Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Christmas With The Caped Crusader: Epilogue

Before we move on, I want to address a couple of the comments on my "Christmas With The Caped Crusader" series.  The first is on my piece about Batman and the Outsiders #19:
...I'm a little surprised you went with this one as part of your "Christmas with the Caped Crusader" series, since the story is primarily about Geo-Force. It does, however, reinforce the fact that Mike Barr does indeed love Christmas stories.
First off, I really like Batman's role in this story, even though it is rather small, at least in terms of on-panel time.  He goes off and does what he does best, gathering evidence against Raeburn, while Superman does what he does best, charge in throwing punches without thinking.  I especially liked his admonition to Geo-Force, "When the system works, use it, Geo-Force!  When it doesn't--or it can't--that's what we're for!"  That little bit of dialogue nicely sums up the Batman's philosophy, and I like the way this issue emphasizes his roles as detective and mentor to the Outsiders.
As for this being more Geo-Force's story than Batman's, I will remind you that I also included in the series "The Man Who Murdered Santa Claus" from Justice League of America #110, which focuses mainly on John Stewart and Red Tornado.  Furthermore, it can be argued that the real star of "Wanted: Santa Claus--Dead or Alive!" is Boomer Katz, and that Batman #309's "Have Yourself a Deadly Little Christmas" is actually Kathy Crawford's story.  And BATO #31 is all about Looker, which is just the way she likes it.
Then there's this observation tacked on to the item about BATO #8:
I've always seen BATO as a natural progression from The Brave and the Bold. Both featured Batman in a team-up situation and both featured the artwork of Jim Aparo.
A good point, and made even stronger when you consider that BATO writer Mike W. Barr wrote more issues of The Brave and the Bold than anybody other than Bob Haney.  BATO also maintained a link with B&B by including Metamorpho, one of Batman's most frequent B&B co-stars, on the team. That's another reason I've always thought Green Arrow should have been an Outsider.  The Emerald Archer appeared in B&B, with or without Batman, more than any hero other than the Caped Crusader himself.  The real reason I think GA should have been in BATO is that  he was the one who was always carping about how the JLA was getting too focused on the cosmic stuff and forgetting about ordinary people.  So, when Batman quit the League after they refused to get involved in the war in Markovia, Ollie really should have stood up and followed Bats into the teleporter. 
This aspect of Ollie's character was nicely captured in the first episode of Cartoon Network's Justice League Unlimited series.  In fact, that series as a whole perfectly captured Green Arrow's character in every episode he appeared in.
Finally, I got a comment in person from Jonathon Riddle, who was disappointed that in my post on "Silent Night of the Batman" I failed to include any images of the Batman actually singing Christmas carols. Well, I'm going to rectify that error now:
Nice of them to include the words so that the readers can sing along with Batman.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas With The Caped Crusader: ...And the Rest

Well, Christmas is almost behind us for another year. Beginning tomorrow, the stores will start putting out the Valentine's Day candy, or maybe even the Easter merch.  Before we move on to the next over hyped holiday, however, there are a few Batman Christmas tales in my stack of old comics that I haven't had a chance to get to yet.
Even though the words "Merry Christmas" appear on the cover, and the holiday gets a brief nod in the last few pages, Batman and the Outsiders #31 isn't much of a Christmas story, being mostly taken up with the final chapter of the four part "The Truth About Looker" storyline. This story introduces a new member to the team and paves the way for the departure of Batman in the following issue, after which the series' name would change to Adventures of the Outsiders.  The book, along with the direct market only Outsiders, became the third title in DC's so-called "hardcover/softcover" experiment, along with the Teen Titans and Legion of Super-Heroes titles, in which the contents of the direct market edition  were eventually reprinted in the newsstand title. 
"Favorite Things" in Legends of the Dark Knight #79 starts with Wayne Manor being robbed during a Christmas party. Among the items stolen are a beloved childhood toy of Bruce Wayne's, the last Christmas present his parents gave him before their murders, and Batman moves Heaven and Earth to recover it.  Invoking the memory of Bruce's parents is usually good for some easy sentiment, but Mark Millar's script fails to tug at the heart strings in the way he must have hoped it would.  The art, by Steve Yeowell with inks by Dick Giordano, is the main reason to give this story a look.  It's amazing, actually, how well their styles mesh.  
Speaking of sentiment, the only sentiment I expected from a story by Ed Brubaker was despair.  Have you read his Daredevil run?  If you thought Bendis' stories were too bleak, then skip Brubaker.  
He just continues to heap the troubles on poor Matt Murdock issue after issue, with no light or hope apparently on the horizon. It's enough to make you want to slit your freaking wrists after awhile.  That's why I was so surprised that I actually enjoyed the issues from 2001 collected recently as DC Comics Presents Batman #3.  Among them is Batman #598, "Santa Klaus Is Coming To Town," in which a  mind reading serial killer with a German accent dressed in a Santa suit passes out explosive presents to those who find themselves on his "naughty" list.  Brubaker has created a villain worthy of a semi-regular spot on the roster of Batman's Rogue's Gallery, and I hope he eventually returns. 
Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne's girlfriend refuses to let him ruin her holiday season and puts up a tree in Wayne Manor over his objections.   She eventually succeeds in getting him to lighten up for a little bit and celebrate with her. 
Finally, we have "Silent Knight," the lead story from last year's DC Universe Holiday Special '09.  In this wordless story by writer Jay Faerber and artist Peter Nguyen, the Batman pursues a gun-toting thief dressed as Santa to a warehouse where he discovers a whole gang of Santas. After he defeats their leader, the other Santas, rather than continue to fight, invite the Dark Knight to join them for some Christmas cookies and a cup of hot cocoa.  Had they been coerced into joining up with the lead Santa and were thanking Batman for rescuing them, or did they just realize the futility of putting up any more of a fight against the Caped Crusader?  Due to the lack of dialogue, this isn't really clear to me.
That's it for this year's Christmas celebration here at Gutter Talk.  Hope you had a wonderful holiday season. 

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas With The Caped Crusader: Batman and the Outsiders #19

Behind this wonderful Jim Aparo cover, one of the best in the entire run of Batman and the Outsiders, lies that series' second annual Christmas tale, "Who's Afraid of the Big Red 'S'?", guest-starring, as if it weren't obvious, Superman. 

As I've read through my collection of Batman holiday stories, I'm struck by how many of them involve attempted suicide, from "Silent Night of the Batman" to "Have Yourself a Deadly Little Christmas" in Batman  #309 to the tale under consideration on this Christmas Eve. I suppose it's because its an easy way to deliver a life affirming message for the holiday season by having the suicidal person discover a new reason to go on living.
In BATO #19, it is Denise Howard, a friend of Brion Markov, a.k.a. the Outsider Geo-Force, who decides to end her life after one of her professors denies her a scholarship because she declined his sexual advances.  After taking the pills, she calls Brion, who, as Geo-Force, gets her to a hospital then goes to get vengeance on Dean Raeburn, the professor who caused her despair. 
Another one of the Outsiders, Halo, was with him during the rescue, and after he flies off to find Raeburn, she flies to get help from the Batman. Batman, realizing that none of the Outsiders are strong enough to stop their most powerful member, calls in Superman.  This was before John Byrne's revamp of Superman in The Man of Steel when he and Batman were still friends.  I'm glad that over the years since their friendship has re-emerged and they even once again share a monthly title.
Supes catches up with Brion just as he's about to crush Raeburn's head and the two fight. This isn't as lopsided a match as you might think. Geo-Force uses his power to increase gravity to make the gravity around Superman equal to that of Krypton, thus taking away most of his super-strength.  Still, despite Geo-Force getting a few good licks in, Superman eventually prevails.
Then Batman shows up. While Superman and Geo-Force went at it, he'd been gathering affidavits from other women Raeburn had harrassed to use as evidence against him.  He might, after all, be able to dismiss one such claim as just Denise's word against his, but not a whole folder full.
The story ends on Christmas morning, with Brion at Denise's bedside in the hospital as she decides to give the whole living thing another shot.
This story, by the way, is a favorite of my sister Ann. Seems she doesn't really like Superman, and enjoyed seeing Geo-Force kick him around for a couple of panels.

