Oct 30, 2012

Irrational Love Week: Booster Gold, on Matt's Mentionables

It's Irrational Love Week at the Comics Cube, where we each pick a character that we love but think is overlooked or doesn't get enough love, and explain why they're some of our favorite characters. Click here for the archive!

Today is Matt's turn, and he picks...

The Greatest Hero You've Never Heard Of!
by Matt

He may have perfected the disco collar, he may have been in it for the money and endorsements (at first), he may have stolen pretty much all the gear he uses to fight crime, he may have come from the future with less than honorable intentions, but Booster Gold is the greatest hero you've probably never heard of.


History of the Man from the Future


Booster Gold actually has a surprisingly important part in DC history. His was the first character of any significance introduced after Crisis on Infinite Earths. Born Michael Jon Carter (which is pretty great if you're an Edgar Rice Burroughs fan) and from 25th century Gotham, Booster was a troubled future soul. His sidekick Skeets is actually a security robot that caught Booster stealing, among many other things, a Legion of Super-Heroes flight ring ,and a Time Sphere from the Metropolis Space Museum. Booster went back in time seeking fame and fortune and succeeded in achieving neither of these goals.

When he was first introduced, Booster basically concocted a scheme to make himself a superhero, including hiring the "villain" he was defeating. From there, came the lucrative endorsements and eventually a place in the 80's Justice League International. It was during this time that Booster met two people who would greatly influence his past-future (time travel is involved a lot here, so I suggest you create diagrams to follow along): Ted Kord and Maxwell Lord.

Throughout most of the 80s and 90s, Booster and Ted served as comic relief. Anyone who has wondered what people are talking about when they wax nostalgic about "Blue and Gold," it's for what I consider the ultimate buddy superhero team. The 90s saw Booster lose his powers (his future-suit got broken), lose an arm (Ted hooked him up with a new suit and arm), get to name Doomsday, and basically become the shameless self-promoter everyone knows and loves. Booster sort of faded into very minor character status for a while after that.

Back to the Future and Back to the Present

Ted Kord's death basically puts an end to Booster's fun times in the past. He hangs up his goggles, puts away the disco collar and returns to his present. Booster returns for Infinite Crisis with a new determination and knowledge about the present. This was my first introduction to the DC comics version of Booster (I had watched him only on Justice League Unlimited shows). He comes from the future with a warning and acts. The decisive Booster, learning to master time, is the Booster I love.

So, now Booster is back and with a new attitude. The same reputation surrounds him, but in the 52 series, you get to see Booster really shine. He is a man with a plan and pretty much the main character of the year long series (in my mind, if not in fact). I would say Spoiler Alert!, but the series is 6 years old at this point. Anyway, Booster uses his terrible reputation (see 1980s) and time travel (complicated!) to defeat Mr. Mind (who is hiding out in his robot sidekick's body). The best part of the 52 series? Booster Gold comes back for his second solo series!



Time Traveling Hero

Booster's second series only last 47 issues, but man, were they great. Right off the bat, he tries to save his best buddy, Ted Kord, and learns a hard lesson about time travel. He can't change the past, he can't save Ted and he can't stop the Joker from paralyzing Barbara Gordon. It also teaches you that Rip Hunter (SPOILER ALERT!!! Booster's son) is kind of a dick.


Booster then goes on an adventure with the non-Ted Beetles. Basically, Booster destroys the universe trying to save Ted. This close friendship is a constant part of Booster's life and defines his new career. He is haunted by the fact that no matter how hard he tries, he cannot save his best friend.




Booster failed when he was a joke superhero, constantly seeking fame, glory and money. And the man who betrayed him pops up regularly in the new series, despite initially being dead: Maxwell Lord

Max indeed.


Booster's next big Max-related challenge comes about during the Brightest Day and Justice League: Generation Lost stories. Max has been resurrected and also kind of brain-wipes the world. Now, no one knows who he was, what he did and (to really piss off Booster) thinks Ted Kord killed himself.



Basically, Booster and the old JLI team spend a year tracking down Max Lord and convincing the world he exists and is a problem. They succeed and then Flashpoint happens. Booster has become a strong, thoughtful leader, one even Batman trusts. This sense of trust and leadership potential extended into the new DC continuity (Booster being one of the few people who affected the new continuity, even if he doesn't realize it). It's also the one thing they kept from the old continuity about Booster and I thoroughly enjoyed it.



My Irrational Love

Booster Gold is a huckster, a thief, a cheater, and man with terrible fashion sense. Why would anyone not currently crazy be a huge fan of his? Well, my love for Booster is rooted in the fact that he is basically a complete screw-up and he's trying to make it right. He utterly failed his best friend and he's defined by that failure. More than most characters in the DC universe, his failure still seems fresh and new. Batman is defined by what happened to him in childhood, the same with Superman. Booster is the most human of the DC characters I've followed. He could be you or me, trying to be taken seriously and with great potential.

Plus, and this is key, he gets to travel through time and has a robot sidekick.

Oct 29, 2012

Irrational Love Week: Arcade, by Back Issue Ben

It's Irrational Love Week at the Comics Cube, where we each pick a character that we love but think is overlooked or doesn't get enough love, and explain why they're some of our favorite characters. Click here for the archive!

Today is Back Issue Ben's turn, and he picked Arcade! Here's Ben!

Great Pinball Machines and Irrational Love
by Ben Smith

Human beings do irrational things out of love. We can make mistakes, bad decisions, or act out of character. Emotions, feelings, they make us do dumb things (which is why I choose not to bother with them). It's no different for comic book fans. Everyone has that character that they love, even when they know that character is a little bit silly. Some of us can take that love too far, like collecting an entire run of Booster Gold (just kidding, Booster Gold fans!), but it all comes from a place of pure fandom, of joy. There's something indescribable about opening up a comic and seeing that little used character that you love, it instantly brings a smile to your face.

This time, I'm going to talk about one of those characters for me. He's skinny, with red hair, wears an all-white suit, and constructs giant pinball machines as deathtraps. Yes ladies and gentlemen, I am talking about the villainous Arcade. Now, if you've been reading my insane rantings at all in the past, you know that I grew up as a Spider-Man and X-Men kid, and those are the two books Arcade appeared in first. I never had a chance.


So grab your quarters and let's see what's so great about Arcade.

