Sunday, January 30, 2011

'Tec Support: Batman Meets Zatanna (Sort Of) In Detective Comics #336

I had a great idea for commemorating DC Comics' 75th anniversary.  I would spotlight selected issues of their longest running title and the comic from which the company takes its name: Detective Comics.  Unfortunately, DC's 75th anniversary was last year and I just had that idea about a week ago.  Still, that's really no reason to let a semi-decent idea go to waste, is it?  Of course not.  Thus, I'm kicking off my new feature "'Tec Support" with a look at the Batman story in Detective Comics #336, "Batman's Bewitched Nightmare",  written by Gardner Fox and drawn by Bob Kane and Joe Giella, which was reprinted back in 2004 in the trade paperback collection Zatanna's Search, re-presenting the earliest appearances of DC's premier sorceress. 
In the Batman story, the Caped Crusader and the Boy Wonder are in pursuit of a gang of bank robbers who are under the seemingly magical protection of an old woman who appears to be a witch.  She even flies around Gotham on a broom.  The witch, in turn, is an agent of Batman's mysterious foe who calls himself the Outsider.  The Outsider would later be revealed to be Bruce Wayne's butler Alfred, who had been killed off when editor Julius Schwartz took over the Bat titles and brought back to life as the Outsider with weird powers and a grudge against his former friend and employer.
A couple of years later, in Justice League of America #51, Zatanna finally locates her missing father Zatara with the help of magically created duplicates of all the super-heroes she'd encountered during the course of her quest: Hawkman, the Atom, Green Lantern, the Elongated Man and Batman.  When Zatanna gathers the real heroes together to tell them about her adventure, Batman points out that, as far as he knows, he's never met Zatanna before.  She then reveals that the witch he'd encountered earlier had been her in disguise and controlled by the Outsider.
One thing I wondered when I read Zatanna's Search is whether Gardner Fox originally intended the Detective Comics story to be part of the Zatanna story line when he wrote it, or if he retconned it in when he wrote the JLA story in order to get Batman into that story.  To me, the latter scenario seems more likely.
First of all, there's absolutely nothing in the earlier story to suggest that the witch is Zatanna.  In fact, there are quite a few things in the story that argue against it being her.  For one thing, the witch does not speak her spells backward, which is the trademark of the Zatara family.  Furthermore, the story seems to establish that the witch is not a real magical being at all, but that her seemingly magical powers come from her special broom given to her by the Outsider.
Secondly, the JLA issue was published in 1967 when ABC's Batman TV series with Adam West was the most popular show on the tube.  DC probably wanted to get as much Batman product out as possible and the idea of putting out an issue of JLA without Batman in it must have been unthinkable.  Note also the prominence of Batman on the cover and the blurb which exaggerates his role in the story.
"Batman's Bewitched Nightmare", since it includes the Outsider, also represents another compromise Fox was forced to make because of the TV show.  Since the show's producers were going to use Alfred, Fox was instructed to bring the character back.  Thus, he abandoned his original plans for the identity of the Outsider, which, as far as I know, remain unknown to this day, and used him as the vehicle for Alfred's resurrection. 

Saturday, January 29, 2011

On the Cost of Comics

DC Comics seems to be pretty pleased with themselves recently.  
I'd wager that if you've been to a comics shop or visited a comics news site in the past few weeks, you've seen this image:

