Monday, March 29, 2010

Secret Origins - the second try

I wrote something really clever.


It was this scathing response to the fact that most secret origins are completely lame and absolutely lost in a history that doesn't reflect the modernity of comic readers at present.  I also did an admirable job of pointing out that the origins used by DC to create their biggest stars felt more like modern mythology than the origins used by Marvel, which for the most part were terrible.

And then I pressed the wrong button and lost it all.

Here are a couple excerpts from my review of secret origins that I recall clearly and that I think merit commentary.

Fantastic Four - What on earth were Susan and Johnny Storm doing on board the experimental flight?  I get that Grim was an air force pilot and Reed was the genius and his best friend.  Who takes their girlfriend and her kid brother on a test flight into outer space?  Even if they did all get wicked super-powers, shouldn't that have been the first sign that he was a criminal? Negligence that seems almost willful isn't heroic at all. On top of that.....since when do test pilots let the designer fly with them?  Maybe Grim's the problem......or maybe Doom's been right about Reed all along. Doctor Doom's public service announcement; Reed Richards sucks.

Thor - Thor actually is a character with an epic mythological background, and yet his actual origin is almost as lame as Spider-Man's.  While walking through the wooded hillside (on holiday) in Norway, Dr. Donald Blake stumbles on an alien scouting party preparing for an invasion of Earth.  *Raise your hand if you would have just let the Aliens have Norway.* Blake limps away into the hills to try and escape them and stumbles into a cave where he finds his path blocked.  In frustration he slams a stick he found into the ground and is transformed into Thor. DUMB.

Spider-Man - Seriously?  I've covered this already.

Green Lantern - Intergalactic police force that recruits without even an interview process.  Canada's police force isn't perfect, but at least there are tests you have to pass.  Not Oa's force though.  The light picks you and then they give you access to the most powerful weapon in the universe. Anyone else not at all surprised when you find out that the Oans have had problems with their police force from time to time?  At the very least shouldn't somebody run a background check on you?  So what if you have the ability to overcome great fear?  You could still be a complete jerk.

Wonder Woman - If Amazonians are immortal and don't age, why did she? Other than that, she has a very classic Greek mythology origin, and I like it.

Amadeus Cho - Might be Marvel's best origin ever.  If you don't know it you're missing out.  The character shows up in Incredible Hulk right before World War Hulk and we are introduced to him as the seventh smartest person on Earth. He has a hypermind (his mind is a functional super-computer - mutant?) and runs thousands of calculations every second.  Using this he ends up aligned with Herc to help Hulk.  Long story short?  Herc's sister Athena is preparing him to become the next HERO (in the classic Greek sense) of Earth, as Hercule's time is coming to an end.  Very cool all the way around.

Also, some origin's I would like to see:

1. The non-origin: I'd like to see the character that doesn't explain his origin.  EVER. Ten years into the story I want to find out that he's like Mar-Vel and he's come to earth to prepare us for invasion.  Then I want to look back on the decade worth of books and be like " did I not see it?"

2.  Secret Society.  Aztek, a largely ignored Grant Morison character from the nineties tried this, but because the book didn't last long enough I never got to see it fulfilled. I like the idea of a person brought into power as the direct result of a secret society with an agenda that may or may not line up with what other heroes believe is best for the planet.  This is also the format for Azrael, but I don't find the new Azrael captures it like Denis O'Neal's did.  In any event, I'd like to get drawn deeper into the world of secret societies in one of these books, maybe even finding a society hidden within a society.

3. Bitten by a radioactive animal that is cooler than a spider.

Alright, I'm out.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Unions, Flash & Transmetropolitan

Unions. Women in wrestling.

I just wanted to prove that there were at least two other things I hate as much as Spider-Man.  I've been getting some suggestions from people that maybe I am letting a lot of my own personal anger manifest in the topic, but I assure everyone that I retain special levels of contempt and dislike for many other things in this world.Stupidity might be at the top of my list.

As much as I detest Spider-Man, I love The Flash.  Like the explanation regarding Parker, I didn't grow up adoring Flash.  Sure I knew who he was, and sometimes when I was running around in my backyard as a kid, with my towel wrapped around my neck playing super heroes with the neighborhood kids, I would run really fast and claim I was the Flash.But my love for the character never really manifested until the strangest of Novembers (or was it Decembers) in Ottawa.

