Apr 29, 2012

A Sense of Wonder: The Avengers Movie and Shared Universes

Welcome to the a new installment of A Sense of Wonder, a feature of indefinite length in which I detail the wonderful (and I mean that in the purest sense of the word) and imagination-inspiring aspects of the characters in the comic book medium, which would emphasize the superheroes, but would not be limited to them. Click here for the archive.

In recent years, it's often been said that Marvel and DC have been writing "continuity porn," which is to say stories that are overly focused on continuity and history, often to the detriment of the story itself. These stories are more about patching up plot holes or fixing the history of a universe so it's linear and easy for people who keep catalogs and notes to keep track of.

In short, continuity and shared universes had made the hobby more insular, more exclusive. I think a lot of people have forgotten the real reason why shared universes and continuities worked in the first place, a reason The Avengers reminded me of as I watched it yesterday.

Needless to say, if you haven't seen it, SPOILERS ABOUND.

Apr 24, 2012

What BEFORE WATCHMEN Will Actually Affect

The BEFORE WATCHMEN talk continues. Between Alan Moore admitting that his problems with DC are specific personal problems that pertain only to himself, and the DC camp making a bunch of excuses so they don't just come clean and admit they're doing it for money, between pro-Moore fans judging the morals and principles of the guys buying this project and what I can only call anti-Moore fans judging Moore and even with some saying "Alan Moore can go to hell" because "Lee Bermejo was born to draw Rorschach" (Google it, if you must) combined with all the talk about boycotting The Avengers for some reason, I have to actually wonder if anyone is actually still enjoying this hobby lately.

WATCHMEN ala Jack Kirby by Mark Lewis

Look, I'm going to leave it at this: What Alan Moore and DC have between them is up to them. None of us have ever seen the full details of that contract and we never will. It's a complicated situation and everyone who was involved in that will have to live with their decisions until the day they die. You can take sides, but quit judging the people who aren't on yours, all right?

All right?

Good. Now let's actually talk about WATCHMEN.

The one thing everyone seems to be in agreement on is that BEFORE WATCHMEN will not affect the original book. And it won't. The story will live on, and it will live on independently, and it will live on forever. I still love THE DARK PHOENIX SAGA, and I don't care what came before or what came after it. I love it.

But there is something else BEFORE WATCHMEN is actually going to affect. And that part bums me out

It's absolutely true of any genre, but it seems to me that superhero fans really prefer when things are spelled out for them. That's probably why origins are such a big thing. Novels and movies that don't involve superheroes don't really have to explain why every character is the way they are. They usually start with the characters already fully formed and they let the background and history creep in when necessary. As Neil Gaiman says:

"Begin with the story. Always begin with the story. (Unless you're Lud in the Mist.) The world is there for the story to happen in. Here and now, you don't need to tell the history of the world before you start telling a story that happened on the Isle of Man. You tell the story and let the background and the history creep in where it's needed. The same goes for worlds you've built yourself."

However, superhero fans like to start at the beginning of the story, and they tend to want every hole filled. I think it's a side effect of the fact that the main superhero universes are shared continuities, which, oddly, is also one of the strengths of those universes, when used properly. It's truly one of the things that make the DC Universe and the Marvel Universe unique.

One of the things that I and many other readers like about WATCHMEN is the fact that it really does stand out among superhero comics — especially superhero comics before then — as having that novelistic approach. For example, the Nostalgia perfume is seen only in the background — creeping in where it's needed — thus embedding itself into the readers' brains in a subtle manner.

So when Dan says it at the end, the effect is more powerful.

The series itself is full of bits that encourage healthy speculation and therefore discussion. For example, Rolf Muller is never actually revealed to be Hooded Justice. It's just very strongly hinted at, and it's very possible. But they don't come out and say it, and they don't confirm and deny it one way or another.

That's part of the beauty of WATCHMEN, because the whole point was to treat superheroes in a "realistic" manner. And more than grittiness, defecation, decapitation, and whatever else constitutes "realism" these days, I thought what really added to the realism was that we don't get full closure on anything. It's a very postmodern trope, and common, again, in other media. But that's part of what life is. We don't get full closure on anything, and we don't get all the answers. That, to me, really emphasized the point of WATCHMEN.

Further questions include why Sally Jupiter (Silk Spectre I) still engaged in sexual intercourse with Edward Blake (The Comedian), despite the fact the he attempted to rape her. This is a question that the narrative doesn't answer, and interestingly enough, when asked for explanations for these scenes, Moore himself would give very vague explanations, admitting that at that point in time, the characters had taken on lives of their own, and he was no longer dictating what they were doing so much as the other way around.