Oct 27, 2012

Easter Eggs: Winsor McCay's Little Nemo in Batman

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

 So last week, Google Doodle celebrated the 107th anniversary of Winsor McCay's Little Nemo in Slumberland, and interest in McCay's work went up quite a bit. And that's appropriate, because Winsor McCay is awesome.

One of McCay's most famous installments of Little Nemo involves his bed growing legs.



Now here's the cover to Batman 377 by Ed Hannigan and Dick Giordano.


I love it!

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

Oct 26, 2012

Retrospective: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?

In July 2008, it was announced that Neil Gaiman would be doing a Batman story entitled Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? The announcement was apparently so big that there was at least one audible gasp from the audience. Coming off the heels of Batman RIP and Final Crisis, where Batman was left dead for a while, WHTTCC (as I will call it now) had all the makings of an evergreen book: Neil Gaiman, arguably the one creator whose name moves the most comics among the non-comic-book-reading crowd; his 1602 collaborator Andy Kubert; the most popular superhero in the world today in Batman; a thematical and nominal connection to another evergreen book, Alan Moore and Curt Swan's Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?, which was a goodbye to the Man of Steel circa 1986 after Crisis on Infinite Earths; and a theme that should put butts in seats (figuratively speaking), the death of Batman.

But it's now four years later, and maybe it sells newer readers, but it's not really the subject of much conversation among hardcore comic fans, Batman fans (there's a difference), or even Gaiman fans the way other Batman stories—such as Dark Knight Returns, Batman: Year One, or The Killing Joke—and Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? are. You'd be hardpressed to find it on a lot of top 10 lists (I just Googled it, and of the first three results, it makes one top 25 list at number 12 and doesn't make the other two lists at all.), and why is that? What's missing?

Oct 24, 2012

Available at Komikon: TRESE 5: Midnight Tribunal

Ooh, I know people have been waiting for this one...here's what you can expect from Budjette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo this Saturday at Komikon!

TRESE 5: Midnight Tribunal
ISBN: 971-05451-8-3
Creators: Budjette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo
SRP: P150.00

"In a city where the aswang control everything that is illegal and where ancient gods seek to control everything else, enforcing the law can be a very difficult task.

When crime takes a turn for the weird, the police normally call Alexandra Trese. Lately, it seems like others have been taking that call.

Trese must confront these supernatural crime-fighters and bring order back to the city, before the underworld attempts to seek balance in its own way."







Komikon will be held at the Bayanihan Center at Pioneer, Mandaluyong City. If you're commuting, take the MRT or bus to Boni, then take a trike from Robinsons Pioneer and say "Bayanihan Center." If you're driving, get on EDSA and turn onto Pioneer, then just go straight until you see the Bayanihan Center on your left. Tickets are P100 each.

Oct 23, 2012

Filipino Heroes League: An Interview with Paolo Fabregas

The Filipino Heroes League is a 2009 komik by Paolo Fabregas, starring some very distinct Filipino heroes. The team leader, Flashlight, is based on Pinoy rock legend Pepe Smith. The Maker is a kid who can make machines out of junk. Kidlat Kid is a speedster who drives a pedicab for extra income, and who wears a KKK (that's the Kataas-taasan, Kagalang-galang Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan, our freedom-fighting group from Spanish colonial times, not the other KKK) T-shirt with the third K stitched up so it only reads "KK." The rest of the team comprises telepath Maria Constantino, a gambler named Slick, and Slick's brother Invisiboy. They work for the government, and of course, because they work for the government, they're underfunded. Instead of a Quinjet or a Blackbird, all they have is a jeep with a faulty starter. And so, in one scene with a distinct Filipino flavor (and also the winner of "Best Scene" at last year's Komikon), Invisiboy and Kidlat Kid rush to the rescue in Kidlat Kid's pedicab.

Invisiboy also kinda looks like FHL creator Paolo Fabregas. What's up with that? I sat down with Paolo and decided to ask him this and other hard-hitting question, including the status of his application to Marvel Comics (Paolo was one of several Filipino artists shortlisted by CB Cebulski back in February).

Paolo shows up with what looks like a sword, so naturally, my first question is...

Me: So what's with the sword?

Paolo Fabregas: The sword. I've always wanted one of those umbrella things with the sword. It was either the sword or the lightsaber. So I told my wife, "Get me a samurai sword." The thing is, I only started using this because my car broke down. The engine totally seized. As you can see, I have other interests than car maintenance. (laughs) I wish someone would just invent a car that wasn't a hassle and would take care of itself. So I've been commuting, and as a professional commuter, you need an umbrella.

What was the spark for the idea of the Filipino Heroes League? Where did that come from?

It's gonna sound kind of selfish, but I wanted to read a Filipino comic book or a Filipino superhero comic book that dealt with the issues that the country was facing at the time. When the idea popped into my head, it was the time during GMA's... uh... dominion?

That's a long time.

Yeah, that's a long time, so it's been brewing for a long time, the idea of this comic book. There were lots of things that were just disturbing me. And I wanted to read a comic book that was about all the disturbing things that were going on. I thought it would be so apt, and I wasn't seeing it, so I thought "Well, why don't I just write it?" (laughs) Kind of out of the blue—I had no idea what I was doing!

That leads me to my next question. How planned out was the book ahead of time?

Extremely planned out. So before I even started writing, I had a very detailed plot outline from book 1 to book 3. So there's a very clear direction of where I wanted to take the story from the get-go. It took a lot of backstory and thinking. I kind of treated it a little bit like the way—you know, I'm not Tolkien, but a miniscule version of what Tolkien did. Where, before he wrote Lord of the Rings, he created the whole history of this world, and he took the most interesting thing about it and that's what the Lord of the Rings trilogy was. That's kind of what I did, except I didn't have to create an entire world. I had Philippine history, and I just had to tweak it a little bit. I just had to put  superheroes into Philippine history a little bit and then focus on the most exciting bit. I can tell you the story now. There's Book 1. I can tell you what happens in Book 2, and I can tell you what's going to happen in Book 3.