I was in the Silver Snail, walking through the aisles with my then girlfriend, and commenting on the different books that had been released that week.  She asked me if I read The Flash, and I told her that I had never gotten into it.  I explained that it wasn't that I didn't like the hero, but for me The Flash died with Barry Allen's noble sacrifice in Crisis On Infinite Earths.  This was the first time that DC felt that a teen sidekick was ready to take over and they made a big play by doing it through the death of a well established character.  While I had been explaining this to her, she had been leafing through the recent issue, and she put it back on the rack awkwardly, and before I could walk away, the issue fell open to the back page.

Standing there was Barry Allen.

I paused, and did a double take.  I bought the issue, because I needed to know how, and why.  At first I was excited, but as I drove back to my dorm trying to get my head around what I was going to read, I started to get angry.  Barry alive?  Didn't that slap Crisis in the face, and demean his sacrifice? The read was actually very good, and so I bought the next issue.  And the one after that.  What unfolded before me changed my view on The Flash forever.  I had read Waid's work before, but I had never been so captivated by the story that I bothered to find out who he was.  This run changed all of that.  It is called The Barry Allen Saga, and without ruining it for anyone who's never read it, it changed the way I viewed The Flash, and more specifically Wally West.

It didn't stop there either.  What Wade, Augustyn and eventually Geoff Johns did on the rest of that run, and into the next one, was make The Flash one of the greatest comic books of the nineties and into the new millennium. If you're on the outside, looking in and wondering why all the Flash love in comicdom, read that series.  The Flash, Volume 2.  The Barry Allen Saga. It's terrific.  And in it we meet all manner of speedsters from across the DC Universe.  For me, this is when the book starts to become about the legacy of speed, and not just about Jay, or Barry, or Wally or Bart.

It's good stuff.

A couple of questions before I go.

Wonder Woman's getting up there in age.  Shouldn't she be going into her nesting phase any time now? Her mother prayed and reached out and sought a boon from the gods in order to create Diana.  Isn't it time for her to give mom a grandchild?

I always liked the idea that Arthur would be her husband one day, but apparently that's not going to happen after all he's been through.

Why does the X-Universe always have to be such a colossal cluster?  I miss being able to care about mutants and what was going on in their world.  When did it become too much of a nuissance?

Why isn't Transmetropolitan a movie yet? Spider Jerusalem is a personality that belongs on a bigger screen.

I'm out.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

What NOT to like about Spider-Man; a guide to hating Marvel's most overrated loser

The title says it all.

I got an email from an old friend who is a follower of this worthless blog, and he inquired about my seemingly unrelenting assassination of Peter Parker as a character.  Rather than answer his email, because that seemed like too much work, I thought the topic would bear some commentary here, where other fans of the biggest loser to ever merit his own comic, could come to attack my opinion and get truly irate at my nonsensical contempt for Marvel's iconic web-slinger.

I guess I should start by explaining that I never went through that phase that so many other kids went through, where Spider-Man seemed like the coolest thing in the world.  Even as a youngster, growing up in a very small town about forty minutes north of Toronto, when I walked down the street to the local convenience store with my allowance and bought a couple of comic books on a Saturday afternoon, there was zero chance that the guy dressed up in Superman's colors and calling himself a spider was going to get my money. As a child the only thing that made Spidey even remotely acceptable was that his terrible television cartoon had a catchy jingle that should qualify as one of the worst songs ever written for TV.  Singing it over and over is the perfect formula for grounding, social alienation and even divorce!

It remains Spider-Man's greatest accomplishment.

I remember the first time I vocalized my contempt for Puny Parker (thanks to Flash Thompson for that name) and got looks of confusion from so many of my friends in elementary school.  They all loved the guy, and nobody seemed to see in him what I saw in him almost right from the start; Peter Parker is a selfish, whiny loser with no social confidence and even less moral certainty. How that guys scores Mary Jane Watson is beyond me, because that girl is HOT!  Way out of his league.  She's more in a Bruce Wayne league, and trust me when I tell you that he doesn't slum with Peter Parker!

