Apr 29, 2013

Back Issue Ben: Guarding the Galaxy, Part 12: Conquest!

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 Twelve: Conquest!
by Ben Smith

Previously, a technological race called the Phalanx have taken over the Kree empire, enslaved the minds of the Kree people, and cut off that section of space from the rest of the galaxy. Former heroes and allies have already been enslaved to the Phalanx cause by the transmode virus, becoming members of their elite Select.

Quasar was contacted by the spirit of the Supreme Intelligence, who led her and Moondragon to the location of Adam Warlock. The mysterious Wraith has the ability to immobilize the Phalanx, and carries the soul of the Supreme Intelligence within his costume. Allied with Ronan and the Super-Skrull, they have joined an underground resistance force. Starlord was restored and recruited by the Kree to conduct covert missions against the Phalanx with a hand-selected team of misfits, consisting of Groot, Rocket Raccoon, Mantis, Bug, and (former Captain Universe) Gabe. Nova, infected with the transmode virus, made his way to Kvch, the homeworld of the Technarchy, the species the Phalanx were spawned from. With the help of Warlock of the New Mutants, he was able to cure himself, Gamora, and Drax of Phalanx infection.


We’ve made it to the big event, let’s get right into it.

Apr 25, 2013

What I Learned from Multiple Supermen

Last week seemed like Superman week, and a bunch of stuff happened. It was Superman's 75th birthday (Happy birthday, Superman!), the Siegel lawsuit against DC for the ownership of Superman finally ended, and the new Superman: Man of Steel trailer came out. The most interesting thing to me was what a friend said in relation to that trailer:
I wonder if general audiences are more forgiving of characters that aren't as recognizable. Everyone has a preconceived notion of who Superman and Batman are so if they screw that up, it's much more critical. I don't think general audiences came in with a strong preconceived notion of who Thor, Hawkeye, and even Captain America are. I didn't really, so I was more ready to accept their version. I think it's a unique problem that makes Superman especially harder.

And that got me thinking, because she was right. We do tend to judge fiction by what we've seen before—I know someone who has never read a Spider-Man comic in her life, but judged last year's Amazing Spider-Man movie harshly because (and I'm not kidding about this) it didn't follow the exact same story in the Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies (never mind the fact that it couldn't have and that would have been storyline suicide), right down to Tobey Maguire's more built body in comparison to Andrew Garfield. And even if we try not to judge by those standards, we still assume people do—a friend told me that I didn't like the Nolan Batman movies because it didn't live up to my views of Batman, which I just thought was weird because I grew up with at least three or four different versions of Batman, and my problems with the Nolan Batman movies are problems I would have with any movies, or any works of fiction, for that matter.

You could make the argument that there is a correct version of Harry Potter, or maybe even Captain Marvel considering that no interpretation of his past the Golden Age has been anywhere near as critically or commercially successful, even if you scale down to relative fan sizes (the most popular hero of a generation, or a backup hero meant to entice hardcore fans? Not a comparison), and even that's already an argument. Don Rosa's Scrooge McDuck may be the closest thing to Carl Barks' Scrooge McDuck, but no one says the Scrooge McDucks not done by Barks and Rosa aren't "real." Cranky, miserly Scrooge McDuck who does whatever he can to not show emotion in the Barks comics is as "real" as the cranky, miserly Scrooge McDuck who's more open with his feelings in Duck Tales.

But for someone like Batman or Superman, it just seems silly. There may be wrong interpretations, but there isn't just one correct interpretation. It's impossible, and it goes against one of the greatest strengths of these characters: their adaptability.

When I was a kid, I was inundated with a lot of Superman material. These included, in no particular order because I actually can't remember the order I got these in, the Christopher Reeve Superman movies (complete with a comic adaptation of III), a digest reprinting Silver Age Superman stories, scattered issues of John Byrne's Superman, the Super Powers Superman action figure with the minicomic, Jack Kirby's Super Powers comic, and a bunch of Bronze Age comics, including Superman vs. Spider-Man: The Battle of the Century. What did these versions of Superman have in common? Well, aside from the suit, him coming from the planet Krypton, the basic power package, his secret identity as Clark Kent, and Lois Lane? Almost nothing.

And when you look at all the different versions of Superman, you can see there are many choices to be made, many aspects to his personality that need defining.  To name a few:

  • Do you use clumsy Clark Kent like Christopher Reeve, or do you use hard-boiled get-the-story Clark Kent like George Reeves?
  • Is Krypton a scientifically advanced utopia, like in the Silver Age, or a too-scientifically-advanced and emotionless planet of detached and disconnected people, like in Byrne's version?
  • Did Superman come to Earth as a baby, as in most versions, or as a full-fledged grownup, as in the radio show?
  • Are Clark Kent and Lois Lane married, dating, or stuck in that Clark-Lois-Superman triangle where Lois doesn't even know his dual identity?
  • Is Clark Kent a newspaper reporter, a TV anchor, or anything else that has to do with the news?
  • Does the S stand for Superman because Ma Kent made the suit, or does it stand for hope in Kryptonese?
  • Does Superman embrace his Kryptonian heritage, as he does a little too much before Crisis on Infinite Earths, or does he, as Byrne established, place the Earth so far above it that Kryptonian culture ultimately doesn't matter to him?
  • What's with kryptonite? Are there multiple colors and are they plentiful, or is there only green and it's rare?
  • Does Superman kill when he has to, as Byrne made him do in a well-received story involving Phantom Zone criminals, or does he absolutely never kill?
  • Are Ma and Pa Kent alive or dead? Or is Ma Kent alive and Pa Kent is dead? Which is it?
  • Can he fly or only jump an eighth of a mile?
  • Was he Superboy when he was younger or wasn't he?

Charles Schulz, the creator of Peanuts, apparently went on record that DC ruined Superman the moment they gave him flight. It sounds so preposterous now, because flight is so ingrained in our image of him, but there was a time when he couldn't fly and apparently that was a big enough deal that at least one person thought changing that power ruined him. And this is a pure preference—that's his version of Superman, the one he thinks is ideal. It's not wrong to prefer it. It can't be.

My ideal version of Superman? The really powerful version with a Fortress of Solitude in the arctic, complete with the Bottled City of Kandor and multiple versions of Kryptonite, who loves Krypton but also loves Earth, and has accepted that the Earth is his home now. Ma and Pa Kent are both alive, and he's married to Lois. Clark Kent is a hard-boiled reporter and not a clumsy act, Lex Luthor is a businessman, Brainiac is from Krypton, and Superman doesn't kill—ever. Other superheroes can kill when they feel they have no choice and their hands are pushed, but Superman will not, and things will be fine, because that's the Superman in my head. He always finds a better way. And guess what? That Superman has never been published, ever. It's just too specific a version. There are too many factors.

Some want a more human, more relatable Superman, and while I don't get the appeal of that at all, it's still what they want, and variations of it have been known to work. Maybe not for me, but they worked. People really love that Byrne run, and Smallville did run for 10 seasons.

And I guess that's what I learned from growing up with multiple versions of Superman. There is no "right way" to do him. There are many wrong ways to do him—I think we can all agree, for example, that the infamous Kevin Smith anecdote where Jon Peters told him to make sure the Superman in his movie didn't fly, didn't wear a suit, and had to fight two polar bears and a giant spider would have been a bad idea.

It's SO funny though.

But for a right way? There isn't one. Superman has at least two classic versions: the very powerful version who's surrounded by fantastic trappings and who lets humanity find themselves, or the less powerful and more grounded version who tackles more social injustice than otherwordly evil. These two versions are not compatible. They cannot coexist at the same time. They could, perhaps, be different endpoints for the arc of the same character, but all those traits all at once? They don't mix. They can't mix. They're contradictory. Superman can't say "We need to let humanity fight its own battles" and then punch a lobbyist. He can't say he misses Krypton and then say he doesn't care about Krypton in the same story. Superman can have diametrically opposite versions and they can work. Superman is an adaptable character, but unlike someone like Spider-Man, who can adapt as the same character over time, Superman has to be rebuilt because his character aspects are so either/or that there really is no middle ground. The same is true of Batman.