Christmas With The Caped Crusader: Batman and the Outsiders #8

As I said in my last post, writer Mike W. Barr loves himself a good Batman Christmas story.  When he finally got his crack at being the regular writer on a Batman comic, Batman and the Outsiders, he quickly made the Christmas tale an annual tradition.  
The first BATO holiday story appeared in the eighth issue and guest starred the Phantom Stranger.  Batman is investigating the connection between the kidnapping of an infant and an old man found in a catatonic state whose fingerprints were at the crime scene.  The Dark Knight has a thought, but is about to dismiss it as being too far out when the Stranger appears out of nowhere and tells Batman to follow his instincts.  Doing so, Batman checks the missing kids fingerprints and discovers that the old man and the child are one and the same.  Next, the same mysterious sudden aging affects an entire nursery school class.  Batman deduces that the phenomenon will strike next at Gotham Childrens' Hospital and has the Outsiders there on Christmas morning, ready for when trouble strikes. 
And strike it does, as a newborn baby suddenly starts threatening the doctor who delivers him, then transforms into the Phantom Stranger's old enemy Tannarak.  The Stranger, of course, appears to battle him, as do Batman and the Outsiders.
Ok, so what was going on was that body had been destroyed in his last fight with the Stranger, and Tannarak had been stealing life energy from children, causing the sudden aging, until he had enough to allow him to possess and transform a newborn baby.
Anyway, to keep the Outsiders busy while he and the Stranger fight, Tannarak makes all the babies in the maternity ward attack the heroes.  For a Christmas story, and, for that matter, for Batman and the Outsiders, this is a really bizarre story, filled with odd and disturbing imagery such as the floating baby with glowing red eyes who turns into Tannarak, and the Outsiders being attacked by a horde of killer babies.
Holidays are a time of reunions and this issue represents a reunion of both writer Barr and artist Jim Aparo with the Phantom Stranger.  The Stranger's own book had been one of Aparo's first assignments at DC Comics, and when the Stranger guest starred in The Brave and the Bold #98, editor Murray Boltinoff asked Aparo to draw that issue. Not long after that, Aparo became the regular artist on B&B, a job he held until the book's cancellation.  That led to his becoming co-creator and artist on BATO, and going on to be thought of as one of the premier all-time Batman artists.
Barr had written the Stranger's most recent solo series, which appeared in the back of Saga of the Swamp Thing. In fact, the previous battle between the Stranger and Tannarak that I referenced earlier occurred in Swamp Thing #5.
This is one of those "Christmas" stories that really has little to do with the holiday other than the time it takes places. In fact,  given the  supernatural nature of the guest star and the bizarre imagery I noted earlier,  this might really have been more suitable for a Halloween issue.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas With The Caped Crusader: The Brave and the Bold #184

You know who loves Christmas even more than the Batman?
Mike W. Barr.
I'll bet he's got the biggest, most obnoxious outdoor light display in his neighborhood.  He certainly loves a good Batman Christmas story, and has written quite a few himself over the years.  Among the earliest of these is "The Batman's Last Christmas" in The Brave and the Bold #184, guest starring the Huntress and drawn by veteran B&B illustrator Jim Aparo.
This being the post-Haney B&B, the fact that Huntress lived on a different Earth from the Batman is actually accounted for.  Of course, given the nature of the pre-Crisis On Infinite Earths Huntress as the daughter of Earth-2's Batman, even Haney couldn't have just had her drop by without accounting for the dimensional difference.
With her parents, the Earth-2 Batman and Catwoman, gone, Helena Wayne, the Huntress, beams over to Earth-1 to spend the holidays with the only real family she has, her father's Earth-1 counterpart, whom she refers to affectionately as "Uncle Bruce."  She catches up with Batman just as he stumbles upon evidence that seems to suggest that his father, Dr. Thomas Wayne, had made payments to mobster "Spurs" Saunders to help Saunders establish his criminal empire.  Further investigation serves only to further incriminate Dr. Wayne, leading Batman to decide that his whole career as Batman has been a sham, since the parents whose deaths he's been avenging were seemingly just as bad as the criminals he fights. Thus, Bruce vows that "...It's time for the Batman to die!"
He tries to become the playboy he's always pretended to be, but his heart just isn't in it. Then he witnesses the Huntress save the life of a member of Saunders' mob who'd double crossed him.  The man had been Christmas shopping with his son, and Batman realizes that even though the guy was a crook, his son would have been traumatized by his murder. This leads him to further realize that his career as Batman has always been about more than just avenging his parents deaths. "...He (the Batman) exists to spare others the loss I felt when my parents died--a loss I felt even though they were also criminals." 
Newly re-inspired, Batman decides to discover the real truth about his parents.  Back at Wayne Manor a memory of his last Christmas with his parents causes him to remember a tell tale clue which leads him to the realization that it was actually his parents' accountant, Amos Randolph, pretending to be Dr. Wayne and embezzling his money, who had financed Saunders. Batman confronts the aging and bedridden accountant while Huntress tells Saunders that she knows the truth about his connection with Wayne and has turned the incriminating records over  to Commissioner Gordon.
Usually in Batman's Christmas stories, the Caped Crusader is simply a player in someone else's story; the instrument through which they learn a yuletide lesson.  In "The Batman's Last Christmas", however, its the Batman himself who learns a valuable lesson.  He tells Helena that she "helped give me back my faith and my cause. I couldn't ask for a better gift!"  Then, at his parents' graves, he rededicates himself to his war on crime.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Christmas With The Caped Crusader: "Wanted: Santa Claus--Dead or Alive!"

"Wanted: Santa Claus--Dead or Alive!", originally presented in 1979's Super-Star Holiday Special (DC Special Series #21), and subsequently reprinted many times, is, I believe (and please feel free to correct me if I am mistaken), the only collaboration between two of the men most responsible for shaping the character of the Batman as we understand him today, Dennis O'Neil and Frank Miller.  O'Neil, working primarily with artist Neal Adams in the early 1970's, helped to bring Batman back to his early 40's roots as a grim nocturnal vigilante in a rejection of the camp era of the 1960's epitomized by the Adam West TV show.  Miller refined that characterization during the 80's in story such as "Batman: Year One" and The Dark Knight Returns,  making the Dark Knight even darker and setting him on the road to becoming the obsessive near psychotic he has often been portrayed as in the last two decades
The story begins, as all good Batman Christmas stories do, on Christmas Eve as Batman notices that the Christmas star in a nativity display has been stolen, a detail that will, of course, become important later on.

