Saturday, September 30, 2006

What the Sam Scratch is goin' on here?!? #11

Gunsmoke Western #58
Gunsmoke Western #58 (May 1960)

Mighty rude of them varmints to interrupt Wyatt while he was in the outhouse, huh?

Friday, September 29, 2006

Perfect casting.

Robert Downey Jr. IS Iron Man

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Since I'm in New York, I went to this.*

Society of Illustrators

One of the finest things about living in New York City, beside the pizza and the bagels (and the pizza bagels), is the wide variety of society events and extravaganzas you can go to if you pay attention to the events ongoing throughout the city in this week's Time Out New York. As a little stuffed bull with a keen eye for art and culture, it's always fun to spend a few hours in the evening at some art opening or wonderful cocktail party. Of course, I also enjoy to read comics. That's why the best art opening that could have possibly opened, opened tonight at the Society of Illustrators on the Upper East Side: a retrospective of 30 years of original artwork from the books and comics of Mister Groth and Mister Thompson's Fantagraphics.

I do not get to go to lots of art opening nights often so this was quite a treat. Even then I sometimes find art galleries perplexing and bewildering. Normally I peer at art carefully over my reading glasses and try to understand what it is saying to me. I'm no art snob, of course—I'm pretty bullish on most of it—but I do especially love comics and I'd argue with ya that they are as worthy of the name art as most stuff that goes on in this busy, busy city, and more so than some. Orange curtains in the park? Really, I have those in my shower and no one wrote about me in the Times.

Original artwork from throughout the history of Fantagraphics is on display, and if you're a fan of contemporary indie comics I highly recommend it. You can see work by Dan Clowes, Peter Bagge, Los Bros. Hernandez, Carol Lay, Jordan Crane, Kaz, Bob Fingerman, Joe Sacco, Tony Millionaire, Ivan Brunetti, Dan Altergott,. Bill Griffith, and the proverbial many, many more, stretching throughout Fantagraphics's history from a stat of the front cover of Love & Rockets #1 to the coming-soon thirtieth anniversary history of Fanta. Look out! Gary's got a gun!

Plus, you can read about what a Marvel fanboy Gary was in his younger days, and if you're the sort who just has to ask the question "Whatever happened to Al Columbia?"—well then, he's got some artwork here too. I get to work with the fine folks at Fanta distributing their books to bookstores around the country and they are a wild and wacky lot to deal with, but golly, do they ever put out a swell variety of comics for all interests. The art show's a sideways slice of history.

Still not convinced? Energetic Eric Reynolds has posted several photos of the exhibition and describes in it more detail here on FLOG. Seriously, it's wonderful to get to admire up close such a wide variety of beautiful original comics art, and the admission price is right: free, baby, free! Take the F train (the best train) to Lexington Ave./63th Street, and look for the Society of Illustrators right as you exit the subway. It's that simple! Even if you have a head stuffed full of beans like me!

The show runs from now through October 21, and the Society galleries are open Tuesday 10-8, Wednesday-Friday 10-5, and Saturday 12-4. I'm goin' back, you betcha, so if you see me there, say "hi!" I'm the little fuzzy one, standing on his tiphoofs to look at the art.

*apologies to Tom Spurgeon for the post title

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

So long, Tiger.

Japanese actor Tetsuro Tamba has died in Tokyo after a bout of pneumonia. He was 84.

I know he played many, many prestigious roles throughout his career, but to me he'll always be Tiger Tanaka.

Tetsuro Tamba

"‘You only live twice:
Once when you are born
And once when you look death in the face."
—Ian Fleming

Tetsuro Tamba: 1922-2006

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

One-track mind.

Batman #27

Dear Santa Claus,

Hi hi hi! It's me, Bully! How are you? I am fine. I hope you have had an enjoyable summer and found some time to get away on a relaxing vacation. Did you go to the Poconos again this year?

I know it is not even October yet but I wanted to get in early this year with this request (I know how busy you get towards the end of the year). You may remember last year I asked you for the Batmobile for Christmas. I have a similar item to put on my Christmas list this year. Santa, will you please bring me the Batman Express train set?:

Batman Express

I have always been a very big little Batman fan and I also love trains, so this is like a delicious Reese's Peanut Butter Cup of a gift item. Imagine the fun I will have running my Batman Express around the apartment, running through tunnels, blowing the whistle, and startling the cat!