I think they key is to hone in on the pulse of your intended audience. That's what Siegel and Shuster did back in 1938, when they introduced Superman as a two-fisted champion of the oppressed who took the law into his own hands and even fought corporate lobbyists, because America was still in a depression and people needed that kind of proactive attitude. It was only a few years later when Superman got turned into the perfect All-American boy, complete with eagle on his arm, which reflected America's role in World War II. Christopher Reeve gave the world a hero to admire in the midst of a time when they were cynical about it, but that same approach didn't work 20 years later when they tried it with Superman Returns. (And what were they thinking putting the star of Action Comics in a  movie with barely any action?) But even Brandon Routh's Superman is a Superman, as valid and as real as the rest of them; he was just the Superman in a really underwhelming movie.

It's obviously easier said than done, and sometimes it'll work and sometimes it doesn't, but I think the phrase "That's not Superman!" should be used in a more sparing fashion. Sometimes it's true, but more times, it's not. There's just no such thing as a "correct" Superman, and liking one version doesn't preclude you from liking the others. There are almost always pieces in any version that you like or don't like. The Man of Steel trailer may not have done anything for me, but I'm still glad he's actually, you know, punching someone in it. I love the zaniness of the Bronze Age Superman, but think it went too far sometimes, like that one time Clark Kent actually ate his costume to hide it and then said at the end of the story that it will come out all right (seriously, ew). I may not have liked what John Byrne did with Superman, but he laid a good enough foundation that I enjoyed the work of subsequent creators, especially Roger Stern's.

There's more than one way to do things. And there's nothing wrong with accepting multiple interpretations of one character. Maybe we shouldn't be so stringent about how we think these characters should be like, and maybe we should learn to let go when a writer doesn't capture our vision—after all, it's his vision, not ours. And there's nothing wrong with liking more than one version. My favorite time to have been a Superman fan when I was a kid was in 2007, when Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely were doing All-Star Superman and Geoff Johns and Gary Frank were doing Action Comics. Both Supermen were different characters, and I loved both and wanted them both to continue. All-Star was the closest version to the one in my head, but Action was the one I was showing non-comics-reading friends, because it just had such wide, primal appeal.

Maybe, instead of sticking hard and fast to our ideal versions of a character like Superman, we should be celebrating his adaptability, and encouraging DC Comics to put out multiple versions instead of pushing one "real" version. Because there is no one real Superman; just a collection of trappings that make up any version of Superman. And as long as those trappings are satisfied, it's all "real."And as long as an interpretation speaks to the target audience, then it deserves some room to breathe. Even contradictory ones, at the same time.

Some of my favorite Superman stories:

Apr 24, 2013

Pop Medicine: No Apologies

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

No Apologies
Pop Medicine
Travis Hedge Coke


It is easy to agree to not let others tell you what you truly enjoy or only falsely believe you do. It is easy to say, to each their own. But to live it? We judge the entertainments of others, despite ourselves. We apologize for our entertainments. How many of us will say, “I know it’s a bad movie, but I love it,” or “I know it’s cheap crap, but I love it”?

The concept of “false delights” is bullshit.

It’s easy to generalize and say comics readers have poor reading comprehension, or to narrow it a bit, and claim it’s superhero fans, or horror fans, readers of indie books or artsy stuff, erotica, action comics. And, doing so, we can all pull up some anecdotes of readers who could not follow a scene from a comic, who humorously missed the point of a story, who did not put words and images together to get even the basic information out of them, like a name hovering next to a person being their name. It’s also easy to pick creative talent and insist their fans are “worshiping” them, that they are blind to their faults in the fervor of their cultish fandom. This is where you deploy the “your god” or “drink the Kool-Aid” jokes, of that’s your thing, others will opt for “you have been tricked into liking it,” or “the fans who don’t know any better.”

Many of you, I’d wager, have read at least one professional piece of writing specifically constructed along these lines. It is, at this point, received wisdom; we know that X have terrible reading comprehension skills and embarrassing taste, the implication being that they are ignorant, unskilled, and immature compared to us. Yet, we have all, at some point in our lives, missed the point of some entertainment, we have all missed or misunderstood critical information in a piece of entertainment. And, just as that Kool-Aid line is misleading, so too, these proclamations that condemn entire demographics are misdirection that rewards only some pomposity inside us.

The first round of Jonestown victims were tricked into drinking the poison, believing it was perfectly fine, un-poisoned drink, while the rest were forced at gunpoint and under threat of more violent death to imbibe. It’s luck of the draw, being a Garfield or Aquaman fan, but if you’re tricked into thinking this comic will be innocuous, and something is rotten in Denmark, it won’t kill you. If you see it’s bad, you don’t have to do it. No one is going to stick a gun to your neck and force you to read a pompous biography comic with squirrely art by the amateurish writer if you don’t want to.

And, it’s not a religious fervor, either, for almost everyone. Sure, we can find the one dude who has to buy every Superman comic ever, but they are deriving some pleasure from it, even if that pleasure is masochistic.

Masochistic pleasure is still and always pleasure. It is not being fooled into believing one is being pleasured, forced or tricked into feeling enjoyment where there is none. All pleasure is genuine pleasure.

And most of our pleasure is not even but slightly tinged with masochism, at least not in that way. Most entertainment is about the tension we agree to experience, that slight sting of the lovers who are being kept apart, the soldier injured in the field and unloved by the folks back home as he trenches through horrors to achieve what we do not know. We pay for the delay, we enjoy the hardships as much as the eventual ease we hope is at the end. There is that small masochism implicit in all but the most casual or nostalgic of stories, and even they make the pretense. But, it isn’t for the pain we read comics, but the pleasure found, even if it is found in the pain. It’s the pleasure that is important.

We cannot judge another’s pleasure. We don’t want others judging ours. But, we find ourselves, I’m sure, every one of us, judging someone’s entertainment as if we can decide for them what they truly appreciate and what are false enjoyments. We may moralize on the indulgence of others in WildCATs or xxxHolic, this genre or that, in following a particular artist or character from comic to comic, but if someone told us we weren’t genuinely enjoying what we like, we would be offended, perhaps to our core.

The concept of “false delights” is bullshit. That kind of moralizing is aesthetically interesting, to ruminate on, but it’s absurd when it becomes diktat. You can neither force pleasure nor mandate that others do not experience it. You don’t like bad comics, you don’t like shitty comics. You like good comics. You love great comics. Those comics aren’t for everyone, they won’t work their magic for everyone, but no comic ever can. When they work for you, they are good. Make no apologies.

Apr 23, 2013

Cosmo Cube: Spider-Man and Black Widow

Cosmo Cube is a new column written by Kimberly Smith that focuses on superhero costumes!

Spider-Man and Black Widow
by Kimberly Smith

Welcome to the first ever Cosmo Cube, a little corner of the Cube dedicated to the "good" the "bad" and the "holy hell, what's that" of superhero fashion. I'll review some costumes of your favorite superheroes. Now you might not agree with my assessment, but I'm sure you've been wrong before so it won't be anything new to you.

Up this week: Spider-Man and Black Widow.

Spider-Man

First up, the web-slinger, Spider-Man, the teenage nerd who was bitten by a radioactive spider and took on great power and responsibility.


