvel's Secret Wars maxi-series, Doctor Doom decides he's had enough of the god-like Beyonder's games and dares to challenge the cosmic being. And as you can probably tell, things don't look like they're going to go Victor's way.

Many of the covers in this series were as corny as the story itself could be, with a metric ton of various heroes and bad guys crammed on the front of almost every issue. But this one was different, showcasing the ultimate bad guy on the cover to Secret Wars #10 and summing up everything you need to know about Doctor Doom; the genius, the power, the sheer defiance that defines him, while also showing that beneath it all, he's still just a man.

Just a man? Looking at this cover you can almost hear it: "Fool! I am no mere man — I AM DOOM!"

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Artist Michael Turner, 37, passes away

Michael Turner, the well-known artist whose distinctive style could be found on a host of comic book covers and which drew readers to titles including Witchblade, Superman/Batman and his creator-owned Fathom and Soulfire, died Friday (June 27, 2008) after an eight-year fight with cancer.

Turner was only 37, making his sudden death even sadder when you consider he likely had a long and productive career ahead of him. My condolences and best wishes go to his family, friends and fans.

For more details on Turner, his career and some nice remembrances from those who knew him, there are articles at Newsarama and Comic Book Resources. The publishing company he founded, Aspen Comics, is also asking people to consider making a donation to the American Cancer Society or the Make-A-Wish Foundation; the two charities were chosen by Turner, and contributions can be made in his name.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Friday Night Fights: Let's get Freako!

Judging by the creator's letter at the end of The Nearly Infamous Zango #3, the self-published title is looking at an uncertain future. Which means if you haven't jumped on the Zango bandwagon yet ... well, what are you waiting for?

Need more convincing? Let me break down the numbers for you:


You can read more about Lord Zango here, and you can even check out previews at Rob Osborne's site — so get to it! Save Zango!! And maybe — just maybe — save your soul.

You know Bahlactus would want you to do it.

Following a link? Read more of Great Caesar's Post here!

Panel from The Nearly Infamous Zango
Rob Osborne, writer and artist

Continuity and Kool-Aid: Remembering what matters

You can trace my love of comics to a utility bill.

Back in the stone age of the 70s, it was still a normal thing to go to actual buildings downtown to pay for the water, gas and electricity that was pumped to your house the month before. I don't know if my parents ever noticed, but I loved it when it was time to pay the bills because that meant trips to the city's main library and — more often — my aunt's used bookstore.

Obviously, I was the biggest nerd in my neighborhood.

Rather than drag a restless kid around downtown El Paso, my parents realized I could spend entire afternoons happily squirreled away in a corner of the bookstore. And my aunt realized I could probably spend days in that corner if I was given a stack of comics to read.

Fueled by cookies and Kool-Aid and an overactive imagination, I soon became lost. Suddenly my world was filled with exploding planets and radioactive spiders, lassos made of truth and lonely scientists cursed by their inner rage. And I became enamored of characters and concepts that now seem obscure, or at least throwbacks; I ransacked the House of Mystery and House of Secrets, scaled walls and solved crimes with the Human Fly, explored the depths and dangers of the ocean with Stingray, and learned from Sgt. Rock that nothing is ever easy in Easy Company.

Many of the characters I loved then have found new life in reboots (I was thrilled when The Human Target made a reappearance) and black and white collections like DC's Showcase line and Marvel's Essentials. Thanks to these, I've been able to not only revisit half-remembered titles but to also get more background and depth than I ever did by reading random issues at a card table in a back room.

But I've noticed something — I rarely read those collections with the idea of filling in blanks. Mostly I pick one up and read stories at random, which is easy since they come from a time when the done-in-one was the norm. And continuity? Usually anything that references a past story is taken care of with an editor's note, and if not can easily be ignored. Enjoying the story doesn't depend on knowing that Superman threw Luthor's pimento loaf sandwich into the sun that one time.