However, Batman's got bigger fish to fry at the moment, like busting up an underworld holiday party to learn why mobster Matty Lasko has arranged for a boat to be waiting in Gotham Harbor that evening.  Lasko reveals that he did it as a favor for his former cell mate Boomer Katz.  Batman learns that Katz has taken a job as a department store Santa and disappointedly deduces that the supposedly rehabilitated ex-con plans to rob the establishment.
It turns out that Boomer is a reluctant participant in the robbery scheme, and turns on the gang of robbers just before Batman arrives. Batman rounds up most of the robbers, but one escapes, taking Boomer as a hostage. The light of a star shining through the hole in the aforementioned nativity display where its Christmas star had been, leads Batman to the hood and his prisoner. Its a Christmas miracle that gives Boomer Katz another chance to straighten his life out.
"Wanted: Santa Claus--Dead or Alive!" is actually pretty typical of Batman Christmas stories of the period and O'Neil's work with the character in general.  Its true significance lies in the fact that it was drawn by Frank Miller, in what was, in fact, his very first work on the Batman.  Miller's Batman stories range from the sublime ("Batman: Year One", The Dark Knight Returns) to the silly (Spawn/Batman, All-Star Batman and Robin) and it all started here.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas With The Caped Crusader: The Brave and the Bold #148

In our celebration of Batman Christmas tales, we're still stuck in 1978 for the moment.  That's okay with me. 1979 was one of the worst years of my life, but that's not a tale for this blog. 
Today we're going to examine The Brave and the Bold #148, starring Batman and Plastic Man in "The Night the Mob Stole Xmas!" (I know there's usually a dash in there between the "X" and the "mas", but that's the way it was punctuated in the book, so that's the way I'm doing it here.)  Like all the the majority of issues of B&B, this one was written by Bob Haney, but the art chores are handled a little differently this time out.  Regular B&B artist Jim Aparo was usually a one man band, penciling, inking and even lettering the entire story every issue.  In #148, however, he inks over the pencils of Joe Staton.  I assume he did the letters as well, as they look the same as they do in every other issue. 
This unusual distribution of duties allowed Aparo time to adjust to the book's new publishing schedule.  In 1978, after thirty-three years, B&B finally became a monthly comic. The choice of Joe Staton to help out with this issue was probably because, if I'm remembering right, he was drawing a Plastic Man feature in Adventure Comics at the time.
But the Plastic Man who appears in this story is the Plas of Bob Haney's B&B, and is quite a different character than the one Joe was drawing over in Adventure.  Many characters tended to act a little differently when they entered Haney's corner of the DC Universe than they did anywhere else, but Plastic Man was the most extreme example.  Rather than the light hearted, happy-go-lucky adventurer he was in his solo stories, in B&B, Plas was, to be honest, a bit of a whiner, given to bemoaning his status as a "freak."  Thus, when Batman encounters Plas, reduced to working as a street corner Santa, Plastic Man tells the Caped Crusader how things have gone downhill since they last met in B&B #123.  "...Cheap carnivals I quit because I hated being a freak," he moans, "But I guess I'm doomed to play only phony roles...like this!" (Wait, is Plas saying Santa isn't real?)  Batman stammers out a few reassuring words, tosses a coin in Plas' pot, tells him to try to have a Merry Christmas, then goes off to continue pursuing the cigarette smugglers, or "buttleggers", that he's been on the trail of .
The next morning, Batman drives by "Lacey's" department store to discover that their world famous Christmas display has been stolen.  Not only that, but the thieves also also kidnapped Plastic Man. Fortunately, Plas was able to leave a clue for Batman, and the Dark Knight soon finds himself on the trail of a convoy of semis headed for Florida.
Its soon revealed that the Lacey's display was stolen to serve as decorations at a Christmas party thrown by supposedly dieing mob boss Big Jake Doyle , coincidentally, the head of the "buttlegging" ring, ostensibly to make peace with his rivals before he passes on.  Of course, Doyle isn't dieing after all and the party was just a ruse to get all his competitors in one place so he can rub them out.  Fortunately, Bats and Plas are on hand to prevent the carnage, arrest Doyle, and get the Lacey's display back to Gotham in time for Christmas Eve.
While many of the Batman Christmas stories I've read feature some sort of life affirming message about the meaning of the season, Bob Haney wasn't really much of a sentimentalist. This is pretty much a typical Haney B&B story featuring Batman and his co-star du jour taking on a group of fairly generic mobsters.
Fortunately, Plastic Man's moaning is kept to a minimum, and there are some pretty clever uses of his powers, making this my favorite of Haney's B&B stories with the character.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Once and Future Atom

So, I was just over at the DC Comics web-site checking out their previews of the books coming out this week.  The hype for Titans #30 promises that "...Ray Palmer guest-stars as he continues his investigation into Ryan Choi's murder." Ryan Choi, you may remember, became "The All-New Atom" after Ray Palmer , the Silver Age bearer of that name, disappeared at the end of Identity Crisis.
A while ago, I came across an interesting post by Chris Sims in which he notes that what he calls "regressive storytelling", that is the practice at DC of abandoning newer versions of characters such as Firestorm and the Atom in favor of the "classic", mostly Silver Age, version, has made the DC Universe less racially diverse. After all, most Silver Age heroes were white men.
Now, in the case of the Atom, not only has DC brought back the white guy, but then they go and kill off the new kid to boot?  
Racial issues aside, there are about a dozen Flashes (an exaggeration), over seven thousand Green Lanterns (not an exaggeration), and two Batmans (or is it Batmen?), so why does there have to be only one Atom?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmas With The Caped Crusader: Batman #309

In December 1978, DC Comics was filled with the holiday spirit, despite having just canceled nearly half its line only a couple of months earlier in the infamous DC Implosion.  A house ad touted a quartet of holiday themed issues.  Among them were Green Lantern #113, Superman #333, and two Batman stories, The Brave and the Bold #148 and Batman #309.  I'll look at the B&B story next time, but right now let's examine "Have Yourself A Deadly Little Christmas" by Len Wein, John Calnan and Frank McLaughlin from Batman #309.
I mentioned in my piece on "The Silent Night of the Batman" how that story set the tone for many of the Batman Christmas tales that followed, and echoes of the earlier story can definitely be seen here.
Batman drops by police headquarters on Christmas Eve to exchange gifts with Commissioner Gordon, but there's no time to stand around and sing carols this night.  Batman soon finds himself on the phone talking to a young girl named Kathy Crawford who is attempting suicide. She's taken some sleeping pills and called the police just to have someone to talk to in her final moments.  She quickly hangs up on Batman, but fortunately she was on the line long enough for the call to be traced.  Batman rushes off to try to find her before its too late.
When he arrives at Kathy's apartment, Batman finds the door smashed in and the girl missing.  Earlier that evening, Batman's old foe the Blockbuster had witnessed Kathy's purse being stolen.  Confronting her assailants, Blockbuster recovered her purse and set out to return it to her.  Arriving at her apartment just as Kathy passes out, the brute carried her off to seek help. 
However, Blockbuster refuses to take Kathy to a hospital, as his muddled mind associates hospitals with S.T.A.R. Labs, where he was apparently subjected to painful experiments, presumably in a previous issue.  In fact, he becomes quite violent when anyone mentions the word "hospital."  This, of course, leads to a fight when the Batman finds him, which eventually spills onto the frozen Gotham River.  As the two fight, the ice cracks, endangering the already near death Kathy.  Blockbuster sacrifices himself to save the girl, disappearing, and presumably drowning, in the icy waters. Kathy is taken to  a hospital and, inspired by Blockbuster's sacrifice, decides to give life another chance.
This story is, unfortunately, marred by pretty poor art.  Calnan's figures are stiff and blocky, and his angles and perspective  seem a little skewed at times. I have, however, seen Calnan's art look worse in other Batman stories. I assume inker McLaughlin smoothed over some of the rougher edges.  The cover by Jim Aparo is not one of his better jobs.  It kind of looks a bit rushed, to be honest. 
Still, despite the complaints about the art, and  though its not as inspiring as it tries to be, "Have Yourself A Deadly Little Christmas" is, all in all, a pretty decent entry in the annals of Batman holiday tales.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

"Brenda Starr" Ends January 2

Yet another long running newspaper comic strip will be coming to an end soon. First it was Little Orphan Annie, closing her pupil-less eyes after 86 years (it first appeared in newspapers the same week my dad was born), then Cathy bit the dust in October.  Now, Brenda Starr, Reporter comes to the end of its seventy year run on Sunday, January 2.

