Sunday, February 27, 2011

Dick Tracy Gets New Lease On Life at 80 Years Old

Maybe you already know about this, as the announcement was made several weeks ago, but there's big news about the long running comic strip Dick Tracy.  Given the trend of recent months, with a trio of long running strips; Cathy, Little Orphan Annie and Brenda Starr, Reporter; coming to an end, you probably think I'm about to write that Tracy is set to join them.  (And the panel from a recent strip that I chose  might reinforce that misconception.) It is true that Dick Locher, who began drawing the strip in 1983 and has been writing it since 2005, is stepping down.  However, unlike Brenda Starr, which was shut down when the creative team called it quits, syndicate Tribune Media Services apparently feels that Tracy is profitable enough to warrant continuing.  Thus, beginning on March 14, a new creative team will begin chronicling the adventures of America's most famous gangbuster, just in time for the strips 80th anniversary this coming October.
I can't say much about the new writer, as I'm unfamiliar with Mike Curtis.  Apparently, however, he's been writing comic books for some three decades now.  Though these have been, for the most part, kid's comics such as Casper, Richie Rich, and Scooby-Doo, which explains my complete lack of knowledge of him and his  work.
On the other hand, I can say with a certain degree of confidence that the strip will at least look good.  The new artist is comic book veteran Joe Staton, best known for his lengthy run on Green Lantern, and his own creation E-Man.  Staton has said that Tracy has always been his dream job and that Tracy creator Chester Gould was a major influence on the development of his distinctive, cartoony style.
I haven't really followed Dick Tracy on a regular basis since about the time Locher began drawing it.  That's not because of Locher, though I admit that I far prefer Locher's predecessor, the late Rick Fletcher.  In those days before the Wild, Wild, Web changed everything, I found myself living in a town where I didn't have daily access to a paper that carried the strip.  Now, of course, most of the "newspaper" strips I read are ones that my local newspaper doesn't even carry.  In the case of Dick Tracy, recently I've only encountered it when Josh Fruhlinger turns his snarky attention to it over at The Comics Curmudgeon, as he, in fact, does today.   I do plan to be reading starting in two weeks when Curtis and Staton's run begins. 
'Til then, here's a preview image of the new team's work that's shown up around the web:
You can't really get a sense of Curtis' writing from these two panels, but, as  I predicted, the characters haven't looked that good since Rick Fletcher drew them.

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Uncollected: Hawkworld

I have long lamented the fact that much of John Ostrander's work for DC is currently out of print, including the two finest works of his career, Spectre and Hawkworld.  I'll get to Spectre another time. Today, I'm going to focus on Hawkworld and why it deserves to be reprinted.
The Hawkworld ongoing series followed a three issue mini-series by Tim Truman, which, by the way, has been collected in a trade paperback. The monthly book was written by Ostrander, with Truman co-writing the first nine issues, wrapping up the loose ends from the mini-series.  After Truman departed, Ostrander was really able to cut loose and make the series his own, producing some of his finest work up to that point in time.
Graham Nolan drew most of the first 25 issues, except for #13, drawn by Tom Mandrake, and #20, which was drawn by Gary Kwapisz.  Jan Duursema drew issues #27-29, and Truman returned to illustrate the final three issues of the series.
Mike Gold was the series' initial editor, with Archie Goodwin replacing him as of  #26.  When Goodwin took over, the series, which had leaned more toward hard science fiction than straight super-hero stories, began to move toward a more traditionally super-heroic approach.  The final storyline, while still quite good, doesn't really live up to standards set during the book's first two years.
The monthly Hawkworld series was essentially the story of citizens of a repressive, totalitarian world encountering and reacting to American society and the ideas and ideals upon which this country was founded and claims to be guided by.  Following the events of the mini-series, Katar Hol, a "wingman" in the police force of the planet Thanagar, is named Thanagar's Greatest Hero for exposing his mentor B'yth, the previous holder of that title, as a criminal.  He and his partner Shayera Thal are sent on what is ostensibly  a diplomatic mission to the planet Earth, which has opened up a Thanagarian embassy in the wake of the Invasion crossover event.  Hol's real purpose in accepting the assignment to Earth, however, is to find and capture B'yth, who escaped and fled here.  The pair land in the American city of Chicago, where Shayera works with a pair of local police officers to "study Earth police methods", in the process falling in love with one of them.  Katar, meanwhile, works with a Chicago museum planning an exhibition of Thanagarian artifacts while continuing his search for B'yth.
Although a case could be made that the pre-Crisis On Infinite Earths Hawkman's home of Midway City was analogous to Chicago, it seems the real reason Hawkworld was set in Chicago is the same reason so many other comics are set in New York City.  Chicago is where John Ostrander lives.  As a Chicago resident, he was able to bring a real sense of the essence of the city to his stories.
Hawkworld was a comic book that deserved to be controversial, and it was, but for all the wrong reasons.  This revamped version of Hawkman was introduced into the current DC Universe of 1990 as a new character, thus effectively invalidating all previous appearances of the Silver Age version of the character going all the way back to  The Brave and the Bold #34.  This pissed a lot of people off, and they just didn't care how good the current stories were but, rather, how much they screwed up their precious continuity. There were, of course, a few continuity questions to be answered,  as there always are when a character is revamped.  The major ones were "If Hawkman just came to Earth now, who was the guy in the old Justice League of America?" and "If that was the Golden Age Hawkman in the JLA, as the first annual says, then who was in the Justice League International while he was trapped in Limbo endlessly reliving the Norse legend of Ragnarok, as shown in The Last Days of the Justice Society of America?"
For my part, I didn't much care about the continuity issues.  I've always favored good storytelling over rigid adherence to continuity.  Besides, Ostrander neatly answered all the continuity questions to my satisfaction over the course of the series.
Frankly, I'd never really been all that impressed with Hawkman prior to Hawkworld, anyway.  The few stories I'd read had been, at best, bland.  Ostrander was telling the best Hawkman stories ever, and if he had to toss out thirty years of forgettable stories to do so, then so be it.
Unfortunately, the flap over continuity pretty much crowded out discussion in the letters pages of the provocative ideas Ostrander was presenting in Hawkworld.  That's the real reason I say that this series truly deserved to be controversial.  This is one of the few comic books that not only made think, but made me question my assumptions and look at things in a new way.
When Katar first reads the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence in #3, he asks of his human companions, "Do your people have any idea of what they are really saying here? How dangerous this document is?"
I, for one, did not, at least not until I read Hawkworld.  I'd honestly never really thought about it, instead taking the freedoms that Americans enjoy by virtue of these founding documents for granted.  It took a comic book to make me seriously consider for the first time what the words of those documents and the principles upon which the United States of America was founded truly mean.
If that weren't enough, Ostrander managed to convey these dangerous ideas within the framework of an exciting and action packed science fiction/super-hero tale.  That's harder than it looks.  Many writers, such as Dennis O'Neil in Green Lantern/Green Arrow, have attempted it, but none have pulled it off as effectively as Ostrander does here.  Even more amazing  is that he managed to do it again in Spectre.
I have a theory as to why Hawkworld has gone unreprinted.  DC has made a royal mess out of Hawkman over the past couple of decades.  While not all of that can laid at the feet of Hawkworld, the roots do lie in that series.  I think DC just wants to pretend the whole thing never happened.  Sadly, in doing so, they are also forgetting some of the best stories they've ever published.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Tales of The Uncollected

