Saturday, January 24, 2009

Separated at Birth: Fishnets, fishnets, roly poly fishnets

Flash Comics #92/Detective #554
L: Flash Comics #92 (February 1948), art by Carmine Infantino
R: Detective Comics #554 (September 1985), art by Klaus Janson
(Click picture to Big Bird-size)

365 Days with Ben Grimm: Day 24

Marvel Feature #12 #238
Panels from Marvel Feature #12 (January 1982), script by Mike Friedrich, pencils by Jim Starlin, inks by Joe Sinnott, colors by Linda Lessmann, letters by Mike Royer

Saturday Morning Cartoon: The Beatles "Penny Lane"

The Beatles "Penny Lane" (1967), directed by Jack Stokes and featuring the voices of Lance Percival and Paul Frees
Read more about The Beatles cartoon here

Friday, January 23, 2009

365 Days with Ben Grimm: Day 23

FF #238
FF #238
Panels from Fantastic Four #238 (January 1982), written and pencilled by John Byrne, inked by terry Austin, colored by Bob Sharen, lettered by Joe Rosen

Thursday, January 22, 2009

16 More Marvel Masterpieces!

Remember the days when all you needed to advertise a comic book was a snazzy cover...or four?

4 More Marvel Masterpieces
from Marvel comics cover dated September 1965

4 More Marvel Masterpieces
from Marvel comics cover dated October 1965

4 More Marvel Masterpieces
from Marvel comics cover dated November 1965

4 More Marvel Masterpieces
from Marvel comics cover dated December 1965

365 Days with Ben Grimm: Day 22

UFF #42
Panels from Ultimate Fantastic Four #42 (July 2007), written by Mike Carey, penciled and inked by Pascal Ferry, colored by Justin Ponsor, lettered by Rus Wooton

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Esquire: Man at His Swingingest.

Esquire magazineHey, it's Clint Eastwood, the man so tough Chuck Norris calls him 'Dad,' on the cover of the January 2009 Esquire magazine. I'm allowed to read a few magazines made for grown-up folks, and Esquire is one of them, partly because of the incisive political and cultural reporting, partly for the style, cooking, automobile and fine living tips, but mostly for the incredible babes.

One of my favorite sections in Esquire is the monthly "What I've Learned" feature, where a celebrity passes on life lessons he or she thinks are important and helpful details useful for enjoying life, the people around you, and your world to its fullest. It's always fun to see what life lessons, say, Larry Hagman or Shelley Long have to pass onto a little stuffed bull. (Mostly: take care of your liver, and what was I thinking leaving network television's highest rated sitcom?!?, in that order.)

January's Esquire was therefore fifty times as fun to this little stuffed reader when I opened it to discover this is an all-"What I've Learned" feature issue. Not one, not two, not seventeen, but fifty people in entertainment, sports, politics, literature, and everyday life were spotlighted, every man and woman Jack and Jackie of 'em contributing a big-ass overflowing cornucopia of home-spun wisdom that not only do they take, they can dish out. Why fifty? Because each contributor represents a different state in the USA, so it's like a all-country road-trip with fifty great people riding shotgun. (And you can read it sitting on the toilet.) California provides cover boy Clint Eastwood, Nevada Wayne Newton, North Caroline Charlie Daniels, Indiana Larry Bird, Iowa Cloris Leachman, Alaska Sarah Palin a polar bear hopped up on fermented salmon.

Hey, let's see who's repping my favorite state, the place I live, the Empire State, the state that is so great they hired Stan Lee to write their state motto: New York. Which inspirational person will be representing New York, I wonder?:

Esquire magazine

Wha... Huh... Uh... Ummmm... Wha... Noooooooo.. No, Esquire magazine. Paris Hilton is not allowed to be the public face of lessons learned from New York. I simply will not let this happen. This will not stand! Especially with life lessons like
  • Having a nightclub in your house really helps for a party, because then you don't need to go out.
  • Things may seem to naturally come my way. But I work hard for them too. I have good karma.
  • I put pheromones in a lot of my fragrances, and that attracts people to you. My new fragrance is called Fairy Dust. I'm dressed kind of like Tinkerbell.
No! Nein! Non! Nyet!