The strip, begun in 1940 by Dale Messick, who changed her name from the more feminine sounding Dalia in order to get a foot in the door of the male dominated world of comic strips, has been written for the past several years by  Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Scmich and drawn by Power Pack co-creator June Brigman.  When these two announced their intention to leave the strip, the syndicate, Tribune Media Services, decided to discontinue it rather than replace them.
The strip was also drawn for many years by Metamorpho co-creator Ramona Fradon. Brenda Starr is the only comic strip that has been written and drawn for its entire run solely by female creators.

Amen, Brothah!

Just wanted to call your attention to the post "Mag Has A Mini-Rant" over at The Comic Treadmill.
If he hadn't said it, I would have.

Christmas With The Caped Crusader: Justice League of America #110

Okay, this really isn't a Batman story, but Batman is in it.  So, I figured, what the hell, why not through it in?  After all, its actually kind of hard to imagine the Justice League without Batman.  He's been in every incarnation of the League, even the ill fated Detroit League for a brief time toward the end.  This  Christmas story from 1973 features the classic Bronze Age JLA, with Superman, Batman and the rest of DC's top heroes looking down on us mere mortals from their orbiting satellite headquarters
However, the most notable character in this story is John Stewart.  This was only his second appearance, coming more than two years after his debut in Green Lantern #87.  Today, the character has become so central to the DC Universe and the Green Lantern mythos in particular that its difficult to remember that until the mid-1980's he was a bit player who'd go for years at a time without being seen.
"The Man Who Murdered Santa Claus," written by Len Wein and rendered by perennial JLA artist Dick Dillin with inks by Dick Giordano, begins with Batman and Superman about to attend a Christmas party for some orphans on Christmas Eve, when an explosion kills the man playing Santa.  In the murdered man's hand, the World's Finest heroes discover a key and a note written in rhyme proclaiming that unless they can find the lock that the key fits before midnight, a bomb will destroy an entire city block somewhere in America.

Naturally, Superman and Batman put out a call to the rest of the Justice League.  However, for various reasons, Aquaman, the Atom, the Elongated Man, and the Flash are unable to respond.  No reason is given for Hawkman's failure to heed the call, and I believe that this story takes place during Wonder Woman's de-powered phase during which she had left the JLA.  Thus, only Red Tornado, Green Arrow and Black Canary join Superman and Batman aboard the JLA satellite.  Shortly, however, John Stewart shows up, explaining that Hal Jordan had been in the shower when the emergency signal came and had slipped on a bar of soap, hitting his head and knocking himself out, as he went to answer it, so his ring, after ascertaining that Hal wasn't hurt too badly, sought out John.
When Ollie remarks that that's a "miserable way to spend Christmas Eve," the robotic Red Tornado asks what's so special about this particular night.  Though GA is unable to explain it adequately, you just know that before the night is done, the Tornado will learn the meaning of the season.
A reference to an "arch" in the note leads the team to St. Louis.  John uses his ring to make the key able to detect the lock it fits, and Red Tornado takes it and scours the city in search of that lock.  Eventually, he finds it in a rundown tenement in a slum. Upon entering, the League discovers that the entire building is an elaborate death trap built by their old enemy, the Key.  Having been released from prison early after discovering that he was dieing, the Key set out to take the JLA with him into oblivion.
One by one, the Leaguers are seemingly picked off by the Key's death traps until only John Stewart and Red Tornado remain.  Gloating over his victory, the Key suddenly finds himself surrounded by the entire Justice League. Then the Phantom Deus Ex Machina...er, Phantom Stranger shows up out of nowhere to reveal that he had saved the Leaguers from the Key's traps.
Though they've captured the Key, the League are too late to stop the bomb from going off.  So, they evacuate the area, and as the slum is destroyed, John uses his ring to rebuild the buildings as good as new as a Christmas present to the block's impoverished residents.
Later, aboard the JLA satellite, the group gather to present Red Tornado with the gift of a new costume, and the robot finally begins to grasp the meaning of Christmas.
Meanwhile, John Stewart flies off back to limbo, not to be seen again for another three years. His next appearance would be his return to Green Lantern in #94 in 1977.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Christmas With The Caped Crusader: "Silent Night of the Batman"

For someone who's normally so grim and humorless, the Batman sure does love Christmas.  Over the years he has starred in many classic and, if we're being honest, not so classic Christmas tales.  In these stories he can be seen singing Christmas carols, exchanging gifts, and generally letting the "Dark Knight" persona slip for a little bit.
I've got a small pile of these stories, and I'll be reviewing them over the next few weeks as we count down to Christmas Day.
The first, and earliest, of these is "Silent Night of the Batman," an eight page back up story from 1970's Batman #219, written by Mike Friedrich and drawn by Neal Adams and Dick Giordano.  In many ways, "Silent Night of the Batman" set the tone for all of the seasonal tales of the Caped Crusader that followed.
The story begins with Batman swinging over crowds of last minute shoppers on Christmas Eve on his way to answer the summons of the Bat-Signal.  A caption tells the reader that "For two thousand years, mystics have experienced the many mysteries of Christmas.  Tonight there will be one more..."

Arriving at police headquaters, Batman finds no crime wave or escaped lunatic to deal with. Instead, Commissioner Gordon, infused with the holiday spirit, has decided that "Christmas Eve is not a night...to be out patrolling."  Despite protesting that crime doesn't take a holiday, Batman nonetheless accepts Gordon's invitation to croon some Christmas carols with the night watch until he's needed somewhere else.
Meanwhile, out on the streets of Gotham, it appears that crime has indeed taken the night off. While Batman sings, a series of short vignettes show crimes or other tragedies averted.  Two of these depict criminals who reconsider their planned misdeeds when they encounter images of the Batman, reminding them of the possible repercussions of their actions.  Lastly, a woman is stopped from committing suicide by the reappearance of her husband, a soldier who had been missing in Vietnam.
As the sun rises, Batman realizes that he's been caroling all night, and not one call reporting a crime has come in.  It is, he says, "...like the Spirit of Christmas took hold on everyone!"  Then Batman sees a ghostly image of Gordon which asks him, "But what is the Christmas spirit, Batman--Might it not be...you or I?"  After the apparition fades, the real Gordon comments that it appears that the investment Batman has put into the city paid off for one night.  As the sun rises on Christmas morning, Batman swings home, cotemplating just what exactly happened that night. Did, perhaps, the "Spirit of Christmas" manifest itself as visions of the Batman in order to bring peace to Gotham for a night? As the caption, repeated in the final panel, says, its another of the mysteries of the season.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Winner Is....(Mike Grell Poll Results)

