Saturday, October 18, 2003

Bacardi Lightning -- Johnny Bacardi has updated his comments vis a vis Black Lightning, Tony Isabella and Trevor Von Eeden.

Blog Update -- I added a slew of my regular stops on the computer internet to the go list in the column on the right, as well as more recommended reading. Which is kind of the same thing, now that I think about it.

Anyway, while investigating the sites I wanted to add to the links, I discovered Forager has posted an intriguing examination of Alan Moore vs. Frank Miller. Since Moore and Miller were two of my formative experiences in comics in the 1980s, and since they've both gone in such interesting directions in the industry ever since, this is a piece I am excited to dig in to. So I'm gonna go do that now.

Update: Read Forager's piece. Pretty strong overall, although I disagree with some of his conclusions. I think Swamp Thing holds up pretty well, certainly better than most of its contemporaries or most of the Vertigo line it later led to. I agree that Ronin is mostly crap (and thought so when it was new), although it has some nice art here and there. It certainly foreshadowed Miller's egregious excess in DK2. And finally, in a head-to-head matchup of Moore's Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? and Batman: Year One, I think the latter is the better story and certainly the better example of the power of comics as a storytelling medium. Moore's farewell to Superman is fun for readers in the know, but Miller's Batman story, the best ever created about the character, is a tale that anyone could read and thoroughly enjoy.

And just to be snarky, I think Forager spells David Mazzucchelli's name wrong. Funny, just yesterday I was bragging to my wife how I can spell certain hard-to-spell comics creator names with ease, such as Sienkiewicz and Straczynski, but Mazzucchelli was the one I forgot.

Friday, October 17, 2003

CrossGen Massacre -- Well, this is interesting. The bullshit attempted meme that this was all part of the plan all along makes for a nice real-life retcon. Nice try, Alessi. Did you cut those checks yet or are you still profiting from the efforts of unpaid workers?

The Coolest Thing About John Byrne -- Is that he just says stuff like this.

Dumb Blogging -- Franklin Harris's correction of some dumb bastard in regard to the cultural durability of Quentin Tarantino's masterpiece Pulp Fiction reminds me that I should mention how utterly wrong Ted Rall is about Chris Ware. Quimby the Mouse is about grief, pain and loss, and it is exquisite in expressing those concepts.

More on Black Lightning -- Johnny Bacardi has an interesting sidebar to my comments yesterday about Black Lightning and how DC has misused the character.

I asked Tony Isabella to comment, and he said:

Except that Trevor wasn't a co-creator of the series, not even the visual
aspects of the character...and wasn't credited as a co-creator until just
after I tried to buy the character back from DC in the late 1970s.

Trevor first drew the original Black Lightning costume with me standing
over his shoulder and describing it as I would describe a suspect to a
police sketch artist...rather ironic given BL's new status as a craven
murderer. The only element of this original costume which did not come
from me was the "afro-mask." Bob Rozakis came up with that and, at the
time, we all thought it was a good idea. Oh, those wacky '70s.

Maybe DC never seriously considered Trevor for the second series, but I
certainly did...despite my dismay that he had been granted retroactive,
unjustifiable co-creator status. [One need only check the first Black
Lightning and his earliest subsequent appearances to verify that I was sole creator of the character.] The DC folks
weren't interested in having him draw the new series.

From the get-go, I'd told DC the second series would require a great deal
of research and a long development period...and they agreed to that when
the process began. At one point, Mark Bright was attached to the series,
but I don't believe he ever did more than design a costume which I never
used in the new series.

However, my respect for the abilities of both Von Eeden and Bright aside, I
knew Eddy Newell was the artist for the book from the first moment that I
saw his work. Eddy designed the new costume and ultimately crafted the
look of the book. If DC had wanted to give Eddy co-creator status, that
would have been fine with me.

Beyond the issues of how DC has treated me in all this, though, there is
another and far more important issue to consider.

If you don't consider the great Milestone Comics characters like ICON and
STATIC, and that certainly seems to be DC's policy, DC has only published
three ongoing super-hero comics whose title stars have been
African-Americans. Two of them, GREEN LANTERN and STEEL, were
continuations of or spinoffs of titles which starred white
characters. Only BLACK LIGHTNING was an original.

