Saturday, December 10, 2016

Today in Comics History, December 10, 1996: Follow-up to Dark Reign is published, marred by terrible typo

from Daily Bugle #3 (February 1997); script by Paul Grist; pencils by Karl Kerschl; inks by Greg Adams, Al Milgrom, and Chris Ivy; letters by Sue Crespi and John Constanza

But: you'll notice the page actually says

I could sit here and point fingers all day at Kang or the Time Trapper, but fact is it's actually just a typo in the above page, and you can blame it on Marvel, somehow, although they didn't even bother to correct it for the trade. It should read "December 10," to follow on from the front cover, which was dated December 8.

Who says this isn't the Mighty Marvel Age of flubs and flops? Me. I didn't say that.

366 Days with J. Jonah Jameson, Day 345: Jonah resents being dragged into this X-Men crossover, but he's going down fighting

Cover of The Spectacular Spider-Man (1976 series) #147 (February 1989), pencils and inks by Sal Buscema

Friday, December 09, 2016

366 Days with J. Jonah Jameson, Day 344: Jonah Noir

Another excellent J. Jonah Jameson story I'm only managing to squeeze in just before the midnight clock of December 31 chimes is this Jonah-narrated comic in which your favorite newspaperman and mine takes center stage:

Cover of Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #80 (July 1983); pencils by John Romita, Jr., inks by John Beatty

You know, I could print every single furschluggin panel from this comic book and it'd be a great spotlight on Jonah, but instead I'll just focus on the first two cinematic pages and give you this handy tip to hunt down Peter Parker #80 and get yerself hunka hunka Jonah love. You heard it from me, Bully, cookie reviewer for The Daily Bugle.

Panels from Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #80 (July 1983), script by Bill Mantlo, pencils by Ron Frenz, inks by Kevin Dzuban, colors by Bob Sharen, letters by Joe Rosen

Thursday, December 08, 2016

366 Days with J. Jonah Jameson, Day 343: The Amazing Defiant Ones

One of my (very few) regrets about a year of J. Jonah Jameson is that even with this extra-length Leap Year, I've not been able to fit in every story I want co-starring our friendly neighborhood curmudgeon. At one point I'd even starting saving images for an entire "Spider-Slayer Week," but I won't have time to do those. (Spider-Slayer fans line here up to boo, hiss.)

Today, though, I'm gonna give you an expanded peek at one of my favorite JJJ stories that happens to be a fallout from the Spider-Slayer stories, in which Dr. Spencer Smythe, the scientific brains behind Jonah's money in creating the Arachnid Assassins, targets both Jameson and Spider-Man by turning them into The Defiant Ones!

No, no, no...that's De-Fightin' Ones. This story (like that terrible rip of a great cartoon) is a take-off on the classic 1958 movie The Defiant Ones, in which prisoners Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier escape a prison truck while chained together, and they must learn to work together and respect each other. Hey, that sounds like a perfect set-up for Spider-Man and JJJ to be chained an ultra-technical Kirby™-type electronic handcuff device that's due to explode at the end of 18 story pages! The story actually begins in the previous issue, but Amazing Spider-Man #192's cover sets up the plot as if it were the splash page! Go go, action Spider!

Cover of Amazing Spider-Man (1963 series) #192 (May 1979), pencils by Keith Pollard, inks by Bob McLeod, letters by Irving Watanabe

Out of vengeance against both Spider-Man and J. Jonah Jameson, Dr. Smythe has locked them together in a death-cuff! (Available from all good Sharper Image stores.) Smythe's taking revenge for all those times Jonah hired him to create Spider-Slayers, during which Smythe contracted cancer from all the radioactive materials. He clearly hadn't taken the precautions that Lex Luthor does to line everything in his purview with lead. So, it's actually Spider-Man's fault: if Petey had gained the X-ray vision of a spider, Smythe would still be alive! Yes, that's the most boring What If? ever.

Panels from Amazing Spider-Man (1963 series) #192 (May 1979),script by Marv Wolfman, breakdowns by Keith Pollard, finishes by Jim Mooney, colors by Glynis Wein, letters by Diana Albers

With the clock ticking until their ultimate death and therefore the cancellation of his comic book, Spider-Man swings off, Jonah in literal tow. This story also takes place during one of JJJ's most angry phases against our favorite Web-Slinger: he believes Spider-Man is responsible for the death of his son, John. (Note: like everyone in Marvel comics, John eventually gets better.)

