Aug 31, 2011

Why I Can't Stand John Byrne's Superman: Man of Steel

After a discussion I had with Paul Cornish, the guy behind Last of the Famous International Fanboys, a while back, he proposed to me a "blog crossover," where we both talk about John Byrne's SUPERMAN: MAN OF STEEL at the exact same time. I will say what I don't like about it, Paul will say what he does like about it, and then we'd link to each other's articles.

MAN OF STEEL was a complete remake of Superman, done by John Byrne in 1986. Basically everything that had been done with Superman before was thrown out the window and Superman was rebooted from the ground up. 

The most common reason people give for liking MAN OF STEEL is that it humanizes Superman, bringing down his power levels and making him more relatable. The most common reason people give for not liking MAN OF STEEL is that it humanizes him too much, taking away the sense of wonder that had defined him for decades.

My dislike for Byrne's take on Superman is related to that, especially when we're talking about his Superman run that followed MAN OF STEEL. You see, I was around four years old when this came out, and I was reading this at the same time I was reading some Silver Age reprints! In those Silver Age reprints, Superman had a Fortress of Solitude in the Arctic, a Legion of Superheroes in the future (along with a Legion of Supervillains!), some superpets, and a bottled city called Kandor. And most importantly, he always won. I get that this "always winning" thing may have gotten old for readers, but Byrne overdid this in his Superman run, when Superman just always lost. I mean, this is the cover of SUPERMAN #1:

I get why they have to knock down the powers, though. There's a fine balance when it comes to Superman, and it does seem that this balance is mediated through the powers. Basically, when he's really powerful, there's an overwhelming amount of charm that no one aside from, say, Captain Marvel can match. But the drama is knocked down because he's too powerful. Knock him down on the power scale though, and you increase the drama but decrease the charm. It depends on the writer. I did an interview recently for a local magazine where I say that basically, there's a spectrum of Superman fans, and it begins with the powered-down Siegel and Shuster "realistic" Superman and ends with the powered-all-the-way-up completely "unrealistic" Mort Weisinger/Otto Binder Superman. I clearly run near the second extreme, and Byrne's take is closer to the first. So it's not like I don't get it; I just think Byrne went overboard with it.

But this is about MAN OF STEEL, and not the rest of Byrne's Superman run, and with the DCnU ACTION COMICS #1 out next week, written by Grant Morrison and drawn by Rags Morales, I'll just go over really quickly what I really didn't like about MAN OF STEEL specifically. And that can be symbolized by one thing perfectly: the birthing matrix.

Aug 29, 2011

Comics Cube! Reviews: Wild Girl

Several months ago, I picked up the first two issues of this series from the 20-peso bins at Comic Odyssey. Or was it Planet X? I'm not sure. Regardless, it's the first two issues of WILD GIRL:

If you look at the cover and if you've been reading The Comics Cube! long enough, you'll see what attracted me to the series, and that's JH Williams III is credited. Williams is my favorite artist of the last decade (pretty much by a country mile), and the additional names on the cover just convinced me to get it. Shawn McManus is a really expressive artist, whom I most remember for doing the famous "Pog" story in Alan Moore's SWAMP THING run (in this volume, specifically), and Leah Moore, aside from being Alan Moore's daughter, has also written a couple of stories for her dad's TOM STRONG. John Reppion is her partner, both in writing and in life. So it was a pretty enticing package.

WILD GIRL is the story of 13-year-old Rosa Torez, who has for her entire life had the ability to speak to animals. Things come to a head one day at home while she is babysitting her kid brother Michael, and a bird crashes into her window. She feels the bird's pain and is fed a lot of information in the process, which prompts her to run away. Note how expressive McManus' art is here. No words, folks!

Rosa then has to deal with a variety of animals — dogs, birds, alligators, you name it — and a man who can also communicate with animals and wants to kill her! Once every issue, she has a dream or a fantasy sequence, provided by JH Williams III. This is the first one. Although this scan has no dialogue (the ones with dialogue aren't big enough to read), it gets across the message that animals have been connected with myths and gods for centuries.

WILD GIRL isn't a perfect series. Some questions go unanswered and for my part, it's more than a little decompressed. It tells in six issues what could be told in four, but considering that I got it in the 20-peso bins, it's hardly a complaint. The main story is fun and entertaining, and the dream sequences add a layer to it that would make those looking for more depth more satisfied with the series. It actually hits a level of quality that makes me surprised that I hadn't heard about it until I saw it in the bins. I ended up asking Sandy Sansolis, the local retailer, for the rest of the series, and while the story could use some more development — or perhaps more explicit explanations between the connections of the dream sequences and the main story — I would have gladly paid cover price for it.

