Jun 28, 2012

Retrospective: Stan Lee and Steve Ditko's Amazing Spider-Man

Tomorrow sees the debut of The Amazing Spider-Man here in the Philippines. I'm looking forward to it because, obviously, Spider-Man is my favorite superhero, but also because I can't wait to see just how far the technology for superhero movies has come since the first Spider-Man 10 years ago. Although the trailers thus far have had a gigantic share of "What in the world are they doing?" moments for me (Peter Parker's parents were always the weakest part of the mythos to me, and no JJJ?), it's also had a fair amount of "Oh my God, that looks awesome!" moments, and I'm just of the firm belief that Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone will outdo Tobey Maguire's and Kirsten Dunst's performances because, well, nothing can be worse. Mostly.

A couple of Christmases ago, my mom gave me THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN OMNIBUS, VOLUME 1, which collects the entire Stan Lee and Steve Ditko run on the character. It comprises AMAZING FANTASY #15 (the first appearance of Spider-Man), AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #1-38, and a couple of annuals.

Let's get to it, shall we?

Jun 27, 2012

Comics Techniques and Tricks: Revealing Word Balloons

Welcome to another edition of Comics Techniques and Tricks, in which we showcase techniques that only comics can do! Click here for the archive!

In JUGHEAD WITH ARCHIE DIGEST MAGAZINE #106 (dated September 1991), George Gladir, Tim Kennedy, and Rudy Lapick give us a story where word balloons are shaped to reveal a character's actual thoughts.

I'm actually now wondering if there's any mileage into using a technique like this casually throughout a story, instead of using thought balloons or narrative captions along the lines of "I say it, but I don't really mean it."

What do you guys think?

Jun 25, 2012

Back Issue Ben: Micronauts: A Mini-Retrospective, Part 2

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

Micronauts: A Mini-Retrospective
Part 2: They Came from Inner Space

by Ben Smith

Click here for part 1.

For those that came in late, well, you're really hurting my feelings. Seriously, I could use the validation. Anyway, I have been covering the action-packed, epic opening storyline to the forgotten classic comic book series, The Micronauts. As we learned in part one, the heroic Micronauts battle to free the Microverse from the evil Baron Karza. Bill Mantlo is on writing duties, while Michael Golden and Josef Rubinstein provide masterful artwork. Last time, our heroes found themselves trapped on Earth, where they are no bigger than action figure toys. Young human Steve Coffin has befriended the team, but may have already lost his father to their struggle. Baron Karza strengthens his strangle-hold on Homeworld through his malevolent Body Banks. Renegade leader Slug has been captured, and her body targeted to be harvested. The noble Prince Argon has been twisted into a half-horse creature, and is also a captive of Karza. What will happen next? I can't wait to find out!

Jun 24, 2012

And now, to demonstrate the impact of Jack Kirby and Marvel, here are two apes.

On the left, the cover to STRANGE ADVENTURES #75, by Gil Kane and Bernard Sachs, circa 1956.

On the right, the cover to BEYOND THE UNKNOWN #23, by Nick Cardy, circa 1973.

What happened in between? Jack Kirby and the Marvel explosion, of course.

As Stan Lee and John Buscema explain in How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way, while there is certainly nothing wrong with the original drawing, the revised one is more dramatic, with the ape's legs further apart, the librarian showing more terror in her pose and her expression, and actual people reacting in the background. (Plus, they got rid of the valise.) In short, the cover on the right is how Marvel would have done it.

It's a little funny to me that this kind of encapsulates the impact of the Marvel way almost better than any other example. It works as that kind of example specifically because it's a before-and-after recreation, but also, it has apes.

For the record, I kinda wanna hug the ape on the left.

Jun 20, 2012

Bill (Finger) the Boy Wonder: Five Questions with Marc Tyler Nobleman and Ty Templeton

One of my most popular articles on this site is my Reclaiming History feature on Bill Finger, whom I call the real creator of Batman. To sum up, much of what made Batman popular was conceived and designed by Finger, and Bob Kane not only took all the credit and all the money, but made it so that DC can't credit Finger. It's a tale that's not told anywhere near enough, to the point that even comic fans don't know who Bill Finger is.

This July sees the release of Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman, written by Marc Tyler Nobleman and drawn by Ty Templeton. It's got a cover price of $17.95, and an edition has been shipping on Amazon for the last month now.

I caught up with Marc and Ty and gave them five questions each about Bill Finger and about Bill the Boy Wonder. Read on for Marc and Ty talking about Batman's secret co-creator.

Comics Cube: What does Bill Finger mean to you as a fan and/or as a creator?