It's kind of weird.  On Tuesday here in Columbus, Ohio, it was 50 degrees and rainy.  Then, on Wednesday, it was as if someone decided that since it was December and Christmas was just around the corner that it should be snowing, so they flipped a switch and suddenly there was snow.   
Yes, ladies and germs, the yuletide season has descended upon our heads with a thud, and next week I'll begin my celebration of "Christmas With The Caped Crusader" wherein I'll be looking back at some of the many seasonal tales of the Batman published over the years.
Right now, I'd thought I'd say a few words about the results of my Mike Grell poll which came to a close along with the month of November on Tuesday. 
As you can see, The Warlord, with more than half the votes cast, was the clear winner.  I'm sure this probably says more about the readers of this blog, of course, than it does about the quality of Grell's work on the series.  What that is I can only speculate, though I suspect it simply means that the people who are reading Gutter Talk are people who are interested in the same things, at least as far as comic books, that I am and that I want to write about. This really comes as no surprise.
I'm a little surprised that weren't more votes for Green Arrow.  Likewise, I'm sure many of you, given my previously stated love for the character, may have been surprised that my vote went to Warlord.  It's true that Ollie Queen is my favorite super hero and I do feel that Grell's version is  one of the best, but I guess I just prefer his work on more fantasy oriented concepts.
Thus, I suppose I'd probably like Starslayer, the preference of at least one of the respondents who voted "Other."  I have read, and  liked, a few issues, but not any of the ones Grell himself did.  Of course, there aren't that many.  He left after the eighth issue, presumably to focus on Jon Sable, Freelance.  This, I suppose, accounts for the "unrealized potential" this person saw in this series.  The brevity of Grell's tenure on the book is somewhat surprising given his lengthy run on Sable, as well  as Warlord and Green Arrow.  Counting the regular series, various mini-series, and an issue of Secret Origins, Grell wrote 94 issues of the Emerald Archers adventures. 
Jonathon Riddle remarked to me once that Starslayer is more noteworthy for its back up features than for the lead story.  It is true that both Groo the Wanderer and Grimjack debuted in the title's back pages.  It was also the first regular series written by John Ostrander.  
By the way, did you know that Starslayer was almost published by DC?  It was one of a handful of not yet released titles, which also included The Vixen, scrapped by DC in 1978 as part of the mass cancellation of titles that has come to be known as "The DC Implosion."  
Given the importance of the book, as I noted above, for the talent and concepts that it helped to introduce, its interesting to speculate just how the history of comics, and independent comics particularly, might have been different had the "DC Implosion" not occurred.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Birthday, Noel Neill

Happy Thanksgiving!
And happy birthday to Noel Neill!
According to her profile at the Internet Movie Data Base, Noel Neill grew up wanting to become a journalist.  Instead, she ended up an actress beloved by baby boomers and comics geeks alike for playing one of the best known fictional journalists of all time in movie serials and on TV.  Neill first assumed the role of "Superman's Girlfriend" Lois Lane in the serials Superman and Superman vs. Atom Man, then came back to the role several years later, replacing Phyllis Coates in the second season of The Adventures of Superman
Noel Neill is 90 years old today (and probably not too worried about the dreaded "Superman Curse" catching up to her after all this time.)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Vote For Your Favorite In Gutter Talk's Mike Grell Poll

If you turn your gaze to your right, you'll notice something new in the sidebar.
Blogger.com has a feature that allows users to add a poll to their blogs, and I've been wanting to do one, but had yet to come up with a question worth asking.  
Over the past few days, though, I've been reading quite a few old comics written and mostly drawn by "Iron" Mike Grell.  My personal favorite work of his is Warlord, and now I'm giving you the opportunity to tell me what yours is.  Voting will be open until November 30.  
If you chose "Other," I'd appreciate it if you'd post a comment and tell me which Grell comic not listed here you prefer to the choices I've given you.  
(Those of you reading this at the Open Salon version of "Gutter Talk" click here to go to "Gutter Talk Prime" and take the poll.)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Batman, Inc #1

On the text page of Batman and the Outsiders #1, Mike W. Barr gushed about the chance he had been given "...to write a Batman book, beginning with #1." He asked the reader rhetorically, "Do you know how many writers there are who can say they've written a first issue of a Batman book?" When he wrote those words in 1983, it was indeed quite an exclusive club Barr had joined.  DC hadn't launched an ongoing Batman series with a new first issue since Batman #1 in 1940.  The mini-series was still a relatively new format and, hard as it might be for us to believe today, the Caped Crusader had been featured in only one up to that point, 1980's The Untold Legend of the Batman.
These days, however, with DC seemingly launching a new Batman mini-series or even ongoing series every week, the challenge would seem to be to name a writer who hasn't had a crack at a Batman first issue.  Grant Morrison alone has gotten three such opportunities, first with Batman and Robin, then Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne and now Batman, Inc., which hit the stands this past Wednesday.
This is another book that gives me a feeling of deja vu.  Back in the 1980's, Batman's costume featured a yellow oval surrounding the bat symbol, Catwoman had mostly reformed and often fought crime along side the Dark Knight, the two were also occasionally romantically involved and she knew his secret identity.  In Batman, Inc. #1, the yellow oval is back, we see Catwoman and Batman working together then later hanging out together out of costume in a Tokyo hotel room, and, as the scene abruptly shifts, it is strongly implied that the two are about to have sex. 
With nice art by Yanick Paquette and Michel Lacombe, lots of action, a bizarre and intriguing new villain, and a cliffhanger ending featuring a death trap reminiscent of the old Batman TV show, Batman, Inc. #1 is actually a really good comic.  I'd have no problem with it at all if it weren't a first issue.
First issues should, ideally, set up and explain the basic premise of the series.  This one just throws us right into the middle of the action without any preamble, which left me feeling a little lost.  Batman and Catwoman are in Tokyo because Batman wants to recruit a Japanese crimefighter called Mr. Unknown.  Recruit him for what? Obviously for Batman, Incorporated. But what IS Batman, Incorporated?  The story never tells us.  I suppose if I'd been more closely following every Batman comic published during the last few years, especially, I assume, those written by Morrison, I'd already know.  However, I haven't and a brief recap would have been appreciated. Hopefully, future issues will flesh out the concept a little more for new readers. The issue is at least good enough to make me want to come back and find out.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Unbearableness of Being Dr. Light--Part 2

Welcome back for the second part of my look at the history of the four DC Comics characters who have been known as Dr. Light.  This retrospective was inspired by the following question posed by one of my readers in a comment on an earlier post:
Didn't Doctor Light die in Suicide Squad? I know comic book characters never STAY dead, but still... Also, I thought there was a female Doctor Light who used a similar-powered suit as a hero. She served in the Justice League for awhile. What happened to her?
In part one, I covered the Golden Age Dr. Light, an obscure foe of the first Dr. Mid-Nite, looked at the "second" Dr. Light, actually the fourth one to appear in comics, whose heroic career was cut short by a freak lab accident, and traced the career of Arthur Light, the most well known and longest lasting of the four Dr. Lights, from his earliest efforts to destroy the Justice League of America to his death and resurrection in the pages of Suicide Squad.  In short, after several hundred words, I'd managed only to answer the first part of the commenter's question.  In this installment, I will bring the bio of Arthur Light up to the present and review the career of the female Dr. Light.
If you haven't read that earlier opus, click here and do so while I take a few deep calming breaths so that I may attempt to write about Identity Crisis, one of the worst comics ever, without barking and foaming at the mouth.  Forgive me if I might get one or two details wrong in my summary of the story.  I'm writing about it from memory, since I really didn't want to read the damned thing again.   

