Saturday, September 20, 2008

Saturday Morning Cartoon: Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad

"Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad" by Moby (1999)

Friday, September 19, 2008

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Reviews: Even a little stuffed bull can cry at a comic.

Hey, let's do some reviews, okay? Okay!

SIMPSONS COMICS #146: This comic is fun. The front cover of Bongo's flagship cheerfully proclaims "A cover so nice we did it twice!" referring to the Separated at Birth nominee previous issue #145 (itself a candidate for matching up alongside all those Supes/Flash covers), but the story itself is ultra-familiar as well: Marge gets a wildly inappropriate job outside the home (in this case, a roller derby queen, yee haw!) and learns A Valuable Life Lesson™ from tiny tyke Lisa in being true to yourself. It's reminiscent of such televised Simpsons episodes as, say, The One Where Marge Becomes a Cop or The One Where Marge Works Out and Gets Really Scary Abs, not to mention other Bongo Comics like The One Where Marge Becomes Krusty. But who cares? Part of the Simpsons's charm is the familiarity in the face of new events. F'r instance, is it any surprise that Homer does something dumb-ass in this issue? It is not. Not only that, but SIMPSONS #145 contains The Best Panel of the Week: Marge and Duff-Man displaying their crime-fightin' skill with a near-perfect Fastball Special!
Fastball Special!

MARVEL APES #2: This comic is sorta fun. The first issue of this alternate Marvel Universe high adventure (is this Earth-Six-One-Simian?) was amusing, energetic and funny, pretty much right up to its final cliffhanging page. But a dark twist pretty much comes out of nowhere and gets even blacker in the second issue, causing me to sigh and say, "Is there nothing Marvel can't attach the word 'dark' to?" There's a lot of good stuff here: entertaining monkey puns as names for the Earth-Ape heroes, the mystery of Ape X, a likeable and compelling protagonist in the Gibbon, but oh! That twist! [SPOILER WARNING] Ape-Captain America and the Invaders are vampires. They beat Doc Ock to near-death and feast on him, then kill Reed Richards and in a gory, blood-splattered panel, Captain America drinks Reed's blood. Then the vampires plan to invade and feast on the regular human Marvel Earth. Cheese and crackers! This is just another riff on the Marvel Zombies issues of Ultimate Fantastic Four except with less Greg Land. Oh dear. But then why (you're asking me), am I grading this as sorta fun then? Well, take out the dark vampire apes and it is a pretty fun and goofy series with a lot of potential. I'll be checking in on this series to see if the tide turns for a happy ending, and if this ish's cliffhanger means there's a rebellion combing against Cap-Ape and Co. (Also, the "Bonobo-Pen Bulletin" page is pretty funny: I'd pay good money to read a comic starring "Aperaham Lincoln."

GREATEST HITS #1: This comic is fun. The idea's so simple I wonder nobody's thought of it yet: a quartet of British superheroes become the biggest pop stars of the swinging sixties. I remember a letter way, way, way back to Marvel's What If? which proposed a story of "What If the Beatles Had become the Fantastic Four?" (To which the editor jokily but disappointingly dismissed with "You mean they didn't?") Well, this, folks, is that concept at last brought to the comic book pages. Convergent plots from 1966 and 2008 fill in the history with beautiful art by Glenn Fabry. This one's not for all ages (and probably not for a little stuffed bull...I didn't get all the adult jokes!), but as the first in a six-ish limited series, it's a good start for something a wee bit different from Vertigo.

X-MEN: FIRST CLASS #16: This comic is fun. I've made no secret of my love for Jeff Parker's various X-Men: First Class series, which are pretty much the sheer definition of fun. It doesn't matter to me that these stories contradict or rewrite some of the carefully spun history of Marvel-Earth: what's important is that this has been consistently the most entertaining X-Series in years. By this issue, #16, Parker's firing on all cylinders with a very delightful tale of Iceman moving out of the X-Mansion in frustration and moving in with Johnny Storm. They're not just roommates, they're teammates, firing crooks with fire and ice! There's a lot of lovely touches in here: Scorpion and the Beetle arguing over their team name, Professor X's self-satisfied smile on assuring the other X-Men that Bobby will be back, and the twist ending that spells an end to the Iceman/Human Torch team-up. Plus, not-yet-dead Gwen Stacy at a pool party. Parker avoids a couple of the clichés of earlier issues (there's no well-meaning but misunderstood monsters in this issue) and Bobby's defection and return is handled with a lighter and more natural touch than the same recent storyline for the Angel. That makes it all the sadder that #16 is the final issue in the series, but never fear, as Iceman himself points out: they'll be back again some day next month with Giant Size X-Men: First Class, and a miniseries next February. Hooray! Even without a back-up from Colleen Coover, this woulda been the most fun book of the week, if it had been a week that hadn't included...