Marc Tyler Nobleman: He is the prime mind behind arguably the world’s most successful superhero and I’d estimate one of the world’s top five most popular fictional characters ever. In the few known interviews he gave, he did not come across as hostile, or bitter, or beaten. He seemed smart and jovial—making him even more sympathetic. Like any of us, he had flaws—apparent low self-esteem, habitual lateness with deadlines, money troubles—but all of that is very human. What he had that is superhuman was the ability to produce such a rich, enduring body of work and do so without receiving the recognition he so deserved.

Ty Templeton: Bill Finger meant the world to me as a fan. I'm old enough that I was reading Batman before we all knew about Bill. And in the 70s, when we first started hearing about him, I figured out quickly that I was as much a Bill Finger fan as I was a Batman fan. It was around the same time I realized that who I THOUGHT was Bob Kane, was actually Dick Sprang (the "good" Batman artist when I was a kid). So as a life long Batmaniac (I don't like the sound of "Batmanian" which was the official word for it), I've been a life long Bill Finger Freak. Finger is tied with Kirby and Lee and Adams and O'Neil as the biggest influence on my young comic fan brain. I've been in love with giant props, and amazing escapes, and tricky solutions since I can remember.

From Ty's site: the page where Kane
designs Bat-Man.
In your opinion, if you were doling out percentages, how much of Batman is Kane and how much is Finger?

Marc: Creatively, 97% Bill. He designed the costume, wrote the first story, wrote the first stories of most of the supporting characters (Robin, Joker, Catwoman, etc.), wrote Batman’s groundbreaking origin, developed the bat-motif (Batmobile, Batcave, etc.), named Gotham City/Bruce Wayne/Dick Grayson…whereas Bob did not write a single Batman story in his lifetime and farmed out so much of the art to ghosts. Some believe Bob didn’t even choose the name “Batman.” Yet Bob chose Bill to work on Batman. So in that sense, maybe Bob does deserve a higher percentage…

Ty: I'd say if we had to split it just between those two, it's something like 70% for Finger and 30% for Kane. But if we can include Jerry Robinson and Dick Sprang, then I'd lessen Kane's contribution to about 10% of the overall world of Batman. I'm only scoring him that high because he came up with the name. In fact, as the series continued, I'd start scoring Bob Kane in the negatives, because he became detrimental to the success of Batman by the early sixties.

Is there no definitive answer as to who came up with the name "Batman"?

Marc: I don't believe so. I give Kane that credit in my book because that is what Bill said in an interview, but people including Gerard Jones think Bob didn't even do that.

Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman also by Nobleman
What were some of the difficulties or challenges you had working on this book?

Frankly, almost nothing was easy! The first challenge was finding people who could flesh out Bill. He was born in 1914 so most of his contemporaries are gone. However, early in my research, I found two critical—and lucid—ones, both in their eighties: Bill’s longtime friend/writing partner Charles Sinclair and Bill’s second wife Lyn Simmons; they became two of the three people to whom I dedicated the book. Once I found people who knew Bill personally, the challenge then became relying on memory, though both Charles and Lyn had what seemed like superb recall. It was also really tough to find “new” photos of Bill to supplement the surprisingly few that had already been published. The people I suspected would have photos were not always the ones who did; for example, neither Charles nor Lyn had any! And of the many other challenges, the one worth closing on is the need to adhere to fair use in showing Batman images. We were as careful with this book as I was with my previous picture book, Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman.

Ty: We weren't allowed to use Batman or his supporting cast on more than three pages out of a forty two page book. I totally understand from a legal point why we can't use Batman's image, it doesn't belong to us...but it would have made telling the story so much easier.

What does working on this book personally mean to you?

Marc: It has been the biggest honor and thrill of my career. I was a DC superheroes kid, and still am. To do my small part to preserve Bill Finger’s legacy is something I have taken as a serious responsibility. His story is sadly ironic: an underdog story played out over the backdrop of Batman, a champion of underdogs. I am passionate about people getting credit for their work; perhaps more so because I’m a creator myself. I wanted to write about Bill because his is a compelling (if tragic) story, and it hasn’t been told in its own book before, but also because Bill is long overdue for justice. When you introduce such a story to young people, it will hopefully empower them to avoid a similar situation in their own lives—and perhaps even to fight for some other underdog. In writing this book, I was hoping to help Bill and to help (and at times create) his fans, too.

Ty: Personally, I'm going to go with pride. I've long been a crusader for truth and justice (probably because of the moral underpinning Batman and characters like him installed in me as a child), and I'm proud that I got to be one of the folks creating the FIRST book ever written about Bill Finger.

