Monday, July 31, 2006

Kubert School on MTV

MTV recently profiled the Joe Kubert School for Cartoon and Graphic Art...

Saturday, July 29, 2006

The Quesada Report

I caught Marvel's editor-in-chief, Joe Quesada, on Thursday's The Colbert Report. I generally don't like Colbert, but I knew Quesada was going to be a guest on the show.

Quesada's appearance was largely... well.. uneventful as far as I was concerned. He basically spoke about Marvel's current Civil War, and Colbert displayed some of his typical ineptitude about America and freedom. Quesada got in a couple of snarky comments, but wasn't really able to keep up with Colbert's rapid-fire cracks.

What struck me was that Quesada's appearance was largely a promotional tour. The difference between this and the other appearances I've seen of Quesada on other TV shows over the past few years was that his previous appearances seemed to be at the request of the show in question, responding to a news item of some sort. I recall his being called in to several shows when Red, White and Black came out to talk about how there was an African-American Captain America, not to mention the circuit he ran after 9-11. But here, it seemed as if Quesada was on the show soley because his agent (or perhaps Marvel's PR department) made some phone calls so that they could promote Civil War.

That's not meant as a complaint, mind you. Just an observation that Marvel just might getting the idea of how to play the marketing game at a national level.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Who Wants To Watch the Superheroes?

So Who Wants To Be A Superhero? debuted tonight on Sci-Fi Channel. Stan Lee is hosting the show to find an American who has the values and personal intergrity to be a superhero. There's lots of talk about honor and doing what's right and...

Good grief, is it campy!

The contestants on the show seems to be taking things with the most deadly seriousness, while Stan seems to be sitting at his desk joyfully play-acting the part of a Charles Xavier or a Niles Caulder. His admonishments seemed to lack heart or sincerity, and yet the contestants were emotionally steam-rollered by them nonetheless.

A "secret Lair" above a warehouse? An "inconspicuous" stretch-limo Hummer with neon lights and a customized license plate that says "SUPERHRO"? Badly customized Blackberries called "communicators"?

Webster's definition of camp: "something so outrageously artificial, affected, inappropriate, or out-of-date as to be considered amusing."

I think it goes without question that the contestants are being made fun of. I think some of them might just get it, but I'm sure not all of them do. And I think that's what really bothers me most about the show. I can watch Adam West as Batman because everyone knew that it was supposed to be corny. But I think Who Wants To Be A Superhero is disrespecting those contestants who have put quite a lot on the line to be a part of the show.

I think the editorial stance of the producers is too subjective, and I feel sorry for those people who have wound up on the show. They're being put on display for public ridicule. While there's bound to be some of that on any "reality" or game show, I think it's much too prevelant here.

I think the real heroism that will be on display throughout the show is if/when the contestants can make it through the season with their dignity in tact.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Lightspeed

I sat down to watch Stan Lee's Lightspeed today, having recorded it from the Sci-Fi Channel last night. I knew full-well that it was a made-for-TV movie, so I had no expectations regarding the special effects or anything along those lines. I also wasn't expecting knock-me-out-of-my-socks acting. (It IS television after all!)

The credits start rolling and I was surprised to see the names of Lee Majors and Nicole Eggert. Majors, of course, is known for his role as the Six-Million Dollar Man and Eggert -- while probably most well-known for Baywatch -- caught my attention as a teenager appearing on Charles in Charge.

(Side Note: I rather enjoyed Charles in Charge. Between Eggert's attractiveness -- cut me some slack, I was a teenager then too! -- and Willie Ames' antics, I found the show rather refreshing. If wholly unrealistic.)

Anyway, I got about 30-40 minutes into Lightspeed before having to turn it off. It feels very much like a Stan Lee creation, having many of the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, hey-let's-throw-this-in-as-an-idea-to-see-how-it-flies hallmarks that made him famous in the 1960s. The problem with the film, though, is that the script-writer seemed to take little care to really elaborate on plot points that Stan may have glossed over, making for some somewhat jarring and questionable motives. Further, the director made frequent use of sped-up film and rapid-fire cuts to move the story along, to the extent that the first half hour seemed like it should have been a whole movie unto itself.

