Saturday, April 14, 2012

Alan Moore Speaks (BBC Interview)

I shall assume, and I believe I'm on fairly firm ground in making this assumption, that the majority of my readers most likely missed, due to its being broadcast here in Columbus, OH on WOSU radio yesterday morning at the inhospitable, some might say ungodly, of four a.m., the recent interview with Alan Moore on the BBC World Service radio program HARDtalk, as I'm sure very few of you are either insomniacs or vampires.
If you're interested in hearing Moore's thoughts on the Occupy protests, the films based on his work, the upcoming Watchmen prequels, the "gangster ethics" of the comics industry and pornography in his own voice, you can download the podcast of the episode here and listen to it in the full light of day while fully awake and alert.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Star Trek #7 (IDW)

My friend Jonathon Riddle has told me several times of a former roommate of his, a huge Star Trek fan, who objected to the very premise of the last Trek TV series, Enterprise, which chronicled the early days of Starfleet, because to him Star Trek was supposed to be about moving forward, not looking back.  (Never mind that the series was still set 150 years in the future.)  I'm sure this fellow would also have turned up his nose upon hearing the premise of IDW's monthly Trek comic, which adapts episodes of the original series into the alternate timeline continuity of the new movie.
To tell the truth, I thought the idea was kind of pointless myself.  After all, the movie gave us an entirely new Trek universe.   Why not explore it instead of wasting time on what would inevitably be greatly inferior retellings of forty-five year old stories?
The first issue pretty much proved my doubts correct.  I only bought it because the episode it adapted, "Where No Man Has Gone Before", just happened to be airing on MeTV the same week as the book's release, and I wanted to compare the adaptation to the original.  Needless to say, I found it somewhat lacking. The necessary compression of the plot for space, and the substitution of the likenesses of Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto and company for William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and the old crew, combined with some odd, seemingly arbitrary changes, such as the exclusion of Dr. Elizabeth Dehner, a major character in the old episode, made the comic seem even more of a pale imitation of the original than most comics adaptations usually do.  Also, it was kind of weird to see Gary Mitchell drawn as Gary Lockwood, the actor who played the character on TV, and standing alongside the movie crew.
With the series' seventh issue, writer Mike Johnson gets to try his hand at an original Trek story, and acquits himself quite well.  "Vulcan's Vengeance" is a direct sequel to the events of the film and has the Enterprise preparing to enter the Neutral Zone in pursuit of a Vulcan ship stolen by what appear to be the last survivors of Nero's crew who have stolen the only remaining sample of red matter, the substance that destroyed the planet Vulcan. 
What I really like about this issue is that it feels much more like a classic Trek adventure than the movie or even the first issue did.  Though they are drawn as Pine and Quinto, the Kirk and Spock of this story talk and act more like the Kirk and Spock I know from the TV series and earlier movies than their counterparts from the new movie.  The only problem I have with the story is that Johnson gets Chekov's accent wrong. 
Unfortunately, "Vulcan's Vengeance" does not herald a new direction for IDW's Trek.  After this tale wraps up next issue, it's back to strip mining the past with an adaptation of "Return of the Archons."  That's too bad, because based on this issue, I'd like to see more original Trek sagas written by Johnson.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Mother Teresa in the Mighty Marvel Manner

