Archive for October, 2007

Halloween: Best Day of the Year

Ladies and gentlemen, boils and ghouls, welcome to my very favorite day of the year. The best holiday on the calendar. The one day a year when we celebrate our fears and our taboos.

Sure, I know a lot of y’all prefer other holidays, like Christmas or Easter or Arbor Day. I like them just fine. But Halloween is the one day (and night!) I look forward to all year long. On November 1, I start jonesing for Halloween. That’s just the way I roll. Halloween is the most wonderful day of the year, and that’s all there is to it.

And I know some of y’all don’t want your kids celebrating it because you think it’s Satanic. First of all, seriously, I’m rolling my eyes at you. Yeah, it had its origins centuries ago in various pagan traditions, but it was enthusiastically adopted by the church as a way to encourage those same pagans to join up. And yeah, Halloween has long, long ago lost pretty much every connection it had to any church holidays. In other words, at this point, it’s a fully secular holiday. Just like the Fourth of July, Valentine’s Day, April Fool’s Day, or New Year’s Day. If you hate Halloween because it’s secular, then I don’t wanna hear about you shooting off fireworks or taking Labor Day off. If you hate Halloween because it’s got pagan origins, I don’t wanna hear about you setting up a Christmas tree or hiding Easter eggs, which also came from pagan traditions.

But still, even though I’m rolling my eyes at you, go ahead and don’t celebrate it if you don’t want to. It ain’t my job to make anyone celebrate any holidays at all, so whatever gives you joy, go for it. I wish you’d let your kids have their fun, but they ain’t my kids to raise, are they? Although I’d also like to point out that your grandparents and great-grandparents and great-greats celebrated the heck out of Halloween in their day, and I’ll betcha a shiny nickel that they could out-holy you any day of the week. Still, like I said, as it harms none, do what thou wilt, baby. Let the rest of us enjoy Halloween, and we’ll let you observe it any way you want.

In the end, I can’t see anything wrong with one day for trick-or-treating, one day for horror movie marathons on TV, one day for jack o’lanterns and construction-paper bats, one day for mist-shrouded cemeteries, one day for vampires in shadowy crypts, one day for the shambling undead, for howling at the moon, for buzzing chainsaws, for haunted houses, for headless horsemen, for black birds, for cobwebs, creaking doors, tentacled horrors, evil dolls, open graves, lurking figures in the dark, rotting skulls, chuckles from empty attics, and someone calling you from inside your house. I see nothing wrong with one day to celebrate fear, our oldest and most primal emotion.

Have a Happy Halloween. Eat some Halloween candy, watch an old horror movie, read some old ghost stories, celebrate the fun and mystery of the day with your friends and family. But go outside sometime tonight, look up at that night sky, breathe in that night air, and give yourself just a moment to wonder what’s hiding out there, just on the other side of those shadows. Happy Halloween, and pleasant dreams.

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My Pal Sparky

I’m not very good about paying attention to the TV guide, or I would’ve thrown in a blurb yesterday about the upcoming PBS “American Masters” program about Charles Schulz, the creator of “Peanuts.” Turns out it was on last night, and I was lucky that someone called and reminded me about it, or I would’ve missed it. I hope you got to see it, because it was good. If you missed it, I hope you can catch it when they re-run it. (Check your local listings — depending on what PBS station you get, they’ll probably re-run it numerous times.)

“Sparky” Schulz was probably the very first person to get me interested in comic art and cartooning. I collected “Peanuts” anthologies and paperbacks like mad when I was a kid, and I’d spend hours with sheets of tracing paper trying to recreate all the wonderful things that Sparky would put on the page. I never really learned, and my cartooning is still pretty poor. “Peanuts” cartoons looked really simple, didn’t they? Just a few circles, some dots, some squiggles. But man, what awesome power those simple lines had. The fact is, you don’t really need highly detailed art for a cartoon to be able to speak to readers. Schulz’s strength in “Peanuts” wasn’t just his cartooning but his attention to character and personality.

I know a lot of people who claim that “Peanuts” had never been funny, or hadn’t been funny in years, or wasn’t as good as whatever the hot comic of the day was. Well, first, I never agreed — “Peanuts” wasn’t often a laugh-out-loud funny comic (but what comic strip is?), but I always found it fun to read and often funny enough to make me smile. And second, if you asked other cartoonists what they thought of Schulz, many of them thought of him almost reverentially. He was an inspiration to so many of them, the reason they got into cartooning, the reason they wanted to write a daily strip. Even if they never met him, he was the guy who taught them what cartooning was about, showed them what the medium could do.

