Aug 31, 2012

Top 25 Spider-Man Stories of All Time!

So over here on the Cube, I do my fair share of lists. But sharp readers may note that while I may do "most influential" lists or "things they could do" lists, I rarely ever do "best of" or "favorite" lists. My reasoning for that is simple: I haven't read everything, and my favorites vary on my moods.

But Spider-Man is 50 this month, and to close August out, I've made an exception. A couple of months ago, Back Issue Ben put out the call to some fans, and people voted on the best Spidey stories ever. Since we're a diverse group of fans old and new, some results were interesting. (For example, most guys under 25 voted for a bunch of Ultimate stuff.) Ben tabulated the votes, and here they are.

Art by Joe Jusko

The contributors to this piece are Jeremy Harrison, Danry Ocampo, Edrick Tan, Miguel Acabado, and, of course, me and Ben.

So let's get to it. (Needless to say, spoilers abound.)

Aug 29, 2012

Techniques and Tricks: What Not to Do

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

Here's our first example of what not to do when it comes to page layout. Lately I've been reading the old JUSTICE LEAGUE AMERICA series, written by Keith Giffen and JM DeMatteis. As it turns out, the issues I have aren't from their legendary run with Kevin Maguire, but from after that, when the art chores were mostly handled by Adam Hughes. This is from issue #42, with art from a young Mike McKone and Jose Marzan Jr.

See the problem here? J'onn's speech bubble "I won't stand in your way--" goes straight to the panel on the right, and is even connected to the speech bubble next to it, which says, "--but I want you to know that I'm always here for you. Always."

Where does that leave the panel on the bottom left? A reader will either want to turn the page because that right panel where Gypsy is walking away, or realize that the bottom panel went unread and reread the sequence.

The layout isn't the problem; the dialogue and the placement of the balloons are. If only that last balloon in panel 1 didn't overlap with the right panel, and if only "--but I want you to know" continued from "Soon" rather than "I won't stand in your way." Actually, "Soon" is probably unnecessary, isn't it? J'onn's last speech balloon in panel 1 could easily have taken its place!

That's just one example of the many things comics creators have to go through to facilitate readability. Not only does the layout of the pictures have to make sense; the lettering has to do it too. (This is also why letterers are some of the unsung heroes in comics — you rarely ever notice when they do it right, but it's so easy to realize when they're doing it wrong.)

Aug 27, 2012

Back Issue Ben: Transformers, Part 1

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

Transformers: A Look Back at the Marvel Comics Series
Part 1: How Back Issue Ben's Life Was Ruined Forever 
by Ben Smith

I've had many obsessions in my life. I'll leave out the porn-related ones, and just stick to quality 1980s animated entertainment for the purposes of this discussion. Star Wars, He-Man, Thundercats, G.I. Joe. Yet, there is one that stands heads and shoulders above them all, and that one is, Strawberry Shortcake. The way the sun glistened off her strawberry red hair, and the way that....oh wait, no...Transformers! Transformers was the ultimate passion of young Back Issue Ben's life. (It's kind of inexplicable too. I don't like robots, never been a big car guy, and I'm not overly fond of space stories. Though, I keep saying that, and then I look at my bookshelf and there is a bunch of them. I'm sticking to it.)

As you may or may not already know, Transformers began as a Japanese toy lines called Microman and Diaclone. Hasbro, still drunk off the success of their G.I. Joe line, bought the toys, and then hired Marvel Comics to create a backstory. (Unknown to me at the time, Marvel was shaping my young entertainment life long before I even realized it). Jim Shooter and Denny O'Neil were instrumental in the development of the Transformers story, and Bob Budiansky is credited with creating most of the Transformers characters and names.

A four-issue Marvel comic book mini-series was created, as well as an animated TV series. The basic foundation of the conflict was the same in both, but the characters and ongoing storylines varied, sometimes drastically. (Anytime anyone tries to say comic books are too complicated for a young child to try and figure out, just remember that I had absolutely no problem realizing that the comic and TV show were two completely different things. It was never a problem). Now, I have no problem telling anyone that I think the cartoon is still solid animated entertainment to this day, but the comic book was always a little bit edgier, a little more sophisticated. (I don't want to use the term "darker" because that's such a clichéd word, but that's probably accurate. But to keep it in context, I'm saying it's darker than a half hour syndicated animated cartoon. So, work with that).

So, without further ado, let's do this thing.

Aug 23, 2012

The Killing Joke: A Different Way to Read It

I was talking to Leia Calderon-Rox, better known to the readers of IHOGeek as ladyvader99, about Alan Moore and Brian Bolland's THE KILLING JOKE a couple of weeks ago, and she mentioned that she liked the ending.

For the uninitiated (although I can't imagine why you'd be reading this), THE KILLING JOKE has the Joker shooting and paralyzing Barbara Gordon then torturing her father, Commissioner Jim Gordon, in an effort to drive him insane.

It doesn't work, and when Batman finally catches the Joker, he tries reaching out, saying they didn't have to kill each other. Joker says it's too late for that and tells Batman a joke, and Batman laughs at it.

The problems with this ending are obvious. While I think it may be apt for the story in itself, it undercuts the whole foundation of their rivalry. After this, it's almost impossible to take any Batman/Joker story — maybe any Batman story, period — seriously if you keep this in mind.

