Archive for July, 2007

Comic Book Conventions and the Media


My Avengers, let me show you them

The only comic book convention I’ve ever attended was one I went to back in the early ’90s at the University of North Texas in Denton. Everyone fit into one fairly small room in the student union building. I think there were a dozen or so people selling comics. No one dressed up, there were no special guests, no one got excited. And I probably wouldn’t have gone at all if it weren’t a five-minute walk from my dorm.

Something like Comic-Con last weekend in San Diego? Never been to anything like it, probably never will. Too big, too far away, and I’ll never have enough vacation time to go that far away, much less enough money to cover admission.

But John Rogers went to Comic-Con and gives us his thoughts on conventions, culture, and the media.

The Con’s current scale hammers home the hackiness of the standard American media narrative. I noticed multiple news camera crews, and each time it was the same. 124,000 people at the Con, give or take. But if you turn on your news coverage you won’t see the giggling, happy five year-olds with their parents, having the “together family time” we’re always whinging on about. You won’t see the young woman who wrote and drew a comic about her time as a soldier in Israel. You won’t see the scrum of young Marines I spotted as they compared Magic the Gathering cards. You won’t meet the junior high teachers who are using my comic in their predominantly Hispanic classrooms to spark discussion about racial representation in the media. You won’t see the indie film-makers, the kid who shot this 25 minutes in a week and left every industry pro who stumbled across him slack-jawed.

A thousand stories, tens of thousands of families … yet the newshacks couldn’t wait to hustle up the dozen or so real freaks in costumes, the literally .001% that gave them what they wanted. Not even the kids in the Harry Potter outfits, or the Japanese anime kids, or even the clever unfolding Transformer rigs — no, they found every empty-eyed overweight forty-five year old Flash or flab-rolled part-time stripper Catwoman and latched on tight for the creepy interview.

In the American media there are two constants. In politics, it is always and forever 1968, and liberals are Dirty (F***ing) Hippies. In culture, anyone who decides to poke their head out of the cultural world of the CBS primetime line-up is a sad, basement-dwelling loner screaming into his Hello Kitty pillow as crackling video dubs of the original Spider-Man cartoon flicker on his television.

And that’s not a bad view of the way things are nationwide. In all the years I’ve been buying and reading comics, I’ve seen mighty few Howling Freakshow DoomBeasts hanging around Star. Frankly, I can think of two — every other person I’ve seen there is as normal as normal can be. Kids, parents, men, women, old, young, businessmen, cowboys, goths, geeks, punks, preps, you name it.

Of course, if the national media had to interview ten typical comic book readers, they’d panic. “These aren’t real comic book fans!” they’d scream. “Get us the freaks and weirdos! Get us people who look like the nerds we knew in high school! Get us people who look like the stereotypes we have in our heads!”

And that’s really what I think a lot of that stuff is about — maintaining and enforcing cultural taboos and divisions. The media — and the national media in particular — has a point-of-view that’s firmly ensconced within the status quo — usually by necessity. But nowadays, some folks within the national media have gotten it into their heads that they’re supposed to promote the status quo, rather than just report from within it. And the way they promote the status quo is to marginalize the square pegs who don’t quite fit into society’s stereotyped round holes. Hence: nearly all media depictions of comics fans are Comic Book Guy, goths wear trenchcoats and shoot up high schools, feminists have hairy legs and hate men, gays wear leather thongs and dance on parade floats, environmentalists are granola-eating hippies, blacks are rappers, Hispanics are either gangsters or illegal immigrants, Muslims are terrorists. True? Of course not. But you can’t get a cookie-cutter culture without demonizing a few Nutter Butters (or something like that).

The point is to tell the audience that those people are not normal, and you shouldn’t want to have anything to do with them, or you’ll be abnormal, too.

Is there a way out? Probably not. There doesn’t seem to be much of a way to make the national media less shallow. Is there a way around the problem. Sure. Do what lots of people do already — do what makes you happy, and don’t let the clucking busybodies on TV scare you off.

(By the way, the comments on Rogers’ blog post are outstanding all the way through — make sure you read them, too.)

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The Big Red One

Not many comics left to review this week, and I think I can get most of them reviewed pretty quickly. To the ReviewCopter!