Of course, at one point Jonah dies have the chance to remove Spidey's mask and find out his secret identity. Does he? No. He does not. Looks like we're in for another twenty years of Spider-Man being able to keep his secret identity until Tony Stark sweet-talks him into blowing it, thus necessitatin' a literal deal with the devil. Smooth move, Spidey-Pants!

Spidey's dragged them both to consult the only scientist he knows: Peter Parker! Curt Connors! Yes, the genetic biologist is a great choice to remove a highly-advanced electronic device. (I'm presuming this is during the roughly 83% of the 1970s that Reed Rochards was off in outer space on routine Blastaar assignment.)

Desperate and defiant, Spidey and Joney return to the scene of the crime, only to find Smythe is dead! Note: he eventually gets better...hey wait! No he doesn't! He's still dead! Oh, sure, there's a clone of him running around Earth-616 Prime-Earth right now, but Dr. Spence Smythe is still dead! It's a rare victory for the Grim Reaper in the Marvel Universe!

You've gotta hand it to Jonah for holding it together this long, but he's finally beginning to have his nervous breakdown, and I for one don't blame him. Probably because Spidey's gonna drag them both back to see Dr. Curt Connors again. Get a real plan, web-slinger!

Luckily, the quicksilver mind of Spider-Man (not to be confused with the Spider-Man mind of Quicksilver) has given him an idea! An awesome idea. Spider-Man got a amazing, spectacular, web of idea!

Using a conduit piping coolant, Spidey freezes the power supply! With less than thirty seconds to spare! Either that, or Felix Leiter came in an\d switched it off when the timer read "007."

So, Jonah is forced to conclude: what is the price of hate? What are the wages of fear? What is the Tales of Suspense?*

*It's a comic book series that ran from 1959 to 1968, and features Atlas-era crime and mystery stories, later replaced by short Iron Man and Captain America adventures.

Today in Comics History, December 8, 2016: Professor MacPherson can't stop mooning over her signed photograph of Bully, the Little Stuffed Bull

from "Scottie Dog" in Gotham Academy #14 (DC, March 2016); script by Hope Larson; pencils, inks, and colors by Kris Mukai; letters by Steve Wands

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Today in Comics History, December 7, 1941: Remember Pearl Harbor

Seventy-five years ago today, the attack on Pearl Harbor by Imperial Japanese forces precipitated the entrance of the US into World War II. It also directly led to the making of Michael Bay's film of the same name, which I think we can all agree was a pretty terrible thing. It's certainly not as good a movie as Roy Thomas and Rich Buckler's All-Star Squadron is a comic, and the movie's only clear advantage is that Faith Hill song.

In this post I'm gonna give Roy all the accolades for kicking off his Earth-2/WWII comic series with a solid three-(and a half)-part story that doesn't downplay or trivialize the terror of the Pearl Harbor attack, mostly because the events and evil schemes within are a supervillain's tangent to take advantage of, but not cause, the real-life events.

Like several of the popular DC comics series of the early '80s, All-Star Squadron kicks off as a 16-page preview story within the pages of another comic book, in this case, the original JLA. You actually really did get more for your buck fifty cents! The New DC: there was no stopping them then!

Panels from "Special All-Star Squadron Preview" in Justice League of America (1960 series) #193 (August 1981), script by Roy Thomas, breakdowns by Rich Buckler, finishes by Jerry Ordway, colors by Carl Gafford, letters by John Costanza

JLA's preview ends as December 7, 1941 begins, President Franklin D. Roosevelt confers with his then-Veep Henry A. Wallace trusted aide and advisor, Harry Hopkins (thanks to Ward Hill Terry for the correction!) about the need for Earth-2's Justice Society of America "forming some sort of All-Star Squadron" to aid the US in the inevitable world war. Pretty savvy thinking, and I'm not certain if the All-Star Squadron was his finest idea, or giving Captain America that round shield was. Either way, on any Earth, he's the smartest man in a wheelchair this side of Charles Xavier, Niles Caulder, or Stephen Hawking.

Panels from All-Star Squadron #1 (September 1981), script by Roy Thomas, pencils by Rich Buckler, inks by Jerry Ordway, colors by Carl Gafford, letters by John Costanza

Eventually gathering at the White House are a few of the JSA plus other Golden Age DC heroes. But FDR's not ready to send them into direct battle against the Japanese forces. There's a more immediate, homefront danger...

