Oct 29, 2010

Creating the Marvel Universe: Who Deserves the Credit? Part Two

In Part One of our adventure, The Comics Cube! took a rollicking tour of the Marvel Universe and its creation in the 1960s. We described the effects of the Marvel heroes such as the Fantastic Four and the Amazing Spider-Man, the Mighty Thor, and the Incredible Hulk, and showed how it turned superhero conventions on its ear. We also named the three major architects of this movement: "The King" Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and "The Man" Stan Lee. Lee, of course, is the name most people associate with the characters, the reason being he was the writer. Sound reasoning. Except it's not true.

Accurate? You decide.

When writing a comic book, there are two methods primarily used by writers. The first is the full script method. In this method, the writer details every single important aspect of the scene. He'll talk about how the page is laid out, the lighting, the blocking of the characters, the angles from which we are seeing the scene, and the specific lines of dialogue and narration that will actually go into the final copy. The guy most famous for using this is Alan Moore, who, in one example, used forty single-spaced pages to describe the first twelve pages of BATMAN: THE KILLING JOKE. (You can read it here.) Now, Moore asks his collaborators what they want to draw first, but there's never any doubt that he's the writer, as it's he who controls the pacing and expressions. Still, since he and the artists he works with collaborate, Moore shares co-creator credit with his artists. David Lloyd is his co-creator in V FOR VENDETTA. JH Williams III co-created PROMETHEA. And so on. Moore never claimed sole credit for his works, and neither did Neil Gaiman, who also works full script.

Now, the other method for writers is the "plot-first" method. Using this method, the writer will just come up with a basic outline of the plot - maybe a page or two - detailing what happens. Then it's up to the artist to actually tell that story, applying pacing, mood, angles, lighting, and their own brand of drama into the pages. When they're done, the writer has to get the pages back and add the dialogue. This method is preferred by several writers, and one of the obvious reasons was time constraints. The method is also known as the Marvel Method, because it's the method Stan Lee used when working with his artists.

To compare and contrast, here's a page from an Alan Moore script for THE NEONOMICON. This is a single-spaced page. It describes one panel. (Thanks to Tim Stout for this.)

Meanwhile, here's Stan Lee's "writing" of FANTASTIC FOUR #1, which he then gave to Jack Kirby. This is two pages. It describes one story. (Thanks to the Shadow Sanctum for this one.)

Note how it's different from the actual final product, since Kirby obviously chose to do away with the whole "The Invisible Girl is always invisible" thing, and ended up making the Thing probably the most lovable character in the group. All right. So this is how Stan worked with his artists, and if plot were enough to classify one as the writer of the piece, then yes, Stan Lee would be the writer. But as any actual writer knows, more goes into writing than what happens in the story; there's the matter of pacing, drama, emotions, and all the other more abstract stuff that actually hook people on a story. (Case in point: boil WATCHMEN down to the plot. What is it? It's just an ensemble murder mystery, right?)

Now, to Stan's credit, he would give Kirby and Ditko co-plotter credit, while he would be credited as the scripter - which is true enough, in terms of dialogue, it's all Stan (at least as it pertains to the final product). In fact, some stories were pretty much all Kirby, like the classic FANTASTIC FOUR #50 (The Coming of Galactus!), which introduced the world-devouring Galactus and his herald, the Silver Surfer.

How was this all Kirby? Well, Stan Lee has gone on record, saying that in the middle of the story, there's all of a sudden a guy on a flying surfboard. The Silver Surfer was not part of the original plot, and Stan actually wanted him erased, and yet, here the Surfer was, taking up an incredibly significant part of the story. In effect, then, Jack Kirby wrote a very significant part of the story! I'm not sure how this could be contested.

And since he was the one who gave him his look and came up with the idea for him (that of an alien learning how to be human), Kirby solely created the Silver Surfer. While that idea may have been revised later by Stan Lee, defining the Surfer as a former human (albeit from a paradisical world) who had to give up his humanity, it doesn't make Stan the creator of the character any more than Frank Miller was the creator of Daredevil, or Denny O'Neil  and Neal Adams the creators of Green Arrow.

Steve Ditko was the same way. Stan would give him a plot, and then it was up to Ditko to tell the story. After a while, Stan wouldn't even give him an outline; he'd just say something like "Hey, Steve, let's have the Green Goblin show up in this issue," and let Steve run with it. In particular, AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 30-33, "The Master Planner Saga," was pretty much all Ditko. The classic sequence in which Spider-Man lifts a ton of machinery from himself, Stan admits, was all Steve's idea and had nothing to do with him.