In any event, it starts with the guy's extra-lame origin.  One night when all of his pals (actually he didn't have any....Peter was, by design, an outcast and an orphan) were out getting burgers and shakes at the local hang-out (I'm picturing Arnold's from Happy Days!) our titular loser was at a science demonstration.  Let me repeat; he was hanging out in his free time at a science demonstration.  Doesn't he know that all the cool kids go to math conventions? Man, what a nerd!  Now, even at a young age I wasn't one of those meatheads who mock guys for being smart.  In fact in those formative years I was the smart kid.  Top of the class grades.  Still, I couldn't relate to a kid who wanted to spend his free time checking out "science."  I thought it was stupid, and in retrospect......I was right.  Who knew I was so wise as a kid?

So an irradiated spider bites Peter and he becomes wicked strong, sticks to walls, gains a sixth sense and awesome agility.  All of a spider's natural skills, magnified in the body of a teenage boy, right?  Wrong.  Spiders don't have a sixth sense.  If they did, they wouldn't get mashed and die every time I hammer one with a shoe.  Even as a youth I knew that they just made that power up, the filthy liars. He didn't get the ability to spin webs though (although that would have been cool) but he did develop that through his own brilliant mind.  Just a little question here folks......why the heck was he so poor if he was so smart?  Why didn't he ever have any good ideas and patent anything that would make him some cash BEFORE the spider bit him? I mean, it's not like he was out hanging out with friends in his spare time.

Anyways, I digress. I hate the guy's origin.  In my opinion it's weak and it will always be weak.  But let's say we push past that and get into the formative moments of his life.  Step one.....he takes up wrestling.  Excuse me?!?!  Nerdy, socially awkward Peter Parker takes up wrestling?  Bleh. I get the argument that he was caught up in his newfound powers, but wrestling?  It's so far outside the guy's established personality that it doesn't make any sense at all.  You know what, though? I'm a decent guy.  I can ignore that. So let's move the costume.  You've heard me say this before, and I'll say it again.  He's SPIDER man.  As in....looks like a spider?  Nope. I don't know any red and blue spiders.  The truth is that he stole his colors from Superman, and of that I have no doubt.  Heck, the hyphen in his name was put there so people wouldn't confuse him with Superman.

Confuse him with.....were they serious?  One guy is awesome and the other guy couldn't get a prom date! One guy was rocketed to Earth as the last survivor of a dying world, and the other guy got bit by a spider. One guy's arch-enemy is Lex Luthor (future president of the United States and founder of the most powerful multi-national in the world) and the other guy fights people named after insects and animals (Vulture, Doc Oc, Rhino, Lizard.) Who the heck thought anyone was going to confuse Spider-Man with Superman?  Seriously! But that little tidbit is a fact folks.  Look it up.

Anyways, the costume is stupid.  Red and blue for a guy based on a spider makes as much sense as yellow for Batman.  The mask I at least understand.  I'd be embarrassed if I ran around dressed like that too. Still, we ignore the retarded origin, and the weakness of the character himself.  We step clear of the leap to pro wrestling for money (really!?!?  Didn't he invent a fluid that hardens to the strength of steel?!??) and we get past the lame uniform, and we go right to the crux of who Peter Parker is.

He's a guy who had a chance to do the right thing.......and didn't.

The result was the death of his Uncle Ben, a kind old soul who's only shortcoming in life was letting his nephew turn into a nerd recluse who hangs out at science experiments.  Poor bastard died because of that little jerk!

Anyways, Ben's death is what leads us to Spider-Man.  Peter vows to use his new power to do right.  Just a little bit late, and more than a little bit motivated by guilt. Where is the heroic moment?  Where is the inspiration?  Where is the sacrifice?  Peter Parker was a self-absorbed prick who let a criminal saunter right past him, and only when that criminal hurt somebody he personally cared about was he moved to action.  There's nothing heroic about that, and in my opinion it is the fundamental flaw of the character.

He isn't heroic, he's guilty.

Plus, and this might seem a little too complex an analysis for some people, but just bear with me....

....the guy's a loser.