...and that danger is spelled Per Degaton! Dah dah dah! (sinister sting) The time-traveling, world conqueror wanna-be who's so evil he doesn't even have a code name! If he did it would probably be something like Time-O or Mister Iniquitous, so it's a good thing he just stuck with the name Ma Degaton gave him.

Who can stop Per Degaton's heinous plan? Who will stand against him? These guys, that's who! These guys! And Plastic Man.

Splash page from All-Star Squadron #2 (October 1981), script by Roy Thomas, pencils by Rich Buckler, inks by Jerry Ordway, colors by Carl Gafford, letters by John Costanza

Degaton's evil plan for blood, devastation, death, war and horror of course involves — wait for it — time travel. He has come back to 1941 from 1947, so he's armed with the futuristic power of the Slinky! He's also brought back supervillains experienced in the art of defeating the Justice Society by hitting them with a wood plank (Green Lantern) or tying them up (Wonder Woman) or just hitting them really, really hard (Atom, Wildcat, Sandman, Hawkman...pretty much all of them).

His plot is to divert the attention of American forces westward instead of toward Europe, thus enabling that rat Hitler (who is he kidding?) to attack from the east! Step two: ???. Step three: PROFIT!

Per woulda come back earlier to influence the war, but there was a (handwave) timestorm (yep, that's it, that'll work) blocking time travelers off from landing in the years from September 1939 through December 1941. And now you know why so few time travelers attended the grand premiere of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's blockbuster Gone with the Wind!

The Justice Society All-Star Squadron to the rescue! Not seen: other Golden Age heroes like Liberty Belle, Firebrand, Mighty Mouse, Abbott and Costello, Senator Beauregard Claghorn, and Bugs Bunny!

Splash page from All-Star Squadron #3 (November 1981), script by Roy Thomas, pencils by Rich Buckler, inks by Jerry Ordway, colors by Carl Gafford, letters by John Costanza

Glass jaws are punched, volcano island bases explode, and justice is eventually served. Which only goes to show: guys in 1941 are better than 1947. Also: Per Degaton obviously has one of those Brother PTouch Labelmakers. They come in ever so handy for marking detonator buttons that have to be pressed to be activated!

And in the end, as December 8th dawns on a grim new world but the all-new all-different All-Star Squadron joins with the JSA on the Golden Gate Bridge to listen to a speech by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt (portrayed here by J. Edgar Hoover) and vow to keep fighting the good fight for as long as the war lasts or until the Crisis on Infinite Earths deletes their existences from history, whichever comes first.

Despite their patriotic last-panel cheer, not a single one of the JSA or the ASS earned one slim dime from Sammy Kaye's 1942 hit song. That's not justice!

There's a lot of characters to keep track of and a lot of DC/Quality comics lore to learn (not to mention your fundamental world history). But Roy made it easy for you to get up to speed: here's a text page from the second issue of All-Star Squadron that explains the basic premise between the continuity implant behind the series, and general introductions to the cast. Handy!

In all complete seriousness, I salute the real military and civilians who fought in the Battle of Pearl Harbor and World War II. My own dad was an electrician's mate on a ship in the Pacific Fleet during the War, and I've been forever proud of him. We now look upon Japan and Germany as friends and allies, which is the right way to progress through history. But I've got to admit that this, posted today on Twitter by former Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich, is an insulting and cowardly statement that compliments and praises the attacking force on Pearl Harbor. Seriously: I'm very angry that this is considered an acceptable public statement, especially by a man who got a deferment from serving during the Vietnam War. It's a personal put-down directly at every man and woman who died at Pearl Harbor and who fought during World War II. I say it's rotten spinach, Mister Gingrich, and the hell with you.

As long as there's public statements like that which draw attention away from what we have lost and what we fought for, I'll never scoff at Roy Thomas for being merely silly in scenes like this:

There was certainly racial hatred packed into a lot of the comics of World War II that we can now rightly call deplorable portrayals. We can read comics like those and learn our American history, both hopeful and unfortunate, from their contemporary views. All the more kudos to Roy Thomas, therefore, for presenting us with modern comics of World War II that entertain and educate without resorting to to racism, that rewrite history only in the name of fun and fantasy. May Roy's patriotic heroes always inspire us; may we learn from and not follow the regrettable aspects of our past, only seventy-five years ago.