Graphic novels and trade paperback collections have been an important part of the publishing strategies of every major comics publisher for about a decade and a half now.  Storylines in ongoing comics end up in trade paperback form almost as soon as the last chapter hits the shops.  Meanwhile, publishers increasingly turn to the nearly endless supply of older material from the eight decade history of the comics industry in order to fill comic shop and book store shelves.  Even comics that are perhaps best forgotten have been dredged up and spiffed up and re-presented in trade paperback form.  Gold Key's adaptation of the original Star Trek series was, to put it mildly, awful, especially the early issues.  Yet those horrors have been lovingly restored and reprinted in a series of TPBs from publisher Checker Books. 
Nonetheless, despite the way it may appear, the inevitable trade paperback collection is not inevitable in all cases.  Back in 1993, Malibu Comics announced the forthcoming release of a mini-series entitled The Life and Times of Forever Maelstrom through its creator owned Bravura line. It was to be Howard Chaykin's follow-up to his earlier Bravura series Power & Glory.  Before it could be published, Malibu was bought up by Marvel, who, as I understand it, wanted the company not for its intellectual properties but for its patented coloring process, and the Bravura line came to an end.  
We now flash forward a decade to 2003.  Forever Maelstrom finally sees print as a six issues mini-series from DC, where Chaykin was working at the time on various projects that included American Century and Barnum.  When I saw the first issue at a comics shop, I left it sitting there on the shelf.  After all, I figured, there'd be a trade collection and I'd buy that.  I'd waited ten years to read that story, I reasoned, I could wait another six months.  It's seven years later, and I still have yet to read Forever Maelstrom.  The "inevitable" trade paperback failed to materialize.
The news from Vertigo last month that Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's  Flex Mentallo mini-series will finally be reprinted this fall after languishing for fifteen years in reprint limbo has got me thinking about other deserving comics series or storylines that have never been collected or reprinted.  Many of these, I'll be writing about at length in future posts.
One that I've already written about is J.M. DeMatteis' Dr. Fate.  This is one of his best works, yet has not gotten the recognition it deserves from most fans.  Speaking of DeMatteis, the first five issues of Seekers Into The Mystery have been collected, but there remain ten issues of this unfortunately short-lived series that you'll have to hunt through back issue bins to read.
Of course, I really enjoy spending countless hours pawing through back issue bins and bargain boxes searching for the one or two elusive issues that will complete my collection of a given title.  For me, the hunt is part of the fun of reading and collecting comics.  To put in Zen terms, the journey is the destination.  I realize that not everyone, however, may share that philosophy. A lot of people just want to read the story without all the bother of  tracking it down.  They deserve to read these great stories that have yet to be reprinted and, as things stand now, they are unfortunately missing out.
It also struck me that as central to the DC Universe as Kobra has been over the past three decades, it seems that his earliest appearances should be collected.  I envision a Showcase Presents volume encompassing all his Bronze Age appearances from Kobra #1 up to Batman and the Outsiders #28, including his encounter with Ambush Bug in DC Comics Presents #81.
Among the comics I plan to write about in the future are the DC comics work of writer John Ostrander, of which less than a handful have been reprinted.  The first of those posts will appear tomorrow and deal with Hawkworld.
I'd like your input as well, readers.  What series that have yet to be collected do you feel are deserving of that honor, and why?  I'm looking forward to reading your comments.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Trivia Challenge Answer: "We're Off...."

 As promised on Friday, I am back with the answer to the latest Gutter Talk Trivia Challenge.  You may remember that I asked you if you could name the first co-publishing venture between Marvel and DC Comics, noting that it was not, as you might have believed, Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man, though that was, indeed, the first meeting of any of the two companies' super-heroes.
Now, without further ado, the answer is (drumroll please, Maestro.):
MGM's Marvelous Wizard of Oz
(Published in 1975--A year prior to Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man)

And now, also as promised, the not all that secret origin of this historic comic book...
Through sheer coincidence, in 1975 both DC and Marvel had a Wizard of Oz comic in the works.  Marvel was planning an adaptation of L. Frank Baum's novel, while DC had acquired the rights from MGM to adapt the 1939 movie.  Upon learning of DC's project, Stan Lee approached DC publisher Carmine Infantino with the idea that the two companies pool their efforts and jointly put out one book.  What eventually saw print was an adaptation of the film produced by writer Roy Thomas and artist John Buscema, the team which had been set to do Marvel's comic based on the book. 
The legend about this book, confirmed by Roy Thomas in an essay in the book Stan's Soapbox: The Collection, is that Buscema laid out the book entirely from memory, without a plot from Thomas, even though he hadn't seen the film for many years.  Thomas claims that when he got the pages back only one or two small scenes where out of place.
Now on to the "bonus question":  What is the word that means, as defined by Wiktionary, "A form of error arising from mishearing a spoken or sung phrase" (though I've actually only ever heard it used to refer to misheard song lyrics)?
The word is "mondegreen."  I love the word precisely because it's so obscure and I'm really the only person I actually know who's ever heard of it.
If you're wondering how I could hear "new wastes of winter" as "new age of friendship," just listen to the song.  Ian Anderson doesn't exactly enunciate all that clearly.  Besides, either phrase really makes just as much sense in the context of the song, which is to say not very bloody much at all. I mean, "Titanic breaking children lost in melting crystal tears."  What the hell is that supposed to mean?
Actually, if I were going to propose a serious theory, I would suppose that my brain, being unable to interpret Anderson's mumbling, filled in a phrase that fit the song's rhythm and seemed to make sense.  At least as much sense as Progressive Rock lyrics ever make, anyway. For example, is there anybody who can really tell me what "Roundabout" by Yes is supposed to be about?
Honestly, though, however nonsensical "Something's On The Move" may be, I still love it.  It was the first Jethro Tull song I ever heard (or, more appropriately, misheard) and thus my introduction to a truly great band.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Funky Flap