As I said, I turned it off part-way through as it seemed to have to hopes of getting better, so I can't comment on the full storyline. The acting was fair, to everyone's credit, but the script and direction were so poor as to be supremely distracting. I'd rank this out there with the made-for-TV Captain America movie from the late 1970s.

Let's hope Stan does better with tonight's debut of Who Wants To Be A Superhero? (Although, I have to admit that I'm awfully skeptical about that, too!)

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Attack of the Con Coverage

Well, I've finally gotten back home from my family adventure in Cleveland. I've been spending some time trying to catch up on the world of comic news, which I was completely isolated from during Comic-Con International.

To date, I have not attended a comic convention in San Diego. In fact, the only con I've attended outside Ohio was the Chicago Con a few years ago, and that was only for a couple of hours. So, as usual, most of my convention information comes third-hand, mostly the Internet. This year, however, G4 was able to host a special edition of Attack of the Show live from within the convention itself. I was excited and set up the DVD-R to record it.

Now, they only had two hours devoted to the show. And considering the convention lasts five days, they're obviously going to gloss over quite a lot. Also, this is television coverage of what has become more a celebration of pop culture than just a comic book convention, so it seemed obvious to me that they'd also spend a great deal of time NOT on comic books. So, those were my expectations going into things.

First, I went through the recording and editted out the commercials. The show was cut down to one hour and twenty-one minutes. As expected, there was a lot of talk about Superman Returns, Spider-Man 3, Who Wants to be a Superhero, Snakes on a Plane, Heroes, Transformers, Hound of Hell and some other TV/movie properties I can't recall offhand. There was a feature on various toys coming out from Hasbro. There was a brief chat with Joe Quesada, who spoke about upcoming Marvel movies and Spider-Man's unmasking in the "Civil War" storyline. And then there were several bits about dressing up in costumes during the con.

In short, they largely didn't have anything worthwhile to speak of. Their "exclusive" with Sam Jackson revealed that he would've loved to have seen something like Snakes on a Plane when he was a kid. Stan Lee, Jeph Loeb, and Snoop-Dog didn't mention anything about their respective properties that hasn't been on the Internet for at least a month already. Blair Butler's in-depth report on Stormtroopers revealed that wearing the PVC armor is warm.

The only bit that I think was original was that Optimus Prime will be voiced by Peter Cullen in the upcoming Transformers movie.

Additionally, there was a huge focus on convention-goers who dress up in costume. The G4 staging area was surrounded by them -- no surprise there, since they make for a colorful backdrop -- but there were reports on a man who regularly dresses up as Wolverine and another about a group who were working on a musical version of X-Men: The Last Stand. Plus some short interviews with a Spider-Man, Black Cat, Mystique, and Stormtrooper Elvis. Which is fine, but that was something like 20% of the show's time devoted to less than half of one percent of the attendees.

I'm certainly glad that G4 was providing coverage of the event. But I think their coverage was summed up when co-host Olivia Munn mistook a Black Cat costume for Storm. They seem to have a vague idea of what's going on, but they don't seem to entirely get it.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

On Vacation!

Well, I'm taking off tomorrow for an extended weekend vacation.

Sadly, it won't be to San Diego like a fair portion of the rest of the comic book loving community, but to a family reunion in Cleveland. There's shades of Howard the Duck written all over this weekend.

I've blogged before about how I'm not too keen on going to comic conventions any more, but I would like to attend San Diego once. I mean, it IS the seminal comic event of any given year. Tens of thousands of people descend on San Diego every summer for the event, and I'd be interested in experiencing that at least once.

*sigh*

Maybe next year.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Tintin & I Reviewed

Finally got a chance to see that PBS documentary on Herge. I have to say that I was very impressed. I've never actually read Tintin (I know... blasphemy!) but I am at least somewhat familiar with the character and his creator.