So did Stan Lee write the stories for which most people credit him as writing? In part, yes, but it's important to note that he wasn't writing it alone. His artists were doing the bulk of the work for him. So, the entire Marvel team of artists were also a team of writers.

Give credit where it's due for the writing: to all of them.

But what about the creation?

Who should be credited for creating these characters? Who should be credited for the Marvel Universe? Is Stan Lee really unfairly credited? Is Duy giving too much credit to Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby? And again, where does the Merry Marvel Marching Society fit into all of this? Click here for the conclusion of Creating the Marvel Universe: Who Deserves the Credit? same Cube time, same Cube channel!

Comics Cube! Reviews: Action Comics 894 (Death Meets Lex Luthor)

All right, now usually, I wait for a little bit of time (sometimes a long time) before an issue is out before I review it. I've made exceptions recently for CAPTAIN AMERICA: PATRIOT and LIFE WITH ARCHIE, simply because I feel that both series could use the immediate support. I'm going to make an exception again, right now, not because this particular comic needs the support, but because those of you on the fence may be thinking of getting it, and it'll sell out quickly.

ACTION COMICS #894 is when Lex Luthor, who has been headlining ACTION COMICS for a while, meets Death of the Endless. Yes, that Death. Neil Gaiman's Death. You might be wondering if this story is worth getting.

Now, keep in mind, I haven't been reading ACTION. I don't like Pete Woods' art, and I know nothing about Paul Cornell. But I bought this anyway, because I didn't want to chance that this story was awesome and that it would sell out.

As far as I can understand, Lex Luthor has fallen off a cliff, and then he's confronted by Death. They talk for a good long while, and Lex goes off into the stages of loss -- denial, bargaining, etc. -- and he and Death have a big long chat. The ending is very predictable, as there's really only two ways it could go, and I figured they weren't going to do the one. That's all I'm going to say about it.

Okay, so how does it read? Well, quite frankly, it's really good. I don't regret buying it. As a SANDMAN fan, I like Cornell's portrayal of the second-oldest Endless character, and she honestly feels as if she walked right out of Neil Gaiman's book, with Neil Gaiman's pen, and just started talking in Paul Cornell's book. Death is very, very true to character here.

But as cool and great as Death is as a character, she's never really been the protagonist in any of her stories. DEATH: THE HIGH COST OF LIVING uses her as a counterpoint for a boy named Sexton, who is having trouble dealing with his life. DEATH: THE TIME OF YOUR LIFE uses her to highlight what an ensemble of characters feel about living and dying. Even her appearances in SANDMAN highlight the characters she's interacting with. Death isn't so much a character as she is a storytelling tool to see where certain characters stand on living and dying. She shines on her own, and it's her job to make others shine.

And let me say this: Lex Luthor shines. A lot. It's hard to do be informative here without spoiling it for everyone, but basically, Death has Lex review his life, and Lex gives it all up. First, he tries bargaining his way out of it, then when Death forces him to just talk, you see Lex exactly as he sees himself. Let's just say that whatever's been stripped from him lately in an attempt to get him back to his Silver Age, mad scientist persona, has been given back to him. This is Lex from Lex's eyes - the Lex Luthor who thinks he's doing the right thing, and his personality really shines through.

The art by Pete Woods is actually good for this story. I don't think Woods can draw action very well, and his figurework is kind of stilted, but Death looks here like she just walked out from one of the Gaiman books, and the pacing and body language of Lex Luthor is very subtle and telling. For this issue, at least, Woods shines.

If you're a fan of Death, you may want to get this. She doesn't really do anything that you haven't seen before, but it is nice to see her again.

But if you're a fan of Luthor, I think you should get this. One can never tell, but I believe it will be seen as one of the definitive Lex Luthor stories ten years from now.

You may want to hurry though, because...

Oct 28, 2010


One of my favorite comic strips right now is PICKLES by Brian Crane, which deals with an older couple named Opal and Earl, who are always bickering, but in that manner that you can tell they're really in love. You may enjoy it. It's very charming.

In addition to being funny and amusing and charming, Crane knows how to make a strip visually appealing. Iconic characters, lovable expressions (even if one of them has a full mustache and eyes you never see), and color palettes that just please the eye.

In particular, this past Sunday's strip is gorgeous. I was reminded of some of Frank King's GASOLINE ALLEY Fall strips.


For those interested, you can buy some classic PICKLES books here and here and here.

