Dec 31, 2012

Roundtable Index

Welcome to the index for the Comics Cube Roundtable, where we at the Cube give our takes on certain comics arguments. Click on anything for the appropriate edition of the Roundtable!

Single Spider-Man vs. Married Spider-Man 
Dark Batman vs. Happy Batman
Female Character Costumes
Super Underwear
Superman vs. Batman
Superman's Strength Levels
Barry Allen vs. Wally West
Superman vs. Thor
Avengers vs. The Dark Knight Rises
Marvel vs. DC

Carl Barks vs. Don Rosa
Death in Comics: Gimmick or Story?
Stan Lee vs. Jack Kirby
"True Fans"
"Fake Geek Girls"
Steve Ditko vs. John Romita

Retro Series

Were superheroes, and should they always be, for kids?
To be duo-specific or not to be?
Are colorists important or just the color?
Thorough introductions, every appearance?
Royalties, participation rights, development rights? 
Comic Book Cliches

G.I. Joe: Silent Interlude

ROUNDTABLE 7 - The Amalgam Retrospective
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

Are Comics for Kids?

ROUNDTABLE 9 - Secret Wars vs. Crisis On Infinite Earths
Issues 1-3
Issues 4-6
Issues 7-8
Issues 9-10
Issues 11-12

DC Rebirth or Hydra Captain America?

Heroes Reborn or Kingdom Come?

The One Creator with the Best Chance to Get Your Money

The Last Comic That Surprised You

Your Favorite Criminal Volume

The Disney/Fox Merger

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

ROUNDTABLE 17 - The Marvel Cinematic Universe
January 3: Iron Man
January 10: The Incredible Hulk
January 17: Iron Man 2
January 24: Thor
January 31: Captain America: The First Avenger
February 7: The Avengers
February 14: Iron Man 3
February 21: Thor: The Dark World
February 28: Captain America: The Winter Soldier
March 7: Guardians of the Galaxy
March 14: Avengers: Age of Ultron
March 21: Ant-Man/Captain America: Civil War
March 28: Doctor Strange
April 4: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
April 11: Spider-Man: Homecoming
April 16: Thor: Ragnarok
April 23: Black Panther - Bonus: Black Panther: In Respect of Retrospect
May 2: Avengers: Infinity War
May 8: Is the Marvel Cinematic Universe replicable?
May 15: Gamora in Infinity War
February 25, 2019: Ant-Man and the Wasp
March 18, 2019: Captain Marvel
April 22, 2019: Your Favorite MCU Moments
April 29, 2019: Who Dies in Endgame? (Predictions)
April 30, 2019: Avengers: Endgame, Avengers: Endgame part 2
July 15, 2019: Spider-Man: Far From Home

Transformers: The Animated Movie

In Pace Requiescat: Steve Ditko

Your Favorite Mark Waid Work

Dec 30, 2012

On Amazing Spider-Man 700, Superior Spider-Man, and Being a Mark

So just after Christmas day, Amazing Spider-Man #700 came out. And for those who haven't been keeping up with the comics interwebz, the ending, which was leaked way around two weeks before its release, presumably by retailers who couldn't wait to show their readers the ending even though they technically shouldn't have (my retailer wouldn't show it to me before the 26th, and he wouldn't even look at it himself), caused a lot of uproar among hardcore fans, prompting Dan Slott to get death threats.

For those not in the know, in Amazing Spider-Man #698, it was revealed that Otto Octavius, also known as Dr. Octopus, had switched bodies with Peter Parker, Spider-Man, in a situation where they both had their own memories and each other's memories smooshed together. The issue itself was like a magic trick. You had to read it twice in order to really get it, because there was no way you were going to get it right off the bat.  It started of with a pretty generic "This is your life" version of Peter's current status quo, and then turning the tables around and showing that Otto had been in Peter's body through the whole issue.

The thing is, the moment that happened, everything fell into place. For weeks, fans had been wondering what would happen in Superior Spider-Man, the January launch replacing Amazing Spider-Man in the Marvel NOW! lineup. Marvel had made it clear that it wasn't going to be Peter Parker, that it would be someone else, and that Peter himself would be nowhere to be found. And the moment 698 happened, it was pretty obvious that that "someone else" was going to be Otto.

(In 697, also, Norman Osborn escaped the facility in which he was being kept, so I immediately thought "Ock vs. Goblin!" and I will not rest until I see that story.)

Once all the pieces were in place, there was really only one possible course of events in between 698 and Superior Spider-Man #1 (barring a scenario in which Peter got his body back, but enough of Otto's influence stayed in there to make him feel "superior"), which was to get Peter off the stage so that Otto could be free to have his spidery adventures. And that's what Slott did: Peter Parker, in Dr. Octopus' body, died, but not before he got into Otto's brain enough to influence Otto (the exact opposite of the scenario I just posted) to get Otto to rededicate his life to good and altruism, although, clearly, because he's Otto Octavius, it's not going to work. In fact, just a week before 700 came out, this happened in Daredevil:

I legitimately chuckled at this scene.

