Archive for February, 2011

Monday Stinks!

Monday stinks!

It stinks!




(Brought to you by the Foundation for Reminding Everyone that Monday Stinks and by the Committee for Remembering that Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday Also Stink, But Not as Bad as Monday)

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Friday Night Fights: For Dwayne McDuffie

Dwayne McDuffie died this week. And I’m still not over it. He wasn’t my favorite writer, but he was up in the top ranks. He’d worked on comics I liked, and he’d founded an incredibly cool comic company. His work turned me into a comics reader again, after years away from the hobby. He had his head on straight, and I respected him enormously. So naturally, I decided to see if I could find something he wrote for Friday Night Fights.

I was all set to scan a really cool fight from one of the first few issues of Icon — Rocket awesomely knocking around lots of thuggish, bullying cops. But I found something I liked better. It’s not as over-the-top violent, but it’s one of the most powerful things I’ve ever gotten to read in a comic.

So this is from November 1993’s Icon #7 by Dwayne McDuffie, M.D. Bright, and Mike Gustovich. The backstory: Icon is an extremely long-lived alien who was stranded on Earth in the 1830s. His escape pod was found by a slave, and the pod automatically rewrote his DNA to match whoever opened the pod, to improve his chances of survival. So after 150 years as a black man, Augustus Freeman has become a very wealthy businessman with a very conservative outlook. Raquel Ervin is a teenager from the bad side of Paris Island who has discovered that Freeman has superpowers — she persuades him to become a superhero, and he gives her an alien-tech belt that allows her to become his sidekick, Rocket.

Anyway, Raquel discovers that she’s pregnant and goes to Freeman asking for a loan so she can get an abortion. She’s angry about it and gives him a lot of guff, expecting that he’ll disapprove of her decision. But he reveals that a few decades ago, when he was married, his human wife got pregnant. It seemed likely that a baby with human and alien DNA wouldn’t be viable and would certainly endanger the mother’s life, so they made the then-risky and illegal decision to abort the baby. At that point, Icon says:

And Raquel responds in a way that surprises the reader, Icon, and probably Raquel herself:

And there we go. Two different characters with radically different backgrounds and personalities, neither one conforming to easy stereotypes. That’s what I loved about McDuffie’s writing — his characters would be interesting with or without powers and colorful spandex. And what he wrote always had power.

I hope there are more writers out there emulating what he was able to do. Comics need good writers and good characters.

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Cheer for the Home Team

Morning Glories #7

Our focus in this issue is on Zoe’s history, from her childhood in Mumbai, orphaned but gifted with bizarre intelligence and insight, to her present, angry at the world, craving the popularity she used to enjoy, and stuck in the deeply psychotic Morning Glories Academy. We also get some flashbacks to a year ago, when she was living a seemingly normal life. And things start getting nasty when the Morning Glories cheerleading squad gives her a really simple tryout — she just has to answer a few simple questions about the worst moments of her life.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Nicely done — after last issue’s future shocker, it’s nice to reconnect with the students. And it’s especially nice to see some character background and mysteries for the previously shallow Zoe.

Dethklok #3

Dethklok’s next tour is going to be something amazing — they’ve had an immense train built — the Dethtrain — and they’re going to perform their next concert on top of it. Of course, there are some problems ahead. Pickles, quite sensibly, doesn’t trust the scheme at all and thinks they’re all going to die on the train. Elderly bluesman Mashed Potato Johnson appears with a warning about an evil spirit that’ll be stalking the train and a request that the band help save him from the Blues Devil. Can anyone stop both the Train Ghoul and the Blues Devil? And just what perils are waiting at the end of the Dethtrain’s line?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Nasty, brutish, and funny — everything I expect from the most brutal death metal band of all time.