I learned quite a bit from the documentary in fact. My understanding is that Herge's life was relatively closed, so I get the impression that this made a lot of things public that were previously known only to the most devout Herge scholars. The work is largely based around some interviews conducted by Numa Sadoul in the 1971, but also has some significant pieces from his widow, Fanny Rodwell, and some Herge scholars.

What was striking to me was that it turns out that much of what is seen in Tintin is symbolic of Herge's own life. While he didn't do a great deal of travelling until late in his life, he used Tintin (and Capt. Haddock) as surrogates for himself often charting his own inner demons through them. While that's certainly true to a degree for all artists, it seems more poignent and conscious in Herge's case. Certainly moreso as he continued to work with the series.

All in all, I found the documentary very well done and very enlightening. I'm certainly disappointed that it hasn't received more press in even mainstream American comic circles as Herge and Tintin are immensely popular throughout the rest of the world. While America has largely claimed the superhero genre as its own, that's not the entirety of comics and Herge's influence on comics, especially European comics, rivals that of Will Eisner or Jack Kirby here in the U.S. That alone, it seems to me, should make him more noteworthy to American audiences.

Of course, I do tend to not be nearly as ego-centric in my worldview as most Americans.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Tales from the Crypt Question

Okay, as you may have noticed given the lack of responses on my blog here, I have this unnatural ability to subconsciously discourage feedback. It it were just here on the blog, I'd dismiss it as no one actually reading this thing, but I've been watching the effects on several fronts over the last half decade or so. Threads on message boards come to a screeching halt once I chime in, and the only time I get professional feedback on my work is when I expressly ask my boss for some. And even then, it tends to be vague and generally non-commital.

So I'd like to ask a very specific question here to see if I can A) generate some activity here and B) get some information prior to spending some of my own money.

The question at hand is: Has anyone seen the documentary Tales from the Crypt: From Comic Books to Television and what did you think of it? If you have NOT seen it, what do you think of EC comics on the whole? I've got a collected edition of Tales from the Crypt and Gemstone's reprints of Piracy but that's it. So, any readers out there old-time EC fans? Or historians who've read a lot of older EC books? Any thoughts on Gaines in general?

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Soylent Green is People!

So, my brother-in-law gave his DVD copy of Soylent Green. He'd watched it, and decided he didn't like it well enough to keep and asked if we wanted it. I actually rather thought it was a good movie, and I tend to gravitate towards dystopian stories, so I was happy to take it off his hands.

Now, on the DVD, one of the extras is an original trailer for the movie. The big hook of the trailer is the repeated tag line: "What is the secret of soylent green?" Of course, thirty years later, there's no big secret -- Charlton Heston's memorable performance crying "Soylent green is people!" is probably more well-known than the movie itself.

Here's the thing, though: that's not the point of the story. The story was originally a commentary about overpopulation and the shortcomings of inadequate planning; indeed the notion of forced cannibalism wasn't in Harry Harrison's original novella at all. Throughout the movie, though, while the "mystery" of soylent green was part the sperficial plot, it still viewed to me like an elaborate social commentary about not taking care of our environment, the widening gulf between social classes, and the de-humanization of the bourgeois. Edward G. Robinson's tearful sobbing at how far the human race has fallen in so short a time is a much more potent and powerful message in the film, I think, than Charlton Heston's soylent revelation.

So why am I talking about this on what is supposed to be a comic book blog? In seeing the DVD again and being reminded of the completely off-target marketing of the movie, I'm reminded about why I enjoy comics over movies as a whole. Comic book marketers, by and larger, "get it." They know what they're selling and why it is (or isn't) important. When a comic sells because of the creators behind it, the creators get a lot of attention and credit. When a comic sells because it's a first issue being sold to a collector's market, the "#1" slogan is plastered all over the cover. Regardless of why you personally buy comics, you are (generally speaking) being sold a product that is exactly what you're looking for... whether that's the latest appearance of Superman, the next installment of an inter-company crossover, the latest creation of your favorite creator, or anything else. You know what you're getting into when you plunk down your three bucks. You're not going to be sold a comic on the merits of its great story if it doesn't have one, you're not going to be sold on the appearance of character that's actually absent from the title. There's marketing hyperbole, to be sure, but it's not wholly and entirely misleading as you often find in other media.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Kirby Surprise!

I was at an all-day interview yesterday and was pleasantly surprised to find my copies of Jack Kirby Collector #46 had arrived in the mail by the time I got home. I hadn't been paying attention at all to when it was supposed to arrive in stores, and wasn't at all expecting to see the book so soon.

Of course, it has what I consider my worst "Incidental Iconography" column so far, but I read the mag for everything else it has to offer anyway!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Krrish

No, I'm not using onomatopoeia. "Krrish" is the name of an Indian superhero that's being featured in a Bollywood movie of the same name. It opened a couple of weeks ago in select American cities... nothing remotely close to me, though, naturally. From what I've read thus far (thanks, JF!), it actually sounds as good as -- if not better than -- Superman Returns. Though being a film that's outside the mainstream American outlets, Superman will obviously fare much better in domestic box office receipts.

I will certainly be keeping my eyes out for it to see if/when it shows up in video stores or on cable. I'm certainly interested to see how another culture handles a superhero mythology on a mass media scale. One problem I have is that, being landlocked in the middle of the United States, it's often difficult to rise above the din of American filth to see what's going on elsewhere in the world. I have some affinity for Canadian and British cultures, but I think that has more to do with the relative ease with which their media is obtainable than anything else. I often find it fascinating to see how things are done/handled outside the popular American mindset.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Tin Tin and I

I happened across Fresh Air on the radio a little earlier this afternoon, and I learned that PBS will be airing a new documentary on Herge entitled Tin Tin and I. Terri Gross was actually interviewing the director, Anders Ƙstergaard. I just caught the tail end of the interview, but it definitely sounded like something worth watching.

It's supposed to debut nationally tonight at 10:00, but my local stations don't seem to be showing it until 4:00 am on Thursday. I'm reminded of a quote from Mark Twain: "When the end of the world comes, I want to be in Cincinnati because it's always 20 years behind the times." Even with the information age, it seems that the best we can do is still two days late.

In any event, I'll post my thoughts on Tin Tin and I after I watch it, probably Saturday morning sometime.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Superheroes Unmasked: The Verdict

I watched Superheroes Unmasked this afternoon, and I do recall seeing it when it came out. I was somewhat disappointed with the show's description, as it implied that there that the show would delve more deeply into the cultural mores that inspired them. That's not to say the show didn't touch on it at all, but I would've liked to have seen something perhaps deeper but not as broad in reach.

But perhaps that's too much to expect from a mainstream documentary.

One thing I did like in the re-viewing, and that I recall went over well with The Wife when she saw it a few years ago, was Frank Miller's line about giving Batman his balls back. It's a bit of freshing candor about the state of the character prior to The Dark Knight Returns.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Return to Abadazad

I had to pick up a few things a Target this afternoon, and strolled past their books section. At conveniently at eye level were J.M. DeMatteis' and Mike Ploog's new Abadazad books: The Road to Inconceivable and The Dream Thief. Now, I haven't read these books yet, but their Abadazad comic was incredibly well-done and I can't imagine these books as anything less than captivating.

But the reason why I'm bringing it up here is more because that this is a brilliant example of quality comic books working their way into mainstream America again. So the next time you're walking through Target or Barnes & Noble or wherever and stumble across a copy, tell whomever you're with that it was a great comic that is now a great book and well worth checking out.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Comic Book Superheroes Unmasked

Just a quick notice to say that on Sunday, July 9 at 2:00 am EST, the History Channel will air a documentary called "Comic Book Superheroes Unmasked." It's actually from 2003, but I don't recall seeing it before.