"I certainly wouldn't want to have to defend my thinking upon the character.
But it felt right, I suppose, is the only answer that I can give."
-Alan Moore on Sally Jupiter kissing Edward Blake's picture at the end of WATCHMEN
Excerpt from The Extraordinary Works of Alan Moore

Why does Rorschach take off his mask the moment before he died? Does Ozymandias' plan work? What was up with Nite Owl and the Twilight Lady? What kind of life did Dr. Manhattan make afterward?

I don't know. But I can imagine. And that's part of the fun.

With healthy speculation comes discussion. Not all of us think of the same explanations; it doesn't work that way so it really encourages debate. It really makes us apply what we know of the human condition to these fictional characters.

At the end of it all, our answers end up saying more about us than about the work itself.

But that's part of what made WATCHMEN so good — that everyone had their own opinions, that it was so interactive. Now I know people say that if you don't want that to be ruined, you should just ignore BEFORE WATCHMEN, and I will (although, admittedly, some of that art is nice). I like the fact that I don't know all the answers, that I figure it out on my own, that you figure it out on your own, and that we can talk about it. I think it's better for the book, and I think it's better for me as a reader.

And that's really what bugs me about these prequels. Whatever questions they do answer, whatever holes they fill — and before you get on my case, I'm sure they won't answer everything — they're taking other people's interpretations and making them the official, canonical explanation.

I've long been an advocate of personal continuity in the stories I read. If I didn't like a story, it didn't "really" happen. SINS PAST never happened, of course, and Zenn-La never died. So frankly, ignoring these stories in terms of the original story and keeping the original story intact in my head will be easy enough. But what I will be sad about is that we will never be able to discuss WATCHMEN again without somebody going, "Well, as revealed in BEFORE WATCHMEN, this is the answer to question X."

Part of the beauty of WATCHMEN is that it encouraged thought and imagination, and now the people who will buy into BEFORE WATCHMEN may do that for BEFORE WATCHMEN, but they won't do that for WATCHMEN anymore. It doesn't change the original book, but it changes the dynamic of how people talk about the original book.

And that's what bums me out, because when it comes down to the original book, not only does it stand out because it has a novel-type approach, but when I talk about it with people, I really like the fact that it's all left entirely in our hands.

Having said all that, I still want to know when they're doing B FOR BLOOD FEUD.

Apr 23, 2012

Back Issue Ben: ROM: A Retrospective, Part 2

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

ROM: SPACEKNIGHT: A Retrospective
Part Two: The Secret of the Ooze
by Ben Smith

Click here for part 1.

The madness continues. Once again, I valiantly attempt to read and provide shoddy reviews of every single issue of the classic 1980s Marvel comic series, ROM: SPACEKNIGHT. As we learned in part one, Rom is the gleaming hero of the alien planet Galador, charged with eradicating the universe of evil alien shapeshifters the Dire Wraiths, like an old man eradicating innocent youth from his lawn. Bill Mantlo and Sal Buscema are still on writing and art duties, as they have been for every single issue to this point. One part invasion of the body snatchers, one part Silver Surfer, and three parts awesome — this is Rom.

Apr 19, 2012

She Is Screaming in the Shower: German Protoheroes

She Is Screaming in the Shower is a column written by Robert Leichsenring for The Comics Cube! Click here for the archives! 

The German Proto-Heroes
by Robert Leichsenring

Welcome back to another installment of me talking about what I love most. Superhero time!

A friend of mine brought up an interesting topic to me, slightly touched (but it was consentual) by me in the superhero origin article: The Proto-Heroes of the German people.

Every people on the earth, every ethnicity or community of a certain scale has this prototypes, the role models, the first among equals. I spoke to you about the origin of the superhero, the myth that lies beyond our normal perception of the spandex wearing vigilantes and adventurers. But now I want to introduce you to the origin of the German Superman, were do our heroes come from, how do they look like, who are they?

We have to go back a long time, again, to understand a bit more about the origins. The Germanic tribes were known as fierce warriors and were thought of as not to be pacified. Caesar once crossed the Rhine for 10 or so days and when he came back he burned the bridge behind him, vowing that Rome will not come back to these lands. He was shocked and impressed by the prowess and unbending will of the Germanics and feared the confrontation with an enemy that was living decentralized in one huge forest (the whole region from the Rhine to the east and up to the alps was one forest at Caesar's time) and had no figurehead or institution to corrupt or enslave. You could not bribe them, only fight them.

So, he gave up.