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Unbearableness of Being Dr. Light--Part 1

Its time once again to answer questions posed to me by my rabid readers via their carefully considered comments.  My recent rantings on the overall distastefulness of Identity Crisis and the general lameness of Dr. Light moved one reader to inquire:
"Didn't Doctor Light die in Suicide Squad? I know comic book characters never STAY dead, but still... Also, I thought there was a female Doctor Light who used a similar-powered suit as a hero. She served in the Justice League for awhile. What happened to her?"
This query inspired me to do a little surfing on the wild, wild web and digging through back issue bins at the recent Mid-Ohio Con in order to cobble together a  retrospective on the four characters from DC comics who have borne the name of Dr. Light over the course of the company's seven and a half decades of cranking out funny books.  The most surprising thing I discovered in my investigations is that there have, in fact, been four characters calling themselves Dr. Light, whereas I had previously been aware of only three.  Since we are dealing here with a quartet of  characters and a time span of over sixty years, this expository essay may just tend a little toward the longish side.  Therefore, I shall be dividing it into at least two parts.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Follow-Up: Wizard World Formally Announces Purchase of Mid-Ohio Con; First Guests of Honor

Thanks to Bob Corby, I had the story, and shared it with you, that Wizard World had bought Mid-Ohio Con a week ago.  However, it was just yesterday that the official announcement  of the deal appeared on Wizard World's web-site.  (Thanks to Dara Naraghi at the PANEL blog for bringing this to my attention.) 
The press release also includes an announcement of three of the big names that Wizard World will be bringing to the Greater Columbus Convention Center next October 22 and 23.  They are camp icons Adam West and Burt Ward of 1960's sitcom version of Batman and "fan-favorite", at least according to the press release, artist and co-founder of Image Comics Rob Liefeld.
Having never attended a Wizard World show before, I will, as I stated in my previous post on this story, reserve judgment on this development until after next year's show is in the history books.  However, since for the last couple of years I've gone to the show mainly just to shop for back issues, I really don't see this change really affecting my enjoyment of the experience all that much. 
By the way, do the people at Wizard World think this is still 1992?  After all, wasn't that really about the last time that Rob Liefeld could honestly have been described as a "fan favorite"? For most of the last fifteen years or so he's been mostly a joke among a majority of fans and even that's worn thin recently.  These days he strikes me more as a guy who used to be somebody attempting to pretend the glory days never ended.

"On The Media" Interviews Garry Trudeau

Whereas Thursday's Garfield may have inadvertently offended some people, when Garry Trudeau's Doonesbury offends its most often entirely intentional.  Believe it or not, Trudeau has been offending and entertaining readers daily for forty years now.  Brooke Gladstone, co-host of NPR's On The Media, interviews the cartoonist on this week's show.  Gladstone and Trudeau cover the entirety of his four decade cartooning career, from the strips origins as a sports strip in the Yale newspaper to his early 80's sabbatical to the recent dramatic changes in the life of B.D. and the ascendence of a new generation of characters led by Mike Doonesbury's daughter Alex.  You can read a transcript of the interview (available on Monday) or just listen to it at the On The Media web-site by directing your browser here.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Thursday's "Garfield" Offends the Thin-Skinned

I don't pay much attention to most newspaper comic strips, especially the really lame ones like Garfield, so this story didn't come to my attention until today.  It seems that Thursday's strip sparked a little bit of a controversy, actually forcing Jim Davis to apologize. 
Thursday, you'll remember, was Veteran's Day, and on that day the following Garfield strip ran in the nation's newspapers:
On any other day, this strip would have just been seen as another typically unfunny installment of a strip that was long past its prime, but as it ran on Veteran's Day, some chose instead to see it as an affront to those the day honors.   The controversy prompted Davis to issue the following statement:
Dear Friends, Fans and Veterans:
In what has to be the worst timing ever, the strip that runs in today's paper seems to be making a statement about Veterans. It absolutely, positively has nothing to do with this important day of remembrance.
Regarding today's Garfield comic strip , it was written almost a year ago and I had no idea when writing it that it would appear today -- of all days. I do not use a calendar that lists holidays and other notable days so when this strip was put in the queue, I had no idea it would run on Veterans Day. What are the odds? You can bet I'll have a calendar that lists everything by my side in the future.
My brother Dave served in Vietnam. My son James is a Marine who has had two tours of duty, both in Iraq and Afghanistan. You'd have to go a long way to find someone who was more proud and grateful for what our Veterans have done for all of us.
Please accept my apologies for any offense today's Garfield may have created. It was unintentional and regrettable.

While it appears that Davis is guilty of nothing more than simple negligence,  and most veterans who've commented on the strip claim to take no offense, there seem to be a few who aren't buying his pleading of ignorance.  A commenter on the Washington Post's "Comic Riffs" blog who calls himself "editor20" claims "...there are no coincidences in the media business" and replies to another commenter that "...you don't understand what you're really looking at when you read the funnies." I don't know what kind of publication "editor20" edits, but from his statements I'd guess its some sort of right wing conspiracy theory journal filled with rants against the "liberal media."
Given the tendency of modern newspaper comics toward increasing blandness in a doomed quest to not offend anyone ever, I'm sure that the timing of this strip was, as Davis claims, an unfortunate coincidence, and that he would never use the strip to express any sort of potentially controversial opinion or original thought. Hell, I'm surprised the syndicate didn't pull this strip because they were afraid it might offend stupid people. Some might say that it has.

Justice League: Generation Lost at the Halfway Mark

Back in my review of Justice League: Generation Lost #10, I wrote, "...as the halfway  point of the series approaches, I am going to have to decide if this book is really worth three bucks every two weeks."
With the release this past Wednesday of the thirteenth of twenty-six issues of this year long bi-weekly mini-series, we have come to that halfway marker and now seems like a good time to take stock of the series so far.  
As you might expect from a series of this length, the story has been somewhat leisurely paced.  It took a couple of months for the story to really kick into gear, and it continues to move forward somewhat slowly.  Along the way there've been a couple of issues that have seemed little more than filler, adding little to the development of the plot.  The last three issues have been little more than extended fight scenes, with only small advancement in the actual story.  Meanwhile, I'm still not sure about the exact nature of Max Lord's master plan, though we are assured that he has one.
The main appeal of the series is the characters.  Captain Atom has been one of my favorites since the first issue of his 80's series; Booster Gold has always been at his best when he's with the JLI, and I really like the new Blue Beetle and Rocket Red. Fire and Ice, especially Ice in light of the controversial retcons in #12, aren't quite the same characters they were in the classic JLI stories of the 80's, though they're still recognizable to long time fans.  The only character whose portrayal I'm not happy with is Max Lord, but the damage to him was done long before this current story began. Overall, I've noticed that Judd Winick is stronger on character than story, and he seems to have a good handle on this group of heroes. 
So, while it's been somewhat uneven in pacing and quality, for the most part, Justice League: Generation Lost has been a fairly entertaining read.  It's not a classic, but it doesn't totally suck, either. If I were one to dish out letter grades in my reviews, I'd give it a "C."
As to the question of my continuing to follow the series, to be blunt, the answer is that I've come this far with it so I might as well see it through to the finish.
What remains in question is whether I'll keep reviewing the issues here as they come out.  It seems that I just can't win with this book.  If I don't like an issue, I get comments telling me how wrong I am  and if I like an issue, I get obscenity laced comments also telling me how wrong I am.  There may be no consensus on the merits of Generation Lost, but there appears to be general agreement out there in cyber-space that I am just wrong. 
In the end, I suppose I'll do what I've always done.  If I have something that I think is interesting to say about a particular issue, I'll say it.  If you don't like it, that's why there's that white box underneath these ramblings.  Whether you agree with me or think I'm an idiot, your comments are always welcomed in these quarters.