I started thinking about this after reading Devon's post over at Second Printing, where he talks about his seven-year-old nephew bouncing along the four-color landscape like an astronaut on the Moon, unburdened by the weight of continuity and What Came Before. Devon is so impressed by this that he's decided to keep as open a mind as his nephew.

There's been a lot of talk about continuity surrounding the Big Two for a while, thanks to continued mucking around and reboots and Crises and One More Days. And if something is radically changed from past iterations, people freak out. If something else leans heavily on stories and characters out of the dollar bin, people freak out.

Yes, it can be frustrating. It can be annoying. It can even be insulting. But sometimes —just sometimes — I think we get in our own way. It's easy to take our comics so seriously we forget to enjoy them. Things don't always make sense in comic books, and I'd argue that it's always been that way. We've just forgotten what little difference it used to make.

Before anyone gets the wrong idea: I don't think comics should suddenly become even more of a hodge-podge of concepts and broken story lines than they already are; readers deserve better than that. But does it really matter if Superman doesn't line up with Action? The big concepts should stay the same, but it's too easy to get bogged down in the details. As long as things don't massively and stupidly contradict each other, I'm willing to gloss over that pimento loaf. I don't even care if Luthor skips lunch altogether.

Does this make me a bad comic book reader? Old-school to the point of being out of touch? I don't know. I'm certainly no apologist for bad storytelling. But I'll freely admit that my opinion is fluid — depending on the story, continuity is extremely important. But sometimes it's not. I think it's worthwhile to recognize (and admit) the difference.

Tastes change, and our palates become more sophisticated with experience; that's essential to the much-needed growth and diversity of comics. It's part of a healthy comic book reader's diet. But we can't forget that at one time, we were in love with cookies and Kool-Aid.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Pull List (6-25-08): I really should be working right now

So real life — or more specifically, the Real Job — has been keeping me busy lately, so this pull list is going to have be even more basic than usual. I mean, ba-sic. But if you think I'm missing something I should absolutely be picking up (or you can't believe I'm getting that comic, because, seriously, what?), let me know in the comments.

But for now — to the list!

Getting ...

Captain America #39

Conan the Cimmerian #0

Daredevil #108

Final Crisis #2

Immortal Iron Fist #16

The Nearly Infamous Zango #3

Maybe ...

Gantz Vol. 1

Madame Xanadu #1

Trading up ...
(Titles I either am, or will be, picking up in trade)

Green Lantern #32

Jack of Fables #23

Jack of Fables Vol. 3: The Bad Prince

Wasteland #18

Recommended ...

Demo (trade paperback)

Umbrella Academy Vol. 1: Apocalypse Suite

Monday, June 23, 2008

Cover Up: Iron Man #165

Click to Tony's Ego-size!

I don't have anything pithy to say about this cover by penciler Luke McDonnell and inker Steve Mitchell — I've just always thought it's cool as hell.

And it looks like Tony's in pretty bad shape, right? One of the things I like most about superhero comics is that sense of excitement they can create by making you ask, "What's going on?!" and "What's going to happen next?!"

This cover has always done that for me, even though I've read the not-so-great story inside about a hundred times.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Friday Night Fights: Proteck ya neck!

Awwwwwwwwwwww ...

... HELL NO!!!!

Dedicated to that galactic cat, Bahlactus!

Following a link? Read more Great Caesar's Post here!

Panels from Felt: True Tales of Underground Hip Hop
Jim Mahfood, writer and artist

What if ... DiDio didn't run DC?

So rumors have been flying all week about the possibility that Dan DiDio is in imminent danger of getting the ax. Comments made by legendary writer Chuck Dixon helped turn the usual smoldering speculation into a gossip-fueled brushfire, and I haven't seen anyone say that it's not a real possibility that DC's senior vice-president and executive editor could be fired.

I'm not going to get into the question of whether or not it would be a good thing to show DiDio the door (there's a tongue-twister for you). Editorially it's almost a matter of opinion reflecting whether or not you like the kind of stories DC's been putting out; in my opinion, that's been a mixed bag, at best. Financially ... well, it's hard to argue that Marvel isn't doing pretty well.