Why I Am Not Reading Superman: Earth-One

Yesterday saw the release of SUPERMAN: EARTH-ONE, by J. Michael Straczynski and Shane Davis.

Instead of me describing it first, here's the official solicitation from DC Comics.

Forget everything you know about The Man of Steel and brace yourself for a staggering new take on the world's most popular Super Hero.

Best-selling, Hugo Award-winning writer J. Michael Straczynski (BRAVE AND THE BOLD, Thor, Babylon 5) and red-hot rising star artist Shane Davis (GREEN LANTERN, SUPERMAN/BATMAN) team up for this exciting launch of the EARTH ONE graphic novel series. Set in an all-new continuity re-imagining DC's top heroes, EARTH ONE is a new wave of original, stand-alone graphic novels produced by the top writers and artists in the industry. The groundbreaking new line rockets into effect right here with the Super Hero who started it all – Superman!

What would happen if the origin of The Man of Tomorrow were introduced today for the very first time? Return to Smallville and experience the journey of Earth's favorite adopted son as he grows from boy to Superman like you've never seen before! 

So basically, it's a Superman for newer readers.

Now, you may ask, "Duy, you love Superman! And you love bringing in newer readers! When are you going to review SUPERMAN: EARTH ONE?"

Uh, I won't. For a variety of reasons.

First of all, I'm not the biggest JMS fan in the world. His run on AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, while acclaimed, was one of the worst ever in my eyes, and I just hate it. His work on SUPERMAN right now is boring, and the one comic book from JMS that I actually liked, THE TWELVE, was pretty much eight issues of slow set-up, and was never finished. He's just not a favorite of mine.

Secondly, I'm not a fan of the art either. Shane Davis is a decent artist, but I don't think he's good enough to be on a project as big as this. Solid, can tell a story well, but I think his work lacks refinement.

Third and most importantly, meh, I just don't need it or feel like it. And that's not because it's being hailed as a hipster version of Superman or a Superman for the "Twilight" generation. I just don't feel like it. How many "coming of age" Superman stories are we going to see? We've got the entire run of SUPERBOY from the Golden/Silver/Bronze Age, John Byrne's MAN OF STEEL, Mark Waid and Leinil Yu's BIRTHRIGHT, and most recently, Geoff Johns and Gary Frank's SECRET ORIGIN (which I bought on the basis of Gary Frank's Superman being awesome). In other media, we've got the first Superman movie, and we've got Smallville. Every time, it's updated for the new generation. I get it.

Now, looking at the previews, it seems that this Superman is one that is unsure of himself and is also drawn in such a way that doesn't really call Superman to my mind. And that's cool. That's fine. If it gets new people reading comics, then that's cool. I'm fine with that. Their Superman may not be "my" Superman, but I'm not going to go spend money on the book, read it, and then go on a big rant about how it's not "my" Superman. Superman is open to many interpretations. This one just seems to be one that's not for me.

If you're interested, though:

Oct 27, 2010

Creating the Marvel Universe: Who Deserves the Credit? Part One

One of the oldest debates in comic book fandom is the issue of who exactly created how much of the Marvel Universe.

As most comics readers know, the explosion of Marvel Comics as a company and as a shared universe in the 1960s really revitalized and invigorated the medium and the industry. With characters such as Spider-Man, a shy teenager whose life's problems are only worsened by the fact that he is a superhero; the Fantastic Four, a family of superheroes who wore no costumes (at first), had no secret identities, and constantly bickered; the Mighty Thor, the Norse god of thunder who was stuck in the body of a mortal for being too arrogant; and a revived Captain America, who continually tried to reconcile his old 1940s values with the then-current world of political turmoil, Marvel Comics turned the superhero genre upside-down. Where superheroes were often one-dimensional characters, with their only real traits being that they were good people who fought crime, Marvel characters were two-dimensional characters, and this caused kids from ages two to twenty-two to take notice. (No lie. In a 1965 article in Esquire Magazine, the Hulk and Spider-Man were voted in by readers as two of their favorite revolutionary icons of the time, alongside Bob Dylan, Che Guevara, and Malcolm X.)

There were many forces at work here, including Bill Everett, the creator of Namor the Sub-Mariner, who collaborated with Stan Lee to create Daredevil, and  Don Heck, who collaborated with Lee to create Iron Man. But the bulk of the work and the success are primarily attributed to three men.