Let's say that there were many books in the market about Bill Finger. What sets your book apart?

Marc: Great question! Well, no matter how many others may come down the pike, mine will always be the first.  But more to the point, my book reveals much about the man (such as his given first name and what happened to his body after he died) that only people outside of comics knew. It also contains never-published photos and the only known example of Bill’s handwriting, which has a poignant behind-the-scenes story of its own. It is the result of five years’ of original research and includes information from many who are no longer with us. Biggest of all: it reveals how I found Bill’s lone, previously unknown heir, born two years after he died, who is the best person to take the baton from me!

We can say that all day, but it won't be true. We're currently the first and ONLY book ever done about Bill. If there were a half dozen books out on the subject though (and there should be), we'd be the only one told in comic book form. Our story is told in artwork, and captions and panels and word balloons, in the format that Bill Finger worked in. If you're going to tribute the Beatles, you write a song. If you're going to tribute the Great Bill Finger, you create his biography as a comic book, and an all ages one at that...so that young and old can hear this story and admire Finger's work, and start to feel that burning dislike of Bob Kane that is the birthright of all Batman fans. And one last note: This project was started by Marc Tyler Nobleman, and I was asked to come aboard after it was already under way. So I want to toss in a comment of thanks to Marc for starting this off. It's needed being done for so long, but Marc was the one who needed doing it the most. Comic fans owe Marc a big thanks for this.

Comics Techniques and Tricks: Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez and Panel Transitions

Welcome to another edition of Comics Techniques and Tricks, in which we showcase techniques that only comics can do! Click here for the archive!

Pól Rua pointed me to this Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez–drawn page from BATMAN: KING TUT'S TOMB.

Look at the seamlessness of the panel flow. Garcia-Lopez manages to transition from one panel to the next with ease and that's because of the composition he uses. Note how the tree at the top left (and therefore where we would naturally start reading an American comic) leads our eyes into panel 2. The woman's leg and Batman's cape then lead our eyes into panel 3, where we see the cop chewing on a pencil that points to the right, which leads to the other woman. The other woman is looking back at Batman, the Riddler, and the first woman, so now our eyes are in the center of the page. We then take these visual cues from the conversation, and that leads us back to a straightforward storytelling tier of the final three panels.

In this manner, Garcia-Lopez manages to establish the location, the interior of the house, and all the people in the house while still making it look like a dynamic scene. Remember, it's just a conversation.

It's very subtle as well, and very understated. It does not overpower the story, because it serves the story. As Pól said to me, "It's like he knows what he's doing!"

Jun 18, 2012

Back Issue Ben: ROM: A Retrospective, Part 6

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

ROM: SPACEKNIGHT: A Retrospective
Part Six: The Curse of Michael Myers

by Ben Smith

Click here for part 1.
Click here for part 2. 
Click here for part 3.  
Click here for part 4.
Click here for part 5.

I'm running out of different ways to write this opening, as I am lost in a sea of regret over my remedial writing abilities. Anyway, blah blah blah, for those that came in late, blah blah, I am attempting to read and review every single issue of the classic 1980s Marvel comic series, ROM: SPACEKNIGHT. As we learned in the first five parts, Rom is the hero of the alien planet Galador, charged with ridding the universe of evil alien shapeshifters the Dire Wraiths. Bill Mantlo and Sal Buscema have written and drawn every single panel up to this point (excluding the occasional annual and backup). Last time, Rom was joined in his quest by the human woman he loves, Brandy, as she sacrificed her humanity to merge with the Spaceknight body of Starshine.

Things did not exactly work out well for the duo, as Rom struggled to reconcile his affairs of the heart with his mission. The body count rose, and the people of Clairton suffered the consequences, leaving Brandy Starshine cold and ruthless. What could possibly happen from here? Join me and find out, won't you? Reading is fun!

Jun 14, 2012

Reviews: Neil Young's Greendale

A few months ago, thanks to the generosity of a good friend, I got a big box of comic books, on which I've been working at one book at a time. One of the first comics I picked up from that gigantic collection was NEIL YOUNG'S GREENDALE, a comic book treatment of Neil Young's 2005 concept album of the same name. Written by Joshua Dysart, drawn by Cliff Chiang, and colored by Dave Stewart, GREENDALE is set in 2003 and tells the story of Sun Green, an eighteen-year-old political activist who has a preternatural communion with nature. Women in the Green family have always been special, and from the start of the book, we're treated to a nice helping of magical realism as we immediately are made aware of some of Sun's unusual abilities, among them the ability to herd animals effortlessly and to climb any structure with the same ease.

