Dec 28, 2009

SHAZAM!

So there's been a revitalization of this Filipino superheroine lately:


That's Darna, one of our comic book characters, who has been around since 1947 or 1950, depending on when you choose to start with her confusing publication date. In her original incarnation, she's a kid named Narda who swallows a stone in times of trouble, screams out "Darna," and then she manifests as this alien warrior woman who has the same name. Darna and Narda are not the same person and don't have the same personality. Darna has superspeed, superstrength, flight, and invulnerability.

Now, there's this common misconception that Darna is a rip-off of this internationally-renowned comic book character.

Which is just plain wrong. The trappings are similar, sure - black-haired woman from a different race imbued with superstrength and superspeed and invulnerability, and both wear a good amount of red. Which are all true.

But let's look at how Darna looked in the beginning:

All black, right? Not to mention that she's wearing an ornate headdress of the type that Wonder Woman herself would be sporting decades later in the Justice League cartoon.

As for the powers, superstrength, superspeed, invulnerability - that's nothing. That's pretty much a generic package for that time period, and it all started with Superman. Now, we're not going to start saying that Darna's a rip-off of Superman, because in a very real way, just about everyone's a rip-off of Superman.

But here's the kicker. Darna could fly.

What's that, you say? Wonder Woman can fly, too? Well, yes. She can fly now, but what you might not realize is that she never flew before 1987. That's right. Wonder Woman, created in 1941, took 46 years before she was allowed to fly in anything other than her invisible plane.

I mean, really, if you're going to be calling Darna a rip-off of Diana, then you may as well call her a rip-off of Miss America as well, since Madeline could actually fly.


Before we go on, I think it's actually pretty awesome that Gene Ha drew Darna. I wish he'd draw more Pinoy heroes.

Calling Darna a rip-off of Wonder Woman does a disservice not just to Darna, but to many, many female superheroes. Inevitably, any "premier" superpowered female will be compared to Wonder Woman, just because Wonder Woman is that important.

NOW.

While Darna may not be a rip-off of Diana, she is almost certainly inspired by these folks:



Nov 16, 2009

Random Comics Stuff I have to catch up on.

Planet X Comics had a sale where they took 50% off of single back issues and 20% off of TPBs and GNs.  (Or, as I like to call them, really big comics)  I got Peachy a couple of Sergio Aragones comics, and for myself, I got Seven Soldiers #1, which features JH Williams III at his best, working in incredibly different and diverse styles throughout the entire comic, ranging from a Kirby pastiche to hyper-realistic paintings to a newspaper. Yes.  A newspaper.  Unfortunately, it also showed Grant Morrison at his worst, where the story just screamed, "LOOK AT ME!! I'm GRANT!! And I'm a GEEEEEENIUS!"  But that's what makes Grant, and I knew the risks going in.  And besides, any comic that has art this gorgeous is worth it.  JH could draw a comic about a rock and I'd buy it.





I think people often forget that comics are a visual medium, and they think in this day and age that a great story makes for a great comic.  But the art carries the story; a comic with good scriptwriting and bad art is like a movie that's well-written with bad actors -- the quality of the story gets diminished.  There was a time when comics were bought mostly for the art, and I think that in their desire to be taken seriously, the comics medium has suffered art-wise, just a little bit.  Comics isn't all about writing or all about art; it's about the mix of both, and I think a lot of people miss that these days.


That having been said, here's another comic I bought, with nothing spectacular about the art, but with pretty damn good writing. Amazing Spider-Man 267.





This is a Spider-Man story written by Peter David and drawn by Bob McLeod. It starts off with Spider-Man chasing a burglar, who manages to get away to Scranton, in suburbia. Spider-Man chases him the next day, and, well, it's just a regular burglar.  It should be easy, right?






Nope. Spidey can't swing from anything, and to add to that, no one in the little town takes him seriously. So if you want to see a comic where Spider-Man webs up a dobie, breaks a tree, has to deal with a neighborhood watch, and rides a bus, this is the comic for you.



But the absolute gem of my loot this weekend has to be Brian K. Vaughan and company's The Escapists.




I won't mince words.  This is gorgeous. Remember what I said up there about comics being a mix of words and pictures? This illustrates that perfectly. Set in the same fictional world as The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, The Escapists focuses on three friends - Max Roth, Case Weaver, and Denny Jones - and their attempts to revitalize Kavalier and Clay's Golden Age character, the Escapist, for the new generation. So there are scenes in the real world, drawn all cartoonily, and some scenes set within the Escapist comic book, drawn all realistic, which illustrates something that's been immortal about comics and I'm sure you could write a thesis about it.  There are techniques that are Watchmen-like and Chris Ware-like in terms of combining words and pictures to create a third meaning, or to accentuate what's going on, and everyone knows I'm just a sucker for that kind of formalism.