My "Holy Hell, What's That" for Spider-Man is his "spider armor." Not only did it impair his abilities but it was very...silver. Artistically it just isn't pleasing to the eye. Spider-Man should be sleek and agile. Not big and clunky. Luckily, for us, it was very short lived. Can I get a shout-out to Thermite!?! (Yikes)


Next up, the stealth suit. OK, I get it, red, blue and green lights give him special stealth abilities. However, he looks like a lightning bug. Especially the feet. I see this costume and think of a neon sign that says, "Eat at Joe's." (Bad)


Next, the clone saga costume—The Scarlet Spider. Now you might be thinking, "Wait, this isn't Peter Parker." Well, he thought he was and he was an exact replica, right? And it's my article, so he counts. Yes he's wearing a '90s torn grunge shirt over a red onesie but aside from that...why are his eyes so big? He looks like he has a butterfly on his face. And now, back to that shirt. That's not a costume. That's "laundry day." (Bad)


And next up, we have the black and white Fantastic Four costume. Awwwwww, isn't that cute? They match. The storm Troopers keep calling. They want their underclothes back. (Bad)


Next! The amazing Bag Man. It's a Fantastic Four costume with a paper bag. Clever. No really, a paper bag. Ha! Costume wise, of course not. But storywise, gold. But how did that bag not blow off while he was swinging around? (Ha!)


Up next. The Sensational Spider-Man. Oh, not Peter Parker you say? ^^Read three up.^^ This costume is a lot like the original. I like the spider on the chest. It gives a "new generation" look to it. However, the silver bracelets are distracting and the blue is a little too...blue. I'm OK with the half and half boot colors but why, oh why does he have different colored fingers? (OK)


We're down to the top 3. Coming in at number 3 is the black suit. An alien symbiote that feeds off its host. Now, if you look past the fact that it's a parasite, artistically, it's pretty nice. And, it increased his abilities. Felicia's copy of the symbiote costume was sleek and the black is good for stealth. (Good)


Coming it at number 2, The Iron Spider—Tony Stark's spider armor. Now this is what spider armor should look like. It's sleek and has 3 giant arms coming out of the back. It looks like Iron Man and Spider-Man procreated. There isn't anything about this costume I don't like. The only reason it comes in at number 2 is the nostalgia factor. (Great)


Speaking of nostalgia, Spider-Man's best costume is of course the old blue and red. You just can't improve on perfection. It's sleek, it has great detail, it's not overdone and it's the right shade of blue.

Black Widow


The Black Widow, Natasha Romanova. She's beautiful, smart, and a master spy. However, her costume choices were not always as beautiful.


"Holy Hell, What's That?" Well I'm not quite sure myself. She looks like a Batman groupie. I can almost get past the full body fishnet onesie and bathing suit, but the cape and mask....no. This also gets my vote for worst hair. While I'm sure it was very stylish for the times, the Black Widow's hair is red. No exceptions. (Yikes)


Next we have a grey jumpsuit. It's very simple and "booooooring." It appears to me that they were trying to make her more masculine. Well, mission accomplished. However, it's not sexy and Black Widow should be sexy. The spider on the back screams "Spider-Man knockoff." Also note that she has a spider symbol on her left boob. Not on her lapel, but on her boob. Her hair is too short and the collar emphasizes it. (Bad)


Up next, another grey jumpsuit. This is a variation of the last one. It still has that high collar and plain grey color but now it has a high belt with pouches, and a jacket. Yes, yet another hero to fall victim to the pouches and jacket fad. These additions did not improve the ensemble. However, her hair was much better than before. (Bad)


It's amazing how an outfit can be so similar yet so different. Up next, we have a black jumpsuit. It's still plain and it still has a high collar, but it's so much better. The collar doesn't stick out. It's close in to the neck. And, the belt is simple and elegant. Plus, it's lower on the hips. Sleek, stealthy, and sexy. (Good)


Coming in at number 2 is...another black jumpsuit. Hey, stick with what works. The Black Widow costume in the movies works perfectly for live action. It's realistic, simple, and sexy. I find it interesting that it has both a high belt and a low belt with pouches and it works! This costume brings a realistic look to a fictional character. I would so let her beat me up. The only reason it's not first is, I don't think it would be as good in the comics. (Great)


Last, but not least...yet another black jump suit. She's a super spy. The black jumpsuit is and should always be "her thing." It's very simple and the gold wrist bands and belt gives it just the right accents. It's perfect for the comics but probably not for the movies. And really, let's admit it. Who doesn't love cleavage? (Boobtastic)


This Week's Best and Worst Dressed

This week’s “BLAH” costume: Cap has a chinstrap. What is with the chinstraps lately? It didn’t look good on the Flash either. Please don’t let the chinstrap be the 90’s jackets.


This week’s best dressed is Rocket Raccoon. Normally I’m not a fan of pouches. But, a raccoon with a gun can wear anything he wants.


That’s it. My assessment. Until next time... The panties go under the pants.

Apr 22, 2013

Back Issue Ben: Guarding the Galaxy, Part 11: Everywhere and Knowhere

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 Eleven: Everywhere and Knowhere
by Ben Smith

Previously, a technological race called the Phalanx have taken over the Kree empire, enslaved the minds of the Kree people, and cut off that section of space from the rest of the galaxy. Former heroes and allies have already been enslaved to the Phalanx cause by the transmode virus, becoming members of their elite Select. The new Quasar, the mysterious Wraith, and Starlord (plus a team of misfits) fight back against the technological invaders.

Nova had been infected by the Phalanx virus, but with the help of Worldmind, was able to overcome it. In an effort to escape Kree space, he opened a wormhole inside a star, which sent him all the way to the edge of the universe, into uncharted territory. He was followed by Gamora and Drax, who are both part of the Phalanx’s elite Select.

(These issues were released concurrently with Annihilation: Conquest.)

Apr 18, 2013

On Angela in the Marvel Universe

It's been about two weeks since the news came that the Spawn character, Angela, was going to be integrated into the Marvel Universe with the fifth issue of Guardians of the Galaxy.


Here's what I wrote on the Cube's Facebook page about it when it happened and I saw Internet reaction:

I see comics bloggers and commenters saying they don't see the point of Angela being introduced into the Marvel Universe. To that, I say this: Angela was the breakthrough character of a consistent top 10 comic where the penciller and the inker were consistently named onto Wizard's top 10 lists (And you can deny Wizard's credibility, but you can't deny its reach). She was co-created by Neil Gaiman. Her fans constantly wanted more products with her, more spinoffs, more appearances, more crossovers. At one point, both her first appearance and the first issue of her miniseries were going for 20 bucks each — pretty high when you consider the fact that they had just come out a year or two prior. The subject of who owned her was still the source of online drama. And she was very, very popular among a whole generation of fans, because she was essentially the most popular character of the most popular Image comic from the most popular Image brand. I know people who stopped reading comics but kept reading Spawn—and stopped when Angela was killed.

So what I'm saying is, don't underestimate the number of fans Gaiman with Angela can potentially bring in. They are out there—they're just not on the Internet talking about comics.

And I still stand by that. Look, I was a Spawn fan when I was younger, and Angela was my favorite character. And sure, maybe a big part of that was that I was a 13-year-old boy who couldn't talk to girls and Angela wore a battle bikini... but that was the height of the Bad Girl craze, where every new female character was more outlandishly dressed and proportioned than the last, and Angela was still on top of that list. She's the only one on that list—which includes Billy Tucci's Shi, a number of Jim Lee's Wildstorm characters, whoever Rob Liefeld was drawing at the time, and Brian Pullido's Lady Death—that made waves in March 2013, exactly 20 years after she was introduced in Spawn #9.

But what was it about Angela? What made her special? Why is she a big deal?

Well, I kinda summed it up up there in the Facebook status, but let's go through them point by point. (Quick diclaimer: this is history the way I remember it, and not history backed up by countless hours of research like those others. I didn't bother.) So here we go.

  • Angela was co-created by Todd McFarlane. As time has gone by, we (and by that, I really mean I) have seen a kind of shift in perception as to who the most successful of the Image founders (Todd, Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld, Marc Silvestri, Jim Valentino, and Erik Larsen) really is. If you look at them today, the quickest answer would be Jim Lee.