Here's hoping Aunt May slaps the taste out his mouth the next time he whines, too.

So, any questions?  Or can we get back to talking about other characters, who are much more deserving of our time and attention?  People like Batman, Thor and Jesse Custer.

#&^* Spider-Man!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Comic rage, JLA counterpoint, team books

[insert curse word here]

I'm going on my second month without a steady stream of comic books, and I have to tell you guys, it's killing me.  I could take the easy way out and just download a whole bunch of them, but the last two days have been magnificent and I've had some time on my hands when I could have been sitting on the back deck, in the fresh air, just casually enjoying my favorite pastime in the whole world. Now not only can I not do that until I see a certain friend of mine in Ohio, but I'm teetering on the edge of not placing an order for May's comic shipment (because I'm still trying to find some steady work.)


I've been hammering my way through the tens upon tens of thousands of comics in my basement, trying to add some more runs to the list of contenders for The Ten. I got caught up a little bit with JLA recently, and spent some time pouring over that once-great series. I have a theory that Mark Waid's run shortly after The Tower of Babel, which is classic, entitled Terra Incognito was a not-so subtle jab at how stupidly Grant Morrison had the White Martians behave in the four part series that he used to reunite DC's big guns and relaunch its flagship team book. It isn't just the story either.  On more than one occasion there is commentary in the books about how much more powerful a handful of them are than the Justice League.  Maybe I'll get around to asking Mark about that one day, so he can do the politically correct thing and say that he was just giving his interpretation and that he has all the respect in the world for Grant.

Speaking of the JLA, should the big team books in Marvel and DC be comprised of their biggest and their best?  The argument falls pretty clearly into two camps.  Either you envision your Avengers with Captain America, Iron Man, Thor etc, or you picture your JLA with Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, Guy Gardner and Captain Marvel. I've heard both sides of the argument, including the fact that the big guns in both companies have their own books, where they are showcased month in and month out, and that the stage like Avengers should be used to give fans terrific writing about characters who otherwise don't have their own books.  I've even been told that super-teams take the fun out of the stories because they seem so daunting from the outset, and that it's hard editorially to keep everything lined up between the team book and all of the individual books.  They're all rational arguments.  All of them.

My Avengers still includes Cap.

There is, of course, that happy medium where one or two big guns are working on a team that includes one or two second tier talents who deserve the press time.  Cap, Iron Man, Hawkeye & Wasp make for a good Avengers team.  Just as long as Spider-Man isn't on it.  Or Wolverine.  Actually I find it funny that it took so long for somebody to finally put the X-Universe's biggest name in an Avengers book, and I find it sad that they finally gave in and put Spidey in one.  Obviously they were taking the JLA approach of "who are the biggest guns we have" and Spidey and Wolverine fall into that category in regard to their selling power. Makes sense.  After all, Wolverine is Canadian, and Spidey is.......well......a loser. He lost a fight to a guy named Dr. Octopus once, and once was enough.  LOSER.

It's like watching Guy Gardner in the JLA.  Painful.  Worst Green Lantern ever.  Worse than G'nort.

Speaking of Green Lantern, did Geoff Johns knock it out of the park with the concept for Final Night?  Admittedly when you're two months behind on new books you don't get to comment on how he finished it off, but coming up with the idea of a prophecy that was thousands of years old that foretold a war of light, and then introducing the other colors in the emotional spectrum?  Brilliant.  The guy can't spell his own name, but he can write.

Alright, I'm off to play some Diablo II.

It's an old school night.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Comics on tv

I watched the 1997 live action pilot for Justice League of America last night, and I now know why there isn't a JLA tv show. What I don't know is why there isn't a Global Frequency tv show. While we're on the topic of what I don't know, can somebody please explain to me who in Hollywood was willing to give some script writer money for that piece of garbage that they put together for JLA? The only decent thing about the league was the way they had Green Lantern's ring work, which was actually kind of cool.  Otherwise the whole thing was low budget, high school drama club.  Obviously they weren't given any of the A-list to include, so we didn't get a Superman or a Batman or a Wonder Woman, but I wasn't disappointed with the roster.  I was very disappointed with the writing though.  I can't even blame the actors, that's how bad it was.  Green Lantern (Guy Gardner), Flash and Fire were all completely misrepresented as characters, and The Martian Manhunter looked like a special effect that somebody made in their basement.