The latest minor comic related controversy on the Wild, Wild Web, as I discovered from reading the Robot 6 blog at Comic Book Resources, involves Tom Batiuk, creator of Funky Winkerbean, and his lawyers taking on a site devoted to commenting on and critiquing the strip.  Blog hosting service Wordpress received a letter from Batiuk's legal representatives demanding that they take down two sites, Stuck Funky and Son of Stuck Funky, which had been re-posting the strips with original commentary.  The original Stuck Funky was no longer being updated, and Son of had stepped up  to continue its work. 
Batiuk, in a response to a query from the Daily Cartoonist web-site, insists that he was merely acting to preserve his copyright and trademark protection.  Predictably, there are some who suspect that he was motivated more by a desire to shut down a particularly vocal critic.
Of course, if Batiuk were just trying to shut the guy up, he probably wouldn't come out and say so.  Still, there's no reason to doubt Batiuk's account of his motives.  It all depends, as I see it, on what, if anything, happens next.   Son of Stuck Funky has resurfaced with its own domain name and a slight change in format.  Rather than re-posting the strip, which is what Batiuk was ostensibly objecting to, the posts now link to the strip at a site authorized to carry it.  That really should end the matter.  If Batiuk is, indeed, simply concerned with protecting his legal rights and not in censoring his critics, I suspect it will and no more about this matter will be heard.  Even if he were more interested in just shutting this blogger up, he must realize that taking any further action would only generate more publicity, the majority of which would surely be negative.  In fact, as one Daily Cartoonist commenter noted, this whole incident has mostly served to bring attention to Son of Stuck Funky.  The truth of which is attested to by the fact that I'm even writing this post.
All of this has got me thinking.  I've been trying to come up with ways to attract more readers to this blog.  Maybe I should start a feud with Scott Adams.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Gutter Talk Trivia Challenge 2: To Celebrate The Dawning of the New Wastes of Winter

It's been a while since we've done one of these trivia quizzes, and while I'm sure you haven't exactly missed it or been clamoring for another, I'm going ahead and serving up another one anyway.
Just about everyone knows that Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man, published in 1976, was the first ever meeting of super-heroes from the two largest comics publishers, DC and Marvel.  It was not, however, the two companies' first co-publication.  So, what was, then?
I'll let you think on that over the weekend, and I'll be back on Monday with the answer and the story behind that historic first co-publishing venture.
Now for an explanation of the title of this post.  For over thirty years, from the time I first heard Jethro Tull's song "Something's On The Move," I  was sure that the third line in the first verse was "To celebrate the dawning of the new age of friendship."  That line seemed to be perfectly fit the subject of this post, so I decided to use it as the title.  Then I went and looked up the lyrics for "Something's On The Move" on-line.  Well, it turns out I'd been wrong for three decades.  The line is, in fact, "To celebrate the dawning of the new wastes of winter." I couldn't use that line for my post title.  It wouldn't make any sense.  However, I couldn't think of anything else.  So, I went with it regardless and "sense" be damned.
I'd initially planned to include a "bonus question" asking you to name the song I took this post's title from. But I just told you that and the story behind it.  However, that story suggested another "bonus question." 
There is a word for, as Wiktionary defines it, "A form of error arising from mishearing a spoken or sung phrase."  Do you know what it is?
I do, and I'll tell you on Monday.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Did I Err?

Let's be charitable and say that perhaps I overstated things a bit.  Though the truth is that I'm guilty of passing on unsubstantiated rumor as fact.  I should have my own show on Fox News.
Back in October, in my post entitled "Death and the Captain",  I related the story that Neil Gaiman had been so angered by the use of Death of the Endless in Captain Atom #42 in 1990 that he insisted that no one could use Death or any of his Sandman characters without his express permission.  Well, Brian Cronin addressed this very issue this past weekend in his latest installment of "Comic Book Legends Revealed."  It turns out I got quite a bit wrong.
Whereas I was relying entirely on hearsay for my account, Cronin went straight to the source and talked to Gaiman himself.  The Sandman writer denies having "laid down the law," as I put it in that earlier post, to DC, and says that he was not angry about the story.  In fact, he tells Cronin that " wasn't a big deal."  I suppose if I were to characterize Gaiman's feelings about the Captain Atom issue as related by Cronin, I would say he was "chagrined."   Cronin quotes Gaiman as saying:
"I just felt it confused things — she wasn’t an 'aspect' of Death. She was Death. When one day Nekron or the Black Racer stops existing, she’ll be there to take them."
That part, at least, I got right, by the way.
Gaiman goes on to say:
"If the script or lettered comic had been run by me back then I would have noticed the continuity issues and corrected them. As it was, it wasn’t a big deal: it was a fine comic as far as it went, but it tried to shoehorn Death into DC Continuity and got it wrong. So I clarified matters in Sandman 20."
That last part is something I hadn't heard before.  Gaiman's response to the story in Captain Atom was not to make unreasonable demands of DC management, but to write a story of his own in order to define and clarify Death's true nature and role in the universe.  That story, entitled "Facade," appeared in Sandman #20 and is reprinted in the book Dream Country.  In it, Death encounters Urania Blackwell, the Element Girl, a long forgotten supporting character from Metamorpho's Silver Age series.  She is depressed and wants to die, but her elemental nature makes killing herself almost impossible.  She encounters Death, who had come for the woman upstairs and heard Urania crying.  Ultimately, the Sandman's sister gives the Element Girl some advice to help her attain her goal. But first, Death takes a few panels to explain just who and what she is.

My purpose in writing about Captain Atom #42 in the first place was to show that Death's recent appearance in Action Comics was not, as some were claiming, the character's first appearance in a mainstream DC Universe super-hero comic.  Cronin's column actually reinforces that point by mentioning a Death cameo in Legion of Super-Heroes in 1992 that I'd been unaware of previously.  LSH #38 was the issue where Keith Giffen and Tom and Mary Bierbaum blew up the Earth, so it's only logical that Death should be on hand for the festivities.