Oct 22, 2012

Back Issue Ben: Guarding the Galaxy: Star-Lord

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

Guarding the Galaxy: Exploring the Marvel Cosmic Universe
Part 1: Star-Lord?
by Ben Smith

I've often thought that I am not a big fan of stories set in space. But that really doesn't hold up under careful examination. Like most guys of my generation, some of my earliest memories involve my obsession with Star Wars. One of my favorite books is Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. I loved the Transformers with every inch of my little adolescent heart. So, where exactly, did I get this notion that I don't like space epics?

I got it from comic books. Most spacefaring comic books that I read as a kid were dreadfully boring (I'm looking at you, Quasar!) The heroes all seemed to have similar, undefined power sets. The villains weren't terribly interesting. And, like I've said once or twice before, I grew up reading Spider-Man, who works best with his feet set firmly on the New York pavement (or rooftops).

All that changed around 2006. I had been reading a lot of positive buzz online about an event involving the cosmic characters of the Marvel Universe, called Annihilation. I decided to get the third volume of the hardcover collections, which included a few of the tie-in miniseries leading up the main series, as well as the main series itself. I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of not only the tie-ins, but the main event itself. Here it was starring a bunch of characters I never really cared about, or flat out hadn't even heard of, and I was having a great time. But, with Nova as the primary protagonist of this event, it didn't quite reach the level of obsession for me yet. (Not that there is anything wrong with Nova, they made me care about him more than I ever had before, he's just never been a favorite of mine.)

Greatness would come with the sequel, Annihilation: Conquest, and a little series spinning out of that called Guardians of the Galaxy. Now I was hooked. Not only was Bug (of my beloved Micronauts comics) along for the ride, but there were so many other great characters I had discovered along the way. Rocket Raccoon, Gamora (the deadliest woman in the galaxy), and Groot, just to name a few. Leading them was this surly, manipulative jerk of a character I had never even heard of before, by the name of Star-Lord, and he was magnificent.

Keith Giffen, and Abnett and Lanning went deep into their Official Handbooks of the Marvel Universe for these events, and Star-Lord is probably the most perfect example of that. Plucked from obscurity (after barely appearing at all for the past 30 years) and reinvigorated to the point that he's now possibly going to be starring (along with the other Guardians) in a big budget Marvel Studios movie.

What newfound fans of Star-Lord might not know, is just how crazy his origin story actually is. It is an obscure classic. It is quite possibly the best origin story that you have never read (or even heard about) before. (Seriously, right now, without cheating, could you even tell me what his origin story is?)

Well, I aim to fix that right now. Come along with me, as we go all the way back to 1976, as Marvel experiments with some harder-edged stories in a magazine called Marvel Preview

Oct 21, 2012

Comics Cube Is No Longer Accepting Free Comics for Review

It's with regret that I'm implementing a new policy to no longer accept advance review copies of comics and other related material. In the entire time the Cube has been around, I've received my fair share of complimentary (or comp) copies of comics that are given to me specifically for review purposes. I've decided to discontinue that practice for the following reasons:
  • I am having difficulty devoting energy to them. As you may notice, reviews aren't even the thing I do most. The Cube is structured to contain several kinds of topics, and a lot of the time, reviews are pretty hard to do. ("Hey guys. I like this book. Buy it.") As such, I feel bad when I don't actually end up getting the review up in time (or in most cases, at all) for it to be of any use to readers or the creators (e.g., well after release).
  • I've come to the realization that I can't actually tell you if it's worth the money if I don't actually pay for the book. How can I tell you that you should buy it if I myself didn't?
  • I have a really difficult time reading online copies. I'm not sure why. Somehow information doesn't stick as well as if it's on print, and I often feel like I'm not reading it the way I'm supposed to. It's like reviewing a movie that I watched on my PC and then telling you that you should go pay money to see it in theaters.
  • That's it, really. I haven't been able to get it out so that it's useful to creators or readers, plus I don't think I'm writing them in an unbiased manner anyway.

This of course doesn't mean I'll stop reviewing comics altogether. It just means that I am no longer accepting comp copies that are given to me specifically for review purposes.

Thanks to all who offered and will ofer. I really appreciate that my opinion on your comic means something to you, but after much reflection, I've decided it was best to no longer make promises I end up not keeping.

Thanks, all.

Oct 19, 2012

At Komikon: Δ: A VISION OF DUST, KADASIG, and BATHALA: APOKALYPSIS

So, to everyone in the Metro Manila area, Komikon is next Saturday! So here's David Hontiveros, talking about the three komiks he and his artists are putting out that day!

_____________________________________________________
Greetings, Earthling.

Halloween is almost upon us, but before then, we’ve got some Komikon hijinx to deal with first.

Any of you mighty fine folk who plan to be there on October 27 and to drop by the Alamat table will have these titles to choose from (in alphabetical order):

BATHALA: Apokalypsis
Issue 5B (of 7)
By David Hontiveros and Ace Enriquez
Black and white
Price: 50 pesos

What if there was only one superhuman in the whole world?
What if the world was about to end as predicted in the Book of Revelation?
What can one superman do to hold back the hand of the Almighty?

Rescued by the People from his torturous captivity in Abaddon’s locust hive on the Guadalupe Bridge, Bathala must now face the four Angels of the Euphrates to prevent the slaughter of 2 billion people.

Meanwhile, Harold Hernandez and the UP are just waiting for their shot at putting an end to the hero once and for all.


KADASIG
Volume 1: The Skeleton at the Feast
Issue 1 (of 5)
By David Hontiveros and Ian Sta. Maria
Black and white with colored cover
Price: 70 pesos

Kadasig has served the Lady Ibu for centuries.

He was human, once. But today, he is a living, breathing kutummu, his skin now merely the scabbard for the seemingly infinite array of weapons he draws from inside himself, weapons he shapes from his own flesh and bone, to best serve the Lady in the only way he truly knows how.

He is the Lady’s kallaapu; her knight, her enforcer.
He is her beet tilli; her arsenal.
He is her kak daami; her bloodstained weapon.

And she is about to use him to finally lay her enemies low...

Picking up where the Underpass story, "Katumbas" left off, "A Life Less Ordinary" is the first of five chapters of The Skeleton at the Feast, chronicling the further adventures of the tsinelas-wearing badass, Kadasig.


Δ: A Vision of Dust
Issue 1 (of 4)
By David Hontiveros and Xerx Javier
Black and white with two colored covers
Price for cover 1: 70 pesos
Price for cover 2: 70 pesos
Price for both as a set: 100 pesos (50 pesos each)

In the many rooms of the House that is the World, there are arelim and shedim. Most men know them as angels and demons.