The first is Stan "The Man" Lee. Stan's role was twofold: he was both the editor and the "writer." (We'll be defining this soon.) That is, he would come up with an idea, such as, for example, "Puny teenager who gets bullied gets bitten by a radioactive spider, and his life's problems are worsened by this fact."

He'd give these ideas to the artists. And in the case of Spider-Man, this artist was "Smilin'" Steve Ditko.

And in the case of pretty much the rest of the Marvel Universe, this man was the King of Comics, Jack Kirby. Okay, Kirby didn't create Iron Man, but he redesigned him into his classic look and integrated him into the Avengers, which was really the in-universe cornerstone of Marvel.

Marvel was different from DC Comics in that DC Comics revolved around Superman and Batman, fictionally and in actuality. The fictional citizens of the DC Universe idolize Superman and Batman, and the publication of the books were centered on Superman and Batman. In the Marvel Universe, though, everyone was pretty fair game. The in-universe cornerstone were the Avengers and the Fantastic Four, but the publication, merchandising, and licensing centered around those characters just as much as characters like Spider-Man and the Hulk - complete outsiders and loners. Later on, the X-Men, a group of outcast mutants, would be the cornerstone of Marvel's publishing and marketing, and these guys were also created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

The idea of the "realistic superhero," or at least relatively realistic in those days, was not new - Will Eisner did it with The Spirit, and Harvey Kurtzman deconstructed superheroes with a subversive realism (it's complicated; I'll get to it in a future post) in TALES CALCULATED TO DRIVE YOU MAD. But where the Spirit was still a character who was pure of heart and Kurtzman's spoofs were made to make you laugh, the Marvel characters were, quite frankly, relatable. You could envision yourself as Spider-Man, and you could definitely relate to the X-Men, and you could definitely relate to the Fantastic Four. You had to wonder what it would be like to be Superman, but in your angry moments, you could feel like the Hulk.

The idea of a superhero that you can relate to - and many superheroes you could relate to - the idea of superheroes with flaws - came pretty much directly from Stan Lee. Lee was frustrated with his career and was thinking of leaving comics in 1961, and when publisher Martin Goodman told him to come up with a superteam to counter DC's Justice League of America (a team consisting of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, among others), Stan wondered how to do it (especially considering that Marvel at the time wasn't publishing superheroes to make a big guns team out of). His wife then said he should just write superheroes the way he wanted to, and the Fantastic Four was born.

Now, of course, Stan Lee is the most famous out of these three names.  In fact, I was talking to an officemate just last month about Thor, and when I told him that Thor was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, he just said, "Oh, so it's still Stan Lee?" in a tone that betrayed the fact that he'd never heard of  Kirby.

There are many reasons for this. The oft-cited reason by casual fans is that Stan Lee's the name on all the credits. He wrote the stories, he came up with the ideas, and he created the characters. The artists just drew what he said to draw.

It's sound reasoning.

Except it's not true.

How exactly did Stan Lee collaborate with his artists? Who deserves more credit for Spider-Man: Stan Lee or Steve Ditko? What about Jack Kirby? Who was more important, Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko? And where does the Merry Marvel Marching Society fit into all of this? Click here for Part 2 of Creating the Marvel Universe: Who Deserves the Credit? same Cube time, same Cube channel!

Oct 25, 2010

RIP Mike Esposito

On the very day I posted a feature on AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #153, the first Spider-Man comic I ever read, I find out from Mark Evanier's blog that its inker and frequent Ross Andru collaborator, Mike Esposito, has died.

Inkers are unsung heroes in this business, and it's with great regret that I forgot to credit Mike in my post. Inkers can make or break a picture, and in the case of Ross Andru, Mike Esposito made it, every time.

Rest in peace, Mike. Thanks for everything.

From AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #149, art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

Great Back Issues: Amazing Spider-Man 153

The first Spider-Man comic I ever read was AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #153. It wouldn't be until over twenty years later that I would find out that it was a classic issue done by two all-time greats.

"The Last Hundred Yards" (or "The Deadliest Hundred Yards," if you go by the cover) was written by Len Wein and Ross Andru. Wein is one of those names that scream "instant classic." One of his hits was GIANT-SIZE X-MEN #1, which launched Wolverine and the X-Men into superstardom. Andru, on the other hand, is a bit of a mixed bag. I was never sure if he should show up in the top 5 most important Spider-Man artists or the top 5 who don't get enough credit (ultimately, he appeared in neither, though he's a good candidate for the sixth spot on either list). He had a good run on Spider-Man, even being tapped to be the one to draw the SUPERMAN AND THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN crossover, but his style always seemed to mimic John Romita's as if Romita's style were the house style. (Years later, I would find out that the reason for this is that Marvel was really protective of Spider-Man, just as DC was really protective of Superman, and when things went slightly off-model, the art coordinator - in Marvel's case, Romita - would come in and redraw faces.)