Or is it? Leia offered me another look at it.

THE KILLING JOKE was a story that dealt with how one could go insane after one very bad day. The Joker makes his target Commissioner Gordon. We all know the details, how the Joker shoots and paralyzed Barbara, and how at the end, he finally gets a laugh out of the Bat. What my theory is, is that the Commissioner was never really the Joker's target; it was Batman. Throughout the story, you see Batman becoming more and more strained as the Joker wreaks havoc on the Commissioner's life. We must take into account Gordon is one of Batman's only friends and that he has little to no sense of humor. The fact that he only laughs at the very end when the cops are coming — and it's not a regular laugh, it's the long, hysterical laughter of a man strained beyond repair in one day — it's very simple to deduce that Batman has snapped. This is why I think THE KILLING JOKE is really about Batman.

And my brain kind of shifted gears then and there. I reread the book, and my first instinct was that Leia is reaching. There's little evidence in the entire thing that she's after Batman and not the Joker, when it hit me: of course The Joker's not going to say his intention is to drive Batman insane. That wouldn't be like him at all. There's a twisted logic to his actions when seen from that perspective. I actually thought the whole torturing of Jim Gordon was kind of crass, unworthy of the Joker's usual, more subtle if not any less gruesome fare, but when seen from this lens, the crassness is supplanted by diabolical fiendishness.

And while it may be spare, there actually is evidence that Batman was the target: he sends tickets to Batman to let him know where he is, just in time for Gordon's torture to come to an end. That's the climax of the book: Batman confronting the Joker and trying to find a rational solution to their rivalry, only to realize there is none.

It works in the larger scheme because THE KILLING JOKE is one of the three books often cited for the "darkening" of Batman (the other two are Frank Miller's THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, of course, and Grant Morrison's ARKHAM ASYLUM). From a publication standpoint, it may be seen as one of the linchpins, the pivotal turning points from the grim and gritty Batman. And from a narrative standpoint, it may explain Batman's descent into being more withdrawn, colder, and more distant to his friends and loved ones in the 90s. The narrative explanation for that is usually the death of the second Robin, Jason Todd, and how Batman couldn't deal with his inability to save him, but maybe it was actually this moment, when something just snapped in his brain. After all, how can anyone in the story explain that it was this moment? How could they know? No one's there but the two of them.

Is it a perfect theory? I'm not so sure. I do feel like it's open to debate. But at the very least, it's made me look at the story in a new light, and given me a way to view the ending such that one of my previous criticisms of it doesn't apply.

What do you guys think?

Aug 22, 2012

Easter Eggs: Mogo Predicted!

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

Most Alan Moore fans, as well as Green Lantern fans, know of the short story "Mogo Doesn't Socialize," by Moore and his WATCHMEN co-creator Dave Gibbons. In it, a bounty hunter called Bolphunga the Unrelenting goes to a planet to find and kill the Green Lantern known as Mogo. Eventually he realizes he's in trouble, because Mogo happens to be the entire planet.

"Mogo Doesn't Socialize" was published in GREEN LANTERN #188 in 1985.

Now, in THE COMPLETE ALAN MOORE FUTURE SHOCKS, 2000 AD's collection of Moore's short stories and early work, there's a story by Moore and John Higgins (the colorist of WATCHMEN) entitled "The Bounty Hunters." In it, the hunters are looking for someone named Rogel Dax. As with Bolphunga and Mogo, they don't know what he looks like.

Anyway, one of the hunters says this:

"The Bounty Hunters" was published in 2000 AD prog 253, in 1982, three years before Mogo!

Both these stories can be found here:

Aug 20, 2012

Back Issue Ben: GI Joe: The Secret Origin of Snake Eyes

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

The Secret Origin of Snake Eyes
by Ben Smith

It has recently come to my attention that some of you may not be familiar with the excellent G.I. JOE comic book series produced by Marvel in that decade of all things great, the 1980s.  While this is an error easily corrected by going to your nearest book depository and purchasing the G.I. JOE CLASSICS collections by IDW, the origin of Snake Eyes is a tale that must be covered immediately.  Now I don't know about you, but when and where I grew up, if you didn't have a Snake Eyes toy, you were shunned like the leper of society that you are.  Not only is Snake Eyes a ninja master, he's armed up with more guns than a 80s action movie star.  Sprinkle in a dose of mystery, and you've got a recipe for extreme popularity among adolescent boys.  What's he look like? Why can't he talk?  These are the questions that plagued a generation.  They are questions that would be answered in these classic chapter from the comic book series.  All issues feature Larry Hama on script and breakdowns, with finishes by Steve Leialoha.  Let's get started.

(For the purposes of this recap, I will be focusing on the Snake Eyes portion of the issues only, and not the B stories)

Aug 16, 2012

Reviews: Uncle Scrooge: Only a Poor Old Man

So at the beginning of the year, I reviewed DONALD DUCK: LOST IN THE ANDES, the first of Fantagraphics' Donald Duck volumes for The Complete Carl Barks Disney Library. Last month, I was able to purchase UNCLE SCROOGE: ONLY A POOR OLD MAN, the first in their collection of Barks' tales centered around the miserly, penny-pinching Scrooge McDuck.