But at the heart of it, The Escapists is a story with genuine characters, characters you root for, characters you want to win.  And it's damn good characterization, too.  Michael Chabon even wrote the foreword, so you know he approves.



At the end of it, I am proud to put The Escapists next to Kavalier & Clay, my all-time favorite prose novel, on my bookshelf.  Highly, highly recommended.



In other news, I have no idea how I missed this Brian Azzarello project where Batman crosses over with a bunch of old, Golden Age pulp heroes, but I absolutely love the concept.  Batman, Doc Savage, the Spirit, Rima the Jungle Girl, the Avenger, and new versions of Black Canary and the Blackhawks?  SOLD!





    Jul 7, 2009

    JH Williams III on Batwoman in Detective Comics

    I can't believe I let almost two weeks go by without mentioning this.

    Detective Comics, which Batman has appeared in for 70 years, will, for the next 12 months, not star Batman. It will, instead, focus on Kate Kane, the new Batwoman, who made her debut a couple of years ago in the pages of the astounding weekly comic 52. Batwoman has a bad reputation amongst comic book skeptics because she is a lesbian. Now it's not that said comic book skeptics are a bunch of homophobes, though a case could certainly be made for such, it's because being a lesbian was all that was known and publicized about Batwoman. Comic book guys are generally opposed to diversification of a superhero universe, not because superhero fans are opposed to change (they are), but because diversification simply for diversification's sake gets kind of annoying, especially when they do it in bulk, as they did with Batwoman a couple of years ago.

    So when Batwoman was rumored as a new mini-series to be worked on by Greg Rucka and JH Williams III, fans were divided, and then when she was announced as taking over Detective instead, shunting Batman off for the first time in 70 years, the divide became more divided. On the one hand, why is a character who is "clearly" just a publicity gimmick getting so much attention? On the other hand, it's Greg Rucka, who's written a good run of Batman comics in the past, and is also well-known for his crime fiction, and was one of the writers of 52. Furthermore, it's JH Williams III, acclaimed artist of Promethea and Desolation Jones. That's Alan Moore's Promethea and Warren Ellis' Desolation Jones, folks. So it's a classic case of whether you read comics for the characters or the creators.

    Although there's an overlap for me (I would probably never read a Neil Gaiman Iron Man, for example), there are some creators who will instantly get my attention. Jim Williams is one of them.

    Besides, it's not that Batwoman is a bad character. She's just a cipher, and it so happens to be that the one thing that is known about her reeks of publicity stunt. I trust Rucka, a pretty damn solid writer, to flesh her out and give her a personality, because, contrary to what a lot of comic fans believe, "lesbian" is not a personality trait. It's a sexual orientation, and personality is deeper than that. On the whole, I trust Rucka to handle it well.

    Kate even has a cool visual:



    The red and black color scheme is great; it, combined with the shape of her Bat-emblem, harkening to Batman Beyond, which you should really watch if you haven't. I like the bat-wings, too.

    Wait, are we talking visuals now? Then let's talk about JH Williams III.

    My three favorite artists, in order: George Perez, JH Williams III, and Chris Ware. George Perez is the master of drawing beautiful things to serve the story, Chris Ware is the master of experimentation with the art form, and JH Williams III is the perfect, perfect mix of both.

    Williams likes working with double-page spreads, so here, you've got page 2-3 of his first issue of 'Tec.Note the changes made to Kate's palette. Her hair is red, which provides a better overall balance throughout the entire scheme, and her skin is pale white, which contrasts very well with the black and red. Also note Jim's change to Batwoman's costume: a very subtle change that provides more realism and believability in this genre that, for some reason, demands it even when its very premise foregoes it.

    I won't tell you what he changed with her costume. It's right in front of you to compare and contrast. Once you notice it, I'm sure you'll find it brilliant. I'm just gonna talk about its layout instead.

    There's something about the way Jim lays out his pages that really gets the feel of what the characters are doing. We see Batwoman from Rush's eyes (Rush is the thug), so Jim employs this semi-circular layout for the top half, providing a spinning feeling as Rush focuses on Batwoman's sinister grin. Then Batwoman makes her move and the panel is long and narrow, really constricting the space for Batwoman's kick and focusing on it, the same way anyone would if something threatening were coming their way all of a sudden.

    Let's go to the next page.