Okay, Bully, deep breath. If there's one thing Mama Bull taught you...a "what I've learned" of my that bulls don't just sit back and lament mishaps when they can be fixed. A bull is an animal of decision and action. And tho' I may be a very little stuffed bull, I'm handy with a scanner, and the internet, and Adobe Photoshop Elements for Bulls 5.0. All I had to do was scratch my little fluff-filled head and come up with the name of a person synonymous with New York, whose very existence makes New York a better, happier, safer and funner place every single day of the year. After I came up with that person, the rest was easy as pie.

So pick up your copies of Esquire Volume 151, Number 1, tear out pages 80 and 81, crumple them in a ball and toss them out the window or at those pesky squirrels in your back yard, and replace them carefully with this new improved version of a New York celebrity telling us what he's learned that I made up for you:

Esquire magazine
(Click picture to Big Apple-size)

There we go. Much improved. Now, let's see who's on the next page. Ah, Florida, who will you...JEB BUSH?!? NOOOOOOOOO!

Okay, don't panic, folks. I've got this thing under control.

365 Days with Ben Grimm: Day 21

MTIO Annual #4
Panel from Marvel Two-in-One Annual #4 (1979), plot by Allyn Brodsky, script by David Michelinie, layouts by Jim Craig, finished art by Bob Budiansky and Bruce Patterson, colors by "George Bell" (George Roussos), letters by Irving Watanabe (Letters).

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Waiting on the wire and I'm ragged to the bone/Mr. Rockefeller, won't you please pick up the phone?

Amazing Spider-Man #583Happy Inauguration Day! As a spirit of newfound hope, brotherhood, unity and free ice cream sundaes for all hammers out all over this land, all over this land, take a moment to reflect on our hard work and great brotherhood in getting Mr. Obama elected to the White House! And remember, altho' change may be gradual in coming and uphill work, at least we didn't elect a member of the Legion of Evil Presidents! That's right—we avoided the deadly trap of bringing to power one of history's major Presidential villains: Andrew Jackson! James Buchanan! Grover Cleveland! Grover Cleveland, again! William Howard "The Blob" Taft! Richard Nixon! The Bush Boys! Charles Logan! Guy "Whitey" Corngood! Victor von Doom! Johnny Gentle! Lancelot R. Gilligrass! Lex Luthor! Carolyn Reynolds! Richard Nixon's Head! And...Nelson D. Rockefeller!

What's that? (you ask in your best William Dozier voice). A pernicious president previously punctuated by peril? To which I reply: Don't practice your alliteration on me! And to which I add, that's right, true Bull-lievers! Rocky was president of the United States...on good old Earth-712! Which, as anybody knows, is just a hop, skip and a jump away from Earth-616 (actually...counting on my's actually only ninety-six tears hops from Marvel-Earth), which is how, after a bumpy Quinjet ride in which the Beast filled up everybody's Stark International sick bags, the Avengers found themselves in Avengers #147 on the earth of...The Squadron Supreme! (duh duh duh!)

Avengers #147
from Avengers #147 (Marvel, May 1976), script by Steve Englehart, pencils by George Pérez, inks by Vince Colletta, colors by Petra Goldberg, letters by Denise Wohl

So, the question is, of course: What if you could travel to parallel worlds? The same year, the same Earth, only different dimension. Now the only problem is...finding a way back home. Which, you gotta admit, would be a cool concept for a TV series. But for the Avengers, it's a very dangerous prospect, because this isn't their world, where funnyman Chevy Chase is not America's beloved 38th President of the United States:

Avengers #147

No...the US President of Earth-712 is...oh wait, I gave away the surprise in the two paragraphs ago. It's Nelson Rockefeller!

Avengers #147

And he's going to a hat party, where his will be the grandest of all! Oh wait, on second glance that's the infamous Serpent Crown, one of those evil Avengersy Macguffins that can reshape the universe in the image of its wearer! So basically, it's a Cosmic Cube you can put on your head.

Wearing that cobra-chapeau, Rocky's got the United States of his world under his wrinkled, green-ink stained little thumb, until your pal and mine, that sensational synthezoid The Vision plucks it off his head in a hardball game of Political Keep-Away. Now whose approval ratings are through the roof, Nel-stone? Huh? Huh?

Avengers #147

Rockefeller of course springs into action, forming Voltron calling together his world's version of the Earth's Mightiest Heroes, the Squadron Supreme, who are just plain happy they haven't been retconned as naked by J. Michael Straczynski yet. Then, in his most startling plan ever, Rockefeller summons all the sea life around him, calling upon the power and strength of his finny friends! At least that's what I think he's doin'. Hey, your guess is as good as mine.