Having said that, I must have read this particular issue dozens of times as a kid. It was my brother's, and it was a crappy reprint by the local bookstore, and is now tattered, but still completely readable. The story revolves not around Peter Parker, your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, but on Dr. Bradley Bolton, a computer wizard who used to be a big man on campus at Empire State University. His daughter had been kidnapped, but despite meeting up with Peter Parker and Daily Bugle reporter Ned Leeds, he doesn't mention this fact. Instead, he chooses to recount his final football game for the school; the one where he was almost a hero.

He then goes on to mention that he was only inches close from making that final touchdown, when he gets called away by a messenger, and we see Bolton talking to a man named Paine, who tells him about the conditions for his daughter's return. This scene is important, not only because it emphasizes that our heroes have no idea what's going on, but because it handles the continuity of a shared universe in such a way that I preferred at the time.

Look at that. Apparently, Bolton isn't a new character introduced just for this story. He's been appearing in previous issues of Daredevil! And yet, the issue is written in such a way that it's completely accessible. It doesn't matter if you know him from before (I certainly didn't). This kind of writing is the best way to go, I think - it's accessible to new readers, while it rewards older readers. It lets you know this comic is part of a larger universe, while at the same time letting you know that if you read just this comic, you're getting a full story. These days, a comic would typically just assume you know who Bradley Bolton is. Just like, similarly, these days, a comic would just assume you know the Morse code signal for S.O.S.:

A comic these days would not devote this much space to telling you what S.O.S. means in Morse code, and it's a real shame, because it's because of little things like this that vindicated comics to me in the first place back in the days of people telling you that comics are silly stuff from which you'll never learn anything. Hell, I could say I knew what Morse code was, and how to spell S.O.S. in it because of comics. (Vocabulary was the other selling point.) These days, a writer would take little things like this for granted and either leave the reader confused as to what was going on, or worse, turn the reader off on account of inaccessibility.

There's also the advantage here of on-the-spot characterization, from which you can tell the basic personality and characteristics of a certain character as well as that person's dynamics and relationship with another from the barest of clues. I can see how this can be seen as a problem as it relates to character development, since no one really can be summed up so quickly, but that wasn't what was happening at all. What we basically got was just a quick summary of where they were now, and what they meant to the people around them. For example, here's Mary Jane Watson, a girl who you really don't need to know anything more about than "She's mad at Peter--"

--"but can't stay mad."

(On another note, who ever thought that we would still get a "Kung-Fu Fighting" reference thirty years later?)

Anyway, as brilliantly as it's all been done up to this point, the real flash of genius is the climax. Bolton leaves the party, and Peter follows. However, since Peter knows nothing about what's going on, other than having a hunch that something is wrong, he goes the completely wrong way. Bolton is then forced to face off against his daughter's kidnappers alone on the football field, and when the kidnappers won't give her back, he runs the hundred yards.

See the genius of it? It's composed in exactly the same way as the football flashback sequence from earlier in the issue. And when Spider-Man finally shows up (too late), Bolton lives long enough to be assured that not only was he able to save his daughter, but that he crossed the touchdown mark.

This is the first time I can remember where I learned that repetition can significantly add poignancy and resonance to any given story or theme. By repeating the composition and layout and the script (with slight changes where necessary or where the drama called for it), Wein and Andru instantly called to mind the previous scene, without having to resort to cheap "He ran this race a long time ago, and failed..." descriptions. This technique amps up the drama and makes you truly feel for Bolton. It's been used in some of my all-time favorite works, such as WATCHMEN and GOOD-BYE CHUNKY RICE. Decades later, it's a technique that's stuck with me, and it's one of the things that always keeps my eyes wide open for intriguing panel layouts and breakdowns. Whether or not I have AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #153 to thank - whether it's responsible for my love of technique and symmetry and reflection, or whether anything else would have triggered it anyway - I'll likely never know.

One thing I do know, though, is that I do have it to thank for sparking a love for comics. And for that, to Mr. Wein and the late Mr. Andru, I'd like to say thanks. You guys scored a touchdown with this one.

EDIT: This issue was inked by the great Mike Esposito, who died today.

For more Great Back Issues, click here. For more Comics Cube! Reviews, click here!

