Friday, January 29, 2010

Adventures in Sound: Part 15

Panel from Action Comics #483
Letterer: Shelly Leferman

Thursday, January 28, 2010

MOOOOON ... child?!

Generally speaking, I don't think anyone cares what I'm having for lunch.

So when I'm updating my status on Facebook (clicky-clicky over on the right if you want to be Internet pals), I crib film quotes on a regular basis. Usually they're taken from pop culture icons, obscure B-movies or geek movie touchstones. And normally at least one or two people know what the hell I'm talking about and play along.

Now that I've set the scene, I should tell you the movie I was talking about this time was The Neverending Story.

There was some brief back-and-forth online, and then it was picked up again yesterday at the comic book shop.

"Hey," my friend asked when I walked in, "was the princess' name really 'Moonchild'? Where'd you get that from?"

Yup, I said, that was actually her name; I couldn't remember when I'd figured that out, but it was one of those things rattling around in my melon, like AT-ATs and the Penny Plunderer.

But the seed was planted. Was that her name? Did Wikipedia and IMDb lie to me? They've been know to do it before, the dirty bastards. I've always thought it was Moonchild, but maybe I'd just told myself that for so long that I believed it. And really, "Moonchild?" Even coming from a kid it seems a little silly-pants.

So what do you think? Take a look at this clip and tell me — what the heck is Bastian screaming into the night?

And while we're at it — what kind of name is Bastian?!

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Monday Fly: Who is Blaze Kendall?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Review: The quiet power of Joe the Barbarian #1

Joe the Barbarian #1 is the kind of book that renews my faith in comics.

At first glance, it's easy to take some easy shots at the first issue of the title; it's Grant Morrison over-indulging in decompression, the art by Sean Murphy is beautiful but just set-dressing, the story itself isn't going anywhere or telling you anything about the characters, and — my favorite — there are three or four pages of a kid walking through his house and nothing else. It's boring.

All of this is wrong.

Maybe too many comic book readers have become used to an explosion or super-powered fist-fight on every other page. But Joe the Barbarian is, if you look carefully, telling what is promising to be a complex and compelling story. And the first issue is telling a story, in a way that is unique to the literary form — by letting the images do a lot of the talking.

This isn't to say Morrison's script isn't doing its fair share: The bare-bones script tells us what we need to know to get started, introducing us to young, surly Joe; his slightly frazzled mother, the jerk bullies, the nice girl and the dead father. With the exception of Joe they're all ciphers, but for now it's OK — it's enough because it helps put our hero in relief. We learn a little about Joe through his brief but intense interactions with others.

We also learn, through small clues in both the script and art, that Joe is diabetic and thanks to those bullies (and possibly his own teen-aged pig-headedness) he's in trouble. And now the big, rambling house he lives in is going to seem a lot bigger, and much more dangerous and unfamiliar.

Which brings me back to the art. The superb work by Murphy is anything but static; at turns gloomy, then lush and exploding with color before slipping back to scenes that seem to be draining of life, the art is atmospheric and rich. If the artwork is anything to judge by, Joe the Barbarian is going to be Murphy's story as much as Morrison's, and deservedly so.

The art depicts both a dreary and ordinary day and a bright and fire-scorched fantasy land with equal ease; strangely enough, it also serves to ground Morrison's sketchy, true-to-life exchanges and his trademark fever-dream dialogue. Most of the clues to the characters' backgrounds and personalities, as well as much of the foreshadowing and mood, are delivered through Murphy's work, purposefully making it more than just a setting. Instead, it's an essential part of the story. And, quite simply, the art is gorgeous.

In a way, Joe the Barbarian demands more than it gives: Is Joe going into some sort of diabetic shock? Is he hallucinating a world populated with the toys and knick-knacks filling his room? What do our fantasies say about ourselves and about our lives? None of this is answered in the first issue, obviously. But I think it's enough for now that the title brings up these questions.

It's tempting to say Joe the Barbarian #1 is challenging — but it isn't, really. But it's not simple, either. Instead, it's a book that expects — and invites — readers to pay attention. Pay attention to the words, to the art, and to the way they work so intractably together, and I think you'll be rewarded for the effort.

Download a preview here.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Superman is a buzzkill

Click for wet blanket-size

I can honestly say I don't remember ever seeing these PSAs before. Apparently this is the fifth in a series, but who knows how many there actually were.