BILLY BATSON AND THE MAGIC OF SHAZAM! #2: This comic is fun. I'm in love with Mike Kunkel's gorgeous and unique artwork for this all-ages series, a sequel of sorts to the Jeff Smith Shazam! mini of last year. Kunkel reinvents Black Adam as a school bully (hey! I resent that remark!) intent on capturing Billy and Mary's magic word, getting them in trouble at school and capturing the power of the Seven Deadly Sins. Sounds grim, don't it? Nope, it isn't. It's joyful and expressive and dense (it takes a lot longer to read this "kids" comic than it does most decompressed superhero comics)—there's a lot of meat in this slim $2.25 book. If all Kunkel did was bring his wonderful art style—busy without being crowded, and oh-so-full full of energy—to the page, he'd well deserve praise for giving us a book with a unique new look. That he's melded it with an entertaining and funny storyline and dialogue is even more worthy of applause. This series shows great signs of placing high on my year-end Fun Fifty list, and it woulda been the most fun book of the week, if it had been a week that hadn't included...

ALL STAR SUPERMAN #12: This comic is fun. Thus ends the most picture-perfect dozen issues of Superman since...oh, man, I can't remember when. Like the Twelve Labors of Hercules, Superman series isn't complete until he finishes issue #12, and his tasks on Earth aren't over as long as Luthor rampages free, gorged on the superhuman power of the dead Superman. Did we say dead? Aw, that trick never works. Grant Morrison's dialogue is wonderfully read-out-loud delightful (try it yourself with Luthor's proclamations and see if you don't wind up cackling with glee) and Frank Quitely's art is such a natural fit with Morrison's writing that it's hard to imagine any other team taking over after this storyline. Quitely's style is...look, I can't quite describe in words but let me try. Each panel is set up like a photograph or movie still: there's no cartoon clichés like speed lines or sound effects...but read 'em as sequential art and the movement is so smoothly natural and so intensely commanding that you begin to realize we sometimes take for granted the power and versatility of comic panel art. And his expressions are sublime: check out the surprise of the subway riders as Lex and Superman crash in, Steve Lombard's near-panicked tears trying to revive Clark, or Luthor's time-addled confusion when Kal defeats him using science!—a Flash Fact of a solution concerning gravity and the passage of time that has me slapping my forehead with my little stuffed hoof and going "Of course! I shoulda thought of it!" But I didn't, Superman did. And Grant Morrison did. And entertained me every step of the way. I'll miss this series tremendously. I'll miss All Star Superman himself. That's why ALL STAR SUPERMAN and no other comic could possibly be the most fun comic of the week. Even tho' it made me cry like a baby. Yup. This comic made tears roll out of my button eyes. In fact, I can't write anymore. Let's listen to this instead:

Sniff. So long, All Star Superman. Sometimes I despair the world will never see/Another Superman comic like you.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Tune in...Same Avengers Time, Same Avengers Channel!

Page 31. No, it's not the newest gossip column from The New York Post, but the final page from some of those great Avengers epics of the late 1970s...swingin' seventy-eight, to be precise. In the midst of one of it's rockin'est years! Don't believe me? Why not take a gander at the Guardians of the Galaxy, the return of Hawkeye, the ever-bouncin' Beast, timelost Thor, bickering Cap and Iron Man, Jocasta and Ultron, The Korvac Saga, the artwork of george Perez, and the freakin' greatest superhero costume ever sewn: Wonder Man's red safari jacket! And a fill-in or two! All this and more could be yours for the price of thirty-five cents every month during 1978! Each month you'd sit on the edge of your seat awaiting more, more, more action from earth's Mightiest, thanks to those calamitous cliffhangers and tantalizing teasers heralding next month's senses-shattering epics! Face front, true bull-iever...1978 is Excelsior Time! (Whew! Talking like Stan Lee takes a lot outta a guy. Let me get a glass of water before I continue.)

