Archive for August, 2007

Friday Night Fights: Spider-Boxing!

From “The Amazing Spider-Man #8” by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko:

Ladieeees and gentlemen, in this corner, weighing in at some normal weight but with very heavy red hair, it’s Flaaaaaash Thoooompson! And in this corner, weighing in at some other normal weight but packing incredible spider strength and agility, it’s Peeeeeter Parrrrrker!


Hmmm, did Spider-Man invent rope-a-dope?


“The Brain is out of control” and “Can’t stop my blow”? Stan Lee was smoking the funny cigarettes.


It’s a “WHOOM!” with a view! Oh man, I crack myself up…


Look at that happy smile! Flash Thompson sure does love his potentially life-threatening concussion and possible spinal and cranial injuries!

As Bahlactus commands, so let it be done!

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The Tragedy of the Great American Hero

Richard Jewell, 1962-2007

Five’ll gitcha ten, you don’t remember who this guy was. Heck, there are people who would really prefer that you forget him. He’s an embarrassment, a reminder of their own failure and foolishness and hate.

And you might be wondering why the guy running the comic book blog is writing about a guy you’ve never heard of.

Let me refresh your memory.

In 1996, Atlanta was playing host to the Summer Olympics. Big money, big TV audience, big publicity. The U.S. picked up 101 medals. Muhammad Ali lit the torch in the opening ceremonies, and everyone thought that was pretty much awesome. Kerri Strug injured her ankle and still landed a near-perfect score on the vault. Kurt Angle, before he became a professional wrestler, won a gold medal in freestyle wrestling with a severely injured neck.

Richard Jewell was a nobody, overweight, unremarkable, unsuccessful, living with his mother. He got a job as a lowly security guard at Centennial Olympic Park during a concert on July 27. He noticed a stray knapsack lying under a bench, got suspicious, called it in, and started moving people away from the area. Three pipe bombs inside the knapsack exploded, killing one woman and injuring 111 people. A Turkish cameraman died of a heart attack while rushing to film the incident.

Jewell was hailed as a hero who certainly prevented the deaths of dozens of people. But after four days, the FBI decided he might be a suspect. They tipped off the media. And for the next several weeks, while the feds repeatedly searched his mother’s house, many media companies all but declared him guilty of the bombing.

The FBI eventually had to announce that he wasn’t a suspect, and the press slinked away, probably looking for some small cute animal they could stab. Jewell had gone from nobody to hero to villain… but instead of being hailed, again, as the hero of the Olympic Park bombing, he just went back to being a nobody. He had trouble getting jobs because many still believed he was the bomber. He got settlements from the New York Post and NBC, though the Atlanta Journal-Constitution fought his suit clear ’til his death.

Turns out the bomber was a psychotic “Christian Identity” terrorist named Eric Rudolph. Rudolph later bombed a lesbian bar and two abortion clinics, setting secondary bombs that would target police, fire, and emergency medical personnel. When the cops finally identified him, he went into hiding for over five years. When he was caught, he took a plea bargain solely to avoid the death penalty. He’s expressed no regrets, and he sends out letters that are generally considered harassment against his victims and incitement for his supporters to commit more violence. He’s scum, a racist, and a terrorist, and I’m thoroughly happy that he’ll die in prison.

Last year, Georgia governor Sonny Perdue officially commended Jewell for his heroism. I gotta tell you, from what I’ve read, Perdue hasn’t been the greatest governor around, but when I heard that he’d done that for Jewell, my admiration for him jumped sky-high. He got the chance to take a guy who’s been dumped on by life, despite the good he’d done, he brought him back before the public, and said, “This guy’s a hero. Give him the respect he deserves.” That’s a beautiful thing to do for someone. It doesn’t make up for all the crap he’d had to put up with, but it was great to see that someone remembered him.

Jewell was diagnosed with diabetes early this year, and his kidneys were failing. He died on August 29th. The media reported his death, but too many omitted their parts in trying to put a hero in prison.