Only three black super-hero headliners in the entire history of DC Comics
and now one of them, almost as a "we need a shock to end this issue" easy
way out, had been turned into a cold-blooded murderer. That's an egregious
wrong that extends well beyond the wrongs done to the character and his

Given how public Tony Isabella has been about Black Lightning as a character and as a property, I think DC has a lot to answer for. We're all waiting, and will probably continue to do so.

Previews Review Review -- I suppose it had to happen eventually: John Jakala looks at the various "Previews Review" columns.

Norm! -- The new The Norm Magazine #1 has shipped to comics shops, and it's a terrific collection of early strips. Michael Jantze's witty observations are always fun, and here the strips are supplemented by short commentaries, like getting the DVD version of The Norm. Highly recommended and something that you'll have no trouble convincing non-comics readers to read.

Thursday, October 16, 2003

DC and Black Lightning -- You almost have to wonder if DC is trying to alienate Black Lightning creator Tony Isabella. The corporate comics company has a long history of fuckery, from changing the character to "Black Vulcan" to avoid paying Tony royalties on the Super Friends cartoon, to giving BL an illegitimate daughter completely inconsistent with his character in the new Outsiders series, to now having him commit murder in this week's Green Arrow, as pointed out by Hannibal Tabu in his new Buy Pile Reviews. You might think I'm overstating the case, but DC execs (and many readers) are well aware of Tony's emotional investment in his creation, and the fact of the matter is that given BL's general status in the DCU, the fact that he only pops up to be humiliated and misused again and again is mighty suspicious.

Chris Allen Breaks Down the Ages -- Chris Allen's new Breakdowns column has an interesting overview of the various ages of comics, as well as reviews of titles like Astronauts in Trouble: Master Flight Plan (get that, it's a great collection), and Marvel's new NYX. Allen also weighs in on Bill Jemas's downsizing and the new Peanuts collections coming from Fantagraphics. All this wrapped up in his worst-titled column ever.

The BJ No One Wants -- Great Franklin Harris piece on The End of the Jemas Era. I tried writing about this the other day, but I found that I'm mostly apathetic. Mostly because I agree fully with Steven Grant:

"Marvel is Marvel is Marvel, and that's all anyone can really expect it to be. It's Marvel whether Stan Lee is in charge, or Jim Shooter, or Bob Harras, or Joe Quesada and Bill Jemas. It'll be Marvel with Joe Quesada and Dan Buckley in charge."

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Your Second Chance at Sleeper -- If you haven't been reading Sleeper by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, you're missing probably the best crime/superhero comic ever. Sure, that's a small genre, but the way Brubaker and Phillips have successfully melded these two very different concepts into one fascinating and continuously surprising saga has been one of the greatest comics successes of the past year. Your second chance is a new trade paperback collection, which is discussed in this article at Newsarama. Now, you may be wondering more about my opinion. Back in May, at Comic Book Galaxy, I posted the following piece. If you missed it then, here's...

Why You Should Be Reading Sleeper

Holden Carver is screwed. There's your high concept right there.

You might guess from the name of the lead character in Sleeper that the book explores existential despair in a complex and often dark manner -- and you'd be right. Brubaker and Phillips, both of them doing perhaps the best work of their careers, have created a compelling character in Carver. He's sympathetic, but forced by circumstance to carry out the orders of Tao, one of the most brilliant and twisted schemers ever depicted in comics.

Tao came to prominence during Alan Moore's Wildcats run, a seeming hero who was eventually revealed to be manipulating the team (and just about everyone else) to the tune of his dark agenda. He's a variation on Moore's Adrian Veidt from Watchmen, although unlike Veidt, Tao seems to know he's working the wrong side of the fence. He is, I think, Veidt's dark reflection -- always watching, always calculating, never revealing his true intentions. I don't envy Brubaker for picking up the ball from Alan Moore and running with it, but he's maintained Tao's unknowable brilliance, the sense that he's a twisted bastard who is fifteen moves ahead of everyone and ready to do anything to carry out his true agenda -- and he's Holden Carver's boss, which is why, as I said, Holden Carver is screwed.

Carver was introduced in Point Blank, a challenging-but-rewarding five-issue mini-series written by Brubaker that isn't essential to understanding Sleeper, but which definitely adds to an understanding of Carver and his background. In a nutshell, he was a sleeper agent for John Lynch, the chief spook of the Wildstorm Universe. The conceit at work in Sleeper is that Lynch is the only one who knows Carver is playing for the good guys, and Lynch is in a coma and may never recover.