    But that's the way this stuff works. We tend to judge what happened in the past by what's happening in the present. The people who defend Rob Liefeld when someone asks "How can someone who doesn't draw any feet and knows only two facial expressions and never draws backgrounds get so much work?" respond with "Because he has a devoted fanbase to sell books," almost always neglecting to mention the fact that at one point in time, Rob Liefeld was the third hottest artist in comics, breaking records and resonating with a whole generation of fans.

    That's the Todd and Jim thing. We see Jim now and we think "success" because he's the co-publisher of DC Comics and has the power to do almost anything he wants at the number 2 comic company, while Todd has been stuck in bad lawsuit after bad lawsuit. It's overlooked that at one point in time, Todd McFarlane was comics' 800-pound gorilla, able to do anything he wanted anywhere. It's just that what he wanted was to stick to his own vision, and he did that. While Liefeld, Silvestri, and Lee released multiple titles for their imprints in order to really have a line of comics, Larsen, Valentino, and McFarlane concentrated on a book each (Savage Dragon for Larsen, Shadowhawk for Valentino, and Spawn for Todd).

    (By the way, you have to love these names they gave to their imprints, since it might have shown their mentality at the time. Liefeld's was, to the surprise of absolutely no one, "Extreme." Silvestri's is "Top Cow," making him the one among the six of them I want to hang out with the most. Lee's was "Wildstorm," which is probably the coolest-sounding name out of all of them. Larsen's was "Highbrow," which he meant ironically and makes him the one among the other five I want to hang out with the most. Valentino's was "Shadowline," which kind of prefigured the fact that he went under the radar more than anyone else. And Todd's was "Todd McFarlane Productions." You can't make these things up.)

    Todd focused solely on building up Spawn as an empire, and that led to a toy company (which revolutionized the action figure industry with better molds and higher-quality sculpting), a movie (not very good), and an animated series on HBO (decent, not great). Of every title that Image put out from the 90s, only two remain: Spawn and Dragon, and Dragon was never as highly bought (though it was, routinely, better acclaimed). Todd McFarlane was a constant presence in Wizard's top 10 artists lists (and like I said, you can discount the credibility of Wizard, but you can't discount its reach), and was almost always #1, even when he was no longer penciling the title, to the point that Wizard ended up adding a "no inkers" rule on the list. Only Todd was the only inker there, beating out artists with strong fan followings, like George Perez, Alex Ross, and, oh, Jim Lee.  When Greg Capullo took over penciling duties, he was cracking the list too, making Spawn the only title that had two artists on the Wizard top 10 artists list every month, until they instituted the no-inker rule. At one point, Wizard ran an article on the crossover fans at the time wanted most to see: Spawn/Spider-Man, drawn by McFarlane. To this day, I think that's the most moneymaking crossover that never happened.

    Spawn
    was a constant presence on the top 10 list even up to the day I stopped collecting comics in 2001. And it was there despite the fact that the series was as slowly paced as a 1950s basketball game (really, nothing happened, ever), despite the fact that the prose was as tedious as cutting up nine cardboard boxes with an X-acto knife, and despite the fact that it could have given Chris Ware a run for his money in the "My God, this is really depressing and I'm spending money on this" department. And yes, maybe Todd screwed up with business deals and the baseballs and the lawsuits. And yes, maybe Jim is in a better position now. But when you consider Image's original vision, which was the creation and development of their own characters, and the fact that Todd consciously decided to focus on Spawn instead of doing things that could have brought him more attention (like the Spawn/Spidey crossover, or even returning to Spidey for a while around the Heroes Reborn era), I don't think it's a stretch to say that Todd is the most successful of the Image founders. And considering that one of them currently runs the #2 comic company on the planet, I think that's saying something. Spawn was the bestselling title of the most successful imprint of the hottest new company of the 90s and was drawn by that decade's hottest artist, and that probably would have been enough to make Angela stand out as the biggest Bad Girl. But there was another: she was also co-created by the hottest writer.
  • She was also co-created by Neil Gaiman. And Neil created her in 1993, en route to winning the third of his fourth straight Eisner Award for best writer (a slightly bigger deal than you might think, since there's a popularity aspect to the Eisner Awards, and no one else has won this award four times in a row, although Alan Moore did win it a total of nine times). Gaiman was the hottest comics writer on the planet, since he was right in the middle of Sandman. And maybe that doesn't seem like much when you consider that Image ushered in the "Hey, we have to have hot artists who draw busty babes and a bunch of double-page spreads so that the original art will go for a lot" era, but when you have writers like Steven Grant, Grant Morrison, and Peter Milligan on the scene, being the hottest comics writer still has to count for something, right? When you consider that Gaiman is the second of five guest writers that Todd hired to do Spawn stories because he knew his limitations, and the fact that those guest writers were Alan Moore, Dave Sim, Frank Miller, and Grant Morrison, that definitely counts for something, no?

    And maybe it's the fact that there were so many, shall we say, insubstantially written comics at the time that Gaiman co-creating Angela made an impact. Sure, there were a lot of Bad Girls, and sure, maybe they were just an excuse for artists to draw T&A and a cheap way to get adolescent boys to buy them, but surely if Gaiman was writing one, it had substance, right? Even when her first appearance hit, and we get virtually no glimpse into Angela's actual character (all she does is kill Medieval Spawn in a flashback, get to the present, and then try to kill Spawn and fail), there's "potential." Of course there is; she's written by Gaiman! There must be something there. Or so people told themselves.

    So Angela ends up getting a three-issue miniseries by Gaiman and Capullo, where she's framed by her fellow angels and she has to stand trial. There's a hint of a romance with Spawn, and the series ends with Angela deciding to go freelance and not working for Heaven anymore. It's an intriguing setup for what was at the time one of the most intriguing mystery characters, rife for development.

    But it never happened.
  • Angela's appearances were limited. Those were the only stories Gaiman wrote for the character. Throughout the 90s, fans clamored for more of Angela. They wanted to know her origin, they wanted a new miniseries, they wanted an ongoing—name it, the wanted it. They never really got anything they asked for. (One thing they did get: an Angela action figure, with a they-said-it-was-an-accident-but-I'll-bet-anything-it-wasn't "no panties" variant. Again, you can't make these things up.)

    The Angela projects that came out were the following: a team-up with Rob Liefeld's Glory that Liefeld's imprint handled and was more about Glory's development, a team-up with Jay Anacleto's Kildare from the Aria series that all of ten people remember, her origin in Curse of the Spawn where it's revealed that she's the amalgamation of souls of abused women (and she's barely in it), a few cameos (and that's being generous) in Spawn, and one final arc in Spawn leading up the the 100th issue, where she holds off the host of Heaven and then finally gets killed, presumably because Neil and Todd started fighting then, or maybe just because Todd felt like having a big death. Either way, it seemed like a stupid move, killing off a character that fans were so invested in despite so few appearances. I have friends who collected comics in the 90s, then dropped everything but Spawn, and then dropped Spawn altogether when Angela died. Sometimes that's all it takes.

    But that's partly why it's such a big deal. Fans wanted more Angela since she was introduced, and they never got it. Wizard ran a whole article about it, and Todd's defense was that he wanted every appearance of hers to be special, and in a way, it worked... but the more you hold off, the more fans will want, but there's only so long before their patience runs out. Fans clamored for more, that by the time Angela was shuffled off, they ended up accepting that they were never going to get it, dropped it, and left. Now, with Angela coming back? They're back, or, at least from my experience, interested and curious to see what happens. And that's why Angela's fans aren't on the internet talking about comics, because they left when she left, and why Angela doesn't seem like a big deal to some comics bloggers and hardcore fans.

    Without fans to defend her, the comics internet gets overrun by people who aren't fond of the character, to the point where 20 years later they make it sound like she wasn't a big deal. Some people I've seen have said that it shouldn't be Angela; it should be Marvelman. Marvelman is an important character in comics history, and he's important to comics fans, and he'll earn more spots in a "Most important moments in comics" than Angela will... but he was never as big as Angela. Never mind the fact that I don't even see the value in more Marvelman and they should just find a way to reprint the Moore stories already; he never sold as much and appealed to so many casual fans. Angela was part of one of the biggest booms in comics history.