If we lived in the Marvel Universe, Captain America would’ve shaken Richard Jewell’s hand on national TV, lectured us about our fickle loyalties, and made sure Nick Fury gave Jewell a good job in SHIELD. If we lived in the DC Universe, Batman would’ve cleared Jewell in two days, had Rudolph in custody in three, and the Wayne Foundation would’ve made sure Jewell and his mom spent the rest of the rest of their lives comfortably well-off and suitably respected by everyone.

We live in the real world, where people have fan websites for murderous terrorists like Eric Rudolph, and where there are no statues honoring heroes like Richard Jewell.

That’s insane, and that’s all there is to say about it.

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The Flood


Here’s an online comic book about Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, created by Josh Neufeld, the guy who illustrates Harvey Pekar’s comics. And here’s an article about the creation of the comic.

The way that comics react to real-life disasters is one of the things I think is interesting about the medium. Sometimes, the reaction is extremely swift — just weeks after September 11th, Marvel produced the beautiful tribute jambook, “Heroes.”


Hulk by Sam Keith

And a few weeks after that, there was “Amazing Spider-Man #36” by J. Michael Straczynkski and John Romita, Jr.


Spidey at Ground Zero

DC came out with some tribute books, but they didn’t really have the same power. DC has worked for years to insulate itself from real-world events by setting its comics in fictional cities like Metropolis and Gotham and Opal City. Many of Marvel’s best-known characters are based in New York City, so there was a personal stake for Marvel.

In contrast, comics have taken much longer to respond to Katrina. In addition to Neufeld’s “A.D.” comic I mentioned above, the only one I’ve found is an upcoming issue of “Thor.”


And these few “Thor” panels illustrate a common theme of superhero comics that react to real-world disasters: Why didn’t the heroes help? Why didn’t the X-Men’s Storm help shut down the hurricane? Why didn’t Mr. Fantastic use his super-scientific know-how to strengthen the levees? Why didn’t the Avengers assist with evacuation? Why didn’t government agencies that spend billions on stuff like SHIELD heli-carriers use some of that taxpayer cash to help rebuild?

There’s never a good — or at least a credible — reason, mainly because superheroes can never actually do anything to help in the midst of real disasters, since they don’t really exist. But the question isn’t really directed at the fictional superpeople — it’s the comic writer’s way of asking real people who could have helped, whether the government, the military, common apathetic citizens, or whoever, why New Orleans still looks like a war zone two years after the hurricane. It’s the writer’s way of expressing frustration over 24 months of inaction and suffering and sorrow.

Still, real-world disasters are a difficult issue for superhero comics, and they nearly never get covered right. Because in the comics, it’s just not realistic to imagine that Superman, Wonder Woman, or the Fantastic Four wouldn’t have done something to reduce the suffering in the wake of a monstrous disaster like Katrina. Pretending they had more important things to do makes them look needlessly callous and cruel, and you’re not supposed to make your big heroes look like uncaring buttmonkeys.

And I gotta say, that’s why I always seem to find myself preferring the comics, like “A.D.”, that address real-world disasters from a real-world perspective. In a terrifying situation like Katrina, you don’t need spandex-clad do-gooders to amp up the drama.

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Religion in Comics


Religion is a weird thing in comics. In the DC Universe, the Spectre is literally the Wrath of God, the Greek gods live on Mt. Olympus, there are a bunch of people on other planets who call themselves the New Gods, and comic book writers have been shown to control the lives of superheroes. In the Marvel Universe, Mephisto rules Hell, Thor is the Norse god of thunder, and Iron Man still manages to be agnostic. Religions in comics are rarely depicted accurately or consistently.

That’s not to say that comic book superheroes can’t be religious. Or that comic book fans can’t be obsessive about what superheroes believe. Want proof? Click here for a list of a few hundred comic book characters and what religions they belong to.

For example: Superman is a Methodist, the Thing is Jewish, Nightcrawler is Catholic, Lex Luthor is a lapsed Episcopalian, Two-Face is a Taoist, Mr. Terrific is an atheist, and Mandrake the Magician is Buddhist. Even better: J. Jonah Jameson’s religion is listed as “hates Spider-Man.”