I'm surely going to sound like a broken record with this particular review, but that's only because these tales have been so consistent in terms of quality. In the first review, I said that reading old stories necessitates taking the time period in which they were made into context, and that Barks defies this axiom. It's still true here. These stories still hold up, sixty years after they were made.

I'll get to the listing of the stories in a bit, but first I want to focus on what I feel is the best story in the entire collection, entitled "Tralla La." As is common with Barks' 20-pagers, the three-act structure is firmly in place. A goal is set in Act 1 (Scrooge is tired of the stress his money is giving him, and thus he wants to go to Tralla La, a place where no money exists) and the Ducks (Scrooge, Donald Duck, and the nephews, Huey, Dewey, and Louie) all set out to achieve that goal and slapstick ensues. Act II sees them achieving that goal (getting to Tralla La), and usually this is where Barks lets loose with his expertly detailed artwork that, especially since it comes right after the slapstick portions, is particularly jarring. You end up thinking "Whoa, where'd that come from?"

In Act 3, everything changes as one of the tin caps from Scrooge's medicine bottles is found by a Tralla La native. Since it's completely new, it's now sought after by the natives. Scrooge has brought in the concept of greed, something they've never had before, and in this world of anthropomorphized ducks and beagles, you can read this story and think "Yes, that's exactly what would happen." It's believable.

And that's the true strength of these Barks stories. Underneath the exaggeration, underneath the trappings, there is truth. Not only is Barks' Scrooge very entertaining; Barks' Scrooge is also very real. It makes you laugh, tickles your brain, and reflects the human condition. It hits every single cylinder, and there simply aren't many comics — or works of fiction, at all — that I can say that about.

The other stories in this volume are listed below.

Long Stories
  • Only a Poor Old Man. The title story of this collection features a simple plot that has Scrooge trying to figure out ways to save his money from his arch-enemies, those nasty Beagle Boys! The solutions are zany and fun, and if I'm right, it's also where the iconic image of Scrooge diving into his pile of coins first appears.
  • Back to the Klondike. Probably the most famous story in this collection (or the most famous Scrooge story in general), this is a take on the Gold Rush fiction that was so prevalent at the time. Scrooge goes back to the Klondike to collect money from a woman he knew, Glittering Goldie. But Goldie has nothing left, and the resulting story is actually genuinely heartbreaking. This story was adapted into the Ducktales cartoon, but I thought that version humanized Scrooge too much. The original story was more subtle and more deftly told.
Oil painting recreation by Barks of a panel from "Back to the Klondike."
Okay, fine, this moment doesn't actually happen, but the painting is pretty.

  • The Horse-Radish Treasure. Chisel McSue, last heir of the Clan McSue, finds an old contract that would entitle him to Scrooge's entire fortune, unless Scrooge can retrieve a specific batch of horseradish from the bottom of the sea and deliver it to Jamaica. Adventure on the high seas ensues! One thing I really like about this is that it shows that Scrooge plays by the rules — he's a man of honor. He doesn't want to use his money to find a loophole (not that he would, anyway); he acknowledges the contract and wishes to honor it.
  • The Menehune Mystery. Scrooge and the boys have a plan to take Scrooge's fortune to a private island just near Hawaii, when the Beagle Boys catch them and force them to work on the island! But there are things happening in the island unseen to the naked eye, and that may just help Scrooge and the boys out.
  • The Secret of Atlantis. This story is just incredible. It starts off with Scrooge collecting a debt from Donald, which leads to Scrooge getting the idea to buy every single 1916 quarter in the world and toss all but one out into the sea. The one he keeps becomes extremely valuable, but it gets damaged after a load of slapstick and hilarity. So they go off to retrieve one of the coins he tossed into the sea, and they find the lost continent of Atlantis. It's incredible. I can't overstate how good this story is enough.

Short Stories
  • Somethin' Fishy Here. Donald plays a trick on Scrooge to make him believe that fish is now the currency of the world, thus rendering him effectively broke. Scrooge decides to pick himself up and rebuild his fortune, in fish, right then and there. Can he do it? (Yes, he can. It's great.)
  • The Round Money Bin. Scrooge has created the perfect spot for his fortune — a new round money bin, protected at all times! But the Beagle Boys have caught him again and are taking his fortune away, except for his Number One Dime, the first coin he ever earned.
  • Outfoxed Fox. Scrooge wants to buy up the houses and lots of Donald and his neighbor, Jughead Jones (no, not that Jughead Jones) so he can build a factory there. They won't sell, so he convinces them both that there's treasure hidden in their houses. It isn't long before they're tearing their own homes apart!

The 1-pagers. I'm not going to summarize them because, well, they're a page long, but just for the sake of cataloging them, here they are:
  • Osogood Silver Polish
  • Coffee For Two
  • Soupline Eight
  • Fare Delay
  • Height of Finance
  • The Checker Game
  • Barber College
  • Follow the Rainbow
  • Itching to Share
  • Ballet Evasions
  • The Cheapest Way
  • Bum Steer
  • Hospitality Week
  • McDuck Takes a Dive
  • Slippery Slipper
  • Oil The News
  • Dig It!
  • Mental Fee

The hardcover is completed nicely by an introduction written by the one and only George Lucas, who's never made a secret of the massive influence Barks has had on him, as well as essays on the stories that are in this collection Professor Donald Ault of the University of Florida, who also wrote the introduction to LOST IN THE ANDES, finishes up the book with an essay on the life, career, and work ethic of Carl Barks.