Avengers #147

Englehart pauses to let us know that as Earth-712 falls, so does Earth-616! Or some such technobabble. Basically, all the Serpent Crowns in all the worlds are connected, which must make it easier to find if you drop one behind the sofa, but at the same time has got to be a major pain if you want to return it for credit at Marshall Field's. This, therefore, is the secret of the Serpent Crown: embarrassing black acne down the middle of your face! And, half of your glasses fall off.

Avengers #147

As the Vision flies overhead with the captured Crown, we're reminded that this is an earth without a Richard Nixon...but with fabulous sunbathing babes in bikinis. Frankly, I'm not seeing the downside of alternate history, here.

Avengers #147

As usual, it's Captain America who cuts through the bull-hockey to suss out just what's wrong with this universe. Without the Watergate scandal to tear this nation apart and provide Dan Ackroyd with a chance to do his killer Tricky Dick impression, this is the frightening nightmare world that would result! (But, don't forget: bikinis.)

By the way, editor Marv Wolfman (arrrrrroooooooo!) reminds us, in his best Roy Thomas impression, that if we wanna know what happened with Cap and the Secret Empire, we need to pick up a back issue of Captain America #175, and all the recent local papers to read up on the news. Make sure you head down to your local comic shop, kids, where they've got the last three years of your newspaper in near-mint condition, bagged and boarded at marked-up "Whip Inflation Now" prices!

Avengers #147

Meanwhile, The Vizh foolishly leaves the Serpent Crown with The Scarlet Witch, who's spends the time caressing the Crown while she rehearses for her role as Gollum in The Wundagore Repertory Dinner Theater production of The Lord of the Rings.

Avengers #147

Yep, Wanda has no history of going nutzoid and attacking her comrades. Nope, she's as level-headed as any mutant whose fictional babies were used as puzzle pieces by a demon servant of the devil while her husband was being disassembled just to see if he really had that "bobbing drinking bird" mechanism inside him. Oh, wicked Wanda! She'll never snap and mow down half the Avengers...she's too down to Earth!

Avengers #147

By the time the next ish rolls around one month later, we've entirely forgotten what's going on, and in fact are kinda hoping Thor is in this issue. No such luck. The splash page of #148 reminds us that, oh, yeah, those Squadron Supreme yahoos are in this story, too:

Avengers #148
from Avengers #148 (Marvel, June 1976), script by Steve Englehart, pencils by George Pérez, inks by Sam Grainger, colors by Hugh Paley, letters by Tom Orzechowski

Just who are these Supreme-o's? Why does Marvel keep using them? What's the joke here? Well, maybe you might recognize them if I did...this!:

Avengers #148

That's right...hee hee hee...they're the...sigh...Justice League of America. Oh, what witty parody! What clever satire! What delicious pastriche! What...oh god...(breaks down, weeping)

Just in case you didn't realize they're a parody of the Justice League, let's peek in on...oh dear..."Lady Lark" and "The Golden Arches." They bicker and quibble about politics and society and how "dangerous" Golden...sorry, Golden Archer is. In the next panel, they find out that "Fasty," Golden Archer's ward, is a dirty stinking junkie, and in the issue after that "GA" and "LL" move to "Sea-Attul" to open a "shrubbery" shop. Oh, the hiliarity.

Avengers #148

Meanwhile, Steve Englehart suddenly remembers he's got to keep the plot moving, so after a lot of rushing back and forth hither and thither and to a fro, we check in at the "White House"...which is this universe's version of the White find Rockefeller lecture the Squadron Supreme. Apparently there's some sort of 'fiscal crisis' and the 'dollar' is getting weaker every 'day,' so that's a sure way you can tell this is set in an alternate nightmare universe where black is white and up is down and giraffes are Thompson's gazelles:

Avengers #148

Then, suddenly, Rockefeller pulls off a rubber mask and he's The Beast! Whoa! I did not see that dramatic turn of events coming!

Avengers #148

All's more or less well that ends well as the Avengers regroup to escape back to their world, but not before George Pérez gives us a shot of Nelson Rockefeller tied up and in his underwear. Oh, thank you George. Thank you so very, very much.