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They’re Creeping Up on You


The Spirit #9

An uncommonly dead-serious issue of this comic. The Spirit runs into a crimelord named El Morte who appears to be completely unstoppable. Much of the story is El Morte’s origin, and it’s pretty darn bizarre, but wow, he seems really far more scary than Sprit villains should be. Crazy kooky crimelords are fine, but when they can’t be shot or beat up or anything else, what can a non-powered guy like the Spirit do to them?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Darwyn Cooke’s artwork is so excellent. I’m a bit worried about El Morte — I hope it’s not just going to be several issues of “Spirit gets beat half to death” followed by a deus ex machina ending.


Shadowpact #16

Well, it turns out that the evil Dr. Gotham didn’t kill all of Chicago last issue, like they claimed he did. In fact, he missed almost everyone, thanks to Nightshade teleporting multiple skyscrapers and people into the Shadowrealm at the last second. Other superheroes show up to help, but Shadowpact does most of the work. Enchantress teleports into Dr. Gotham’s transdimensional armory and busts up a lot of his stuff until Gotham gives up and runs away. Meanwhile, Blue Devil’s lawyer fails to win back BD’s soul, mainly because Hell’s lawyers are so very good at what they do. A very angry priest requires BD to take on 13 nearly impossible tasks before he can be forgiven for selling his soul.

Verdict: Thumbs down. All this stuff happens, and it’s still not pulling me into the story. And I’m still pretty unhappy with the complete lack of characterization going on. Most of these characters, aside from Detective Chimp, seem to exhibit the same personality, except for Nightshade, who has never really had any personality at all.


Justice League of America #12

Brad Meltzer’s swan song on this comic focuses on the JLA’s time on monitor duty. Hawkgirl meets Red Arrow’s daughter, Black Canary plays the harmonica, GeoForce and Black Lightning run sting operations.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Part of the reason so many of Meltzer’s previous issues met with such rotten reviews is that he seems to be better at personality profiles than he is at superhero action. Well, that, and his cast is way too large. But hey, it’s cool that Black Canary plays the harmonica.


Supergirl #20

I’m astoundingly late with this one. Basically, the new, more realistic Supergirl completely fails to keep Air Force One from crashing, then tries to fight off angry Amazons, magic giants, and distrustful humans.

Verdict: Thumbs up. The character’s new look is a winner — pretty much just like the original without the creepy maniquinism that plagued her before. Good personality work, too. I wish Tony Bedard and Renato Guedes could work on this comic longer than the three issues they’ll be here…

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Bats n’ Gamma Kids


Batman #668

This is part 2 of the “Batmen of All Nations” storyline, where Batman, Robin, and a group of international crimefighters who’ve been inspired by the Dark Knight find themselves stranded on an island and being stalked by an assassin. In this issue, everyone investigates a murder, argue amongst themselves, and slowly get separated from each other. For a bunch of detectives, they seem to have no clue how to deal with serial killers.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Some quality detective work is displayed, and the mystery is still intriguing. There’s some interesting retro artwork at the beginning, but some of the rest of the artwork is a bit too dark, making it a bit hard to keep track of what’s going on. Nevertheless, good fun.


World War Hulk: Gamma Files

This is basically “The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe” for mostly Hulk-related characters. In other words, it’s a collection of character biographies. As with most of the “Official Handbook” titles, it’s pretty high-quality material. Thumbs up, but if you’re not a Hulk or Marvel completist, you may be able to live without it.

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Back in Action

Well, you may have noticed we didn’t have Friday Night Fights a couple days ago. Unfortunately, we had a few technical troubles that prevented any posting. On the bright side, that means I’ve already got my next FNF ready to go. But for now: a couple of quick reviews!


Marvel Adventures: The Avengers #15

The Avengers are attacked by trees, believe it or not, and they somehow realize that this means there’s trouble with the Norse gods, so they travel to Asgard to look for the missing Thor. They find that all of the Asgardians have gone missing, with Malekith and the Dark Elves in charge. Everyone gets attacked by the Frost Giants, who sing a lovely “smiting song.” Can the Avengers resist both Malekith’s attacks and the Frost Giants’ mad rhymes?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Not as madcap as some of the previous issues, but still good fun. And like all of the “Marvel Adventures” comics, they’re perfect for readers of all ages.