All in all, another fine collection by Fantagraphics. I'm looking forward to the rest of these, as these stories have a level of entertainment to them that is still hard to match today, and a level of truth and insight that simply cannot be denied. Go do yourselves a favor and get this one, folks. You won't regret it.

Aug 15, 2012

Easter Eggs: Jughead Jones in Duckburg

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

Tomorrow, I'll be reviewing Fantagraphics' latest addition to The Complete Carl Barks Disney Library, UNCLE SCROOGE: ONLY A POOR OLD MAN. Before that, though, I'd like to share with you this panel from one of the stories in it, entitled "Outfoxed Fox." In it, Scrooge wants to buy up the lots of his nephew Donald Duck and Donald's neighbor...

....Jughead Jones. Yes, apparently Donald's neighbor shares the name of Archie Andrews' burger-munching best friend.

I have no idea how protective Archie was of their property back then — you always hear stories about how they were angry at MAD's parody of them, entitled "Starchie," and how that possibly led to the formation of The Comics Code Authority. Maybe they weren't so protective of this one because it was just a backup tale in a Disney comic, and it's not even Jughead anyway? Maybe they didn't want to get into it with Disney? Who knows? Either way, it's pretty funny.

Got an Easter Egg for the Cube? Email it to!

Aug 14, 2012

An Interview with Joe Kubert, by Michael Leal

Michael Leal, founder and head writer of Metaverse Entertainment,conducted an interview last year with the recently departed Joe Kubert. Since the magazine that was supposed to run it folded and was unable to publish it, Michael asked me yesterday if I would be willing to run this for the Cube. Of course, I said yes. Everything after this paragraph is Michael's, with only minor edits by me.

Original interview conducted on March 3, 2011

Joe Kubert is the legendary comic artist that has worked on everything from Hawkman, to Sgt. Rock, to Enemy Ace and countless other titles, including a few original graphic novels currently being re-released by DC comics. He's had numerous roles in the comic book industry over the years. He's been an artist, editor, and teacher. He is the mentor to thousands of art students that have graduated from The Kubert School over the past 34 years. Including his two sons, Adam and Andy Kubert, who now teach at the school and are legends in their own right. His artistic influence has permeated the comics industry and far beyond. Joe Kubert was kind enough to chat with me about the industry, his life and the work that he is so well known for.

Michael Leal: You seemed to have achieved what every comic book creator dreams of, a long and fruitful career and just a touch of immortality. What do you attribute your long lasting success in comics to?

Joe Kubert: Well, I've been very lucky ...very lucky. There were a lot of guys that I worked with, amazingly talented guys. Why some guys are able to maintain the longevity that I have and others haven't is pure unadulterated luck. It's just my ability to work. I was wise enough to choose parents with the right genes so I'm still able to do this stuff. I'm able to do it to the extent that people still want to see it, and people are still willing to buy it.

Aug 13, 2012

Back Issue Ben Reviews The Dark Knight Rises

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

(Duy here. I've said before that I would see The Dark Knight Rises and that I wouldn't write about it if I didn't like it. I'm sticking to that, but Back Issue Ben wanted to write about it — he actually did before I even saw it, and now that I've seen it, I got to read it and am running it. Suffice it to say, while I don't always agree with the opinions of my guest Cubers, I pretty much do agree with most of this one.)

The Dark Knight Rises
by Ben Smith

I went into The Dark Knight Rises with the lowest of expectations, and it still found a way to disappoint me. I haven't been the biggest fan of Nolan's take on the character of Batman, but through the previous two movies, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, I could at least concede that the movies were well acted and generally entertaining to watch. Dark Knight Rises is neither. Furthermore, as much as I could nitpick the plot of the previous two films, they weren't so bad that they took me completely out of the movie the way Rises does. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

First off, let's discuss the acting.

I've seen Tom Hardy receive a lot of praise online and from co-workers for his portrayal of the bruising Bane, and I suppose he does a good job. Though, it doesn't seem that hard to walk around with a mask the entire movie and talk with a cartoon voice. (Seriously, that voice made me laugh the first time I heard it in the movie. I don't know that that is the desired response. He sounded like a British Speak-and-Spell with terrorist tendencies). He's a physically imposing presence, but I'm still not convinced you can't hire a professional wrestler to do the exact same thing.

Christian Bale is the star of these movies, and yet nobody ever seems to so much as notice him in them. The main reaction people have to him is the BATMAN VOICE, and he does it again in this movie, to even more hilarious results. His rendition of "where's the trigger?" near the end of the movie resulted in Back Issue Ben nearly having a seizure from laughing so hard. (My laughing and repeating the "where's the trigger line", prompted my four-year-old son to start saying it, with increasing levels of commitment, merely serving to perpetuate our laughter. It was a great family moment. Thank you, Dark Knight Rises)

Anne Hathaway is impressive as Catwoman at the beginning of the movie. Her performance in that early scene where she switches from nervous, to badass, to scared victim, and back is one of the highlights of the movie. Unfortunately, I don't think she's given a whole lot more to do for the rest of the movie. I mean, I know she's running around as Catwoman, but that's mostly it, running around. (Not that seeing her run around in a black bodysuit is anything to be cynical about, so I'm not going to be too critical here.)