Avengers #148

So! I hope you've learned your lesson from all this, folks. If you don't vote, you just might wind up with a rubber-headed mutant as your president in a world full of sunbathers and then Kevin Smith of Earth-712 will think he can write a Golden Archer comic book. So don't let that happen. Instead, vote for the good guys just like you smartly did in November. It's a hard road ahead, but it's nice to have hope in this grand country of ours, a nation where anyone can dream of growing up to become President:


365 Days with Ben Grimm: Day 20

MTIO #99
Panel from Marvel Two-in-One #99 (May 1983), script by Bill Mantlo, pencils by Bob Hall, inks by Kevin Dzuban, colors by Bob Sharen, letters by Rick Parker

Monday, January 19, 2009

Fun Fifty of 2008: Part 5 of 5

Yay! Hooray! Whoooo! Spongebob Squarepants, everyone, with a musical tribute to Gob Bluth and also to one of the most eagerly awaited comics of 2008! Let's get him back up on stage again, folks...let's hear it for Spongeb...oh, he's being used to clean up Mickey Rourke's dressing room. We'll catch up with him a little later.

We're back only fifty-eight hours after we kicked off the proceedings. And even then we're still running faster than the Oscars hosted by Jon Stewart! But after a few dozen more commercials, we'll be ready to kick off with the...ahem...Final Fun Countdown! Last time, you may remember, Green Lantern was in a tough pickle as Sinestro was dangling him upside down over a vat of creamy corn chowder...oh wait, that's the wrong "last time." Last time we counted down from 20 to 11...that leaves only numbers 5, 2, 7, 4, 10, 1, 3, 6, 9 and 8 to cover...and just to make things more exciting, I'm not even gonna do 'em in that order! Who sez this isn't the Mighty Bully Age of Shock and Surprise?!? Let's roar around the final curve and into the home stretch, Stig-style, with...

#10: FINAL CRISIS DC's flagship cross-over event of 2008 is the big kahuna, all right: every single comic they've been publishing since, oh, let's say 1954, has been tied into and leads up to this event. I was no big fan of Identity Crisis, right-out loathed Infinite Crisis, enjoyed 52, but have given Countdown and Trinity a miss to preserve my piggy-bank-sized budget. Why, then, does Final Crisis work where most of the big crossovers of 2007-2008 don't? Simple answer: Grant Morrison. I'd pretty much follow Grant Morrison to a Witchblade comic book and beyond, and his meta-hyper super-entwined event of The Day Evil Won in the DCU has me on the edge of my seat. It's not an easy read...but I don't believe that superhero comics need spell everything out in big bold captions for you. It's a big, all-encompassing company-wide event, but unlike so many of 'em in the past, it's not messy. Bring the skills you use reading fiction and non-fiction (you are reading more than just comic books, ain't ya? Good!) to FC and you'll find that Morrison's simply bringing the superhero comic tropes up to the same narrative level as you'll get in a book with an actual spine and a dust jacket. While this isn't great art by any means, it's both a quantum step forward for the usual by-the-numbers crossover event. (It's okay to need a guide to the galaxy of players, though: I highly recommend Gary Greenwood's lovingly thorough Annotated Final Crisis, and Benjamin Birdie's solid analysis at CBR, which prompted me to read with a more critical little button eye. But side from taking the crossover event, in the words of Suggs, one step beyond!, Final Crisis is chock-full o' heroes and villains in the kind of DCU-spanning, high adventure, derring-do, and—by issue #6, especially—do or die voyage that provides a sense of wonder and (oh yes) fun that I haven't felt since the original Crisis on Infinite Earths. You can tell a book by its covers: designed by Chip Kidd and realized gorgeously by cover artist J. G. Jones, FC's covers have taken the usual "comic book" look and brought it up to the twenty-first century with a design that can proudly stand alongside...excuse the expression, please..."real" books. Quibblers may quibble, but hey: I'm thinking Final Crisis is pretty darn fun. And if you think Batman ain't coming back from his big bug-zapping...well then, boy howdy, you ain't read many comic books, have ya? (Or at least you shoulda read this one.)