Batman Express
I have never actually thought of trains as superheroes, but if it says it in a sales brochure from a gift collectible house, it must be true! Hmmm, I wonder if this train has a mild-mannered or rich playboy secret identity.

Batman Express
And the windows light up! That is quite a tribute to Batman. It is not as big a tribute as that Gotham City "We love Batman" parade they had last year, where Batman rode in the back of the Batmobile and waved to the citizens while ticker tape rained down, but it's still a very unique tribute, wouldn't you say?

Batman Express
Speaking of lights, Santa, check this out: a working headlight on the diesel engine! Altho' it seems to me that they missed an opportunity to put a little bat silhouette decal on that headlight and turn it into the Bat Signal! Can't believe they didn't think of that. Perhaps I oughta be designing Batman collectibles, huh?

Batman Express
And every sixty days after I receive my Batman diesel engine, another train car featuring a fabulous villain from the Caped Crusader's rogue's gallery will show up on my doorstep! The Joker! Catwoman! Two-Face! Killer Croc! The KGBeast! Bane! Maxie Zeus! Orca! Zsasz! All the lovable goofy villains the kids adore! Because once you collect the first one, you can't stop buying every single one after that. As Barry Sobel once told Dr. Katz: "That's how they get you!"

The only complaint I'd make about the Batman Express...the best Christmas present in the whole universe! that it features a kinda-eighties-lookin' Batman who hasn't looked like that in the comics for quite some time. And anyway, monorail fights in movies aside, I really don't think of modern-day Batman as a train-kinda guy anyway. Now, this Batman...this Batman is a train guy:
Detective #96

So, in conclusion Santa, I have been a very good little bull and hope that you will see your way to bringing me the Batman Express for Christmas. After all, how can I resist's a regular cow-catcher.


Monday, September 25, 2006

That's gotta hurt, Mister Foster. But it didn't kill you.

I can't take credit for this one, folks: Bombastic Bully Backer J.R. provided an incisive and and targeted criticism of Civil War #4 that I wasn't aware of. He writes in my comments section:
...when picking a character to kill off with an electronic lightning shooter, you might want to pick one who's not been shown shrugging off an atomic powered blast to the chest.
Black Goliath #2

Well spotted, J.R. If only Mark Millar had been as observant.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

I'm With...

I'm with...

What kind of sick superhero snuff comic is this?!?

Mama Bull always used to tell me: "One bad apple can spoil the whole bunch, dear." I never really knew what she meant because I do enjoy yummy, yummy apples, and even if they are a little overripe then at least they are good for applesauce. And if the apple is truly bad, you just throw it away! See? It didn't spoil the other delicious, crisp, juicy apples at all!

Come to think of it, she also always told me to eat my spinach, and I don't think that's very good advice anymore either.

Anyway, I think I've finally sussed out Mama's advice here as applied to this week's comics. Every now and then a comic comes along that is so vile, so outrageously wrong, so disgusting, so out of character, so makes me wanna throw up in my mouth a little that it spoils the whole freakin' comic book week's reading experience for me.

That comic book is Krypto the Super Dog #1.

Haw! No, I kid Krypto the Super Dog. (In fact I didn't see it on the shelf and will look for it next week.) You know what comic I'm talkin' about here. I won't go as far to say it ruined my week, but I definitely got a sour taste in my mouth. And it ain't Lemonheads.