So the whole path of Superior Spider-Man seems pretty clear to me: Octavius will try to be the best Spider-Man he possibly could be; he'll fail miserably, because he's Otto Octavius and he's naturally, ahem, sinister; someone will figure out what happened, probably Carlie Cooper because Peter already told her in 700 what the deal is; and Peter will come back after a few months, probably via the out that he's "in there, somewhere," where "there" is his/Otto's brain, until such time that we can restore Otto to his body and things can get back to normal somehow. And honestly, I think it's going to be fun, and very entertaining. I just finished Slott's Arkham Asylum miniseries, and I thought that hit the right amounts of fun and disturbing, and it was economically paced.

(And also, Slott says so here: "But we all know he is that arrogant, egotistical Doctor Otto Octavius. What's going to happen now? He's going to try to be a superhero. He's going to try to take this new lease on life and use it for good. But he's Doc Ock, so of course he's going to do it through his own lens.")

That's what I thought while I was reading it. That's what I thought after reading it. That's what I think now, as I'm writing this. And the thing is, it struck me as so obvious, that it was incomprehensible to me how there could be fans thinking it was permanent, and how there could be fans who took it so seriously as to send death threats. After all, it's happened so many times before. In 1992, they killed off Superman and replaced him with four prospective candidates, with DC stating that one of them definitely was the real Superman. I didn't buy it then, either (I was 10), because I'd kind of cottoned to how superhero comics work, especially the big ones, so when Batman got his back broken a year later and replaced with Jean Paul Valley/Azrael, I knew it was only a matter of time before he came back, despite articles in Wizard that said Azrael would be Batman for a long time. Hal Jordan came back in 2005, and Bruce Wayne was shuffled off again in 2008, as was Captain America at pretty much the same time, to be replaced by Dick Grayson and Bucky Barnes. This is essentially the same story; comics have been doing this for a while, and now that I think about it, this is really nothing more of an inversion on a story that's kind of becoming a cliche (everyone remembers that year where Bruce Wayne wasn't around and Dick Grayson filled in for him, but does anyone really remember that that was the same year that Clark Kent could only be found in World of New Krypton, while you had Mon-El and a new Nightwing and Flamebird take center stage in his books?), because in this case the villain is trying to be the hero.

All in all, it's a pretty classic setup: show what's special about our hero by shuffling him off the stage for a while.

There's an inverse relation between permanence and popularity, and these characters, for all their changes, eventually return to their iconic forms. (That, and Slott basically said that this story was an Amazing Spider-Man story until the marketing guys asked them to come up with something for Marvel NOW, and he basically just told them to repackage the book because they already had a story going with what they were looking for).Peter Parker will be back as Spider-Man; the seeds are already actually planted (read 700 again; not only is there an easy out as to how he gets back --which is not to say that Slott will use that particular out-- but someone already knows and can help him get back). The only question is how long it'll take. The one time I believed someone would stay dead forever was Barry Allen, although when Hal Jordan came back, that was only a matter of time; and of course Bucky Barnes stayed on as Captain America longer because Brubaker had a longer story to tell. (For my part, I can't imagine them running with this story for more than three story arcs, which rougly translates to about eighteen issues, which, at two issues a month, is nine months long.)

And don't get me started on the solicitations. When DC and Marvel merged for a week-long event to produce the Amalgam Comics in 1996, they said the old DC and Marvel Universes were gone forever. DC promised that one of the four Supermen was the real Supermen, and there are still people today who think that DC chickened out by making the "real" Superman none of them, even when, reading Reign of the Supermen, it's pretty obvious that that was the point and the theme all along.  Azrael was never going to stick as Batman, even when DC said he would, because the whole point was to show what made Bruce Wayne essential as Batman and comment on 90s tropes while they were at it.

What's more, Slott's been on record that this story's been in the works for a long time, that it was going to be one of his plotlines for Amazing, and that the whole "ending" thing just kind of wrapped into Marvel NOW ("We already have this major upheaval happening in the book that makes it a completely different thing, and that in its own way kind of fits into the world of Marvel NOW!."), so it's not like it was a hotshot move, and at least marketing is giving this enough of a push that it's actually getting through to the non-comics audience. That said, I'm worried about marketing making it last longer than it's planned to, ala the Clone Saga. (The Clone Saga was another storyline where Peter Parker was replaced as Spider-Man. It wasn't well-received, but it started off strong, increasing sales, and just kind of petered out when, by all accounts, the marketing department stretched it out longer than it had to. I hope the same thing doesn't happen here.)

And all of this -- the lack of permanence, the coming plots -- seemed so naturally obvious to me that when I thought about the death threats and all the outrage, I really didn't get it. Had these people not been reading superhero comics for a long time? Do they not know the patterns? And if not, how could they not know the patterns? How could anyone buy the spiel that 700 was the end of Peter Parker's story? Of course it wasn't. Of course he'd be back. That's how superhero comics work. Of course 700 wasn't a good ending to the story of Peter Parker, because it was a lead-in to the next chapter. That's how it works. It doesn't end, and it all reverts to the classic setup. How could they not see this?

Isn't it obvious?