Green Lantern Corps #15

This is part of the long “Sinestro Corps War” storyline. In this part of the story, we’ve got lots of Green Lanterns hitting Sinestro Corps monsters and vice versa. Mogo, the planet that’s also a Green Lantern, is in danger from an evil city called Ranx, and the Guardians are up to something sneaky.

Verdict: Thumbs down. There’s very little drama. We don’t even get to see any big fighting between Mogo and Ranx, which really should have been a spotlight. You ever seen a city fight a planet? Me neither, and the cover made it sound like that was gonna be a big chunk of the action. Heck, Ranx even attacks Mogo, and the planet makes no real effort to defend itself. That’s weak, man. In the end, the entire issue is skippable.

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Blue and Gold


Blue Beetle #18

Are you reading “Blue Beetle”? If not, you’re missing one of the best superhero comics out there right now. And if you’re not reading it, I’m gonna have to come to your house and hit you with a Chrysler until you wise up. So wise up.

So Jaime is visiting a private space launch facility with his friends Paco and Brenda because his scarab tells him that the evil aliens, the Reach, want to knock a rocketship down. Meanwhile, the Teen Titans are visiting the same facility because Batman wants to make sure the ship makes it safely to orbit. They have the traditional “We’re all good guys, so let’s fight” thing, then intergalactic psychotic badass Lobo shows up, planning on demolishing the rocket before it launches. Mayhem ensues.

This comic is just jam-packed with awesome sauce. Kid Devil evacuates a room full of scientists by putting on his demon act and threatening them for teaching evolution. Everyone makes fun of Wonder Girl’s and Supergirl’s costumes. Paco and Brenda get to launch a rocket. Jaime gets an offer to join the Titans. And there are multiple, multiple funny lines. This is a comic that is made of win, and if you aren’t reading it, you are made of lose.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Not one thumb. Not two. Eighty. Eighty thumbs up. Seriously.


Booster Gold #1

In the aftermath of the “52” megaseries, Booster Gold feels like he’s poised to make a big comeback and become the acclaimed hero he’s always dreamed he could be. The Justice League may be willing to let him join, his reputation is slowly improving, and things are looking up… until time guardian Rip Hunter shows up and tries to convince Booster to help him fight menaces in the timestream. Someone is targeting the world’s superheroes for elimination, and plans on using time travel to kill them in the past. But in order to save history, Booster will have to make everyone in the world think he’s an incompetent dork. Will Booster’s sense of heroism be able to overcome his ego?

Verdict: Thumbs up. A bit talky, but it’s hard to deal with complicated stuff like temporal theory without ladling on the dialogue. The characterization of Booster and Skeets are perfect, and the entire thing is wonderfully high-concept. We also get some intriguing but cryptic hints about DC’s future, thanks to some of the notes scribbled on Rip Hunter’s blackboard.

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Defective Comics

Where Things Went Wrong?

Valerie D’Orazio says a lot of stuff I agree with here. I don’t think it’s possible to doubt that the comics that a lot of us used to know and love have been replaced with something creepy and mean and severely corporatized.

I don’t normally object to death in comics, or severe violence, or rudeness, or anything else like that. But I’m close to tapped out on it. There’s nothing wrong with death or violence or rudeness, because they can create great stories and characters. But you can’t overdo it, or it loses its power. All the stuff that’s supposed to shock us has been dumped on us in such quantities that no one notices any more.

So really, I’d like ’em to stop. Quit killing characters for shock value. Quit abusing characters for shock value. Stop taking easy shortcuts to big sales, and just start writing fun stories again.

I’m not saying to quit publishing “The Punisher” or “The Authority.” But quit trying to turn everyone into Punisher and Authority clones.

