Friday, May 29, 2009

Friday Night Fights: Playing for the high one, dancing with the devil!

Spacebooger has declared Friday Night Fights will be musical number this time around, and I can't think of a better way to kick it off than with one of the most brutal fight scenes ever committed to a comics page, featuring Elektra and Bullseye —and accompanied by the equally brutal Lemmy Kilmister.

Crank it up!

Pushing up the ante, I know you've got to see me

Read 'em and weep, the dead man's hand again

I see it in your eyes, take one look and die

The only thing you see, you know it's gonna be,
The Ace Of Spades!
The Ace Of Spades!

And things just get worse for Elektra ... but at least Bullseye never actually sings.

Pages from Daredevil #181
Frank Miller, writer and artist; Klaus Janson, finished art and colors

Lyrics from "Ace of Spades," by Motorhead

Thursday, May 28, 2009

One shop, two worlds

It may surprise you to learn this, but I'm a huge nerd.

My love for comics might be the most obvious evidence, but my capacity for nerdity knows no bounds so I'm a pretty active gamer, too. And when I say "gamer" I don't mean the semi-cool console gaming. Oh, no. I'm talking about the old-school paper-and-pencil, character sheet-filling, buying yet another set of funny looking dice kind of gaming.

(And 'cause I can tell you're dying to know; a half-orc warden, thank you very much.)

There have been a few superhero role-playing games that have floated around, and I wish I could've played this one:

Doesn't that look awesome, in a kinda cheesy way?

But coming across this ad reminded me of something I noticed while working at a comic shop a few years ago. The shop was equal parts comics and gaming supplies, complete with dice, miniatures and sourcebooks for a ton of RPGs, as well as comics, trades and manga. It was like heaven ... siiiigggh ...

Ahem. Anyway. After a while something was obvious; the gamers had no time for the comic book geeks, and the comic readers sneered at the gamers. It was a Cold Geek War, with both factions tolerating each other but rarely interacting. Depending on what side of the store you were on determined what kind of snotty remarks you would hear. You would think two groups whose hobbies are based largely on imagination and over-the-top adventures would be like blood brothers — especially considering all the comics based on games available — but that wasn't usually the case.

What made this weirder was the fact that most of the employees read comics and gamed, and did both fanatically. Personally, I could never understand the riff and scorned both equally (I kid because I love!).

Has anyone else ever experienced this? Was it some sort of goofy peer pressure, with Ponyboy peering over the racks and sharing meaningful looks with Cherry Valance over in miniatures? Was it all my imagination? And how many of you fellow comic book readers are also gamers?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Horrors of the Unknown

Thanks to the long weekend (guess who took Friday off, too?), work has piled up a little and — to be honest — my brain is still on vacation. So for now, have some Hembeck.

If you want to squeeze in some more mental time-off for yourself, go check out Fred Hembeck's Web site. The time'll fly by!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Favorite Panel Friday: And it has a Nazi in it!

With Friday Night Fights on hiatus for one more week, it seems like a good time to bring back our old friend, Favorite Panel Friday!

This week's panel comes from Captain America #50, in which Bucky Barnes reminisces about past birthdays while dodging mini heat-seeking missiles. Believe it or not, my favorite scene comes from his memories of hanging out behind enemy lines with Captain America, the original Human Torch and Toro during World War II. Toro just wants to do something nice for Bucky's birthday, even if they are deep in German territory, but that stick-in-the-mud Steve Rogers just has to spoil everything.

And just like that, Ed Brubaker and Luke Ross totally endear Toro to me with a great little character moment.

Oh, and then the Nazis show up.

Panel from Captain America #50
Ed Brubaker, writer; Luke Ross, pencils; Rick Magyar and Luke Ross, inks

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The resurrection and death of 'Captain Britain'

Sometimes it seems as if every comic I like is going to be canceled.

As you might've heard, Captain Britain and MI-13 will be ending with issue #15, meaning there are just two more issues and an annual left to go before one of the best team books on the stands gets the ax. I'm not sure exactly why the title is being canceled, but I'd guess that like the similarly well-regarded Manhunter and Blue Beetle, MI-13 just couldn't pull in the readership it needed in spite of being popular with critics.

There's a reason it has such a solid fanbase — it's just really, really good. Pulling off a team book is tough, especially when it's about a team of second- and third-string characters most people have to turn to Wikipedia to figure out. But thanks to writer Paul Cornell and artist Leonard Kirk, MI-13 turned out to be among the most interesting and just plain fun comics out there. Hell, it even made me care about Captain Britain.

