Dec 31, 2017

Will Eisner and Jack Kirby

2017 was the centennial of two of comics' greatest, Will Eisner and Jack Kirby. So it seems only fitting that we close it off with this excerpt from The Dreamer, Eisner's semi-autobigraphical piece.

Jack Kirby got his start at the Eisner-Iger Studio, and while I am actually torn between which one of the two was the more influential artist (I think Kirby had more impact in the genres he handled, while Eisner had an impact on more genres in general), but I don't think it could be denied who the better businessman was (Eisner), and also who the more badass one was (Kirby).

In this excerpt, "Jack King" deals with some money launderers.



And just top cap 2017 off, here's a story Kirby himself told The Comics Journal:

I didn’t feel one way or another about it. I was only hoping that it would come out well enough to continue comics, that it wouldn’t damage comics in anyway, so I could continue working. I was a young man. I was still growing out of the East Side. The only real politics I knew was that if a guy liked Hitler, I’d beat the stuffing out of him and that would be it.

And to cap off 2017, here's Will, Jack, and Roz Kirby:



Happy New Year, Comics Cubers!


Dec 28, 2017

Roundtable: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

It's safe to say that Star Wars: The Last Jedi was a divisive movie. With that, The Comics Cube's extended family sat down and discussed it.

Roundtable: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

TanyaMy initial response is the theme of the whole movie is: What does it mean to be a hero? I liked the film, I just didn't think it was as fun or as emotional as The Force Awakens.

Joe:  I felt like the main point of The Last Jedi was to let the past die. I'm excited that the modern films are building on the rich history of Star Wars and cultivating a new fan base using new characters rather than rebooting the franchise. I was impressed how The Last Jedi surprised me at so many junctures. Every time I thought I knew what was about to happen, the story went a totally different way.

JD:  I saw it twice and I understand everything Johnson was going for, I just think he could have incorporated Abram's ideas from The Force Awakens more to make it a more cohesive story.  The end of The Force Awakens and the beginning of The Last Jedi just do not line up. If Luke is there to die, and has turned away from the path, why is he in full Jedi regalia when we see him at the end of The Force Awakens? I have so many questions that are not related to plot, but story decisions. Because there are lots of things Abrams left dangling that Johnson could have used to make a better chapter 2.



Joe: I doubt the story decisions were Johnson's personal choices. Writer-Directors aren't hired to bring their distinct vision to Star Wars. They're hired to fit a mold and accomplish goals the studio has set. That's why the director of Han Solo was dismissed in favor of Ron Howard, a director they could trust to toe the company line.

JD: Johnson has a solo directing/writing credit on The Last Jedi, the first on a Star Wars film since Lucas. They have a roundtable of "lore masters" but that's it.
I was impressed how The Last Jedi surprised me at so many junctures. Every time I thought I knew what was about to happen, the story went a totally different way. -Joe

Ben: Why create a map to hide in R2 if you’re not interested in helping at all when they come? The Resistance strikes a big blow to the First Order by destroying their big base, it’s looking more hopeful, but now all of a sudden the resistance is nearly wiped out and the galaxy has lost all hope?

JD: Well, the Resistance destroyed a base, the First Order destroyed the entire government.

Ben: The government isn’t the Resistance, and they destroyed their planet-sized weapon. I can give them the loss of hope, but there’s nothing to suggest the Resistance has been almost obliterated. They can both be no-prized, but the implication from The Force Awakens for me was that the First Order was nowhere close to ruling the galaxy.

JD: The new republic was disarmed; that's why Leia created the Resistance. There is no galaxy wide army other than the First Order.

Ben: Ultimately I can forgive flaws, logic gaps, and characterization mistakes if it’s entertaining. But it wasn’t. Even the climatic battle involved the good guys running away while a hologram saved them.

JD: Which is what happened in A New Hope. Leia's hologram kind of saves everyone, right? And it inspired Luke for his mind trick in The Last Jedi. I like that a lot, but I don't want to be hit over the head with it.

Ben:  So I’m not all negative, I loved the Yoda scene. I liked everything with Kylo and Rey. Poe is interesting. I liked Rose. The throne scene fight was amazing. The bombing run was stupid (there’s no gravity in space guys) but cool. The hyperspace suicide ship was great.
 All the new characters are fine, it’s everything they did with the old that I didn’t like.

LaMar: You don't need to kill everybody over 25 years of age to make way for the future. Some stuff was hype as hell, but not enough to make up for the ripoff. 

Jeff: It's an alright movie to me, not horrible not great, just alright. There are parts of it that just seem like a waste of screen time, time that could have been used better. The plot for Finn and Rose was so pointless. Why show us everything they had to do to try to give the resistance a chance to escape only for them to fail? I wasn't surprised with Luke's death, but it was really anticlimatic way to end the movie. Having a real duel between him and Kylo Ren would been a better send off for him.

Ben: Yep, I think I like the movie way better if Luke is physically there to fight and do some cool Jedi master shit.

Max: I didn’t hate it. Thought it was the most nuanced Star Wars film so far, but I did find my mind wandering at times. Too much crammed in.  I did like that Luke had a kind of post–Return of the Jedi PTSD that led to all the business with Kylo Ren. That helps differentiate Ren’s fall instead of making Luke vs. Ren the same as Kenobi vs. Anakin. Though the most exciting action was in the first five minutes, which isn’t a good sign.

Ultimately I can forgive flaws, logic gaps, and characterization mistakes if it’s entertaining. But it wasn’t. - Back Issue Ben

Ben: The Luke we know goes on a suicide mission to the second Death Star because he thinks he can find the good in the second most evil man in the universe. Why? Because he’s his family. This man would not even think about killing the child of his best friend and his twin sister because he had darkness in him. Luke had darkness in him. But even if we say that’s possible, he wouldn’t then give up and run away. He’d save his nephew.

LaMar: Luke's characterization was dead wrong, off the rip. And I have a hard time believing he would just stop using the Force for 30 years. Using it to fight, sure. But altogether? Naw. And the fact that Luke goes on to be the greatest Force user ever is pretty much a lost cause now.