The weirdest thing about this is the idea of Superman casually strolling down the street asking people where they're going.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

In this case, I'm the wench

As you might've guessed (or not — who are you, Mentok?), things that are Not Posting have been hitting me so hard I'm walking funny. This should hopefully clear up soon, so thanks for being patient.

Oh! And be sure to put Joe the Barbarian on your pull list; it's Grant Morrison on his own original storyline with great-looking art by Sean Murphy, and it'll only cost you a buck. ONE. BUCK. And here's a preview if you're gonna be all stubborn about it.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Oh, Mr. Banner, you are a delight!

Back in the old days, both of the Big Two used their characters to sell their books and subscription services (and in DC's case, delicious creme-filled snack cakes) pretty regularly. But where the DC ads were generally of the paste-the-hero-in-and-insert-corny-sales-pitch variety — with optional thumbs-up — Marvel often had some fun with their characters.

Like so:

Click to Banner-size

The Hulk's face in that last panel kills me. It's too bad, but neither company really do in-house ads like this anymore. Oh, well, at least they're not blatantly and almost contemptuously undercutting the competition by ... oh.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

This week's pull list, and some triple-scooper poopy-dooper

Hey pal-o-minos, guess what? I just got over a major hump at the day job, and hoo-boy, I'm beat. So before my eyes pop out of my head and start bouncing around like ping-pong balls or some other bouncy thing, here's what I'm getting this week:

Anchor #4: It's bruisingly good stuff and you should be reading it. That is all.

Booster Gold #28: I wasn't very excited when Dan Jurgens took over on this title, but damn if the slightly darker tone isn't growing on me. I'm also glad to see the Blue Beetle co-feature returning as a stand-alone story with Matthew Sturges scripting.

Daytripper #2: Beautifully written, beautifully rendered art from Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon. Don't cheat yourself out of what's shaping up to be one of the best titles out there — pick it up.

Muppet Show #1 (Vol. 2): The Muppets seem to be everywhere lately — in magazines, on YouTube and every other TV commercial. But if you want to find the real Muppets, read this comic written by Roger Langridge, which consistently captures the fun and spirit of the original show.

X-Men Origins: Cyclops #1: I must be feeling the influence of that last post, but this title is strangely appealing. Shut up.

And now, Kitty-Cat Superman:

Friday, January 8, 2010

Cover Up: X-Men #175

The cover to X-Men #175 has always been a favorite of mine, mostly because it is crazy.

In classic comic book style, there's not an inch that isn't either filled with action or leading the viewer's eye toward it; it's "dynamic" cranked up into the red. The image by artist Paul Smith is a scene that could easily be hobbled by coming across as too crowded or busy, but instead it's filled with a sense of movement and of a dozen things happening at once. Flames roar in the background, concrete is heaving beneath the heroes' feet (emphasizing the tilted perspective and reaffirming the idea of instability), Kirby Crackle swirls through the sky — and that's just the setting.

Every character seems to be in mid-step, bracing for the impact of combat or launching their own attack. Nothing is static, and every pose is different and true to the character. In other words, it's the controlled chaos you should expect from a fight scene.

One way this is revved up is by having everyone use their powers. I have to admit, the fanboy in me loves that. Look at that giant energy claw blasted effortlessly by Phoenix, her sheer power dominating the center of the scene; and look at Colossus, her target and the team's strongman, straining under the assault. Cyclops is blasting from below, Rogue and Storm are airborne, Nightcrawler is teleporting in with his trademark cloud of brimstone, Kitty's phasing and Wolverine has his claws ready. Even Lockheed is there, tiny in comparison to Phoenix and in the context of the scene. The whole thing is bedlam, but it still comes together.

Smith's work — with its clean lines, expressive body language and distinct facial expressions — is something I've always liked, and considering this was the 20th anniversary issue and Smith's last issue on the title, I really get the feeling that he just went for it. What always makes an impression on me, though, is the way Smith never loses sight of the basic elements needed to pull it off successfully.

You wouldn't know it until you read it, but the story itself focuses on Cyclops. And by placing him in the middle of the scene, framed by the rest of the characters, the cover focuses on him, too. It's a credit to Smith that, in spite of the sheer amount of stuff that's going on here, nothing is wasted and nothing is lost.

What do you think of this cover? Let me know in the comments.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Pro on the Con: Wizard is coming to Austin

Austin is a comic book town.