    Without commenting on the layout here, I just want to point out that it's pretty incredible how Williams manages to have Batwoman shift from threatening to caring in the span of one panel.

    Williams also employs a technique that he's used since the last few issues of Promethea, where he shifts styles for different subjects. When batwoman is in her civilian identity, the colors are flatter, the outlines are inked bolder, and it doesn't even look like it's clashing when the two styles are put on the same page.


    This is JH Williams III, so there's no skipping of backgrounds:


    Plus, he can handle quiet moments really well, too, making the scenes where Kate is in her civilian identity a delight.


    For the final treat, I'd like to show you this page, where Batwoman attacks a gang.

    Note how incredibly dynamic it is. Each lightning bolt has a close-up of Batwoman hitting a gang member, with the exception of the first and last, which just has the gang members getting hit by Batwoman's feet. I tried making comics, my friends, and I have to say: something like this is not easy at all to pull off. You might think he's saving time by drawing just one Batwoman instead of multiple in separate panels, but I can assure you that the time it would have taken anyone else to draw the requisite number of panels is most likely the amount of time it took Williams to even conceptualize and draft his version. Plus, this looks prettier.

    When people ask me why I still buy comics, JH Williams III is my main reason, because none of this looks so good as it does on paper. Trust me.

    The story's not perfect; it starts off slow and establishes what needs to be established, and the cliffhanger is kind of meh, but the characterization is excellent and provides for great visuals.

    Comics are a visual medium, and I can forgive an imperfect story if it gives us excellent visuals, and the next year of Detective will be jam-packed with great visuals and a solid story to carry them all.

    The best Batman book on the market doesn't even feature Batman, folks. Go buy Detective Comics #854, open it up, smell it, and then marvel at the awesomeness of JH Williams III.

    Then go buy yourself some Promethea, because he's just that awesome.

    May 2, 2009

    My thoughts on Multiversity

    So Grant Morrison, who at any point in time is either my third favorite comic writer or my third most hated comic writer, is helming a new DC project called "The Multiversity" (click the link for my source). It focuses on the many parallel earths of the DC Multiverse, and effectively attempts to spin seven of them off into their own ongoing series, and, preferably, their own lines of comics.


    I've started a series called The Multiversity, which will pick up a bunch of strands from 52 and Final Crisis. Back when we laid out the return of the Multiverse in 52, I asked if I could establish some of these books as potential ongoing series. We wanted to set up each universe as its own franchise. [...]


    So this is my big project for the next year, and I'm working on books for seven different parallel universes. Each one is a first issue with a complete story and series bible. Each one spotlights the major superhero group of a different alternate reality. And they all link together together as a seven-issue story that reimagines the relationship between the DCU and the Multiverse.


    Now, I'm a great supporter of this, because, from the moment the multiverse was reintroduced back in the amazing weekly series 52, which Morrison was a part of, I thought that this was a good idea. After all, DC already has two superhero imprints: The DC Universe and the Wildstorm Universe, and each earth was established as a part of the larger multiverse, so why not put out more?

    So, like anything Grant Morrison does, this project is hit and miss. Luckily (or, perhaps, unluckily, depending on who is chosen to take over these projects when Morrison is done with them), it's only for an issue.

    The overall project seems pretty fifty-fifty to me. I think if Grant can get his editors to rein him in, then yes, this might be well worth it. One thing I don't like about Morrison's treatment of the multiverse is that, while other writers just treat it literally - there are parallel earths with different versions of the characters who can meet each other and we get a good superhero yarn - Morrison treats it as a metafictional literary device, which he then uses to tell stories about superhero stories, instead of stories about superheroes. Now, there's nothing really wrong with that concept. Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman are known to do the same thing, but unfortunately, Grant Morrison's about as subtle as it is hard to kill a Hammer Brother that's not on a ledge. He can get so wildly into his ideas that he's forgetting he's having a dialogue with the audience, and it turns out the audience he ends up having a dialogue with is that audience who was there for him before the project was even announced.

    So, anyway. Seven earths, and two were announced. Of these two, I'm going to say that one is almost definitely a hit, and the other is most definitely a miss. Let's start with the miss.

    The Charlton Heroes

    The first focuses on the world designated as Earth-4, consisting of superheroes purchased from Charlton Comics back in the early 1980s.

    Clockwise from top left: The Question, Captain Atom, Sarge Steel,
    the Peacemaker, Blue Beetle, Nightshade, Peacemaker


    Although these characters have been folded into the main DC Universe over the years, some with minor changes, some with major changes, I think it's still a good and valid idea to have a version of them be in their separate universe. It accomplishes 1) a nostalgic feeling for longtime collectors, 2) more freedom to tell stories with now-defunct characters, and 3) just flat-out more stories, which is always a good thing in the right hands.