Ben: If you’re going to concede that Luke and young Kylo would ever try to kill each other, I like what that means for Kylo’s psyche. Luke was a father-figure and a mentor and he tried to kill him because he’s a “monster” in his own estimation of himself. His parents rejected him (again, in his own mind). So here he is, this guy who believes he’s this evil monster that doesn’t seem like he really wants to be. That’s compelling.

JD: I think Luke should have been "the pull to the light" that Kylo spoke about. Luke on the island trying to influence Kylo, like Snoke did. And when Kylo finds out he rejects both Snoke and Luke becoming something new (at least on film), neither full Sith or Jedi. But I'm trying not to armchair quarterback the entire thing.

Ben: Even with all my problems with the characterization and plot, I’d still forgive it all if Luke was physically there to hold off the First Order alone, before heroically dying to save everyone. Instead the good guys run away while a hologram distracts all those beautiful AT-ATs thst ultimately don’t get to do much of anything. From a pure entertainment standpoint, that was a huge letdown. Let him go out like a champ.

JD:  I don't agree with this version of Luke at all, but Mark Hamill owned every second he was on screen.

Ben: Hamill was great, but yes, I have a hard time reconciling the guy that risked everything to redeem his evil father, with this guy.

Scarlet:  To be honest, this was the first time I ever actually liked Luke. He always was the weakest, most boring part of the franchise until now.

Tanya: I was very intrigued by Kylo's suggestion that he and Rey form their own order. The idea of Jedi and Sith being outdated is very interesting to me.

Ben: Yes! That was ultimately the most disappointing part for me. I was so intrigued by them truly breaking the mold together. That was an exciting prospect that they chickened out on. For all the talk about this being a bold new direction for Star Wars, that was the truly bold move.

JD: My 11 year old niece called me after she saw it. She said she thought Rey was going to join Kylo and couldn't stop crying about it until the end of the throne room scene.

Tanya: The other thing that bugged me, was there any purpose to Benicio Del Toro's character?

Ben:  I guess to teach the lesson that good and evil are both part of the same machine? I assume he’ll be back.

JD:  I like Benicio and im glad he's in it, but yeah theres not much point to him. I guess Finn learned something? But at least I know what they were kind of going for with Del Toro. I sort of Lando 2.0 bit with a twist; he never double crosses the bad guys. But Lorna Dern's character Holdo was more useless than Jar Jar Binks. Jar Jar was irreplaceable in his role (what ever it was, or was supposed to be). No other character could do his part. Dern's character could be 20 different people and nothing would change. What I think would have been a far far better choice is Admiral Ackbar:
  1. Chain of command falling to a fan favorite is far more satisfying than it falling to someone dressed like a Kardashian at a red carpet premiere who we've never met. 
  2. Imagine when the plan is revealed to Poe Ackbar says "You see, Captain? The plan is a trap." Or something like that. 
  3. Him flying a Mon Calamari ship in to the super duper star destroyer would have been epic. (Though I don't know how some would interpret a character named Ackbar flying a ship in to what is essentially a flying city.)
The tracker should have been a person to discover not a thing to disable. The "plan" being secret would have actually made sense. The way it was done in The Last Jedi was way too tractor beam 2.0.

Joe:  I would have liked it if Lando was the code breaker they were originally after.

Ben: I'm glad they left Lando out of this.

JD: If it had been Lando it would have been weird that Maz didnt just say who it was at the jump.

Max: I thought it was gonna be Lando too. But in a way, I like that we get new characters. It can be a bit...obvious...to have all the same players again. And it makes the universe smaller. Also liked that Rey’s parents were just average peeps.

Ben: I get the appeal of reminding everyone that anyone can be special, anyone can be a Jedi. But if that was the plan all along, why hype it up to be a big mystery? I happen to believe most of the fan theories were a bit too fan-fiction, not every character needs to be a legacy kid. But, it does feel like a big middle finger to everyone that’s been speculating for two years about this, considering that’s what they were teased into doing. I had it spoiled for me so maybe that’s why I wasn’t as disappointed about that specific thing, but I can see why fans would be mad.

I like that we get new characters. It can be a bit obvious...to have all the same players again. -Max

JD: Same for Snoke. I don't think we will learn anything about him unless its in a novel or comic.  Its obvious that this "write by committee" style just doesn't work. Lucas had a clear vision for the story for both of his trilogies. When I read things like "Where does Abrams take this story now?" I wonder why the hell they started a trilogy worth of story without a clear throughline.

Ben:  I can see the anger on Snoke too, but I don’t think they necessarily set up his back story as a mystery in the same way as Rey’s parents. We never knew anything about the Emperor either. But it does come off as the same, as a middle finger to fans.  I don’t personally consider it a middle finger, but if you’re a fan that’s been wondering about him for 2 years, it would seem that way.

Tanya: I like how Kylo struggled with killing his mom, but she has no trouble having her brother kill her son.
Scarlet: Because the stakes were higher for Leia. Kylo had already killed so many people, and she had so many more people to protect.


LaMar: I didn't think it was possible to be a bigger punk than he was in 7, but boy did he deliver. Adam Driver was a lot better in this movie than he was in the other one because he had more to do.

Ben: That’s why I wasn’t mad about Snoke, because the better move is to have him as the “big bad.”

Tanya: I do have to say shirtless Kylo felt out of place. I was like, what?

Max:  Is it equatable to Leia in a slave outfit? i know there was more of an in-universe reasoning for the latter, but seems both were about getting some skin on screen?

Ben: Seems like they stole Marvel’s idea about adding some sex appeal for the women, since males traditionally are going to these movies anyway.

Scarlet: Yeeeeeeah they should have gone with Finn or Poe for that then, because Kylo looks weird without a shirt...

JD:  I think kylo was getting bandaged. Hence the high waistline.

Joe: I think the scene where kylo ren has his shirt off is a call back to the SNL Undercover Boss parody. "I saw Kylo Ren with his shirt off. The dude's jacked." "Friend of mine said he saw Kylo Ren take his shirt off in The Last Jedi. Said he had an eight pack. He said Kylo Ren was shredded."

Scarlet: This is what shirtless Kylo reminded me of.