Among us comic fanboys, we always talk about Jack Kirby as the King of Comics, about Will Eisner as comics’ greatest storyteller. But Sparky Schulz was always the artist I looked up to the most.

When Sparky died in 2000, I actually cried. At the time, I wasn’t really sure why. Sure, I’d loved his comics for years, but I’d never met him, and I’d never really gotten that sentimental over the deaths of famous people I’d never met. And I eventually figured out that I did know Sparky, because I’d been reading “Peanuts” for years. The characters he’d created were windows into his own personality — Lucy as his temper, Linus as his philosophical nature, Schroeder as his love of music, Snoopy as his imagination, and Charlie Brown as his misguided belief, even after decades of success, that he was a loser. I knew him better than lots of people I considered my friends, and it doesn’t surprise me now that I mourned him so much.

Anyway, I just wanted to say that Sparky was my pal, he got me started on this comics thing before I even heard of Batman or Superman, and I still miss him.

Halloween stuff tomorrow, okay?

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Mignola Monday

We’re getting close to Halloween, so it’s a good time to look at a couple of new comics from Mike Mignola, creator of “Hellboy” and the industry’s foremost horror writer.


B.P.R.D.: Killing Ground #3

The Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense is under siege from within, thanks to the untimely escape of a murderous wendigo. Multiple people have died, Liz Sherman is seeing an ancient sorcerer who keeps showing her images of the Apocalypse, and Ben Daimio is hearing voices from a dead monster-monkey in his quarters. And there’s someone with a serious grudge against the entire BPRD stalking the facility.

Unlike some previous “BPRD” series, “Killing Ground” has had a lot less overt supernaturalism — sure, there’s the wendigo and the mummy in the medical ward, but most of this has been about ratcheting up the pressure on the characters. Most of these characters are either professional soldiers or have had some military training, and this story has mostly been about a military organization in collapse. Not that there isn’t some really creepy stuff — the carcasses the wendigo leaves behind are pretty stomach-churning, and the thing in Daimio’s room just keeps getting more disturbing every time you see it.

Verdict: Thumbs up. I get the feeling this story is going to change the series’ dynamic forever, and I have no idea what’s going to happen next.


Lobster Johnson #2

This is a bit less horror and bit more classic ’30s pulp fiction. Lobster Johnson and his cohort Jim Sacks, the man with the high-tech powered armor, are on the trail of the dastardly souls who kidnapped Sacks’ benefactor. Lobster must contend with some villains he thought he’d already destroyed, while Sacks discovers the real reason why evil masterminds cultivate an image of ominous menace — it makes it easier to get you with the knockout gas.

Verdict: Another thumbs up. Really, if you love the crime pulps of the 1930s and ’40s, you should pick this one up — I have zero doubt that you’ll enjoy it.

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Friday Night Fights: Double Dragon!

If there’s one thing that Bahlactus likes, it’s gotta be starting the weekend with some copious and entirely gratuitous violence. And so when Bahlactus demands Friday Night Fights, who are we to refuse him?

From 2002’s “Thing/She-Hulk: The Long Night” by Todd Dezago, Bryan Hitch, Paul Neary, Ivan Reis, and Randy Emberlin:

The Thing sets Dragon Man up…

…and She-Hulk knocks Dragon Man down!

It’s violentastic!

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The War this Week

Let’s check in with this week’s Sinestro Corps War crossover comics…


Green Lantern Corps #17

This is the comic that I mentioned a few days ago that features a scene where some Green Lanterns are dispatched to Lubbock. Do we get to see our fair Hub City? Kinda. We get a half-page of two Green Lanterns wiping out some Sinestro Corps members. We also see some pumpjacks. Apparently, the Sinestro Corps came to Lubbock to set a bunch of oil wells on fire. Not that we have all that many oil wells, but maybe they decided that saying the Sinestros came to Lubbock to burn up the cotton fields just wouldn’t sound very dangerous.

Aaaaanyway, the Lanterns spend most of this issue carving up the Sinestro Corps. Kilowog stomps the tar outta the evil Arkillo. And at the end, the Anti-Monitor himself shows up and almost kills Sodam Yat, a rookie Daxamite Green Lantern. But the Guardians of the Galaxy make an appearance and fuse Yat with Ion, the green-energy symbiote that used to live inside Kyle Rayner. But can this new Daxamite Ion hold up against the evil Superman-Prime?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Sure, most of the plot devolves down to shooting cannon-fodder Sinestros. Sure, some of the art is less than ideal, and the layouts could use some work. Sure, the ending was telegraphed from the first page. But it’s still fairly entertaining, and it’s nice to know that an intergalactic police force feels that Lubbock’s plentiful oil wells are worth saving.