I apologize for the error.  I'll try to be better at checking my facts in the future.  Because I really hate to be wrong.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Superman Poll Results

Voting closed yesterday on the latest Gutter Talk poll which asked readers to pick their favorite from among the various actors who've portrayed Superman in movies and TV shows over the past six decades.  I'd like to thank everyone who participated and especially those who shared their opinions in the comments.  A few more people took part this time than in my previous poll, which asked for readers' favorite comic by Mike Grell.  Since my readership numbers have been pretty constant for the past few months, I'm guessing the increase is due to people being more familiar with Superman, at least in movies and television, than they are with Grell's work.  I did have one person tell me, while the previous poll was in progress, that his favorite Grell comic was one Grell didn't do, meaning that he obviously wasn't a fan.  
Among comments on the current poll was this one:

"Part of the consideration should be how each actor played the dual identity of both Superman and Clark Kent. George Reeves made for a fine Superman, but his Clark seemed a little underdeveloped. Therefore, for me, the choice would be a race between Kirk Alyn and Christopher Reeve."
On a purely objective level, I would concede that Christopher Reeve was the best at portraying the dual role of Clark Kent/Superman.   Still, perhaps due to his version being the one I was exposed to first, my vote went to George Reeves.  I just love the exasperated expression on his face whenever crooks would shoot at him, as if he were thinking, "Don't they ever learn?"  Plus, I actually like the way he played Clark Kent, which, due to budget constraints, he did a lot more than he played Superman.  Rather than an inept bumbler, Reeves portrayed Kent as a smart, competent and even tough reporter who was more than able to hold his own in the constant verbal jousting with Lois Lane.
Michael N. left this comment:

"George Reeves, but with (needless to say) better scripts."
I certainly agree with you there, Michael.  Although the first two seasons, especially the first year under producer Robert Maxwell, were much better than the last four.  Two things happened with the third season that effected the quality of the series.  Whitney Ellsworth, who took over from Robert Maxwell in the second year, and the powers that be at DC, decided that the show should be more of a kiddie show, so the violence and darker tone of Maxwell's episodes was abandoned in favor of a more comedic flavor.  Secondly, in order to ensure the show's future success in syndication, the producers decided to shoot in color.  This was an expensive proposition back in the early days of TV and ate up most of the budget, leaving little for special effects or better writers. 
I might add that Christopher Reeve could have benefited from better scripts in his last two outings as the Man of Steel, and they didn't have those excuses.  After all, they could afford to hire Richard Pryor.
Now for the results.  The winner isn't much of a surprise.  As I predicted at the beginning, it was for the most part a two man race between George Reeves of the 1950's Adventures of Superman TV show and Christopher Reeve of the 1970's and 80's film franchise.  Between them they garnered nearly 80% of the total votes.  In the end, Christopher Reeve came out on top with a plurality of 46%.
It was nice to see that at least one person remembered Kirk Alyn, the first screen Superman.  Alyn set a standard for all who've followed him to live up to.  I was a little surprised at the complete lack of love, and votes, for Dean Cain of Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.   In my opinion, he was a pretty good Superman, and the series, especially in the first couple of seasons, wasn't bad, either.  Being of a somewhat paranoid nature, I'm convinced that at least one of the two people who voted for Superman Returns' Brandon Routh did so to make me look bad, since I wrote that I didn't expect him to get any votes.
That wraps up the latest Gutter Talk poll.  I'll be back with another one before too long.  If you've got a burning question you'd like my readers to answer, let me know.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Blog of Love

As much as I may try to ignore it, I can not help but be reminded that today is Valentine's Day,which I remain convinced is all a vast conspiracy by the greeting card and candy industries to remind me that I HAVE NO ONE AND NO ONE LOVES ME!!  Except my readers, that is.  You guys love me, right?
Anyway, now that I've gotten the insane ranting portion of this post out of the way, let's get to the point.  Since I wrote about a horror comic on Halloween and spent the whole month of December blathering about Christmas themed comics, you might expect me to write about an old romance comic today.  However, I can't do that, because I don't read them.  I can not truthfully say that I've never read one.  I have.  ONE.  It was a reprint of the very first romance comic, 1947's Young Romance #1. Despite the fact that it was by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon, I wasn't terribly impressed.
Although now that I think about, I suppose you could count Tom Beland's True Story, Swear To God as a romance comic.  It's subtitle, after all, is "The True Story of a Real Life Romance."  I've read several issue of that comic and absolutely love it.  However, I really consider it an autobiographical comic.  Besides, when I say I've only read one romance comic, I'm referring to the fictional romance story anthologies that existed from the late 1940's until the 70's.
Anyway, if you really want to read about that type of comic, you're in luck.  There's a whole blog devoted to them.  It's called Sequential Crush and is written by a woman named Jacque Nodell.  Ms. Nodell describes her blog this way, "Sequential Crush is a blog devoted to preserving the memory of romance comic books and the creative teams that published them throughout the 1960s and 1970s."

So, if that's the kind of thing you're into, Sequential Crush is definitely worth checking out. But don't forget to surf on back here to Gutter Talk when you're done.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Elsewhere in Secret Six #30

I reviewed the story in Secret Six #30 yesterday, but there are a couple of other things between the covers of that issue worth commenting on.   
There's not really much I can say  about the preview of Flash #9, however.   Nothing in this snippet of that upcoming (at the time of Secret Six #30's release on February 2--it's out now) comic makes me want to pick it up or interests me in the upcoming Flashpoint event it foreshadows.  Maybe instead of just showing the first couple of pages, these previews should present a page or two from later in the story to give the curious reader a somewhat better idea of what the story is really about without, of course, giving away any secrets or major surprises.   That might make a casual reader more likely to actually buy the previewed issue.
On the positive side, as of this issue, letters columns are back.  The letters printed here don't comment on past issues of Secret Six, however.  This is a generic letters page labeled "DC Universe" that probably appeared in all DC books last week.  Presented are a sampling of some of the first missives DC has received since announcing last month that it would be bringing letters pages back.  Ian Sattler answers each letter in a sometimes chatty, sometimes snarky tone reminiscent of the classic letters columns of my youth.  This little preview has served to whet my appetite for the return of letters column in earnest, which hopefully will occur in next month's comics.
The most exciting thing to me, other than the story, in this issue is the "DC Nation" column (which you can read by clicking on those words).  John Rozum talks about the return of Xombi.  To me, this is very good news and something that I honestly never thought would ever happen.  Xombi was my favorite, and, in my opinion at least, the best, of the Milestone line of comics from the mid-90's.   It was certainly the weirdest, which is the main reason I never expected to see a revival.  The series' undying hero David Kim faced a succession of bizarre antagonists that wouldn't have been out of place in Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol stories.  In fact, Xombi was the only title that managed to capture the feel of the early Vertigo titles for the mainstream super-hero audience.  Contrast that with Vertigo's own attempt at creating an original Vertigo style super-hero comic, Scarab, which was pretty much a muddled, utterly unreadable mess.
The only disappointing thing about the announcement, from a purely fanboy perspective, is that Frazer Irving will be drawing the series.  That's not to knock on Mr. Irving, whose art I'm not actually familiar with, but it would have been nice to have original series artist J.J. Birch/Joe Brozowski return for the revival.  His art added a lot to the weird and creepy feel of the first series.
Maybe I'll write DC a letter and tell them that.  (See how I tied it all together at the end there?  Pretty slick, huh?)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Secret Six #30