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Deathtrap Dungeons

Dungeons & Dragons #4

Our party of adventurers is in trouble again. They’ve been ambushed by grave robbers in an ancient dwarven ruin and triggered a trap that may drown them all in a few minutes. Bree the halfling thief figures out to escape from the trap, but then the party gets split while navigating a ventilation tunnel. While Khal the dwarven paladin and Tisha the spell-slinging tiefling share their abbreviated life stories, Aldric Fell, Bree, and Varis the city-loving elf run into a floating green skull that’s less troublesome than they expected. And what’s at the bottom of this dungeon?  An invasion force from another world.

Verdict: Thumbs up. The action is fine, of course, but I got jazzed about some of the smaller elements — Bree’s equational thinking when it comes to traps, Khal’s dwarven poetry, Tisha’s backstory, the magical skull, and the idea that a well-constructed dungeon will always have ventilation shafts to keep the air breathable. This is definitely not just a mindless dungeon crawl.

Doom Patrol #19

The second part of a crossover with the Secret Six — the two teams are battling it out while Oolong Island’s previously dormant volcano finally erupts, threatening all the mad scientists on the island. In an emergency like this, everyone pitches in to help and — oh wait, my mistake, everyone keeps right on fighting. Ragdoll gets attacked by a pelican, Jeannette gets dropped into Danny the Street (now sadly downgraded into Danny the Bungalow), and Elasti-Woman shows off just how tall she can grow. The Six get escorted off the island, but will it be enough to keep the Doom Patrol’s Oolong hosts from kicking them out, too?

Verdict: Thumbs up. It all seems perfectly acceptable, and I’d consider adding this one to my regular pull list — but we’ve just learned that “Doom Patrol” is about to get canceled. Sigh. I guess all comics get canceled eventually, but still, what a bummer.

Today’s Cool Links:

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RIP Dwayne McDuffie

Well, here’s some deeply depressing news.

Comic writer Dwayne McDuffie has died much, much too young of unspecified causes.

McDuffie’s work is what got me reading comics again while I was in grad school. I had a friend in the dorms who was reading Milestone Media’s comics — which McDuffie helped found back in the early ’90s — and I got hooked hard on the “Blood Syndicate” series.

He wrote all the first few issues of all of Milestone’s initial releases, including “Blood Syndicate,” “Static,” “Icon,” and “Hardware.” He also wrote comics ranging from “Fantastic Four” and “Justice League of America” to “Deathlok,” “Damage Control,” “X-O Manowar,” “Legends of the Dark Knight,” and “Beyond!”

In addition to comics, he was also a writer and producer for animated cartoons. He developed his Milestone character Static into a TV star in “Static Shock.” He also wrote tons of great stuff on “Justice League” and “Justice League Unlimited.” He worked on the “Ben 10” cartoons and wrote the script for the animated adaptation of “All Star Superman.”

Obviously, you don’t go and found a company like Milestone — dedicated to furthering a multicultural and multiracial approach to comics — without caring a lot about racial relations in America — and that both helped and hindered him. He got lots of positive press and was very well respected by people who cared about diversity in comics. But it made him a target for other people who liked to see comics as a “Whites Only” zone.

The last of his work that I got to read was his run on “Justice League” a few years back. It started off great and got derailed by editorial mandates from on high. I think DC didn’t treat him right — gave him the title just so they could get their hands on Static and a few other Milestone characters, then ran him off when they had what they wanted.

I never knew him personally, but I loved his work. He’s got my thanks forever, because he got me back reading comics again.

Raise your mugs high, people. To Dwayne McDuffie.

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Twilight Rendezvous

Twilight Guardian #2

The Twilight Guardian has gotten an invitation to join a group of “Real Life Superheroes” meeting at a comic book convention. Of course, she worries about the possibility that her arch-nemesis, the Dusk Devil, will take her absence from patrolling as an excuse to wreak havoc, and she wonders about the strange location of the convention — a remote island in the middle of Lake Superior. After collecting a new hoard of comics and partaking in some of the usual convention activities, she gets to meet her fellow hero-wannabes — the Vermillion Claw, Captain Community, the Strong Right Arm of Justice, Wendy City, and Dr. Double-Danger. They trade crimefighting tips, help a stranded motorist, and solve a crime. And once they part ways, the Guardian learns that someone has been following her, and he has a strange offer for her.