The company has been going to great pains to make sure we know how much they care about us and how they're showing it by pricing all their regular books at $2.99 across the board.  Honestly, I'm not all that impressed.
For one thing, all of the DC books I buy are already $2.99.  Doom Patrol was more expensive for the first few issues, but DC dropped the price when they dumped the Metal Men back up stories after #7.  I didn't really mind the extra buck in that case, because the Metal Men stories were worth it.  I hope we get to see more Giffen/DeMatteis Metal Men stories someday.
Anyway, the second reason I'm not all that impressed with DC "Drawing the Line at $2.99" is, and here I risk sounding like the grumpy aging fanboy that I am, I can remember when new comics cost a quarter.
I can't help thinking what my dad would think about the cost of comics these days.  I remember one time when I was a kid and he gave me a dollar to buy some comics, and was a little angry at me when he found out that I spent the whole dollar on just one comic book.  That book was an issue of Adventure Comics, which had just converted to DC's Dollar Comic format. 
Of course, back then, you got a hell of a lot of comic book for a buck.  When DC first began the Dollar Comic program, they were  64 page books with no ads.  In addition to adventures of some of my favorite characters such as Green Lantern, the Elongated Man and Deadman, that issue of Adventure was also my first exposure to the New Gods.  Although this was long after Kirby had moved on from the feature, I could still see something special in the concept.
Besides, I don't really buy that many new comics anyway.  Most of the comics I've bought in the last couple of years have been 70s and 80s back issues from bargain boxes.  I think someday soon I'm going to have to track down another copy of that old Adventure Comics.   

Friday, January 28, 2011

Deja Booster

In accordance of with long established standards of Internet etiquette, I am obligated to begin this discussion of Booster Gold #40 with a
as I intend to discuss the very last panel of the story. So, if you are at all  interested in  reading the issue, I suggest that you do so before going any further.  If you're not, well, I've really got to ask why you're reading this post in the first place.
Now that that's out of the way, let's get down to business, shall we?
This issue is, as the old cliche would have it, a "perfect jumping on point for new readers." Which makes sense, as DC's month long "iconic" cover theme gimmick might actually attract one or two rapid completists who don't normally pick the book up and they might even bother to read it before they slab it.  The bulk of "The Life and Times of Michael Jon Carter" is taken up, as you can probably infer from the title, by a retelling of Booster Gold's origin. 
Back in #38, Booster traveled back to World War II and teamed with his once and future Justice League teammate General Glory to defeat evil Nazi scientist Dr. Nishtikeit. At the end of that adventure, an exploding time machine propelled Nishtikeit forward in time to about ten years ago and, apparently, made his head glow green.  He has spent the last decade building up a worldwide criminal empire and now he is ready to take his revenge upon Booster Gold. In order to learn as much as he can about his foe, Nishtikeit has his agents hack into Rip Hunter's computers.  They manage to get the records of Booster's past up until the time he joins the League before Hunter's security kicks in and destroys the invading computer worm. 
Later, Booster returns to Rip Hunter's lab and Rip tells him about the information theft.  Booster's a bit humiliated that someone has delved into his past and seen what a jerk he was back then.  Rip reassures him that it doesn't matter, because he's not that guy anymore, and has become the hero that he once only played at being.  That fact, Rip continues, makes what he has to do next that much harder.  Reminding Booster that he gained his powers through stealing from the Space Museum, Rip zaps him with a fancy-schmancy sci-fi ray gun and declares "--You're under arrest---and your trial begins immediately-- IN THE 25TH CENTURY!"
Now it didn't bug me that Rip was acting oddly or out of character, as I'm sure there's a reason for it which we'll learn in future issues.  My first thought on reading that panel was "Haven't they done this before?"  I stopped buying the first Booster Gold series on a regular basis after the origin story and fight/team-up with Superman in #'s 6 and 7.  However, I was sort of vaguely aware of a later storyline in which Booster returned to the future to answer for his crimes.
As it happens, I found those very issues, along with a bunch more from the first series, for two bits apiece at Half-Price Books.  Now that I've read all but three issues of Booster Gold Volume One, I feel pretty secure in expressing the opinion that the return to the 25th century storyline in #'s 13-15 were the best issues of that series.  So, do we really need to rehash that story?
Of course, this story will not just be a regurgitation of that earlier story, as I'm sure that revenge seeking Nazi scientist with the glowing green head will be involved and probably has something to do with Rip's odd behavior.
Besides, I realized as I thought about it that the plot of this book isn't really why I read it, or any book by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis for that matter.  I read their books for the character interaction, the dialogue, and the humor.  Booster Gold might not be their finest work, but it still has all those elements that make me love the Giffen/DeMatties team.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Generation Lost: Taking A "Wait and See" Approach