I can say honestly and without equivocation that Secret Six #30 is, without a doubt, the best issue of that title that I have ever read.  It is also (and I'm sure you could see this "revelation" coming from five miles away on a foggy day) the only issue, so far at least, of Secret Six that I've ever read.  It won't be the last. 
The only reason I bought this issue is because it's the first part of a crossover with Doom Patrol.  I probably could have skipped this issue.  I'm sure DP writer Keith Giffen would have given me enough info that I wouldn't be totally lost if I'd opted to only buy the second part of the story.  Giffen's pretty good about that actually.  As it turns out, there are plenty of reasons to buy this issue other than just to get the bare bones of the plot.
Before I picked up this comic, I read a few of the reviews on-line.  The general consensus out there in web land is that this issue is very good, and that Secret Six writer Gail Simone does the DP as well as Giffen.  One reviewer admits to laughing out loud at several points during the issue.
So, what did I think about it?  Well, it was very good, I laughed out loud a few times, and Simone does, indeed, write the Doom Patrol as well as Giffen. She even gets Ambush Bug right, which isn't easy.  Even Giffen, the character's creator, hasn't always pulled it off.  Bumblebee is just as useless here as she's been over in the Patrol's own book.  Her big contribution to the team this issue is to get swallowed by a mutant man-fish.
Before this issue, I never would have thought Bane could be funny.  But there is a hilarious scene near the beginning involving the backbreaker on a blind date.  After meeting his date, he thrusts a bouquet of flowers in her face and flatly declares, "I wish to mate." The girl, Spencer, is a dancer at a super-hero themed gentlemen's club called "Superiors", which is where she and Bane meet. When she's harrassed by a drunken customer, Bane punches his face in, then asks, "Shall I snap his spine? I am unsure of the etiquette?"  The date ends there, as Bane is ushered out before the cops can arrive, but Spencer tells him to call her. Not only is Bane funny, but he actually comes off somewhat sweet, innocent and naive.  I certainly never would have expected that of the guy who crippled the Batman.
Then there's Deadshot.  Especially after John Ostrander and Kim Yale's excellent, but very, very grim, 1988 mini-series, I wouldn't have pegged Floyd Lawton for a barrel of laughs either.  However, he's got a couple of very funny lines here as well.
The story concerns a slacker kid named Eric who suddenly inherits his grandfather's fortune and criminal empire.  He decides to rebuild the organization as C.R.U.S.H. (Companians Recently United to Spread Hate--a great acronym, by the way) with his gamer friends and sets out to get himself a secret headquarters inside a volcano.  The volcano he has his eyes on just happens to be on Oolong Island, current home of the Doom Patrol, so he hires the Secret Six to take over the island for him. 
Given the overall irreverent tone of this issue, I'm not surprised that the Secret Six appears to consist of eight members.  However, I didn't recognize about half of them and it would have been nice if Simone had taken the time to introduce them to any Doom Patrol  readers, like me, picking this up just for the crossover, or to introduce the Patrol to Secret Six readers who for some reason aren't reading their book. 
That minor quibble aside, this was an excellent comic, and enough to make me want to read more of this series.  I've already bought the six issues mini-series that preceded the current monthy and includes the first encounter between the Doom Patrol and the Secret Six, and I plan to read that this weekend.  I might even check out next issue, which the blurb at the end of this one promises contains "...the most requested Secret Six story ever!"  Don't know what that could be, but I am a little curious.
Personally, the story I'd most like to see is Bane and Spencer actually getting to finish their date.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

For Those Who Give A Damn...'s the latest news from Marvel Comics and my reactions to it. But first, a recap For Those Who Came In Late.
Marvel killed off (for now) Johnny Storm, the Human Torch, in Fantastic Four #587, and announced plans to bring that title to an end (again), replacing it with a new title they were calling simply FF
 There was, I remember, much speculation down at the local comics shop the day Fantastic Four #587 came out as to just what FF might stand for.  The most popular guess was "First Family." My guess was "F**k You, Fanboy!."
Well, neither of those turned out to be correct, though mine will probably end up being closer to the way things turn out over the long haul. Anyway, Marvel has announced that the former Fantastic Four shall henceforth be known as The Future Foundation.  It has also been revealed the all-new, only slightly different FF will have a new member.  This is to be none other than the Amazing Spider-Man, sporting a brand new costume which hopefully he'll only wear when hanging around the Richards family. 
With all that Dan Slott has done over in Amazing Spider-Man to pound into the readers' heads how smart old Peter Parker is, doesn't it seem a bit redundant to have two super geniuses on the same team?
Furthermore, I, and his co-creator Stan Lee, for that matter, have always preferred Spidey as a loner, and his joining any team seems just slightly wrong for the character.  Still, he has been a member of the Avengers for several years now and that hasn't work out too badly.  However, having him on two teams at once stretches credibility perhaps just a little too much.  Of the two teams, though, because Peter is a scientist, he seems to fit in better with the Foundation.  Although the Avengers at least let him wear his own clothes to work.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Starman/Congorilla #1

This comic came out last month, so I guess I'm a little late in writing about it, but I put off reading it for awhile.  I was a little afraid that I wasn't going to like it.  Now, if you knew me at all, you'd think that a comic starring an obscure Bronze Age character and a gorilla would be tailor made for me.  However, this particular comic has close ties to the current run of Justice League of America, a comic that I'm not reading, and Justice League: Cry For Justice, a comic that, based on the reviews I've read, you couldn't pay me to read.  I've seen that series compared to Identity Crisis, with many people actually saying that Cry is worse. On the other hand, even though Starman/Congorilla writer James Robinson is the same man responsible for Cry For Justice, he is also the author of the excellent Starman series from the 1990's and this one-shot features one of that series' major supporting characters.  In short, I really didn't know what to expect from this comic, but I was leaning slightly toward pessimism. Starman, after all, ended a decade ago and the ink is barely dry on Cry For Justice.
Fortunately for all concerned, "Now and Then", the story in Starman/Congorilla #1, turns out to be a pretty decently entertaining comic.  The story concerns the efforts of the eponymous heroes, together with Animal Man and Rex the Wonder Dog, to find a Congorilla's friend,  a super-intelligent gorilla scientist named Malavar, so that Malavar can use his knowledge of other dimensions in order to free the Justice League from a giant force dome which has mysteriously appeared over Washington D.C., trapping the League and a good chunk of the city citizenry inside.  That sounds a bit complicated, but "Now and Then" really boils down to a small group of heroes fighting off an army of terrorist gorillas.
As I mentioned above, there is a lot of back story behind this issue, leading to the story being heavy on expository dialogue.  However, that's a lot better than Robinson just assuming we've read all the relevant past comics and throwing us into the action without any explanation and leaving us totally bewildered.  With all the  exposition and the way the story shifts back and forth in time between the fight with the gorilla terrorists and the events leading up to it, the story had the potential to be a confusing mess.  Fortunately, however, thanks to the clear and conscise stoytelling skills of  Robinson and artist Brett Booth, this doesn't happen.  The story breezes along at a brisk pace and Robinson manages to make most of the expository dialogue sound perfectly natural.
In the way that this story manages to be part of the larger story of the DC Universe yet accessible to a casual reader, as well as its generally lighthearted tone and high concept, psuedo-science fiction premise, Starman/Congorilla reminds me a little of comics of the Bronze Age. 