At the core of all the speculation, and any final decision the folks up in the Time-Warner Tower of Doom end up making, is this question: Where do we want DC to go?

Which is the same question I have as a reader and a fan of comics, and I'm curious to hear your opinions: If Dan DiDio were to be fired, what changes would you like to see take place at DC? What DiDio driven directions (again with the alliteration) would you like to see reversed? A lot of people seem to assume that things at ol' Detective Comics would automatically be better with his ouster, so how do we define "better?"

So tell me what you think: Where do you want DC to go?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

WTF Wednesday: Top o' the Skrull Home-world, Ma!

Hey, remember when a bunch of Skrulls decided they wanted to look and act like gangsters? I wonder where those intergalactic conquerers got that idea?

Click to Super-Skrull size!

Waaaait a minute — whadya think I am, some kinda mook? What could possibly explain the Fantastic Four (oh, and that Crystal dame) putting the lean on a couple of Skrulls in the back of a flying Model-A?

Oh, yeah ... STAN LEE and JACK KIRBY.

Panels from Fantastic Four #75 (1978)
Originally published in Fantastic Four #93
Stan Lee, writer; Jack Kirby, artist; Frank Giacoia, inker

Monday, June 16, 2008

Prediction: The Spirit is gonna blow

Frank Miller's Sin City-fication of The Spirit for the big screen seems to be rolling right along, and in what passes for the usual with Miller, the latest movie poster isn't very subtle about it.

On his production blog, Miller has gone on about how his movie is going to be an updated extension of what he knows was Spirit creator Will Eisner's intent. Well, guess what? I may not have been mentored by the comic book legend, but I'm pretty sure he never intended to portray all women as hard-edged hookers. Or just, y'know, slutty.

Don't get me wrong — I'm all for the beautiful women. Hell, the more, the better. But Eisner's stories were never about the awesome-cool bad-ass from Monochrome City and his loyal army of whores; they were about people being people just like anyone else, for better or worse.

I don't think Frank Miller — or anyone else — should just mindlessly ape Eisner's style, or even sensibility. But don't strip-mine someone else's well-established work just to stroke your own ego (or whatever) and leech it of all the things that made it popular and unique in the first place. Especially if you're going to do it in a way that panders to the worst stereotypes about the comic book community at large.

Hey, you hear that? That's the sound of all the goodwill comics (and their fans) got from Iron Man being flushed down the toilet.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Friday Night Fights: Black Panther's Five Knuckles of Truth

And don't even think about getting one past Bahlactus.

Following a link? Read more Great Caesar's Post here!

Panel from Marvel Team-Up #20
Len Wein, writer; Sal Buscema, artist

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

WTF Wednesday: Is a high-caliber walrus too much to ask for?

Thanks to his role in the recent Star-Lord mini-series and now the Guardians of the Galaxy ongoing, grateful readers are being reintroduced — or meeting for the first time — what may be Bill Mantlo's greatest creation.

Am I talking about the Micronauts?


Surely I must mean Rom!

ROM! Greatest of all spaceknights!

But no. I'm talking, of course, about Rocket Raccoon, the kick-assingest space-cop to ever knock over a garbage can! Originally created by Mantlo and Keith Giffen (and later immortalized in a limited series illustrated by Mike Mignola, of all people), Rocket Raccoon is a caretaker of the insane and a killer of robotic assassin clowns, and that is nothing but pure awesome.

But as much as I love Rocket, and as excited as I am to see him back in full furry action (um ... ew ...), I have to wonder: Whatever happened to Wal Russ?


Panels from Rocket Raccoon #1 (of 4)
Bill Mantlo, writer; Mike Mignola, artist; Al Gordon, inker

Monday, June 9, 2008

Cover Up: The Mask Returns #4

So — is this a static image or not?