You may have noticed that I haven't written anything about Justice League: Generation Lost for a few weeks now.  The reason is not that I'm afraid of the negative comments that have greeted past reviews of the series.  Although, as I've said before, it seems as if I just can't win when reviewing this book.  Whether I love an issue or hate it, there's inevitably someone who vehemently and vociferously disagrees with my point of view.  Still, positive or negative, I welcome all comments.
No, the reason I haven't written about JL:GL recently is that I'm no longer reading it.  Which is not to say that I've stopped buying it.  I was beginning to get a little frustrated with the slow pace of the story from issue to issue, and considered dropping the book altogether.  However, I'm still holding out hope that the series will read much better as a completed work, and it was a bit late in the game to start waiting for the trade paperback collection.  So, I will be buying #18 today.  Then I'll throw it in a box for at least four months.
After I buy #26, I'll sit down and read, and hopefully enjoy, the whole thing over the course of a weekend.  I will, of course, give you my final thoughts on the story afterward.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Gonna See My Smilin' Face On The Cover of the Doom Patrol

As you've perused the racks of new releases at your local comic book shop over the past couple of weeks, you've probably noticed that DC is in the midst of one its line wide cover theme months. The covers of all DC Universe titles this month feature images that, as Ian Satler wrote in the "DC Nation" column last month, "...highlight the iconic nature of each character", or group, as the case may be.   Pictured here is the cover of the most recent issue of Doom Patrol, featuring core Patrol members Robotman, Elasti-Girl and Negative Man joined by....Bumblebee?
Bumblebee?  Seriously?

And she's even shown larger than Larry or Rita, though she's supposed to be only about six inches tall.
Apparently, she's a member of the team, and she has been part of the cast of this current series since the first issue, but, to be frank, she hasn't really done much.  I suppose its possible that writer Keith Giffen has plans  for her down the line, but so far she's really more of a minor supporting character than a functioning member of the team. 
If the editors wanted to feature someone besides the three original DP members on this "iconic" cover, how about Ambush Bug?  Since he showed up in the book, the Bug has contributed more to the team than Bumblebee has.  He has used his teleportation powers to take the team to where the action is and provided several of the series' funniest moments to date. In fact, he's been far funnier in Doom Patrol than he was in the entirety of his most recent mini-series.  I, for one, hope he sticks with the team for a while more.
And maybe next time DC does one of these cover stunts, Irwin Schwab will get the spotlight he deserves.

Comics In The News: FF's "Death Issue" On NPR

NPR's Steve Inskeep
I want to congratulate National Public Radio for not believing the hype surrounding the much bally-hooed "death issue" (#587) of Fantastic Four which hits comics shops this week. 
You all probably remember back when Superman and Captain America were "killed" and how the non-comics press covered these "deaths" as if they actually meant something.  They seemed to really believe that DC or Marvel would actually kill off their most well known and highly profitable characters.  You and I, of course, knew that Supes and Cap would be back. Just as we knew that previous deaths of FF members, like that of Reed Richards a few years ago, were merely temporary.  Now, it seems that the rest of the world is finally getting wise to the comics companies' tricks.
On today's Morning Edition, the "Last Word in Business" wrapping up the show's first hour, was a mention of the "death".  Host Steve Inskeep, however, was quick to remind listeners that "...when comic book heroes die, they don't always stay dead" and that "...they've been known to return with new powers to sell more comic books." 
Not that there's anything wrong with selling more comic books.  That is, after all, what comic book publishers are in business to do. If they didn't, what would I have to write about?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Ding Dong, The Comics Code Is DEAD!