You can find this story in ESSENTIAL SPIDER-MAN Vol. 7!

Oct 23, 2010

Matt's Mentionables: Superheroes and the Law

Matt's Mentionables is a column written by Matt for The Comics Cube! See his archives here.

Superheroes and the Law
by Matt

Recently, Yale University unveiled a collections of comic books that showed the interaction of superheroes and the law (here). It got me thinking, especially because they left out comics characters who were actually lawyers, how have Marvel and DC presented their characters who are lawyers (I was not alone). While there are a few villains who were lawyers (think Two-Face), I want to focus on how heroes are made from this oft maligned profession.

The Famous Ones

Marvel is home to two of the more famous superhero/lawyers, both of which had long (and current) series with them as leads. When you think lawyer and superhero, who else pops up but Daredevil. He is the most prominent lawyer in the comic universes.

Murdock only defends those he knows are innocent (his superior hearing acting as a lie detector) and has defended Ka-Zar, the Hulk (on TV), Peter Parker (also on TV) and Black Widow (who he shacked up with for a while in the 70s). While Daredevil’s adventures focus on him taking on the Kingpin and avenging his father, it is a wonder he didn’t try to prosecute the Kingpin before the 90s.

Our next famous Marvel lawyer is She-Hulk. Jennifer Walters, cousin of Bruce Banner and future receipt of his Hulkifying blood, was already a talented lawyer. As She-Hulk, Jennifer is taller, stronger, more confident, and green.

She-Hulk has done something Daredevil often refrained from, being a prominent superhero/lawyer. Such clients include Morbius, J Jonah Jamison (suing Peter Parker), defending Speedball, suing Tony Stark (major points in my book) and supporting the Superhuman Registration Act (which is how she started suing Spider-Man). .

She-Hulk and Daredevil are the two most prominent examples of superhero lawyers, though since Daredevil isn’t green he can be Matt Murdock, lawyer, without everyone knowing it. The other examples are not as prominent characters, at least not in the main universes.

DC’s Lawyer B Team

While the superhero lawyers in the DC universe are not prominent, title characters, they are (largely) famous names. Helena Wayne (Huntress of Earth-2) and Dick Grayson (Robin of Earth-2) were both lawyers and in fact, part of the same firm.

Earth-2 may not exist anymore (or at least not the Earth-2 these two came from), but in their time, Huntress and Robin were fearsome lawyer/superheroes. The origin of Robin is largely the same, but unlike Nightwing/Batman (or whatever he ends up being), this Dick Grayson didn’t leave school and instead became Gotham’s number 1 crimefighter and even had to prosecute the Justice League (and suppress feelings for the Huntress). Unlike Robin, Huntress began as a lawyer and became a superheroine after her mother was forced to return as Catwoman. It seems the Waynes can’t help but become superheroes. Both characters returned in one of the 52 new Earths, but whether they remain lawyers is anyone’s guess.

DC does maintain one main-universe lawyer, and that is Kate Spencer, also known as Manhunter.

This Manhunter is the newest of the hero/lawyers; however, she wasn’t the first Manhunter to be a lawyer (I just skipped him because he was a public defender and didn’t have particularly high-profile defendants).
Spencer has a superhero legacy (she is Phantom Lady’s daughter) and defended Wonder Woman in the murder trial of Maxwell Lord (which I suppose at this point is moot). Spencer is now the District Attorney for Gotham and her series has been canceled, but I suspect DC will have use for a superhero/lawyer once Brightest Day is completed.

The Rest

One last superhero/lawyer. Now, he doesn’t have a recurring series and the series you might know him from is entirely based on less than stellar interpretations of old cartoon characters, but he is my favorite on the list. I, of course, mean Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law. Here he is, in all his courtroom glory.

For those unfamiliar with Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law, it was a show run on Adult Swim focused on old Hanna Barbera cartoon characters from the 1960s re-imagined as either lawyers, judges or plantiffs/defendants. Harvey (or Birdman as he was known in the 1960s) is a fairly bumbling lawyer whose clients include Fred Flintstone (mafia don), Boo Boo Bear (terroist bomber) and Dr. Quest (in a custody case with Race Bannon).

Harvey is clearly a superhero (allowing me to include him in this list) and shows the fun side of being a lawyer. The show is highly irreverent, intelligent, and I recommend it for anyone looking for laughs and fond memories of old cartoons gone horribly wrong.

Despite the massive physical damage and occasional collateral damage (it has to happen with all the physical damage), it is surprising that more heroes are not also lawyers, they would certainly get business.