Carver is virtually unkillable -- he is able to heal quickly from any injury, but the price he pays for this talent (bestowed on him by accidental exposure to an artifact that fell out of The Bleed) is that he can't feel anything -- so he requires extreme sensations to even remember what it was like to be human. He wants to do the right thing, he wants to come in from his years as a sleeper working for Tao's organization, but his every step finds him walking further and further down the wrong path. Carver is becoming so morally compromised that it's questionable whether John Lynch would even vouch for him if he could, if he knew the actions Carver has had to take to maintain his cover.

What Brubaker and Phillips deliver here is a stylish and fascinating take on the anti-hero -- one who sees himself as a hero but knows no one else does, who is locked in a brutal struggle to stay alive long enough to complete his mission, but who is sliding down a dangerous spiral and working for perhaps the most dangerous man who ever lived. It's entirely possible, he knows, that Tao is onto him already.

The thing I love about Sleeper the most (aside from the dark, violent drama and brilliantly noirish art of Sean Phillips) is the oblique way that Brubaker parses out information. Point Blank was a story that really had to be observed from all angles to be appreciated fully, and while Sleeper doesn't utilize the same non-linear approach as the mini-series, it does require the reader to pay attention and draw conclusions. It's a morally challenging work -- especially the most recent issue, which requires Carver to go to shocking new extremes to protect himself and his mission.

The thing is, the mission is worth protecting. Carver has learned much important information about perhaps the most important criminal mastermind in history, and if he is ever able to come in from the cold, he could do a world of good by bringing Tao down once and for all.

The criminal organizations, the compromised sleeper agent, the murders and violence, all of it could be a cliched mess in the wrong hands. But Brubaker and Phillips turn out each masterful chapter with confidence, insight and excitement.

Sleeper is a fantastic read, probably the best crime comic being published today. Carver is one of the best new mainstream characters in years, complex and engaging -- we're fully inside his head and able to sympathize with him even as we watch him commit some of the most loathsome criminal acts imaginable. It's a real triumph for Brubaker and Phillips, and if they did this book forever, that'd be just fine with me. Grade: 5/5

Thanks, Sean Collins -- Sean is so good to me. It should be noted that NeilAlien did indeed breathe new life into this thing with his technical wizardry, but Sean, I did the logo. With help from Kirby, of course.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Better Belated Than Never -- Belated one-year anniversary congratulations to Dirk Deppey and ¡Journalista!, truly the best daily dose of comics information, and essential from the moment it went up. I hope we have many more years to look forward to, Dirk.

And while I was at iJournalista! today, I discovered Ted Rall is now blogging, and added him to my links over there on the right.

Comics News of the Year -- Here's a press release from Fantagraphics.


Seattle, WA, 10/13/03 — 50 years of art. 25 books. Two books per year for 12 1/2 years. Fantagraphics Books is proud to announce the most eagerly-awaited and ambitious publishing project in the history of the American comic strip: the complete reprinting of CHARLES M. SCHULZ’s classic, PEANUTS. Considered to be one of the most popular comic strips in the history of the world, PEANUTS will be, for the first time, collected in its entirety and published, beginning in April 1, 2004. Fantagraphics will launch THE COMPLETE PEANUTS in a series designed by the cartoonist SETH (Palookaville, It’s A Good Life If You Don’t Weaken) and produced in full cooperation with United Media, Charles M. Schulz Creative Associates, and Mr. Schulz’s widow, Jean Schulz.

Fantagraphics Books co-publisher Gary Groth said that publishing THE COMPLETE PEANUTS represented the apex of the company’s 27-year commitment to publishing the best cartooning in the world. “PEANUTS is a towering achievement in the history of comics,” said Groth. “I can’t think of a better way to honor Schulz’s artistic legacy than to make his oeuvre available to the public in a beautifully designed format that reflects the integrity of the work itself.”

The genesis of the project began in 1997 when Fantagraphics publisher Gary Groth approached Charles Schulz with the proposition of publishing PEANUTS in its entirety. After Schulz’s death in January, 2000, Groth continued discussing the project with Schulz’s widow, Jean Schulz. “It’s safe to say that this project wouldn’t have happened if Jean Schulz weren’t as enthusiastic and supportive as she’s been,” said Groth. Added Jean Schulz: “This seemed like an impossible project, considering all the ‘lost’ strips, but Gary’s determination never flagged, and we are so happy with the aesthetic sensibility of the Fantagraphics team.”