Civil War #4CIVIL WAR #4: This comic is not fun. In fact, I'll go so far to say that not only is this comic the least fun comic of the week, but also probably of 2006, even though we're only 3/4 of the way through the year. Sigh, It's's just...look, the best way I can put this is that Marvel has achieved what they set out to with this series: they have reached the level set by DC in its bestselling Infinite Crisis: in the arm-ripping, head-rolling antics of Superboy-Prime, the final "Superboy" published by DC before the rights went back to his creator. As I said about some of the events in Infinite Crisis: what kind of sick superhero snuff comic is this?. And because I have been taught in homeschool to show my work, here's why:
  • It's sensationalistic, gory, and blood-soaked, as shown in the lovingly-detailed splatter of Goliath's organs: spraying out in the style we've come to know from such recent superhero history as, say...oh, Blue Beetle getting his head blown off and Pantha's head being punched off. Look, I'm not saying violence and death cannot and should not occur in comics. But it's over the top so as to produce disgust instead of fright or empathy with the situation. Dagger says: "This is wrong...this is really, really wrong." Yep.
  • It sacrifices one of the few minority characters in the Marvel Universe. Look, I'm defintely not saying that black characters should be untouchable in the MU. I'm definitely not saying that white characters should be the victims over any other races. I'm not even saying that I'm a big Goliath fan (honestly, I didn't know he was still alive.) But killing off a character for no specific storyline purpose except for shock value and as a sacrificial lamb is lazy, sloppy writing, and denies a future writer the chance of turning Goliath back into a viable, cool character. Killing off, by my calculations, one of the fewer than twelve black superhero characters in the Marvel Universe is a sad statement in the universe that values its diversity and progressive social nature.
  • It's out of character. I'm not buying that this Tony Stark is the Iron Man we've been reading about for years. This story is a callback to the most ill-advised, reviled and objectionable Tony story, the idea that he was controlled by Kang and had to be replaced by Teen Tony. Why would you wish to revisit "The Crossing?" Civil War's Iron Man is out of character in what seems to me an attempt to imitate the "cooler" Ultimate Iron Man—more ruthless, more violent, more "extreme." But less Tony. Retconned away or forgotten now is the history that Stark opposed government interference in the world of superheroes. Gone is the concern and benevolence that Stark had for his fellow heroes. Gone is the humanity of Iron Man. I don't buy that Tony, circa Avengers #1, had the idea to pluck and save a strand of Thor's hair for later use. He's a smart guy and pre-emptive, but please don't project 21st century comics characterization onto 1963 comics stories—I find this a more objectionable continuity implant than Xavier covering up the death of a secret X-Men team. Finally, it's a dead-end path: there's no way to get Tony out of this heroically (and that may be Marvel's plan). They have altered and darkened Iron Man to a point of no redemption. And whatever has been done to Tony, has been done in spades to Reed Richards. You can claim Reed is beyond understanding, that his patented big brain is beyond us mere mortals to comprehend. I look in disgust on this Reed Richards and say that Reed has never, never done something that is so obviously morally and ethically wrong (and he is a most ethical if sometimes distracted man). Both these portrayals are so far out of character that I believe there must be some plan to prove they are not the real deals. This ain't Reed. That ain't Tony. It's a Skrull, a LMD, the Space Phantom, a Puppet Master or Loki-controlled man. But while Marvel heroes may make bad decisions or sometimes fight for the wrong team, they never have feet of clay.
  • It's riddled with illogic and stupidity. Why create a Thor clone? If you can create a fake electronic Mjolnir, why doesn't Iron Man wield that himself? Why not build the fake-Mjolnir technology into the Iron Man armor instead? If the only answer is "a clone Thor provides a psychological edge," then why such poor programming that he doesn't even speak the fake-Shakespearean lingo? An even stupider error occurs at the giggle-worthy funeral of Goliath. He's so big that at his clichéd-rainy funeral they have to bury him in thirty-eight plots. Um. Too bad the pro-registration side doesn't have any access to shrinking technology or gas. Say, some freakin' Pym particles?
  • It contains sloppy, embarrassing writing and continuity errors. Tony Stark has beaten Captain America until his "jaw's practically hanging off." But no, it isn't: not in the artwork. And Steve manages to talk clearly and intelligibly in the next panel. And in the last issue of Fantastic Four, The Thing left the team and America vowing to fight on neither side...yet here he is, fighting on Iron Man's pro-registration side. Add to that another count of out of character: sure, you can write Ben Grimm however you want to, but the Ben Grimm I've been reading for years, the Ben Grimm who has recently been written in his own series as a man who does the right (pun intended) thing, would not run away from what he believes, right or wrong. I appreciate a Ben Grimm who thinks and considers before he clobbers. I don't mind a tormented and hesitant Thing uncertain what to do. But if you write Ben Grimm as running away from something that makes him uncomfortable, something that requires he make a stand, if you show the Thing leaving the people (including Alicia) and the beliefs he lives by, and burying his head in the sand in a different country...then you're not writing The Thing, you're writing an imposter in a orange rocky outfit. And I don't wanna read about a fake Thing.
And I don't wanna read this sad, exploitative, no-one-can-win excuse for bringing Marvel Comics into the twenty-first century. This issue is my last. I will continue to pick up Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man and Nextwave and She-Hulk and X-Factor and Runaways and whatever Marvel Comics continue to depict and celebrate smart, fun writing and heroes I can believe in. But so long, Civil War. You did what you set out to: emulate Infinite Crisis. And like that series, I don't find you fun or worthy of continued support.