But don't take my word for it, folks. My other resident kid is six, and she read the series in 90 minutes. She enjoyed it a whole awful lot, and the artist in her absolutely loved the dream sequences.

If you see it in the bins, go get WILD GIRL. I recommend it pretty highly. If you have a niece or a daughter, it's good to share it with her.

For your convenience, here is the series on Amazon. I'm linking to the cheapest ones. See how much I like you guys?

Aug 23, 2011

Reclaiming History: Superman Vs. Captain Marvel

Welcome to a new installment of Reclaiming History, an ongoing series where the Comics Cube! tries to balance out what the history books say and what actually happened! Click here for the archive!

Today marks the first time we reclaim history for a character instead of a creator, though I guess by doing so for that character, we do so for his creators. Folks, you know I love this guy. Meet Captain Marvel, the "Shazam!" guy:

Now I've covered Captain Marvel most notably here, in my A Sense of Wonder feature, which mostly talks about why DC has continually failed to utilize him effectively since acquiring him in 1974. And there are, of course, comprehensive histories of Captain Marvel elsewhere on the net, such as here on Newsarama, so I'm going to focus my attention on one simple thing: Captain Marvel vs. Superman.

Aug 22, 2011

Easter Eggs in Comics: A Magic Bar in MYSTIC #15

Welcome to another installment of Easter Eggs in Comics! Click here for the archive!

A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine gave me EDGE, a compendium of one or two issues of five of CrossGen's various series. And so, today's Easter egg comes from CrossGen's MYSTIC #15, by Ron Marz, Brandon Peterson, and John Dell. MYSTIC tells the story of Giselle Villard, who has gained magical powers.

In this issue, we get a scene in a bar. The bar is full of analogues or stand-ins for magical characters from other realities. Check 'em out.

Now, I could tell you who these people all stand in for, but then I did some surfing and found out that this was not the original version. According to a blog dedicated to The Phantom Stranger, this is the original version.

There's Promethea, the Scarlet Witch, the Phantom Stranger, Dream of the Endless, Dr. Strange and Clea, Dr. Fate, the dread Dormammu, Bat-Mite, and Mxyzptlk.

Interestingly, Medieval Witchblade and the Seven Dwarves were not changed.

Why did they change this for the EDGE edition? One would think copyright issues were involved, but then why didn't they change the Seven Dwarves?

Anyone know?

UPDATE: The colorist of this book, Andrew Crossley, recently commented below on this post, explaining what happened. Here it is:

I can tell you why. I was the colorist on that book. When I got the double page spread from Brandon, John and I thought it was great and funny what he did on it. Ron in the plot had said just put a bunch of magic using people in the back ground. It was Brandon's idea to use existing characters. But we also knew we would get flak from other companies about it. I wanted as a joke to mosaic out the faces like in cops or other shows like that. But we decided to do it anyways and see what happens. Well we got a bunch of legal letters as expected. So we had to make the changes for future publishing. Whoever we did not get a letter from we just left in. That's the story.

Also, I really liked this issue, so I'll be on the lookout for more MYSTIC back issues.

Aug 18, 2011

Gateway Comics: Discovering Tintin

Until last month, I had never read a TINTIN comic.

You may ask, "But Duy! How can someone purporting himself to be an authority on comics not read this one quintessential piece of sequential art?"

Well, first of all, I don't consider myself an authority in comics, but the rest of it is a cultural thing. And thus, until last month, I had never read a TINTIN comic. Oh, sure, I've seen it in bookstores, browsed through it, and then put it back. But see, while some people in other countries grew up with Herge's TINTIN, I simply didn't. Here, or at least in my grade school, TINTIN is a book given to children by some parents. You see it around, but it's hardly ubiquitous. When comics were big in the 90s, TINTIN wasn't even thought of as a "comic." It was a kids' book. And some kids read it. Most didn't. So when I saw Scott McCloud praising it in UNDERSTANDING COMICS, I was shocked and taken aback.

Well, a friend of mine lent me three TINTINs last month: THE BLACK ISLAND, KING OTTOKAR'S SCEPTRE, and RED RACKHAM'S TREASURE.