“It’s a genuine honor to be designing these Schulz collections,” said Seth, who went on to describe the premise underlying his design for the series: “I want to emphasize the sophistication of Schulz’s work by creating a package that is both austere and direct. I would like to try to reflect the quiet and melancholy of the strip in a package that hopefully, shows the proper amount of respect for Mr. Schulz. Undoubtedly, PEANUTS is a great newspaper strip and I am humbled and gratified to help steward this complete strip compilation into the world.”

Each volume in the series will run approximately 320 pages in a 8 1/2” x 7” hardcover format, presenting two years of strips along with supplementary material. The series will present the entire run in chronological order, dailies and Sundays. Since the strip began in late 1950, the first volume will include an introduction by NPR's Garrison Keillor and all the strips from 1950, 1951, and 1952, but subsequent volumes will each comprise exactly two years. Dailies will run three to a page, while Sunday strips will each take up a full page and be printed in black-and-white.

This first volume, covering the first two and a quarter years of the strip, will be of particular fascination to PEANUTS aficionados worldwide: Although there have been literally hundreds of PEANUTS books published, many of the strips from the series’ first two or three years have never been collected before — in large part because they showed a young Schulz working out the kinks in his new strip and include some characterizations and designs that are quite different from the cast we’re all familiar with. (Among other things, three major cast members — Schroeder, Lucy, and Linus — initially show up as infants and only “grow” into their final “mature” selves as the months go by. Even Snoopy debuts as a puppy!) Thus THE COMPLETE PEANUTS offers a unique chance to see a master of the artform refine his skills and solidify his universe, day by day, week by week, month by month.

PEANUTS is one of the most successful comic strips in the history of the medium as well as one of the most acclaimed strips ever published. (In 1999, a jury of comics scholars and critics voted it the 2nd greatest comic strip of the 20th century — second only to George Herriman’s Krazy Kat, a verdict Schulz himself cheerfully endorsed.) Charles Schulz’s characters — Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Lucy, Linus, Schroeder, and so many more — have become American icons. A poll in 2002 found Peanuts to be one of the most recognizable cartoon properties in the world, recognized by 94 percent of the total U.S. consumer market and a close second only to Mickey Mouse (96 percent), and higher than other familiar cartoon properties like Spider-Man (75 percent) or the Simpsons (87 percent). In T.V. Guide’s “Top 50 Greatest Cartoon Characters of All-Time” list, Charlie Brown and Snoopy ranked #8.

THE COMPLETE PEANUTS will be supported with an ambitious advertising and promotional campaign, including public appearances by Jean Schulz to support the series.

Comic Strips/Humor
320 pages, 8 1/2" x 7"
ISBN 1-56097-589-X

Monday, October 13, 2003

The Office -- Okay, I am coming late to this party, but The Office on BBC America ia about the goddamned funniest thing since, well, ever. Imagine Seinfeld set in an office and you'll be close, but it's smarter and tighter than that. The first season is out on DVD, so do whatever you have to to see it. If you get BBC America (and you very well may and not even know it in this day and age, so look), it's on Sunday nights. If not, find a friend to tape it for you, it's worth it.

Shipping Nooz -- Here's a look at what I'm picking up at the comics shop this week.


SMAX #3 (Of 5) $2.95 -- Unbelievably strong, if you liked Top 10 but eschewed Smax, you made a serious error that it's not too late to rectify. Check this out for complex drama, comedy and horror, in that way that gave Alan Moore his deserved reputation as the best writer to ever work in comics.

TOM STRONG'S TERRIFIC TALES #8 $2.95 -- Every issue has been a mixed bag, but there's usually one story that makes it worth picking up. It should be noted that nothing really takes the place of Alan Moore and Chris Sprouse giving us the real thing, though.

HELLBOY WEIRD TALES #5 $2.99 -- Every issue has been a mixed bag, but there's usually one story that makes it worth picking up. It should be noted that nothing really takes the place of Mike Mignola giving us the real thing, though.

GOTHAM CENTRAL #12 $2.50 -- Hard to believe it's been a year already, but Greg Rucka, Ed Brubaker, Michael Lark and their colleagues have made this one of the more compelling DCU titles, and one of the few that I buy.

SUPERMAN BATMAN #3 $2.95 -- One of two Jeph Loeb titles on my list this week; I'm not sure of the long-term worth of this title, but there's been some nice character interaction in the early issues.