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Road Not Taken: DC Anti-Heroes

I'm not really a huge fan of Firestorm, but I still occasionally check out the Firestorm Fan blog from time to time, and I'm really glad that I clicked on today's post.  The blog's author, Shag, writes about a series of drawings now up for auction at Comic Link that purport to be concept drawings from the mid 80's for a never produced line of toys from Kenner that was to be called "DC Anti-Heroes."  The line apparently would have consisted of three alternate, darker versions of six DC heroes: Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Firestorm, Robin and Cyborg.  The three versions of each hero presented are "High Tech," "Road Warrior," and "Robotic."
Let's take a look at a couple of these drawings:

I think, and I'm not the first to observe this, that the "High Tech" version of Superman bears an uncanny resemblance to the Eradicator from the "Reign of The Supermen" storyline.  Since these drawings predate that saga by about six years, it is possible that whoever designed the Eradicator could have been influenced by them.  Also, now that I think about it, the "Robotic" Supes has a passing resemblance to the armor Superman donned after losing his powers in the "Krisis of the Krimson Kryptonite" storyline, which was also a few years in the future at the time these drawings were produced.

All three of these Wonder Woman drawings are among the most hideous character designs I've ever seen...

...though these Batman redesigns give them a run for their money.  Chris Sims says of the "High Tech" version, "Basically, it's a 100% accurate prediction of what every comic would look like in the '90s four years before they actually happened."

The Robin redesigns are actually pretty cool, and my favorites of the bunch.  However, I'm not exactly sure what's supposed to be so "High Tech" about the "High Tech" Robin. 

"Robotic" Cyborg?  Isn't that a bit redundant?  In fact, isn't "High Tech" Cyborg as well?

I don't have anything to say about these Firestorm drawings, but it seemed wrong to leave them out.
These concept drawings offer a fascinating look behind the scenes of the toy industry and an intriguing glimpse of what might have been.  Thanks again to Shag at Firestorm Fan  for bringing them to my attention.

New Gutter Talk Poll: Vote For Your Favorite Superman Actor

Henry Cavill--the new Superman
Speaking of Superman, as I was in yesterday's post, I have decided that it's about time for another Gutter Talk Poll.  This one was inspired by the recent announcement that Zach Snyder, director of the upcoming film Superman: Man of Steelhas found his leading man.  The lucky, or perhaps unlucky, if you believe in the so-called "Superman Curse", winner of the role is Henry Cavill, a 26 year old British actor apparently best known to some for something called The Tudors, whatever the heck that is.  It seems that Cavill had actually been cast to play Superman in 2006's Superman Returns, until Brian Singer came on board as director and booted him in favor of Brandon Routh.
So, over to your right, at the top of the page, you'll notice a list of previous actors who have assayed the role of the Last Son of Krypton.  Your task, should you chose to accept, is to pick your favorite from among those listed.
Note that the choices are limited to those actors who have portrayed Superman, as opposed to Superboy or simply Clark Kent, in live action movies or television series.  Therefore, Bud Collyer of the 1940's radio show, Tim Daly from the 1990's animated series, Gerard Christopher of the 1980's Adventures of Superboy syndicated series, and Smallville's Tom Welling, among others, were excluded from consideration.
I actually thought about leaving Brandon Routh off the list as well.  I can't  think of anybody who really liked Superman Returns all that much and I honestly don't expect anyone to vote for him.
In truth, I expect this poll to come down to a two man race between George Reeves and Christopher Reeve. Still, I could end up being surprised.  Just maybe there are a lot of Kirk Alyn fans among my readers.
The poll will be open for the next seven days, and I'll discuss and analyze the results here sometime next week.
By the way, if you are reading this on my Open Salon site, click here to participate in the poll.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Super Sunday II: Superman #330

Last year, on Super Bowl Sunday, I wrote about Superman #326, and today I officially make "Super Sunday", wherein I talk about an old Superman comic on the day that the rest of the country is obsessed with a football game, an annual tradition as I tell you all about Superman #330.
As I said in that earlier post, Martin Pasko is one of my favorite writers and has written some classic Superman tales.  "The Master Mesmerizer of Metropolis," however, is not one of them.  It's not so much that the story is bad, although it's certainly not good by any measure, but that it's utterly ridiculous and, most of all, totally unnecessary.
Comics fans, as you know, are an odd bunch.  They--ok, we--can easily accept that a man can fly faster than the speed of light, see through walls, shoot heat beams out of his eyes and push planets with his pinky.  On the other hand, the idea that when that same man changes his clothes and slaps on a pair of glasses no one can recognize him gives us--well, some of us, at least--trouble.  Now, as far as I'm concerned, the answer is simply, "Hey, it's a comic book!" If you're willing to suspend disbelief enough to buy the idea of super-heroes in the first place, then Superman's lame "disguise" really shouldn't be all that hard to swallow.
Apparently that wasn't enough for Al Schroeder III, a fan from Nashville, Tennessee who submitted an idea to DC for a story to explain away this "problem" which Pasko turned into the story in Superman #330.
Superman encounters a villain named the Spellbinder, who is able to hypnotize people into committing crimes.  To counter this scheme, Superman himself hypnotizes entire city of Metropolis via a giant flying TV screen to make them immune to hypnosis.  With me so far?
So, minutes later, Superman's in a storeroom at the Galaxy building changing back to Clark when Lana Lang walks in.  Despite seeing it with her own eyes, she refuses to believe that Superman is Clark Kent.  Later, Superman asks a Daily Planet artist named Ernie to draw Superman and Clark Kent.  Ernie's drawing of Kent looks thin, frail and, as Superman admits, "...not terribly handsome."  Superman now realizes that, with the aid of the lenses of his glasses; which are made of indestructible Kryptonian plexiglass from the rocket he came to Earth in as a baby; he has been unconsciously his power of super hypnosis to hypnotize everyone who looks at him as Clark Kent into seeing Kent as a wimp.  Apparently the hypnotic effect works through TV cameras and affects people who see still photos of Clark and lingers for a while so that people still see Clark as a wuss even if Superman temporarily loses his powers.   You got all that?  So, when Superman made the people of Metropolis immune to hypnosis, he unknowingly canceled his own unconscious Svengali routine.  Thus Lana saw not Clark Kent, but Superman in a blue suit and glasses.
I've often maintained that the entire super-hero conceit is built on a pretty flimsy foundation and tends to crumble if you think about it too hard.  "The Master Mesmerizer of Metropolis" is a textbook example of that theorem.
On a completely different subject, today is the 100th of Ronald Wilson Reagan, 40th President of the United States of America.  If I'd realized this milestone was on the horizon, I might have held off on my post about the U.S. Presidents with the most appearances in comic books, a list topped by none other than Mr. Reagan himself, until today.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Siegal, Pekar, Thurber Among Alive's 100 Greatest Ohioans