On occasion, both these races have been known to spill their seed onto humankind, producing hybrids forever caught between species, having characteristics of both, but belonging to neither.

Lucio Portador is one such hybrid.
He is the first point of our triangle.

Δ: AVoD is a four-issue limited series about three individuals who are trying their best to be who they yearn to be, while having to deal with all the weird sh!t baggage of who they are.


See all you mighty fine people at the Kon!


you can’t drink just six,


Dave
_____________________________________________________

Komikon will be held at the Bayanihan Center at Pioneer, Mandaluyong City. If you're commuting, take the MRT or bus to Boni, then take a trike from Robinsons Pioneer and say "Bayanihan Center." If you're driving, get on EDSA and turn onto Pioneer, then just go straight until you see the Bayanihan Center on your left. Tickets are P100 each.

See you there, guys!

Oct 18, 2012

Pop Medicine: 70s Kirby Would Make Great Movies

Pop Medicine is a column written by Travis Hedge Coke. Travis is the founder of Future Earth Magazine, and his writings can be found all over the place, including in Renderwrx Magazine in a column called "Pop Mechanics." He is currently a visiting professor in China, and for the next year, the Cube will be giving his columns a virtual home. Be sure to visit his personal website if you would like to read more of his work. Click here for the Pop Medicine archive!

70s Kirby Would Make Great Movies
by Travis Hedge Coke

We’ve had X-Men, Fantastic Four, Captain America, a couple Hulks, Avengers, and so on, and yeah, I’m glad for those, mostly. They’re cool movies and they have had some positive effects on the comics, too. I wish Kirby’s family got more money from them, and I’m all for things like A Buck For Jack if they work, to try to even that out even a little. There are maybe only a few more concepts of Stan Lee’s, or of Steve Ditko’s that can be easily transfigured into successful movies, I think, though naturally, I wish anyone trying the best of luck, as great movies are better for everyone.

Unlike a lot of people, I don’t think Kirby — Like Stan Lee, I want to call Kirby by his first name, like I knew the guy, my commercial uncle or something, right? I’m not the only one? But, I won’t, because I did not know him and haven’t the right. — I don’t think Jack Kirby went off track or lost anything in the Seventies, when he was solo with support, writing and penciling, but with inkers, colorists, letterers and assistants helping out. I think, if anything, he’s stronger in a lot of ways, and as much as I love early Fantastic Four, I don’t reread his work there as often as I look at OMAC or Mister Miracle. Jack Kirby didn’t suddenly become less influential or less present to the zeitgeist of comics once the Sixties ended, and no offense, but I think Lee and Ditko did even when they still, occasionally, turned out awesome comics.

Kirby was still at the fore of many major developments in 70s comics as he was in the 60s, weaving a massive saga with his Fourth World titles, doing a regular comic with a black lead the comic was titled after (Jungle Action was cool enough, but it’s like a French comic set in Seattle and calling it Seaside Action, featuring a Choctaw engineer and his failing romance, especially if the second story you do is him in Peru fighting a corrupt police force), pushing the existentialist or pop philosophic comic into the major leagues, introducing female characters, nonwhite characters, counter culture characters who just did their own thing and were confident and strong and frequently had at least one helllllll yeaaaah! moment under his pen. Not to say Sixties Kirby wasn’t cool as all, because there’s no denying, but Kirby was the best of the old guard in the Seventies and he has some things, still, over newer comics makers. While he made some missteps sometimes in terms of race, in terms of class or gender presentation, I still find Seventies Kirby less classist at all times than the bulk of Alan Moore or Will Eisner comics and I think he frequently handles racial issues and nonwhite characters better. Is he as elegant and structuralist as as Moore’s work, as careful as Eisner’s, as bidding for permanence as Art Spieglman’s comics? Well, no. But he was not trying to be.

But that’s me, that’s my preferences. Big budget movies have to appeal to a lot more than just me and mine, so how’s this going to work?

Devil Dinosaur is often seen as sillier and less mature a work than, say, Old Batman on Horseback or Isn’t Fascism Bad? Read This Propaganda While I Therapy You to Right Thinking (AKA The Dark Knight Returns and V for Vendetta, which are great comics, don’t get me wrong — read them today!). It’s a comic about a big bright red dinosaur and his little apish friend, Moon Boy, set in a time long ago when apemen lived near dinosaurs and spaceships. The poor, unevolved apemen fear the red dinosaur, but he’s a good guy, so he saves them from threats every issue anyway. Along the way, we have UFOs, time travel, and a fucked up Adam and Eve tale with Adam as an alpha jerkass and an old man, and a woman who’d like everyone to just chill out… while they’re in a sort of zoo display case and messing with a computer that gives them stuff.


Devil Dinosaur is perfect as a kid’s comic, and it would make a fantastic children’s movie. It’s got a dinosaur who beats up bad guys, like if Godzilla had gone heroic without becoming less frightening over the course of umpteen movies. Aliens, dinosaurs, fights, explosions! But in its course, also, is a story about why you should take a second look at your situation, why you should not judge solely on appearances or what everyone knows. Devil Dinosaur is all about why your parents might be wrong, your history books and political systems can be fixed, why you have to step up, do your own thing, think for yourself, and be responsible. And it communicates that while a giant red dinosaur puts the beat down on giants and aliens. Yeah, that’s not as politically savvy as Nolan’s Batman movies, where good is good and Batman wearing black makes him dark and undesirable as a public face of justice (and able to be brought low by guns, dogs, the world’s luckiest jugalo), where being heroic is deliberately not saving someone when you have the chance.

Oh. Wait. Devil Dinosaur, if played as it is in those comics, could be the most mature and child-friendly comic book movie America has produced in recent memory.

While you’re shivering scared of that thought, let’s look at OMAC. If you don’t know OMAC at all, go buy the Kirby collection, right now. Immediately. Do not finish this, go buy (then come back).