Joseph Gordon Levitt was pretty good as Dick Grayson. Unfortunately, he wasn't Dick Grayson. I know some people were probably happy that he was worked into the movies in this vague way, but all it did for me is wish that he was actually playing Robin outright. He looks the part, he had the heart and compassion of the character down. He would have been great at it. Otherwise, they're just trying to set him up as the next Batman in a movie that will probably never be made, because Nolan is done and the next person they hire will want to do their own thing. (There's a joke about "Dick" and "Rises" in there somewhere.

The two highlights and anchors of the previous films, for me, were Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine. With good reason, these guys are highly accomplished and respected actors. Which makes their misuse in this movie a borderline criminal act. (Wouldn't that be great to see on the news? "Director arrested for misuse of actor in film". I'd read that article). Morgan Freeman is given nothing to do in this movie. He makes a really good hostage. He has nothing to work with. Michael Caine has too much to work with at the beginning of the movie. He's the father, he's the source of Wikipedia like information about Bane, he's got random tales and wisdom. Caine has been the emotional center of the previous movies for me. (In Batman Begins, when kid Bruce starts crying to Alfred....well, it hits me in my robot heart. I'll say that much). Not so here. I found the dialogue he was given was trying a little too hard to hit the viewer, and it missed the mark for his one.

Overall, the much ballyhooed "funny parts" were delivered so badly that they weren't funny (Batman's "So that's what that feels like" line to Catwoman might have been good if it wasn't delivered in the BATMAN VOICE), and many of the serious parts were delivered so badly that they were funny. The dialogue was exposition heavy and tried to provide explanations for the shortcuts in the movie. (The scene where Daggett tells Bane, "you're pure evil" is memorably bad).

Main example: there is a device that Catwoman is after throughout the movie. I'm going to paraphrase an exchange early in the movie. (I'm doing this from memory, but overall I believe it to be pretty accurate, so get off my case). 
Catwoman: "You should have just given me what I wanted."
Criminal: "Oh, you mean the clean slate? The magic device you plug your name and birth date into, and it erases your electronic history?"

Wow, who talks like that outside of 1980s comic books? (Tom DeFalco called, he wants his dialogue back). (I don't know why I'm picking on Tom DeFalco. Let's just move on). It's the main problem I had with the Green Lantern movie. The characters explain, explain, explain everything in the movie. It's not natural, it's noticeable, and it's clunky.

Secondly, is it entertaining to watch?

The first time we see Batman at all is forty minutes into the movie. Now, this isn't the first chapter of a new version of the character, where we have to slog through the obligatory origin story before we can get to the good stuff. (I'm not really entirely sure this is a complaint of mine, because I think the Batman costume in these movies looks so ridiculous, that they're better off without it. But still, it is supposed to be a Batman movie). This is the pulse-pounding (should be) action-packed conclusion to one of the most highly regarded comic book film series of all time. There's an action sequence at the beginning to introduce Bane (speaking of, I'm not sure two people would just dangle straight down if they're being towed by an airplane), and then we are treated to thirty-five minutes of exposition and set-up. I know those that defend the movie will argue that this is all key development in this ultra-complex and "mature" take on the character, and my response to them is this picture of Batman punching the Scarecrow.

That's what I want to see.

One hour and twenty minutes into the movie, we get our first substantial fight, between Batman and Bane. Let me repeat that for you. The first fight in this movie is one hour and twenty minutes into it. Not only that, but it is largely a boring fight. The standard "you're too outclassed, but we have to show you really getting pounded so when you win in the last act it will be more impressive" Hollywood cliché. (Buffy the Vampire Slayer mastered this fight). Nothing but telegraphed haymakers delivered with lots of grunting and Liefeld-ian faces.

I know we have an auteur making these films, and he wants to explore themes and use Batman as a vehicle to comment on modern society and whatnot. Which is fine, but I kind of want to see him punch things too. Batman fighting on screen shouldn't be less impressive than Hawkeye and Black Widow from the Avengers movie. (Sorry, I tried really hard not to bring Avengers into this, because I don't think they're similar movies at all. But let's face it, they're going to be linked together forever for no other reason than they both will have dominated the summer of 2012. They will be the Magic and Bird of comic book movies, for my sports geeks out there. Or they won't be, I don't know, give me a break).

Beyond all that, this movie is something that I can't say any other Nolan movie has ever been, and that is that it is completely predictable. I knew everything that was going to happen before it happened. As soon as Alfred was going on about his trips to that cafe (totally stolen from Good Will Hunting by the way), I knew exactly how the end of the movie was going to go down. Immediately. This was twenty minutes or so into the movie, and I knew what the ending was going to be. I knew Batman would appear to die, and then the last shot of the movie would be Alfred and Bruce giving each other the head nods in this restaurant. Over and over again, there wasn't a moment in this movie where I thought, "Wow, didn't see that coming". (I knew right from the beginning that that was Talia, to the point it was frustrating me that it was taking so long for them to reveal it. Not really a complaint I guess, because they can't do it too early, but whatever, it's my review).