There is some good news. According to Cornell's blo
g post announcing the cancelation, the current story arc was already written to end with issue #15; as a matter of fact, it was written with the idea that it might be the end of the series itself. Here's what Cornell had to say in his post:

"Lastly, and this is really important, while we didn’t know this would be the last arc until comparatively recently, I had it in mind that it was possible it would be from the time I started plotting it. Indeed, the end of this arc marks the end of what I had planned for the book when I started. One of the images right at the finish is what I always felt I was heading towards, and I’m very pleased I got there. So: you will get a real, thorough, proper, ending, not just of ‘Vampire State,’ but of the whole run. It hasn’t been rushed to fit the space, it hasn’t been compromised, it won’t just suddenly cut off: it’s what I intended. I think the Annual and the two remaining issues finish off one of my best stories in any media, and that story is actually the entirety of Captain Britain and MI-13. You’ll see what I mean a bit more next issue. This is a comic with a proper ending.

That surprisingly goes a long way toward making me feel better about losing such a great book, even though it still bites. Cornell and Kirk brought some great concepts and fantastic scenes to readers, not least of which include:

Doctor Doom and Dracula plotting ... on the moon!

And vampire missiles .... launched from the moon!

Between this and its apparent insistence on raising cover prices, Marvel is producing fewer and fewer books I want to pick up on a monthly basis. Still, gotta make room for the next X-book, right? Maybe Wolverine will be in it!!

Panel from Captain Britain and MI-13 #10
Paul Cornell, writer; Leonard Kirk, penciller; Jay Leisten, inker; Brian Reber, colorist

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Pull List (5-19-09): Jeff Parker gets all my money

It looks as if it's going to a small week this time around, and it would be even smaller if it wasn't for Jeff Parker.

Parker is one of my favorite comic book writers at the moment, and it has a lot to do with his obvious love — and understanding — of the old-school comic story. Unfailingly fun and clever, Parker's writing style is breezy without being light, never cheating the reader by taking shortcuts or chintzing on character development. Parker's name in the credits is almost guaranteed to sell me some comics.

A case in point is this week's Mysterius: The Unfathomable #5 (of 6), a title I've been criminally quiet about. Let's chalk that up to me assuming everyone realizes this is some great stuff, OK? First of all there's Parker's scripting, which introduces us to a stage magician with a cryptic — and apparently deep — past who also happens to be an actual sorcerer doing magical detective work on the side. Mysterius' shadowy history is only just being discovered by his assistant, the latest in a long line of women the mage invariably renames Delfi. It may sound a little familiar (John Constantine, another roguish sorcerer, comes to mind) but Mysterius has it's own voice, and it's pretty damn convincing.

Just as important as Parker's writing is the artwork by Tom Fowler. You might recognize Fowler from the art he's done for Mad, and that signature style works extremely well for this title. Rubbery-but-realistic characters inhabit a beautifully rendered and detailed world, and the balance between ordinary and fantastic suits the story being told perfectly. There's a real organic feel to the art in Mysterius, and it fits scenes happening in a city park as well as the ones taking place in some Outer Dimension. I really can't imagine anyone else drawing this comic.

This is the next-to-last issue of a six-issue run, and I'm hoping there will either be a regular series in the Mysterius future, or more mini-series to come. Normally I wouldn't recommend picking up a title this far into it's limited run, but I don't know if there will be a trade collection someday (hopefully there will be) and I can say that Mysterius: The Unfathomable is worth the trouble of digging through back issue bins. Be sure to pick this one up (and while you're at it, you can check out a couple of preview here and here).

OK, now that I've got that gushing out of the way, here's what else I'm getting this week:

Agents of Atlas #5 (Vol. 2)

Captain America #50

I told you it was a small week! What's on your list?

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Monday Fly: Who is the Human Fly, anyway?

From the very beginning, The Human Fly was a mystery.

As a character, the Fly was never referred to by anything other than his stage name, and like the Mexican wrestlers he somewhat resembled, he never removed his mask. His backstory went something like this:

After breaking nearly every bone in his body in the same car accident that killed his family, the Human Fly was told he would never walk again. Indeed, it was considered a miracle he had survived at all. But after enduring hundred of hours of reconstructive surgery that ended up replacing most of his bones with a steel skeleton, the Fly began to exercise and push himself in secret through sheer will. First he retaught himself to stand, and then walk, finally training himself to the point where he had the agility and strength (aided by that steel frame) to become a world-famous stuntman who's mission in life was to bring hope to those whose lives might seem hopeless.

Because of his desire to be seen as a symbol of inner-strength and optimism, the Human Fly kept his identity a secret, and also made every death-defying stunt a charity event. Any money he made went to help a charitable organization, usually benefitting kids, with only a small portion being kept to fund the next stunt planned by the Fly and his loyal crew (more about them in future posts!).