    (It's kind of like comparing Hakeem Olajuwon to Shaquille O'Neal. Hakeem had a more impressive peak against harder competition and with weaker teaamates, more moves, and better defensive abilities; Robert Horry said Hakeem was the best and he played with both guys at their peaks; and even Shaq calls him the best center ever; but Hakeem isn't as big as Shaq in terms of reach and crossover appeal. It's not even close, really. I'm a Hakeem fan, my favorite center ever, but if I were a general manager and one of my aims was to earn revenue? I'm picking Shaq ten times out of ten, no questions asked.)

    And while we're at it, I think it's important to note that the internet isn't a representative sample of what actually sells. There are only really three major groups of fans: (1) The hardcore fans, who'll buy just about anything that has something they're remotely interested in, no matter how much they complain about it, (2) The casual fans, who'll buy something if they think it's good, and (3) The really casual fans, who'll buy a comic if it's particularly transcendent (think of how many people you know who have only read Watchmen or Dark Knight Returns or Maus.) It's probably important to remember that the people on the internet are mostly from the first group, and that's why you can only really write for the second group—the first group is moot and the third is something you have no control over.  If you believed the internet, no one ever likes big events, Wolverine isn't a popular character, and Squirrel Girl is the greatest Marvel character ever.
And that's what's in store for Marvel and its fans later this year, when they bring in Angela, the most popular character from the most popular new book of the 90s from the most popular imprint of what was then the most popular comic book company. Need I say that the fans who read her as kids are now earning wages, and it's "cool" to be a comic book fan once again? After 20 years of clamoring for more of their favorite freelance angel, they're finally getting it. I'm almost definitely going to buy the first trade when it's out. How many will be with Gaiman and Angela as they come out monthly? We'll find out.

Welcome back, Angela.

Apr 15, 2013

Back Issue Ben: Guarding the Galaxy, Part 10: The Guardians of the Galaxy

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 Ten: Starlord, and the Guardians of the Galaxy
by Ben Smith

Previously, a technological race called the Phalanx have taken over the Kree empire, enslaved the minds of the Kree people, and cut off that section of space from the rest of the galaxy. Former heroes and allies have already been turned to the Phalanx cause by the transmode virus, becoming members of their elite Select. The new Quasar, the mysterious Wraith, Nova…

…yeah, yeah, whatever. Look, Peter Quill is back as Starlord, and the first lineup of the modern day Guardians of the Galaxy (even though they don’t technically call themselves that, it’s basically the beginning of the modern team) has been formed. Let’s take a quick look at some of the new members.


Groot - Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Groot first appeared all the way back in TALES TO ASTONISH #13, which predates the modern Marvel universe. As part of the monster book of the month era of comic books, his original appearance was as an invader intending to kidnap humans for experimentation, billed as the Monarch of Planet X. He made a few small appearances here and there throughout the years, but nothing of significance until this Starlord mini-series. He is probably the single-most obscure character resurrected and re-imagined for these comics.

Mantis – Created by Steve Englehart and Don Heck, Mantis first appeared in Avengers #112. Half-Vietnamese and half-German, she was left as a child at a temple for the Priests of Pama. As part of the classic “Celestial Madonna” storyline in Avengers, the Kree believe she was destined to become the mother of the Celestial Messiah. She has many adventures with the Avengers until, long story short, she marries a Cotati in the reanimated body of her former suitor, the Swordsman, and leaves the Earth to mate with him. Her subsequent appearances throughout the years are so inconsistent, that the different versions of her character actually became part of the stories. In the first issue of the Starlord mini-series, Giffen seems to possibly explain away the previous history of the character as a delusion.

Bug – Created by Bill Mantlo and Michael Golden as a part of the legendary Micronauts team and comic book. See previous Back Issue Ben retrospectives for more information.

Rocket Raccoon – Created by Bill Mantlo (there’s that name again) and Keith Giffen, Rocket Raccoon first appeared in a back-up story in Marvel Preview #7. In 1985, he received his own limited series written by Mantlo and penciled by future superstar Mike Mignola (creator of Hellboy). Rocket comes from the planet Halfworld, where he is known as the “Guardian of the Keystone Quadrant.” Halfworld is an abandoned colony for the mentally ill, where the animals have been genetically manipulated to have anthropomorphized bodies and human-levels of intelligence. The animals act as caretakers of the inmates. Rocket had many adventures while living on Halfworld (including one with the Hulk) before he and the other animals eventually took off into space to have their own adventures.

Captain Universe – Created by Bill Mantlo and Michael Golden, the Uni-Power is a cosmic force that attaches itself to a host in a time of crisis, transforming that host into Captain Universe. (Again, see the Micronauts retrospectives for more information.) This is the first appearance of Gabriel as Captain Universe.

So now that we’re all caught up, let’s get on with the rest of the series.

Apr 12, 2013

Interview: Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez

Last week saw the release of The Adventures of Superman: Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, featuring, as far as I know, the first collection devoted to the man who's likely known best as DC's licensing/merchandising artist. (One of the things he's best known for is the 1982 DC Style Guide, and he still does some of the model sheets today.)

Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez has always been one of my favorite artists, both in terms of drawing iconic poses and in terms of sequential interior artwork. So I grabbed that collection up, and it's some really good Bronze Age fun, with one of my favorite artists drawing one of my favorite versions of Superman.

So I decided to chat with Mr. Garcia-Lopez via Facebook and ask him some questions about his work, what he's proud of, the Superman collection, and of course, what's he's up to.


Comics Cube: You've drawn quite a number of characters over the years. Which one is your favorite to draw?

One of Garcia-Lopez's works
he's most proud of is
Cinder and Ashe, which he
did with Gerry Conway
JLGL: The ones I've created are my favorites for obvious reasons, followed by Batman, Jonah Hex, Deadman, and Wonder Woman.

As I'm sure many of your fans do, I think of you as the "face" of DC Comics due to your licensing work, which, by its very nature, doesn't explictly credit you. One of the comments I got most often when I wrote that article on your work a couple of years ago was "I've seen those drawings all my life, but I never knew who drew them!" Do you ever wish you got more recognition for this aspect of your work from more casual fans, or even from hardcore comics fans?

My comics production has been minimal and even less in recent years, so yes, anything that promotes my work in those licensing drawings are welcome for professional reasons.

What goes into an iconic pose? How do you pose, for example, Superman or Captain Marvel, and say, "Yes, that's it. That's them, and that's the image that should go on a kids' backpack"?

Most of these characters—at least the big ones like Superman, Wonder Woman,or Batman—were around before I was born, so we are not working in a vacuum. We already know what poses work better according to the characters' personalities. Anyway, the rules governing these pieces are different from the comic books. They are not directed to a regular comic fan but to a more general audience, one that is not familiar with the latest changes in comics and looks at these characters as something not different from a Coca-Cola logo, for instance. Usually I do at least three sketches for each pose, and the Art Director, Merchandising Manager, and a bunch of other people have the last word over what pose is going to finish.

An example of Garcia-Lopez's merchandising/pin-up work.
I've also noticed that some pieces of yours incorporate words. Does incorporating words or logos into a graphic take a different kind of mental process, or is it all part of the same kind of thoughts that go into designing?

The only pieces that I did integrating lettering and design elements were the ones I did for the first DC Style Guide in 1982. I presented those layouts as a whole and they were approved without any major alteration. Nowadays I concentrate only in the poses and then they are used with different backgrounds and graphic designs ,mostly digital during the last decade.


What is your penciling process like when doing a full story? While you don't do a lot of interior work, but your layouts and sense of composition are so dynamic without feeling cluttered. You break panel borders and do unconventional things (one of my favorites is the one where Wonder Woman throws Superman to a wall, and all the action is outside the panels — it really gives a sense of kinetic energy). I have to ask, how much thought do you put in when it comes to laying out a page? Do those storytelling decisions just come naturally or instinctively, or is it a more cerebral process?