Back? Okeh. Continuing…

OMAC, more recently, has been used in completely non-relevant, retro-dodgy, safe ways, but when Kirby created the concept and did the first series, OMAC was the story of the world of the future, today! Ultra-wealthy people could buy your city, they could kill with impunity, they could shame, select, mock and use you. Wars were excuses to make money and control people. Sex is a commercial. Love is a sell. Hate is packaged. Your rebellions were programmed and scheduled for you by the same people you believe you are rebelling against. Your comforts, even those that feel like empathy, are manufactured and sold to you. But Brother Eye, a satellite of love and power, speaks deep in office drone Buddy Blank’s heart, and will transform him when he is at his lowest into a self-actualizing badass with a mohawk, the eye of Horus on his chest, and fire in his belly, fire in his fists.

OMAC is about life, the compartmentalization and commercialization of life, about striking back, futility, and living free or dying for the effort. Hilarious, sad, mean, beautiful, with the best of huge parties, greedy bastards, massive explosions, and hope and punching a comic can hold. The movie could do just that, but in living flesh and light, in color and sound and motion, bringing in the aspects real actors can communicate differently than line art, that movement can delineate differently than still panels arranged on pages. OMAC would look flashy and silly, and it would be, but it’d break the audience’s collective heart fifteen minutes in and sit on their shoulder as they left the theater, sit in their heart, and tell them they too can move forward and be good, that they are free.

Oct 16, 2012

#711: Worst Superhero Ever?

So I was reading my copy of Police Comics #1 (the Millennium Edition reprint), best known for having the first appearance of Plastic Man, and I came across #711 by George E. Brenner. When I read this the first time around a year ago, I instantly thought #711 was the worst superhero ever. Rereading it hasn't changed my mind.

It's not as if there's no craft in the work. #711's first panel shows some Will Eisner–esque architexture, and it did a good job drawing me in to the story right off the bat. One nice touch about this: I've seen his name listed as both 711 and #711, and I'm going to go with the second one because I can pretend that the prison bars on the window are standing in for the "#" sign.

Pay no attention to the dude who's clearly shooting at him
as #711 is just standing there, adjusting his sleeves.

So this story starts off with two lifelong friends, Jake Horn and Dan Dyce. Jake's a criminal and the cops are after him, while Dan is an attorney.


Jake's problem is that his wife's about to give birth, and he wants to be there for her when it happens. Dan wants to help any way he can, so Jake asks for the most unreasonable thing ever.

Because, you know, that's understandable.

Jake promises to turn himself in once the baby is born. (How Dan decides he's going to get off scot-free with taking the fall for another guy, I have no idea.) What's more, the whole plan hinges on them looking alike, because apparently the police, who have caught Jake twice before, are that stupid.

Read this out loud. Complete with the pauses
and everything. Read it out loud and tell me
you didn't break out laughing.

Dan's number in prison is 711.


Then, a few days later, Dan sees in the paper that Jake had been killed before he even got to see his wife and new baby.


Now you'd think that Dan could show this newspaper clipping to the warden, call it a case of mistaken identity, and go back to his job and his life. But no, prisoner #711 decides that this means he's in prison for life!

Mrs. Cube upon reading this:
"That is the saddest-looking panel ever."

Dan somehow gets a hold of a wooden stake (because they have those just lying around, right?) and manages to dig a sizable enough tunnel in the prison wall so he can easily escape.


So what does Dan decide once he can escape? Does he decide to just go back to his family and his friends and his old life and his, you know, job? No. No, he doesn't.

Seriously, dude, are you insane?

Dan decides to fight crime from inside the prison. When he finds out that a certain crook named Slick Panzer had been sentenced to a year's term, as part of a larger plot by Panzer to get out and live off of stolen money when his sentence is up, Dan pays him a visit. Panzer calls him "711." This is important for later on.

Gee, I dunno, could it be through the
gigantic hole in the prison wall? Also, where
did he get those clothes?

Panzer tells Dan where he's got the money hidden, and Dan sets off to recover the loot. There's a goon guarding it, and Dan surprises him with his "calling card" — a small mirror with bars on it so whoever's looking at it will see himself "behind bars."


The goon calls him 711, as if (1) Dan had been fighting crime as 711 for so long (he hasn't), or (2) he recognizes Dan from prison. Either way doesn't really make sense, but let's let that slide for now.

Dan then says, "See you in jail!" Get it? It's funny because people say that when they mean on opposite sides of the bars, but in this case, Dan's going back to jail after this and he'll actually see him in jail, and oh I give up. It's impossible to justify this.


The next day, all the prisoners are talking about Panzer's goon, and Dan joins in on the conversation. All of a sudden 711 is a "mysterious" figure, and when Dan (who is wearing the number 711 on his back!) tells them he knows what really happened, the inmates' reactions are "Huhwhahow?" and not "Oh snap! You're obviously #711, lifer #711!!"

And what is up with those multiple question marks at the end?

It's been explained to me that the Golden Age kind of feels like that game kids play when they're young, where they create a superhero in the morning and have grown tired of him by lunch, and that is one of the Golden Age's biggest weaknesses as well as one of its biggest strengths, showcasing a ton of energy but also leading to a lot of bad or unremarkable ideas. But I can't think of any character that I find anywhere near as ridiculous as #711, as his very premise flies in the face of all logic and suspension of disbelief. He has three—THREE—chances in this story to not, you know, be in jail, and he passes on those chances every single time! Why is this? Does he really just like prison? Was his career as an attorney so bad that he wasn't earning enough anyway and he decided that this way, he at least gets a bed and three meals a day? Did he just like the multicolored stones on the prison walls? And how come no one else has escaped from a prison with such poor security and walls that anyone with a stake (or a spoon, theoretically) can just dig his way out of? And seriously, where did he get those clothes? And those tiny mirrors for his calling cards?

So after reading this, I just had to know what happened to #711, and found out he lasted all the way to Police Comics #15. My initial reaction was, "Wow, I can't believe he lasted that long," and my second reaction was "Wow, he actually died." That's right, folks, he dies once he's shot by mobster Oscar Jones (read the whole thing here), giving way to his replacement in the series, a new mystery man named Destiny. So I guess he's notable for being one of the first superheroes to actually die and stay dead.

Or maybe he's notable for wonderfully written passages like this.

"He was alive - so the day had to come when he would die."

Having now written all that, this one little six-pager from August 1941, when read out loud, is a constant source of amusement and hilarity in the Cube household. Mrs. Cube is snickering beside me right now. So, uh, thanks, George Brenner!