The Comics Code, generally regarded as the most repressive set of content guidelines ever imposed on any entertainment medium, has been on life support for a while now.  Some chinks in its armor began to appear as soon as the early 70's when Marvel decided to publish its famous anti-drug story in The Amazing Spider-Man sans the CCA seal of approval, leading to changes in the Code allowing depiction of drug use as long as it was shown in a negative light.  The same set of changes also allowed for depiction of such previously banned classic monsters as vampires and werewolves, leading to the resurgence of horror comics over the ensuing decade. Zombies, by the way, were still verboten, but one or two managed to slip through the cracks anyway. In 1989, the Code was revised again to reflect new realities in the comics industry, such as the rise of the direct market and the emergence of an older readership.   
In 2001, industry leader Marvel Comics dropped the Code seal and instituted an in-house ratings system.  After that, it was just a matter of  time until we'd be reading a piece like the one which appeared today on the Comic Riffs blog declaring the Comics Code not only merely dead, but also most sincerely dead.  
After Bongo, publisher of the Simpsons comics, gave the Code the heave-ho sometime last year, only two publishers, DC and Archie, still bothered to submit their books for approval.  Only Archie, however, carried the Code seal on their entire line of books, while DC used it mainly for their "Johnny DC" line of titles for younger readers. 
Not that anyone noticed, of course.  A couple of years ago, I was doing research for an article on the current state of the Comics Code.  In the course of this research I talked to a few friends of mine who bought comics for their kids and asked them if the Code seal of approval had any impact at all on what they let their kids read.  My friend James had no idea what the Comics Code was, despite the fact that his daughter was a fan of Sonic the Hedgehog, which was published by Archie.  My sister and the father of her children told me that they simply used their own best judgment.  
James' ignorance of the Code is understandable, as the actual seal had radically shrunk over the decades.  Where once it was so prominent that it would sometimes obscure part of a comic's logo, in recent days  it was so small as to be almost invisible.
The Code no longer seemed to have any impact on what comics got carried by retailers, either.  In the few places outside of comics specialty shops where I found comic books for sale, there were just as many, if not more, titles available from publishers who were not members of the Comics Code Authority as from those who were.
Nor, I discovered, did the Code have all that much impact on the way comics were written.  As part of my research for this never published article, I interviewed Sean McKeever, who  at the time was the writer of Teen Titans, one of the handful of DC comics still carrying the Code seal.  He revealed that, at first, he hadn't even been aware that TT carried the seal.  He said that he only learned that fact when his editor pointed out something in one of his scripts that might not make it past the Authority's censors.
So, not that it really matters to anyone, but DC officially announced on their official DC blog on Thursday that, as of this month, their comics will no longer carry the Comics Code seal and that they have instituted a ratings system similar to the one Marvel's been using for the past decade.   The only real surprise here is that it took so long.  Somewhat more surprising was the next day's news that Archie Comics, long the Code's staunchest supporter among comics publishers, was abandoning the Code as well.  Although, I suppose, given that they were the last guest remaining at the party, its not all that surprising that they finally decided to head home. 
I doubt, however, that Archie's dropping the Code seal will mean we're suddenly going to see Veronica or Betty doing a nude centerfold in Archie's Pals 'n' Gals.  Archie comics were squeaky clean before the Code took effect, and will continue to be so as long as the company exists.  Nor is the absence of the Code seal likely to affect the content of DC's books.  Thus, this news, while long overdue and certainly most welcome, is essentially irrelevant. 
Thus ends the Comics Code's decades long slide into obsolescence and obscurity, not with a bang but a whimper. 