This theme is a constant in the German folklore and it is still present in our everyday minds (at least in mine, can't say I know it for anyone else as I'm not a telepath). The great stories of the German cultural area are of overcoming great obstacles, not bowing to any man and prevailing in the face of annihilation.

Germany and Germans have a bit of a difficult situation today. You know, the two wars and all that stuff. But throughout history, Germans were found in the antagonistic role more often than one might think. The Romans saw the Germanic tribes as untamable savages who would destroy the Roman Empire like locust if they ever get the chance. The Gaelic where the only ones that ever fought with the Germanic territories, and the Romans thought they were crazy. The Germanic people were compared to a force of nature. And the immoveable object called the Roman Empire feared to face the unstoppable force that was the tribes of pre-Christ Central Europe.

Those tribes were not unified under one ruler or government, every tribe fought for itself and they all fought each other, which was also considered crazy by the Romans, This was the normal status quo for this area until the 18th of January 1871. That date marks the first time that the German people have come together under one ruler, as one country (except for the Austrians, who no one liked, and if you look at WW I and WW II you see why), with one language. Germany was one of the last countries in Europe to find it's national identity. We lived separated in different kingdoms under countless kings and dukes and barons. Always fighting each other and everyone who dared to step to close.

What else is there to talk about?

Let me start with Germany, the wealthiest country of the European Union and one of the richest and most powerful countries on this small little fishbowl of a planet.
We all know the clichés, Germans are always punctual, work hard and with precision. We are cold and emotionless, have no humor and invade anything that does not speak German (yes Ben, you're next). Why does the world see Germans like that?

Easy, because, on the scale of a people, it is true. We are, as a people, unfunny and a bit like an android. We look like you, we kind of behave like you, but we tick differently. As do the French, the British, US Americans, Indians and so on. Every nation, ethnicity, city, has this identity which is formed through the course of history.

Who are the real and fictional prototypes of German heroism? Who is it we, as a people, are looking up to?

The answer is: no one.

We have tales and stories, heroes and villains, but not one of them is really a cultural figure in nowadays mainstream life in Germany. The German comic market is not one for superheroes or great tales of epicness, unlike the past. The United States have a fair share of Proto-heroes that are still around and influence the comics of today through the past and their gravity. From Presidents to folk tales, the pilgrims that explored the Wild West to the Puritans.

There is a huge diversity of protomaterial still present in today's media in the US. For Germany, this does not apply. The Ring of the Nibelung has seen a few (very bad) movie adaptations and is only viewable as an opera. The relevance of this story is lost to most Germans. The battle of the Teutoburger Forrest, where the Germanic tribes kicked some serious Roman ass, is nothing more than a footnote today.

People don't care about German history.

After World War II and the defeat of the Third Reich, a new trend took place in Germany (both east and west), that started a movement, away from the German heritage. Because of what was done under the rule of the NSDAP and the propaganda use of old German and Nordic mythology people turned away. In school you get bombarded with World War II classes. Each and every year, a German pupil has to talk in length about what happened and why. We were programmed to be ashamed of being German. Not only by ourselves but also by the victorious powers of the war. Guilt was shoved down our throats for decades and resulted in a nation that has no interest at all in its country and its roots.

I would love to talk to you about the flourishing diversity on the German comic book market and all the stories being told. But truth is that there is no such thing.

In the years after the war, art itself moved away from the classical national pride and using the past to create the future. It moved to a fatalistic and depressive point, where the artist becomes the accuser and the victim. Art in Germany, may it be written or painted or built, was concentrating on distancing itself from the Germanic roots.

The abuse of German folklore by the Nazis is a major point on that. The 3rd Reich used everything, from the blond and blue-eyed Siegfried to Ernst Jüngers texts on soldiers, for their own good. Perverted the idea and made it propaganda. This changed the perception of the German folklore to something we think of as racist and fascist.

When you look at the German comic market today, you will find nearly all of the US comics published in German. But we do not write these kinds of stories. Our comics are either dark or funny. Mostly funny. The German comic moved from comic to cartoon and satire. Instead of reimagining the great stories of our ancestors, we create new protagonists or concentrate on the lesser known. Walter Moers, one of Germany's most known and infamous cartoonists, is responsible for a Hitler cartoon, making fun of the whole thing and causing quite some uproar in the news, as a song, plus video, was published with the book release and entered the German charts. It depicted Hitler as a small little guy in his bunker.

Also on his account goes the notoriously lying blue bear called Captain Bluebear (yeah, I know, not very original), who was a favorite of many kids, me included.

I have to admit my knowledge on the German comic scene is vague at best. But that has a reason. It was never my scene, never my stuff, never what I really wanted.