A few days ago, while at the beach, I got my answer as I received texts about the whole thing, some wondering how they could do this to Peter Parker. And while it was easy to dismiss the reactions as overreactions when it came to the naturally overreactive atmosphere of the Internet, it was not so easy doing it when it came to people I respected, people who sometimes read comics, people who love these characters, if not the material. Intelligent people, who nevertheless buy, at least for a while, the idea that Peter Parker would be gone forever.

At that point, exactly three things entered my mind:

(1) This is getting massive press. It's all over on the news, and people are expressing how much they love Spider-Man, even if they don't, you know, read Spider-Man. This might actually succeed in getting new readers.

(2) That led me to wondering whether or not the 20-page monthly issue is outdated. Most of my friends who sometimes read comics never read single issues; they read trade paperbacks. Maybe they should just scrap single issues altogether and go straight to the book market and---

(3) And I stopped right there, because that's when I realized that I am no longer a mark. A "mark" is a term used in professional wrestling to describe the target audience (the lingo has its roots in carny and vaudeville). Professional wrestling, as you know, is scripted, with the moves (ideally) not actually hurting but making it look like it hurts. To believe it hurts, to believe the wrestlers actually hate each other, is to be a mark. I stopped being a pro wrestling mark a long time ago, unable to see the events without considering the external aspects ("Is it good for business?", "Will it make them money?", "What does this mean for this wrestler?", "Will this draw an audience?") not in addition to the actual product presented, but over the actual product presented. I can still mark out (think something being presented is inexplicably awesome), but I was no longer a mark for pro wrestling.

And I realized, that day on the beach, a few days ago, that I wasn't a mark for Big Two superhero comics anymore either. I couldn't find it in me to be outraged about what "they did" to Peter Parker, my favorite character, because all I could see was how temporary it was, how it wasn't going to last, and wondering how they'd bring him back. I couldn't find it in me to even say that I was going to miss Peter Parker while he's gone, because I know he's gonna be back soon enough, and I want to see how Slott handles it -- and note how I phrase that; it's not "how it's going to go down," but "how Slott handles it." Maybe I've been reading too long. Maybe I've been running the Cube too long that I can no longer see the forest for the trees. Maybe I'm now incapable of appreciating the big characters on a surface level.

And I can't help but think, the people who are sending out death threats, the people who are outraged, the people who are going nuts about it -- I can't help but think that that's exactly what Slott wanted (fine, not the people sending out death threats). That reaction is so pure, so unimpeded. That's a reaction that's just centered on what's going on in the story, with no consideration to external factors like "What techniques did they use?", (700 was a real page-turner for me; I couldn't finish it fast enough.) or "Is this good for readership?", (Despite initial interest right now, I don't think it would matter, mostly because of format) or "How does this affect the movie?" (It doesn't.) And that was, honestly a pretty heady feeling, realizing at that moment that I'm not the target audience anymore. I'm not the mark. The target is the people who still buy into it, the people who still view Peter Parker as more than a fictional character. Not the people who buy it because they want to see what Dan Slott puts Peter through next.

I'm not there anymore. I doubt I ever really was. As Ben tells me, there's little a puppeteer can do for someone who can see the strings, and I think that's an apt analogy, because once you see the strings on a puppet show, it's difficult to un-see them. And that's kind of an eye-opener to me, and kind of encapsulates how I've felt about superhero comics from Marvel and DC for the better part of the last year. I still really enjoy the ones I buy (which are actually only two monthly titles, at this point -- Spider-Man and Daredevil), and there have been times, such as the aforementioned ASM 698, that I've been legitimately surprised.

But on the whole I find myself more and more uninterested in the rest of the enterprise. Marvel NOW came and is slaughtering the competition, and I can't bring myself to read any of it because I'm just not interested. I want things that end, things that have closure, things where I don't end up considering all the factors outside the story to judge the story, which doesn't actually make any sense, but that's just what it's come to, more and more, over the years. I'm not "outside" it anymore, though I'm not an "insider" either, so I end up unable to enjoy the product on a pure level, and just wondering how they're going to proceed with it.

And I just finished reading a novel, really excited and needing to know how it's going to turn out -- just how it's going to turn out, and nothing more -- and I'm remembering how much I enjoy just looking at the story as a story, and not as a product surrounded by many external factors. I was reading some TPBs, from the 80s to the early 2000s, and I was remembering how fun it was to read a story like that, without wondering about fan reactions, editorial shakeups, whether or not the story will be cancelled before it's even taken off.

In short, I remember what it was like to be a mark, and how fun it was.

So shit, I dunno what I'm saying, really. Maybe this is it, for me? Maybe Slott's Spider-Man is the last time I'm collecting Marvel and DC superhero comics? Maybe I'll switch to trades after this is done, so that I bypass all those external factors, so that when I finally get my hands on the story, I have little to judge it against other than the quality of the story? Maybe it's time to actively seek out stories, characters, and universes to which I can be a mark, fully and totally. Maybe I need to step away for a while from the universes that have become too familiar, give it some time to rest, and maybe I can come back to it later without involuntarily looking at the patterns, predicting where it's going to go, analyzing and overanalyzing the craft.

But that won't be for a while. Because that won't be for a while. And I still can't wait for Ock to fight Norman, and then for Peter to come back.

Because I'm still marking out for that.