Tanya:  I'm a bit torn about whether Leia should have died in this film. When she gets sucked out into space, it felt like a very poignant fitting ending to the character. However, when she came back and flew it seemed a bit ridiculous to me. Although I loved the moment between Luke and Leia at the end.

Scarlet: I felt the same way, except I did like when she shot Poe.

Tanya: I loved that moment too. I loved Poe in The Force Awakens, but this movie I just wanted to smack him.

JD: I was ready to say goodbye to Leia, I was tearing up, she was bathed in light and then "psych!"

Tanya: I also thought it would be a fitting end for Finn to have sacrificed himself into that cannon, because I really don't know what they plan on doing with his character.

Joe: Yes. He botched his mission. Flying into the cannon would have been good redemption.

Ben: It was also hugely irresponsible for Rose to stop him because, as far as she knew, their only hope was to destroy that cannon

Tanya: But you have to save the ones you love.

JD: Yeah. Just ask Luke! He always saves the ones he lo- oops never mind.

Tanya: I like how Kylo struggled with killing his mom, but she has no trouble having her brother kill her son.

Scarlet: Because the stakes were higher for Leia. Kylo had already killed so many people, and she had so many more people to protect.

Tanya: Can we all agree the broom kid ending sucked?

Max: I'm kinda noncommittal on the broom kid. but maybe the kids in the audience would have loved it?

Ben: Speculation seems to be that it sets up Rian’s new trilogy.Which I will not be seeing, based on this.

JD: There's no way I'm missing that car crash.

LaMar:  If he would've used the Force to dance with the broom and have it move by itself, I'd be all for it.

Scarlet: He did use the Force on the broom. It was subtle. As he walks out the door and reaches for the broom it kinda floats into his hand.

LaMar: Right, but I mean like this:


Scarlet: Everybody can't be Turbo, man.

Be sure to check in on January 3 for the beginning of the Marvel Cinematic Universe Roundtable, which we will run every Wednesday until Avengers: infinity War is released!


Dec 24, 2017

The 1996 Spider-Man Christmas Special

On this Christmas Eve, Migs wants to share his favorite Christmas story that he read when he was in high school.

The 1996 Spider-Man Christmas Special
Migs Acabado

Every year in the 90s, Marvel Comics released the Marvel Holiday Special, a collection of Christmas stories starring your favorite Marvel characters. One night in 2003, I picked up one of the 1996 edition. When I got home from the comic book shop, I read it right away. All the stories were cool but one story got my full attention. It was the story written by Mark Waid and drawn by Pat Oliffe. It involves my favorite character, Spider-Man, and his arch-nemesis, J. Jonah Jameson.

In this story, J. Jonah Jameson and Spider-Man get stuck under some rubble, and JJJ has a choice: help Spider-Man get out and save both their lives, or wait out the hour until Spider-Man's web mask dissolves and he can discover who Spider-Man really is.

Click the pictures to enlarge and read the story.












This story is classic Spider-man/J. Jonah Jameson verbal fights and insults.  But what I like about this story is that even though Jameson’s hate for Spider-man is endless, he still did the right thing and saved our hero. Christmas is the season of love and care. In this story, it showed us that we should care for the people around us. Even if the ones involved are your enemies. Merry Christmas from Out of Nowhere!

And Merry Christmas from The Comics Cube!

Dec 22, 2017

Korrasami Had Enough Buildup

Over on my personal Facebook page, I once asked the question, which cartoon will be remembered as more progressive: Avatar the Last Airbender or The Legend of Korra? I eventually conceded, due to the wording of my question, that The Legend of Korra is the answer.

Korrasami Wasn't Out of Nowhere
by Duy

Honestly, I get it. The last two minutes of Korra is the most blatantly and obviously progressive thing in either show. It meant so much to me that it singlehandedly broke my "Always just talk about comics or things that originated in comics" rule on the Cube. I'd offhandedly mentioned in the beginning of Season 3 that Korra and Asami had more chemistry than either of them had with the show's main dude, Mako, and when the series went full digital early in Season 4, I said that it would be the perfect opportunity to pull the trigger on Korrasami, the fandom's ship name for the two. I didn't think they'd actually do it.


They did, of course, and while critics of the show believe the development came out of nowhere, it was evident that they either had stopped watching the show in Season 4 or were looking at it purely from a heterosexual lens, meaning that they didn't believe someone could be anything other than straight unless it was very specifically mentioned. Korrasami was the natural sunset ending. It was brave. It was progressive.

It's also the only thing The Legend of Korra has over The Last Airbender.

Everything else in The Legend of Korra was started in The Last Airbender, which put Asian culture at the forefront in an American animated series. While this isn't unheard of, it's also the first one that explored many of them deeply and provided diversity in their representation. Aang is a Buddhist, both the Earth Kingdom and Fire Nation incorporate different cultures. And it even goes beyond Asia, as Katara and Sokka from the Water Tribe are pretty clearly Inuit. The excellent Imaginary Worlds podcast by Eric Molinsky describes the world-building process as similar to what all fantasy novels do: take an existing culture and then rebuild the world based on those parameters. Whereas something like Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones does that with European culture, Avatar did it with Asian culture.

This type of racial diversity wasn't unheard of in 2005 when the show debuted, but it was very rare to see it treated with this type of nuance without a lack of stereotyping, with the minorities as the protagonists, and with diversity within the diversity. That's a huge step, and I doubt that a show remotely like The Legend of Korra, with its dark-skinned protagonist, would have been greenlit by Nickelodeon without Airbender paving the way.

Another thing: Korra had a female kickass protagonist, another occurrence that hadn't been super-common (it still isn't). Airbender's main character, was in fact, a male, but a lot of its most competent characters were girls. The most dangerous firebender in the course of the show was Azula, whose fire was so strong that it was blue; Katara was a fast learner of waterbending and Aang's teacher; Toph was probably the most adept bender of the entire show, even inventing metalbending; the best hand-to-hand fighters on the show were Suki and Ty Lee. By the end of the series, the team consisted of an even gender split.