Why can't I get a job writing for Hollywood again?

Even I could do better than that crap.

I also got myself a copy of the Birds of Prey series, but I haven't started watching any of it.  I'm hoping it doesn't come anywhere near the corniness of JLA, and treads a little more gently on the mythos of the comics. I'll let you know when I've seen some.  Speaking of comic related television, which in case you haven't caught on yet is exactly what I'm doing today, I've been watching season 1 of Jeremiah, by comic writer of fame J. Michael Straczynski.  Luke Perry is well cast as a bit of a tough, rough around the edges guy with a heart of gold, and an annoyingly whiney voice, while I really like Theo Huxtable in this show. The overall premise seems pretty solid, an so far the episodes haven't become completely formulaic, with some continuity flowing from show to show. It's an alright way to kill some time at night.

After the conversation we had recently about movies that will never get made, I've spent some time reflecting on the difference between movies and television and I think that if television ever got the ball rolling properly they could just dominate the comic book genre.  The format is so well suited to replicate the monthly, episodic basis of most successful comic books.  It used to be that there was a financial reason for not doing it, but Heroes survives without running its budget out of control.  Do we really need any more than they can give us on that show? Hell Parkman's telepathy is effective and simple to demonstrate.  Anyways, the other argument has always been that not enough people would watch.  Again I say; HEROES.

What people won't watch is bad tv.

Knock out the corny approach and get rid of the cheese.  Take a serious look at some of the best story-telling comics ever and you could have yourself an substantial winner.  Y The Last Man would work wonders, as would DMZ or Global Frequency, and I can't tell you how much I would like to see 1 season of Planetary.

Maybe one day soon we'll be lucky enough to see some network exec figure it out.

Just not the guy who gave a green light to the JLA script.

That guy should never work again.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Movies I doubt they're going to make.

Production Hell.

Two words that seem to be associated with all of the movies I desperately want to see Hollywood get off their retarded buts and make.  For whatever reason the comic book movies that are being made are typically the b-grade ones and the front-line, A-list super-hero ones.  What about the front-line, A-list ones that don't fit into the target demographic that Hollywood so wrongly thinks it understands?  Where will our next 300 or Watchmen come from?  And will they have the stones to actually get it right, unlike the abysmal failure of V For Vendetta?

These days when you troll through the updates over at the revamped (and I can't say I like the new format) Comic Book Movies, you'll see all kinds of news that you can get geeked about.  Thor is coming.  If they allow the script to be written by an even half-way decent person who understand who Thor is and what the magic is that makes him such an exceptional comic figure, it's going to be terrific.  Spider-Man is being reset.  Will the new wave of his films be able to surpass the Toby Maguire era? Fantastic Four is coming back, with promises to completely overhaul it.  Can they finally get it right and introduce us to the world's greatest family the right way? How will Warner Brothers follow The Dark Knight?  Do they have the stones to actually do The Dark Knight Returns (No!) and shock the world with its visionary understanding of the end game for Bruce Wayne? Can Green Lantern deliver on the hype, and can they make Ryan Reynolds believable as Hal Jordan (my guess is no.) Most importantly.....when will we see The Flash?

These are the questions that we can bat around and ultimately find answers for, because these are the movies that Hollywood around going to make sooner than later.  Today though, I think we should throw around the names of the best stories we know they're never going to make (or in some cases they're never going to make WELL.)

I'm going straight to the top of the list for this one, because it's been rumored for so long, and has had so many names attached to it.  The movie always seems to be in some kind of production hell, and really, how do you do this thing unless you're prepared to make at least 4 movies? From way back when James Marsden signed on to play Custer, right through conversation suggesting that it may turn out to be an HBO series instead of a movie, we have been sitting on pins and needles waiting for this one to finally come along.  Sadly, I think we may end up waiting forever.