As I was writing this piece, I thought about how much more excited I would be for this plotline if it were happening in Superman. They tend to do "powerless Superman" stories to emphasize that it's not the powers that make Superman special, so a brainswitch with Lex Luthor would be just taking that a step further, and be the natural evolution of this whole "Lex wants to prove he's greater than Superman" theme. It would also, based on the publicity this is getting, be the shot in the arm that I thought Superman comics has needed for a while. 

Dec 21, 2012

Merry Christmas, Comics Cubers!

This is gonna be the last Cube post of the year. We'll be back on January 7. I'll be kicking off the new year with a five-part retrospective on Alan Moore's time at Rob Liefeld's Awesome Comics, and then on January 14, we'll be back to our regular schedule. Back Issue Ben will be continuing his look at classic Iron Fist, and you can expect some articles from me about Paul Auster's City of Glass, Jack Kirby's Fourth World saga, and whatever else comes to mind. Pop Medicine will also be continuing.

In the meantime, I'd like to thank you readers for another year at the Cube, and I'd like to wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, and to say goodbye for 2012, let's go back 61 years to December 22, 1951. Here's Pilipino Komiks #119, drawn by the king of Pinoy komiks, Francisco Coching

Thanks to Video 48 for this awesome cover!

Happy Holidays, everyone! See you in a couple of weeks!

Dec 20, 2012

Pop Medicine: Replaying the Invisibles

Pop Medicine is a "visiting" column by Travis Hedge Coke for the Comics Cube! Click here for the archive!

In to Out With The Invisibles
Pop Medicine
Travis Hedge Coke

The Invisibles self-defines as “It's a thriller, it's a romance, it's a tragedy, it's a porno, it's neo-modernist kitchen sink science fiction that you catch, like a cold.” The Invisibles wants you to read it. And you. And you. But not you (yet). You and you. You should read The Invisibles. Or, if you have, then reread it.

The comic has a weird relationship with (potential) audience, spawning fan forums that eventually couldn’t stand to be thought of as having anything to do with Morrison or The Invisibles, generating nonfiction books of annotations, analysis, reminiscences, and also massive amounts of internet hating, a bit of a legal issue when it talked about boosting cars early on, and a white-painted button you still see occasionally worn in WeHo by kids who may as likely tell you it came from “some punk thing.”

Every so often, The Invisibles would try a different way to bring in a different audience, as if unsatisfied with the idea that everyone on the planet wasn’t enjoying this comic or at least one story in it. Almost as frequently, The Invisibles would develop a deliberate firewall to stall out readers and cast them off, such as the second storyline’s deliberate prizing of ideas, symbolism and didacticism over naturalistic conversations and subtle characterization. It really was “some punk thing” even when it was fresh and newly on the stands, all bright colors, hope and sentimentality.

And, here we are upon the date when Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles ends. It’s a big, mythic date by the time the series ends, and it’s a big mythic date today, in the really real world. So, we are faced with a question as that date comes close, as it threatens to pass, of whether the series will be worth revisiting once the big moment is gone. Every story that reaches into the near future faces this, from Terminator to Neon Genesis Evangelion.

There is a difference here. It’s an important date in the comic and it is also an important date in the real world for the same reason, a reason that no one seems to want to face head on: December 22nd, 2012 is important to those who believe it is important, and to the rest of us, because we are all aware how important it is to the right (number of) people. That’s it. The important dates in the abovementioned Terminator or Evangelion measurably change things. We have no sufficient way to measure the major future events of The Invisibles. We’re shown what the moment is like for two people, but let’s face it, those two people see shit and are, nice men who’ve shot people in the face as they both are, they’re unreliable.

So, is it going to be worth reading, even if nothing happens on Dec 22? Well, is Terminator worth it, even if the machines haven’t taken over yet? Is Split Second worth watching even if London isn’t flooded and besieged by a demonic serial killer yet?

The value of The Invisibles was never in prophecy. It was never in the future, for all the scenes taking place past its original publishing dates, or very of the past, despite jaunts back to the French Revolution, the Roaring Twenties, Nineteen Forty-Five, and the traumatic and dim Eighties.

So, it is worth reading a time capsule of a comic, then?

A time capsule is not just so you can have a nostalgia trip twenty years later, or to pretend there was a golden age and now it has passed. The perspective of a culture, a subculture, a group, a person, as self-defined, of a time and place, it’s just that: a perspective. The Invisibles is a fairly comprehensive perspective; a way to look at music, sex, government, fashion, violence, dance, superheroes, guilt, games, aging, depression, love, fads, babies, conquest, death, soft drinks, and romance.

And this capsule, The Invisibles, comes in multiple introductory flavors. There are three volumes of The Invisibles, over a series of collections (and now the massive, on sale for a huge discount most places hardcover collecting it all), and those three volumes each start with a very different taste and pace. The series ends on an issue marked #1, and it, too, is an introduction. So, if you don’t groove on the very traditionalist heroes journey that turns into didactic time travel murder mystery that starts off the first volume, jump to Bloody Hell in America, which opens volume two. Volume Two is guns, explosions, sex and oversized American Hollywood bullshit, with an underscore of sweat, tears, and debt to keep it grounded. The monsters are bigger. The explosions are massive. The guns never run out of bullets. And every line is a catchphrase. And, if you’re done with stories of posturing through guns and orgasms, there’s volume three, a twelve issue fugue bringing fun loving terrorists, occult detectives too into 70s cop shows, deeply-concerned government stooges, soldiers, and musicians together to fight, to laugh, and to carry us into a future of endless war and slavery or total party all the time now.