And another thing is this: Airbender is just the better show. It starts off as good, gets to very good at the end of the first season, and officially crosses into "great" with the eighth episode of the second season. Before the series even ends, it's already one of the greatest and most important works of fiction in history. Korra doesn't start out great. It seemed to me that they decided to make Korra the exact opposite of Aang, meaning she was more like Airbender's secondary protagonist, Zuko: hotheaded, prone to making the wrong decisions, subject to failure, but learning. But where Zuko was a secondary character that you could be patient with because you had the actual main character to pay attention to, Korra carried the show on her own, and her failures and frustrations were ours.



So out of 52 episodes, it is frustrating that Korra didn't really come into her own until the last few. My favorite episode of Legend of Korra is "Beyond the Wilds," which takes place four episodes prior to the series finale, which is where Korra learns to live with all of the baggage that she's been saddled with. Coincidentally, my favorite Last Airbender episode is "The Firebending Masters," which takes place four episodes prior to the series finale, if you count the series finale as one episode. It's also the one where Zuko learns to live with all the baggage he's been saddled with and how to control his anger. The principle of living with what you've done/what's been done to you and continuing to move forward resonates with me.

One of the side effects of this ending, the feeling that Korra was only really coming into her own at the end, is that it makes the end of the story look like the beginning. As far as I'm concerned, the story of Korra is only getting started when the cartoon ends. And that includes her relationship with Asami, and the self-discovery that it comes with.

Korra and Asami getting together was criticized for coming out of nowhere, but that's not so. Upon watching the first season with my girlfriend, she immediately commented that Asami seemed to be hitting on Korra as early as the first half of the first season. By the third season, the two of them had ditched the leading man of the series, Mako, and formed a bond that was independent of any men. By the end of the third season, with Korra in a wheelchair, Asami says to her, "I want you to know that I'm here for you. If you ever want to talk — or anything," as she holds her hand. If either of them had been a guy, there would have been no question about what was happening.


In the second episode of the fourth season, "Korra Alone," which depicts the three missing years between seasons 3 and 4, we see that Asami volunteered to accompany Korra to the Southern Water Tribe to help her heal, and, more importantly, that the two of them wrote to each other in secret, not telling any of their friends.


There are other signs, but these combined highlight it enough for me. The only reason I was still apprehensive about it happening was because it was on Nickelodeon, and there was no way this would fly in a kids' cartoon, right? But the moment it went full digital, all bets were off. They still couldn't explicitly say it, but why did they have to?

Every LGBTQ person I know who came out of the closet when I already knew them had no build-up. They either didn't want to say it, or they didn't realize they were until such time that they admitted it to themselves. Why should fiction be any different? Korrasami gets flak for using the same-sex ending for shock value; to me it felt more organic than Aang and Katara (Zutara 4eva!), but if they had done episodes about how they came to terms with their sexuality and feelings for each other, I'm certain it also would have gotten flak for being too preachy.

And as I've said, the ending felt more like a beginning, which is where The Legend of Korra: Turf Wars comes in. Picking up where the series leaves off, this series by co-creator Michael Dante DiMartino and artist Irene Koh sets the two girls up in the Spirit World.

That's beautiful.

It's actually here that they have their first kiss and only then do they talk about their feelings for each other. And with Korra back in full force, it's only here that we see her being proactive about bringing balance to the world, instead of just reacting to the latest threat. Korra uses her powers to help out the people who have been displaced by Kuvira and also deal with a new threat, while at the same time trying to keep the spirits happy.

So Korrasami had enough buildup — I think if you were open to the possibility of it happening at all, you'd see that. And maybe the fact that even the characters themselves seem surprised indicate that it's a discovery for them as well. Sometimes things just happen — that's especially true of relationships and how they start.



That's a big part of what makes me collect Turf Wars, while simultaneously leaving the Last Airbender comics to my nephew, okay for me not to own. Whereas the entirety of Last Airbender felt complete, the ending of Korra was a cliffhanger, and I can't wait to see where it goes from here.

Quite frankly, I expect it's gonna be better than the show as a whole.


Dec 16, 2017

Roundtable: What Excites You About the Disney/Fox Merger?

What are you most excited about with the Disney/Fox purchase? Which characters would you most want to see enter the MCU?

Roundtable: What Excites You About the Disney/Fox Merger?
The Extended Comics Cube Family

JD: SECRET. WARS.

Back Issue Ben Only if they cast Hasselhoff as the Beyonder. They can even tie it to Starlord in a Ghostbusters Stay Puft Marshmallow Man way.



Peter: Secret Wars 2.

Back Issue Ben: I’ve coincidentally been reading classic X-Men and Wolverine lately, so if Marvel Studios can capture any of that Claremont magic at all, it will be exciting. It’s funny how many, I hope Marvel doesn’t screw up the X-Men, comments I’ve seen. Fox has gotten every single casting decision (outside of Magneto ) wrong. Even Hugh Jackman won me over by charisma and persistence. Can we please get a short Wolverine?

Duy: I somehow hope they get to retain Dafne Keen.

Back Issue Ben: She's the only one. Her and Ryan Reynolds.

MiguelI want to see Deadpool in the MCU. They should do a Spider-Man/Deadpool movie. I can't wait to see both of them goofing around.



Antonio: X-23 and Deadpool.

Peter: I'm looking forward to seeing Cable vs. Thanos. I'd also like to see Scarlet Witch meeting X-Men Quicksilver, and meeting Magneto too. But really, I just want Reed and Sue and Ben and Johnny.



LaMar: Fantastic Four, without question. Any Marvel Universe in any medium is incomplete without them.

Matthew: Fantastic Four, without a doubt.

Peter: They don't even have to have their own film. I'll be happy with them as regular guest stars, acting as the (slightly) older, sometimes wiser, advisers to the other heroes. Ben hosting poker and beer nights for the other heroes. Tony and Bruce going to Reed for science help. That sort of thing.

Duy: That's actually how I wanted them to treat Peter Parker, basically go with the Ant-Man treatment. But basically I want Galactus to be the big villain after Thanos.

Back issue Ben: I think he could work on-screen, go with the Moebius look.