Webster's Dictionary defines hagiography as: "Biography of saints or venerated persons."  The word is often used by critics who want to demonstrate how much smarter they are than their readers by showing off their huge vocabulary, like me, as a condemnation of any biography that paints an overly rosy picture of its subject.
To call the Mother Teresa of Calcutta, on the other hand, a hagiography is to neither condemn nor praise it.  It is simply to state a fact.  Published by Marvel Comics (believe it or not) in co-operation with the Catholic Church in 1984 as part of a short lived series of sequential biographies of religious figures that also included volumes on the lives of Pope John Paul II and Saint Francis of Assisi, Mother Teresa of Calcutta is a reverent retelling of the controversial nun's life up to that point in time.  The comic was written by David Michelinie from a story by Franciscan priest Father Roy Gasnick and pencilled by John Tartaglione with inks by Joe Sinnott.
To frame Mother Teresa's story, Michelinie and Gasnick introduce the reader on the first page to Nick Bugatti, a reporter for the fictitious World Cable News.  After meeting Mother Teresa in Beirut, Nick drags his comic relief cameraman Marty along on a worldwide quest to determine just what makes her so "special".  The pair travel to Yugoslavia, Ireland and finally to India, gathering biographical details along the way.  These details are presented to the reader in a linear fashion, tracing Mother Teresa's life from her birth in 1910 to winning the Nobel Prize in 1979.  
In the end, Nick does, in fact, uncover what makes Mother Teresa so "special".  What is her mysterious secret that took this ace reporter forty-eight pages to figure out?  "She cares."  Of course, by the time the story got to that final page revelation, I really didn't. 
Since the book is written in such an earnest, reverential manner, there are a number of unintentionally hilarious moments. For instance there's the panel where Mother Teresa and an associate are shown leaving a village as the angry villagers throne sticks and stones at them and she calmly concludes that, "I don't think God wants us to have a leper clinic here!"  However, the book never reaches the level of high camp that I was hoping for.  
Mother Teresa of Calcutta is not really a bad book for what it is, but its definitely one for true believers only.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Green Arrow #'s 7 & 8

Overall, the last couple of issues of the relaunched yet again Green Arrow weren't as bad as I thought they'd be.  That's not to say that they were good, you understand.  It's just that I expected them to be a lot worse. 
Previous to her taking over as writer of Green Arrow, I'd read only one other story by Ann Nocenti, where she introduced the character of Typhoid Mary in Daredevil, and I was, to say the least, less than enthralled by her writing.  In fact, it was pretty awful.  The big problem with that arc was the dialogue, which was all written in the same voice.  I could read you a random passage from the story and you would be unable to tell whether it came from Daredevil, Karen Page, the Kingpin or a caption.  The whole thing read more like an essay than a story.  Her run on that book is generally well spoken of these days, but based on what I've read, I can't see why.
But this isn't a review of a thirty year old Daredevil story, but of the current Green Arrow arc.  Nocenti  hasn't quite developed an ear for naturalistic dialogue in the intervening years.  It comes across as slightly less "written" than in Daredevil, but still not anything you could imagine real people saying.  
The plot involves Green Arrow being seduced and kidnapped by genetically engineered triplets who finish each other's sentences and go by the collective name of Skylark.  He is taken to an Arctic retreat where he meets the Skylarks' father, an albino man-beast named Leer who performs experiments on the local wildlife in order to prepare them to survive some sort of coming disaster.  It comes off as kind of a weird cross between King Lear and The Island of Dr. Moreau that has yet, two issues into a three issue arc, to coalesce into a coherent story. 
Slightly more interesting is the subplot involving the struggle for control of Queen Enterprises after Oliver Queen is presumed dead when the Skylarks crash his jet.  This plotline, at least, makes sense.
Perhaps my biggest problem with the new series as a whole is the title character.  I'm not really all that crazy about this new guy calling himself Green Arrow.  This is definitely not the same Ollie Queen who was re-invented by Denny O'Neil in the 70's.  He's shallower, more reckless and impulsive, and, frankly, not as smart.  
Part of it may be the way Nocenti writes him, which really emphasizes the character's many bad points.  He was slightly more tolerable in the preceding arc by Keith Giffen and Dan Jurgens.  Still, even then, he wasn't the sort of hero whose adventures I'd really want to follow over the long term.
I was planning on waiting 'til next month, when Nocenti's initial arc was finished, to write this review.  Issue #7 was intriquing enough to get me to come back for the next one, but after reading the mess that is #8 I think I'll spend my three bucks on something else the first week in May.  The same goes for every subsequent month, at least until a new writer decides to have Ollie grow up a little.