Quick tangent: I have been accused more than once recently of not liking the character of Batman. My response to that is to travel back to 1989, and watch a young Back Issue Ben going to see the Tim Burton Batman movie at least eight times, and painting a large yellow oval bat symbol on his bedroom wall. I'd also invite you to see my movie collection, where you'll find all four volumes of The Animated Series on DVD, the 1966 movie, and all four of the 1990s movies. My son is wearing Batman underwear to daycare today. Don't try to discredit my opinion by claiming I hate the character.

Lastly, the plot. Oh, the wonderful plot.

Nolan's Batman movies are grounded in making the character and his world believable, and yet nothing that happens in Dark Knight Rises is believable.

Nolan established a world where everything down to Batman's cape is explained to the point where any sense of wonder, or of the fantastic, was stripmined right out of the movie. Yes it is still about a man that dresses up like a bat and fights crime, but he did his best to dress it up in a real-world setting that makes the viewer believe that this could really happen. (This isn't just my geek-voice complaining. I have heard that exact thing described to me as a positive from many co-workers). This is the internal logic and foundation of the movies that Nolan established. That's what makes the more fantastic leaps you're required to make in Rises all the more impossible to accept.

In a world where Batman suffers real physical damage from his exploits, we're also expected to ignore that he wills himself back into health not once, but twice, within the span of this movie. The second time is so impossible (I'm no doctor, but it seems pretty damn impossible to go from your spine sticking out of your back to doing pushups in three months) there is no continuing on at that point. There's no way I could continue to play fair with that movie as I'm watching it, if the people making the movie aren't going to play fair with me. This isn't some movie full of characters that crawl up walls, where you could conceivably allow yourself to believe they could heal from a broken spine in a few months. This was a world about a real man, doing extraordinary things, healing in an unreal way. In a world where the Joker is just some madman that wears smeared makeup, that does not fit. I'm sorry.

Batman is so distraught over the death of Rachel Dawes, that he has put himself into self-imposed exile at the beginning of the movie, for eight years. Batman has quit on Gotham and his mission over his sadness of the death of a loved one. Repeat that again in your head for me. It's okay, I'll wait for you. Batman was born out of the death of his parents at the hands of a criminal. An act he vowed to himself to try and prevent from happening to anyone else. So, what prompts him to give up his quest at the beginning of this movie? The death of a loved one at the hands of criminals! Wow. Look, I know you can make the argument that he couldn't handle his role in the death of Rachel, and maybe that's a reasonable explanation, but it's not really a Batman that I want to root for. A guy that quits helping others because he's sad. I know they make a big deal about the streets being safer, but as near as I can tell, Catwoman didn't invent people to hire her to steal Wayne's fingerprints. Crime still exists, even if it's only on the level of, say, a mugger sticking up families on their way out of the theatre.

There is no discernible reason given in the movie, for Batman to trust Catwoman as much as he does. All he knows about her is that she is a lifetime thief and she's kinda hot (I guess hotness wins out!). The fact that his plan to save the day at the end of the movie relies so much on her, when the last time he saw her, she was betraying him so badly that he ended up getting his back broken and thrown in a hole, is beyond any reasonable sort of explanation.

There are so many more:

  • Why are the police kept alive underground, by Bane and his crew? He kills everyone else he runs across in the movie, but their master plan just involves leaving them buried underground. (On that note, those policemen looked surprisingly well-shaven and healthy when they're freed from their underground prison. I've imagined a dream scenario where they actually enjoy being down there, and they've set up all kinds of areas to work out, and someone created his own barber business because he happened to have a shaving kit in his backpack, and someone set up a garden to grow fruits and stuff. They were down there for months, they had a lot of time). 
  • Blake just waltzes into Wayne Manor and says, "hey, I know you're Batman, because you got that Batman kinda smile." One, Bruce doesn't even offer up so much as a "nuh-uh" in response. Second, I'm now going to use "you got that Batman smile" on as regular a basis as possible. 
  • Batman takes the time to create a big gasoline outline of his bat symbol, all while a bomb that is going to destroy the city is quickly ticking down, and Commissioner Gordon is being marched to his death. Way to prioritize Batman. Gotta get your brand out there. 
  • You're telling me an adolescent child is the only one that could escape that pit? Nobody thought to tie a bunch of ropes together? Why throw Batman into what seems to be the mostly easily escapable prison in history? At the very least, why throw him into one that has a built in escape route? I don't even understand the logistics of this pit. You have to climb up to a certain point, and then jump across to his platform. Can you not just continue climbing up the conveniently provided rope? Someone feel free to explain this to me, because I am confused. 
  • Are there any citizens of Gotham that aren't cops or criminals? You'd have to think the regular citizens would outnumber the prisoners released from Blackgate by a significant margin. That the citizens seem so eager and willing to descend into chaos says a lot about the hope that was supposedly provided by the end of The Dark Knight. 

Side note: Mrs. Back Issue Ben felt it was pretty sad that we will not be able to let our young boys watch these Batman movies. Primarily because someone is being brutally murdered for no reason other than to show how evil and badass Bane is, every time the character appears on camera. Add that to the Joker from The Dark Knight, and these are not exactly family friendly films. Batman is still a superhero right? Shouldn't kids be able to see his movies? I get that he's a character open to various interpretations and levels of complexity, but that just seems wrong to me. I don't know, I don't have an answer for that one.
There are many many more examples I could give, but there is no need to go into all of them. I think you get the drift. But I'll end this whole shebang on this last one.

Yes, Batman saves the day at the end. He save the city from total destruction at the hands of a nuclear bomb, and it's a feel good-moment and everyone claps. But does he really save the city? Because of Batman's direct inaction, and mind-boggling decision-making, Gotham is in complete ruin. The citizens of the city, at best, were subjected to terrorist rule for months, and at worst, participated in it. The city has been demolished, the bridges in and out blown to pieces, even the football stadium was destroyed (that's just mean), and the water is probably not going to be drinkable any time soon. The hope that many of the film's supporters would have you believe exists at the end, does not exist. Bane and Talia successfully destroyed the city of Gotham. Even worse, Bruce Wayne has abandoned them to their ruin. He decided that getting rid of the bomb he created, and had a direct impact in putting into the hands of terrorists, was good enough, and he's done. He successfully got rid of the immediate problem for Gotham, but left the city to figure out the rest. The bad guys won; it just doesn't seem like it unless you look hard enough.

Which is The Dark Knight Rises itself. Maybe on the surface it seems like a good movie (it's certainly got lots of violence and takes itself seriously enough) but if you look hard enough, you can see the flaws in the movie. Maybe I'm one of the few that couldn't look past them, and if I am, that kind of saddens me. I think we should expect more, and demand more, from our entertainment than a movie of loosely connected big ideas all held together by overwhelming violence and a desire to seem "serious."

In other words, I can't wait for Avengers to come out on DVD.

RIP Joe Kubert

CBR reports that Joe Kubert has passed away at the age of 85. Joe was a real legend in the comics industry and has been active since the Golden Age of Comics. The creator of Hawkman and Sgt. Rock, Kubert didn't restrict himself to superheroes and did such personal works as the journalistic FAX FROM SARAJEVO. He was also the founder of the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon & Graphic Art, alumni of which include his sons Andy and Adam, and other notable comics personalities such as Rick Veitch, Tom Mandrake, and Jan Duursema. He was in the middle of inking Andy's pencils on BEFORE WATCHMEN: NITE OWL, and CBR says that in October, DC will release a 48-page one-shot entitled JOE KUBERT PRESENTS. It will likely be chronologically the last work of his that will be published.

Rest in peace, Joe Kubert. You will not be forgotten.

Aug 8, 2012

Easter Eggs: Amazing Spider-Man #600

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

We've got a pretty special edition of Easter Eggs today. First, this month marks the 50th anniversary of the debut of the Amazing, Sensational, Spectacular Spider-Man! Also, this is the 600th post on the Cube, so let's take a look at the Easter Egg-heavy AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #600!

One of the running gags in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #600 was "Amazing Spider-Man Covers You'll Never See!"

First up, thought up by Jeph Loeb and drawn by Mike McKone, is "The Shame of the Spider-Son," featuring Spidey's kid competing with Luke Cage's kid in a diving contest.

This is a direct spoof of the cover of ACTION COMICS #392, dated September 1970, by Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson.

Next up is the Double Wedding Issue, featuring Peter Parker and Mary Jane's wedding at the same time as Norman Osborn and Gwen Stacy's! It's also drawn by McKone. This one's thought up by Ed Brubaker.

This is a direct spoof of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN ANNUAL #21, "The Wedding."

There are several inside jokes in this one for Spidey aficionados, as well. Peter saying "But I wanted Gwen!" is a reference to the overreliance of using Gwen as a figure that Peter can't move on from. MJ saying "This'll never last" is a reference to the fact that their wedding actually didn't last (although it had a good 20 years), and the Gwen/Norman pairing is a reference to a 2004 Spider-Man story that was so terrible that I refuse to name it. There's also Harry Osborn, who's had a history of drug abuse, saying he wishes he weren't sober, and the caption makes fun of the Clone Saga in the 90s as well as the resurrection of Bucky, who Brubaker was (and still is) writing at the time in the pages of CAPTAIN AMERICA. (That explains Gwen's thought balloon as well!)

Next up is by Matt Fraction and Mike McKone, which spoofs some trends going on in the 1970s, including the trend for "social relevance."

Jon Gorga of The Long and Shortbox of It! points out that this is a reference to AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #96-98, which were commissioned by the US government and dealt with Spider-Man dealing with the drug problem among the nation's youth.

He also points out that the villain may be a riff on the Hypno-Hustler!

Finally, we've got one that needs no explanation.

Funny thing is, Spidey's already actually teamed up with Batman in the 90s, first drawn by Mark Bagley and the second drawn by Graham Nolan. Both were written by JM DeMatteis.

Next, we've got a tiny story by Spidey's co-creator Stan Lee and the guy I think of as the modern equivalent of his other co-creator (Steve Ditko), Marcos Martin. Called "Identity Crisis," it's the story of Spidey going to a psychiatrist named Dr. Gray Madder (love the pun). In addition to the Simpons Easter egg (modified to avoid lawsuits), does Dr. Madder look familiar to you?

Here's more pictures of Dr. Madder.

Still not ringing any bells? Here are some pictures of the particular individual he's based on.

That's right! Dr. Gray Madder is Stan Lee!

Finally, we have the short story "Fight at the Museum" by Zeb Wells and Derec Donovan. Peter Parker and Norah Winters are at the Smithsonian National Design Museum, when Peter is confronted by the most embarrassing thing in his Spider-Man career.