LaMar: They could pull the Galactus/Surfer origin story from Fantastic Four #48 and put it onscreen. It still works.

Matt: Avengers vs. X-Men would be the ultimate collision course and fan service movie. I also think wholly unworkable.

Jeff: I'm not sure I would use the word excited over this. I'm looking forward to a better FF movie yes but I hope they don't drastically alter what they already have planned for the Infinity War. I'm more interested in how this will affect Marvel in their editorial and publishing areas with focus back on X titles.

Duy: Yeah, I think anyone who gets the spotlight in the next two Avengers movies should be characters/actors that have been there all this time.

Ben: I doubt the deal will be fully completed in time to change Infinity War.

TanyaI'm not excited about the merger, because I feel competition is healthy. If Disney owns everything we will be worse for it.

Peter:  Tanya makes a good point about competition. Kinda like when WWE just snapped up all of their competitors.

Ben: I agree in principle, but I don’t know that Fox Marvel was really competition for Disney Marvel.

TravisIn terms of the MCU... I'm looking forward most probably to all the FF ancillary characters. Annihilus. Galactus. Dr Doom. Puppet Master. But we need some more "vs Aliens" and "vs Predator" comics. (They own those now, right?)

Ben: Aliens vs Star Wars vs Marvel crossover!

Dec 8, 2017

A Star Trek-Sized Coincidence

In the 1920s, American novelist Anne Parrish was going through a bookstore in Paris when she found a copy of Jack Frost and Other Stories, a book she loved as a child. She opened the book and saw an inscription that said "Anne Parrish, 209 N. Weber Street, Colorado Springs."

Yes, it was her book.

That's a coincidence, but the strange thing about life is that it's full of coincidences. Take Cube friend Rich Handley for instance. Rich, head of Hasslein Books, relates the tale:

Something crazy happened today--in a good way. Let me tell you a story....
:::insert wavy-line flashback effect:::

Eleven years ago, I did something I regretted: I sold my complete set of the old Star Trek Fotonovels. Why? Because I happened to mention online that I had them, and someone immediately offered me $300 for them. Three hundred dollars? Heck, yeah.

So I sold them... and them thought, "Wait, why the hell did I do THAT?" They're Star Trek comics, but made from episode stills. I am an avid Trek comic collector--in fact, I had every issue and strip going back to the beginning, in 1967. So how stupid was it that I sold these? That meant I now had a hole in my collection, one that would not be easy or cheap to fill--and, in fact, I never did because those books are EXPENSIVE. Like I said, I've regretted it ever since.


:::insert wavy-line flash-forward effect:::

OK, now jump ahead to last week. A set of all 14 books showed up on eBay for $60. I figured "What the hell?" and bought it, happy in the knowledge that I had not only replaced the set, but made $240 in profit from my previous lapse-in-sanity sale.

But that's not the crazy part. This is:

The books arrived in the mail today, and when I opened the package, there was a handwritten card thanking me for buying them, signed with the name "Judy." I suddenly had a very strong sense of déjà vu. No one ever sends personalized thank-you cards to those they deal with on eBay, yet here I was, convinced I'd received a card just like this in the past--and connected to the Fotonovels, in fact. I couldn't shake that feeling. So I looked at the name on the return-address label, and I recognized it.

How?

Because this was the SAME person who bought my books eleven years ago... for five times what she was now selling them for on eBay! In other words, I don't have mere replacements--I have my ORIGINAL set of books back, plus a $240 profit. I can only hope Judy never realizes this. I'd imagine the resultant facepalm would knock her unconscious.

Isn't that insane?

Dec 6, 2017

The Kindness of Strangers

This post is gonna be personal and without much explanation, but it's my website and it's the only avenue I have for this stuff.

The Kindness of Strangers
by Duy

In 1989, DC Comics was three years past the Crisis on Infinite Earths, which reset its universe from almost-ground-zero. One of the consequences of this was the erasure of Kara Zor-El from DC continuity. In essence, Supergirl, Superman's cousin, never existed.

Their holiday special, entitled Christmas with the Super-Heroes, had a Deadman story entitled "Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot." Deadman, a ghost named Boston Brand, is doubtful about his role in the universe, when he runs into a stranger from another world. Click to enlarge and take a read.











I am posting this because this is December and we're close to Christmas, but also because it reminded me of someone I once knew.

This post, short as it is, is dedicated to Alegria O'Bien, whom I knew as Mrs. Baby, who helped me through the roughest patch of my life, and put me on the path to becoming the kind of person I now aspire to be. She passed away last year. I only found out yesterday.

I'm not done with the journey she helped me start. But without her, I might have never gotten going.

Thank you, Mrs. Baby. Please rest in peace.



"We do it because it needs to be done. Because if we don't, no one else will. And we do it even if no one knows what we've done. Even if no one knows we exist. Even if no one remembers we ever existed."

This post was written so I'll always remember.



Dec 5, 2017

Cloak and Dagger Are Homeless Teens

There is little nastier than someone who has nearly everything, who’s at the top of the socio-economical heap — which in America is to say adults, white, straight, native-born, middle-to-upper-class upbringing — complain about diversity in entertainment or diverse presences, with, “Well, I was raised to respect heroes for who they are, not the color of their skin,” “I am able to put myself into characters who aren’t like me, so why can’t this hypothetical black girl just read about white men forever and like it?” I cannot stand these people. I cannot abide these sanctimonious, prevaricating statements.

Cloak and Dagger Are Homeless Teens
Travis Hedge Coke

Cloak and Dagger, as a concept and in execution, is so problematic you could stick their picture next to the definition in a really nerdy dictionary. It’s a black kid with a stutter and no hope, and a white girl who’s pretty and talented and grew up rich, and they have run away from home and are kidnapped, drugged, get super powers from the drugs, and then live in the back of a condemned building, squatting and fighting crime. And, by fighting crime, I mean, mostly they beat the hell out of pimps, dealers, pedos and Spider-Man villains. Early Cloak and Dagger appearances, either as guest characters or on their own, are mucky, brutal things, where everyone’s predatory and coked up. Which, it being the 80s at the time, is not an unnecessary reflection of what would be in a New York City teen’s eyes when they’re homeless and abused.