Friday, April 6, 2012

OMAC # 8: The Best for Last

You're probably familiar with the old show biz saying that you should always leave your audience wanting more.  Keith Giffen and Dan DiDio certainly are, as O.M.A.C. #8, the series' final issue, proves.  The writer/artist team go out with a bang, producing the best issue of yet of this regrettably short lived book.
In this jam-packed issue, we finally, albeit belatedly, get some real insight into the character of Kevin Kho, O.M.A.C.'s alter ego; a knock down drag out throwdown between O.M.A.C. and the forces of Checkmate; the final showdown between Brother Eye and Maxwell Lord; and a final twist that sets in motion a new direction for the character when he appears again.
Giffen's art over the course of these eight issues has been the best of his career and for the finale he outdoes himself with a kinetic, frenetic, Kirby-inspired tour de force.  I'll miss seeing Giffen's art on a regular basis and I hope it won't be too long before he picks up another pencilling assignment.
You know, sales on this title must have been really bad if even the fact that it was co-written by the company's co-publisher couldn't save it.  I really can't figure out why that is, though, because this book was everything fans say that they want in a super-hero comic.  I'm going to miss it, but at least I've still got these eight issues to read over and over again.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Meet Fritzi Ritz

I hadn't read the comic strip Nancy for years.  But a couple of hours ago, for some damn reason I found myself clicking on a link in an e-mail and checking out today's strip.  It featured a lame gag pretty typical of the strip as I remember it, but I was somewhat taken aback by the panel over there on the left, featuring an on panel appearance by Nancy's Aunt Fritzi. 
You see, back when I would read Nancy as a kid, Aunt Fritzi never actually appeared.  Though referred to often, she was at most an occasional off-panel voice.  Thus, it was quite a surprise to me when I eventually learned that she had once been the star of the strip.
Another surprising thing I learned when I looked the strip up on Wikipedia just now is that Ernie Bushmiller, the cartoonist most closely associated with the strip, was not its originator.   The comic began life in October 1922 as Fritzi Ritz, drawn by Larry Whittington.  Whittington left after three years to start another strip, leaving Fritzi Ritz to his assistant Bushmiller.  Bushmiller at first continued the strip under Whittington's name, not signing his own name to it for about a year.
In 1933, Bushmiller introduced Fritzi's niece, Nancy.  She eventually took over the strip to such an extent that it was renamed for her in 1938, the same year that Sluggo joined the cast.  Fritzi Ritz continued as Sunday only strip, separate from the Sunday version of Nancy, until the late 1960's.  
Bushmiller died in 1982, and the strip has passed through various hands since then.  In 1995, it was taken over by Guy and Brad Gilchrist, who remain to this day.

Monday, April 2, 2012

It's Max Ink's World--We're Just Livin' In It

Dig, if you will, a picture:
(I quote Prince just to be different.  Let's face it, the Twilight Zone quote most people would have used, "Submitted for your approval..." is such a cliche, although it is somewhat appropriate.)
There I go again, getting off topic before I've even gotten on topic.  Ok, enough of that.
Let's just say you happen to be leafing through a comic while you happen to be standing in one of the locations that figures heavily in the story.  At the same time on the stage, a musician who appears as a character in that selfsame comic is performing the very song he is depicted as performing in the story and comes to the lyrics quoted in the text at the exact same moment that you are  reading them. 
Ok, so that didn't happen to you, but it did to me, and it's a good thing I was only halfway finished with my first beer or my head might have exploded.  Of course, it could have happened to you had you been at Wild Goose Creative on Friday evening for the party marking the release of Max Ink's latest comic, Blink: Wonka Wonka Kochalka.   The event capped a month during which the  original art from WWK had been on display at Wild Goose.

The performer referenced above was Jason Quicksall.  He led off a line-up of musical acts that also included Elijah Aaron, the Saturday Giant, and the Psychotic Blondes, a.k.a. Bree Frick and Molly Winters, who, I am told, are two of the three members of a group called the Salty Caramels
Another highlight of the evening was the raffle of two envelopes filled with gift certificates from local comics shops as well as custom T-shirt maker Skreened totalling $95 in value.  Coincidentally, $95 was also the amount raised by the raffle, with all proceeds going to benefit Wild Goose Creative.
Wonka Wonka Kochalka is merely the first chapter (of 13) of Max Ink's next Blink graphic novel to be entitled So It Goes. (By the way, the first book in the series, So Far, took second place in the General category for the 2011 SPACE Prize, to be presented at this year's show)  If you didn't get a copy Friday, it's currently available on Amazon.  No doubt it will also be available at several comic shops in the Columbus area, and you'll have another opportunity to buy it from Max himself later this month at SPACE.