Archive for December, 2008

Sketchy News

It’s been way, way too long since we did any catching up on what the Lubbock Sketch Club is up to, so let’s take just a moment to review some of their upcoming events.

First up is this Friday’s “First Friday Art Trail.” Artists from the Sketch Club will be holding a “Freedom of Expression” Art Show from 6-9 p.m. at the Stray Dog Gallery, at 1917 Buddy Holly Avenue. It’s a great place to get acquainted with some of the artistic talent hiding out here in the Hub City.

The Sketch Club’s figure drawing group will be starting up again and meeting from 6:30-9 p.m. on Wednesday, January 7, at the Lubbock Garden and Arts Center, at 4215 University. The cost is seven bucks per artist, and the session will consist of everything from short warm-up poses, five-minute poses, and longer poses. They’ll be running this weekly, some weeks with clothed and costumed models, sometimes with, ahem, not-clothed models. OH TEH SCANDALZ! E-mail Robert Garza for more info on the figure drawing group. (What do ya bet that Rob Liefeld never took a figure drawing class in his life? He sure don’t know what the human body looks like…)

And of course, Sketch Nights happen every Saturday from 7-10 p.m. at Freebird’s at 4930 S. Loop 289. Basically, a bunch of folks show up at the restaurant, draw ’til they’re exhausted, recharge by snarfing burritos and cokes, and then draw ’til they’re exhausted again. Bring some sketchbooks, pencils, and some scratch so you can get some nosh, if you want it.

And Sketch Club head honcho Will Terrell plans on making a trip to Abilene in late January to sign some comics, with plans on getting in touch with the Abilene Sketch Club. I suspect that first, they’ll fight each other, then realize that they’re on the same side, then they’ll team up and fight Dr. Doom. Oh, those predictable crossovers…

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The Monkey of your Dreams

The Umbrella Academy: Dallas #2

The Umbrella “family” is tearing itself apart from the inside — Kraken is mad at Spaceboy for getting depressed and getting fat while obsessing over TV, the Seance ignores everyone now that he’s a celebrity, Number 5 is missing… and Hazel and Cha-Cha are in town. They’re a couple of loons wearing cartoon animal heads. They’re baaaad news.

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s still wonderfully loopy. Hazel and Cha-Cha are creepy as heck. I’d like to see the family do something other than argue, but we’ll see what’s coming.

Birds of Prey #125

The Birds are running a two-pronged mission — while Babs and Black Canary distract the Caretaker, a member of the Silicon Syndicate who is an obsessive collector and sadistic kidnapper, by pretending they’re going to destroy a super-rare sports car he wants to buy (he responds by sending masses of hired assassins after them), Huntress and Infinity sneak into his hideout to free his captives.

Verdict: I’m gonna give it a thumbs down. There are a few nice moments in it, including that great Frank Quitely cover, but on the whole, it’s entirely forgettable.

Secret Six #4

The Secret Six — actually just the Secret Five (Catman, Deadshot, Scandal Savage, Ragdoll, and Bane) plus their hostage, Tarantula — are in possession of an actual Get Out of Hell Free card. Every supervillain in the world wants to take the card from them, and impossibly-creepy mastermind Junior has put a bounty on all of their heads. The whole team is at each others’ throats over the card as they ride cross-country in, of all things, a stolen ice cream truck. Junior kills a priest, mainly for kicks, partly because he has no idea how confession is supposed to work. Bane is weirdly attracted to Scandal. When everyone gets to Las Vegas, they meet up with the owner of the Nocturne Hotel, a mysterious superhuman called the Last Victim, who has a fondness for old French fashions and lollipops. But is it already too late for everyone?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Excellent dialogue and characterization, dandy plot, gorgeous artwork, evil and entertaining villain, outstanding cliffhanger. Get it, read it, love it.