Hellboy: Darkness Calls #4

Baba Yaga’s crusade against Hellboy continues, as Koschei the Deathless attacks. Hellboy’s a pretty tough customer, but he does his best work against opponents who eventually stop living, which Koschei doesn’t do. Luckily, Hellboy gets a little assistance from a little girl from Russian folklore, but it may not be enough.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Mike Mignola’s take on Russian mythology is big fun. Not much horror action in this issue, but a full issue of near-nonstop action is nothing to sneeze at.


JSA Classified #28

This issue focuses on Jakeem Thunder and his wish-granting Thunderbolt as they try to use their nigh-omnipotent powers to give everyone everything they want. While Jakeem expected to spend his time reconstructing demolished homes and feeding the hungry, he ends up fielding demands for new plasma TVs and repaired PlayStations.

Verdict: Thumbs up. One of the superhero criticisms you see from time to time is that you see them pull people out of fires and accidents, but you never see them stick around to clean up damage or rebuild homes. This issue has one of the better explanations for this that I’ve seen — it’s better thought-out and doesn’t completely insult your intelligence the way some of these do. We also see some much-needed character development for Jakeem, who tends to get forgotten over in the main “Justice Society” comic book.


Teen Titans #49

It’s a crossover with the “Amazons Attack” miniseries. There’s a three-way battle between the Titans, the military, and the Amazons with a bunch of innocent internees in the crossfire. Most of this takes place on a runaway passenger train, and it’s still not a bit exciting.

Verdict: Thumbs down. Boring, irritating, confusing, poorly written, badly plotted. I have a hard time believing that the Titans would help escort military internees to a concentration camp just to keep themselves from being arrested. And Supergirl and Wonder Girl somehow manage to go off, get persuaded to fight with the Amazons, crash Air Force One, and then change their minds and come back to the Titans, all in the space of a few hours. This comic was freakin’ awful. I’m not dropping it yet, mainly ’cause Blue Beetle is going to be in the next few issues, but things better improve soon or I’m giving it up.

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Friday Night Fights: It’s Colberting Time!

Once again, it’s Friday night, and Bahlactus calls for BATTLE!

From “Stephen Colbert’s Tek Jansen #1” by John Layman, Tom Peyer, and Scott Chantler:

Hey, ya ever wondered what happens to skeleton aliens who taunt Stephen Colbert?



NOTE: That panel sounded totally dirty.




Stuck?! That’s one heck of a kick…



It’s violentastic!

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Blue Thunder


Blue Beetle #17

In this issue, Blue Beetle takes on a guy named Typhoon, a corporate mercenary who can turn himself into a full-sized hurricane. Jaime insults Typhoon’s lack of pants, gets depressed when he fails to save a bunch of hurricane victims, and uses his brain in dealing with both the bad guy and a ritzy hotel that refuses to give the victims shelter from the storm. We also get treated to a great scene between Jaime and his dad and to some wonderful banter between Paco and Brenda back home.

Verdict: Thumbs up. John Rogers and Rafael Albuquerque are killing on this book. Jaime’s reactions to Typhoon’s rampage and to his perceived failure to save lives are excellently written, and his solutions to his problems are both cerebral and fun. Why aren’t you reading this comic yet? No, no excuses — go pick it up now.

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Awright, time for some reviews. This one actually came out last week, and while it was one I was keeping an eye out for, it sneaked under my radar. But I got it now, so let’s start with this one.


MODOK’s 11

Ahhh, MODOK. Is there any villain anywhere who’s as utterly lame and yet so mind-manglingly cool at the same time. MODOK — the Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing — is a super-genius with a giant head, an awful haircut, an oversized mouth, itty-bitty limbs, and a hoverchair. He looks utterly bizarre and he tends to get his teensy butt humiliatingly kicked every time he shows up. To be honest, that’s why we comic geeks love him so.

MODOK has a purebreed pedigree, too — he was created by Marvel’s greatest superstars, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Here’s a classic picture of MODOK (probably not by Kirby himself, but definitely in his style) which is far cooler than the one on the cover of this month’s comic:


I’ve got a headache this big

So a while back, there was an issue of “Marvel Adventures: The Avengers” in which MODOK showed up and turned the Avengers into giant-headed megalomaniacs like himself. This caused many people to giggle a lot and talk about how much they loved MODOK, so Marvel decided they’d better give him a miniseries.

Most of what we get in this first issue is MODOK recruiting various villains for a big heist — he calls on a bunch of also-ran villains like Armadillo, Puma, Mentallo, Deadly Nightshade, the Living Laser, Chameleon, Spot, and a very reluctant Rocket Racer, and they all get greedy and fight each other. A bit cliched? Maybe, but these guys are not A-list supervillains, so it serves more as an introduction for a bunch of characters who many readers may never have heard of.