    Unfortunately, I don't think it will work for the following reasons. Firstly, Morrison has stated that in this new version, he changes the characters enough so that they're not really recognizable from the nostalgic versions. For example, the Question, with his Ayn Randian philosophy, is now updated so he views the world in terms of Spiral Dynamics. Captain Atom is now Captain Adam, a Dr. Manhattan analogue instead of the other way around.

    Which brings me to my next point. The Charlton Heroes are the basis for the Watchmen characters. Look at the picture again. Look at it. You can actually see at least two of the analogues. The Question is Rorschach and the Blue Beetle is Nite Owl. Get it? You see? There are more, but I won't dive into that.

    On that matter, Morrison has this to say:

    I thought it would be interesting to pick up on that sort of crystalline, self-reflecting storytelling method, so the mad notion I came up with was to do the Charlton characters in a story I'd construct as an update on that ludic Watchmen style - if Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons had pitched the Watchmen now, rooted in a contemporary political landscape but with the actual Charlton characters instead of analogues!

    It's been fun to do that kind of style but rethink it and try to play a new version of that 'sound' without copying anything directly. We've got 12-panel grids and pages where you're seeing the events leading to a murder, the murder itself and the investigation all happening simultaneously across the same background. I'm right in the middle of that one, so it's fresh in my mind.
    So, for whatever reason, Morrison is going to try the Watchmen techniques with a Watchmen premise using the heroes that Watchmen was originally intended to use. I suppose it's because he wants to do his own take on Watchmen while at the same time knowing those characters were off-limits. Still, I can't help but feel he's really overreaching himself here. Where Moore is cerebral, Morrison is spontaneous, and where Moore really thinks about execution, Morrison just cares about getting his idea on the page.

    There's a very different kind of murder mystery at the heart and the whole thing can be read backwards, forwards and sideways.
    I have to admit to being intrigued by that pattern - I bought Promethea 32, after all - but there is only one man I really trust to pull off such an experiment and his name isn't Grant "I don't really care about executing this well; I just care that people know I'm a genius" Morrison.

    Another factor that gets me really worried about this is that Morrison and Moore are known to have a rivalry, which, in my opinion, stems from the fact that they're both too much alike in terms of ego and intelligence and too different in terms of philosophies. If Morrison is trying to outdo Moore here, there's little doubt he won't succeed. But you will get some Morrison fans as well as some people who probably can't read Watchmen well enough to appreciate it that this single issue Morrison will do of the Charlton/Watchmen characters will get them to rant about how it's "Watchmen done right." I really hope I'm wrong.

    With that said, let's go to the one I think will be a hit.

    The Power of SHAZAM!

    Despite the utter wretch that is Final Crisis, it did give one positive: it gave Captain Marvel some screen time. And some GOOD screen time, too. While, again, there is a Captain Marvel on the main earth, there is also Earth-5, a world based on the old Fawcett Comics Characters, of whom Captain Marvel is the main man. (Basically, think of the main earth as a conglomerate of all the companies that DC purchased over the years, but think of each company as still maintaining a separate office anyway.)

    I've already blogged about Captain Marvel in the past, so hurry on over there, read it, and get back to me.

    There are two things I find to be necessary for a Captain Marvel story. Though he may never outsell Superman again, he could still be a very viable commodity (well, he still is) with his own line of comics and a range of spin-offs like he used to.

    The first is that Captain Marvel needs to be the premiere superhero in his universe. That's just the way his character works; he can't play second banana (which he always will as long as Superman exists in the same universe, for no reason better than DC created Superman and didn't create Captain Marvel). He should be the leader, because that's who he was created to be.

    The second is that Captain Marvel does not work as an angst-ridden "mature readers only" character. This is incredibly tough for any writer because of the current market. People want angst and depression and complaints, complaints, complaints. It would take a really dedicated and sincere writer to make Captain Marvel work in this day and age.

    So imagine my elation when Grant Morrison not only names Earth-5 as one of his "Multiversity" projects, but also says it will be done in a "more traditional, all-ages All-Star Superman style."

    The Earth-5 designation bypasses the first problem, making Captain Marvel the premiere guy in his universe, but to do it in All-Star Superman style is the CORRECT solution here. Regular blog readers know by now how much I love All-Star Superman, and how I believe it's the perfect way to encapsulate what Superman is all about. Furthermore, it's an all-ages story that is whimsical, fantastical, and sets Superman up as a role model for kids and grown-ups alike.