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Ants in your Pants

Marvel Adventures: Super Heroes #6

It’s the amazing origin of Ant-Man! Hank Pym can’t sell his incredible ant-communicator to the gigantic Van Dyne Corporation, and he can’t pay his rent. Is there any hope for his future? Only if he gets recruited by the ants in his garden to save the world from a microscopic invasion of Earth!

Verdict: Thumbs up. This one was insane fun. It’s got ants singing “High Hopes,” an inflatable umbrella, an ant grub saying “IIII wuuuvvv yooouu, Henreee Pyyyym,” and the best line in the story: “No!! They’re thwarting me with song! I hate it when people do that!” This one may be an all-ages book, but it’s definitely something adults can enjoy, too.

Tiny Titans #11

More all-ages fun. This one focuses on Beast Boy’s unrequited infatuation with Terra and the many rocks he gets bopped on his skull. We also meet the new exchange student, Starfire — or Redstar. We get to see Kroc change a light bulb, Plasmus and Aqualad go to the movies, and Little Barda has the cutest giant helmet ever.

Verdict: Thumbs up again. This comic is almost impossibly cute.

Marvel Adventures: The Avengers #31

Spider-Man, Iron Man, Hulk, Tigra, and Luke Cage go to the beach. They run into Thor, and Iron Man and Luke get into, of all things, a fishing competition. As a result, they end up angering Namor the Sub-Mariner. And every time Namor gets mad about something, he declares war on the surface world. Can the team fight off the Prince of Atlantis and the giant sea monster he brought along?

Verdict: Thumbs up again. Not as overwhelmingly fun as the Ant-Man story, but this one has lots of action, lots of great one-liners, lots of great dialogue, and lots of great character bits. It’s definitely worth a read.

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Friday Night Fights: Boxing Day!

Peace on earth and goodwill towards men?! I think we’ve had quite enough of that by now. It’s definitely time to jump back in, with fists flying and bones cracking, for FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS!

Tonight, we’re heading back to May of 2000 for JSA #10 by David Goyer, Geoff Johns, Stephen Sadowski, and Michael Bair, for a quick round of fisticuffs between Ted “Wildcat” Grant and Killer Wasp.

Man, am I glad I realized it was Boxing Day. I’d hate to let a pun that awesome go uncommemorated…

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Bah Humbug!

Christmas is over for another year, there’s torn wrapping paper and spilled eggnog all over the house, and we still didn’t get what we really want (a pony), so it’s time to get right back to reviewing comics.

Captain Britain and MI:13 #8

Spitfire’s in pretty severe trouble, having been severely mangled, but Blade runs off Plotka with a sword made from pages from magical books, then shows Spitfire how to use her vampiric nature to heal herself. The government manages to capture one of the indestructible Mindless Ones, but is then stuck with a whole bunch of other Mindless Ones with no way to capture them, too — time to Run Away! Captain Britain is trying to figure out how to escape from a dreamworld that gives him illusions of whatever he wants — including illusions of ways out of the dreamworld. And the whole team gets betrayed by someone they never expected.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Blade’s Wordsword is pretty nifty (but, like he says, not much good in the rain). Heck, pretty much every page that has Blade or Spitfire is guaranteed awesome. The rest of the group hasn’t been too interesting lately…

The Age of the Sentry! #4

Cranio, the Man with the Tri-Level Mind, is up to his old tricks, stealing a time machine to unleash chronal chaos. The Sentry manages to capture him, but the mixups in the timestream has created a new version of the Sentry who operated during the 1940s. The new Sentry packs a gun and attacks beatniks, but he helps save the regular Sentry from his arch-foe, the Void. Eventually, they figure out how to send the Golden Age Sentry back to his own dimension. Later, the Sentry teams up with the Blonde Phantom, the new leader of the Avengers, as they try to track down a kidnapped rock band. This leads to another of the Sentry’s terrifying modern-day hallucinations. Will the two heroes be able to survive an attack by the Mole-Men? Will they get to rock out with the band at the end?