Click to Big-Head size!

I've mentioned before that I'm not a big fan of static images being used for comic covers. Alex Ross' work on JSA comes to mind, and even his more recent "action" covers feel kind of lifeless, almost as if everyone was caught in a pose more than in the middle of actually doing something.

I don't get that feeling from Doug Mahnke's cover to The Mask Returns #4. As the cover for the final issue of a four-issue mini-series, this one just let it all hang out compared to the first three. Which isn't to say the other covers weren't pretty over the top; plenty of bullets piled up, busty ladies made an appearance and, in the case of issue #3, both happened at the same time.

But this cover really captured the manic rage that defined this series and the character of The Mask (even though the whole gimmick is it's never the same person for long). The bloody wounds are the obvious attention-getters, but the more you look at it the better it gets. At first it looks as if The Mask is just gritting his teeth, but he's actually grinning so hard his teeth are starting to crack! The tiny nose and huge brow are bunched up in almost animal fury, and you can see the unstoppable Walter's advance reflected in his red eyes.

After a while, it hits you — The Mask is enjoying this!

I might just be a sucker for close-up images but it's effectively used here, putting the potential reader almost literally face-to-face with what can be expected inside. I like the way color is used on this cover, too, with big splashes of green, red and white just jumping out at you, reinforcing the idea that — like the image itself — there is nothing subtle about this comic.

You could argue that this cover by Doug Mahnke is just a static portrait, but I think there's a lot more going on here than that.

What do you think?

Extra! Extra!

Some of you sharp-eyed readers might've noticed this cover also promised a "FREE 'Walter' mask inside!'" Sure enough, that's what you got when you picked up this issue of The Mask Returns, and not only that but issue #1 came with a "Mask" mask — both suitable for staging your own Mask misadventures!

I don't know about you, but I'm totally planning to use these to keep both my cats and co-workers in line. If you print out and make your own masks, let me know!

Friday, June 6, 2008

Friday Night Fights: Damned tough!

Morgan is the kind of guy who tends to operate on the seedier side of the docks, has a cursed gangster for a brother and gets into fistfights with the occasional demon from the pit — you can bet he's not gonna take guff from anybody.

Click to Behemoth-size!

OK ... maybe he'll take a little guff.

To get his little demons to behave, the Devil tells them stories about Bahlactus.

Following a link? Read more Great Caesar's Post here!

Panels from The Damned: Prodigal Sons #2
Cullen Bunn, writer; Brian Hurtt, artist

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Manhunter and the Women of Juarez

I've seen a few reviews of Manhunter #31, the first issue of the comic to come out in more than a year, and most people seem pleased to see Kate Spencer and their favorite supporting characters back in action. I'm a little surprised, though, that I haven't heard any mention of the backdrop for Manhunter's return — the unsolved murders of hundreds of women in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

Unfortunately, these tense info-dump scenes from Manhunter #31 are a fairly accurate account of the killing of women in Juarez, just across the border from El Paso, Texas. I say "fairly accurate" because the bodies of more young women are found buried in shallow desert graves with horrific regularity.

Click to enlarge

Let me add a little more background to what's already here: Most of the women who have been killed or are missing have been young (late teens to mid-20s), and a large number of them were working in maquiladoras (usually called maquilas, for short). The text makes it sound as if the maquilas are Mexican companies, but the majority of them are from other countries (many of them U.S. companies) that have established these manufacturing plants because of the cheap labor they can find to fill their 24-hour operations.

The murders are an open mystery, and the most viable theory sounds like an overwrought crime thriller involving on-site maquila management, independent bus drivers, a corrupt police force and the powerful drug cartels that orchestrate the whole thing with the same bone-deep malignancy that is endemic in some border towns. Even worse, it's generally agreed that abusive husbands, sociopaths and anyone who thinks they can get away with it are killing women and dumping their bodies to be mixed in and written off as just another number added to the list.