Oct 15, 2012

RIP Marc Swayze

CBR is reporting that Marc Swayze passed away this weekend at the age of 99.


Swayze was best known as an artist for Fawcett Comics' Captain Marvel series and is the co-creator of Mary Marvel.


Mary Marvel is my niece's favorite superhero, so I've got a lot to thank him for. Rest in peace.



Back Issue Ben: Mighty Avengers, Part 2

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

MIGHTY AVENGERS PART DEUCE 
Hank Pym Is Your God
by Ben Smith
 
I told you last time I would continue on with my examination of (superstar Spider-Man writer) Dan Slott's underrated but completely fantastic Mighty Avengers run, but you probably didn't believe me. I find your lack of faith in me disappointing. Almost as disappointing as most of you find my writing skills. But nowhere near as disappointing as I am to my mother. Sigh. Moving on! I also told you it only gets better as we go, and while at the time I was basing that solely on vague recollections, after re-reading it, I can say it with absolute certainty. Or at least with partial sobriety and a fair amount of conviction. Regardless, I say we kickstart this donkey on down the road.

Last time, things happened. Read about them here.

Oct 12, 2012

Starman Retrospective, Day 5: The Shade

Welcome to Day 5 of The Comics Cube!'s retrospective series on James Robinson, Tony Harris, and Peter Snejberg's STARMAN. You can read about this series here.

THE SHADE

When we started this retrospective, I said that while Jack Knight is the main character of the STARMAN series, he wouldn't call himself the hero of the book. That would be Ted Knight. In the same vein, if we're talking about the protagonist of the book — in the sense of carrying out the actions that drive the story — we could very well be talking about The Shade.

The Shade made his debut in FLASH COMICS #33 in September 1942, and was a thorn in the side of the Flashes throughout the decades, using his control of shadow matter, via his cane, to give them trouble. He wasn't defined very well — if he was defined at all — and Robinson took the opportunity in 1994 to flesh him out as a character.

Oct 11, 2012

Starman Retrospective, Day 4: History, not Continuity

Welcome to Day 4 of The Comics Cube!'s retrospective series on James Robinson, Tony Harris, and Peter Snejberg's STARMAN. You can read about this series here.

HISTORY
not Continuity 

We superhero fans love continuity. We love our OFFICIAL HANDBOOKS OF THE MARVEL UNIVERSE, our official DC ENCYCLOPEDIAS... heck, some of my first comics were some issues of WHO'S WHO: THE DEFINITIVE GUIDE TO THE DC UNIVERSE that came out after the Crisis on Infinite Earths. We like it when things fall into their nice little boxes, and we like figuring out timelines. Continuity, however, can be a hindrance. Sometimes the hammer starts swinging the carpenter, and before you know it, we get stories that seem to really do nothing more than fix continuity errors and inconsistencies, and that's unfair to both the characters who could be used in more meaningful stories and the very concept of continuity.



One of STARMAN's most oft-cited strengths is its usage of continuity, but I would argue that since "continuity" now has that connotation of making things fit into appropriate boxes and whatnot, STARMAN doesn't really do that. What it uses isn't continuity, but history.

Oct 10, 2012

Starman Retrospective, Day 3: Opal City

Welcome to Day 3 of The Comics Cube!'s retrospective series on James Robinson, Tony Harris, and Peter Snejberg's STARMAN. You can read about this series here.

OPAL CITY

The first page in the entire STARMAN saga is a shot of Opal City. The captions describe its atmosphere and its history.


As the series progresses, we learn more about Opal City and are treated to panoramic shots and desciptions of the various boroughs. James Robinson in fact states in the back matter of STARMAN #0:

In the course of this book, I intend to create this city — give it streets you recognize by the landmarks; give it a design sense all its own. Fortunately, I'm collaborating with Tony Harris, an artist who not only shares that vision, but has the visual talent and skill to bring off the architectural diversity we have in mind. We want the Opal City skyline to be so distinctive that you'll recognize it without a caption or any verbal indication of where you are. Starman's home.

Oct 9, 2012

Starman Retrospective, Day 2: Legacy

Welcome to Day 2 of The Comics Cube!'s retrospective series on James Robinson, Tony Harris, and Peter Snejberg's STARMAN. You can read about this series here.

LEGACY

Jack Knight was the seventh Starman. Or maybe he was the sixth. Or the eighth.

It's complicated.

Either way, he wasn't the first, nor was he the last to prefix his name with "Star."

Top row: Jack Knight, Will Payton, Mikaal Tomas
Bottom row: Prince Gavyn, Starman of 1951, Ted Knight
Behind everyone: Thom Kallor
Art by Tony Harris and Alex Ross

Oct 8, 2012

Starman Retrospective, Day 1: The Knights, Jack and Ted and David

Welcome to Day 1 of The Comics Cube!'s retrospective series on James Robinson, Tony Harris, and Peter Snejberg's STARMAN. You can read about this series here.

THE KNIGHTS
Jack and Ted and David

The main character of STARMAN is Jack Knight, a junk dealer from Opal City who, because of his lineage, inherits a cosmic rod that lets him harness energy from the stars for flight, energy projection, and other offensive and defensive capabilities. Jack is one of the most well-defined characters in mainstream comic books, and it's because we get really specific looks into his head. Unlike, for example, Peter Parker, who is relatable by virtue of having traits that are universal, Jack's tastes are so specific. He's a bit of an elitist and likes the fact that his girlfriend Sadie knows who the Valentine Brothers are. He enjoys EC Comics and Robert Mitchum movies. He knows some martial arts, but only because he went through a period when he just got really into it and decided to learn until he was bored.

Jack also doesn't want to be a hero. He thinks costumes are silly, and would rather be discussing a found Alfred Hitchcock screenplay than fight the bad guys. He's also probably relatable to comic book fans in that he legitimately enjoys collecting stuff that he deems are valuable — the hunt is a source of thrills for him as well as income.

In today's comic book field where it seems that a lot of writers go so far as to make their protagonists as relatable and general as possible in terms of their minute details such as tastes and passing fancies, Jack is proof that you can add very minute details to a character and still achieve relatibility.

The main character of the STARMAN series is Jack Knight, but he wouldn't call himself the hero of the story. "Hero," he says, is a label given to you by other people when you deserve it, not one you readily apply to yourself.