Oct 21, 2010

Comic Book Glossary: Panel

Welcome to the first installment of Comic Book Glossary! One of the aims of the Comics Cube! has always been to help out the newer readers who may be interested in, but aren't all that knowledgeable in comics. Click here for the index!

We'll start out with the basics. See the boxes that contain the pictures? Those are called panels.

CALVIN AND HOBBES by Bill Watterson

Panels are, as Art Spiegelman calls them, the Ur-language of comics, the basic building blocks of the medium. They control the action. While "panels" are typically thought of as boxes, a panel can actually take on any shape, such as a television screen, seen here from Frank Miller's BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS:

To index cards, seen here in Will Eisner's THE SPIRIT.

Whatever panel you choose, just make sure it suits that particular moment in your story! For example, here's Neal Adams, tilting the panels diagonally so it gives an increased length for the falling Beast:

And changing the panel size alone can change the amount of tension in any given scene, as proven here by Steve Ditko in one of the greatest and most important Spider-Man moments of all time:

You can view some more effects of different panel shapes in some installments of Comics Techniques and Tricks!

Oct 19, 2010

Comics Cube! Reviews: Life With Archie

If there is any one comic book right now that I would absolutely recommend to someone who doesn't read comics but is interested and used to read comics as a kid, it's LIFE WITH ARCHIE.

Archie Comics gets a bad rap. To hardcore comic book fans, it's "that comic that people who aren't in the comic book-reading club read." To superhero fans, it's "that comic that's no good, because it's all about tired, recycled jokes and a cartoony art style." It's not "honest" or "grim" enough to be independent, and everyone knows that when you talk to anyone who doesn't read comics, you're probably going to get an "Except I used to read Archie when I was little," as a disclaimer.

Which is why, I bet, a lot of people aren't noticing LIFE WITH ARCHIE right now. They've all formed their opinions, and they all believe that Archie is a stagnant property. This is not true.

Last year, in what can really only be called a publicity stunt, in a six-part storyline, Archie Andrews went to two alternate futures. In each future, he made one of his impossible choices. In one of them, he married Veronica Lodge, spoiled daddy's little rich girl; and in the other, he married Betty Cooper, the girl next door. The stories in which they were told were very loose - it was basically "this is what happens when Archie marries Veronica," and "this is what happens when Archie marries Betty," told in structures that were just a little more detailed than a montage. At the end of the day, Archie is a teenager again, unable to choose between Betty and Veronica again.

But here's the thing. As with almost every big event that doesn't give much in the way of a story (e.g., DEATH OF SUPERMAN, ZERO HOUR), this gives way to a smaller story that is more substantial (e.g., WORLD WITHOUT A SUPERMAN, STARMAN). In this case, LIFE WITH ARCHIE: THE MARRIED LIFE, a magazine that contains two comic book stories of regular length, for $3.99 (meaning two comics for the price of one) - one that delves into Archie's life with Veronica, and one that delves into Archie's life with Betty. Both stories are written by Paul Kupperberg (with issue 1 being written by Michael Uslan), a prolific writer, and drawn by Norm Breyfogle, best known for his work on BATMAN and DETECTIVE COMICS. If you think that's an odd fit, wait till I show you how well it actually does fit.

You would not believe how serious and captivating these characters can be the moment you age them a bit and put them out in the real world. You wouldn't believe how new they feel in a new situation, a new environment, not just one where Archie can't choose between Betty and Veronica, and Jughead wants to laze around eating hamburgers, and Reggie wants to make trouble. These are two worlds both populated by people in their mid-20s, learning about the hardships of life and just how hard it is to follow your dreams, especially in these tough economic times. This is something I personally can relate to, and I'm sure I'm not the only one, as indicated in this very personal review of issue #2 and the comments about it on my Facebook Fan Page.

For example, in the Archie Loves Veronica story (hereafter referred to as "the Veronica story"), Archie and Veronica are working for Veronica's dad, Hiram Lodge. Lodge wants to buy out the entirety of Riverdale, starting with Pop Tate's Chocklit Shoppe, the gang's lifelong hangout, and he sends Archie and Veronica to seal the deal. This puts Archie and Veronica on uneven ground with their friends, with people not wanting to deal with them for taking part in the entire matter. Look at this exchange with Jughead, Reggie, and Pop, and tell me when the last time was that you saw a face like the one Reggie is making show genuine concern and worry in an Archie comic.