There have been other attempts to use the story of the women of Juarez — mostly for dramatic effect and generally misguided — and I don't kid myself by thinking that using it as the background in a superhero comic is going to bring widespread attention to this tragedy.

But someone is talking about it, and some people who might have never heard about the women in Juarez are at least a little more aware of it. Manhunter writer Marc Andreyko and DC deserve some credit for that.

Here are some links with information about the killings (some of it's out of date, but still has relevant background information):

Senorita Extraviada: An independent documentary that aired on PBS. There is also another documentary, Border Echoes, that investigates the killings.

The Juarez Project: A grassroots effort to bring attention to the murders.

• Who's Killing the Women of Juarez?: NPR has done a couple of reports on the crimes.

Amnesty International: The human rights group regularly pressures the Mexican government to do more to stop the killings.

Diana Washington Valdez: A reporter and author from El Paso who has covered the killings extensively, Washington Valdez updates related crimes regularly on her blog.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

You should be reading: Manhunter #31

Well, it's about time.

After a year of waiting, Manhunter will finally be back on comic book store shelves with today's issue #31. I was beginning to doubt it would ever happen: First the book was almost canceled, then it was saved thanks to some strong fan outcry, then it was canceled again, and then saved again. And then it went on hiatus in April 2007, with a promise it would return in the summer. I guess technically this is the beginning of A SUMMER, so I'm sure DC will argue they're right on schedule. (And no, a recurring role in Birds of Prey doesn't count.)

But I really can't complain very much — Manhunter is just too good.

With Marc Andreyko's scripts and various artists who all maintained a moody and sharp-edged style, Manhunter was easily one of the best titles in DC's stable. Thankfully, Andreyko is back to continue nurturing his sarcastic, chain-smoking and unapologetically violent superhero and her fantastic supporting cast, and new artist Michael Gaydos (who also did Alias) sounds like a good fit.

I've gone on and on about how great Manhunter is before, but it bears repeating. I mean, I'd hate to see it on the chopping block again, especially since it's a title that deserves to find an audience and continue to grow on its own terms. Kate Spencer — as well as her supporting cast — is something you don't always see in superhero comics; a real person.

It's a superhero book, so of course there is a lot of leaping off roofs and cackling bad guys and things that defy basic physics so the good guy gets a chance to punch someone in the face. That's a big part of what I like about Manhunter. But what's really engaging is Kate, because even when she puts on the mask she's still Kate — someone who's trying to quit smoking, someone who's trying to be a good mother in the middle of a bad divorce, someone who balances a life as a federal attorney with a new life as a vigilante fueled by the limitations of the legal system. She doesn't get into costume and suddenly have all the answers with none of the doubt. She is — for better and worse — all too human.

But she tries like hell.

Along with Blue Beetle, Manhunter is a title that's at the top of my favorites list, and if you think you'd like a comic featuring a strong, smart, realistic female character dealing with everyday struggles along with super-powered villains, I can't recommend it enough. Actually, if you just like good comics, I couldn't recommend it enough.

(By the way, both Manhunter and Blue Beetle will be dealing with border issues for the next few months — what are the chances of some crossover? Or did it already happen?!)

There are four trades available if you didn't catch it the first time around, but don't let that stop you from picking up Manhunter #31. I'm pretty sure this would be a good jumping on point, and you shouldn't miss it.

In other words: You should be reading Manhunter.

Monday, June 2, 2008

The only verdict ... is vengeance!

So I had something in mind for a post today but it turned out that, with Doomsian shrewdness, I'd managed to deviously lay the groundwork to screw myself three days in the future!

Y'see, I've been thinking about selling some of my individual issues and replacing them with trades. But since I'm not always "organized" I've got "stacks" of comics squirreled away throughout the "house" (... wait ...). Anyway, I locked up the cats, dragged out a few boxes and started putting things in some kind of order.

Which means I don't know where anything is anymore. Including the comic I was going to post about. Honest!

Hey, how about some kinetic typography based on V for Vendetta instead?