Verdict: Thumbs up. I love the Silver Age freakiness of this title, but I’ve started looking forward to the Sentry’s scary freakouts, where everything gets dark and nightmarish and bizarre. Did these adventures ever really happen? Are they all the Sentry’s hallucinations? Is it all a bedtime story told by bored parents? It’s head-trippy, and I love good mind games.

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Merry Merry

Ahoy! It’s Christmas Day! Hope it’s merry for you, no matter what!

And if you think I’ve got the time to do anything more complicated than plug in a bunch of pictures of Christmas comics, you’ve got another thing comin’!

Merry Christmas again, and Happy Holidays! I’m gonna go play with my new Tickle-Me Power Girl…

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The Ultimate Comic Book Christmas Carol

I dearly love Charles Dickens’ classic story “A Christmas Carol.” I’ve loved it since I was a kid, almost certainly because I was attracted to its horror elements, and I’ve always loved horror.

Of course, I also love the fact that it almost single-handedly created what we now think of as the modern Christmas celebration. No one much celebrated Christmas when Dickens wrote this book — it had been considered a minor holiday ever since Oliver Cromwell banned it in the 1600s. “A Christmas Carol” was insanely popular when it was published — in London, it sold something like 6,000 copies a week, for at least a while, and it sparked a new interest in supposedly traditional celebrations of the Yuletide. If you like the idea of getting a day off at Christmas, you have Charles Dickens to thank for it — it was unheard of until “A Christmas Carol.”

No matter the reason I first discovered it, I do love the story now. I’ve read it multiple times, sometimes multiple times during a single Christmas season, and I’ve seen nearly all of the movies based on the book. (My favorite is the one from 1984 that starred George C. Scott. Lots of excellent scenery-chewing, plus David Warner, Edward Woodward — the Equalizer! — as Christmas Present, and an outstandingly terrifying Christmas Future.) I’ve even got significant chunks of the book memorized.

Now “A Christmas Carol” gets adapted to comic form pretty often, from close adaptations from “Classics Illustrated” to much looser adaptations starring the Teen Titans, the Outsiders, and, well, Scrooge McDuck. But let’s say you wanted to make a really loose adaptation of the book starring characters from multiple comic companies to make the Ultimate Comic Book Christmas Carol? Who would you put in it? Frankly, I don’t care, ’cause here’s who I’d pick as the stars.

Ebenezer Scrooge, portrayed by Tony Stark

Yeah, you thought it was gonna be Dr. Sivana or the Vulture, ’cause they’re old and creaky. Nope, the most important part of Scrooge’s character isn’t his age or even his miserliness — it’s his redemption. Can you imagine the Vulture or Thaddeus Bodog Sivana reforming? Heck, no! But let’s take Iron Man — he’s spent the last few years as Marvel’s most prominent villain. He ran around like Dick Cheney in powered armor, shot the Hulk into space, took over the S.H.I.E.L.D. spy agency, outlawed any superheroes who didn’t work for him, depowered the She-Hulk, and arrested Captain America.

This is definitely a guy who needs some serious redemption. And everyone knows he can do it, ’cause he’s been a hero before. But you can’t just go poof, pow, Iron Man’s back to normal, ’cause there’s no motive for him to change his ways. But if you got him visits by three spirits at Christmastime, maybe that’d be enough to get him to see where he’s gone wrong and resolve to be a good superhero again…

Marley’s Ghost, portrayed by the Phantom Stranger

And again, you were expecting someone different, weren’t you? Maybe Deadman or Ghost Rider or the Funky Phantom. But I’m going with the Phantom Stranger. Most depictions of Marley’s ghost focus on his ghostly aspects, which makes perfect sense, but Marley is also a figure of mercy — he arranges for the hauntings to save Scrooge from his own fate, and serves as an object lesson of the dangers of greed.