Verdict: Thumbs up. I won’t lie to you and tell you it’s an action-packed story, or that it’s not still deeply weird. But I liked seeing the Guardian out of her usual environment. It’s clear that part of what she needs, besides taking her meds regularly, is social interaction and non-superhero activities. Of course, I can’t help wondering why on earth there was a comic convention, complete with large crowds, tons of booths, and a large convention center, on a tiny island that has a normal population of just 220 people…

Avengers Academy #9

Tigra has kicked Striker, Hazmat, and Veil out of Avengers Academy, and now the rest of the faculty have to persuade her to withdraw her expulsion. Meanwhile, Finesse has decided she wants to track down the Taskmaster, who she believes is her real father, and she blackmails Quicksilver into helping her find him. And once they meet, of course they have to fight each other…

Verdict: Thumbs up. Fun action, fun dialogue (especially the sniping between Tigra and Quicksilver), and fun artwork.

Green Lantern #62

Well, the villain kidnapping the ring entities is revealed to be Krona, who has some crazy plot involving using the entities to rid the universe of emotional imbalances. Various Lantern corps members try to stop him and are generally powerless against him. Flash, Batman, and Superman try to convince Hal to work with them after Krona makes his escape, but he goes off with the other ring bearers instead.

Verdict: Thumbs up, but it’s a close one. The story is fine, but it’s not really very noteworthy.

Today’s Cool Links:

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Why the Comic Book Guy Cares about the Wisconsin Situation

Some of you may have been watching news about the craziness in Wisconsin — some of you may not have. It hasn’t been all over the news the way I expected it to be, but here’s a short summary.

Wisconsin’s new governor is named Scott Walker. There are two things he really, really doesn’t like: unions and state employees. So his new budget essentially outlawed public employee unions in Wisconsin and stuck it hard to most state employees, forcing them to pay more out of their salaries for insurance.

Unsurprisingly, this wasn’t well received. What was surprising, however, was that protests took off like a rocket. Thousands of people protested at the state capitol for most of last week. The Democrats in the Wisconsin state legislature pulled a vanishing act to give protests time to sway more Republican legislators away from the governor’s POV.

Since then, we’ve learned that Walker actually cooked the books to make the budget shortfall look worse because he hoped to use against the state employees.

So why do I care about this? I don’t live in Wisconsin, no one in my family lives in Wisconsin, and the budget doesn’t affect comics.

Well, for one thing, I work for the state now, and I’ve worked for the state multiple times in the past. My brother and sister both work for the government, my dad worked for the government, and I’ve got cousins who work for the government. My granddad worked for the government. The idea of a governor — any governor — with a mad-on to screw over state employees strikes me as deeply irrational.

I don’t belong to a union, but I’ve got no argument with ’em either. I like the fact that the unions got us the 40-hour work week and the weekend. I like the idea of minimum wages. I like workplace safety. I like the fact that there’s a check on the power of corporate management. I know there are lots of good businesses out there who’ll bend over backwards to make sure their employees are getting a fair shake… but at the same time, I’ve worked for too many low-down snakes who cheated customers, employees, and everyone else they could. I’m under no illusions that our corporate masters are blameless geniuses who serve only the glory of the Invisible Hand of the Marketplace, a’ight?

I don’t understand the current rage at public employees for either existing or for receiving decent wages and benefits. I know some pundits out there think that, if things are tough for private employees, they should be tough for everyone else, too. (But never for the bankers, CEOs, and con artists at the top, have you noticed that? If they get less than their usual multi-million-dollar bonuses, it means the terrists have won. Trillions of dollars to bailout the corporate goons who wrecked the economy, but heaven forefend if teachers or state employees get paid enough to make the payments on their homes.)

So why should comic book fans care?