The racial dynamic’s inanity is further exacerbated by the fact that the black guy is in love with the white girl, just obsessively so, but she’s half the time trying to go have a nicer life without him. Cloak is cool, his visual is cool, but this is bullshit writing. It is offensive. Worse, it’s inane.
But, racial dynamics often are inane. They are, almost by design, certainly by collusion, stupid.

Cloak and Dagger gives kids something that pretty much no other comic does, though, when it’s played to its classic format, and that is that they’re homeless. They’re squatters. And, it does not make them less than, it does not imply they are not carrying their weight or have not achieved something. They aren’t colonizing the space, they are not entirely just hiding away. It’s what they can afford. It is what is afforded to them. And, that’s a livable life.

Starting the summer before 8th grade, we were homeless, my family and I, living mostly in a campground in Montana, next to a family in a trailer whose walls were literally, in part, taped together. That family had been living this way so long, only the eldest girl remembered anything different.

The girl was my age, two months younger than me, and seemed to know so much more than I did. Possibly, named Amy. I spent my childhood feeling I was very bright, in the sense that you say someone who’s off, is “bright,” but that all kids knew more than I did. I was probably in love, the way kids fall. In awe and mystified, fore certain.

Amy asked me to be her boyfriend. "I've only had one boyfriend before, but he was a teacher, so we had to stop.” Twelve years old, and that’s how she put it. The kind of thing that will get more horrible for me, the older I become.

She was the one who connected our predicament to Cloak and Dagger. Because, you see, television did not portray homelessness as an ongoing situation or homeless people, even kids, as entirely acceptable. They were Very Special Episode fodder, especially in children’s entertainment. The Bayside kids meet a homeless girl and learn she’s actually human just like them, but she’ll never be seen again, because of course not. You couldn’t keep on it.

But, Cloak and Dagger were always homeless. They were always home in their squat. They were home together and they were badass superheroes. They were cool. They didn’t have shit, and they were cool.

You can’t measure out the significance of what that can give a child, without being an asshole.

It is with no small amount of a twelve year old’s fantasizing, and an adult who works with children’s prayers, that I want Amy’s life, then, at that moment, to have been fixed. Just sorted out and made comfortable. I couldn’t do it, then, and I obviously lack the time machine and other mechanisms to do it now. What I am capable of, is trying to be decent to people, at the moment, in the moment, and to be vocally thankful for what Cloak and Dagger comics, in all their scuzziness and anxiety, all their pomp and melodrama, for what that could do for her, and for us, back then when we needed it.

It is not that Cloak and Dagger is the only comic, the only entertainment, that could do that. But, it was the only thing falling into our hands that did. That made that very important, entirely necessary to survival point. Even if Amy and I were so naive and confused and otherwise helpless about our own real life situations, we could intuit that one important fact thanks to those comics; we did not matter less for where and how we lived. Something that should be completely simple to communicate and to understand, that no other entertainment cared to even address.

Nov 28, 2017

Savage Dragon Has No Safety Net

Most long-running comics hit a comfortable rut, or, like Garfield, they’re designed to start straight out the gate running in a looped track. Even the best long-running, single-author strips and comic books are prone to comfort zones of nostalgic gags and feel good catch phrases. The pitch and yaw of Crankshaft or Ranma 1/2 ain’t all that much. Savage Dragon is the longest-running single-author comic from Image, and one of the longest single-author comics regularly serialized in American comic books today. And, it hasn’t had an unwavering groove to rest in since, maybe, the first half dozen issues. Definitely since the first fifty.

Savage Dragon Has No Safety Net
Travis Hedge Coke

2017 Savage Dragon feels like a modern comic. Not a continuation of an old comic, not a revisiting or the next big thing, but concerned with the here and now, with being a great comic right this moment. From layouts to line width, Larsen takes risks with his comic, commits to new techniques, new restraints and different possibilities. It’s a gamble - even an upcoming shift away from the larger size boards he’s been drawing on, to a smaller-than-industry-standard size is a gamble - but, between talent, luck, and commitment, it almost always pays off. In the long run, it has all paid off.

Erik Larsen, artist, writer, and creator of Savage Dragon, is not often championed as a particularly experimental talent in comics, but in Dragon and with his work on company-owned characters like, Wolverine and Spider-Man, he’s always trying stuff. Pushing boundaries and testing waters without making the experimentation the selling point, or tooting his own horn. Seriously, his run on Wolverine is all about how many fights the title tough guy can’t actually win. It’s a year of Wolverine running away, getting his ass kicked, or just missing the bigger picture, because in the end, Wolverine is just some guy. He’s just a short Canadian with knuckle-knives who fights other people’s fights for them a little too often for his own good. In our world, he’d be a badass, and he is one, but he also lives in a world with space gods and robot armies. He’s going to claw-punch a space god? Rage-slaughter slavery and civil war?

Savage Dragon is a place, Larsen can cut loose even further. Between the covers of Dragon (and on those covers!), Larsen can try out whatever angle, whichever technique he wants, and you either are along for the ride, or you know where to get off. And, while not every choice in the comic has left me thrilled, goddammit, I love that he can and will shoot for the moon, and it ain't even our moon, it’s some moon in another system, in a different galaxy, that might even be in another dimension.


Whether it’s the use of a modern president in a new way, or letting characters learn from past missteps and either step up or fall into worse straits, it stays fresh. The comic has never been noticeably wedded to a particular style of coloring or locked into one set of drawing techniques. Nudity and sexual content has come to the front and receded to the back like a tide. Sometimes, things are “tastefully obscured” and sometimes a character masturbates just were we can’t see details, or walks naked on her husband’s back. Some readers and commenters get uptight when that happens, but some get uptight when the comic shows the title character attacked by racists or kills someone off and doesn’t bring them back. There’s nothing in any issue of Savage Dragon that says, to me, that Larsen wants to offend anyone. And, there’s nothing carelessly or gleefully offensive. But, I don’t get a feeling he sweats the offended parties too much, either. He owns this thing. It’s his high wire act.