So where does the Phantom Stranger come in? Well, in the only origin of the character that matters (because it was written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Joe Orlando), he was once an angel who chose to sit on the fence during Lucifer’s revolt. He was cast out of Heaven, but was unwelcome in Hell, so he was doomed to wander forever, helping people where he may. He may not be frightening, and he may not drag heavy chains around, but he seems like he’d fit well into Marley’s spectral shoes.

The Ghost of Christmas Past, portrayed by Dazzler

Depictions of the Ghost of Christmas Past are pretty wildly varied — young, elfin children, elderly ladies, Cupid-like figures, even a Brooklyn cabbie. But Dickens’ story has the final say in the matter — Dickens depicts the ghost as a white-robed figure who has a bright, blinding light on his/her/its head, like a bright candle flame.

So the theme I’ll go with here is light, and Marvel’s mutant disco queen is the best-known light controller in comics. Not a ghost, not a spirit, but if Dickens’ story can survive having the character played by David Johansson, Kathy Griffin, Jiminy Cricket, and various old people dressed up in white robes, I think it can survive Dazzler.

The Ghost of Christmas Present, portrayed by Hercules

This one was the easiest pick I had. Dickens’ novel says the Ghost of Christmas Present is a jolly, boisterous, laughing giant with brown hair and a full beard. He wears a green robe and has a holly wreath on his head. He loves drink, feasting, and merriment.

And the Marvel Comics character Hercules is also a jolly, boisterous, laughing giant with brown hair and a full beard. He wears green and yellow clothing, and though he doesn’t have a holly wreath, his head is framed by headgear. He loves drink, feasting, and merriment. Hercules fits the Ghost of Christmas Present absolutely perfectly.

The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, portrayed by Death

I’m really going to break with tradition here. In virtually every adaptation of Dickens’ novel, the Ghost of Christmas Future is silent, shrouded, and wet-your-pants scary. I went through a ton of characters trying to find the right match. Darkness-controlling characters like the Shroud, Cloak, Nightshade, Obsidian, and the Shade weren’t scary enough. The best known comics characters who wear hoods or shrouds — the Time Trapper, Raven, Destiny of the Endless — also aren’t particularly terrifying. I considered Ghost Rider again, but though he’s scary enough, he’d be less likely to hint to Scrooge about his death and more likely to, you know, hit him with chains and run him over with his motorcycle several times.

But Christmas Future is also generally considered to be an incarnation of the Grim Reaper — Death incarnate. And I gotta admit, the idea of re-imagining the scariest spirit in the Dickens’ book as the Sandman’s older sister, a chipper goth girl who no one messes with because she’s still Death is something that really appeals to me. So what the heck, it’s my party, and I’ll cast Death as Christmas Future if I want to.

So there we go — there’s my new all-comics cast of “A Christmas Carol.” Don’t like it? Think I don’t understand Dickens’ novel correctly? Think I should’ve totally cast Spider-Man as Tiny Tim? Too bad, boyo, gitcher own blog!

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War! On! Christmas!

DC Universe Holiday Special

This is DC’s annual holiday anthology, with lots of short stories about Superman, Aquaman, Commissioner Gordon, Blue Beetle, the Justice League, Dr. Light, Nightwing, Robin, Huntress, the Teen Titans, and more.

Verdict: Are the stories bad? No. Are the stories good. No, not really. Is it all worth the price on the cover? Well, the price on the cover is six bucks, and I gotta say, these stories are definitely not worth six bucks. Thumbs down.

Aww, but I don’t want to leave you with just that one bad review. Let’s review a couple of good comics real quick.

Ambush Bug: Year None #5

Ambush Bug works as a henchman for a low-rent supervillain called the Yellow Snow (Don’t eat him!) and discovers that all 52 of the Monitors are after him. Not that the Bug cares too much — he’s too busy traveling to the many alternate earths, including the sex-change world, the mirror universe, and Frank Miller World, where black bars cover up almost all of the dialogue. He learns that, though he managed to kill DC head honcho Dan DiDio last issue (Huzzah!), he’s alive again (Booo!) and controlling the multiverse to make everything dark and edgy and grim (Booo! Nonfiction!). Things are so bad that arch-villain Go-Go Chex tries to enlist Ambush Bug’s aid in putting down the menace of DiDio once and for all. But can anything stop the interstellar evil of Dan DiDio?