Alpha Flight
Yes, I said Alpha Flight.  With all due respect to my American readers, I'm more than a little bit tired of Hollywood's assumption that super-hero movies where the main character/main story aren't American at heart will lead to failure.  I was annoyed when they turned John Constantine into an American and stole the charm of the British occultist from the silver screen, only to replace him with a pale imitation played by Neo. Why do I think Alpha Flight, Canada's super-team can make a great big-screen movie when the book is constantly getting canceled? Well to start with, there is that guy who sells more than any hero you can think of, who happened to be on the very first incarnation of Alpha Flight.  What was his name?  Oh yeah, Wolverine. Add to that Puck (a bad-ass dwarf in the movie?  Who doesn't want to see that?) and Shaman and the rest of the ensemble heroes and you have a visually incredible story with less histrionics than you get in an X-Men movie and more creative freedom for the script writers.  Dead in the water because nobody understands how great this could be.

Simple, the concept is too big. Nobody will know what story to tell, and nobody will have the stones to go after it. I think the best bet for this is an HBO show not unlike the Twilight Zone, with independent episodes held together by the common theme of Morpheus.  If you had to do the movie, which story would you tell? How do you choose? The Doll's House? A Season of Mists? Dream Country? Doesn't matter, because you'll never see this one made, and if you do, it won't be done well.  Hollywood doesn't understand comics that are smart, which explains why they didn't think 300 would be big.

Batman - The Cult
You know how I know this one won't ever get made?  Because it's perfectly designed to be a Batman movie. Everything about this four issue series cries out that it's a movie and it fits into the mold of a stand-alone glimpse into the Dark Knight's never ending battle.  Instead we'll get another movie where they drag out two or three villains for him to face down, in a constructed story that feels forced and pointless.  Because, you know, that sells.

Wait!  I know they've already made a whole bunch of these.  I should have said "A Superman movie worth seeing." Not going to happen, because the best they could deliver after a decades long wait was a movie that might as well have been made twenty years ago.  Kryptonite, Luther, and Lois in distress.  Wow.  Even Smallville has thought deeper than that script.

Midnight Nation
12 issues of comic genius, and a story with a moral to it.  Religious themes, and a story so many people would be able to relate to.  So why is there no talk of getting this done?  I cannot stress how good this series is nearly well enough to do it justice, and a well done movie would be epic.  Bigger (I think) than The Watchmen as a movie (which was bigger as a comic.)

Days Of Future Past
THIS is the X-Men movie they should have made. Claremont, Byrne and Austin did in 2 issues what writers ever since have been trying to do in hundreds; they created a seminal moment in the X-Universe that is never forgotten. What would you give for a movie that opens in a terrible future where almost all of the heroes are dead?  Watching the remnants of the X-Men and the Avengers battle one last time to save hope, and humanity (from itself and its prejudice) of course.  Then have the story naturally fold back to the present where they set out to change the future and stop it from ever happening?  That's a movie script that is perfect in concept, and yet we get stuck with the crap they've been feeding us.  And yes, Wolverine was terrible; largely because it was stupid.

You need 3 movies and they would all need to be extra long.  Unless you get James Cameron interested, I don't know how you do it justice. This is one of those series that smart people love, which is the perfect explanation for why Hollywood isn't all over it.

Okay, I missed a lot of good stories that will never see the silver screen. Which ones are your favorites, and what makes you think there's no chance it will be made? 
Cam, before you said it......what about Crossed?  Zombie flicks always seem to have a voice!


Thursday, March 04, 2010

World War One like you've never seen it before

My original plan was to spend some time in this entry talking about the critically acclaimed Mightnight Nation series by J. Michael Straczynski, which is deep with religious theme and really a fascinating read. I was going to follow it up by digging into a couple of other series he's done that will also be making an appearance in our exploration of the Top 10 Comic Stories Of All Time (henceforth know as The 10.) While I've been away (yes I admit that time is tighter that I expected and I'm not exactly hitting a one-a-day pace, so sue me!) I have been rereading some of my less traditional comic books to get my head around what stands out and which of them are worthy of consideration.  Last night's read has bumped Midnight Nation from the conversation piece for today.


Picture if you will the first World War, fought by mages, trolls and vampires with ordinary men as their staunch allies. If you thought war was a terrible, horrible thing in the real world, you can scarcely imagine the horrors that the fantasy world can unleash when nations clash.