Harvey Pekar
Columbus Alive, one of Columbus, Ohio's "alternative" weekly papers--now part of the same local media empire that owns a TV station, an AM and an FM radio station and the town's daily newspaper--features  as it cover story this week its list ranking "The 100 Greatest Ohioans."  Of interest to the readers of this blog are the persons ranked at #91, #82, and #28.  They are, respectively, Jerry Siegal, Harvey Pekar, and James Thurber.  (In order to make the list, you had to have been born in Ohio.  Thus Siegal's creative partner, Joe Shuster, a Canadian by birth, was ineligible.)
James Thurber
Having noted that, now comes the part--as you knew it would--where I bitch about the rankings. I have no complaints about Thurber cracking the top 30, but Pekar and, especially, Siegal deserve to be higher on the list.
Just above Pekar, at #81, is a collective listing for "Ohio's U.S. Presidents (except Grant).  These include Rutherford B. Hayes, James A. Garfield, Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, William Howard Taft, and Warren Harding.  Even Alive acknowledges that they don't know what these guys actually accomplished while in office.  I can't really help them there, although I do know that Harding is most remembered for the Teapot Dome Scandal, which led to a member of his cabinet going to prison. 
Jerry Siegal
So, according to Alive, a group of non-entity, placeholder Presidents are somehow greater than Pekar, who lifted autobiographical comics out of the underground and into the comics mainstream, or Siegal, the man who co-created Superman, a character once ranked second only to Oprah Winfrey among American pop cultural icons in a VH-1 Top 200 list.  I have a tough time buying that. 
Jerry Siegal and Joe Shuster didn't just create a character when they created Superman, the first true super-hero, but an entire genre that quickly moved beyond comic books to radio, movies, television and prose fiction.  The influence of Siegal and Shuster's creation on the pop culture landscape of 21st century American cannot be underestimated. Not to mention that the character of Superman himself has become a powerful symbol of the American ideal,  embodying, as the intro of the old Adventures of Superman TV show put it, the "...neverending battle for truth, justice and the American Way."
Contrast that to William McKinley, whose main claim to fame is being assassinated while in office.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Morrison and Quitely's "Flex Mentallo" To Be Reprinted At Last

Until recently, I was unaware that lurking amongst my accumulation of old comic books was a genuine, rare, highly prized and much sought after collector's item: the four issues of Flex Mentallo by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely.  Since its publication in 1996, the series has never been reprinted, mostly due to legal conflicts with Charles Atlas Ltd., the company responsible for the famous ad "The Insult That Made A Man Out of Mac," which pitched their mail order bodybuilding course and on which Grant Morrison based the origin of Flex Mentallo which appeared in Doom Patrol #42.  When the story was called for to their attention, Atlas sued DC for trademark infringement.  While the case was settled in DC's favor, with a ruling that Flex's origin was parody and thus not an infringement, DC apparently agreed never to use the character again. Of course, to me at least, this doesn't seem to mean that they could not reprint the character's earlier appearances.  In fact, the Doom Patrol story line featuring the character has been collected in trade paperback, but the character's eponymous mini-series has remained in limbo.  In the meantime, as I learned just a few months ago, the series has become somewhat hard to find and the few copies that are available are fetching a "pretty penny" (as my mom might say) on ebay.  I was one of the lucky ones who had the foresight to buy the book when it came out, and I, for one, would never part with my copies. I think that  probably a lot of people who've read this book feel the same way and that may be a big part of why the series has become so difficult to find.
Through repeated re-readings, Flex Mentallo has come to be my favorite comics work by Grant Morrison.  It represents a highpoint in the careers of Morrison and Frank Quitely both individually and as a team.  I'll admit that I don't entirely understand it, but I love it.  (Which I suspect is how my mom feels about me.)
The series tell the story of Flex Mentallo, a formerly fictional super-hero created by a young boy named Wallace Sage and brought into the real world by Sage's psychic power.  Flex discovers that one of his fictional cohorts, the Fact, has apparently also become real. His search for the Fact leads Flex to a mysterious terrorist group called Faculty X and ultimately to the group of archetypical super-heroes known as the Legion of Legions.  Meanwhile, a suicidal young musician named Wallace Sage, who may or may not be the same Wallace Sage who created Flex, has taken an overdose of pills and called a suicide hotline.  He delivers a rambling reminiscence about his childhood and the comic books he read when he was a kid. 
In many ways, Flex Mentallo is the quintessential Grant Morrison comic, encapsulating most of the themes that have run through much of his work before and since, from Zenith to Final Crisis.  Here he explores the nature of reality, the untapped potential of the human race, the power of imagination, the history of comics and his unabashed love for the medium and combines them with elements of autobiography and super-hero adventure.  That sounds like a lot for one four issue story, but Morrison pulls it all together and makes it work somehow.
This series is central to an understanding of Morrison's career. It is the bridge between his work on Doom Patrol, Animal Man, and The Invisibles and his later, more mainstream work on JLA and New X-Men.  As Morrison himself told author Timothy Callahan in an interview for the book Grant Morrison: The Early Years, "So, you can see me re-engaging with super-heroes in the Flex Mentallo series...the last page of that is me preparing for the Justice League, I think."
I haven't said much about the art, but it's beautiful.  This series was the first time I saw Frank Quitely's work, and as far as I'm concerned this is the best thing he's ever done.  Honestly, his work since has been somewhat hit and miss for me.  For example, while I generally like his art, I absolutely hated his issues of The Authority.  Of course, it didn't help matters that Mark Millar's scripts were pretty awful.  Here, though, Quitely's art is near perfect, with just a hint of cartooniness that really serves the story well.
That this series has remained out of print for so long is truly a shame.  Fortunately, that's about to change.  Last month, DC's Vertigo imprint announced that Flex Mentallo will, at last, be reprinted. A hardcover edition of the story aincluding unspecified "bonus material" is slated to be released sometime this fall.
Even though I already have the mini-series, I might just give some serious thought to buying the collection.  In large part, it really depends on just what the "bonus material" turns out to be.  Also, if I do get the book, I'll have a spare copy that I can then loan out to friends to introduce them to this baffling, yet entertaining and thought provoking story.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