#9: THE AGE OF THE SENTRY Almost missed out on this one, and that woulda been a shame. I passed over the Age of the Sentry miniseries based solely on my dislike for Marvel's Thor-Lite/Miracleman-wannabe/deus-ex-prankia in the pages of The New Avengers and World War Hulk, but I read enough rave reviews (like this one) about how crazy-wild-cool the book was. I should have known it: it's written by Jeff Parker and Paul Tobin, two of my fave creators at The Big M these days, and instead of mirroring the sobby-angst-stuffed modern-day crazy-ass Sentry (boo hoo hoo), this is the 1960s Marvel Pop Art-era Sentry, in the let's-get-retro 1963, Fantastic Four: The World's Greatest Comic Magazine, and those wonderfully goofball Supreme issues by Alan Moore. Sentry faces off against over-the-top monsters like Ursus the Ultra-Bear, Warloo the Galactic Gigolo, The Mountain Man, and Truman Capote. Yes. Truman Capote. The art is gorgeous: bright, colorful, and frantic in the style of (but not slavishly imitating) the 1960s Marvels, and there's a cornucopia of great illustrators at work here: Nick Dragotta, Ramon Rosanas, Michael Cho and, in a story guest-starring Millie the Model, Colleen Coover (I loves her artwork to pieces!). Every time you weep tears for the lost innocence of Marvel, for every Janet van Dyne squashed by a hammer or eaten for dinner, there's still one romping around in one of the little but lovely fun corners of Marvel that produces books like The Age of the Sentry. This might not be the real history of the Earth-616 Sentry, but whatever Earth this is set on...I call it Earth-Fun.

#8: BOOSTER GOLD (In 2007: #1) My #1 Fun Choice of 2007 drops a few notches (but still remains firmly in the Top Ten) following the departure of both initial series writers Geoff Johns (the man who knows more DC history than anybody since Rascally Roy Thomas) and Jeff Katz, and of Booster's sidekick, best friend, and cannon fodder Blue Beetle (Ted Kord model). An entertaining two-parter focusing on the Batgirl history by Chuck Dixon wasn't bad (whodathunkit?), but in issues by new writer Rick Remender and then regular scripter Dan Jurgens, the series seems to be circling already-used concepts. In a series that hasn't even reached Year Two yet, that's troubling. A couple special issues (#s 0 and 1,000,000) that only peripherally tie into the crossovers and context of the original Zero Hour and DC One Million series are fun, but Goldstar is no Blue Beetle. Still, removed from the dark and doom-filled regular DC Universe timeline, Booster Gold maintains a sense of fun and adventure. I'd like to see the series get back to re-visiting, from Booster's POV, famous events in DC Universe history. How about Booster in the Haunted Tank fighting alongside Sgt. Rock and teaming up with the Viking Commando! Now that's history!

#7: KING-SIZE SPIDER-MAN SUMMER SPECIAL Warning! The following stories did not really happen! warns the introduction page to King-Size Spider-Man, winding up with Unless you want to read a few fun stories. Then these count. And holy cow, do they count! This is the single most fun-packed Spidey comic in years, and that counts the classic Fun-Size Spider-Man Goes to Fun Town and Teams Up With The Funtastic Four. A retcon or reimagining of Spidey's first meeting with the Falcon, a Chris Giarrusso Mini-Marvels Spidey versus Venom strip are worth the price of admission all by themselves. And remember that iconic eight-word recap of Superman's origin in the first issue of All Star Superman? Well, it's beaten by two words in the intro page's Spider-Man origin, which just happens to be The Most Fun Panel of 2008:

King-Size Spider-Man panel

But the webbed icing on the Spider-Cake is "Un-Enchanted Evening" by Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover, my admiration for both of whom runneth over even before this glorious team-up of Clea, Marvel Girl, She-Hulk, Scarlet Witch, Patsy Walker (Hellcat), Millie the Model and...Mary Jane Watson?!? Versus The Enchantress? And they don't need Spidey or Thor to bail them out? Verily, sisters art doing it for themselves! Coover's bright and expressive cartooning and Tobin's funny and brisk dialogue make them a heckuva team (in real life as well as on the page: they're married!) Even better, this tale has spawned, like Happy Days, a heck of a spin-off: Tobin's upcoming Models Inc. miniseries, to be published in 2009. Can't wait for it, and if it's half as good as this story, expect to see it this time next year on my Fun Fifty of 2009!