Over the years, in Dragon, Larsen has written scenes of comedy, of melodrama, horror, tried out conversational shorthand and a variety of captions and narration. He has experimented with tight, hatch-heavy strokes, loose line art where the pencil lines don’t always connect but allude to shapes, lifted Kirby mise en scene and Little Orphan Annie’s blank eyes. A story may be constructed of a single, repeated image, or it might commit to a specific number of panels, shifting their size and arrangement over the page for twenty-plus pages. If you follow Larsen at all, online, you can see how ready he is to critique the comics work of others and himself, to suggest improvements, to champion success and even technical flaws that work well, and his own comics are definite proof of the sincerity of his criticisms.



Right now, a book that began about an amnesiac super-strong monster-dude becoming a police in Chicago, heavy on blacks, mostly featuring close, brutal fights and sometimes punctuated with great punny names, follows the twenty year-old son of the original Dragon, along with his wife and three children, as they move to Toronto to avoid an increasingly xenophobic United States. The fights tend to be huge pile ons, now, the real inheritor to Kirby-esque grandeur in America comics. The social drama and domestic humor is a stretch away from the phobia of domesticity we saw over a decade ago, and the far more cartoonish interactions, like villains calling up Dragon’s former boss to harass him, rather than just take direct action. It’s also some distance from intermediary statuses quo; the government agent era, the married family man with guesting evil interdimensional despot as comedy roommate, the world gone to hell turn, and many other short-lived eras. They aren’t even genuinely ever status quo. There is no status. There ain’t no quo. It keeps changing, keeps moving.

When you miss an issue of Savage Dragon, you miss important stuff. The comic runs in something like real time, with a year of monthly issues being roughly a year of occurrences. People age, there are deaths, the whole universe might die or collapse or be changed by forces from beyond. People don’t have to keep the same job or stay in the same deadlocked relationship forever, just for audience familiarity’s sake. It is freed up, the entire comic feels, to me, eternally and perpetually freed up. The art does not have to look the same, issue to issue or even within a panel. Funny-shape characters and traditional human beings can stand side by side. Perspective and delineation can change for affect. One off stories, arcs, and subplots all slide forward elegantly, as part of a whole, rather than framed carefully for anniversary issues or later collection in trade paperbacks. That surging narrative is another trick from Jack Kirby that I think too few people have adapted and made their own (whether Larsen has intentionally or not). Kirby books, starting in the late 1960s, roll adventures and anxieties along using the appearance of a looser structure, encouraging the audience to buy the next, and the next after that, seeking culminations that only seeded more great promise, which was usually delivered. Dragon’s the same.


Savage Dragon doesn’t ever need to culminate, there’s nothing it’s building towards that will stop it all. When Erik Larsen is done, it’ll be over. There are some fans, and some “fans,” who want it to look backwards, to retract to where it was, and how it played, ten years ago, or fifteen, to some specific issue they felt more enamored with, but the book is not going backwards. I am so glad it has not stepped back or been set in one of those automated grooves to go round and round with the same sweet spots and comforting shouts of “Norm!” like a sitcom destined to repeat out of order for four hour blocks on late night television. It hasn’t become Friends, it hasn’t become Amazing Spider-Man. And, its author hasn’t kept to the same bag of tricks for the bulk of his career, hoping we all still love the same water color collages or patronizing just plain folks story structures that some of his contemporaries have leaned on since the late 80s.

Nov 23, 2017

21st Century Neal Adams at DC

When Neal Adams returned to DC to do his Batman maxiseries, Odyssey, many a fan and critic responded as if Adams had lost everything from his ability to draw to his mind to his integrity. They blew things way out of proportion, but also failed to look at his body of work as a body, to remember his actual work as it is and not rose-tinted and full of gaps when he wasn’t at “one of the big two,” or being riffed on by other talent. Same thing occurred when he came back, a few years after, with his six-issue The Coming of the Supermen.

Let’s Get Nuts
21st Century Neal Adams at DC
Travis Hedge Coke

Neal Adams is, and has been, the Neal Adams, pretty much as long as he has had a career in comics. You may not get what you came in for, but you get what’s on the label, every time. Neal Adams is not the myth or some other artist’s pastiche. Neal Adams has always been a guy who would rhyme “water” and “order” in a professional comic, with a completely straight face. He has always been a guy who would keep in mind that Bruce Wayne has to eat and sleep, and Clark Kent has to button his shirts and doesn’t sweat the small stuff.

His 21st Century Superman and Batman are melodramatic, emotional, capable of deep anger and earnest astonishment. They rush into saving lives without hesitation. They doubt themselves, but push on regardless. They, like all his characters, speak idiomatically and idiosyncratically. Their reactions are not motivated by plot-necessity, their emotions are not crafted to the animus of a story, but generated through strongly personal perceptions and concerns. Men living lives. Their own lives.

That freaked people out. No exaggeration. Just when you think people are so inured to Batman, you can do anything and they shrug it off, shirtless Batman getting emotional while eating a banana freaked people out.


And, it is classic Neal Adams.

One critic who was really burnt out on Supermen, framed his frustration, with, “[I]t means precisely nothing when it turns out that Rafi’s dog Rusty is actually Izaya, Highfather of New Genesis! It makes perfect sense, because “dog” is “Izaya” backwards! WHAT?!” And, I understand his issues, but I think he’s not accepting a fundamental requirement to get on this ride, which is that it’s not going to be neatly explained, the impossible will happen, the unlikely will be frequent, and the mode here is not house detective or parlor drama but zoom zoom ZOOM! Even that critic, ultimately, has to praise the comic for what it is, much to my relief. What it is, is nuts. Gleefully, purposefully, rip-roaring goodness to gonzo nuts.

His Batman and his Superman comic are not repeats, either. There is control here. There is purpose. Odyssey turns inward, takes it to the underworld, to history and growth, moves things to circles. The guest characters are ghosts and drop outs, dinosaur boys dressed as Robin, musician wizards, lunatics and doctors who are absolutely locked into politically-motivated cycles. Odyssey’s story wraps around and twists through itself, mirroring at many a turn, the classic epic it borrows its name from, containing flashbacks within flashbacks, anecdotes within reminiscences. A story about stories, without announcing itself as such. And, in many ways, an origin story for Batman, detailing the how and why of many a growth spurt and change in his outlook or tactics, while acknowledging tacitly that no single instance completely remolds or shifts a human being.