Jughead On My Mind

For the past couple of Saturday mornings, I've wasted a half hour watching The Archie Show on the Retro Televison Network (RTV), and two things have stuck in my mind. 
The first is that insipid theme song.  ("Archie's here.  Betty's here; Veronica, too.  Reggie's here.  Hey, Jughead, where are you?")  I can't get the stupid thing out of my head.  
The other is this question:  Is "Forsythe" really so embarrassing a name that someone would actually prefer to be called "Jughead"?
At least he's got it better than the guy in that Johnny Cash song.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Zonker Harris: Rebel With A New Cause

I spent a few minutes last night catching up on the last few weeks of Doonesbury over at Go and I was somewhat taken aback by this panel from the December 26th strip:

The Tea Party? Really?
Are you telling me that Zonker Harris, aging hippie and retired tanning champion, who was once associated with a medical marijuana distributor, finds common cause with the extreme right wing of the Republican party?  That just seemed so far out of character for ol' Zonk. 
Yet the more I thought about it, the more sense it made.  Zonker is an old hippie and a veteran of the Vietnam era protest movement.  Perhaps he sees something of the spirit of that era in the anti-tax protests of the Tea Partiers.  
Also, I have heard representatives of various branches of the Tea Party taking pains to emphasize that theirs is a fiscal, not a social, conservative movement.  Thus, I suppose it would be possible for Zonker to share the Tea Party's views on taxes and the deficit and still not see eye to eye with certain of its members on much of anything else.   
Of course, it is a testament to Garry Trudeau's skill as a writer that  over the past four decades he has made Zonker a real enough personality that I would care enough about him to even be thinking about all this.

Monday, January 10, 2011

TV Review: "The Cape"

Remember way back in the 1970's, when the producers of the TV version of The Incredible Hulk went out of their way to make viewers forget that the show was based on a comic book?  Brian Cronin, author of the web column "Comic Book Legends Revealed", says in his book Was Superman A Spy? that the real reason producer Kenneth Johnson changed the name of the Hulk's alter ego from Bruce to David Banner was not that he felt that the name Bruce sounded too homosexual, as long standing legend has it, but that alliterative names like Bruce Banner or Peter Parker sounded too comic booky.  The makers of NBC's new superhero drama The Cape, on the other hand, seem to be bending over backwards to make you think that their show does have comic book roots, even though it does not. Not only do they take pains to mimic the dark look and feel of such successful comic book based films as Batman and X-Men, but the title character takes his superheroic name in the story from his son's favorite comic book character.  
Overall, I would say that The Cape is a fairly decent show for what it is.  What it is is basically what I surmised in my last post, "a standard issue Batman/Daredevil pastiche."  To that I might add "...with some elements of Robocop and the Spirit thrown in for good measure." The latter include the idea that the protagonist is presumed dead, and an evil corporation that controls the city's police force.
There are a few scenes early on that invoke the campiness of the 1960's Batman TV show.  I'm not sure that this was intentional, as, for the most part, the show takes itself very seriously.  On the few occasions do seem to be  trying to be funny, it usually falls flat.
There is one funny bit, however, at the end of the first hour.  In my last post, I opined that "The Cape" was just about the lamest name for a superhero ever. Well, it seems that the producers are somewhat aware of that. After the Cape foils a robbery at a convenience store, the grateful shopkeeper asks him his name.  After our hero tells him, the merchant replies, "The Cape? Oh, well, you'll work on it."
To sum up, The Cape is not great, but its not horrible.  There are worse ways to kill an hour on Monday nights.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

"The Cape" Debuts Tonight On NBC

NBC launches its new super-hero drama The Cape with a two hour movie tonight at nine.  I'll give you my review after I've actually watched the thing, but I do have a couple of first impressions based on the ads and previews I've seen so far.
This seems to be an attempt on NBC's part to win back the audience of its previous comic book inspired hit Heroes. In fact, after tonight's premiere, the show will even be settling into Heroes' old Monday night time slot.  However, unlike Heroes, this new show looks to be a more traditional take on the urban vigilante sub-genre of superheroes, complete with such classic genre tropes as a costume and a secret identity.  Perhaps too traditional.  The previews so far aren't showing me anything that I, and probably ever other reader of super-hero comics, haven't seen before. In other words, The Cape appears to be a pretty standard issue Batman/Daredevil pastiche. It will have to distinguish itself by adding some extra dimension to the tried and true formula, but the ads aren't showing me any yet.  
The biggest problem with this show is the title.
The Cape?
Are they serious?
That has got to be the most uninspired name for a superhero character since... well, since "Superman."  Plus, it's been used before.  I came across a comic book with the same name which appeared totally unrelated to this show as I was browsing the new releases at the Laughing Ogre comic shop on Wednesday.
I'll be watching when the show starts in a little over two and a half hours, and some or all, or none, of my preliminary opinions may change by 11 p.m.  I'll let you know in a day or so.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Damn You, Grant Morrison!