So that's the Human Fly as far as the comics are concerned — or is it? One of the most intriguing bits of Marvel marketing can be found right at the top of any issue of The Human Fly:

Real? How could a comic book hero be real? Well, in this case it was true ... sort of.

Back in 1976, a 29-year-old stuntman named Rick Rojatt emerged from Montreal, Quebec, calling himself the Human Fly and already hidden behind the red and white mask. The mid-70s were a high-point for stuntmen, and the Fly distinguished himself by wing-walking on a low-flying DC-8 over the Mojave Desert at about 250 miles per hour. Then he did it again the next day.

The real life Human Fly was a little less modest than the comic book Fly if this article from People magazine is anything to go by, but there was no denying it was a hell of a stunt. And he had a heck of an origin story of his own:

"Rojatt, a Canadian, says he once was a Hollywood stunt man — although the California union has no record of him. He also says he was in an auto accident in North Carolina six years ago which killed his wife and 4-year-old daughter and badly injured him. He had 38 operations in four years, he says, which allowed him to walk again but left him with a body that is '60 percent steel parts.' He says he conditions himself by rising at 3 a.m., running six miles and then plunging into a bathtub full of ice cubes."

Hmm, sounds familiar (well, except for the thing with the ice cubes). Keep in mind that at the time Marvel (which was run by Jim Shooter then) was quick to jump on any trend that surfaced in American pop culture, and that story sounds ready-made for comics. Add the occassional rumor that Evel Knievel had supposedly already rejected a licensing agreement with Marvel to a guy with his own costume and stir the wacky imagination of writer Bill Mantlo into the mix and you've got a real-life superhero!

Of course, there were gray areas. I kind of doubt the real Human Fly ever teamed up with the Marvel U's White Tiger, Daredevil or Ghost Rider. But Rojatt really did wing-walk that jet (as featured in the very first issue) and he really did attempt the rocket-cycle jump over 27 buses (a key point in issue #11). There's even a detailed account about that last stunt straight from the rocket-cycle designer himself right here.

And then there's the question of Rojatt himself. You'll notice that the quote from People mentions how the California union didn't have any record of him, and shortly after the 1977 bus jump Rojatt seemingly fell off the face of the earth. Beyond what came out of the remaining run of the comic (which only published 19 issues in total), there apparently wasn't much to hear about the Human Fly.

There don't seem to be any other headline grabbing stunts after the bus jump, and an online search doesn't turn up any phone or address listings. Even a relunctant dig for an obituary didn't reveal a fate for the Human Fly.

So, who was the Human Fly? Who was the wildest superhero ever? How "real" was he?

Like all good stories, the real answer is still a mystery.

Speaking of rumors ...

Besides the whole "Evel Knievel rejected Marvel" rumor (supposedly paving the way for the Human Fly to make the jump from stuntman to superhero), there are a couple of other interesting whispers floating around the Internet:

According to Mike Sterling at the rocket-powered Progressive Ruin, the Human Fly may have given up stunts to follow a career in music! (And you thought the end of issue #11 came out of nowhere.)

Was the Human Fly black? Scroll down into the comments for the brief discussion; personally, I think that would be awesome (even though it would make me wonder why he was depicted as white — complete with blue eyes — in the comic).

• The Human Fly never took off his mask — not even at T.G.I. Fridays.

EXTRA SPECIAL BONUS: A sort of explanation about the man known as the Human Fly, written by Bill Mantlo!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Speed dial

Well, the day seems to have gotten away from me so all I've got for you is a massive amount of adorable:

Tiny Titans has one of the qualities that makes for a really good kid's product — it's age-appropriate without being dumbed down, and it throws a little something in for the adults who might be reading (or watching or listening) along with the little ones. It's the same reason the old Warner Brothers cartoons and films like The Muppet Movie still find new fans while holding on to their old (ahem) audience, no matter what their age.

Besides, I'm glad somebody's making fun of the whole mega-event thing. But I've still got a question: What did the Tiny Titans try already? What?!? If you've got any ideas, let me know in the comments.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Monday Fly: For all of us, I'd like to sing ...



Panel from The Human Fly #11
Bill Mantlo, writer; Lee Elias, penciller; Mike Esposito, inker

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Say, have you met Lydia?

I'd meant to mention this earlier, so you may already know Kevin Church apparently needs no sleep and has launched a new webcomic called Lydia.

The strip is a spin-off of The Rack (which Church does with artist Benjamin Birdie) and features the new adventures of former comic book store employee Lydia Park as she charts her way through the corporate wasteland. It's already establishing a vibe distinct from The Rack, in both the writing and the work from artist Max Riffner. Riffner's art is classically cartoony and subtly modern, with a rounded gentleness that helps Church's already sharp satire sting even more when it hits.

Best of all, the strip is pretty funny.