Supermen, which is half the length of Odyssey, shoots forward, gushes and rushes forward, moving out into space, into cosmic weirdness, secret histories, and mad transformations. Adams throws in three new Kryptonian Supermen just like that. Bang. Three more Supermen, modeled on three characters from the film version of Gunga Din. There is a green monster figure named El, which may remind both of Kal-El, Superman’s birthname, and of Hebrew, who speaks in riddles and foists a little boy and dog off on our hero, and who seemingly comes out of the novel Childhood’s End. It’s counterintuitive, perhaps, but Adams’ Batman invites family, pulls in friends, while his Superman tries to push people off, mostly to save them, sometimes because they really can’t keep up with his top speeds. It’s out of love, both ways, and it is decidedly intentional, but neither is something we’re used to seeing with those two iconic superheroes.

Adams isn’t giving us icons. He is presenting takes, fully articulated and considered takes that fit specific, energetic stories. When he presents us his Superman, we don’t see the work that went in, the thoughts like, “[I]f you were a real Superman and you wanted to move a ship out to sea, you couldn't do it by pushing it because your hands are only about six inches long.” But, those thoughts effect the Superman we do see, a man-god who knows better than to try to push a ship with one super-strong hand and just making a hole.

Neal Adams does not make clockwork plots; stop the bomb comics. Neal Adams builds articulate worlds, populated with colorful folks, and then makes them vibrate out a rhythm, a series of rhythms, that becomes a song.

In addition to Batman: Odyssey and The Coming of the Supermen, Deadman: Journey Into Death launched this month (with a glow in the dark cover). Go get your copies and your Neal Adam fix now.

Nov 21, 2017

On the Run with Marvel's The Runaways

Marvel’s Runaways is about to make its big debut as a television series on Hulu, and so you may be wondering if the comic book series it is based on is worth your time.  The answer is a resounding and emphatic yes.

On the Run with Marvel's Runaways
Ben Smith

Runaways launched in 2003, created by writer Brian K. Vaughan and artist Adrian Alphona.  It was a low-selling but critically beloved cult hit, one of the best new concepts Marvel had developed in a while.  It was originally cancelled after issue eighteen, but was revived thanks to high sales of the collected editions.  Vaughan continued to write the series through three volumes of the series, before leaving to work in television.  (He would eventually return to comics with the even more beloved Image series Saga.)  The comic was taken over briefly by none other than Joss Whedon, but it couldn’t maintain the same magic.
  

The Runaways series revolves around a group of Los Angeles teenagers that all discover they’re the children of supervillains, running a dangerous secret organization called The Pride.  The kids had grown up hanging out during their parent’s annual “charity” meetings.  However, a little snooping during the most recent meeting finds them witnessing their parents sacrificing the life of an unknown teenage girl.  When the police won’t take the report of the murder seriously, they search their houses for evidence.  What they discover instead are special new abilities for Gert and Karolina.

GERTRUDE “GERT” YORKES


Gertrude discovers that her parents are time-travelers, and that they were going to bequeath her with a pet Velociraptor on her 18th birthday.  Gert and the raptor, named Old Lace, share a psychic rapport and it obeys all her commands.

KAROLINA DEAN



Karolina finds out that she’s the daughter of aliens, and that when she removes her power inhibiting bracelet, she glows with bioluminescent energy and can fly. Unfortunately, The Pride have influence everywhere in the city, and the police notify them of their children’s attempts to report their crimes.  Their parents find them and attempt to subdue them.  In the ensuing struggle, Chase and Nico acquire powerful new weapons by taking them away from their parents.

CHASE STEIN


Chase was your typical teenage boy athlete, until he steals powerful hi-tech gauntlets from his supervillain inventor parents. 

NICO MINORU


Nico takes the mystical “staff of one” from her mother, granting her magic abilities.  All she needs to do is say what she wants, and the staff makes it happen, but she cannot repeat the same “spell” twice.  However, the bad news is that to summon forth the staff, she must spill her own blood.  (Nico is the latest in a long line of great comic book witches that I love so very much.  That list also includes Karnilla the Norn Queen, Morgana Le Fay, both the Marvel and DC Enchantress, Magica de Spell, Raven, and Magik.)

Now on the run from their evil parents, they decide to rescue Molly before she falls into their evil clutches.  During the subsequent confrontation, Molly experiences some traumatic new changes in her body.

MOLLY HAYES


Molly is the youngest of the group, and arguably the most powerful, thanks to the super strength granted her by her mutant powers.  Unfortunately, every time she uses her strength, she almost immediately gets really fatigued and needs to sleep.

ALEX WILDER


Alex is the de facto leader of the group and a child prodigy, with a high aptitude for logic and strategy.

On the run from their parents and the police, the kids are officially Runaways.  They make camp in Chase’s secret hiding spot, a mansion that was swallowed up by an earthquake in the 1920s.  The group decides to try and help those in need, in an attempt to atone for the crimes of their evil parents. 

The Runaways have to balance surviving on their own with helping those in need, and their own interpersonal relationship dynamics.  Alex has a crush on Nico, Chase is attracted to Karolina, but Karolina (surprisingly) makes a move on Nico.  They briefly take on a new member, a teenage boy that turns out to be a vampire that tries to kill them.  The LAPD enlist the help of former runaway superheroes Cloak and Dagger to find the kids for them, but after the traditional superhero misunderstanding, they become friends.


The rest of the series is highly entertaining fun on the level of a teenage soap opera, only with super powers.  Not only do they discover that The Pride plan on destroying the entire world, the team is rocked by a shocking betrayal.  To make matters worse, Vaughan later ends his tenure on the series with one of the most heart-breaking deaths in comic book history.  If those two things don’t get you reading, then nothing will.

So if you wind up watching the TV show and loving it, you’ll be happy to know that there’s a whole stack of comic book stories waiting for you to read while you wait for the inevitable second season.  There are worse ways to spend your time.

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