When you turn to the first page of GREENDALE, you'll notice three things. First, you'll notice the muted coloring of Dave Stewart, which lends itself to the dreamlike atmosphere of the storyline.

This is aided in great part by the second thing you'll notice, which is the unique style of Cliff Chiang. Chiang uses a minimalist style with very thick outlines, which is a style I'm personally very fond of. The style itself really makes the story move as it has an animated quality that will guide you really easily from panel to panel, and Chiang is also a master of body language so the transitions are both smooth and yet subtle. It enables you to quickly discern the personalities of each character as well as the general feel and details of the setting (a town called — wait for it — Greendale) with very few lines.

And the third thing you will notice from the first page is the poetic prose style of Josh Dysart. This shouldn't take anyone by surprise if you know that it's based on a music album (and by Neil Young, no less). However, it would be so easy to work songs from an album and work it into a story and have it come off as rather stilted. In GREENDALE, until I listened to the album, I really couldn't tell which parts came from the album and which parts Dysart came up with on his own. There are legitimately beautiful and moving passages throughout the book, such as the following one which details the aftermath of the death of Sun's twin sister Luna, specifically their mother's reaction.

The story itself is full of magical realism — the kind that you may actually run into in everyday life. If you've ever experienced anything you may have encountered as "paranormal" or "strange," the kind that's farfetched but you're willing to believe, that's the kind that is in GREENDALE. It's just grounded enough that there's enough plausibility, that by the time anything really strange and too far out happens, you're already immersed into its world.

It's so easy to see GREENDALE as a political statement or liberal propaganda, as it is about a political activist. However, at the heart of it is Sun Green's journey and her coming of age. She goes from being a girl who believes in something to becoming one who stands up for those beliefs. No matter where you stand on the political spectrum, you'd be able to relate to that.

Sun's character is so fully formed that I can imagine younger readers falling in love with her and wanting to hang out with her. Chiang brings her to life with a vibrant energy. Sun enjoys her life or attempts to, no matter how bad it gets.

This is true of all the characters. Sun's great uncle, for example, is only in it for two scenes. But the two scenes he's in just bring him to life for the reader, partly because you're not told very much about him. To me, that's always been more realistic, because you don't know everything about everyone you interact with. You see little facets of their personality, and sometimes they contradict each other. That's what happens here with the supporting cast of GREENDALE. They're minor touches, but they bring the characters to life.

At the heart of it all, GREENDALE is a simple story brought to life by a minimalist, animated art style with an appropriately muted color scheme and moving and well-crafted passages. Even if you don't lean politically to the Left, if you like coming-of-age stories, it is a book that I would highly recommend.

Jun 13, 2012

Crisis on Independent Earths by Mitch Ballard

I don't usually post commissions here on The Cube, but I thought this was way too cool not to share. Mitch Ballard, the George Perez–influenced commission artist, has drawn this gigantic piece he calls "Crisis on Independent Earths."

Click to view in full size.

It's a take on the George Perez/Alex Ross CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS poster, which is also the cover used in recent collections of the series.

Click to view in full size.

In Ballard's piece, I can recognize some, but not a lot, of the characters. Still, the ones I do recognize make me jump with glee and wish that this were real. Who wouldn't want to see The Shield with MF's Captain Marvel and the Rocketeer? The Brain Emperor vs. Miracleman? The THUNDER Agents running into Atari Force?

Mitch has smaller sections of this piece number-coded on his ComicArtFans site, where he names every character. Check it out. (Just click on "next" under the pictures to get to the next sections.)

Now, who do I have to coerce with cookies to make this real?

Jun 11, 2012

Back Issue Ben: Micronauts: A Mini-Retrospective, Part 1

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

MICRONAUTS: A Mini-Retrospective
Part One

by Ben Smith

For the next six weeks, Ben's ROM: SPACEKNIGHT retrospective will alternate with his new three-part MICRONAUTS retrospective. Have fun! -Duy

Hello friends, it's me again, here to tell you about another forgotten gem of the Marvel universe forever relegated to the back issue bins due to, you guessed it, licensing issues. But while you may not be able to stroll down to your local bookstore and pick up a nice glossy trade paperback or hardcover of this series, that should in no way prevent you from reading and enjoying its brilliance.

In the late 1970s, the Mego corporation (famous for their superhero toys) released a line of action figures named the Micronauts. Luckily for us, Bill Mantlo's son received some of the figures for Christmas one year, and the elder Mantlo was so inspired by the toys, he convinced Marvel to acquire the license to publish comic books based on them.