Anyway, let's journey back in time thirty years to 1978, and you won't need a Delorean speeding at 88, no no no no...let's time-travel through the magic of the last thing you'd see on page 31 of The Avengers every month of '78...the next issue blurbs!

Avengers 1978 next issue blurb
Avengers 1978 next issue blurb
Avengers 1978 next issue blurb
Avengers 1978 next issue blurb
Avengers 1978 next issue blurb
Avengers 1978 next issue blurb
Avengers 1978 next issue blurb
Avengers 1978 next issue blurb
Avengers 1978 next issue blurb
Avengers 1978 next issue blurb
Avengers 1978 next issue blurb
Avengers 1978 next issue blurb

Whew! Whatta year! With comic books this compelling, it's a wonder Jimmy Carter even had any time to attend to state business!

And, as your special added bonus, absolute proof we're in the late's the final panel of Avengers #167! Take it away, Janet van Dyne:

Avengers 1978 next issue blurb

Next issue: Hawkeye jumps over Tiger Shark on jet skis! Be there or be square, Assemblers!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Man-Thing! You make my heart sing!

You kids today complaining that your Seven Soldiers or your Final Crisis or your Batman R.I.P. is too confusing and difficult to read...pfui. Why, in the good old days, we took the mind-boggling confusion that comic books dishes up for us and gobbled it up with butter and jam. Grant Morrison? Sure, he can write a comic book that throws in metacommentary, nanotechnology, fifties Batman stories and Jezebel Jade, but he's a mere piker compared to the master of gonzo superhero comics, the late great Steve Gerber, who tosses in everything including the kitchen sink...and a revolver-firing duck to boot. Don't believe me? Read and learn, o clueless ones!

Man-Thing #1Imagine this: The year is 1973, and NASA launches the last of America's deep-space probes. In a freak mishap Ranger 3 and its pilot, Captain William 'Buck' Rogers...oh wait, I've gotten mixed up again. The year is 1973, and on your local drugstore's comic rack you can find the premiere issue of one of Marvel's most unusual comic books: Man-Thing, who was aptly known as the "muck-crusted mockery of a man," even long before Michael Jackson tried to lay claim to that title. Hey! It says #1 on the front, so it must be the beginning of a brand new saga and storyline. Plunk down your 20 cents on the counter of Mister Gower's drugstore and run back home to the treehouse to peel open the fantastic Frank Brunner front cover, and prepare yourself...wait, no, you simply cannot prepare yourself...for the weirdness within:

Man-Thing #1
All panels from Man-Thing #1 (January 1974), written by...oh, just look at the credits above, okay?

What...wha...huh? What the Sam Scratch is goin' on here? Maybe we've come in on the middle of issue two or three...

Man-Thing #1

Nope. That's issue number one, all right! To be fair, this is continued on from Manny's feature in Adventure into Fear #19, but still, hoo-whee! That's one user-unfriendly first issue. Oh well, it oughta be easy to pick up as we go along...I mean, it's not like Gerber's gonna get too crazy in ish one, is he? Is he?

Okay, on page two we got a proto-He-Man and Howard the Duck springing into action...

Man-Thing #1

Huh. Altho' it wouldn't premiere for more than another year, here's barbarian Korrek doing his Monty Python and the Holy Grail impersonation. It's only a flesh wound!

Man-Thing #1

Well, that oughta be enough violence for everyone...until Howard the Duck starts firing a revolver!

Man-Thing #1

I think, deep within each one of us, we've all heard a duck crying out "Why aren't you dead?"

Man-Thing #1

Okay, if that's not enough, set the scene for an omniversal gathering of beings from across every reality. Yes, years before Chris Claremont got into the elderberry wine and was creating multiple Excaliburs (Excalibii?) getting together to have a lovely Sunday roast and watch the snooker on the telly, Steve Gerber brought together a host of warriors under the omniscient all-high-and-mighty Sylvania light bulb. Hey, wait on the female sacrifice until after the port and cigars, cavemen and cavaliers and Vikings and beekeepers!