Verdict: Thumbs up. More silly jokes and visual gags. How great is it that this lengthy tribute to the evil of Dan DiDio is being published by DiDio’s comics company? Oh, and Keith Giffen better stay out of any small planes.

Booster Gold #15

We start off with Booster and Skeets preventing Goldstar, Booster’s sister, from posing for a certain famous painting of an enigmatically smiling woman by Leonardo da Vinci. After leaving 16th-century Italy, the time-jumping heroes discover that time has gotten all screwed up again. This time, they trace the disturbance back to the Gotham museum robbery from a few issues ago. Apparently, one particular knife was missing from the museum after the robbery — and when they return to the museum, Booster and Skeets are ambushed by the Elongated Man! Yay, Ralph Dibny! They have a nice team-up and almost catch the knife thief, but he escapes, and Booster ends up stranded on a ruined, muddy battlefield…

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s great to see Ralph in action again, and the rest of the story is good fun. Any story that can combine the Mona Lisa, the Elongated Man, and what appears to be a battlefield from World War I, is something that I’m pretty certain to enjoy.

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Holiday Gift Bag: Maus

Only a few shopping days left before Santa’s Birthday, so let’s get one more gift recommendation out of the way so you’ll have time to make it out to the mall.

Today, let’s talk about Art Spiegelman’s Maus (available in two volumes). Although most of the characters are either mice or cats, it’s not a kids’ comic. It’s a no-punches-pulled biography of Spiegelman’s father, Vladek, with emphasis on his experiences as a Polish Jew during the Holocaust. At times, it’s a funny work — Spiegelman has a good eye for satire and the madness of everyday life. Sometimes, it’s a frustrating work — Spiegelman spends much of the story writing about his interviews with his father, and Vladek often comes across as a vastly infuriating man.

But on the whole, it’s a story about the Holocaust, and so it’s a very human and very sad horror story. The brilliance here is that Spiegelman draws you in with a seemingly simple story of Jewish mice and Nazi cats, and then all of a sudden, you’re neck-deep in Nazi oppression, in hidden bunkers, in Aushwitz. Vladek makes hair’s-breadth escapes from death squads, repeatedly buys his way to freedom only to get recaptured, gets betrayed by people he thought he could trust, and loses vast numbers of friends and loved ones. It’s a harrowing story, and it’s completely engrossing, and you should read it.

A lot of y’all are probably already familiar with this one — it’s one of the most famous graphic novels out there, and it even won Pulitzer Prize Special Award in 1992. A lot of comics fans haven’t read this one, partly because it’s got a reputation for being a really depressing story, so ask the comics fans in your life if they’ve read it before you buy it for them. In fact, you might also consider it for the history buffs you know — it’s an extremely accessible story, with lots of historical details, and anyone interested in WWII history should enjoy it. Even more than Alan Moore’s Watchmen, this comic is just about the best proof out there for comics and sequential art is literature, not mere throwaway reading.

This probably isn’t the merriest gift you could get someone. It doesn’t come decked out in candy canes and pine garlands and festive songfests. But the people you get it for will thank you for it.

Maus by Art Spiegelman. Go pick it up.

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Friday Night Fights: Comedic Skull Fracture!

Tonight’s edition of Friday Night Fights comes to us from the story “Fear in Philadelphia” in February 1977’s Shazam! #27 by E. Nelson Bridwell, Kurt Schaffenberger, and Vince Colletta. It pits Captain Marvel against four generic thugs. Is there any way for the Big Red Cheese to prevail against such overwhelming odds?

Ahh, cartoonish, over-the-top violence, is there anything you can’t accomplish?

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