No, if we were to ask Jack Knight who the hero of STARMAN was, he would be quick to point to his father Ted, the original Starman.

Ted Knight was created by Jack Burnley and a host of writers and editors (including Mort Weisnger and Jack Schiff). He first appeared in ADVENTURE COMICS #61, dated April 1941. And as far as Golden Age heroes go, you could say he was pretty generic. He was a billionaire playboy who created a device — the cosmic rod, which lets him harness power from the stars to project light beams and enable him to fly — that would help him in his quest to fight crime. So he dons a red and green costume with a fin on the head and does just that. Ted had an arch-enemy, the Mist, a man made out of nothing but vapor, so in that sense, he was a little different. He joined the Justice Society of America but never had his own series. And but for a short-lived feature in the 60s teaming him up with the Black Canary, he barely had the spotlight on him. He was taken off DC's main stage after the Crisis on Infinite Earths, and was brought back a few years later, right before Zero Hour, in which he and the rest of the JSA, kept young by supernatural forces all this time, were rapidly restored to their true ages. Too old to still be active, he passes the cosmic rod to his oldest son David, with Jack in the background, making it clear that he doesn't want the job.



That would lead right into the STARMAN series, where Ted Knight would get more character development than he ever did in 50 years of existence.

Oct 5, 2012

A Starman Retrospective

In the mid to late 90s, one mainstream DC superhero comic book expressly had a cult following strong enough to warrant a month dedicated to it at the time of publication and six omnibuses from DC. That series was STARMAN, written by James Robinson and drawn by Tony Harris and, later on, Peter Snejberg. It focused on Jack Knight, the son of Ted Knight, the Golden Age Starman. Jack was a junk dealer who didn't really want to be a superhero, but was kind of thrust into it. He's one of the most relatable, most human superheroes ever, and the series was really top-notch stuff.
 
And for over ten years, I ignored it. See, when I was a kid, one of my favorite superheroes was Will Payton, who was back then carrying the name of Starman. Will had an awesome costume (the black one, not the yellow and purple one), and equally awesome powers (he shot cosmic blasts out of his hands!). So when this STARMAN series starring Jack made waves, I deliberately avoided it, because Will was my Starman.

Then one day, at a Barnes and Noble in Easton PA, I browsed through a copy of STARMAN: STARS MY DESTINATION, because Will Payton was in it. And you know what I realized? This Jack Knight guy was pretty cool. What's more, this series was pretty cool.

Before I left the United States for good in June 2007, I decided to make one last big comics-related purchase, and I bought the entire James Robinson–written STARMAN run off of eBay, specials and all (I'm only missing the first issue of BATMAN/HELLBOY/STARMAN, but since that's mostly Batman, I don't care).

I felt the need to write about it, but there was a lot to write about, so I did it in five parts. Click the links to get taken to those particular sections:
  • Part 1: Fathers and Sons. A look at the relationships between Jack, David, and Ted Knight, and how they anchor the series.
  • Part 2: Legacy. A look at the legacy of Starman, the arch-enemy The Mist, and the Justice Society of America.
  • Part 3: Opal City. How the setting of the book affected its characters, how the characters from Opal were different from the ones outside it, and
  • Part 4: History, not Continuity. The difference between the two, and how STARMAN uses one to great effect while treating the other as a tool and not a hindrance, and how continuity should help, but not hamper your story.
  • Part 5: The Shade, and the Future. A look at the one character that DC is still using after the end of the series, his spinoffs, and where it may lead.

I hope you join me for a week-long look at one of the best comics of the 90s, and certainly one of the most memorable comics of all time!

Oct 4, 2012

Pop Medicine: “I Didn’t Think Being Dead Would Hurt So Much”

Pop Medicine is a column written by Travis Hedge Coke. Travis is the founder of Future Earth Magazine, and his writings can be found all over the place, including in Renderwrx Magazine in a column called "Pop Mechanics." He is currently a visiting professor in China, and for the next year, the Cube will be giving his columns a virtual home. Be sure to visit his personal website if you would like to read more of his work. Click here for the Pop Medicine archive!

I Didn't Think Being Dead Would Hurt So Much
The Good, the Sad, and the Blue Velvet of Kurt Wagner, Nightcrawler
by Travis Hedge Coke

I miss Kurt Wagner. I know, we've got his angry twin from another reality and all that, but that's in comics I don't want to read, and it's a take whose primary purpose was to make us glad of the one we usually had. There are TV and movie versions, but those tend to focus on the elements I dislike, to the detriment, or removal of what I enjoy. So, it's back issues and old comics for me.


Old comics is good. I'm perfectly fine only having only old appearances by many characters, designed to be finite or designed for those big shared worlds as Nightcrawler was. But, would it kill Marvel to collect, say, Warren Ellis' EXCALIBUR run in a sensible fashion, or the Cockrums' great NIGHTCRAWLER four-issue miniseries in any form? I can't believe one of the best miniseries Marvel released in the Eighties has never been reprinted or collected. It's criminal. It's unfair. Unjust. It probably wouldn't sell, if they did release a collection, but still. (For me, Marvel, for me!) So, collections can be incomplete, and single issues are often ready to fall apart, because the single issues weren't built to last, they were built to have pop spilled on them, get rolled up, read in the bathtub, thrown around a waiting room for seven months. If someone took good care of the comic, maybe it's in good condition, but it may be costly, and you then have to take care of it, not enjoy it as a piece of entertainment so much as you're caretaking an artifact.

And, there is a drive for new stories of characters you love, right? Particularly serial characters. This drive fuels sequels, fanfiction, reboots, and a thousand million daydreams. But you don't always want alternate versions, sometimes you want your version. Combination of sentimentality, training, and recognizing potential.

Why Nightcrawler? It's a good question. Here is a character whose spinoff versions usually annoy me or I'm mild to, and who, half the canon approaches to Nightcrawler, I don't like. Maybe, more than half. I'll give you clues to which end of the Nightcrawler fanpool I belong to: Is he self-loathing? Is he pursuing the Catholic priesthood, to take vows of chastity and nonviolence? Then that's not my Nightcrawler. See? That's at least half his stories, right? It's most of his appearances outside comics.