Man-Thing #1

Everybody who's anybody is there to greet the coming of the Overmaster. Not to be confused with the Ovenmaster (GE's new radial range for '74!), the Overmaster is jockeying to take control of all realities by murdering teenage bikinied Jennifer Kale, who is (I kid you not) Ghost Rider's cousin. Which Ghost Rider? Both of them. Lucky that flaming skulls don't seem to run in that branch of the family, I guess. In the meantime, the Overmaster is heralded on stage by a Twi'lek dancing girl. Well, beats workin' for Jabba, I guess:

Man-Thing #1

Suddenly, for no apparent reason: Daredevil and Black Widow!

Man-Thing #1

And...they're gone again. Let's give 'em a big hand, everyone...Daredevil and the Black Widow! (Yayyyyyyyy!)

Okay, obligatory Matt Murdock cameo out of the way. Turn the book sideways now as Steve-O gets everybody on stage for the big Cossack number:

Sideways splash page from "Man-Thing" #1 by Val Mayerik
Click picture to embiggen

Wow. Superheroes, knights, centaurs, dinosaurs, battle wagons, war elephants, fighter planes, shock troopers, and apparently John F. Kennedy's Dallas motorcade to the rescue. Oh, and hey, look, there's Man-Thing, too! I was wondering what happened to him.

How do you wrap a plot like this up? Well, Steve Gerber takes a page from Mission: Impossible and shows us that yes, even satanic demons wear rubber masks to disguise their features:

Man-Thing #1
Man-Thing #1

Then there's a mystical fight or something between Dumbledore and Voldemort. When the dust has settled, the Balance of the Force is restored and the Genesis Planet is no more. Oh, yes, the true gods of all reality are be dogs:

Man-Thing #1

So, there ya go, huh? Man-Thing #1. One. Freaky. Mamajama. Of a comic book. But, you know, I bet things will calm down by issue #2...there's not bound to be any exceptional weirdness in the second ish, is there?

Man-Thing #2

...well, except for an alligator getting beaned with a cup of coffee.

Steve Gerber. Ya gotta love him. The comics world is all the poorer without his way-out wacky worlds.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Kyle Baker and Mo Willems at the Brooklyn Book Festival

On Sunday I braved the steamy heat of Brooklyn, heartland of the tri-state quinto-borough area to hop on the F train down to the Brooklyn Book Festival, aptly named as it's a festival of books and it's right in the heart of downtown Brooklyn. There was lots to see and do (and buy!) there, with talks and interviews and entertainment on several stages at once, and dozens and dozens of small press and bookstore booksellers had tables to hawk their fine wares. I brought my Hello Kitty change purse with me and wanted to pick up nearly everything I saw! That's the way I roll: I'm a conspicuous consumer.

It was a busy show...
Where shall I go next?

...and I had to be careful not be trampled underfoot by all these book-lovin' folks!
Busy busy Book Festival

But luckily I stayed out of the way by doing some shopping for books...
I want all these books! (Please.)

...and merchandise...
Posin' by the booths

..and watching authors read and answer questions.
Watchin' authors on stage

There were fun activities for everyone!
YAYYYYYYYY! FREE little bull activities! Sponsored by Target.

Did I mention there were books to buy?
Oh please buy me this book please please please

It was a beautiful day to be out and about!
The blue blue sky of Brooklyn

My favorite part was seeing Kyle Baker and Mo Willems talking live on stage, interviewed by Brian Heater from The Daily Crosshatch!
Watchin' Kyle Baker & Mo Willems

Kyle 'n' Mo were funny and informative and energetic, even though it was close to melting temperature in the hot midday sun!
Rappin' with Kyle 'n' Mo

Here's Kyle 'n' Mo rappin' about creator-owned work and work for hire:

...on working in animation:

...on listening (or not!) to feedback and your critics:

"Comics aren't just for kids anymore!":

Afterwards, I was lucky enough to meet both Mo and Kyle! Hi, guys!
Mo Willems, me, and Kyle Baker

And then I appeared live on stage as well! This is only the first step to my stardom in the book industry, I just know it!
Bully, Live on stage at the Brooklyn Book Festival!

As a treat, afterwards we went to Junior's in Brooklyn, home of the famous cheesecake (the dessert, not the waitresses)!
Meet me at Junior's for some cheesecake!

Junior's has everything you'd ever wanna eat, plus free pickles! Leave room for cheesecake, of course!
A brisket sammich, please. Then, some cheesecake!

A day full of books, Kyle Baker and Mo Willems, and cheesecake? The best day ever.