And that's part of what makes it so powerful. Because it's an Archie comic book, there's that whole superficial level of silliness that makes something that real even more powerful than it would be in, say, a comic book by Chris Ware where someone is sad all the time. Similarly, because it's an Archie comic, you can get away with the downright silly stuff, like Moose running for mayor to fight against Mr. Lodge:

And then show the implausibility of it in the next two issues, with Moose getting slaughtered in his first-ever press conference. It's a great setup - show him aspiring to something so beyond his capabilities, staying true to that good old Archie spirit of how "anything can happen if you put your mind to it," take him down a whole notch by injecting a dose of the real world into the equation, and then have him claw his way back up and really, really earn it. The hope is still there, but like in the real world, these characters are learning that it's not so easy to hold onto.

In the same story, Betty Cooper feels like a loser, having failed at everything in New York City and moving back to Riverdale. How jarring is it to see in a book like Archie, where everyone always gets their just desserts, that the hardest-working and nicest girl in school is a failure at finding a career?

It's powerful stuff. And to find herself, Betty decides to leave Riverdale. I'm going to show you a sequence now that just emphasizes what I said about Norm Breyfogle. This is when Reggie finds Betty outside her house, ready to leave.

Keep in mind that these are all long shots - you don't and can't get close enough to see what's on their faces. But look at the body language, and you read it perfectly. The third panel, in particular, where Betty puts her left arm on her right shoulder, is very powerful, since it just captures her uneasiness, her unwillingness to talk about it, and her uncertainty. I can't remember the last time a pose was so incredibly subtle and effective.

The Betty story is of a different tone, and Archie's life takes exactly the kind of turn it does when he doesn't marry a rich girl: he and Betty live in New York, in a decent apartment in an apartment building full of cracks, and Archie is a struggling musician, unable to cope with the fact that his wife is far more successful than he is, and his friends are presumably so, as well. Little does he know that in Riverdale (one big difference between the two stories is that Archie and Betty are removed from everyone in their story, as opposed to Archie and Veronica who interact with everyone in theirs), everyone's pretty much going through the same thing - Jughead doesn't have money to buy the Chocklit Shoppe from Pop Tate, Veronica can't get over Archie, and Reggie seems to have peaked in high school, jumping from job to job, wondering what's happened to his life.

It all sounds bleak and depressing, but then Archie meets an old pal, Ambrose (Little Ambrose of Little Archie fame), and the two of them strike a deal.

The message is clear: you can dream, and the world will try to come down on your dreams. But you shouldn't give up, you should never give up, and you should never stop trying. Even if you never make it, you dreamed, and that matters. It accentuates that idea and theme of hope that is prevalent in Archie and in the most time-tested and iconic of characters so much better in this day and age than a simple feel-good story.

For those of you who read Archie Comics as a kid and don't really believe they had anywhere else to go, this series is a treat. You won't believe how new these characters feel. And for those of you who don't have an attachment to these characters and don't believe they can say anything significant, this series is still a treat. You won't believe, honestly, how real they'll feel.

LIFE WITH ARCHIE #3 just came out last week. Go reorder the back issues and then pick up issue 4, out November 15.

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See how it all started!

Oct 18, 2010

Comics Techniques and Tricks: Marcos Martin

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

When you have a continuous background with moving figures in front of it, like this or this, it's called a polyptych. Here's Marcos Martin using a variation of that technique in Amazing Spider-Man #561, framing Spider-Man's motion in one smooth curve, all the while keeping the entire page as one continuous background.

Note how even the first panel is an interior shot of exactly the same spot that that setting would correspond to on the exterior shot of the building!

Cleverness, design, and a clear flow - that's why Marcos Martin is one of my current favorite artists!

Oct 17, 2010

Easter Eggs in Comics: Grandma Ben in Sandman

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

One of the main characters in Jeff Smith's Bone is Grandma Rose Ben, a strong old woman, who was actually a tribute to Popeye.

In 2000, Jeff Smith wrote a prequel detailing Grandma Ben's past. It was drawn by Charles Vess.

So you might think, since this is a prequel, Charles Vess never got to draw Grandma Ben in her classic garb, huh? Wrong. See, in 1996, when Neil Gaiman was wrapping up his Sandman series (you've heard of it, yes?), with a story about William Shakespeare as he was writing The Tempest. And as a tribute to the fact that both Bone and Sandman have settings and concepts called "the Dreaming," Vess drew a familiar-looking bartender at a nearby inn.

Yep, that's Grandma Ben! Pretty cool, huh?