I would have loved to read a comic about Beowulf, which is the first real Anglo-Saxon epic and Saxons are German. Or an ongoing Nibelung series, maybe even with Hagen von Tronje as the hero, and not as the villain. Why can't there be an adaptation of the Erlkönig? Why is Bismarck still uncharted territory? What about our kings? August the Strong, who once broke a horseshoe in half with his bare hands and imprisoned his mistress in a tower. There was a monastery in my hometown that slid into the lake a couple of hundred of years ago and is supposed to be undestroyed under the mud of the lake but no one could ever find it. And every now and then a diver just vanishes and is never seen again.

But we are not proud of our history as other nations are. We are trained to feel ashamed. And so our heritage lies in a barren wasteland, only to be used every other decade as we do not dare to touch it. Thank you, Adolf. Really nice of you.

BBBBUUUUTTTT, times are changing and since 2006 a new spirit is slowly rising in the German people. We can feel as one nation again, people shrug off the guilt and say "I'm proud to be German". And that is not a bad thing.

Hopefully it will help us get away from the hardworking, humorless car producers and send us on a track of some asskicking in the comic department. (A man can hope, right?)

I might have wandered off track here, but it is a difficult topic in general and especially for me. Maybe you enjoyed this little insight in my people, even if comics were only a small part.

Stay safe folks.

Signing out.

Oh, wait!!

We got this:

I know you have been waiting for this.

Robert "Nemo" Leichsenring

Apr 18, 2012

A Couple of Projects Worth Supporting

So, if you have a few dollars to spare, here are a couple of projects worth supporting.

So what's everyone's favorite meat? It's bacon, yes?

So since we all love comics and we all love bacon, why not support BACON, THE COMIC BOOK? Written by Dana Moreshead, it will feature art by... well, that's up to you. Every $1 pledge gives you the right to vote for the artist. You'll get your pick of Scott Koblish, Ty Templeton, and Phil Winslade!

The plot is already written and the printing quotes are already in, and they just need the money to bring Kwai Chang Caine, Bacon, to life!

To read more about and show support for THE MOUTH-WATERING ADVENTURES OF BACON, click here.

And here's the theme song.

Second, Stephen "Stref'" White wants to do a comics adaptation of J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan! I'm a big Peter Pan fan, and Stref's preview pages here on his Facebook look promising. I'd love to see it happen.

This is concept art, so it's not "finished."

To that end, he's started an Indiegogo campaign for it. He needs $32,000 for the planned 96-pager, which breaks down to $333 per page. That's a very reasonable rate in today's market. Some of the profit will go to the Great Ormond Street Hospital Children's Charity.

To donate to Stref's PETER PAN graphic novel adaptation, click here.

Apr 16, 2012

Back Issue Ben: ROM: A Retrospective

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

ROM: SPACEKNIGHT: A Retrospective

Part One: The Phantom Menace.
by Ben Smith

Rom: Spaceknight was an action figure toy developed by Parker Brothers in the late 1970s. Parker Brothers was known mostly for their board games, with Rom their first attempt at branching out into the action figure market. Rom was one of the first in the still-developing arena of electronic toys, and it was even featured on the cover of Time magazine at one point. Parker Brothers didn't do many things right in developing the toy, but one thing they did do was agree to license the character to Marvel Comics to develop a comic book series. This ended up being much more successful than the actual toy was, as the series ran for 75 issues over 7 years, introducing characters and concepts that are still being used at Marvel to this day.

I never read the ROM comic book series as a kid, probably dismissing it as nothing more than a stupid toy comic. After sporadically hearing (surprisingly) positive things about the series every so often throughout the journey of my life, I finally took a leap and picked up the first seven issues a while back. I remember being sufficiently impressed at that time, but never got around to finishing the series. A few months ago, after seeing the entire series for sale as a lot on eBay, I took the chance and bought it up.

For those that are interested in trying for themselves, it is very much an early '80s comic, with all the strengths and perceived weaknesses of that time period. I, for one, can't get enough of that era in Marvel history, as I continue to seek out back issue after back issue to enjoy. Rom was a fun action comic with a solid premise. The following will be my issue by issue breakdown of the entire series, as I get up to date on the awesome that is...ROM, SPACEKNIGHT!

Obviously, 32 year old SPOILERS follow...

Apr 12, 2012

Retrospective: JLA/Avengers

The AVENGERS movie is coming out in a couple of months, and it's made me want to write about this almost decade-old crossover, which is also the last DC/Marvel crossover as of this writing. In 2003, DC's Justice League of America met Marvel's The Avengers in a four-part crossover written by Kurt Busiek and drawn by George Perez.