The Invisibles keeps trying to find a new way to get a different subsection of humanity to enjoy it. The first volume changes gears every few issues, each potentially appealing to a different audience who’ll then stick around and try the rest. The second volume goes full on populist not by being safe but by being loud and bright and pop. The third just refuses to stop, the increasing beats per minute rumble and pitch shifts that defined the turn of the century. There are stories in the comic that are straight up gothic (and class) horror, there’s love stories, some good pure action comics, sounds of science fantastica, bildungsroman on the streets. Every shift in the comic seems an attempt to bring more audience into the fold and to shed anyone who isn’t interested, or willing, to keep up.

The characters we are asked to sympathize with or align to range from British to Brazilian, young to old, varying in gender, ethnicity, social status, hobbies, style, from the current day to the past and future. They include a pissy kid from Liverpool who steals cars and kicks his history teacher in the head, an angry government agent who subscribes to safety through authority, a linguist who lies constantly, the ghost of the Marquis de Sade and his operatives, a single mother, a murdered soldier, a rap star who’s queer for death, office workers, prostitutes, wealthy socialites, scientists, shootists, corrupted spirits, and a man who might be Satan. The world, basically. In the end, we’re being given as wide a range of characters, often blatant stereotypes differentiated from their stock icons only by their subtleties and individuality, and asked to try as many of them on for size as we can bear.

The Invisibles keeps opening up to us and then closing down. It keeps showing us conflicts and confrontations, then shows that two hands clasped to arm wrestle hold air between the two palms, and the hands exchanging heat, they are putting a show on for anyone else in the room, and besides that, belong to arms that belong to bodies that belong to people who’ve had a life before that moment and will continue to have the rest of a life after. The first issue told you, in its letters page space, to buy the issue, read it, but afterwards, junk it and move on. Morrison and the many artists seem to want to bring you in, but also to drive you back out into the rest of the world, and perhaps it is best for that. Come in to go outside.

Dec 18, 2012

Comics' Biggest Boners: "Hindi Porno"

Welcome to another edition of Comics' Biggest Boners, in which we showcase some of the biggest goofs and gaffes in comics! Click here for the archive!

And now, your host, 1950s Joker!

This one isn't really a big boner so much as it, like 1950s Joker up there, just takes on a different meaning for a different audience. With 1950s Joker, it's a lingual shift across time and "boner" takes on a different meaning, and with this one, it's a shift through geography.

I have this book, The Essential Guide to World Comics, by Tim Pilcher and Brad Brooks.

Kenkoy on the same cover as Captain Marvel.
Pretty cool, pretty cool.

It's as comprehensive as a 320-page book could be about comics around the world, and they have a section on Filipino komiks. They show this cover to King Komiks #150.

On the next page, they write this caption about it.

"Despite the image and the heading 'Hindi Porn', Kingwas described on the cover by the publishers, Atlas,
as 'Wholesome Family Reading Material.'"

Apparently, Pilcher and Brooks thought the little blurb on the left was paradoxical, with the comic being advertised as wholesome and family-friendly while at the same time promising some porn, presumably of the Hindi variety. There's your problem when you use Taglish (a mixture of Tagalog and English), I guess—people just assume if most of the words are in English, then if anything else looks like it's in English, it must be English.So that's awkward, 'cause, you see, my non-Tagalog-speaking friends, "hindi" means "no" or "not." It specifically is saying that there is no pornography in the comic.

Of course, why they felt the need to specify that is a question I myself would like answered!

I just realized I wrote a whole article with the words "boners" and "porno." I wonder if this will hurt my family friendliness on Google.

Dec 17, 2012

Back Issue Ben: Iron Fist, Part 6

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

Part 6: Heroes for Hire

Last time, my exploration of the history of Iron Fist ended with him partnering up with Luke Cage, also known as Power Man. Power Man and Iron Fist is one of those beloved series that fans still talk about to this day, and Marvel periodically tries to resurrect it in various forms, with little success. (I’d love to see Marvel do a retro series set in the ‘70s, continuity be damned.) They were the perfect odd couple, yet you really believed that they were the best of friends. Add in plenty of supporting appearances from Misty Knight and my beloved Colleen Wing, and you have the recipe for a dynamite series.

Now, I’m not crazy enough to try and cover the entire series. Reading all those ROM comics nearly melted my brain, and I need my brain. I still use it from time to time. So what I am going to do is highlight a few key moments, and take a look at some issues I picked out that look like they might be entertaining.

Enough wasting time with my meaningless rambling, let’s get started.

Dec 14, 2012

Reclaiming History: Jack Cole's Plastic Man

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

Today, I talk about Jack Cole and Plastic Man!