#6: THE IMMORTAL IRON FIST (In 2007: #2) Another Top Five favorite in 2007 slips a handful of rungs down the ladder but still delivers a face-kickin' adventure and a time-spanning saga. I miss original series writers Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction, but new scripter Duane (inhale) Swierczynski is admirably carrying the torch of Marvel's immortalist hero Danny Rand...and his entire family from wife Iron Lady to Iron Dog. What, that's not the Iron Fist dynasty? No, it's even better: for the first time in this series we learn that the Iron Fist is not merely one twentieth-century hero but a legacy of champions spanning into the distant past (and future). DC Comics has done this for years with its "legacy" titles like Flash and Justice Society, giving a fuller sense of history to its superhuman worlds, but aside from extending the careers of Captain America and a handful of its heroes from WWII to today, Marvel has eschewed (thank you, Word of the Day Calendar!) the legacy character before this. Fraction, Brubaker, and now Swierczynski have done the concept proud, however: the best of the Immortal issues remind me of Starman, my favorite legacy hero series. Flashbacks and flashforwards fill in the storyline on past and future Iron Fists, and its not simply history-building: as a great man once opined, future events such as these will affect you in the future. In the main title and and one-shot specials like the title-stretchin' The Immortal Iron Fist: Orson Randall and the Death Queen of California,Danny gradually learns the history of the Iron Fists. He uses it in one of the extended arcs of 2008 in which he finds out that no Iron Fist has lived past the age of 33 (and guess which birthday Danny's celebrating this year!) and to plot his assault on the Mystical Eighth City we're gonna be seein' in 2009. The history and plotting shows there's a grand plan behind the story and even tho' the driver has changed, it's a heckuva ride. Immortal Iron Fist is more than my favorite Marvel comic series of 2008; it's shaped up to be, so far, one of my favorite series of all time.

#5: ALL STAR SUPERMAN (In 2007: #10) Oh noes! An iconic DC Universe superhero...dead! Sacrificed himself to save us all from terror and destruction! Leaving behind his mourning comrades and friends and millions of grieving fans! What will we do...what will we do? Well, if you're anything like me...declare it the fifth most fun comic of the year! It took us a while to get here, but Messers Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely have, in the space of twelve slim but elegant issues, brought us one of the finest deconstructions and reconstructions of the Supes story, I'd say since Christopher Reeve, but your mileage may vary. Shorn of its DC Universe constraints in the All Star continuity, this Superman faces familiar friends and foes in the classic Morrison way: with quantum physics and solar shifting...and Lex Luthor. Issue #12 is the big finale of the final three issues (all three came out in 2008), featuring the culmination of Lex's deadly plan to destroy Supes which actually looks like it's gonna work. Thankfully, as he did in all those great Silver Age stories, Superman defeats his arch-enemy using the knowledge and power of science!! (Do you know how massive gravity affects the passage of time? Superman does.) For me, the stand-out of this series has been re-reading for subtlety: the wonderful little stage business Morrison plots and Quitely displays of Clark stumbling to prevent an off-stage auto accident, or a bag of oranges tumbling out of Lois's arms when she realizes, hey, maybe if you take off Clark's glasses and give him a spit curl, he looks a little like holy cow could he really be Superm..., and, in the final issue, Quitely's literally portrayal of the old Archimedes saw Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world. And us, as well. All Star Superman joins the ranks of Alan Moore's "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" as another of the greatest final grand adventures of our greatest hero.

#4: HARVEST IS WHEN I NEED YOU THE MOST The Force is what gives a Jedi his power, says Obi-Wan Kenobi (old Academy Award-winning actor version). It's an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together. Also, there are little tiny little microscopic beings inside us that affect our ability to use the Force and which if you don't have 'em, you'll probably, wait, forget that last part. It's pretty silly. And who are we to disagree with Obi-Wan? Like the Force, Star Wars fandom surrounds us and pulls us all together (how's that for a segue, folks?), and while I've been a pretty big little stuffed fan from way back, I've been (Clone Wars excepted), pretty disappointed by the licensed Expanded Universe adventures, novels, comics and sagas that have filled in every vacant corner of the Georgeiverse. The authorized Star Wars comics especially seem to be lacking the fun, joy, and occasional hysterical giggles that I got from the original first trio of movies. (Where have you gone, Star Wars Tales?) Notice I say "authorized," because like doing the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs...sometimes it takes a pirate to deliver.

(Okay, okay, I'll stop it with the Star Wars metaphors now.)

Harvest is When I Need You the Most, a gorgeously-designed minicomic (it's got a glossy tip-in right on the cover) that is most definitely not an official Lucasfilms tie-in, but there's more of delight here than in a truckload of Phantom Menaces. A squadron of noted and talented comics artists have contributed nine tales set in the original SWU: quirky and funny and colorful and sad stories of Luke's friendship with Biggs, Artoo and Wicket's adventures, the Cloud City dinner with Vader after the doors closed behind Han, Leia, and Chewie, and my two favorites, Box Brown's "Obi the Lonely" is Ben Kenobi's quiet desert reflection on what drove Anakin to betray the Jedi, and Shelli Paroline's strikingly gorgeously illustrated (and beautifully spot-colored) "Rancorous Love," in which The Tentacled Go-Go Dancer Tossed to the Monster in Jabba's Pit. For those of you who pay close attention to G-Canon, that's Oola the Twi'lek and the Rancor, but honestly, all you need to know is it's a heartbreaking love story. Between a girl with tentacles on her head and a monster. Cool. You too can buy this bundle of Star Wars joy online: believe me, it's an absolutely fun Star Wars comic and a true celebration of what makes the saga still so alive for me: the joy and delight it is capable of bringing to its fans.