Because management at DC spent years screwing Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster out of the profits for creating Superman.

Because management at Marvel screwed Jack Kirby out of money, and health and employment benefits for years.

Because management at DC has never acknowledged the contributions of Batman co-creator Bill Finger as much as they did for Bob Kane.

Because DC pushed out Gardner Fox and a lot of their other creators, including Finger, Otto Binder, and Arnold Drake, in the late ’60s because they dared to request health insurance and employment benefits. And I can’t count the number of Golden and Silver Age creators who died, if not penniless, at least a lot less comfortable than they should’ve been.

I’m glad there are groups around like the HERO Initiative, which works to raise money to pay the expenses of creators who are too old or sick to work, but I also can’t help wishing that Siegel, Shuster, Kirby, Finger, Fox, and the rest of them had had a union on their side watching out for their interests.

Sure, it’s not like any budget in Wisconsin is going to allow comic creators to live better lives — this is strictly going to be for the betterment of state employees in the Badger State. Ultimately, it’s all down to compassion and empathy — we root for the underdogs like Siegel and Shuster and Jack Kirby, like Wisconsin’s state employees, for the same reason we always root for the underdogs — because we’re all underdogs. And when the underdogs don’t get crushed by the powerful, it means maybe we all have a chance.

We put our blind faith in business and corporations at our peril. It’s not that business is evil, but the purpose of business is to MAKE MONEY, and too many businesses will choose to prioritize money at the expense of, well, the rest of us. We’ve seen it happen dozens of times in the past, both within the comics industry and outside of it.

I see nothing at all wrong with being able to tell business and the modern breed of pro-business/anti-worker politicians that it’s okay to make wads of cash — as long as they don’t cross certain lines. I think Walker (and governors in other states, like Ohio, Florida… and maybe Texas? We’ll see…) are prioritizing megacorp/pundit ideologies over the welfare of their own constituents.

That’s a dangerous path to travel down, and I’m very happy that people in Wisconsin have been so enthusiastic about supporting their state employees.

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Friday Night Fights: Bat Brutality!

We know the routine by now — Friday + Night + Fights = FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS!

Today’s fight is from February 1969’s Detective Comics #384 by Mike Friedrich, Gil Kane, and Murphy Anderson (and reprinted just this week in the previously reviewed Detective Comics Classics one-shot) as Batgirl meets up with some underworld do-badders.

Wow, hats off to Gil Kane, folks. The man could draw the holy screaming heck out of a fight scene!

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The Marvelous Marvels

Tiny Titans #37

For the most part, this is all about bringing Captain Marvel and Mary Marvel into the Tiny Titans universe (Cap Jr. and Hoppy the Marvel Bunny have previously made their debuts). While the Marvel kids make with the “Shazams!” and the “Krakooms!”, the Super-Pets take naps, Mr. Tawny appears as the school’s math teacher, Mr. Mind tries to get into Pet Club, and Psimon tries to discover his own magic word.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Just spectacularly cute and funny. I probably got the most enjoyment out of Psimon’s two pages of trying to figure out a magic word he can use — not to get Marvel powers, he just wants a T-shirt with a lightning bolt on it. And of course, it’s great to see the classic Marvel family back in comics.

Detective Comics Classics

It’s one of DC’s new reprint mini-collections, and it costs six bucks, but I just couldn’t resist a bunch of retro Batman stories. There’s an extremely cheesy Riddler story from 1968 written by Gardner Fox with the Riddler trying to cheat his way through his clues and Batman using detective skills and huge amounts of luck to save the day. There’s a ’69 Batgirl story with incredible art by Gil Kane. And there’s a story starring Robin and Batgirl from ’75, during Barbara Gordon’s short-lived (but not short-lived enough) career as a Congressperson, where the heroes have to fight off a resurrected Benedict Arnold and the Devil, which is everything that a good Bat-Family story should never be.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Yes, it’s just spectacularly cheesy and goofy, and sometimes absolutely idiotic. But I loved it anyway. And the Gil Kane art is so good, I’ll be spotlighting some of it later tonight.