So whenever I've written one of these Reclaiming History pieces, it's always been driven by a feeling of need. Whether it's Dave Gibbons' contribution to Watchmen or the careers of Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez and Roger Stern or the greatness that is Carl Barks, they all share one common link: they're all things that I think more people should know about.

Until recently, I never thought I'd feel the need to write this article. An article about Jack Cole, maybe, but of his most famous creation, Plastic Man? I didn't think there'd ever be a need. Plas is a true comics icon, someone who even my non-comics-reading coworkers know about. Or, at least, the ones older than me do. See, one of them recently made a crack about Plastic Man, which sent a younger coworker laughing, because she thought that the older coworker totally made that name up. Intrigued, I asked another coworker, also older than me, if she knew who Plastic Man was, and she talked a bit about how much she loved the old cartoon with Plastic Baby. The age gap between the oldest coworker and the youngest is just about 10 years. That's not a huge gap, all things considered, so it's pretty indicative of how quickly perceptions change.

Dec 11, 2012

Easter Eggs: Alan Moore in Swamp Thing

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

So, Alan Moore, known in recent years as the dude who turns down big money because he doesn't want to work with Hollywood or DC Comics, made his name in American comics on DC's Swamp Thing series, starting with its 20th issue. He stayed on that title until issue #64.

In this comic, Swamp Thing and his lover Abby are reunited after a long separation. We're also introduced to a new character named Gene LaBostrie.

Yep, that's Alan Moore!

Moore wrote "himself" into the story to say goodbye to the series. There's a sequence where LaBostrie, after turning money down for an easy enough job, looks at the growth on the swamp's banks and his shadow waves to him.

Check out those first two panels too. Moore was on his way out of DC at the time, and his stance hasn't changed since. Money isn't everything, not to him, and he still gets a kick out of turning money down. Also, his last commitment with DC was to finish up V for Vendetta, hence "the current creasing his pole into a wide and trailing 'V'."

Let the good times roll.

This can be read here:

Dec 10, 2012

Back Issue Ben: Iron Fist, Part 5

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

Part Five: Endings and Beginnings

I start out every one of these by saying, Iron Fist is arguably my second favorite superhero character of all time. (This is going on longer than I anticipated, so I’m running out of different ways to write that.) Why is he one of my favorites? Probably because of Claremont and Byrne, who were two of the best creators working in comics at the time, and they were making great comics starring this lovable Kung-Fu lug. Plus he has a cool costume, a cool tattoo, and he kicks people in the face. That’s better than that punk Superman.

Previously, on Back Issue Ben: Danny Rand was raised in the mystical city of K’un-Lun learning the deadly martial arts, until he rose to the exalted position of Iron Fist, by wrestling a dragon. Harold Meachum, responsible for the death of Danny’s parents, is dead. His daughter, Joy, blames Iron Fist for his death. Iron Fist continues to acclimate to modern life, and grow closer to private investigator Misty Knight. Together with his best friend, samurai Colleen Wing, they get into all kinds of wacky adventures. Recently, Iron Fist has been getting attacked by a mysterious stranger, who steals a bit of his life energy with every ambush.

Everyone on the same page? Is anyone even reading this? Bacon is great. Iron Fist is great. Go grab some bacon, and let’s read some Iron Fist. It’ll be great.

Dec 7, 2012

Reviews: Donald Duck: A Christmas for Shacktown

I was only six pages in on Donald Duck: A Christmas for Shacktown, when I found myself already chuckling in my seat.

Just like with last year's Donald Duck: Lost in the Andes and this past July's Uncle Scrooge: Only a Poor Old Man, this latest addition to The Complete Carl Barks Library from Fantagraphics is nothing less than a visual and narrative treat. Every story is delivered adeptly by a master craftsman, made even more impressive once you realize that Barks doesn't deviate at all from his basic layout, that of four-tiers per page, of two panels per tier. Sure, sometimes he'd combine two panels or change their sizes, but nothing crazy; nothing the JH Williams and Marcos Martin fans (of which I am one) would go crazy over.

(Side note: I believe keeping the tiers was a way for production to be able to cut up the strips for various formats, because sometimes the strips would be presented in a more landscape format, and for that a page that Barks did would be cut in half and presented as two different pages. Sometimes these things dictate the type of innovation you can do.)

But that only serves to highlight how good Barks was inside and in between the panels. Every story in A Christmas for Shacktown flows smoothly, panel to panel. There is immediate closure between two images, and with panel size and sometimes shape being the only tools at his disposal, it's impressive how much he knows to change in order to emphasize any given panel, any given moment. And of course, his facility with body language, gestures, and expressions were off the scale. There are artists whose work you just can't explain, and Barks is one of them. "Read this. Yes, it's got ducks in it. It's really, really good." That's the best way I can describe his craft, both as writer and artist.

In fact, if anything hurts A Christmas for Shacktown, it's the consistency of the high quality, as well as the way Fantagraphics scheduled these books to come out. They never made it a secret that they wanted to start with the best stuff instead of going chronologically, and since this is the third book, it's to be expected that there's no real way for the quality of the stories to go but down, and this is perhaps exacerbated by the fact that Barks tends to repeat themes — adventure on the high seas, dumb luck, two-faced lawyers, for example — but he does them so well that it looks like the progression of these books, while downhill, will be a slow descent.