#3: HERBIE ARCHIVES I've read about Herbie Popnecker for years but never actually read him: the classic cult 1960s comics which, I kept reading in criticism, history, and commentary, still remained among the pantheon of the industry's most enjoyable and charming comic books. One flip through the first volume of the hardcover Herbie Archives in 2008, however, and I was instantly hooked: Shane O'Shea and Ogden Whitney's tubby hero is a hoot and a half, the most unflappable and powerful hero of them all, able to face down the devil, the sun, and alien monsters with a firm stare and a lick of one of his magic lollipops. Dark Horse has digitally restored the original stories without overcoloring them with bright modern techniques: they're clear, sharp and crisp reprints that at the same time look the way they should: like old comics books. Many of the stories are similar, and you're best served by reading only a few at a time, but the brilliance of each one shines through with Herbie's deadpan reaction to everyone and everything, and glorious period metacommentary: UN head U Thant desperately hires him, screaming girls ditch the Beatles for his favor...even Jackie Kennedy swoons for Herbie! That's my cue to say, you will too!

#2: BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD A smiling, swashbuckling Batman? Heresy! put it another! Warner Brothers premiered their new Batman cartoon in 2008, and it's a most rollicking and entertaining celebration of Batman (no dark-tinged The definite article needed here). Patterned after the long running Batman team-up comic series (also the source of the title) and featuring a Dick Sprang-influenced beefy, broad Batman, Brave and the Bold preserves Justice League Unlimited's exploration of the DC Universe through its galaxy of guest-star heroes and villains while providing a lighter, less-angst-filled, more swashbuckling approach to the Caped Crusader than any of the previous Batman series. Most of the stories are high on action and light on soap opera: Bruce Wayne so far hasn't appeared once; neither have the supporting Bat-cast. Instead, each episode kicks off mid-stream with a action sequence reminiscent of the James Bond pre-credit sequences and guest-starring a different hero than the main portion of the story. The series shows a great affection for all corners of the DC Universe: hey look, it's Kamandi! And Guy Gardner! And Plastic Man! And...good golly, is that B'wana Beast? (Yes. Yes, it is.) From its energetic jazz score theme song and its always-in-exclamation-point titles to the final gentle lesson learned, this is grand stuff, fit for an audience of kids, adults, Batman fans and newscomers, and most certainly little stuffed bulls. Sure, purists might quibble with some minor liberties taken with characters for the sake of the story (glory-loving Aquaman, teen Black Lightning), but there's many wonderful touches that outweigh this: Batman's voice-over narrative and his role as a senior but approachable mentor to many of the superheroes is a great counterpart to the gruff loner of recent DC animated series. And is it just a rumor, or will we really see Bat-Mite pop up in a future episode? Every TV show...even the best TV show...can only be improved by a guest-starring Bat-Mite. Remember that episode of Friends where Bat-Mite helped Rachel get a job in the fashion industry the same night he impersonated Joey on a double date with two supermodels? Now that...just like The Brave and the must see TV.

#1: BATMAN (In 2007: #21) And, if you prefer your Batman of a different tenor...

insert sound effect: record scratching across LP

Hold on! Batman, R.I.P....the most fun comic of 2008?!? Why yes, Bully boosters! As you can tell by numbers 10 and 5 above, I'm a big Grant-groupie, and I've much enjoyed the quantum twists that Morrison's been bringing to DC's big guns over the past couple years. His Batman storylines have been a great delight to me, especially last year's "Club of Heroes" trilogy, and even the disjointed parts of the line-wide "Resurrection of Ra's Al Ghul" were solid Bat-fun in this household. Little did I realize that not only was every story building up to 2008, now forever to be known in comicdom as the year Morrison's Bruce Wayne went totally bat-crap-crazy with the introduction of (say!) Bat-Mite and the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh. It was a storyline that at times made me think Batman (and Morrison) were in over their heads, but hey, as the final chapter of R.I.P. reminds us, "That's the thing about Batman Batman thinks of everything." The over-the-top rampage of a red raging Batman leads a betrayal by someone dangerously close to Bruce, and the usual "entire Bat-cast to the rescue" last act fight-fest, but there's very little else that's by the book in he's doing in Final Crisis, like he's done in All Star Superman, Morrison's work makes us read carefully, makes us read harder, filling in the obvious stuff between the lines and between the scenes in order to keep the action moving, presenting us with unreliable points of view and...