Tales of the Sinestro Corps: Superman-Prime

And speaking of Superman-Prime, here’s his story. Basically, he’s a comic-book geek from an alternate universe who actually ended up being his universe’s version of Kal-El — a Kryptonian survivor who gained superpowers as a teenager. During the Crisis on Infinite Earths back in 1985, his universe got wiped out, and he ended up staying in a sub-dimensional quasi-paradise with the elderly Superman and Lois Lane from Earth-2 and Alexander Luthor from Earth-3. Superboy-Prime and Alex Luthor went bad during the Infinite Crisis a couple years ago, and killed a bunch of people. Luthor got killed by the Joker, and Superboy-Prime was imprisoned inside a red sun by the Green Lanterns. The Sinestro Corps broke him out, and he’s working with them until he can figure out how to kill off all Earth’s superheroes and get the Anti-Monitor out of the picture.

As far as plot goes, there’s not a lot of it. Most of the planet’s superheroes show up to try to stomp the renamed Superman-Prime. He’s wearing special armor that gives him powers, so everyone’s trying to get rid of his armor before the sun rises and he gets real powers from the yellow sun that gives all Kryptonians their powers. (Of course, he’s been sitting on the moon for long enough to get some solar exposure — but that wouldn’t be properly dramatic, would it?) And of course, he’s able to last ’til the sun rises, so he can try to beat up the new Ion.

Far better than the main plot is a short and very creepy backup story about a Sinestro Corps member called Kryb. A crone-like alien, she kills Green Lanterns, kidnaps their infant children, and stores them inside a hellish biological crib in her own back.

Verdict: More or less, thumbs down. The main story is fairly pointless, meandering, and brutal (Did we really need to see former Teen Titan Risk get his other arm ripped off?) and could’ve been replaced admirably with, well, a story that didn’t involve tons of super-people beating each other up. But that backup story about Kryb? Holy moley, that was seriously disturbing. I don’t know that it’s worth the cover price all by itself, but it’s a really, really good story, especially this close to Halloween…

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No Weddings and a Funeral


The Umbrella Academy #2

The Academy’s “father,” Professor Hargreeves, is dead, and they can’t even get the whole family together for a nice funeral. Spaceboy, the responsible leader with a gorilla’s body, tries to keep everyone in line; the Kraken, the rebellious outsider, starts trouble; the Rumor, the beautiful lie-teller, tries to make peace; the Seance, the morbid psychic, smirks at everything; the Horror, the tentacled hero, is dead; 00.05, the time-traveller, has mysteriously returned and is still just 10 years old; and Vanya, the estranged, unpowered violin-player, doesn’t even show up for the service.

There’s a colossal amount of drama, from the Terminauts attacking the city, to 00.05’s tales of a looming apocalypse, to the ominous Orchestra Verdammten, who want Vanya to help them destroy the world with her violin. And there’s the funeral, which is just completely buried in family dysfunction, as Spaceboy and Kraken fight each other, the family’s mother actually gets disrobed (she’s a robotic “visible woman” model who hates wearing limbs because they’re uncomfortable), and Pogo, the Academy’s chimpanzee administrator, tries to keep everything civil. And with the prophesied end of the world only days away, can the Academy bring themselves to work together?

I didn’t enjoy this one as much as the first issue, but it’s still pretty great. The dysfunctional relationships make the family feel very realistic, and the introduction of the diabolical Orchestra Verdammten is very dramatic and impressive. There are plenty of moments of brain-popping inventiveness, including 00.05’s time spent in the future, where he grows old trying to remember how to travel back to the present, only to be reminded by a statue that he made a math mistake in his chronal calculations twelve years ago.

Verdict: Thumbs up. This is turning out to be an incredibly fun comic.

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Robot Rampage


Marvel Adventures: The Avengers #17

This, you’ll remember, is one of Marvel’s “all-ages” comics, safe enough for kids to read, but still fun for grown-ups, too. The stories don’t really fit into Marvel’s normal continuity, but you don’t need no stinkin’ continuity, do ya? The Avengers members include Captain America, Iron Man, Giant-Girl, the Hulk, Storm, Wolverine, and Spider-Man.