So what are you waiting for? Go read it, and tell your friends about Lydia!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

This and that: Pull lists, FCBD and a shrinking Marvel?

It's been one of those days, so let's bullet list this sucker:

Today, of course, is new comics day and I'll be picking up a batch made up of books I'm looking forward to and at least one I'm a little wary about.

Kull #6 and Agents of Atlas #4 are sure to make me happy — Kull is my favorite of Dark Horse's R.E. Howard adaptations and Agents of Atlas is always intelligent and fun — and Seaguy: The Slaves of Mickey Eye #2 is pure distilled Grant Morrison (make of that what you will). Superman: World of New Krypton has been surprisingly solid, and I'm curious to see what's going to develop in issue #3. And I never miss an issue of Atomic Robo; Atomic Robo and The Shadow from Beyond Time #1 will be no exception.

The wild card will be Flash: Rebirth #2. I was enthusiastic about this title (and the return of Silver Age Flash Barry Allen) when it was announced, but the first issue went a long way toward deflating that. Will things turn a corner in the second issue? I hope so, and writer Geoff Johns' characterization of Barry in the recent Blackest Night #0 gives me a reason to think this title just needs to find its groove before it becomes as good a book as it should be.

There are a few other titles I'm on the fence about (Final Crisis Aftermath: Run! #1, Fin Fang Four Return #1, New Mutants #1), but I'd really recommend Alias: The Ultimate Collection Vol. 1 — that's some sweet mashing up of the superhero and noir genres right there, from a time when Brian Michael Bendis could concentrate on telling a good story instead of trying to write almost every Marvel title on the racks.


New comics are going to have to fight it out with the slightly less new stack of awesome I grabbed during Free Comic Book Day, though. My local comic shop (the always great Austin Books and Comics) has a good system set up, allowing customers to select 10 comics from the — as far as I can tell — complete catalog of this year's titles. Since my wife vowed to love, honor and be my partner-in-crime, I went home with a total of 20 comics (aah, don't belly-ache, she's interested in some of them, too ... sorta).

The whole thing went very smoothly, even with a steady crowd and the added degree of difficulty of a tent set up in the parking lot, and I was in and out in about five minutes. I actually spent more time browsing in the store later — which is part of the point, right? Friendly employees, an inviting interior (hellooo, remodeling!) and what always seems to be an obvious love for the product they sell makes visiting my LCS a pleasure, even during a crazy event like FCBD.


Speaking of the FCBD offerings, what's up with the smaller size of the Marvel comics? Making a rough guess, I'd estimate the books lost about a quarter of its trim size. Take a look:

(Sorry about the crappy quality - I took this on the fly.)

I've seen a rumor that this was Marvel's way of testing a smaller print size, which would be a money-saving move (newspapers have been doing the same thing for years). Personally, it doesn't bother me. I noticed the difference in size when I picked up the books, but that disappeared once I started reading. Really, nothing is lost with the smaller size (granted, there may not be as much room for detail, but for the most part paying attention to panel size should take care of that).

I don't see a problem if Marvel wants to print its books in a format somewhere between the average size and a digest — BUT that's only if the price per issue stays at (or in some cases, returns to) $2.99 or the page count is increased, similar to what DC is doing with its back-up stories.

What do you think? Does size matter? And what was your Free Comic Book Day like this year? Let me know in the comments.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Godspeed, Captain

I was saddened by the news this morning that Dom DeLuise died last night at the age of 75.

DeLuise was a fantastic comedic actor, especially when he was paired with longtime pal Burt Reynolds, and no where was this more apparent than in the road-race classic, The Cannonball Run. Playing a character with a split personality, DeLuise would go from spineless sidekick to Captain Chaos, a courageous superhero who appeared whenever the need arose. Chaos would often taking on whole gangs singlehandedly while crying out "Daan dan DANNNN!!", swooping down like happy-go-lucky vengeance itself.

It was just one hilarious bit in a fun and funny movie, but it was memorable and I'd be lying if I said it didn't inspire me to randomly leap on people shouting out the Captain's battle-cry.

Here's a clip from Cannonball Run, but I'd really recommend just renting the movie to truly soak in the glory:

- Thanks to Johnny Bacardi for being one of the first to mention the news.

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Monday Fly: I'm a stunt-man — not a



Panel from The Human Fly #8
Bill Mantlo, writer; Frank Robbins, artist

Friday, May 1, 2009

Friday Night Fights: Black Adam - Youth Counselor

So, Mr. Young Frankenstein, have you learned your lesson?

Now take a lap.

And no smoking behind the gym with Spacebooger!

Following a link? Light up with more Great Caesar's Post here.

Panel from World War III #3
John Ostrander, writer; Tom Derenick, penciller; Norm Rapmund, inker