HULK GRAY #1 (Of 6) $3.50 -- It's been years since I've been entertained by a Hulk story; Bruce Jones's take has been mind-numbingly dull. I liked Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale's previous efforts on Spider-Man, Daredevil, Batman and Superman, and I suspect their traditionalist/iconic treatment will work exceptionally well on this character.

MARVEL MASTERWORKS AMAZING SPIDER-MAN VOL 3 2ND ED. $49.99 -- I have the first two volumes, and I really think the Lee/Ditko Spidey is a highlight of superhero comics history, so I'll probably be picking this up.

ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #48 $2.25 -- Who ever would have thought that not only would it last this long and be this good, but that Bendis and Bagley wouldn't miss an issue? Congratulations, guys.

ALAN MOORE'S YUGGOTH CULTURES #1 (Of 3) $3.95 -- This could go either way. I loved The Courtyard but haven't cared much for some other Moore/Avatar material like Magic Words or Another Suburban Romance. The anthology nature of the title means there's hope, at least.

Good Stuff -- The biggest surprise in comics for me last week was Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore's The Walking Dead, published by Image. The book is extremely well done, the story of a cop who is shot on duty and wakes up less than 28 Days Later to find that he has to make a Stand in a world that has been overrun by zombies. Why is he The Last Man? Well, he's not, but he sets off to find his family, who have taken refuge in a bigger city in hopes of being protected by the military, who have ceded the smaller towns to those brain-eatin' dipshit zombies.

Seriously, Kirkman and Moore (who recently did the Brit one-shot, which was best described as "Strange Killings that doesn't suck") turn out a first-rate effort in The Walking Dead, it really surprised me just how good it was. As Halloween approaches, you could do far worse if you're looking for something spooky to read.

One other recent read I want to recommend is Lynda Barry's 100 Demons, which collects some autobiographical comix essays about things that have haunted her life. This gorgeously produced full-colour hardcover reaches deep into Barry's emotional recesses and will leave you wiser about your life and the lives of those around you. It's also pretty goddamned funny, as you might expect from Barry. As a bonus there's a wonderfully illustrated guide to her working method in the book's closing pages. An unexpectedly generous offering in the manner of Chris Ware's recent ACME Novelty Library Datebook.

Sunday, October 12, 2003

Rush to Schadenfreud -- You know, the one time I ever sympathized with Rush Limbaugh was when he lost his hearing. As a radio broadcaster of nearly two decades, I found his plight a couple of years ago so chilling that it momentarily overcame my repulsion at Limbaugh's racism, homophobia and general fascistic thuggishness. Come to find out, Rush may very well have brought his deafness on himself through his abuse of Vicodin, which can cause hearing loss. Quite an elegant little scenario there that nicely absolves me of my wrong-headed sympathy for one of the most toxic human beings on the face of the planet.

NYX -- So we're in the comics shop yesterday, and as I always semi-kiddingly ask my wife, I said "See anything you're interested in?" Imagine my surprise when she grabbed a copy of Marvel's new NYX #1.

Up until now the only comic she's really liked has been Optic Nerve, but I think the Joshua Middleton artwork intrigued her about NYX, so I put a copy in the small pile of comics I was grabbing to keep me entertained over the three-day weekend.

As it turned out, we both read NYX at the same time because I like Middleton's art (although I really wish I was reading his apparently aborted Sky Between Branches instead), and while I thought the story was a little rote in nature, it was readable and Middleton's art looks better than ever.

The punchline here is the final two pages (and here, have a juicy SPOILER WARNING):

When my wife got to the final page, she asked me what had happened, why one of the characters now had a broken arm? I explained to her that on the page previous the lead character's mutant power had manifested itself and she had stopped time and broken her tormentor's arm.

"Mutant power?" She was stunned and clearly annoyed. She had thought that the book was going to be a realistic story about big-city teens. I pointed out the "X" in the title and the Marvel logo on the cover and told her that you would never get such a story from Marvel.

"Why not?"

I didn't have an answer for that one -- not one that would satisfy her disappointment, anyway.

On the bright side, aren't we due for a new Optic Nerve sometime soon...?

I Am In Awe -- Please pause a moment and gaze in wonder at NeilAlien. Neil spent a great deal of time this weekend finding a way around both my incompetence and Blogger's making the template for this weblog work perfectly. The Permalinks work. The Archives work. I have to say it is truly pathetic how little I understand about the Internet thanks, Neil! I am in awe and in your debt.

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