Today in Comics History, December 7, 1787: The JLA claims Delaware through the cunning use of flags

Delaware variant cover of Justice League of America (2013 series) #1 (DC, April 2013), pencils and inks by David Finch

366 Days with J. Jonah Jameson, Day 342: This Is Fine

Panels from The Spectacular Spider-Man (1976 series) #174 (March 1991), plot by Gerry Conway, script by David Michelinie and Terry Kavanagh, pencils and inks by Sal Buscema, colors by Joe Rosas, letters by Rick Parker

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

366 Days with J. Jonah Jameson, Day 341: Friendly Rubbery Spider-Man

Well now, let's wander over to the Daily Planet Building in beautiful downtown Manhattan and see what Peter Parker and J. Jonah Jameson have in store for us todAIIIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

Panels from Spider-Man: Quality of Life #1 (July 2002), script by Greg Rucka, computer art by Scott Christian Sava, letters by Richard Starkings


It is, in fact, Spider-Man: Quality of Computer Art Life, an atypical foray into all-computerized artwork in a mainstream superhero comic book. It's also...not a complete visual success. Even though it's less than 15 years old, it's lightyears away from today's comics created using computers. The art often looks over-shiny and rubbery, like a very early videogame cutscene, and occasionally a panel (like the second one below) challenges you to define exactly what you're looking at. Izzat is left knee, or his calf, or...?

Panels from Spider-Man: Quality of Life #2 (August 2002), script by Greg Rucka, computer art by Scott Christian Sava, letters by Richard Starkings

Maybe it's unfair in an era of stylized work by artists like by Chris Bachalo and Humberto Ramos to look askance at a digital version of anatomical exaggeration, but...whoa, who poured the Diet Gingold into Doc Ock?

Panel from Spider-Man: Quality of Life #1

The four-issue limited series spotlight's Spider-Man's ongoing battle with The Geico Gecko:

Panels from Spider-Man: Quality of Life #3 (September 2002), script by Greg Rucka, computer art by Scott Christian Sava, letters by Richard Starkings

No, wait, it's actually about Spider-Man versus Lara Croft:

Quality of Life certainly isn't the first comic with computer artwork. With Shatter, Mike Saenz gave us the burgeoning field of MacPaint for comic books, waaaaaay back in that far-off historical era of 1985, the age when Mr. Mister, the original NES, and Rocky IV roamed the earth like...some great roaming things.

Cover and panels from Shatter (1985 one-shot) #1 (June 1985), script by Peter B. Gillis, computer art and lettering by Michael Saenz

Shatter was spun off into a series later in 1985, eventually notching up a respectable 1980s-indie run of fourteen issues. In a few years Saenz brought his MacStylin' to Marvel for the hardcover color graphic novel Iron Man: Crash.

Panels from Iron Man: Crash graphic novel (1988); script, computer art, and letters Michael Saenz

And in 1993 Saenz is scripting (though not fully creating the art) of the aptly named cyberpunk thriller/girls in tight vinyl one-shot Donna Matrix. Sorry, folks, I know you think I have everything...but I don't have this comic!

Cover of Donna Matrix #1 (August 1993); pencils, inks; computer imaging, and 3D modeling by Norm Dwyer

Meanwhile, over at DC, Batman Goes Electric in Pepe Moreno's Batman: Digital Justice, featuring a robot Alfred Pennyworth. While I'm waiting, you can say that again to appreciate the cool futurism of it all: Robot Alfred Pennyworth.

Panels from Batman: Digital Justice graphic novel (1990); story and computer art by Pepe Moreno, art assists by Bob Fingerman

Let's see if we can avoid mentioning the unfortunate "gritty and adult" Marvel Max miniseries U.S. War Machine 2.0...whoops, I stepped right into that hot steaming landmine.

Panels from U.S. War Machine 2.0 #2 (September 2002); script by Chuck Austen, computer art by Christian Moore, letters by Randy Gentile

And of course, let us never forget that this traditionally 2D character made a foray into the third dimension in 1995:

Anyway, to sum up and in the interest of fairness, here's a somewhat positive review of Spider-Man: Quality of Life, and here's more background on the book. This CBR interview with artist Scott Sava is good inside background on the creation of the series. I do enjoy Sava's recent work a lot more than I did Quality of Life, so I'll be fair and say that it's just my opinion that the artwork didn't work for me, or that the technology wasn't just quite there yet in 2002. After all, most contemporary comics are at least partially drawn, colored, and/or lettered using a computer! Also: I'm very indebted to Chris Garcia's article "The Dawn of Computer Comics: Shatter" in researching this post.

Still, I woulda hoped that a storyline featuring the death of a long-running Spider-Man supporting cast member and the wife of one of his greatest enemies, woulda been featured in a story that would have involved fewer giggles than this: