Sunday, July 15, 2018

RIP DCEU 2013-2018 (What a Missed Opportunity)


The latest information (sparse as it is) coming from Warner Bros and industry insiders is that they have decided to forego the DC Extended Universe in lieu of the disastrous reception of the Justice League film. They will still put out singular franchise films, but are stepping away from the crossover films. This means that Aquaman will still come out the end of 2018 and will feature Jason Momoa. Wonder Woman 2, now titled WW84, is currently being filmed with the original director Patty Jenkins and actors Gal Godot and Chris Pine returning. Shazam is slated for release next year, and currently a Gotham City Sirens movie and The Batman are at various stages of development. Flash keeps being rumored to start all of the time, but at this point, I'll believe it when I see it, much like Ben Affleck's return to the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman. And then, there's the Joker. (More on him later.)

Could Warner decide to change their minds? Sure. One thing is clear: they don't have a real game plan. There is no Kevin Feige at the helm. Zack Snyder was the closest thing they had and gave him the keys to the kingdom without much oversight, and then they were surprised when the product was met with divided fans and critical backlash. I blame WB/DC more than I do Snyder. From the first film in the DCEU - Man of Steel - they have been reactionary to the market of superhero films, to Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight films, and to Marvel's success. Event their decisions during Justice League's notorious reshoots and subsequent replanning stink of being reactionary. The plan is to react. They react when something is good (The fans love Wonder Woman! We have to make it less grim and gritty! Fix it with reshoots!), and they react when something is bad (there are currently no plans for more Justice League, and they were originally going to use Flash's film to soft reboot the DCEU, but now it is unclear what they are doing with that film). 

I'm a little disappointed that instead of righting the ship, so to speak, they've opted for a more singular film success plan which is arguably what they should have done in the first place. MoS kinda did it, but then they immediately jumped to BvS which was like a 2 1/2 hour trailer for an expanded universe done in an incredibly juvenile way. And I say that as someone who sort of liked it. I liked many scenes in the film, but the overall narrative doesn't work and the characterizations of the main leads are often forced down the viewers throats while asking for huge leaps of logic and absolving characters for being, well, stupid. 


I'm a huge fan of DC characters, probably moreso than Marvel, and I can't help but feel like they wanted the success of Marvel without putting in the work. Even with that being the case, we're getting Aquaman (early buzz on the film is that it is good), WW84, and Shazam. I have high hopes for all. I also remember telling friends a year or more ago that, "Wouldn't it be funny if the Superman and Batman in the DCEU weren't done right but Wonder Woman and Aquaman were?" I'm afraid that after the release of Aquaman, I might realize I was a prophet. A seer. I honestly didn't want to be right after I said it. It was a joke. Why can't they all be great?

DC Entertainment President Diane Nelson (I believe she has either relinquished this position or will soon) stated recently, "there's no insistence upon an overall story line or interconnectivity in that universe." That's a nice way of saying it doesn't all take place in the same universe like Marvel does it. Justice League seems to have killed the DCEU. (I still haven't seen it.) If it had been awesome, you can bet they would have stuck with it. This idea that the films don't need to connect was proven this past week when the Joker origin film was announced

Sunday, July 08, 2018

Erased by Kei Sanbe

This week I wanted to talk about something a little different from our normal topics.  Don't get me wrong, I'm still going to talk about sequential art but it's not American sequential art.  This week I read Erased volumes 1-4 by Kei Sanbe.  Why? The first reason is because the four volumes are the complete series.  I knew up front that I was going to get a story with a beginning, middle, and more importantly an ending.  Far to many series don't have any type of ending and it wears me out.  The second reason is that Yen Press collected the story in four oversized (for manga reprints) hardcovers.  I'm a sucker for deluxe collections so this was an easy buy for me.

So, was it worth it?  Yes it was!

The story revolves around Satoru, a struggling manga artist who is emotionally lost and can't seem to find anything to fill the voids in his life.   To complicate things, he periodically has "revivals" which cause him to go back in time 3-5 minutes to avert some accident.  An early incident has him reviving back 5 minutes to prevent a young boy from being hit by a car.  During one such event, he encounters the serial killer who terrorized his town as a child.  In order to prevent the killer from murdering his friends, Satoru travels back to his days in elementary school in an attempt to stop the murderous spree before it ever starts!

The story is a simple riff on "if you could do it again what would you do differently?" with the added twist of a serial killer.  The events of the past are the driving force for the two-thirds of the story.   It's a masterfully executed game of cat and mouse between our hero, now a 10 year old boy, and the unknown serial killer with periodic forays into the present to see how or if things are changing.  This part of the story quickly sucks you in and the pages fly by.  The last third is all set in the present day after our hero discovers the killers identity.  While entertaining it's not nearly as exciting as the first part and it becomes a little bit of a slog to the ending.

It's not quite fair or accurate to say the last third is a slog because, to be honest, I'm a lazy reader.  There's an aspect to the series in which Sanbe explored the emotional voids in the various characters lives.  Each of the main characters was damaged in some way and had trouble connecting with others and/or finding meaning in their own lives.  While, I really enjoyed the cat-mouse aspects of the book, I just "read" the emotionally insightful stuff.  The last third really brings the emotional conclusion to the story.  Our hero grows (bleh) and his growth makes other people better (double bleh). 

Don't get me wrong, I recognized it and realized it was being executed brilliantly but it's not my cup of tea.  So, yes, there's some interesting emotional explorations in the book that I shouldn't really comment on. 

Overall, this is a highly enjoyable series and if you're willing to analyze the emotional stuff it's even better than that!




   

Sunday, July 01, 2018

HOW COMICS WORK by Dave Gibbons and Tim Pilcher -- A Review


Sometimes writing for this blog can be like Mission Impossible.  Jim will forward an e-mail he's received inviting anyone of us to review something by somebody.  You know "your assignment, if you choose to accept it" type of thing. There is no pressure and it's totally on us as to whether we participate -- he just throws out the contact information.  I've rarely (if ever) taken the gig.  I mean, this reinvigorated blogging exercise is just for fun, an extracurricular activity to our already busy lives and National Debt sized comic book reading backlog.  It would have to be something really special for me to commit to completely reading and reviewing the product. This time, it was a no-brainer for me to accept, like a "must-have" impulse purchase (such as the $10 Space: 1999 Eagle seen in one of my recent "Shelf Expressions" posts), and I responded immediately (beating out Lee).  Boy, am I glad I did.  Not only was the experience thoroughly enjoyable, but it had an unexpected side-effect...it ENHANCED my comic book reading!!!

The press release for How Comics Work, which was nominated for (and I predict will win) a 2018 Eisner award, stated that it "is everything you need to know to get started creating great comic books."  That statement is definitely true, but it is also woefully incomplete as this book operates on multiple levels.  Do you want to make comics?  Read this book.  Do you want to learn about one of the great comic creator's thought-processes on some of the most critically acclaimed stories (like Watchmen)? Read this book.  Do you want feast your eyes on some original artwork?  Read this book.  Do you want to be turned on to other cool comics and their creators? Read this book.  Do you want to get more out of reading comics?  Read this book.  I'm not exaggerating.  This book is TERRIFIC and it bares repeated readings, whether to master a comic creating aspect or study the generous array of examples throughout (although some might need some additional magnification).

[See the rest of the review after the break]

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Lazarus

The story of a genetically engineered warrior and her growing disillusion is the anchor to the story and makes it well worth the read in and of itself.  Forever Carlyle, in the 5 years of the publication of the story so far, has grown from a tool of her Family by interactions with others also bred as warriors for their Families and her own investigations.  Though still a warrior for her Family, she knows how and what she is but has yet to determine her place in the world.

I've posted about this book previously, but the times require mentioning it again.  Greg Rucka and Michael Lark's master work, which started long prior to the regime seizing power, has proved prescient.
Lazarus, Vol. 1: Family


Lazarus: X+66 #4 (Of 6)Where Rucka and Lark have excelled is creating the world in which Forever exists.  Taking the corporate control of our world to a logical but not implausible extreme, they posit that corporations controlled by Families have taken control of the world and carved it into fiefdoms reminiscent of feudal Europe.  Governments no longer exist.  Administrative functions of government exist but are subservient to whatever family controls the territory.  Those who provide useful service to a Family are Serfs. These are "skilled" workers or police/military.  They have a modicum of economic security, though are always less than Family and in danger of losing everything they have at the whim or disastrous decision of Family.  The vast majority of the world's population is Waste.  Low skilled and simply unneeded by Family to protect and promote Family interests, they eek out an existence and hope to develop, in some way, skills that the Family might consider useful.


Like feudal Europe and life in our own regime, competence is subservient to sucking up.  Skills can get a person from Waste to Serf, but everything else is subject to someone above being stroked.  No civil service or even a lame ass human resources.  Who you know is how you go.  And that's at the better operated Family of Carlyle.  Other Families are even more capricious and wont to simply kill those of lesser value.


Lazarus: Sourcebook Collection, Vol. 1 TPRucka and Lark have grown the world of their story from a focus on Forever.  Even the earliest issues of the book contained large amounts of back matter that expanded on the world and expounded on Rucka's sources and influences in our own world in creating this world.  An entire series, X+66, was devoted to the stories of other characters in the Lazarus world, and there have been at least 3 Sourcebook books that go into detail on the workings and world of an entire Family.


In North America, the continent is controlled by 2 warring families, Carlyle and Houck.  In the beginning of the story the warring is cold, jockeying for position within the umbrella of Family influence in parts of the world, but before long there's direct combat that pits all the Families for or against one another based on alliance with either Carlyle or Houck.


Interestingly, both family heads are men who are preternaturally old.  Carlyle has extended his lifespan through genetics.  Houck has done the same through drugs.  Each has devolved his outlook to his Family so that Carlyle's warrior, or Lazarus, is a creation of genetics while Houck uses a drug fueled army as his primary means of war.  Not that Carlyle doesn't have an army.  It has a very well trained army, including an elite corps that works with its Lazarus.


The research that has gone into creating this world has resulted in a fantastically detailed depiction of a technologically advanced feudal world that mirrors the ever increasing power of corporations in our own world.  The fact that we're now subject to the whims of a failed businessperson and celebrity game show host is right in keeping with how the Lazarus world is at war because old white men had to assuage their egos by creating enemies and killing them.  In many ways it's depressing to read Lazarus, but as a cautionary tale it's extremely effective.  It's always been a good time to read Lazarus, but there's no better time than now.



Sunday, June 17, 2018

Collecting Original Comic Art or Why I hate Lee



This week crept up on me fast and yet I had four or five weeks between posts. I had a bunch of different ideas like a review of the Kickstarter projects I have backed and I am backing. A post I was going to call “The Reading Game”. The idea was to talk about current,versus older stuff versus prose books.  A review of Twin Earths newspaper strip (from late 50’s early 60’s) and on and on. I’m never at a lost for ideas. I’m at a lost for time to type up stuff and put together a semi-coherent post.
Jim Califore who appeared at my store

I settled on collecting original art because it is something that has become a bigger passion for me over time. When I had the comic books store but it the early nineties (crap was that over 20 years ago) I picked up a few pieces of art when an artist did an appearance at my store. Compensation for the artist and something neat to frame and put up in the store. I also picked up a coupe pieces for cheap when I went to a show in New Jersey.

The habit laid dormant for a while and then I met and becomes friends with Lee. Lee is a collector of original art and he would constantly and I mean constantly talk about his artwork. Slowly the itch to collect art started to rise to the surface again.

Lee almost forced me to buy this page
Mike Grell Nice Guy
At first it was going to a comic show with Lee at my side saying buy it, buy it. Like a parrot on my shoulder. It’s a good deal, get it, get it. It’s your price range – buy it. I would talk to the artist and often get them to sign a page. I was paying like $50 for a page here and there nothing too dramatic.

One year at Balto-Con I made the mistake of having a few hundred dollars with me and picked up about 3 pages – pricing now between $100-$200. Then I moved to Florida. Of course, with the advent of the ability to stay in touch Lee has continued to be that temptress in the dark emailing me pages and the constant refrain of buy it buy it continues to echo.

Tomas Giorello
Worse I stared to wheel and deal on my own. I contact artist directly on line and negotiation buying art from them. Often, I would buy 3 pages to get the price down on individual pages – so paying $600 for 3 pages made an odd sense as opposed to $250 per page.

Mike Ploog POTA
Then I was buying original art off Kickstarter projects. Just pay an extra $200 get the book and a page of art. I cashed in my 60th birthday present from my 4 siblings and wife by having them pay for a Mike Ploog Kickstarter to get a POTA page – a grail piece.

Of course, I have been out and purchased from various art dealers on the web. Next, I have now bid and won auctions via auction web sites and picked up a page or two off Ebay.
Tim Truman Commission 

You would think it would end there but it doesn’t. Then you start to commission art for stuff you would like to see but it doesn’t exist. You know you have gone down the rabbit hole when you purchase a complete story. About the only thing I have avoided buying is a cover page.
I have the complete story
My collection went from like maybe 6-8 pages before Lee to over 100 pages in my collection now. Most you can view here at my Comic Art Gallery


I have learned a lot about what makes pages valuable in some ways. In other ways comic book art is a collector item – meaning your next-door neighbor wouldn’t pay you a dime for a page but get the page in front of the right people and you can sometimes turn a tidy profit. My advice buy what you love and enjoy and if down the road you sell it and make a couple bucks great, but sometimes you might lose money to sell a page.