There are several very good comic books shops in the area; four come to mind immediately, and at least one of them could make a fair argument for "world-class" status. A handful of comic creators — including Rob Osborne, Paul Benjamin, Matt Sturges and Paul Maybury—make their home here, and that's not even including the indie creators and people I'm sure I've overlooked. Austin is also where you'll find the ever-awesome Staple! expo and the Webcomics Rampage event.

And according to Wizard's announcement yesterday, it's now going to be the site of a full-on comic book convention when the Wizard World — Austin Comic-Con debuts in November. Wizard Entertainment CEO Gareb Shamus was quoted in the press release as saying:

“The fans have spoken and they want us back in Texas. We previously had a great experience here and are thrilled to be back,” Shamus said. “It's a great city with a top-notch convention center and we're really looking forward to seeing our fans at the type of pop-culture festival only we can bring."

That tap-tap-tapping you hear is me doing a happy dance.

I'll confess, I've never been to a Wizard con, but I can't remember hearing anything awful about one. And C'MON, it's a con that's going to be a 15 minute drive from where I live! Maybe — traffic is about as bad as you've heard if you're not already Downtown.

I pretty sure Wizard World will find a warm reception here. As I said, Austin is a comic book kind of town with a lot of experience in dealing with large events *SXSWcoughACLFestcough* showcasing music, movies and everything in-between. I'm sorry the con won't be in the Dallas area anymore (not really), but I'm glad it'll be coming to my home base (yes, really).

In the coming months I'll be putting together a survival guide for people who'll be here for the Austin Comic-Con, so if you think you'll be coming to town let me know what kind of information you'd like to arm yourself with in the comments. (First tip: Book a hotel room early.)

Now if you'll excuse me: tap-tappity-tap-tap-tap ...

Wizard World — Austin Comic-Con
Nov. 12-14, 2010 (Friday-Sunday)
500 E. Cesar Chavez St. Austin, TX 78701

Go to the Austin Comic-Con site for updated ticket, guest and other information.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Why the Marvel calendar's days are numbered

In daily life, my nerdiness is pretty evident.

This is especially true at work. Green Lantern pins are piled up at the feet of a Monitor figure like aluminum tribute. Spider-Man sits on top of Yoda's oversized head beneath my completed Human Fly checklist. And on my wall is the new Marvel calendar, which is really kind of nice for a freebie.

And which will be coming down again in February because I don't want to get written up.

The place where I work is informal for an office setting and I'm certainly not a prude, but the image of Ms. Marvel that is waiting to slide out from between January and March just won't fly. It is, in the language of management-types the world over, “inappropriate for the office.”

And that's a shame, because I like to think of myself as an evangelist for comics. I preach the four-color Word to anyone who'll listen. But how do I justify a Ms. Marvel who looks more like Ms. February? How do I explain that this woman who is floating on her back, arms splayed in welcome and with a sleepy, lips-parted-just-so look on her face, is a superhero? A superhero who apparently fights evil in a thong and half-shirt?

There's a thin line between sensual and sexual, between sexuality and sexualized. When I was flipping through the calendar (given away free last week at comic book stores), I had a sudden urge to apologize to someone, to explain that Ms. Marvel is generally a strong character. That she served as an officer in the Air Force. That this is a depiction of her original costume, with a misguided design reflecting her mid-70s roots.

But mostly I keep thinking, “The women in my office — especially my boss — would have a shit if I put this up.” And rightfully so.

Besides the blatant sexism, I'm also bugged by the apparent pandering of Marvel to the stereotypical, drooling fanboy mentality. The only other female character to make the calendar is March's Marvel Girl, who fares a little better than Ms. Marvel but still looks as if she's re-enacting the subway grate scene from The Seven Year Itch. (By the way, Jean, nice rack.) To be fair, Sub-Mariner is wearing even less than either of the Marvels in September, but I'd argue that his depiction lacks the sense of vulnerability of the other two. Again, there may be sexuality, but Sub-Mariner is not sexualized.

(And for the record, Wolverine's November picture made my wife laugh and laugh. You can come to your own conclusions why.)

There is always talk about how superhero comics need to grow up, or that they already have by upping the body counts and spraying blood across everything in the scene. But that's not growing up; that's what kids think growing up means. Growing up means maturity. And when I can't put a freely distributed superhero calendar up in my office for a month because it comes across as sexist stroke material, that tells me the industry still has some growing up to do.