For six issues we are thrown into the world of Fletcher Arrowsmith, a young man from the United States who runs away from home against his father's wishes (a brief scene in the first issue which really sets the tension for the entire story) and joins up with the Overseas Aero Corps, the fantasy realm's version of pilots; flying men engaged in the seemingly elegant combat of the skies

Two reasons you need to read this series.

1. Its a good FANTASY series. There aren't enough good fantasy series being done in comic books.  For some reason the natural synergy between the two worlds doesn't seem to translate as you might think that it should. Often efforts to launch and maintain fantasy comic books are met with lackluster sales numbers and early cancellations, depriving fans of the medium and the genre of the beauty often created when they do come together.  Can you imagine Alex Ross doing a Tolkien adaptation? Just seeing Pacheco do the art for the Battle of Helms Deep would be awe inspiring.  Original works would be even more inspired I think.  This is good, creative and original fantasy and it should be read and appreciated.

2. Its a good WAR series. Other bloggers have suggested that there is an inherent beauty in war that detracts from an author's (or director's) ability to truly strike you with the tragedy and horror of it.  I disagree.  True it is easy to become lost in the gorgeous artwork that Pacheco presents in this book, often in its most horrific moments, but there is a tone to this story that you have to be willfully ignoring in order to miss.Like any great war story, it even reflects that ultimately it doesn't matter who is right and who is wrong, because war feeds upon itself and grows until everyone believes they are fighting for the right reasons, and nobody is willing to back down.  That is the horror of war; that right and wrong become irrelevant. In war, few are the people who may take the moral high ground, and that is clearly and brutally depicted in this series, to the heartfelt pain of the protagonist. There are no delusions about the war put forth by this book, and that realism doesn't often surface in fantasy stories where right and wrong are so clearly imagined.  It makes this story resonate more deeply I think.
A long rumored sequel to this series has never come forth, but I can always hope. Arrowsmith deserves to be read, and will be discussed at length in consideration for The 10.

Maybe one day soon we will even see another fantasy epic unveiled in the medium, which ultimately would be a true victory for the greats that have come before (big props to Conan on that front!) I know as a reader of fantasy that I would love to see it.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

The 2nd species of man

You won't often hear me talking about artists on this blog.  It's just not the way that I look at comics, although I do often admire specific artwork above and beyond that of other artists.  The truth is that I'm almost always much more influenced by the quality of the writing and that drives my position on most comic reviews that I give. I am not immune to the effects of a talented artist on a series, and their ability to do more in the panels than their peers, in that way advancing the story effectively and making it better.  It just isn't what I tend to critique and reflect on. Like every rule though, there are exceptions.

Gary Frank

The exception of the day is Gary Frank, who I met while he was working with Peter David on The Incredible Hulk and whose work has shown up in some of my favorite stories.  He is widely recognized for his work on Action Comics, The Avengers and Gen13, but I think my favorite is Midnight Nation.  It helps that it is going to be a strong contender for the Top 10 list that I'm slowly sorting through material to put together. Today though I don't want to talk about the brilliance of Midnight Nation, or his work with Geoff Johns on Superman, or even his forthcoming work on Batman Earth One.  I want to talk about a little six issue series he did on his own and had published by Top Cow back in 2000.

I doubt you've heard of it.
In Kin, Frank shows us six issues that leave me intrigued for more.  In a very short span of time he posits an exceptional idea for a story and draws me into a world that I want to spend more time in. Unfortunately we only ever get six issues and in my opinion we're left wanting more.  I get the whole 'leave them wanting more' mantra, but this time it seems like we're left hanging because the first arc is done and sales didn't justify him doing another one.  If that's the case, it's a terrible shame.  If he actually always planned to leave us hanging like this, then he's a jerk!

So what's the hook? That's the question right?  Why do you like the premise Jeff?  What is it about the man's six issues that made you sit up and take notice? Well, to start with he begins the idea rooted in scientific research, before deviating just enough to create a sensational idea that while fiction, is just close enough to possible that we remain engaged by it.

Raise your hand if you knew that a long, LONG time ago there were two species of man? Well maybe not man, exactly.  It all depends on which scientist you believe.  Some classify the second as a subspecies of our own (Homo sapiens neanderthalensis) while others classify it as a separate species (Homo neanderthalensis).