Oct 3, 2012

Double Helix: Interview with Robert Venditti

Double Helix is a new column written by Rachel Helie for The Comics Cube! Click here for the archive.

The following interview was originally submitted to www.crossroadswriters.org.

Interview with Robert Venditti
by Rachel Helie


Robert Venditti is the New York Times bestselling author of The Homeland Directive and the sci-fi graphic novel series The Surrogates, the first installment of which was adapted into a feature film starring Bruce Willis and Ving Rhames. He also writes the graphic novel adaptations of Rick Riordan's bestselling Percy Jackson and the Olympians novels. His most recent project is the ongoing monthly comic book series X-O Manowar for Valiant Entertainment.

Rachel: Robert, your participation at Crossroads, along with other comic book industry talents, has really made a difference in encouraging access to writers of all shapes and sizes. I just read X-O MANOWAR #2 the other day and hear great things about it from others…namely that #1 sold out several times and that Valiant is producing some really great work these days!  Congratulations! Your work with X-O has made my list, along with other Valiant titles. The blend of history and sci-fi was right up my alley! How does working in digital, something you did for the first time in THE SURROGATES: CASE FILES, change the collaboration of a writer and artist? Is it essentially the same process or are there some aspects that alter? How does it improve upon the traditional methods?

ROBERT VENDITTI: Brett Weldele and I have a done two graphic novels with each other, so our process is pretty established.  It also helps that Brett handles all of the art himself—even the lettering—so it’s really just the two of us working with Chris Staros at Top Shelf (publisher of THE SURROGATES).  I will say that the content of THE SURROGATES: CASE FILES lends itself well to the digital format, and Brett’s style, particularly his unique color palette, really shines on a screen.  There’s this one page in the first issue where he draws a dusting of fall leaves, and the colors really pop.  It’s one of my favorite moments.


Gail Simone, Venditti, and Nathan Edmondson
at the 2011 Crossroad Writers Conference.
Photo by Gerald R. Lucas
Rachel:  You recently began publishing your first month by month, working on X-O MANOWAR.  How does this sort of quick production and historical sci-fi/fantasy aspect change your style of writing? How does it determine your research process?

VENDITTI: Writing for a monthly book is a big change from the graphic novel writing I’m accustomed to doing.  There are always multiple issues in various stages of production, which took getting used to, since I tend to be a linear writer.  With a monthly book, there’s also a need to reorient the reader every issue—without making it read like you’re reorienting them—and I’m still learning how to do that as effectively as I can.  On the plus side, you have a new book on the shelf every month instead of a graphic novel every other year, so that’s nice.

On the research side, since X-O MANOWAR has a heavy historical element, I’ve spent a great deal of time trying to get the details right, particularly in the opening half of the first issue, where we see the main character as a Visigoth in the 5th Century.  I won’t claim that everything is accurate, but if I got something wrong, it wasn’t for lack of effort.  I spent almost a whole day trying to find out whether or not Visigoth saddles would’ve had stirrups at the Battle of Pollentia.  Historians seem to differ on that point, so I went with no stirrups, since that would look different than every other saddle that’s been drawn in a comic.

Rachel: You have, like a lot of comic writers, a handful of projects going simultaneously.  How do you keep your feet on the ground functioning as a writer in so many worlds?  What is something that you do to keep yourself present for the stories as individual worlds?

VENDITTI: I divide my days up into even chunks, working on a separate project for a couple of hours at a time, so I’m always moving ahead on everything at once.  At least that’s my plan.  Inevitably, something of the this-needs-to-be-done-right-now variety comes up, and the day gets blown apart.  The alternative method would be to not have a plan and let each day decide for itself what you’re going to work on, but of course when you do that, nothing happens and you end up wasting a day.  So I start each day with a plan, and even though I know going in the plan isn’t going to be followed, I allow myself to hope that it will.  I’m an eternal optimist.  

Rachel: X-O MANOWAR has been described as “the cornerstone of the Valiant brand”(Simons, CBR).  With the challenge of producing a month by month for the first time while this precedent exists… how’s that pressure treating you?  What’s something you do to wind down in the midst of such a wild schedule?

VENDITTI: Honestly, I try not to think about things like that.  If I considered it my responsibility to make X-O MANOWAR the “cornerstone of the Valiant brand,” I’d probably freeze up at the keyboard.  I just try to write the best comics I can the way I write them, and hope the audience will respond positively.  Thankfully, things have gone well so far, but with a monthly book you’re only as good as the latest issue, so there’s no time to rest on your laurels.

As for winding down . . . I do anything that has nothing to do with writing.  But it all makes its way back to the page in one way or another.  All writing is autobiographical in the sense that it’s made from the writer’s influences and experiences, so on days—and there’s plenty of them—when the words just don’t seem to come, I go out and make some of those experiences.  



Rachel:  It’s been said that THE SURROGATES “reads like Philip K. Dick writing an episode for The Wire” (i09).  In my book, that is some damn fine praise!  How do you continue to push yourself to kick it up to the next level or is it a “slow and steady wins the race” game?  Do you pay much attention to your reviews (I mean other than when an interviewer forces you too) or do you find it distracting?

VENDITTI: I’d like to say I don’t read reviews, but it’s hard to ignore them.  Especially in the digital age, when reviews are posted online in advance of the book’s release, so for a week or so, they’re the only response that’s out there in the world.  I try not to get too wrapped up in them, though.  I just keep my head down and do what I think a story needs.  Whether I’m successful in the end is up to each individual reader to decide for themself.

Rachel:  Your work seems to push toward the “new”. How do you find your challenges and adapt to a changing marketplace?  What would you say has been your most valuable learning experience over the years and what is one challenge you have on your mental list that remains unchecked?

VENDITTI: I make a conscious effort to do something different with each new project.  So far in my career, I’ve written cyberpunk sci-fi (THE SURROGATES), political/medical thriller (THE HOMELAND DIRECTIVE), middle-grade fantasy (the adaptations of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series), young-adult vampire romance (the adaptation of the Blue Bloods novel), and now with X-O MANOWAR, mainstream superhero comics.  A lot of people will say you should brand yourself with a particular genre and build your career from there, but if I did that, I think I’d feel like I was in a rut.  Changing things up keeps me engaged with the story.

As for challenges I’d still like to tackle, writing a prose novel is definitely at the top of the list.
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