Friday, November 12, 2010

"Big Time" Thoughts on Amazing Spider-Man #648

The first Spider-Man comic I ever bought was Amazing Spider-Man #147, which I wrote about last week.  Between the summer of 1976, when I made that purchase, and last Wednesday, when I picked up the most recent issue of Amazing Spider-Man, #648, more than thirty-four years and 500 issues of ASM have come and gone.  Now, that doesn't make me feel old at all.
It was a preview of the first five pages of the most recent issue in a free flyer called Marvel Sneak Peeks, featuring glimpses of ASM #648 and other November releases from Marvel, that persuaded me to pick it up.  In those pages, Spidey is leading the Avengers against a squadron of giant robotic octopi unleashed upon Manhattan by, as you must have guessed, Dr. Octopus.  While I've always preferred Spider-Man as a loner and never really liked the idea of him in the Avengers, it was actually kind of cool to see him take charge the way he does.  The preview ends with a classic Spidey bit as a man he's just saved from being crushed to death by one of the octupus robots shows his gratitude by accusing the wallcrawler of stealing his wallet.  Thus we are assured that some things, at least, will never change for our hero.  This was enough for me to decide to see if the rest of the issue was as good. 
Peter Parker/Spider-Man is a genius.  His intellect is on a par with such Marvel Universe big brains as Tony Stark and Reed Richards.  This, it would appear, is the message that new writer Dan Slott wants the reader to take away from this issue's story.  From Dr. Octopus to Aunt May to Flash Thompson, there's hardly a character in the book who at some point doesn't remark on how smart Parker is.  We also get to see just how smart he is as he first, as Spider-Man, figures out a way to stop the giant octopus robots from self-destructing and destroying all of Manhattan when Richards and Stark are stumped, then, in his civilian identity, saves a roomful of scientists from an experiment gone out of control.
The main purpose of the issue is to establish the new direction Slott wants to take the series in and to tease a number of future plotlines, including Dr. Octopus' mysterious master plan, for which the giant octopus robots were merely a diversionary tactic to keep the Avengers occupied, an enigmatic figure who appears to have a familial tie to J. Jonah Jameson and is stalking the former Daily Bugle publisher turned current mayor of New York City, and the return of the Kingpin, Venom, and the Hobgoblin. Meanwhile, Peter gets a new job at high tech firm Horizon Labs, meets his new co-workers and saves them from the aforementioned experiment gone haywire.  This part of the issue gave me a powerful sense of deja vu.  It strongly echoed a similar sequence in Amazing Spider-Man (volume 2) #1, in which Peter showed up for his first day of work at another high tech company, met his co-workers, and was attacked, if I'm remembering correctly, by the Scorpion.  
All in all, "Big Time," is a pretty solid Spider-Man story and an indication that the book seems to be on the right track.  I might just stick around for a couple of more issues to see what grows from some of the seeds Slott planted here.  
The only thing that bugs me about the issue doesn't really have anything to do with the story itself, but appears on the letters page and springs from the recent resetting of Spidey's history in "One More Day" and "Brand New Day", the story lines that, among other things, erased Peter's marriage to Mary Jane and brought Harry Osborn back to life.  I'd read that Marvel actually considered using the reboot to revive Gwen Stacy, but I'm glad they backed off on that.  Gwen's death is as much a defining moment in Spider-Man's life as the death of his Uncle Ben and should be left as it is.  
Anyway, in an editorial by Dan Slott,  the writer addresses the issue of who now is aware of Spider-Man's secret identity in the wake of the recent retcons.  Missing from the list is Aunt May.  The last issue of Amazing Spider-Man that I bought prior to the current one was ASM (volume 2) #38.  The story was called "The Conversation" and dealt with the aftermath of May learning that her "frail" nephew Peter was actually Spider-Man.  I felt that it was a good idea to have May find out the truth, and, in fact, was long over due.  It was also very well handled. "The Conversation" is one of my favorite issues of any Spider-Man comic.  So, I'm kind of sorry to see that development swept under the rug and hope that someday the powers that be at Marvel decide to bring it back.
By the way, speaking of the letters column, just the fact that there was one, in an era when most publishers, including DC, have abandoned them, was a pleasant surprise. 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Gerry Conway Fans, Check This Out! Conway Career Interview at "Views From The Longbox"

If I could conduct an in-depth, career spanning interview with any comics creator, it would be Gerry Conway.  One of my favorite writers, Conway has been responsible for some of the finest super-hero comics ever ("The Night Gwen Stacy Died", The Last Days of Animal Man) and some of the absolute worst (the not at all unfairly maligned Justice League Detroit).  He bounced back and forth between the two largest comics publishers, Marvel and DC,  during the 70's and 80's, along the way creating such fan-favorite characters as the Punisher and Firestorm and writing the history making first inter-company crossover pairing Superman and Spider-Man.  Away from comics, his second act as a writer for television has also run the gamut from the sublime to the silly with credits that include The Father Dowling Mysteries, Diagnosis Murder, and Law & Order: Criminal Intent
There are many questions I would have loved to pose to Mr. Conway, but now it seems I don't really have to.  I recently came across an installment of Michael Bailey's podcast Views From The Longbox from last April in which he and the Irredeemable Shag, keeper of the Firestorm Fan blog, conduct just the kind of extensive interview with Conway that I envisioned.  
Clocking in at just under two and a half hours, the conversation covers every aspect of Conway's career as a writer of comics and television, from his brief stint at DC as a teenager; through his lengthy runs on The Amazing Spider-Man, Justice League of America, and The Fury of Firestorm; onto his years in the wilderness of Hollywood; to his return to DC to write The Last Days of Animal ManAlong the way, Bailey and Shag ask just about every question to which I have always wondered about the answer, such as the reasons behind the killing of Gwen Stacy, how Conway felt about not getting any credit for essentially writing the ending of the first Spider-Man movie thirty years before its release, and "What the bloody hell could you  have possibly been thinking when you gutted the Justice League of America like a fish and turned what should be the world's greatest, most powerful super team into a two-bit, fifth rate imitation of Batman and the Outsiders?"
Of course, Bailey and Shag phrase that last inquiry somewhat more politely than I did above. Shag, poor benighted soul that he is, appears to be one of the few people who actually enjoyed the Detroit era JLA.  
If that's not enough Gerry Conway for you, a few months earlier on his own site, Shag posted a solo interview with Conway, which he uploaded in two installments, that lasts, all told, about an hour and a half and focuses, as you'd expect from a blog called Firestorm Fan, mainly on the Nuclear Man. 
Between these two interviews, we get nearly four hours of Gerry Conway attempting to justify his existence and doing a pretty good job of it.  These are definitely recommended listening for any fan of Gerry Conway's work, whether you know him mainly from comics or television.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Mid-Ohio Con Wrap-Up

You may remember that when I hit "Send" to upload Friday's post, I was on my way out the door, heading to the pre-Mid-Ohio Con Party at Packrat Comics.  The party, by the way, was a lot better than I'd expected.  It was apparently a lot better than Jonathon Riddle expected, as well.  He was my ride to the gala, and he had stated beforehand that he only intended to stay for a little while.  However, after arriving shortly before 7 p.m., we stayed until nearly the end, finally heading out at 11.
Not that I'm complaining, I had a great time.  There was, as I reported on Friday, live music.  The first set was by the band Seven Book Trilogy, a quartet of regular Packrat customers.  Jon and I were talking afterward with Kyle, the band's drummer, who revealed that the band has been in flux recently.  Apparently, they've recently lost their lead guitarist.  It seems that before his departure, Kendall, the new lead guitarist and lead vocalist, used to play more trombone.  He did pick up the horn for a little bit at the beginning of the set.  Despite these recent ups and downs, the band put on a great show.
Later, Ethan Van Sciver sat down with a keyboard and treated the party goers to his unique song stylings.  Yes, that is the same Ethan Van Sciver who drew New X-Men, Green Lantern, Flash: Rebirth, and many other best selling comics.
The real highlight of the night was the food.  I was expecting that they would just have pizza delivered and set out some chips and dip. But the owner's wife, Teresa, actually cooked. She laid out an entire Thanksgiving dinner including turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans, rolls, and even stuffing.  My friends were a little surprised to discover just how much I like stuffing when I went back to the buffet table and filled almost an entire plate with just stuffing. Everything tasted great, of course.
The other great thing about the party was hanging out with other comic nerds just talking about comics.  I did get a little, shall we say, "over-excited" at one point, or maybe "obnoxious" would be a better word, when I literally shouted down someone who dared to admit he liked Identity Crisis.  I  felt bad about that later and caught up to him the next day at the con and apologized.
As for the con itself, I ended up going both days and spending most of my time, as I said I would on Friday, pawing through bargain boxes looking for old comics.  I had to quit buying comics on Saturday, when I ran out of room in my bag. Sunday, I was a bit more disciplined, seeking out specific issues and not spending too much more money.  Anyway, I found some neat stuff, and I will be writing about a few of my newest old comics here over the next few months.  
I did get that sketch I was talking about from Art Baltazar. I asked him to draw Vertigo's John Constantine for me, and he very graciously agreed to do so, even though its not a character he's probably ever drawn before.  It's a really cool drawing, and as soon as I get it scanned, I'll share it with you.
While, as I said, I'm not much for collecting autographs, I did pick up an extra copy of my favorite Adam Hughes illustrated issue of Justice League America, so that the man himself could put his "AH!" on it.  Jon and I had a nice conversation with Tony Isabella, who invited us, as I'm sure he does everyone he talks to at conventions, to submit suggestions for comic books to include in the sequel to his book 1000 Comic Books You Must Read.  I've been working on my list in my head and I'll be sending it to him before long. 
All in all, I had a great weekend, and I can only hope that future shows are as much fun now that Mid-Ohio is in the hands of Wizard World.

Mid-Ohio Con bought by Wizard World

No sooner has this year's Mid-Ohio Con packed up its long boxes for another year than there's big news concerning next year's show, and all future shows.
Wizard World, which operates comic book shows in several cities including Atlanta, Toronto, New Orleans, Miami, Boston, Austin, New York, Philadelphia,  Chicago and others, has bought Mid-Ohio Con.  The show is now apparently to be known as Mid-Ohio Comic Con Wizard World Convention.  Wow--that's a mouthful!
When I first saw this posted on Facebook by SPACE promoter Bob Corby, I thought it was a joke.  Which I suppose says more about my sense of humor than it does Bob's.   Anyway, several comics news sites, including Bleeding Cool and Newsarama are also reporting this.  According to these sources, Wizard World has made no formal announcement concerning the purchase. However, they are already selling advance tickets for next year's show on their site, so it looks like its pretty much a done deal. 
I suppose that whether this is good news or bad news will be determined next October 22 and 23, the dates given on Wizard World's site for next year's con.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Goin' Downtown: Mid-Ohio Con This Weekend

 "I'm going downtown
And I'm gonna buy me some new shoes.
When there's nothin' to win,
You got nothin' to lose,
It ain't nothin' like a pair of brand new shoes.
Oh, yeah!"
---The Bus Boys, "New Shoes"

I'm actually pretty well fixed for shoes right now, but I am headed to downtown Columbus, Ohio this weekend and I'm gonna buy me some old comics.  The 30th annual Mid-Ohio Con is taking place tomorrow and Sunday at the Greater Columbus Convention Center.
It may not be as big as the San Diego Comicon (and from the reports I've read of what an overcrowded zoo that show has become in recent years, that's probably a good thing), but Mid-Ohio Con is the only major mainstream comics convention that I could walk to if I were so inclined.  Sure, it's a long walk from my neighborhood of Clintonville to Downtown, but I've done it before.  This weekend, though, I plan on taking a bus, as it is very cold here in Central Ohio land.
I'll probably only go tomorrow.  The last two years, I actually shared a table with other members of local cartoonists' group Sunday Comix, but this year I'm going mostly to expand my already voluminous comic book collection.  I'm sure I'll end up writing about at least a few of my aquisitions here on this blog.
I'm not really much of an autograph collector these days, but there are a few guests at the con I'd like to see, if only to say "hi" and tell them how much I've enjoyed their work over the years.  I do want to get another sketch from Art Baltazar.  This one will be for me.  The one I got two years ago was a Christmas gift for my niece Alison, who's a big fan of Tiny Titans.   However, even though this blog is not exclusively focused on Bronze Age comics, as you surf through it you'll realize that is where my interests primarily lie, so I honestly don't even recognize more than half the names on the con's guest list.  Among those that do ring a bell are Matt Wagner, Tony Isabella, Kurt Busiek, Chris Sprouse, Bob McLeod, Darryl Banks, Mark Texiera, Ethan Van Sciver, Michael Golden, Arvell Jones, Beau Smith, Barry Kitson and the legendary Herb Trimpe.
The weekend's festivities kick off tonight with a pre-con party at Packrat Comics.  You've got quite a legacy to live up to, Packrat. I'm referring to the Great Ogre Gatherings, the pre-Mid-Ohio Con parties hosted by the Laughing Ogre back when it was in the hands of original owners Gib Bickel, Rod Philips, and Darren Guarino.  Those were truly memorable, often moreso than the con itself.  I do hear that Packrat's shindig may include live music.  If that materializes, then Packrat wins.  That's something the GOG never had.
So, the party's only a couple of hours away and I need to get all cleaned up  and presentable for it.  I'll talk to you all in a couple of days.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Greatest Marvel Panel Ever!

In the same post where he reveals his choice for greatest DC Comics cover ever, J.M. DeMatteis also gives us his pick for the greatest Marvel cover.  I tried to come up with my own favorite Marvel cover, but nothing occurred to me.  I guess I don't really have one.
I do, however, have a favorite panel from a Marvel comic.  It's from Amazing Spider-Man #147, "The Tarantula Is A Very Deadly Beast!" written by Gerry Conway and drawn by Ross Andru, Mike Esposito and Dave Hunt, and its the most hilarious unintentionally (I presume) funny moment I've ever read in  a comic book.
The story begins with the Tarantula escaping from prison with the aid of the Jackal, and proceeding to attack Spider-Man.  As the two battle across downtown Manhattan, eventually they end up fighting on a city bus.  The frightened passengers flee at the next stop, but the bus driver appears not to notice anything unusual going on.  Seemingly oblivious, he keeps admonishing the combatants to "Please move to the rear of the bus."  When the Jackal created clone of Spidey's dead girlfriend Gwen Stacey gets on the bus and the driver continues to act oddly, the web-slinger snaps. "You can't be real!," he shouts at the unflappable driver, "Nobody behaves like you do...Nobody!"
At this point, the driver removes his "bus driver" mask to reveal the mask of the Jackal, complete with its giant protruding ears.  That's not the funny part, of course.  After years of reading Batman comics, you learn not to think about it too much.  The hilarious part is  what  the Jackal says as he unmasks:
"Then I suppose "the gig is up," eh, lawman? Nobody real does act like I do---
"--Because no one "real" is the Jackal!"
Cracks me up every time I read it.
Of course, when I first read that when I was ten years old, I didn't see the humor in it.  It was only when I came back to it years later as an adult that I  realized how funny it is.
Another thing that wasn't too funny to me is that the issue ended on a cliffhanger, but I missed the next issue at the local drugstore and it would be nearly twenty years before I found how Spidey survived being thrown off the Brooklyn Bridge by the Jackal and the Tarantula.  The next issue of Amazing Spider-Man that I would pick up was #153, so I knew he did survive, just not  the details of his escape.
By the way, I just noticed something as I've been typing this up.  What's the deal  with me and 147th issues? Just yesterday, I wrote about The Brave and the Bold #147, and a few months ago I spotlighted Justice League of America #147.  Coincidence?  Probably, but maybe I should consult my astrologer.