It's going to be great.

The stories in Donald Duck: A Christmas for Shacktown first appeared in Walt Disney's Comics and Stories #135-144 and Full Color #368, 408, and 422, from December 1951 to September 1952, and are listed below.

Long Stories
  • A Christmas for Shacktown. Donald's nephews — Huey, Dewey, and Louie — pass through Shacktown, which is the impoverished side of Duckburg. Daisy Duck agrees to host a party for them, but they need 50 dollars to buy the Shacktowners a turkey and a toy train, and it's up to Donald to get 25 of those from his miserly, penny-pinching Uncle Scrooge McDuck. This is difficult enough to begin with, but it's made even harder once the floor of Scrooge's vault gives way and all his money goes down a deep pit. (In an interesting side note, Shacktown was the setting for the first comic book that the legendary underground cartoonist, Robert Crumb, ever did. Let that stick in your head for a second.)
  • The Golden Helmet. While working as a museum guard, Donald discovers an old log detailing the whereabouts of the golden helmet of Olaf the Blue, who discovered America centuries before Columbus. Unfortunately, a little-known law states that since Olaf the Blue claimed America, it means that his nearest of kin will be able to claim the entire continent once the helmet is found. This story utilizes two Barks tropes: sharky lawyers (he's even named Sharky) and adventure on the high seas!
  • The Gilded Man. Donald has taken up stamp collecting, and he's after a one-cent magenta stamp from 1856, which is worth $50,000. Unfortunately, not only does he have to compete with his cousin, Gladstone Gander, whom all luck shines upon, there's also only one such magenta stamp accounted for in the world, and it's in the forests of British Guiana. This story is probably my favorite in this collection, just because of the way it wraps up. Barks usually saves his endings for punchlines, turning things into jokes, but this one offers a bit more narrative closure.

Short Stories
  • The Big Bin on Killmotor Hill. This is the first appearance of Scrooge's money bin, and like most other stories that feature his money bin, it's about how incredibly protected it is and how the Beagle Boys, those dastardly burglars, manage to find a way to take his money anyway. If any story is hurt by Fantagraphics' not putting this series out in chronological order, it's this one — we've already seen a money bin story in Only a Poor Old Man, and that one was better. Still, this one's pretty good.
  • Gladstone's Usual Good Year. Donald is determined to beat his lucky cousin Gladstone in a raffle for Thanksgiving turkeys, no matter how many tries it takes! Of course, it's impossible to win against Gladstone, ever (one of the boys even remarks that " Cheating against Gladstone is only self-defense!"), and it's very entertaining to see how Gladstone keeps winning.
  • The Screaming Cowboy. Donald writes a song called "The Screaming Cowboy," but whenever he plays on the jukebox in an inn, an avalanche starts. The boys try to figure out what's causing them, and run into an old recluse named The Snow Hermit.
  • Statuesque Spendthrifts. The Maharaja of Howduyustan shows up in Duckburg, and Scrooge is offended by people proclaiming that the Maharaja is richer than he is. So the two of them get into an outspending contest  to see who can build the biggest statue of Cornelius Coot, the founder of Duckburg. And things get hilariously ridiculous.
  • Rocket Wing Saves the Day. The boys have a bird named Rocket Wing, who is incredibly fast but has a tendency to stop in midflight unexpectedly, thus rendering him useless in races. Donald decides to have some fun with the bird, which gets him in trouble with Daisy. It starts a string of misunderstandings. Hilarity ensues.
  • Gladstone's Terrible Secret. Donald and the boys want to figure out why Gladstone is so lucky, and they decide that he must have a lucky charm in his safe. Gladstone is desperate to make sure they don't see what's in there. What could he be hiding? This is also the first appearance of Gyro Gearloose, Duckburg's wacky inventor.
  • The Think Box Bollix. If not for "The Gilded man," this may be my favorite one, because it just shows how much fun Barks was having. Duckburg may be full of anthropomorphized animals, but it's also full of regular animals. Gyro Gearloose then invents a machine to make those regular animals intelligent, and Barks just goes wild. Donald dresses up as a wolf to frighten the boys; a now-intelligent wolf chases Donald so he can have roast duck... it's just a fun play on the whole concept of anthropomorphism, and it shows.
  • Houseboat Holiday. Donald takes the boys out on a boat for vacation, but pretty soon they're out of drinking water and gas! Everything that could go wrong, goes wrong.
  • Gemstone Hunters. Donald gets gypped into buying a piece of land because of some gemstones he finds there. But the gemstones are just regular rocks colored with dye! Donald tries to get his money back by pulling the same trick on his cousin Gladstone, but as we've covered before, you can't win against Gladstone....
  • Spending Money. Uncle Scrooge has too much money. There's no space in his offices for it anymore and no banks will take them, so the only option is to spend it! He hires Donald to spend several bags of money, and they and the boys go spend it all around the country, which of course is torture for Scrooge, for whom spending money is anathema. The punchline is really funny.