Neanderthal Man.

In the end though, the point remains that at some point in history, two species competed for the same resources.  Obviously we know which one dominated and ultimately won that competition, we are. Some people believe that they crossbred with us until our genes dominated and they faded out, while others believe that they simply became extinct.

Gary asks a very simple question; what if our scientists are wrong?

In Kin he takes us into a world where a secret agency has discovered that Neanderthals did not interbreed with homo sapiens, and they did not go extinct.  They developed and grew along a very different social and technological basis, vanishing into the very corners of the world where we found it too inhospitable to follow and there they survived, building a society vastly different from our own.  He then reminds us that Neanderthals had larger brain cavities than homo sapiens did, and we start to see how they vanished and were never uncovered.

Kin only introduces us to one of their kind, and we watch as he struggles with two humans who empathize with his plight, as this secret agency attempts to force their way into his world.  In the end we are left feeling very much like our own warlike nature will ultimately wipe this culture from the earth, but I don't feel like we get any real closure on his story.

Despite that, I do really enjoy this book.  It's fresh and different, and presents an intriguing plot.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Hiding in plain sight.


It all began with that one (terrible) decision by Marvel to run with a story in which the malignancy of anger and hate inside of Magneto's mind corrupts Charles Xavier and leads to the birth of the most potent and deadly villain ever; Onslaught. The fallout of this story was that Earth's Mightiest Heroes were lost (actually in most cases they were taken away from competent, talented writing teams and handed over to the Image founders to butcher and devalue for an entire year.)

But from even the worst ideas we sometimes glean inspiration for the best of ideas.

Enter The Thunderbolts.

With The Avengers, Captain America, The Fantastic Four and Iron Man all shunted into another universe by the awesome power of Franklin Richards there was a power vacuum in the Marvel Universe in desperate need of filling, and Kurt Busiek (who will always get a great deal of love on this blog) and Mark Bagley did exactly that when they introduced a new team called The Thunderbolts.  The team debuted in the pages of The Incredible Hulk, being written at that time by the greatest Hulk writer of them all (Peter David) and then later were launched as their own book.

It was the conclusion of that first issue which opened my eyes to the genius of the series concept and the brilliance of Kurt Busiek (once again!) The final panel of Issue #1 of Thunderbolts revealed that the newest super heroes of the Marvel Universe were, in fact.......The Masters Of Evil!! One of the most dangerous teams to ever square off against The Avengers, this plot twist represented one of the most impressive concept launches in the history of comic books, as we discover the true meaning of hiding in plain sight.

The series quickly became a fan favorite as it charted the nature of heroism and watched the eventual reformation of many of the Masters of Evil into genuine heroes. Kusiek wrote the series for thrity-four wonderful issues, and was replaced by Fabian Nicieza when he left.  The series continued its strong run, though as it approached issue #75, Marvel EiC Joe Quesada came up with a "brilliant" idea and almost killed the series forever.  Somebody get this guy away from Marvel's helm.  NOW.

After much tumultuousness and the series cancellation, some storylines came together which brought The 'Bolts back into being, although radically different and with new leadership. This second era of the 'Bolts was highlighted by the run of Warren Ellis, who came on board for the better part of a year and did the story from a very dark place.  With the fallout of the Civil War, his Thuunderbolts were criminals acting under the government's control to hunt down unregistered super humans.  It was a terrific, dark reflection of the power that political agendas can bring to bear on the world.

The book is now in the hands of Andy Diggle, and while it is no longer the book that Kurt created, it continues to be a series of interest for me because of the constant questions that seem to arise.  A new Black Widow leader Norman Osborne's Thunderbolts?  Maybe not.  An enigmatic Ghost who seems at cross purposes with Osborne? Doc Samson framed for trying to kill the President? Nick Fury responsible for the infiltration of the 'Bolts?

This book still has legs in my mind, and while it isn't yet back to the level of the story it was launched as, I'm not read to bury it.  This one may not be the greatest series being written right now, but it is an overlooked gem in the Marvel line-up and it's hiding in plain sight.