There's nothing special. When I read the script or plot a couple of times, I can visualize right away the sequences and take note of references I'd need. Then comes the page layout. At the beginning I just concentrate in telling that story sequence in the best possible way. This is a very rough stage. When I feel happy with the way I can "read" the drawings, then I start playing with bigger or smaller panels or taking a character outside the panel lines to give more emphasis to the action. Everything is very intuitive. The basic rule here is no matter the way you do it, never betray the spirit of the script.

Garcia-Lopez is fond of
Twilight,
which he did with
Howard Chaykin
If you had to choose just one comic book that you've drawn that really defines your skills, which one would it be?

I have at least three books I consider my favorites for different reasons. One is Twilight, the others Cinder and Ashe and Road to Perdition. The first has a lot of visual tricks to enhance the some way complicated story, while the others are straight storytelling. No fancy layouts there. You just have to read the books and not being distracted with pin-ups or splash pages.

If the day ever comes that you walk away from DC Comics, what other iconic characters (it doesn't have to be Marvel) would you like to tackle? Would you be interested in creator-owned material?

I've never intend to do "iconic" characters. They just came my way, that's all. So, I'd be open to anything that may allow me to draw and tell stories.

Can you say a few words about the Superman collection that's coming out soon? What are your fondest memories of it? What is your favorite story in it? And how does it feel seeing it in print after all these years?

Well, it's a nostalgia trip showing "the ugly, the bad, and the good." I grew up as an superhero artist doing Superman, and the first works are quite weak, but thanks to editors like Julius Schwartz or Joe Orlando and their confidence on me, I could get, finally, a some way decent Superman. All stories are good, but my favorite is Superman and Deadman. Besides the great Len Wein story, I was more confident at that time with these characters and I think it shows in this particular work.

Garcia-Lopez is also very proud of
his work on Road to Perdition.
Are there any writers in particular you'd like to work with?

I've been lucky to work always with talented writers and if I tell you names I'd risk forgetting some of them.

What can we expect in terms of full comic book work in the foreseeable future?

Not too much, I'm sorry to say. I'm not good material for keeping a schedule in a regular book, so I concentrate more in licensing/merchandising stuff and in comics just one short story here and there. Nowadays I'm working in a couple of Western stories with a character named Madame 44.

Finally, I just want to say thank you again for taking the time to answer my questions. You've been one of my favorite artists since I was a child and I first read the Batman/Hulk crossover, and you continue to be. My friend has what he calls that "Garcia-Lopez Law of Awesomeness," which means that "As long as it's awesome, it's okay if it doesn't make sense," because I once said that I don't care if Batman kicking Hulk in the stomach is ridiculous — you just drew it so convincingly that I still buy into it. So thank you again.

Well, thank you!


Get Adventures of Superman: Jose Luis-Garcia Lopez on Amazon!

Get Cinder and Ashe on Amazon!

Apr 11, 2013

David Hontiveros' 2013 Summer Komikon Titles

And now, a message from David Hontiveros.

SUMMER KOMIKON 2013

For all you mighty fine folk who plan to be at the Bayanihan Center this Saturday, April 13, these are the new titles that are launching:

AGYU: Surfacing
Issue 1 (of 3)
By David Hontiveros and Vinnie Pacleb

Elias Sandoval has always felt different.
Being half-enkanto will do that.

But not even the strange difficulties of his childhood could have prepared him for what he is today: a decorated proeliator of good standing in the Royal Enkanto Guard; world-renowned mixed martial arts heavyweight champion; and now, the buwaya’s chosen to bear the mantle of the legendary hero, AGYU.

And that’s only the beginning…

Join Elias months after the events chronicled in Kadasig: The Skeleton at the Feast 1, as he dons the garb of Agyu for the first time, and quickly starts to make some enemies…

Δ: A Vision of Dust
Issue 2 (of 4)
By David Hontiveros and Xerx Javier

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.

Miguel Samson is one such hybrid.
He is the second point of our triangle.

Miguel has caught up with Lora… and Lucio, who just happened to be with Lora at the time. But now that he has, what’s he going to do with them?
And what’s his connection to Lucio?

SEROKS Iteration 1:
Mirror Man
(Available at the Visprint table)

SEROKS FOR SALE!
MANY MODELS, MANY USES!
FOR SECURITY, MANUAL LABOR, OR SEX!
CHOOSE FROM A WIDE VARIETY WHILE STOCKS ARE AVAILABLE.
CALL ARNEL AT 09108-SEROKS.

I first explored this dystopic future world just over ten years ago in the short story, “Kaming Mga Seroks,” which went on to be honored with a Palanca Award.
Now, alongside artist Alan Navarra, I’ve returned to that world in Seroks Iteration 1: Mirror Man, the first in a series of short fiction collections set in a world where everything is a commodity, and everything can be pirated, even people.
A world where the truth is ugly and a fake can be a hero.

The following comic book titles will also be available at the Alamat table:

KADASIG
Volume 1: The Skeleton at the Feast
Issue 1 (of 5)
By David Hontiveros and Ian Sta. Maria

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.

This “second printing” is for all those who didn’t get to grab a copy at last year’s October Kon, and contains a number of Kadasig fan art pieces personally selected by Ian to run in the comic’s pages.

And, the non-‘Verse title:

BATHALA: Apokalypsis
Issues 1 to 5A/5B (of 7)
By David Hontiveros and Ace Enriquez

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?

Plus, if you’ve happened to have joined either of the two Seroks-related contests, you can also submit your entries to me, at the Alamat table.

See all you mighty fine people at the Kon!

you can’t drink just six,

Dave

Apr 10, 2013

Pop Medicine: Spectacle Is Content

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

Spectacle is Content
Pop Medicine
Travis Hedge Coke


I don’t value narrative that highly. Many people do. We’re often encouraged to it, I think, as children, because children primarily don’t care and culturally that’s seen as problematic, especially in an industrial society. Other people are all about character, characterization or attachment to fictional people, their veracity. Which, is nice, for them, and I enjoy good character work, too, but it’s not the sell for me. It’s not what I am primarily after in entertainment. Complexity, simplicity, stacks of meaning or depths are all good when they suit you. I want sensorial indulgence.

I’m more for experience, than anything. I don’t care if it’s foreshadowed or likely, so long as it kicks ass. I don’t mind how it’ll affect things in another comic three years down the line, but how it feels when I read it. I don’t listen to a Cee Lo Green song or Transplants or something and ask, “Yes, but how plausible is that?” It’s rare that I watch a movie (that isn’t The Graduate), thinking “Can’t they just talk this out?” And, no, I’ve never seen Superman catch a plan and wondered why his hands don’t simply tear through it. I don’t worry about the biology of the Beagle Boys or Denver, the Last Dinosaur.

I’m not buying the reality of these moments, but the emotion of them, the proxy physicality. I like a good narrative, but I want the sensual and sensorial value. Talking about whom can beat up who isn’t stupid when you’re specifically addressing characters designed to beat up on each other. Embarrassing as conversations about who the sexiest DC villain can get, or how many sexual conduct regulations General Halftrack is breaking or pressing against, panting and deluded, they are not inherently useless or over the line. If you’re not getting a sexy vibe from a sexed up comic, it’s not doing its job right. Note that I’m not saying it’s done it’s job wrong if you’re not turned on, different tastes, not everyone’s the same, to each her own, and so on. But if a comic is trying to be sexy and you can’t tell, if a comic is trying to be scary and you can’t tell, if a comic is trying to be sad and you do not notice, it’s failing (or your reading comprehension sucks; I’m assuming your comprehension skills are razor sharp and full tilt aces).