In January 1979, MICRONAUTS burst on the comic book scene and into in the hearts and minds of readers everywhere. I can't imagine what made me eventually decide to try an issue of MICRONAUTS (more than likely it was a "quarter box" gamble) since I was primarily a Spider-Man and X-Men kid, but the series very quickly became a favorite of young Ben's comic book collection.

Bill Mantlo, like he would eventually do with Rom, built an entire universe of characters (like Rom, some of which are still in use to this day), and developed a compelling conflict between the forces of good and evil. In retrospect, he may have "borrowed" quite a few elements from a hugely popular movie out at the time by the name of Star Wars, but the series was able to rise above that and become something special on its own. Actually, the beginning of this series was so good, I do not hesitate to call it a forgotten classic.

Michael Golden, credited as storyteller as well as artist, provided some beautiful artwork on this series. I'm not sure how much was inspired by the action figures, but the designs of the characters were excellent, and the world they inhabited was equally as unique and fully realized.

So without further ado, let's jump into the series.

Jun 8, 2012

Easter Eggs in Comics: Marvel's Civil War in DC's Infinite and Final Crises

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

In July 2006, Marvel Comics launched what was then their big event, CIVIL WAR, in which Captain America leads an army of superheroes against Iron Man, who has his own army of superheroes.

A few months before, DC was in the middle of what was then their big event, INFINITE CRISIS, in which a villain named Alexander Luthor created a new multiverse with the intention of finding the perfect earth. The new multiverse has earths with numbers for designations (Earth-1, Earth-56, Earth-254, etc.), and Alex plays mad scientist with them, picking worlds and mixing them, and discarding it when it doesn't work.

Here he is, mixing Earth-154 and Earth-462.

What do those numbers add up to? 616. You see, in the Marvel multiverse, the parallel earths are also designated by number, and the main Marvel earth, the one we read about, is Earth-616.

So let's see what Alex Luthor's experiment turns out as, shall we?

Get it? The heroes of Earth-616 are fighting amongst each other. It's a civil war!

A few years later, DC put out their next big event, called FINAL CRISIS. It had a lot of tie-ins, including one called SUPERMAN BEYOND, where Superman travels across the multiverse to save it from destruction. Here's a glimpse of one earth he passes by.

Those are some thinly veiled analogues of Marvel heroes, folks! Their Civil War came a few years too late.

Travis Hedge Coke points out to me that "Iron Man" being an alien may be a reference to Marvel's big event then, SECRET INVASION, which involved the shapeshifting Skrulls coming to Earth and replacing some of Marvel's heroes.

So you got a two-fer this time, folks!

Jun 6, 2012

Reclaiming History: Dave Gibbons and WATCHMEN

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!

Regular readers of the Cube will know that WATCHMEN means a lot to me.  It's a technical masterpiece, a gripping narrative, and a true testament to the power of what comics can do. But one thing has always bugged me about it, and that's the fact that fans, casual and hardcore alike, tend to see it and speak about it as "Alan Moore's WATCHMEN." People who praise WATCHMEN point to it as proof of Alan Moore's genius. Those who don't point to it as a criticism of Moore's status, usually with the word "overrated" involved. When people discuss the controversies associated with WATCHMEN, it's as it relates to Moore.

Lost in the entire discussion is Dave Gibbons, the co-plotter, artist, letter, and designer of WATCHMEN. When people discuss WATCHMEN, they almost make it sound as if the vision is purely Moore's, while all Dave did was put it on paper. If it were true, it in itself is a difficult task and should be commended, but Dave's contributions were so much deeper.

Let's explore those contributions, shall we?

Jun 4, 2012

Back Issue Ben: ROM: A Retrospective, Part 5

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

ROM: SPACEKNIGHT: A Retrospective
Part Five: Shrek Forever After

 by Ben Smith

Click here for part 1.
Click here for part 2. 
Click here for part 3.  
Click here for part 4.

You know the drill. For those that came in late, I am attempting to read and review every single issue of the classic 1980s Marvel comic series, ROM: SPACEKNIGHT. As we learned in the first four parts, Rom is the hero of the alien planet Galador, charged with ridding the universe of evil alien shape-shifters, the Dire Wraiths. Bill Mantlo and Sal Buscema soldier on, as the only writer and artist this series has ever known to this point (except for the occasional annual or so). Last time, Rom battled Wraith plots involving human children of Earth, and learned of an upcoming cosmic alignment between Earth and the Dark Nebula. Rom seemingly sacrificed himself to stop the evil Dweller on the Threshold from crossing over to our planet. Was he successful, and will he survive? Let’s find out!