In any event, it's touted as being an examination of how superheroes -- and presumably comics by extension -- are more than just escapist fantasy. The IMDB summary reads...
Industry insiders like Stan Lee and Neil Gaiman (The Sandman) reflect on the way their colorful creations reflect society at large. They have spread from the pulpy pages of nickel comics to Saturday morning cartoons, the big screen and beyond. They have evolved from simple, All-American heroes to tortured, complicated characters reflecting the dreams, desires and fears of modern society. From Superman to The Sandman, Comic Book Superheroes Unmasked is a fascinating, feature-length look at the evolution of an art form that has proved remarkably adaptable and enduring. Filled with classic images from DC and Marvel Comics as well as extensive interviews with modern masters of the graphic novel like Neil Gaiman and Frank Miller (The Dark Knight Returns), this documentary, originally aired on the History Channel, goes far beyond the superficial escapist fantasies to probe the forces that shaped the characters who have become legend. In the adventures of The Incredible Hulk, Spider Man, The X-Men and many more are echoes of American society in the last century, and the art form continues to evolve and innovate today.
So, if you haven't seen it before, it might be worth staying up late or setting the VCR/Tivo/DVD-R.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Fantastic 4: Doomsday

I was just directed to the following Fantastic Four animation by Matt Gardner. It was so enjoyable, I thought I'd pass it along. I'm particularly fond of his characterization of Ultimate Dr. Doom...

Fantastic Four: Doomsday

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Comics Are Everywhere

The Wife and I were just channel surfing and landed on MASH. The episode was "The Korean Soldier" and featured comic book writer Larry Hama. (He's shown on the left in this still from the episode.) It's something of a bit part, but I mentioned it to The Wife and she actually perked up and showed some interest.

I've also seen ads that say the G4 channel will be airing live coverage of this year's San Diego Con on July 21. Superman Returns and X-Men 3 are in theaters now. Spider-Man 3 will be out later this summer, and My Super Ex-Girlfriend opens in a couple of weeks. You can flip on the TV and catch Blade: The Series or Stan Lee's Who Wants To Be A Superhero, as well as Justice League Unlimited, The Batman, Krypto, or Minoriteam. Not to mention plenty of re-runs of The Incredible Hulk, Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, The Tick, and plenty of other shows I'm forgetting at the moment.

The key, at the moment, is to make sure that you -- as a comic book fan -- point this stuff out to your friends and family who might not be as enlightened about the significance of comic books on American culture.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to set the timer to record a documentary on Frank Frazetta that's going to air early tomorrow morning.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Independence Comics

Well, it's July 4th, the anniversary of the United States, and I'm required by law to write about how wonderful it is to be an American citizen.

I never really liked Captain America. I'd read a handful of his comics as a child and I just couldn't "get" the character at all. To me, the concept of a person being so patriotic that they'd eagerly have experimental, completely untested drugs pumped into their system for the sole purpose of having the chance to serve their country seemed much more far-fetched than gaining super powers by being bitten by a radioactive spider. Why would anyone so willingly forfeit their life for the sake of a faceless government body?

A lot of my disbelief in the concept stems from being born decades after American patriotism faded. If the Korean War didn't disperse our collective illusions sufficiently, the Vietnam War certainly did. I was born when Americans began looking at politics and politicians with suspcision, and I'm certain that my parents -- although not particularly politically active -- were outraged at what they saw on the news every night. While I'm just a tad young to remember most of the 1970s, I do recall the emotions and impressions of that period -- when good, hard-working men were out of work, there was a seemingly impossible gulf between the rich and the working-class, and you recycled/reused as much as you could, not out of environmental responsibility, but out of economic necessity. The ideals of the American dream were giving way to the realities of life.

Growing up with that outlook, I find it astounding that Captain America survived the entire decade. I suppose that the bleakness of the situation must have been countered somewhat by America's bicentennial in 1976, and I think the then-new American cynic was gratified by some escapist culture like Star Wars and Superman: The Movie. But it remains that I, like so many Gen-Xers, grew up being cynical of government. I think we were the first generation who began questioning the American dream en masse. (I don't mean to suggest that we were the first generation who questioned it, merely the first who more or less unilaterally questioned it.)