Oh, and this issue features a new writer — Jeff Parker left the title last issue, so now Ty Templeton has stepped on board.

In this issue, we get introduced to the Vision, an old Avengers member, an android who can change his density. But here, he’s a villain who takes over the Avengers’ HQ and tries to throw everyone out. Most of the action takes place during a power outage, so no one can see anything, no one knows who’s attacking them, everyone’s paranoid and nervous. It’s a very moody story, and feels like a Halloween story, even though there’s nothing outwardly spooky or Halloween-y going on.

I do have some misgivings about the story, because in Marvel’s normal continuity, the Vision was created by Ultron, one of the Avengers’ enemies, and the Vision in this tale has an origin completely different. On one hand, I’m disappointed that the character’s classic origin wasn’t preserved. But on the other hand, that would’ve required the creators to introduce Ultron, have the team fight him for an issue, then bring him back to create the Vision — for a comic that’s being kept free of continuity to make it accessible to kids and new readers. So I think I understand why it was done, even while the fanboy in me wishes it was done differently.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Not perfect, but this comic has always been great, and I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt.


Metal Men #3

Well, the Death Metal Men — Uranium, Thorium, Radium, Lithium, Polonium, Ferium, and Strontium — make their debut. The Robot Renegades try to fight them off and are generally helpless. Dr. Morrow reveals to Magnus that the Death Metal Men are actually the Metal Men with a few extra protons added (I don’t think that makes any actual sense, but it’s comic-book science, so we’ll roll with it). The Metal Men get reconstituted back to normal — except that Gold and Lead are now made out of each other. On top of that, there’s more time travel, more alchemy, an appearance by Chemo, and even more. Frankly, it’s confusing as heck.

Verdict: I’m not sure. I think thumbs down. Some of the stuff going on here really is thrilling. But good grief, it’s so confusing…

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The 99

The 99

I actually received these comics in the mail last week from Naif Al-Mutawa, who is the creator of “The 99,” one of its writers, and the guy in charge of Teshkeel Media Group, after blogging about this new series earlier this month.

The series is written by al-Mutawa and Fabian Nicieza, with pencils by John McCrea and inks by James Hodgkins and Sean Parsons. If you’ve read comics for a while, you should at least recognize Nicieza and McCrea, who’ve been working in comics at both Marvel and DC for ages. Two of the three issues I got were free introductory comics, designed to get new readers on board with the characters and the concept.

“The 99” is the first effort at creating a truly multicultural comic since Milestone Media’s comics back in the mid-1990s. Teshkeel has previously published some Marvel Comics titles in Arabic, and has entered agreements with DC Comics and Archie Comics to publish Arabic-language comics throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Al-Mutawa came up with the idea of creating an Islamic-themed comics series while trying to think of a way to help Muslim kids bridge the gap between the East and the West, while giving Muslim children some more positive Muslim role models than they usually see in Western media. And yeah, I think part of the goal of the comics is certainly outreach and education to Western comics readers. The basic concept: a team of international superheroes who take their names and their powers from the 99 names of Allah.

There’s really a lot of backstory to deal with here. The story starts clear back in the 13th century, when the Mongols sacked Baghdad, killed most of its inhabitants and destroyed most of the city. In the comic’s timeline, the city’s librarians alchemically infused 99 gemstones with the accumulated knowledge of the Muslim world’s scholars. The Noor Stones were scattered throughout the world, waiting for the right people to find them and unlock their potential.

From there, we jump to the modern world, where we follow Dr. Ramzi, philanthropist and head of the 99 Steps Foundation, who has spent his life searching for the Noor Stones. He believes that the gems can empower certain people and help him ensure his own goals of world peace. Soon, he meets up with a Saudi teenager whose contact with a Noor Stone has caused him to manifest colossal superstrength — he becomes known as Jabbar, the Powerful.

Later, he makes contact with a girl from the United Arab Emirates who can control light and is able to see everything from the combinations of locks to the nature of human souls — she gets designated Noora, the Light — and a paraplegic American who is able to bring both suffering and healing with a touch — he is called Daar, the Afflicter. There are tons more on the way, of course — Ramzi and the rest of his team have another 96 Noor Stones to find.

I gotta say, I’m enjoying what I’m seeing so far. As I’ve said before, I get tired of reading comics where all the characters are white Americans, and I love the idea of getting a glimpse into Islam and the Muslim world that isn’t filtered through the stereotypes and misinformation pushed at us on the news channels. And I love the way they’re setting up a global team of heroes that actually includes characters from many different nations and cultures.