You really know how to push my buttons, don't you, Mr. Morrison?
I was originally planning to stop buying Batman, Incorporated after the conclusion of the initial two issue adventure with Mr. Unknown in Japan.  The first two issues have been pretty decent, but not quite good enough to make this a "must read" title.
Then I came to the final page of issue #2.  It's a preview of what's in store for #3 and it shows Batman fighting a gorilla. 
Yep, you read that right...
Batman.  A gorilla.  Grant Morrison. Right there you have three of my most favorite things in comics.
If that isn't the recipe for a great story, I don't know what is.
You've got my four bucks for another couple of months, DC.  
Don't let me down.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Letters! DC Wants Letters!

I've always loved reading comic book's letters columns.  When I'd buy a new comic, I often read the letters page before I read the story, even when there was a notice warning me not to.   One of the reasons I stopped buying Uncanny X-Men was that they only sporadically published a letters column.  Even now, when I buy old comics, I still read the letters first. 
Not everyone, of course, shares my enthusiasm.  Take Warren Ellis, for example. He'd been answering the letters in Transmetropolitan when the Vertigo line dropped letters columns.  When he was doing a signing at local comics shop The Laughing Ogre not long after, I asked him how he felt about this development and his response was basically, "Good Riddance." To him, the banishing of letters columns indicated that the medium was "growing up."  After all, he reasoned, "real" books don't have pages of readers comments.  This was a sign of   comics finally taking themselves seriously as literature, according to Ellis.  
I didn't say anything at the time, but there are a couple of flaws in that argument.  First, many paperback books do actually have pages and pages of comments from readers right up front. Of course, these are paid readers, what you and I would call "reviewers," and unlike comics letters columns, which occasionally ran negative letters, these comments contained only gushing praise.
Secondly, what we commonly call "comic books" aren't really books.  They're magazines, and "real" magazines like Time and Rolling Stone do, in fact, run several pages of comments from their readers in every issue.
Now, Warren Ellis may not be too happy about it, but I was quite pleased to read today that DC is going to be bringing back letters columns soon.
Michael Cavna, at the Washington Post's "Comic Riffs" blog sums up, much more eloquently than I ever could, why the return of the letters column is a good thing
On the other hand, Brett Schenker at Graphic Policy makes the case that in the age of the Wild, Wild Web bringing back letters columns is a bad idea.
You already know where I stand on this, and I'm looking forward to you letting me know what you think in your comments.

Monday, January 3, 2011

"When The Bugle Blows"--Sensational Spider-Man #147

Back in November, as I wrote my post about Amazing Spider-Man #147, I noticed that I had also, quite coincidentally, earlier spotlighted The Brave and the Bold #147 and Justice League of America #147.  Afterwards, I decided to do it on purpose from now on. So, today I begin an irregular feature wherein I shall read and review the 147th issue of one of the comparatively few comic book series  in the nearly eight decade history of the comics industry that have reached that number.  While thumbing through the back issues at Half-Price Books yesterday, I came upon a copy of The Spectacular Spider-Man #147, which seems as good a place as any to start.
Like the corresponding number of its older sister series, SSM #147 was written by Gerry Conway.  That's about all the two stories have in common, however. In the intervening thirteen years, a lot had changed. Peter Parker had married his long-time, on-again/off-again girlfriend Mary Jane Watson, and his old friend Ned Leeds, long presumed to be the super-villain known as the Hobgoblin, had been killed by terrorists.  
Oh, and demons had apparently overrun Manhattan Island. 
This issue is part of the cross-over story line "Inferno."  Don't ask me what "Inferno" is about.  I can't tell you.  Other than this issue, I've read a couple issues of The Avengers that cross over with the story, but since it was primarily an X-Men event, these issues exist on the periphery of the story and don't really give the reader a sense of the big picture.  Kind of sucks for you if you're not reading the X books, I guess, which I wasn't at the time and am not inclined to do now. All I know is that for some reason there's a bunch of demons running around everywhere and attacking people.
Conway himself sums up the dilemma of the casual reader in a caption toward the end of the story:
"Only a few know what is happening, and only they can confront the evil at it's source. 
"For the rest of those trapped on this unhappy isle, Inferno is a catastrophe without rhyme or reason."
He's referring to the inhabitants of Manhattan within the story, but those words also pretty much sum up how I felt while reading this story. 
The story opens with the new Hobgoblin sulking away from a battle with Spider-Man and Harry Osborn, who had once again assumed the role of the Green Goblin.  You'll remember that at this time the original Green Goblin, Harry's father Norman Osborn, was "dead," though he eventually got better.  After a run-in with the demons,  the Hobgoblin gets the bright idea to go to the Empire State Building, which was apparently the center of the demon infestation, and see, N'Astirh, the head demon.  Once granted an audience with N'Astirh, Hobby offers the demon his soul in exchange for the power of a demon.  Amused, N'Astirh grants the Hobgoblin's request.  The issue ends with Hobgoblin gazing in horror at a reflection in a pond of his now demonic looking face. 
Meanwhile, Spider-Man has an encounter of his own with a mysterious demonic wind that rises up out of nowhere and slams him against a wall.  Injured, the wall-crawler takes refuge in the offices of the Daily Bugle, only to find that its no safe haven, but rather under seige by a horde of demons.  As depicted on the cover, Spidey ends up fighting alongside his perennial nemesis J. Jonah Jameson against the demonic invaders.  Once the battle is over, Spider-Man collapses from his wounds. 
For what it is, which is basically a footnote in someone else's story line, "When The Bugle Blows" is a pretty decent issue.  We get some nice characterization of Spider-Man and his friends, the beginnings of a major plot development, and plenty of demon-bashing action all nicely illustrated by the late, great Sal Buscema. 

Sunday, January 2, 2011

"Mars Needs Moms": Does Earth Need This Movie?

You are probably never going to find a bigger fan of cartoonist and author Berkely Breathed than the author of this very blog.  About six feet behind me as I sit at my computer desk typing this, the top shelf of my book case sags under the weight of every Bloom County/Outland/Opus book, from Loose Tails to the latest volume of the Bloom County Library, including the three children's picture books-- A Wish For Wings That Work, Goodnight, Opus, and The Last Basselope--that Breathed wrote featuring Mr. P. Opus. Next to all of these sits a copy of his non-Opus children's book Mars Needs Moms.  So, when I first heard about the forthcoming movie based on the latter, I was looking forward to seeing it.  Then I started to read more about it, and watched the trailer, and now I'm not all that excited about it all of a sudden.
If the filmmakers had done what they really should have, which is simply bring to life the wonderful paintings with which Breathed illustrated his book, they might have at least produced a good looking film.  Instead, we are treated to another disturbing journey into the uncanny valley courtesy of the same folks who creeped out little kids with The Polar Express a couple of years back. 

Storywise, it appears that the film suffers from a common problem that comes from attempting to turn a fifty page picture book into a two hour feature film. That is, it appears overly padded and weighed down with a lot of unneccessary business simply to fill out the running time.
Of course, these are just my first impressions based on the trailer and they may change after I see the film.  Yes, I do still plan on seeing it, but it's definitely a wait-'til-it-hits-the-dollar-theater kind of deal.