In the mid-1990s, when I had an opportunity to get paid to review Captain America, I looked at it as a chance to try to understand not only the character, but also patriotism in general. How is that someone can pledge their allegiance so blindly to a government as to adopt its national image as their own? To so blindly follow a government as to accept it as inherently right and justified regardless of what the means or the ends actually are?

What I learned, though, through reading the comics and other independent research, was that Captain America is NOT the embodiment of America, the U.S. government, or even the American dream. He's an embodiment of the Bill of Rights: the first ten ammendments to the U.S. Constitution. Captain America -- at least the Steve Rogers character who is the most often referred to as Captain America -- is NOT beholden to the U.S. government and has repeatedly run into sharp contrast with them.

Here's the problem, though. While I now understand better where the character is derived from, and how he is generally approached by creators, his character now strikes me as shallow. Effectively, there's never really been a difference in character between Steve Rogers and Captain America, even before he let his identity be publicly known. And the extent of the character is essentially the Bill of Rights. There's no real political or religious affiliation (by design). There's no long-standing love interest (by design). There's no real questioning of his actions or his methods. He's right, he's just, and he believes that unconditionally.

Which bores me to no end.

The appeal of a Spider-Man or a Thing character is that they have internal questions that they keep asking. They question their actions and, more frequently, the consequences of their actions. They question themselves and their worth. There's a depth of character that simply isn't present in Captain America. Captain America isn't really a person; he's a set of ideas. Valid and noble ideas, to be sure, but that's not enough to make up a character in my mind.

So on this day, where U.S. citizens detonate in excess of 250,000,000 pounds of explosives to celebrate our collective two-fingered salute to the British, I'm reminded that while the Bill of Rights contains some excellent ideas and was crucial to the inception of both the United States and Captain America, the ultimate results in both cases have long since ignored the brilliant original structure and have been wallowing in hollow symbolism, relying on muscle to sanction their own self-imposed, unwavering self-rightousness.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Dark Comic Movies

So I caught part of a summer movie review piece on NPR this afternoon. One of the panelists posed the question: why do comic book movies all seem to feel the need to be dark and ponderous? Another panelist suggested that it was because movie-makers felt the need to take themselves overly seriously to compensate for what they thought were otherwise frivolous concepts. They dropped the subject then and moved on to some pirate movie that's coming out soon.

I might counter, though, that it has more to do with Tim Burton. Comic book movies -- prior to Burton's Batman -- were taken largely as camp. Adam West's Batman is certainly the most notable in this regard, but there's a lot in every other example. But Burton showed Hollywood that you could take the same concepts and characters and approach it differently in a manner that's more appropriate for another medium. After Hollywood saw that superheroes could be done differently (and successfully) they copied that.

It was clearly evident in the Flash and Nightman TV shows, but there's still evidence of it in everything from Justice League Unlimited to Lois and Clark to Blade to The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

As I thought about it, it's curiously also found in the comics themselves in a smaller, shorter scale. It was also started with Batman (in Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns) and was copied throughout just about every superhero comic. Fortunately for comic fans, that fad only lasted throughout the 1990s and hasn't continued like it has in the comic-based movies.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Superman Fandom

Yesterday's Cincinnati Enquirer had an article on a local Superman fan: Brad Thumudo. Well, it's not so much an article as it is a local personality profile. In any event, it struck me that it treats both Thumudo and Superman fans in general with a fair amount of respect. It wasn't what I've seen so many times before: the geez-can-you-believe-how-weird-this-guy-is piece.

Now, we as comic fans still have a long way to go to earn real respect from the outside world, but I think this is pleasantly indicative of how things have already turned around. Heh. Before you know it, it'll be the idiots who paint their bodies for football games that'll be getting derided.

But that may be overly optimistic. ;)