Verdict: Thumbs up. A slow but very promising start. I like light-hearted comics, and I like heist comics, and I’ve got my fingers crossed that this will be a wonderful fusion of the two…

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Marvel Heroes Stamp Out Crime!

Well, maybe more like “Marvel Heroes put stamps on envelopes.”


If you remember last year’s DC stamps, they’ve finally gotten around to putting out some Marvel stamps, and they’re coming out tomorrow!

If you collect stamps, there will be a special superheroes pictorial cancellation for local collectors from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Singer Slaton Post Office at 4901 S. Loop 289. The Post Office will also sell special cachet envelopes with the pictorial cancellation for $5.

My opinion on these stamps? I like ’em and will probably pick up two or three sets of ’em, but I actually think it’s a slightly weaker set of stamps than the DC stamps. Elektra, but not Daredevil? Spider-Woman and not, well, anyone else? I realize they wanted to have a couple of female characters, but why not She-Hulk or Storm? They’re much more popular and important characters than Elektra or Spider-Woman.

Ya know what else I noticed? They’ve got a stamp of Wolverine, but the corresponding comic cover stamp is of “X-Men #1” from 1963 — nine years before Wolverine was actually created…

UPDATE: Ya know, the more I look at that sheet of stamps, the more I think to myself, “Wow, I am going to own stamps with illustrations by Jack Kirby himself.” And that is solid, 24-carat awesome.

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Comics Creators Turn Yellow

Alan Moore (creator of “Watchmen” and many others), Art Spiegelman (creator of “Maus”), and Daniel Clowes (creator of “Eightball” and “Ghost World”) will play themselves on an episode of “The Simpsons” in October.

More info here.

As expected, it’ll be an episode focusing on Jeff Albertson, the Comic Book Guy, with Jack Black stepping in to voice the hipster owner of a new rival comic shop across town.

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The End of Bat Boy!

The Weekly World News — self-dubbed “The World’s Only Reliable Newspaper” — is closing up shop.


What will we all read in the supermarket checkout lines now? “In Touch” magazine just doesn’t have enough articles about the World’s Fattest Cat…

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The Gang’s All Here

Time to get the reviews for the rest of my comics out of the way today.


The Brave and the Bold #5

Well, last issue ended with Batman merged with the evil cyborg Tharok and transported to the distant future. This issue starts out with the 31st century’s Legion of Super-Heroes using their amazing super-science to split the two characters apart. Unfortunately, despite the many technological advances of the future, they’ve never managed time travel (or at least this version of the future hasn’t — lots of previous versions of the Legion had time travel), so Batman may be permanently stuck in the future. Even worse, his presence is causing the manifestation of dangerous time rifts that could wreck the entire fabric of time. Everyone figures that, since the Haruspex super-weapon managed to send Batman forward in time, maybe it could also send him back. Unfortunately, no one can get it to work anymore.

Frustrated by his situation and by the arrogant Brainiac 5’s constant put-downs of his relatively primitive intellect, Batman seemingly goes nuts, steals a Legion Flight Ring, and leads the Legionnaires on a wild chase. In the process, he ties Triplicate Girl into a Siamese Human Knot (just like in the old ’60s “Batman” show!) and has a grand mid-air martial arts battle with Karate Kid.

Back in the present-day, Supergirl, Green Lantern, and Adam Strange are on the distant planet Rann trying to locate the Book of Destiny before the evil Luck Lords get their hands on it.

Verdict: Thumbs up. So many cool things, all in one book. Action, humor, wonderful dialogue, great plot twists, and George Perez’s outstanding art — all of it in one little comic book. Go git it.


All-Flash #1

This is a one-shot issue to link the old “Flash” series with the new one. In it, the resurrected Wally West goes after Bart Allen’s killer (and clone!) Inertia. He picks an ironic end for him that is indeed uncommonly cruel for what we know about Wally (just as Bart’s death was uncommonly cruel for what we knew of the previously non-murderous Rogues), but it is something that Inertia will be able to escape from pretty easily so he can come back over and over as a villain.