“There’s nothing there but sex and violence” ignores that sex and violence are massive complexes of ideas and practices, history and power. “There’s nothing there but cartoon horses and talking puppets” belies how much cartoon horses and talking puppets have to affect you before you get worked up enough you have to turn that into a criticism. I recently criticized Secret Invasion as being The Kree/Skrull War with nothing but narrative, and I stick by that – it has none of the characterization, layout, or pacing, scene arrangements, or poetic techniques in force that The Kree/Skrull War rocks – but I meant it as if Secret Invasion, being driven by narrative, being a stack of events, had nothing, no content, and that’s untrue. It was unfair of me. Narrative isn’t my favorite form of content, but it, too is content.

We have to stop thinking of making allowances for what entertains others as “making allowances.” Theirs is as valid as ours. It’s as true.

I just read a review copy of Grant Morrison and Darrick Robertson’s Happy! and I like that it never attempts to justify or grit up imagination, imaginary things, or hope. The story of murderers, rapists, and violent child porn interrupted by imaginary friends, it doesn’t moralize on entertainment, but on reality. No telling you to stop enjoying crime comics, no attempt to make you ashamed for reading a story about a talking blue horse and show you how he’d really be if he was real. The imaginary blue horse would be how he is, because that’s how he is.

Happy! does not try to buy hope with a price tag, with sacrifice, to convince you hope is worth the cost. There are costs, sure, for the characters, for the audience, but none of the brutality or shittiness in the comic is treated as necessary, it’s not beneficial, except as fiction, and there, it’s beneficial to its degree, the visceral nature of the action, the tragedy of betrayals, the trauma of prolonged pain, but those are vehicles in Happy! for something else, for hope, for a little blue talking horse whose name and nature is happy, a word that starts to look weird the more times you put it in a paragraph. Happy: look at it. The more you lay it down, the more unnatural it seems. Happy. ‘S’weird. Uncomfortable to our adult sensibilities, but also comforting, reassuring and disturbing. And the comic banks on that; we’re trained to swerve off the road to happy. We’re taught, from childhood that prolonged happiness with no price tag is immature.

Morrison has been introducing or reintroducing imaginary friends in comics for a long time. He did it in Animal Man. He did it in The Invisibles. It’s a good enough argument for Chubby da Choona as any. Brought back Batmite (as Batmight), to the dismay of many a “Batman is realistic! Psychopathic clowns and immortal eco-terrorists! Realistic!” fans. When Happy, the horse, is criticized as imaginary, his response is to laugh it off with “Duh. Imaginary friend.” And, indeed, everything else in the comic is just as imaginary; it is all fictional, all the time, in all ways imaginary.

And, that’s a thing with pop art that a lot of people want to ignore, often even as we enjoy it, we want to ignore it: Pop art, at its best, is about the love of these things. It’s about pleasure and comfort. Andy Warhol’s soup cans or Superman. Those Superman pieces are “fuck yeah, Superman!” and Mike Kelley’s Kandor is a “hells yes, Kandor!” I tend to criticize Lichenstein for hiding behind pseudo-irony or sarcastic appreciation, with his deliberately poor tracings of comics panels, but even Lichenstein said that, while he liked to sometimes pretend his art was impersonal, to make it feel impersonal, it wasn’t, and he truly loved everything he copied from. Lichtenstein confessed, at times, to being afraid to admit that, but we all are at times. We’re trained to be.

Look at animal sidekicks. Putting a mask on a dog and calling him Bat-hound does not devalue Batman or make the dog less special, it makes the dog awesomer, and I’ll go right on the line and say that the more negatively you react to Ace, the Bat-hound, to a dog in a bat-mask hanging around Batman and Robin, the more dramatically you react against that or anything goofy, the more obvious it is you’re actually afraid of it and perhaps the pleasure it does give you.

I remember Kathy Acker, at some point, talking about genital piercings, and how we spend a good amount of our day ignoring, semi-cognizant, that we’ve got genitals, because you shouldn’t pay attention that in public, but the piercings, the jewelry, draws your attention when you’re sitting in a chair, when you’re in a car or on a motorcycle, when you’re walking, in different ways than your clothes do. You’ve trained yourself to ignore the feel of your slacks or underwear, the same way you don’t much notice the feeling of your socks as you walk around. Sensorial pleasure is immature in the way smart jokes, mature jokes, are those that cue you to their funniness, but don’t actually make you laugh uncontrollably. And we have the same inclination, often, with comics. They shouldn’t stimulate us in our genitals or soles. They shouldn’t make us laugh our drink out our nostrils or want to shout at the page in excitation. Those are immature responses.

We shouldn’t want to sit in bed all day and read comics that make us wide-eyed, smiley, or over-excited and caught up. We shouldn’t want that with any entertainment. It’s immature. It’s a kid’s thing. It’s immature the way we’re taught spending all day in bed having sex is immature. But, you know what? You can’t do that when you’re a kid. People are in charge of you. As an adult, you can spend all day in bed having sex or watching movies or reading comics. You can bring chocolate chip cookies or loud music into the mix, to enhance the situation, if you want. That’s what being an adult is. As long as the bills get paid and responsibilities are fulfilled, your funtime is yours. Your indulgences are yours. Entertainment does not have to be educational, doesn’t have to be defensible as constantly uplifting and intellectually defensible. You can read Donald Duck comics until you pass out because you are an adult and everything they make you feel, anything they make you think, everything you recognize or realize is true, real feelings, true thoughts, genuine cognizance.

Apr 8, 2013

Back Issue Ben: Guarding the Galaxy, Part 9: Annihilation Conquest

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 Nine: Assimilate or Die
by Ben Smith

Previously, a technological race called the Phalanx have taken over the Kree empire, enslaved the minds of the people, and cut off that section of space from the rest of the galaxy. Former heroes and allies have already been turned to the Phalanx cause by the transmode virus, becoming members of their elite Select. The new Quasar, the mysterious Wraith, Nova, and Starlord do what they can to fight the Phalanx invasion.


There’s a lot to get to, so let’s get started.

Apr 4, 2013

Artists in Weird Places: John Byrne and Gene Colan's Archie

In Artists in Weird Places, we'll look at times when artists have stepped out of their comfort zone to do something different. Click here for the archive!

In 1990, NBC had a direct-to-TV movie called "To Riverdale and Back Again," featuring the Archie gang 15 years after graduation. It starred Christopher Rich as Archie, Sam Whipple as Jughead, Lauren Holly as Betty, Karen Kopins as Veronica, and Gary Kroeger as Reggie.


Archie, of course, put out a comic adaptation of the story. The cover was drawn by John Byrne!


And the interiors were drawn by Gene "The Dean" Colan (with flashbacks by Stan Goldberg). Although Colan was working for Archie at the time using the Archie house style, he went full-on Colan, with dark shadows and realistic figures. Here's his Archie.



Here's Jughead (who doesn't look a whit like Sam Whipple).


Here's Betty.


Here's Veronica.



And Reggie.


And here's the gang.


The one above Archie is Big Ethel. The little kid is Jordan Jones,
Jughead's son.

And here's a moment with Archie and Betty, done Colan-style.



Fun stuff. You can read the whole story here, and maybe view the movie here unless YouTube takes it down.


"To Riverdale and Back Again" is also known as "Return to Riverdale."

Do you have a suggestion for Artists in Weird Places? Email me at comicscube@gmail.com!

Apr 3, 2013

Pop Medicine: Don't Listen

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

Don’t Listen: Things Comics Fans Say You Should Ignore
Pop Medicine
Travis Hedge Coke

So, you like comics and you want to talk to other people about comics. You can go find a comics shop, keep an eye out for people around town who look like they might read comics, bug your significant other into reading it so they can talk about it with you, and you can go online and find various forums and communities. All of these are valid. Most of them will present you, eventually, with the nine positions detailed below, and all of them are damaging. They damage the person using them, they damage comics culture as a whole, and they damage you if you take them seriously or just for having to weather them.