    Thinking about it, honestly, many of the stories used in All-Star Superman would have worked well as Captain Marvel stories. So I'm very, very hopeful about this project, and I think it may be the break Captain Marvel finally needs to break out again, at least on a critical "book-you-must-read" level. If Grant stays on one of these book for any length of time, I'm hoping it's this, because the character who outsold Superman in comics' heyday deserves some good treatment, damn it.


    Fingers crossed for this project. And for the Charlton/Watchmen project, fingers way, way, way crossed. Good thing I'm double-jointed.

    Apr 15, 2009

    This is majorly disturbing.

    This is from BeaucoupKevin, a comics blogger I sometimes read.

    For those of you who don't know, Kitty Pryde, a.k.a. Shadowcat, is an X-Man who was conceived to be the team's TEENAGE member. She had a father/daughter type of relationship with Wolverine, and had a pretty prominent role in X3.

    So, anyway. From Google.



    And, from Google itself: "Google Suggest doesn’t refer to anyone’s personal searches; it uses information about the relative popularity of common searches to rank its suggestions."

    That's just wrong.

    Apr 3, 2009

    Jan 23, 2009

    Top Five Characters I Don't Get the Popularity of At All







    We've all got them: the characters we can't stand and that everyone else seems to love. Moreover, you just really don't get their popularity at all. Here are my top five.


    5. Dr. Doom



    Who: Purportedly Marvel's greatest villain, with the second most brilliant scientific mind and second most advanced knowledge in the Dark Arts.

    Why: The thing with this is that I DO get Doom; I just have never really felt the sense of awe and majesty I should be getting from purportedly the Marvel Universe's greatest villain. Admittedly, he should've been treated better in the Fantastic Four movies, but I really find it hard to buy into the hype. This is probably because you're only as good as your greatest enemy, and his greatest enemy happens to be my number four.





    4. Mr. Fantastic

    Who: The most scientifically advanced mind in the Marvel Universe, and the leader of the Fantastic Four.

    Why: I don't think Reed is universally loved; he's most certainly the least-well-known character in this bunch. Still, I can't, for the life of me, understand why they place him as Doom's number one enemy. Since Doom is the number one villain in the Marvel Universe, and he considers Reed his greatest enemy, logically, that should put Reed in the running for world's greatest hero. But he's just so lame, has a power that doesn't match his personality, and neglects his wife to no end. I can almost say with certainty that if anything has ever stopped me from buying a Fantastic Four book, it's Reed Richards.



    3. Iron Man

    Who: Tony Stark, arms dealer and creator of a suit that keeps his heart beating.

    Why: I don't agree with his politics, and, when it comes to his politics, he's just really a dick. In addition to that, he's got a suit of armor, and I just don't see why that puts him in the same league as the world's greatest heroes. He's smart, but he's a jerk, and his powers are lame.
    And he has a mustache. I honestly don't understand a world where Iron Man is considered cool and Superman is not. Just the idealist in me, I guess.



    2. Darth Vader

     Who: Luke Skywalker's father, and pretty much the main bad guy in the original Star Wars trilogy

    Why: Oh, so many reasons, not the least of them which is that I just don't get Star Wars at all. It's a bunch of people in bathrobes fighting with flashlights.

    But Vader's a rip-off of Dr. Doom, right down to the scene with the banquet with the heroes. He also moves incredibly stiffly, and without any of the grace or majesty you expect from someone of his stature. And, moreover, the guy is a lackey. He takes orders and doesn't really have a fully-formed character. Why people love this guy is beyond me.



    1. The Incredible Hulk

    Who: Scientist loses temper, turns into strong, green man without brain.

    Why: You can make the Jekyll and Hyde case all you want, but that only goes so far and still doesn't explain to me the Hulk's incredible popularity. Marvel Movies loves him, too. In Ultimate Avengers, Hulk saves the day (and kicks Thor's ass in the process), despite his not being an Avenger. In Next Avengers, they do it again, despite his not being an Avenger. In Hulk vs Thor, he beats Thor soundly, and Thor has been well-established in the comics as being at least Hulk's equal. The Mighty Marvel Marketing Machine is so hard behind Hulk, and I don't get it because he's a big green guy who smashes shit. There may be depth to the character of Bruce Banner, but NO ONE CARES about the character of Bruce Banner. There is no depth to the character of the Hulk in his most popular incarnation (brainless and savage) - he's big, green, and smashes shit. Isn't that concept rather limited? And if it is, why in the world does it serve him so well and so long?
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