Though the series is inspired by Islamic concepts, it isn’t really an all-Muslim comic — in fact, at this point, we don’t know what religion, if any, that the characters subscribe to. Sure, Jabbar, Noora, and Dr. Ramzi come from traditionally Muslim countries, but Daar, the American, is a blond-haired Caucasian. I’m sure religion will eventually move to the forefront of at least some of the stories, but at this point, this is a series that’s being driven by plotlines and characterizations, not by any hardline ideologies.

And because I haven’t mentioned them yet, the plots and characterizations are all rock-solid. Dialogue is good — granted, it doesn’t pop the way dialogue does by Brian Michael Bendis or Grant Morrison, but not everyone can be Bendis or Morrison. I can’t really say anything bad about the artwork — it’s not a style I’m really enthused about, but it’s clear, distinct, it gets the job done, and it’s not that much different than what you’d see in any mainstream superhero comic.

Verdict: Thumbs up. I’m hoping to get the folks at Star to put this on my pull list.

(By the way, I found some great resource pages for this, including this PBS interview with al-Mutawa and a collection of reviews, analysis, and commentary about the series.)

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Alien Invasion in Lubbock?

If you check out Newsarama’s DC previews for the upcoming week, you might notice something very interesting. Namely, “Green Lantern Corps #17,” which features the many members of the Green Lantern Corps fighting off the invasion of Earth by the evil Sinestro Corps. As the various Green Lanterns are dispatched to cities around the world, we find this on page 3:


“Lanterns Sarn and Kol. Protect location downloaded to your power rings. Local name Lubbock, Texas.”

I have no idea whether Lubbock itself will make any sort of appearance in the comic. That may be the extent of it right there — two Green Lanterns getting told to go protect a city that the writer picked off a map.

Still, it might not hurt to pick an issue of this one up, just in case. Wouldn’t it be cool if this one features the GL Corps driving the Sinestro Corps away from United Spirit Arena, the NTS Tower, or the Buddy Holly statue?

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Dumbledore is gay


This isn’t entirely comics-related, but I know I’ve got a few readers who are Harry Potter fans, so what the heck: J.K. Rowling just outed Dumbledore.

Harry Potter fans, the rumors are true: Albus Dumbledore, master wizard and Headmaster of Hogwarts, is gay. J.K. Rowling, author of the mega-selling fantasy series that ended last summer, outed the beloved character Friday night while appearing before a full house at Carnegie Hall.

After reading briefly from the final book, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” she took questions from audience members.

She was asked by one young fan whether Dumbledore finds “true love.”

“Dumbledore is gay,” the author responded to gasps and applause.

She then explained that Dumbledore was smitten with rival Gellert Grindelwald, whom he defeated long ago in a battle between good and bad wizards. “Falling in love can blind us to an extent,” Rowling said of Dumbledore’s feelings, adding that Dumbledore was “horribly, terribly let down.”

Dumbledore’s love, she observed, was his “great tragedy.”

“Oh, my god,” Rowling concluded with a laugh, “the fan fiction.”

My thoughts: Well, I haven’t done a great job of keeping up with the Harry Potter series, so I’d also never heard any rumors about him. As a result, this comes a bit out of left field for me.

Nevertheless, I can’t say that I really object. I’m sure it doesn’t really change anything in the novels — it’s a completely extraneous character trait that’s never particularly important to the plot, so it never gets mentioned. So it goes.

Gay characters in fiction have never really bothered me. As long as the character is well-written with a well-developed personality, I’m happy with ’em, gay, straight, male, female, white, black, brown, green-skinned, or whatever.

Frankly, I’m entirely overjoyed that we’re living in a more tolerant era. Hating people because of how they were born ain’t cool, and I’m still enough of a sci-fi/comics geek that I’d like to believe that we’ll someday quit with the stupid hatin’ altogether.

As Rowling says in the article above, freakazoid faux-religious groups are gonna hate this announcement, but they already hated her books, so let ’em. I, for one, get tired of people who claim to be Christians while never reading their Bibles outside of Revelations, the first chapter of Genesis, and one verse in Leviticus.

So what are your thoughts, folks? Does the outing make sense for Dumbledore as a character? Is Rowling trying to sell a few more books (not that she needs the extra cash)? Any plans to start burning your Harry Potter books?

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