1. This comic needs to be read repeatedly to enjoy it.

There’s a joke about reviews that say an album “improves with repeated listens,” that says it’s just code for “crap, but make yourself learn to like it.” That’s stretching it a bit (it is a joke), but the idea that you can’t have a basic idea about a comic based on just reading it, is silly. If it doesn’t grab you at all, the first time, it may likely never grab you, even if you later appreciate the technical skill or whatever the talent attempted with it. It may improve with rereads, you may gain more, but you ought to be able to enjoy it the first read, if you actually read it, and don’t either skim through, read it with a predetermined plan of what it will/should be, or just glance at the cover, remember some online crank saying the writer was on drugs and the artist is lazy and call it a day.

A lot of people who say this, I think, mean that it improves, they just say the other. Some sad few, who can be quite loud about it, came onto that comic with a predetermined idea of what it would be, and can only see that, even if it isn’t true. But, then, you may encounter people who’ll tell you how complicated and mindblowing, and senseless something is, only to find out they’ve never read it, they just read a wiki summary or an Amazon review.

2. Don’t read this comic until you’ve read all these other comics.

I’ve covered my distaste for the perceived necessity of prep comics, before, for the idea that you need to study up, work your way up to reading a fiction comic. Most comics, even those that are serialized, should stand on their own, especially if they’re clearly marked as a solitary volume, as a complete story. If they fail to give you the basics, like names and clear roles, developments and a basic, satisfactory, movement in the story or situation, if they fail to entertain, it’s likely not because you didn’t read the six hundred issues that proceeded it or haven’t studied astrophysics (or speed read the phys.org article the writer was paraphrasing). You don’t need prep to read Watchmen. You don’t need prep to read a Deadpool trade or Foxtrot collection.

Year One is one of the first Batman comics I ever read, if not the first. It scared the hell out of me. The wobbly lines and dank colors that make up the scene of Gordon walking up grubby steps, afraid to wipe his nose, to talk down a terrified schizophrenic with hostages did my head in, and my stomach. And I learned to love Jim Gordon and Bruce Wayne from that comic. I didn’t know if certain names came from earlier comics, or if this dialogue related to a previous story, this scene reflected a development later in the bat-story, but published ten years before. No clue. I didn’t need a clue. I didn’t need a guide to enjoy it.

My grandpa didn’t start reading Preacher until somewhere around War in the Sun. The first Urusei Yatsura my oldest niece read was Ran Attacks. I don’t even know what order the events of Walt Simonson’s Thor run go in chronologically, or the sequence of events between the Pogo collections I read as a kid. How many daily or weekly comic strips did you really come onto with the first strip? In your life?

3. Remembering Trivia Proves You Enjoy a Comic.

This isn’t limited to comics, definitely not. But it is pervasive in English-speaking comics communities, because in English-speaking communities, in general, comics are currently fairly niche, even if awareness of them is not. Some sub-genre groups get this way, too. Star Wars fans can flip out on your ass if you don’t know a billion little points of trivia derived from tie-in novels or the back of cereal boxes. I’m amazed when I retain absolutely silly factoids or can pick out of the air the accurate issue number of a story I read fifteen years ago, once. Some are worse than me; they can’t retain the names of every woman Peter Parker ever dated, they read Blondie once or thrice a month, but they never tried to sit and watch every Blondie movie ever made. And, that does not make me less a fan, or our Blondie reader. Not knowing who Larry Hama modeled Scarlett on in GI Joe or what stories are being alluded to in Neonomicon but still digging the comics does not cheapen someone’s enjoyment.

4. That juxtaposition of text and image to tell a story is not a comic.

We are not the only medium that tries strongly to regulate what is or is not the medium. There’s some debate over what is music versus a song versus a sequence of sounds waging at any point. People are still unsure how to categorize television and film and things that are moving pictures with sound that are not broadcast on television or recorded on film stock. But, on the whole, very few people will argue that foreign movies are not movies at all. It’s rare to find a person who adamantly insists an independently-produced album is not music, or, at least, to find a person insisting that who is taken particularly seriously by anyone else. Comics, though, we know that Japanese comics aren’t comics, that Maus or Samuree aren’t comics the way The Incredible Hulk is a comic. Comics that are not published initially in a certain size, and roughly twenty pages a go, from two to three publishers are not comics. This is so strongly demanded we all slip into it at some point or another, even if it’s to clarify “manga and comics” in brief.

It’s all comics. Comics is not a genre. It’s now based on the country of first publication. If someone is telling you that is true, or basing their proposition on that being true, do not give it credence. Don’t sweat it, don’t live under it. It’s all comics.

5. They’re raping our childhood!

Last year actor Robbie Rist said of a new adaptation of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, “The rape of our childhood memories continues.” It’s hyperbole, sure, and a stupid as hell use of “rape,” but also Rist was born in Nineteen Sixty-Four. He’s forty-eight years old. He was twenty-six years old when he voiced Michaelangelo in the Nineties movies. He was twenty, when the first comics came out. He wasn’t a child during any time there were any ninja turtles. He was a child when he was Cousin Oliver on the Brady Bunch (and if anything wrecked my childhood, it was the existence of Brady Bunch reruns – see, that’s hyperbole with a point, based in something other than supposition and being a twenty-six year old “child”).

Nobody’s childhood was raped by a new comic or an adaptation of a comic, or a spin-off of a remake of a new issue of Daredevil. Don’t believe it.

6. The fans of that are just tricked into thinking they like it.

What this really means, every time, is “how dare people not share my tastes!” That’s it. That’s all. Nothing more. It is simply, and solely, someone demonstrating their inability to comprehend the concept of personal tastes, and presuming anyone who does not share their, obviously universal and correct tastes must be somehow a victim of brainwashing or manipulation to make them think they like this clearly inferior and horrible thing.

7. I don’t care if the character is white or purple, man or woman.

How many purple people on the planet? Show of hands.

See? This is why the purple people eaters died out. No food.

The moment someone throws in purple as if it were a legitimate skin color of human beings, unfuck’em. They’re dodging the issue. I don’t particularly enjoy deploying the profanity that way, I don’t like cutting people out of the equation, but they’re a detriment to the rest of us as long as they’re so willfully self-blinding in their casual bigotry that they think purple people are a defense against the occasional nonwhite character who isn’t called fucking Pieface or a manservant in the 21st Century.

8. That Comic Isn’t Important

Who cares? A comic that doesn’t have major ripple effects across seventeen other titles, a comic that didn’t set the sales charts on fire, or a comic that did not have massive effects on a continuing character can still be good. Whether a comic is important to a line, made major bank, or spearheaded a crossover isn’t a sign of whether it is good. That’s like assuming Must See TV was literal law, or when we excuse some of our movie preferences by referring to things we totally love and feel quite passionate about as “bad movies.” They are not bad movies, they’re movies that, flawed or not (what isn’t?), we enjoyed. And, so, too, is a comic that you enjoy or get passionate about a good comic. The hell with haters. Don’t worry if someone else has different tastes; that’s cool, they’re allowed to. Like what you like. Read what you like. Doowutchyalike.

9. Your Way to Show You’re a Fan is Wrong

There are some ways to show your appreciation of a comic that are inappropriate. Don’t throw dog poop at the artist on a competing title. Don’t stalk your favorite writer. Asking your boyfriend to lifeplay Archie Andrews fulltime ‘cause you have a thing for him, that’s a little bit much. But if you cosplay? If you write fanfic, give away comics to kids in the neighborhood, sew plushies, collect KiSS dolls, throw shoutouts in your songs, BS online at forums, wear a t-shirt? That’s all good. It’s okeh. Again, as always, down with haters. Down with the paranoid. You’re not embarrassing the whole of the fandom, even if you’re making one person a little nervous. Be responsible, be kind, don’t hate on others and don’t do anything that’s going to actively hurt yourself or others. But don’t sweat the posters or plushies, the paper dolls or slashfic, if that’s your thing. And if you just read comics and that’s about it? What’s wrong with that? (Nothing.)

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