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:
  • Full-Service Windows
  • Rigged-Up Roller
  • Awash in Success
  • Stable Prices
  • Armored Rescue
  • Crafty Corner
  • Treeing Off
  • Christmas Kiss
  • Projecting Desires
I've said it before and I'll say it again. With any comics from a certain age, you have to keep in mind when they were made and account for the stylistic differences of the time. But not with Barks. His stuff is as good as ever.

Highly recommended.

Dec 6, 2012

What's Next, Karen Berger?

Dear Ms. Berger,

Just a couple of days before it was announced that you will be stepping down from Vertigo in March, I was discussing with some friends the factors that went into the creation of Vertigo—the success of Alan Moore, the British Invasion, the natural evolution of a mature readers market in comics—and while it seemed that absolutely no one was on the same page about the whole issue, the one thing everyone agreed on was that you, Karen Berger, did not and do not get enough credit for the creation of Vertigo and the shepherding of a mature readers line into mainstream comics. This is, if anything, I think, a testament to your abilities as an editor and as a manager: making sure things went smoothly, drafting the right talent for the right books, and stepping back, never taking the publicity, and always putting the stories first. But it did bother me enough that I had started a Reclaiming History draft, making sure that in the near future and after a lot of research, I would write a piece to make sure that the readers I have (a paltry percentage of the comics-reading public, but still something) would know, without any doubts, how important you are to the history of comics.

And then word came out that you were stepping down, and all of a sudden the testimonials came out, on Facebook, on Twitter, on various blogs and websites, and I realized, though I may still write the piece, that no one had to reclaim history for you. People know how important you are, with Chris Roberson even pointing out that in the hierarchy of important editors, you would rank third, behind only William Gaines and Stan Lee, which, if I may understate, isn't bad company at all. In short, you're a living legend, and my generation is all proud to have grown up in the Karen Berger era, and we thank you for that.

Much has been made about what this means for DC Entertainment, and specifically what it means for Vertigo and impending projects like the new Sandman. To those of us outside, it certainly seems that Vertigo is shutting down sometime soon and that the writing is on the wall. But I'm actually more interested, Ms. Berger, in what it is you're going to do next. Where are you going to go? Are you taking any of the talent you're working with, with you, and if so, who? Will the new place, wherever it is, give you the resources and the creative control that you need?

Because—and I know I'm not alone in this—wherever you go, given anything that even resembles the right conditions (which just means that you wouldn't be stifled), you would make an impact. Whether it's at Image or Fantagraphics or Archaia (my personal preference) or, heck, even Marvel, you could take a group of talent and diversify, and push the medium, again and again. Maybe it's a book publisher that's deigning to start up their own comic book line, and with a book publisher's resources, such a line would get wider distribution. Wherever you go, no one loses in this scenario. Least of all the fans.

So please keep us updated, Ms. Berger. What are you going to do, once you leave Vertigo behind? Who are you taking with you? What projects have you got planned?

Where will Karen Berger make history next?

I can't wait to find out.


The Comics Cube!

Dec 4, 2012

Comic Book Glossary: Bleed

Welcome to a new installment of Comic Book Glossary! One of the aims of the Comics Cube! has always been to help out the newer readers who may be interested in, but aren't all that knowledgeable in comics, and one thing everyone needs to know if they're interested are the terms. Click here for the index!

Today's word is "bleed," and that's a general term in the print industry. In comics, it basically means when a drawing isn't contained by panel borders and "bleeds" out to the rest of the page. A bleed has several applications. Sometimes it's just used for a splash page.

Sometimes it's used when a sequence is taking place "behind" the panels on the page.

And sometimes it's used just for one panel.

But the effect is almost always the same: it's about involving the reader. Scott McCloud states in Making Comics that bleeds can open up a scene not just because it has more space, but because since we're so conditioned to treat panels as windows, if we can't see the frames, then it means we're through the window and into the world beyond it. In a way, it's kind of like zooming in without actually having to zoom in.

It's particularly effective when used in establishing shots.

All examples for this piece are from Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns!

Dec 3, 2012

Back Issue Ben: Iron Fist, Part 4

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

Part 4: Bring on the Big Guns!

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, Iron Fist is arguably my second favorite superhero character of all time. My favorite character? Squirrel Girl. (Not really, but now that I think about it, she might bump ole’ yellow slippers down to #3.) Why Iron Fist? Yellow mask, blah blah, dragon tattoo, blah blah, martial arts. Look, just read the previous entries in this series, I hate writing the openings. I’m not good at it. Why do you like to make me feel inadequate!?!

Previously, on Back Issue Ben: Danny Rand was raised in the mystical city of K’un-Lun learning the martial arts, until he was picked to become the Iron Fist. Harold Meachum, responsible for the death of Danny’s parents, is dead. His daughter, Joy, blames Iron Fist for his death. Iron Fist finally rescued Colleen Wing and defeated her kidnapper Master Khan, who had been the cause of all kinds of grief for our hero. He followed that up by taking down a criminal empire of martial artists going by the name of the Golden Tigers.

There, everyone all caught up? Stupid multipart retrospectives…grumble grumble. Anyway, let’s hurry up and speed through #11, because I can’t wait to see Iron Fist versus Captain America. Let’s do this!