Marvel Adventures: Super Heroes #11

The Hulk recruits the Thing (if by “recruit,” we mean “tries to beat up”) to help him with a conundrum. The Hulk has discovered a Celestial hidden in the countryside and doesn’t know what it means. Ben gives a brief summary (My favorite way to describe the Celestials is “Because Jack Kirby said so.”), then calls in the Invisible Woman to help them figure out what to do with the dormant giant. But the Leader has his own plans for the Celestial. Meanwhile, Captain America and Nova hang out and meet a girl.

Verdict: Thumbs up, pretty much entirely because I thought the bits with Ben, Sue, and the Hulk were so much fun.

Today’s Cool Links:

  • Lubbockite Todd Gray, purveyor of fine bloggery at Fanboy Fun, writes about Grant Morrison’s take on Batman. Here’s Part I and Part II, with another two parts still to come…
  • It’s never fun to learn about canceled comics.
  • I’ve been having some fun with this game. “Audiosurf” is like a racing/block-collecting game powered by your own music collection. It’s a few years old, but it’s dirt cheap!
  • I gotta admit — I love reading everything I can about this story. It was great to read about people power in Egypt, and it’s even better to read about it here in the U.S.

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Jester Knight

Knight and Squire #5

Jarvis Poker, the British Joker, isn’t much of a villain — he’s a bit mischievous, but his villainy is pretty light-hearted and harmless. He even hangs out with the Knight and Squire from time to time. But he’s just found out that he’s dying and has only weeks to live. And he reacts to the news by trying to start up a crime wave of his own. But he’s badly out of practice, and his gimmicks are, again, pretty harmless. So he’s doing more to embarrass himself than to make his name live in infamy. But the Squire deduces that Jarvis is dying, and the Knight decides to let him go out with a final grand hurrah — he warns everyone that the British Joker is about to attempt the Crime of the Century. Invigorated, he sets out to perform the kind of grand novelty crime that’d let him go to his grave with a smile on his face… until he gets a deeply unwelcome visitor from the other side of the pond.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Holy cow, this was fun. Jarvis Poker is such a fun character, and the guest star’s appearance — even if you predicted who he is — makes a really great moment. Next issue is the last one for this series? No fair!

Batgirl #18

It’s a special Valentine’s issue guest-starring that most eligible bachelor… Klarion the Witch Boy?! He’s left underground Limbo Town for our Blue Rafters because his cat familiar Teekl, foiled in his attempts to mate, is now running loose and tearing out people’s hearts. Stephanie gets roped into helping Klarion clean up this mess, and though they’re able to recapture Teekl, he’ll remain out of control unless they can find him another were-cat to mate with. And the only place to find those is back in Limbo Town, where Steph has to dress up as a pilgrim and beat up a magic-using schoolgirl. Ahh, a traditional Valentine’s outing!

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s a funny story, with some hilarious dialogue and situations. Stellar artwork from Dustin Nguyen. And it’s got Klarion the Witch Boy! We don’t see enough of him, dangit.

The Unwritten #22

Tom Taylor has apparently broken “Moby-Dick.” He’s frozen the novel in time and doesn’t know how to escape, but Frankenstein’s monster clues him in on how to use his magic crystal doorknob — inside a book, he can only travel from one element to another. There’s only one Pequod in literature, but the ocean is in plenty of different novels. So Tom is able to leap from “Moby-Dick” to one of the Sindbad stories, and from there, he meets up with the famed Baron Munchausen. Meanwhile, the puppeteer has decided Lizzie and Savoy are no use to her, so she shows them a perverse little puppet show and sends them on their way. But is it a glimpse into the future?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Listen, any comic that includes appearances by Frankenstein’s monster, Sindbad the sailor, Baron Munchausen, and even more literary heroes is something that you should just accept is an awesome comic.

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