The key to this crossover was really Perez, who was already on board to draw the JLA/AVENGERS crossover in 1983, to be written by Gerry Conway.

For various reasons (which are detailed in the JLA/AVENGERS ABSOLUTE EDITION), the 1983 crossover fell through. Busiek and Perez got on AVENGERS in 1998 during the "Heroes Return" event (known on The Comics Cube as "The Time Superhero Comics Turned Good Again"), and really placed Earth's Mightiest Heroes back in their classic, traditional template. It was good stuff. Great stuff. It gets criticized these days for being too much of a throwback. It could be argued that Roger Stern and Steve Englehart had better, more groundbreaking runs, yes. But after several years of leather jackets, pouches, and Rob Liefeld, the throwback feel is exactly what the title needed at the time. It sort of reminds me of the way Mark Waid's DAREDEVIL is being perceived now.

At the same time, the JLA was undergoing a resurgence at DC under the pen of Grant Morrison. What the Avengers went through in the early 90s, the JLA also went through, and by 1996 they were pretty much an X-Men clone. Morrison and Howard Porter relaunched the JLA with its most basic concept: use DC's biggest and most marketable heroes.

And so the stage was set for the 2003 crossover. By then, George Perez was under exclusive contract to CrossGen Entertainment, with an "out" clause stating that if DC and Marvel were to offer him JLA/AVENGERS by a certain deadline, he could take it. That's how much the project meant to Perez; it also shows how much it meant to Mark Alessi, the head honcho at CrossGen, that he would even put that clause in George's contract. And DC and Marvel did make the deadline with minutes to spare, showing just how important it was to them that Perez was the one who drew it. And why was it so important? Because when Perez says he wants to draw everyone. He means it: He wants to draw everyone.

If I had to pick a favorite cover based on pure enjoyment alone,
this is it.

The crossover itself became my favorite crossover of all time rather easily, and one of the books I'd take with me to a desert island. It reeked of fan service, sure, but that's like complaining that your hamburger was made from a cow. It hit so many appropriate beats, and it really felt "classic" because it was done at the right time with the right rosters. As DC and Marvel become more and more homogeneous over the years, the more similar they become and the less stark the differences between them are. (For example, Byrne's treatment of Superman was criticized as "Marvelizing," while Kyle Rayner was known in the 90s as Peter Parker with a Green Lantern ring.) But because of Morrison and Busiek bringing comics' two premiere teams back to their archetypal selves, the crossover could then explore all those classic differences.

Spoilers follow.

Apr 9, 2012

Top 10 Superman Origins

Hello, Comics Cubers! Some of you may remember the last blog crossover I did with Paul Cornish of Last of the Famous International Fanboys, in which I spoke about why I couldn't stand John Byrne's MAN OF STEEL and he talked about why he loved it.

Well, we had a lot of fun doing that, and we decided to do another! We all know Superman's basic origin: his home planet Krypton explodes, and to save his son, the scientist Jor-El puts baby Kal-El in a rocket and shoots him off, until Kal-El lands on Earth. From there, he's adopted by the perfectly decent Midwestern couple of Jonathan (sometimes John) and Martha Kent, who teach him to use the powers he gains from Earth's yellow sun for truth, justice, and the American way! Disguised as reporter Clark Kent in his civilian life, Superman fights the never-ending battle.

That's the basic origin, and then each take has different trappings. We all know that there have been multiple versions of Superman, and while they all contain the essentials of the Man of Tomorrow, they're all different in several way, and each one has its merits. We've boiled this list down to the most historically essential 10 Superman origins from all media, and here are my rankings!

Apr 8, 2012

Easter Eggs in Comics: The Daily Bugle in Gotham City

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

Today's Easter Sunday Easter egg comes from Judd Winick and Mark Bagley's short run on BATMAN, collected in the LONG SHADOWS TPB. This is the first story arc featuring Dick "Robin/Nightwing" Grayson as the Caped Crusader (we'll pretend PRODIGAL never happened) that's not written by Grant Morrison.

Two-Face notes that there's something wrong with Batman as of late — he's smiling too much, for one thing. So he's gathering all the evidence he can, including a bunch of newspaper clippings.

Check out the bottom left! Apparently, the Daily Bugle shows up in Gotham City as well, with its usual headline "Threat or Menace?"!

Interestingly, this 1981 story by Denny O'Neil and Frank Miller is
the first instance
of this now-staple headline of the Spider-Man mythos.

Got an Easter Egg for the Cube? Email it to comicscube@gmail.com!

This Easter egg can be found in: