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. 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 " 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 " 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, " 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.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Dr. Light: Ok, He WAS Lame, But So What?

Coming near the end of writer Bob Haney's long tenure on The Brave and the Bold, issue #147 teams Batman and Supergirl in a story written not by Haney but by relative newcomer Cary Burkett.  I can only speculate as to why this issue is not written by Haney, however I do know that there were conflicts toward the end of Haney's run between the writer and new B&B editor Paul Levitz that would eventually force Haney off the book.  It may be that Levitz wanted a Supergirl team-up and Haney either refused to do it or didn't do it to Levitz's satisfaction.  If Haney did refuse, I'd speculate that it was because he had already planned the story that would appear just three issues later in #150 featuring Superman.  It does seem almost redundant to me to have team-ups with two so similar characters in so  short a span of time.
However, my purpose in writing about B&B #147 was not going to be to talk about how badly DC treated Bob Haney, but how badly DC treated Dr. Light in Brad Meltzer's awful Identity Crisis mini-series.  I saw another review of this issue on-line and, remembering that Light was the villain of the piece, decided to write a post about how the doctor wasn't always lame and how the revamp of the character in Meltzer's story was unnecessary, not to mention a really bad idea and  an equally bad story.
After rereading B&B 147's story, "Death-Scream From The Sky", I realized that I couldn't do it.  Oh, I still feel the same way I always have about Identity Crisis. It is and shall remain for all time one of the worst comics ever published.  However, I am now forced to admit that Dr. Light really was pretty lame.
In B&B #147, his scheme to blackmail Gotham with the threat of a laser attack from a hijacked satellite is pretty generic, having been tried by a host of other villains ranging from the Parasite to Kobra, and Batman barely breaks a sweat taking out him and his henchmen.  A couple of years earlier, in Teen Titans #44, Light tried to take revenge on the his old enemies in the Justice League of America  by defeating their sidekicks in the Titans, but ended up getting his ass handed to him by wannabe hanger-on Mal Duncan , an even lamer character than Light, wearing a second hand Guardian costume.
In these stories, the heroes, at least, take Light seriously.  Batman tells Supergirl that Light is "more deadly than a dozen rattlesnakes."  The writers, for their part, do their best to make Light a real menace, though they don't quite succeed. 
By the 80's, things had changed. Dr. Light's inherent lameness was acknowledged and even embraced. In the Batman and the Outsiders/New Teen Titans team-up Marv Wolfman and Mike W. Barr portray Light as a craven, cringing coward.  His backstory in Secret Origins was played for laughs, paired in that issue with the origin of the even lamer  and far sillier Legion of Substitute Heroes, and John Ostrander used him mainly as a punchline in Suicide Squad.
As I've said before, there's really nothing wrong with having one or two easily defeated comic relief villains to provide the heroes a little breather between the real world-beaters.  Besides, the point I'd intended to make in this post is still a valid one.  If DC really had to make Dr. Light into a badass mofo, there had to be better ways to do it than a clumsy retcon that turned him into a brutal rapist and had Zatanna psychically violate him and the rest of the JLA as accomplices.  
It just amazes me that DC actually approved this piece of crap instead of shouting "Are you freakin' crazy!?! We can't print this garbage!!!" and having security escort Meltzer out of the building. I, for one, prefer to pretend the whole mess never happened.  That would be a whole lot easier if nearly everything that's happened in nearly every DC title for the five years since didn't spring directly from it.
Still, I hope that someday DC will choose to just ignore Identity Crisis.  However, it seems far more likely that instead they'll eventually publish an even worse story to explain it away.  Now that's something to look forward to.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Top 5 Presidents With The Most Appearances In Comic Books

At the end of a long and thoughtful comment on the re-posting of my long winded and pretentious piece on "Watchmen As Alternate History," Jonathon Riddle closed with this thought:
"Which American president has had the most appearances in American comics? My guess would be Reagan."
Even though the comment is unsigned, I'm fairly positive that it was Jonathon, since this is a  question he has raised several times in our conversations off-line.  So, when I was trying to think of something vaguely politically themed to write about on this Election Day, I decided to find out the answer to  his question.
Arriving at that answer was  a simple, if somewhat tedious, matter of going to the Comic Book Data Base and counting the listed appearances of the U.S. Presidents. 
Of all the presidents listed on the site, the one with the most appearances is, of course, Lex Luthor.  You may remember that Superman's arch-nemesis was elected President of the United States of the DC Universe in 2000 and remained in office till he went full on battle-suited berserk at the end of the first Superman/Batman story arc, "Public Enemies." Of course, I didn't bother counting all of his appearances, which must number in the thousands.  Of the real world presidents listed, none had more than a hundred.  Although one came close.
Keep in mind that the info on this data base is by no means complete.  I added a previously unlisted appearance of Gerald Ford while I was doing my research, and I know of at least one appearance by LBJ that's not catalogued.  Also, Teddy Roosevelt isn't listed at all, and I know of at least one comic book appearance of the Rough Rider.  Of course, he is drawn as a Disney style anthropomorphised animal complete with cute button nose.  That's because said appearance is in Don Rosa's The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck.  And, hey, if we're counting fictional characters, how come Prez Rickard isn't listed there.
Anyway, without further preamble, I give you:
The Top 5 U.S. Presidents With The Most Comic Book Appearances
5. Abraham Lincoln
The Honest One earns extra points for appearing on one of the oddest and most memorable covers of the Bronze Age, the Weird Western Tales cover that accompanies this post.
4. George W. Bush
"Poppy," by the way, comes in 9th.
3. Bill Clinton
2. Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Even though he was President throughout almost the entire Golden Age of Comics, most of his comic book appearances come from the 70's and 80's
And it seems that Jonathon's guess was on the money.  With 92 appearances listed on the Comic Book Data Base, the most frequently appearing president in comic books is:
1. Ronald Wilson "Dutch" Reagan
Now, quit wasting your time reading comics blogs and go vote.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Greatest! Cover! Ever!

I was scrolling through the archives of J.M. DeMatteis' blog recently and I came across a posting from this past May in which DeMatteis, inspired by an entry on Dean Haspiel's blog, revealed his pick for his favorite DC Comics cover ever.  Both of these posts have inspired me to weigh in with my choice, which happens to be from a comic that I'd planned to write about here eventually, anyway. 
While both DeMatteis and Haspiel chose covers from the Superman family of titles, my pick is from Batman's corner of the DC Universe.  Not only do I consider this the greatest DC cover ever, but it just may be the greatest comic book cover ever, period.  And it doesn't even have a gorilla on it, believe it or not.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the cover of The Brave and the Bold #124:

This cover, with its arresting image of artist Jim Aparo held at gunpoint by a menacing masked figure who demands that Aparo draw guest star Sgt. Rock killing Batman, achieves exactly what a good comic book cover is supposed to.  It captures your attention and makes you not just want, but need to read that issue.  I know that from the time I first saw this cover as a kid in DC house ads until I finally bought a copy and read the story years later, I wondered what kind of story could possibly be inside.
A great cover, however, is not always an indication of a good comic, but B&B #124 lives up to its cover's promise of a great story.  As crazy as that cover is, it's actually a fairly accurate representation of the issue's story.
"Small War of the Super-Rifles", written by Bob Haney and drawn by Jim Aparo, teams Batman and Rock on a quest to track down a stolen shipment of experimental weapons that have fallen into the hands of a band of terrorists calling themselves "The Thousand" who are menacing Gotham City.  Just as the two heroes are tracking down a clue to whereabouts of the stolen rifles, a key to a bus station storage locker found on the body of a dead terrorist, the scene abruptly shifts to Aparo's studio, where the artist decides to take a break from drawing the very issue of B&B that we've been reading.  When he returns to his drawing board, Aparo discovers that his studio has been invaded by the very terrorists he had been drawing.  They have changed the script so that Batman and Rock are killed by a bomb that explodes when the locker is opened, and, just as shown on the cover, aim their guns at Aparo and threaten to kill him unless he draws their revised version of the story.
Aparo manages to escape the terrorists and flees to a remote abandoned lighthouse now used as an art studio by a friend of his named Chuck.  I'm not sure if "Chuck" is supposed to be a real person or if he was just made up by Haney for this story.  Anyway, once relatively safe, Aparo completes the sequence with Rock saving Batman at the last minute.  Unsure as to how he should proceed, Aparo calls Haney, who in turn calls B&B editor Murray Boltinoff.  Together the three of them hash out a new plot for Aparo to draw.  Meanwhile, Batman and Rock continue their investigations, unaware that their actions are being guided by the trio of comics creators.
The terrorists, however, are all too aware of that fact, and, with Aparo having eluded them, they go after Haney, who is forced to flee, leaving Aparo and Boltinoff to continue the story until Bob can get to a phone.  Eventually, the terrorists also discover the location of Aparo's hiding place. Fortunately, Haney gets back in touch with Aparo and the two frantically work to complete the story, leading Batman and Rock to the terrorists just as they are closing in on the lighthouse.
The Bronze Age was an era full of crazy concepts and off the wall ideas, with Bob Haney, in  The Brave and the Bold and other titles such as World's Finest, coming up with some of the most outrageous.  But even amidst all that, "Small War of the Super-Rifles" stands out as a masterpiece of unbridled imagination and a celebration of the power of the comics medium.