By those standards, everything else this week is fun.

52 WEEK 2052 WEEK 20: This comic is fun. The mystery of Supernova continues. One of the better Steel sequences in this series so far. A startling twist on Luthor's generosity. The origin of Adam Strange, drawn by Kevin Nowlan! Pope can you not love the concept of Pope Lobo?!? And at last, an origin for the Emerald Eye! This comic does not contain any giant-sized rain-soaked funerals. So it's fun.

X-Men: First Class #1X-MEN: FIRST CLASS #1: This comic is fun. I haven't been reading any X-Men comics in quite a while, so choosing First Class as my Pick Up One New Comic Title I Haven't Been Reading book of the week was a risky move for this little stuffed bull. Imagine my surprise to find this was actually a pretty nicely-done-in-one adventure set during the first year of the X-Men's history and starring the original five mutants. I'm not exactly certain who precisely was askin' for the unseen adventures of Cyclops, Beast, angel, Marvel Girl and Iceman: this kind of approach has either been poorly done (Professor X and the X-Men) or has been slow and rambling with plots and subplots stretching on for months and months (X-Men: The Hidden Years). It's not a brilliant, exceptional comic by any means, but it's got charm, humor, good personalization (I like any comic that reminds us that Hank McCoy is freakin' brilliant, even as a teen) and a nicely-done Star Trek-ish ending that still has plenty of room for action. I'll even forgive the unnecessary topical reference to an X-Box game system, which like the cell phones in Hidden Years or the Seinfeld reference in FF: First Family, is so jarring that it probably just should have been left out. Of course, this comic does not contain any out-of-character Sue Richards abandonment of her children, two people she would most fight to the death to protect. So it's fun.

Runaways #20RUNAWAYS #20: This comic is fun. The best superhero comic Marvel produces continues to mix teen drama and high adventure and serves as a lesson in characterization: if you're going to have a hero perform ethically or morally questionable acts, to make a deal with the devil(s), then give him a solid or at least believable in the context of the story reason for doing so. This comic does not contain scenes of Captain America declaring "Let them leave if their freedom means so little to them." So it's fun.

X-Factor #11X-FACTOR #11: This comic is fun. An "everything you know is wrong" twist about Jamie Madrox kicks off this issue and leads me to slap my hoof on my forehead and say "Hey, that's right! Why did we always accept that about Madrox when it violates the rules of every other mutant?" It's clever, yes, but it serves a valuable storyline point and I'm enjoying the twists and turns Peter David is giving this series in a pitch-perfect update of the Stan Lee formula: progress the story but keep everything moving along with subplots, mysteries, and action that make you want to read the next issue because not every single loose end is wrapped up even at the end of a storyline. And while one of the members of X-Factor has been turned into a cold-blooded murderer (incidentally leading to The Best Line of the Week: "...which is like killing someone in warm blood. Except the air-conditioning was on."), it's made clear that his was mentally controlled against his will by villains. So, unlike other comics out this week, this comic does not contain any crazed-eyed murdering superheroes biogenetically created and mentally programmed by two men I considered heroes. So it's fun.

Nextwave #8NEXTWAVE #8: This comic is fun. If the Marvel Universe is a family, Nextwave is the anarchic and brilliant black-sheep uncle who roars into the family reunion after it's already started, tossing pixy sticks to the kids and showing off the risqué photos he took at your dad's bachelor party. In short, the uncle you'd much rather hang around with than, say, Iron Man or Captain America, because he's not interested in arguing superhero registration with your dad Tony and grandfather Steve over the hot dish on the picnic table; he's instead showing you Mindless Ones watching American Idol, waiting for the bus, enjoying a pleasant night out in a sports bar and most brilliantly, re-enacting West Side Story. All this plus the freakin' kick-ass origin of Elsa Bloodstone, and Dormammu's kid brother who really, really likes the Suicide Girls. There's no better example of the diversity and variety you can get in the Marvel Universe than this black-humored, over-the-top extravaganza of the weirder, outrageous corners of the Marvel Universe. This comic does not contain so-called heroes attempting to gain force of numbers by recruiting crazed murdering supervillains to their ranks. So it's not only fun, but it's also the most fun comic of the week. And nobody had to get burned through the chest with a hammer lightning strike for it to be so. So no, I'm definitely not giving up on Marvel Comics. I just want 'em to this too much to ask?... fun.

Ten of a Kind: Bustin' Through

(More Ten of a Kind here.)