Still I must say I love having the comic art and enjoy getting some of it framed. Each page is a true original and shows you the skill and talent that goes into making the art.  The variety of styles and type of art is amazing. Plus the only way to get the parrot to shut up is to buy something occasionally.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Jokes and Riddles: A Reflection and a Review


I think I have had an interesting relationship with Batman comics over a lifetime of comic book reading. Sometimes I really love the comics and sometimes I just can’t be bothered. Perhaps this is a result of Batman being such a great, malleable character. Any creative team can come into the Batman comics and have their version of the Bat. Even with differing variations and alternate takes on the character in TV, films, and animation, comics probably vary the character the most.

Think about it. To Frank Miller, Batman is more often a terrorist or freedom fighter. He’s an uncompromising man fighting a war. Grant Morrison approached him as a man of adventure, then a man in the midst of a mid-life crisis, and finally as a man setting up crime fighting franchises around the world. Jeph Loeb’s Batman had trust issues because everyone he got close to ended up betraying him. He was marked by his failures. Scott Snyder’s New52 Batman seemed odd to me, but I think it was because at the time DC wanted to eat its cake and have it too by having a Batman with history (hello four Robins) and who was also supposed to be young enough to still make mistakes because he had been Batman for only about a decade. You get the picture. In the film The Dark Knight, Batman says he can be whatever Gotham needs him to be. I think he can be whatever the writer and artist want him to be as well.

Sunday, June 03, 2018

The Girl With All The Gifts - Or How Movies Change the Ending

And for something different this week... a book review.  A book WITH NO PICTURES!!! I know, I know that goes against the principles of ComicsAnd... but bear with me because it'll all make sense.

Anyway, over the past couple of weeks (I'm a really slow reader) I read The Girl With All The Gifts by M. R. Carey and then I watched the movie! Why did I finally read a book after all these years?  Well, would it help if I told you it was written by M. R. Carey?  Probably not but M.R. is actually Mike Carey of Lucifer and Unwritten fame.  Since I loved both of those series I was willing to take a chance on his prose.

The setting is standard zombie apocalypse fare with a plague having wiped out most of civilization and the survivors struggling to well... survive against hoards of zombies and other random bad types.  The story revolves around Melanie, a little girl who has a zombie metabolism and appetite but still has her ability to reason.  She, and other children like her, are kept in a prison where they are being studied in hopes that they might possess a cure for the other zombies.  In an obvious turn of events, the prison is invaded by outside forces, and Melanie and several of her keepers must travel across England to a safe haven.

The book, as expected, is well written but not without it's flaws.  The prison scenes with the zombie children was very entertaining and added new wrinkles to the genre.  Unfortunately, once outside the prison there were many events which are zombie movie cliches.  They were well executed but cliches none the less.

Luckily, the character development is solid throughout.  The first half of the book centers around Melanie while world building and supporting character development.  But the second half flips and the supporting cast becomes the main focus.  This isn't a bad thing because it helps drive home the ending.

And, it's the ending which makes this book special.  Carey leads the reader down a merry path and at the last minute executes a heck of twist that is both logical and completely satisfying.  It's something new and different enough in the zombie genre to overcome the ordinary portions of the book.

I enjoyed the book so much that I decided to watch the movie!  The movie is a low-ish budget indie style film which is fine.  It hits all the main points of the book except for the ending.  Sadly changing the ending isn't as simple as "and now everyone is happy" or something studios do to make movie palatable for mass consumption.

I'm sure there are plenty of spoilers on the web but I'm not going to do it here.  Simply put, in the book an action is taken based upon certain facts.  In the movie, the facts are changed so when the decision is made the characters motivation is completely changed.  The altruistic decision made for the better of everyone is suddenly twisted into a much more selfish thing.  The ending of the movie left me cold and slightly disgusted because the change was so drastic.  You can see the trailer HERE.

Outside of the ending, the movie was fine.  It wasn't so bad that I can't recommend it but if you have a Sunday afternoon to waste then it's perfect.  In fact, if you haven't read the book it's probably pretty darn good.  But, I can't get past the ending so it was disappointing to me.