This issue has several different artists, but at the end we get a glimpse of Daniel Acuna’s art for the new “Flash” series — and I’m not really very encouraged by it. You see, Acuna is a painter — an excellent one, in fact — and his artwork, like the recent “Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters,” is dark, dark, dark — lots of very dark colors, accentuated by brilliant flashes of light. It’s beautiful, but it makes his artwork hard to look at — you can’t see it clearly in anything less than direct light — anything less is like looking at dim silhouettes. And his best work is fairly grounded in the realism of the human form — but here, he goes for some grotesque cartooning — Flash’s son is a kid, and elsewhere in this issue, he’s depicted as a normal-looking kid. But in Acuna’s artwork, he has powers, and his arms and upper body are muscled like a professional bodybuilder. He looks utterly freakish — he’d look freakish drawn by anyone, but Acuna’s realistic style makes it more pronounced and ugly. Acuna’s artwork for “The Flash” makes me a lot less enthusiastic about the upcoming series — I’m a big believer in the idea that the writer doe the most work toward creating a good comic book, but there’s no doubt that poor — or in this case, just bizarre — artwork can kill a lot of the pleasure of reading a well-written comic.

Verdict: Thumbs up, but just barely. There are large chunks of this story that I like a lot, but the Acuna artwork just makes me so nervous…


Stephen Colbert’s Tek Jansen #1

Yes, this is the same Stephen Colbert who anchors Comedy Central’s “Colbert Report.” The comic isn’t written by Colbert, but he is credited with “Galactic Overlording.”

Tek Jansen is a Colbert-created space hero who looks just like Colbert and talks just like his comedy persona — egotistical, conservative, casually xenophobic, but very, very, very heroic and always right about everything. He gets sent on intergalactic missions, engages in wild derring-do, takes the law into his own hands, and makes fun of both the radioactive robot monkey he works with and Overseeress Braina, a floating disembodied brain wearing a pretty bow.

He sleeps with a gross skeleton alien, brutally assaults numerous monstrous alien menaces (and innocent alien passersby), fights evil in the nude, and destroys planets for no good reason. There are lots of funny sciencefictionisms, as well as wonderful dialogue, especially from the evil Meangarr, a caged inkblot who constantly issues over-the-top threats like “I’ll tear your head off and make it my wife.” (Note: Please try to use this phrase in conversation today.)

Verdict: Thumbs up. Clearly, we need more comics inspired by Stephen Colbert monologues.

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Girls and Supergirls

The most recent “Supergirl” series has really been plagued by bad artwork — Sure, there are lots of comics with rotten artwork, but it seemed that the main character was actually designed to look like a misshapen, anorexic parody of the bubbleheaded blonde pop tarts that’ve turned into recent “Entertainment Tonight” fodder. Lookit this:


There are no clean jokes I can make here.

Hey, kids! It’s a comic about a really skanky girl with an eating disorder and an unbelievably poor fashion sense. If this were a realistic comic book, Nightwing would’ve spent the whole comic making Supergirl sit in a deli and eat sandwiches. After that, Oracle would’ve shown up and taken Supergirl out to buy some clothes. No reason to flash everyone in Metropolis every time you go flying somewhere, right? And after that, they’d set her up with an appointment with a good psychologist to help her out with the eating disorder.

And seriously, the comic has gotten quite a bit of criticism from female comic book readers. They say (correctly, I think) that DC has made Supergirl into a bad bubble-blonde stereotype, that girls who read the comic will think it would be healthy to be that skinny, that for a company like DC that has been trying to reach out to female readers, this comic is a really, really lousy way to do that.

DC has been working pretty hard on making their comic books more diverse and have made a pretty strong effort to pick up more female readers with their new Minx Comics imprint. People have been asking why DC hasn’t worked harder to attract female readers to some of their mainstream comics, particularly Supergirl…

Well, DC recently unveiled a new version of the character — and she looks… normal.


She still has the belly-shirt, but it’s no longer skin-tight. The skirt is longer. Her proportions are no longer supermodel-anorexic, but much more normal for a girl in her upper teens.


Even the posture seems to be more realistic. I’ve known lots of people who’d sit just like that. Yeah, it’s not stereotypically superheroic, but it’s nice to take a good break from the stereotypes, too.

You’ve already got some of the more immature fanboys whining that she looks fat — except that, again, she doesn’t look fat unless the only females you’ve ever seen are anorexic supermodels in comic books. DC has clearly decided — and again, correctly, in my opinion — that they have a decent chance of picking up some new readers, especially teen and preteen girls, with the new look.

Anyway, Tony Bedard is the new writer, and Renato Guedes is the new artist. Looks like their first issue will hit stores sometime this August.

(Oh, and some more artwork, plus another interview with Bedard, can be found here.)

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