They meet a very familiar-looking tour guide.

Yep, it's a second Simpsons reference! That's Comic Book Guy!

Whew! That takes care of that! AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #600 was reprinted in SPIDER-MAN: DIED IN YOUR ARMS TONIGHT! Happy anniversary, Spider-Man!

Got an Easter Egg for the Cube? Email it to

Aug 6, 2012

Back Issue Ben: Oh, How the Mighty Have Fallen: On the Move With the Mighty Avengers

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

Or, more reasons why Hank Pym is awesome
by Ben Smith

For those of you that read Duy's examination of the fall and redemption of founding Avenger Hank Pym, I wanted to follow that up with a look at the MIGHTY AVENGERS issues that followed in the wake of SECRET INVASION. For most of you that were only reading NEW AVENGERS and DARK AVENGERS at the time, MIGHTY was the closest to that "old school" Avengers feel that so many cranky old fans talk about. Written by Dan Slott (before he got the full-time job on AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, with spectacular results) and with Khoi Pham on art (one of my favorite artists in comics), it was the overlooked yet no less excellent book in the Avengers franchise (personally, I'd say it was the best by far). For those of you that failed to read it while it was coming out (shameful), here I am again to help steer you in the right direction. Don't worry kids, it's never too late to read good comics. So put down those Night of the Never-Ending Owls DCnU Batman crossover comics, and let's jump into this.

First, let's quickly cover MIGHTY AVENGERS #20 by Brian Michael Bendis and a crew of artists, which is a SECRET INVASION epilogue. This story sees a newly returned Hank Pym struggling with his return after having been kidnapped by alien shapeshifters, and the death of his ex-wife The Wasp. Carol Danvers catches him up on the various big events of recent years during his absence (depicted in beautiful Jimmy Cheung splash pages). That info, plus the memories of Janet, is too much for him, and he breaks down.
It's a heartbreaking issue.

Later, at the funeral, Pym lets Tony Stark know just what he thinks about how he's been handling things lately.

Next up is SECRET INVASION: REQUIEM, an oversized one-shot issue featuring reprints of Pym's first appearance and his infamous breakdown as Yellowjacket. Framed around these is a little story that sees Pym begin to rebuild his life, and honoring the memory of his ex-wife by taking on her codename as The Wasp.


Aug 3, 2012

Archie and Betty in "Who Do You Trust?"

Here's a story I found in JUGHEAD WITH ARCHIE #75, dated July 1986. Since it's a reprint digest, I don't know when it was first published. But I'm surprised that (1) it was published at all, and (2) it was reprinted, and (3) it made it past the Comics Code Authority.

Now granted, Archie and Betty are talking basically in "code" here, but they're still talking about having sex. Given that most "first time" stories are about whether or not they're actually ready to do it, it's hard to read Archie and Betty stories now without thinking they get naughty off-camera quite a bit. They're clearly ready here.

Aug 1, 2012

Comparisons: Morrison's JLA or Busiek and Perez's AVENGERS

I haven't really done a Comics Comparison in a while, and since I reread these two recently, I thought it was apt to do one on them. We're gonna take a different approach this time around, though, because I've been reading The Book of Basketball by Bill Simmons too much. (Seriously, if you're a basketball fan, go read it. Simmons is a captivating writer.)

JLA was written by Grant Morrison and drawn by Howard Porter. The first issue is cover-dated January 1997, and the pitch was simple: use DC's seven original Justice Leaguers, or at least, the ones then carrying the name — Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, and Aquaman. This came after some years of the Justice League being populated by second- and third-stringers, with the later years having the League adopt a very X-Men-like approach in terms of character dynamics and soap-operatic storylines. Not exactly very fitting for the World's Greatest Heroes. So Morrison wanted to reinstill the sense of grandeur that the League was supposed to have.

AVENGERS by Kurt Busiek and George Perez came a year later (the first issue is cover-dated February 1998) as one of four series for Marvel's "Heroes Return" event, which came off the heels of "Heroes Reborn." "Heroes Reborn" was a year-long project which saw Marvel outsource the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, and Captain America to Rob Liefeld's Extreme Studios and Jim Lee's Wildstorm Studios. Rob was in charge of Cap and Avengers for half of the year, when he had to hand the properties over to Jim. The Heroes Reborn books were a commercial success but were critically not very well received, but the thing is, Cap aside, those books were already spiraling downward in terms of sales and quality before then. AVENGERS in particular saw a team full of leather jacket–wearing members, bad mullets, and random new members, like Deathcry. (Seriously? Deathcry?) Busiek's vision was to bring the Earth's Mightiest Heroes back to their classic forms, and with George Perez on board, I think they pretty much succeeded.

Make no mistake: both series were fun as hell when they were coming out, and they're still really fun on a reread. And yes, I know that their differences kinda make this an apples/oranges comparison, but I can't help it. This article must be written. And it shall be written in a Dr.-Jack-ala-Bill-Simmons breakdown. (Dr. Jack is a sports analyst who divides things into categories and compares two things via category. Bill Simmons' version is the same thing, only with more... arbitrary... categories.) And if you've never read either series and want to decide which one to read first, maybe this will be helpful.

Let's get to it!