But that stuff, which I'm lovin', is all part of the complaints that I've read about R.I.P.: it's too complicated, it's not linear, it's not connected, it's too disjointed. I respectfully gotta disagree, although I won't argue with you if you didn't care for Batman: R.I.P. Let me put it this way. Another bit of entertainment I loved this year...and it shoulda been somewhere in my Top Fun Fifty if I hadn't forgotten to count it Quantum of Solace, the newest James Bond installment that breaks a lot of the rules of 007 films. Like Morrison's Batman, Quantum challenges us: it's fast-moving (at 106 minutes, Bond #22 is shorter than any other Bond film) but is filled with so many great set pieces and characters that it seems fuller than say, [pick your least favorite Moore or Brosnan film]. It picks up in media res, but neither has a recap at the top of the film nor initial talking head sequences recapping Casino Royale. You can have done your homework and know the business behind the story, or you can leap in and enjoy the ride: either way of experiencing it acceptable and fun, and it's a solid streamlined way to present a story in the same way that contemporary fiction does: not everything is spelled out for you. Sure, the pieces fall into place faster if you realize that Vesper Lynd did such and such or that Batman "actually" went to a planet named Zur-En-Arrh in 1958's Batman #113—or you could just ride along with the story of Batman, a man who has a contingency plan for everything, forming a secondary (and kick-ass) identity that will emerge if under psychological torture, turning the tables on the bad guys.

Enough of that. If you didn't like it, that's cool. But Batman during this year was the comic book in which I couldn't wait to see what happened next: what I wanted from Hush and was still starved for, a roller coaster Bat-Ride that combines Morrison's love of 1950s Bat-tales and the contemporary unflappable, unstoppable, undefeatable "The" Batman. I've mentioned before that although it's a subtle change rather than a big-event reboot, the post-Infinite Crisis Batman is the best improvement on the character since Morrison's JLA #1. After a long period of Batman being a Crisis Batman is still the greatest strategist and warrior in the DC Universe, but now gives full props, support, and attention to his impressive cast of characters. If Tony Daniel's workmanlike art wasn't entirely to my tastes, the layouts were always crisp and frequently inventive. The true "death" of the storyline may have occurred in Final Crisis, but oh, like Batman hasn't planned for that eventuality. After all, practice makes perfect:

Batman and Death

So there you have it, folks. Please join me in a toast and salute to my favorite fun comic of the year, and to the only man who can make dying into 2008's most fun story: Batman.

There ya go, numbers fifty, down to one. That's merely fifty of many, many fun things that came out of 2008, a year in which you might be hard-pressed to find a lot of joy or hope indeed. We live, as the Chinese proverb goes, in interesting times, but, as they also woulda added: Look! Up in the sky! Because there's fireworks everywhere if you look in the right place.

I thank you all who've stuck with this feature despite several installments having day-gaps between them: sometimes real life gets in the way of blogging, as those of you waiting for the next installment of "A Wodehouse a Week" will have discovered. (It resumes next week, promise! Cross my little stuffed heart and hope to cry if I'm wrong!) But this blog absolutely, positively, continues. Of everything fun in 2008, most of all I've found it fun writing this blog and getting your comments and questions, not because I'm an attention-seeking little stuffed animal (well, okay, not completely because) but because I really, truly enjoy celebrating my favorite manta: Comics Oughta Be Fun. They were in 2008...they will be in 2009. And beyond.

365 Days with Ben Grimm: Day 19

MTIO #98
Panel from Marvel Two-in-One #98 (April 1983), script by David Michelinie and John Byrne, pencils by Ron Wilson, inks by Frank Giacoia, colors by Bob Sharen, letters by Diana Albers

Sunday, January 18, 2009

365 Days with Ben Grimm: Day 18

FF #540
Panels from Fantastic Four #540 (November 2006), script by J. Michael Straczynski, pencilled by Mike McKone, inked by Andy Lanning and Cam Smith, colored by Paul Mounts, lettered by Rus Wooton