2010 SPACE Prize Winners Announced

Bob Corby, organizer of the annual Small Press and Alternative Comics Expo (SPACE), has announced the winners of the 2010 SPACE Prize.  
The prize, which honors excellence in small press and independent comics, is chosen from among comics submitted by exhibitors at the 2010 SPACE show.  Bob whittled down the dozens of submissions to a list of 10 finalists in three categories: General, Mini-Comic, and Webcomic.  The winners are then chosen by two judges in each category and a vote of the exhibitors.  Each of these  vote for their three favorites from among the finalists.  The winner of the General category receives $300 and a spiffy plaque.  The Mini-Comic and Webcomics winners get $50 each and an equally spiffy plaque. 
I was honored this year to be asked by Bob to be one of the judges in the General category.   I'm very pleased that two of the three books I voted for tied for first place. They are both great comics and truly deserving of this honor.  I'll write more about the General category winners and why I voted for them in future posts.
But now, without further ado, the winners of the 2010 SPACE Prize are:
***General Category***

Tied for 1st Place:
Cragmore: Book One
by Pat Lewis

Mirror Mind
by Tori Woollcott

3rd Place:
edited by Matt Dembicki

1st Place:
Board of Superheroes #2
by Matt Feazell

2nd Place:
Veggie Dog Saturn #4
by Jason Young

3rd Place:
Ultimate Lost Kisses  #11
by Brian John Mitchell and Dave Sim


1st Place:
by Jed Collins

2nd Place:
by Jeff Gibbons

3rd Place:
by Mike Indovina 

The 12th annual Small Press and Alternative Comics Expo will be held on  Saturday, March 19 and Sunday, March 20, 2011 at the Ramada Hotel and Conference Center, 4900 Sinclair Road in Columbus, Ohio.  The presentation of the 2010 SPACE Prizes will take place on Saturday afternoon. For more details on the show and the SPACE Prize, check out the SPACE web-site.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

"Grant Morrison: Talking With Gods" DVD Review

It was two days before payday and I really couldn't afford to spend twenty bucks on an impulse purchase, but when I saw a copy of the Grant Morrison: Talking With Gods DVD on the front counter at the neighborhood comics shop, I could not just leave it lying there.  Despite having to live on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the next couple of days, I have no regrets about buying this movie. 
Through interviews with Grant himself and many of the writers and artists he has collaborated with the film traces Morrison's career in comics from his early days at British publication Warrior up to his recent work on Final Crisis and Batman.  Among those interviewed are many of his most important collaborators such as artists Steve Yeowell, Phil Jimenez, Jill Thompson, Richard Case and Frank Quitely; writers Mark Waid, Warren Ellis and Geoff Johns; as well as authors Tim Callahan (Grant Morrison: The Early Years) and Doug Woolk (Reading Comics), and that listing only scratches the surface of those who director Patrick Meany talks to in the movie. The filmmakers also managed to track down Morrison's childhood friend Gordy Goudie.  His recollections, combined with Morrison's candid reminiscences and anecdotes and insights from those colleagues and experts make Talking With Gods the most complete picture yet presented of  one of the most important writers of the modern age of comics.  Even with as much as I have read over the years about Morrison and his work, I still learned things about him that I hadn't previously known from watching this documentary.  For instance, I had not previously realized the extant to which his greatest work in my opinion, Flex Mentallo, incorporated elements of autobiography.  
It should go without saying that Grant Morrison: Talking With Gods is must-see TV for fans of Morrison, however it should also be seen by anyone interested at all in the medium of comics and how it has developed over the past couple of decades.  Morrison and his work, after all, have been an integral part of that development.
But, hey, don't just take my word for it, check out this clip from the film. 

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

No Fun: Defenders #147

It's about time for another one of those posts where I take a look at the 147th issue of a long running comic series.  Check out this earlier post for a full explanation of this madness. Today's example is from a series that barely made it to #147, The Defenders, which ended with #152.
One caveat before we proceed: While The Defenders has become one of the most fondly remembered titles and teams from Marvel's Bronze Age, this issue does not feature any of the "classic" Defenders line-up of Dr. Strange,  the Hulk, the Sub-Mariner or the Silver Surfer.  These are the characters most associated with the team and the ones who have been gathered together for subsequent reunions of the group.  The issue we're considering today, however, features the "New Defenders", a team consisting of three ex-X-men, the Beast, the Angel and Iceman, and several obscure fourth string characters such as the Gargoyle and the Valkyrie, most of whom got killed off in the final issue.
The first thing you notice about this issue is, of course, the cover.  It's actually a pretty cool cover with a slightly altered logo and a painted image of a World War II era Sgt. Nick Fury leading the team as they charge into battle against a background of a giant American flag.  It's the kind of cover that makes you want to open up the book and see what's on the inside.  If you do that, however, you'll almost instantly regret it.
This is a truly awful comic.  It fails on every level from writing to art, and it didn't even have a letters page.  To be fair, the lettering and coloring are decent. The story, bad as it is, is at least legible.
"...and Games" is actually an appropriate title for the story, since it contains no fun whatsoever.   (Actually, "Fun..." was the title of the first part of the story in the previous issue, though I doubt that issue was much fun, either.)
As to the story itself, I really can't tell you what's going on in this issue.  The Defenders, consisting mostly of a bunch of characters I don't know and aren't adequately identified or even differentiated from one another, are in Central Park fighting some villain with the silly name of Hotspur, whose evil plan isn't quite made clear, though apparently it involves mind controlling innocent civialians.  Of course, I have not read the previous issue, but I doubt that the story would make any sense even if I had.  The storytelling, both in the writing and the awful, amateurish art, is muddy and confused and the dialogue is simply awful. By the way, the people credited with creating this mess are writer Peter B. Gillis and artists Don Perlin and Art Nichols, and editor Carl Potts probably deserves a share of the blame as well. 
If this issue was typical of The Defenders back in 1985, then its no wonder it was cancelled a mere five months later.