This problem really started, at least for DC, with “Identity Crisis.” Killing the Elongated Man’s wife, Sue Dibny, was a bad enough mistake, but for a lot of people, retconning her into a rape victim was just pointlessly trying to shock readers. It wasn’t edgy storytelling — it was just mean. And for some reason, DC mistook the angry complaints for proof that they were being edgy and avant garde, so they really got busy ladling on the blood. The company that used to write stories where the violent psychos from Image Comics were parodied into villains was now trying to turn their whole company into Image Comics East…

But the problem with doing stuff for shock value is that it loses its shock value when you do it too much. And when people stop being shocked by stunt storylines, it doesn’t mean you should try to get even more extreme. It means you should probably stop trying to shock your readers all the time.

And DC, please stop trying to recreate the glory days of “Crisis on Infinite Earths.” People would probably rather read good, entertaining, original stories, instead of rehashes of 20-year-old comics. Just because Hollywood can’t stop releasing remake after remake after remake doesn’t mean you should emulate them.

And this doesn’t just go for DC either. Marvel has been way too fond of random deaths and endless crossovers and ever more extreme “shocks” that no longer shock.

Compare “Countdown” to the “Marvel Adventures” line. The former is loud, violent, flashy, tied down to confusing continuity that new readers can’t understand, pretends to be shocking, and worse, is mired in bad, boring writing. The latter has great writing, doesn’t try to overload its readers with shocks and deaths and blood, doesn’t confuse new readers, and is just plain fun to read.

Both DC and Marvel should spend more time emulating “Marvel Adventures” and less time producing dreck like “Countdown.”

Off topic: Yes, I’m way behind on my comics reviews, and I’m likely to stay way behind for a while. I’ll try to catch up over this weekend and next week.

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Harry Potter and the Funnybook Frontier


Ain’t nothing like trying to jump on the bandwagon after the train’s left the station. Or something.

I was talking yesterday with Joe Gulick (the A-J’s assistant editor and a big comics fan) about the Harry Potter novels and movies. I’m not a big fan of them — I’ve read the first couple of books and saw the first movie, and they just didn’t light my fire. But Joe wondered why the Harry Potter books have never been adapted for comics.

Good question.

Comics adapting movies are a time-honored tradition. I remember as a kid picking up Marvel’s adaptation of the first “Star Wars” movie — and every time a new comic-based movie hits the big screens, you can bet that the comic adaptation is not far behind. Heck, Dark Horse Comics spent much of the ’90s releasing completely new stories based on movies like “Star Wars,” “Alien,” and “Predator.” And Disney has specialized for years at putting out comics that were better than the cartoons they were based on.

Books have been adapted into comics even more often — Marvel published comics based on the Anita Blake novels and Stephen King’s “Dark Tower” series, DC once published adaptations of Douglas Adams’ “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” novels, and Dark Horse plans to adapt Robert E. Howard’s novels about Puritan swordsman Solomon Kane. And who doesn’t remember reading those old “Classics Illustrated” comics? “Moby Dick” is more exciting with comics!

Okay, okay, anyway, the point is that this is the type of project that the comics companies should be falling over themselves trying to get. There’ve been Harry Potter books, Harry Potter movies, Harry Potter video games, Harry Potter toys, Harry Potter trading card games, Harry Potter candy, and more, and one would expect to see Harry Potter comics on the shelves, too. I can’t imagine a scenario where a Harry Potter comic book wouldn’t be a massive success. DC would seem to have the inside shot at any adaptations, since the movies were made by Warner Brothers, and Warner’s owns DC.

Joe and I pondered a couple of possibilities why there haven’t been any comics about the folks at Hogwart’s. First, it is possible that J.K. Rowling just really, really hates comics. That’s pure speculation on our part, and we have no way of knowing if it’s true. The other possibility is that Scholastic, the company that publishes the novels, holds the rights for all printed stories about Harry, which would include comics. Perhaps they aren’t willing to sell those rights, or perhaps they’re asking for more money than the comics companies can afford. Although, there have also been Harry Potter role-playing games and trading-card games, and I suspect that Marvel and DC each make more money than the pen-and-paper RPG industry makes in a year…

So what’s your theory? Will a Harry Potter comic series eventually be released, or is the entire concept doomed from the beginning?

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