And I read them all. What did I think?

Aug 15, 2011

Filipino Komiks and History

I've recently been reading 1953's LAPU-LAPU by Francisco V. Coching, which was reissued by Atlas Publications back in 2009.

Combined with the Filipino Invasion panel from SDCC (mp3 here), I started wondering how Filipino komiks impacted and was impacted by local culture and history.

I'm still a novice when it comes to Filipino comics, to be honest, but I found certain connections fascinating, so I'm going to try outlining them here. I hope that anyone who spots mistakes in this article will feel free to correct me.

Aug 12, 2011

It Came From Comics!

Welcome to the index of It Came From Comics!, where we at The Comics Cube! discuss some aspects of general culture that originated from comics!

1. Yellow Journalism

2. Happy Hooligans: The 119th Wing

3. Goon

4. Jeep 

Aug 11, 2011

Back Issue Ben: Spider-Man

Back Issue Ben is a column written by Ben Smith for the Comics Cube! See his archives here.

by Ben Smith 

The next stage in my comic book evolution was an important one, and it could very well mean the difference between life and death for you. That’s the importance of this blog. Consulting your personal physician will do nothing to alleviate the effects of the utter despair and sorrow you will feel from declining to participate.

I’ve previously relayed information to you on how I became a lifetime comic book fan, through the means of a Marvel comic book called THE TRANSFORMERS. The astute reader will also recall how a Marvel character called Spider-Man had guest-starred in the third issue of that particular series. Though the impact and personal interest of this guest appearance would not be immediate for me, it would later serve to birth me head-first into the larger world that is the Marvel universe.

If there are 18 things I know about comic books, one of them is that it is unwise to roll naked in a pile of comic books (not without proper protection), and another is that Spider-Man is the single greatest comic book character ever created. Some would choose to dispute this fact, citing opinions and relevant environmental factors involving upbringing and social status, but they would be wrong. Dead wrong! If you don’t like it, you can kiss my Giant-Size Man-Thing.

While I cannot specifically recall the first Spider-Man comic I ever read, I can tell you that I collected them with a voracious appetite. The level of appetite usually only seen in those lost at sea with no food or water, or some kind of prison-type scenario. Elaborate on that in your own mind however you would like.

I can, however, using advanced mathematical formulas and theoretical physics, guess at what comics I was picking up as a younger lad, as they are probably the same ones that resonate the most with me to this day.

Aug 8, 2011

Three Spider-Man Fans Get Ready for Spider-Island

In preparation for AMAZING SPIDER-MAN's new event Spider-Island, by Dan Slott and Humberto Ramos, I virtually sat down with two Spider-Man fans whose opinions I absolutely respect, Ben Smith and Ryan Malone. Ben sometimes contributes to The Comics Cube!, and you can see his contributions here. Ryan's from New Jersey and should never be taken seriously. Just kidding! Ryan's been a Spider-Man fan for a long, long time, and he's a smart guy to boot. I picked these two guys specifically because their opinions on Spider-Man differ so much. I "met" these guys on the Comic Book Resources forums some time ago, and it can get ugly there, but see? Here's proof that comic book fans can get along!

Ben loves Gwen Stacy, Ryan loves Mary Jane Watson.
I think this makes me The Jackal. Or Ned Leeds.

One thing that these two guys have in common is that they were both reading Spider-Man when the infamous "One More Day" storyline breaking up Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson hit in 2008. I was not.

We were just supposed to talk about BIG TIME, and the conversation went all sorts of places! Read on after the jump.

Aug 5, 2011

Escher in Comics: PROMETHEA

Welcome to another installment of Escher in Comics, in which we take a look at how some comics use MC Escher's artistic techniques! Click here for the archive!

MC Escher (1898-1972) was a Dutch graphic artist that was known for tessellations, optical illusions, and mathematical pictures.One of his most famous pieces was "Bond of Union"  (1956).

He was also known for his tessellations,  which are these frieze-like effects that cover a theoretically infinite surface via repetition. Sometimes, he would do something where he changes a pattern partway through a drawing, such as in "Sky and Water" (1938).

In the cover of PROMETHEA #15, JH Williams III, Mick Gray, and Todd Klein utilized both techniques! Thoth and Hermes had been established as two aspects of the same god earlier in the series, so showing their "bond of union" was a stroke of genius.

Pretty cool, huh?

This story can be seen in: