Sunday, November 18, 2018

Lou Scheimer: Creating the FILMATION Generation -- A Review

I picked this up during TwoMorrows' nearly month-long Black Friday Sale last November at a substantial discount and have been reading it off and on since it arrived, finishing it on Friday, 2018 Feb 23.  The bulk of the reading took place before basketball games and during half-times with me then finishing up certain chapters before bed.  Sometimes this turned out to be a real distraction, since I didn't want to stop reading even when the games started, especially when the subject covered a show that I was particularly fond of from childhood.  However, it wasn't just the shows that I was interested in by that point, I wanted to spend more time with Lou and hear what happened next in his life!  Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed this intimate and personal autobiography.

The book is primarily black and white with a small color section.  However, it came with a FREE digital version download that was in full color.  It would have been nice to have the print version be full color, but I can understand the need to keep costs down, and honestly, I prefer the regular matte paper versus the glossy color magazine style.  I think it is another testament to the compelling story that I wasn't deterred from reading a book about color cartoons in black and white.  Since I only read digital media on a PC (no hand held devices yet), it wouldn't have been the same reading experience for me on the screen.  Opening a physical book just connects you more with the material, I think.

Lou was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Russian and German Jews, which had immigrated to the US in the early to mid 1920s.  The first chapter is entitled, "Wherein My Father Punched Out Adolf Hitler Years Before Captain America Did (1928-1946)".  His experience of growing up Jewish in Pittsburgh is very engaging and was a great way to start the book, because it not only established important background, but it helped you get to know him more as a person, rather than just what he later did. That personal thread is throughout the whole book.  He talks about his time in post-WWII Japan and his courtship with Jay, who would become his beloved wife.  She was thought of as a shiksa by some in his family.  Choosing to marry a non-Jew, illustrates early-on his attitude of accepting people based on their character, regardless of their diversity label.

I believe the book was primarily constructed from interviews, since it has such a narrative style to it.  You really do feel that Lou is conversing with you the whole time. You learn of his passion for quality children's entertainment to mean something and have pro-social messages.  The trials and travails of the animation industry are recounted as well, along with his mostly successful (for FILMATION) but ultimately doomed efforts (for the industry) to keep the work stateside. But he doesn't gloss over his mistakes and regrets either.  He cusses at times and drinks too much on occasion, which caused him to forget to credit his friend Hal Sutherland during his Emmy acceptance for a Star Trek episode.  And when he mentions a person that was troublesome or a jerk, well he doesn't mince words even when he's trying to restrain himself from saying too much negative about them.

Andy Mangles' role in fact-checking (with help) Lou's tale and his reconstruction of the interviews is essential to making this book flow so well.  Many of the chapters, generally focusing on specific periods or years, foreshadow to future events later in the book, making this reader salivate for the next juicy morsel.  By the time it got to shows that I wasn't particularly familiar with or interested in, I was hooked because I still wanted to listen to Lou.  There is also an exhaustive amount of FILMATION facts and details. I think one could skim some portions that were more strictly business related without taking too much away, but it's also so entwined with his story that I'm only talking about isolated paragraphs here there, where numerous names are listed (kinda of what some people do when reading Numbers).

Lou's reflections on his life are bittersweet.  Just when FILMATION is doing its best year, things quickly change, which leads them to abandon the Saturday Morning networks, which had largely abandoned them already, to produce He-Man and She-Ra in syndication, certainly their most successful shows ever. However, their pioneer work on the weekday cartoon series phenomenon is quickly crowded out by a glut of such shows on the market. Then thanks to a vicious buyout by a company that only wanted their back catalog and not their studio, it's all over very abruptly not long after their 25th anniversary.  Lou's efforts to get back to work over the next 15 years isn't very fruitful at all.  His final thoughts on his legacy and life are Solomon-esque in their wisdom of ups and downs and what really matters at the end of it all.

My copy of the book is a second edition, published in 2015.  I didn't realize this, so I was shocked to learn (the day I finished the book) that Lou had already died in 2013, less than a year past the first edition (late 2012).  And here I was thinking of how nice it would be to meet with him at a convention someday.   I had seen the Lou Scheimer gallery at Pittsburgh's Toonseum on 2015 Jul 31 before attending an ApologetiX concert in Wexford, PA.  It was relatively small, but I immediately recognized the film cells from the cartoons.  Regrettably, the Toonseum closed its downtown doors just yesterday (as of this writing) on 2018 Feb 24.  It was a neat place.  I hope it comes back someday and that Lou's gallery becomes even more prominent.



I am certainly one of the FILMATION generation.  I grew up on these shows before I even started getting comics (and that may be a subject of a future post: TV's role in comics).  My favorite FILMATION shows (in no particular order) were/are STAR TREK: The Animated Series*, TARZAN of the APES**, FLASH GORDON*, BLACKSTAR, Lone Ranger, and the live-action SHAZAM*, ISIS*, and ARK II*.  I also remember watching Fat Albert and the Archies* on occasion.  The * represents DVD box sets that I'm very happy to have in my collection, since some of them are way too expensive these days.  The ** represents a recent purchase from a Canadian online site called RETROTVMEMORIES, so that I could get the remaining episodes of Tarzan.  (The one readily available only covers the first season's 16 episodes, missing 24 others.)  RetroTV is a good source of out-of-print material, but the quality is variable -- still better than watching bits and pieces on YouTube.  I can also recall the anticipation of wanting to watch Journey Back to Oz on the SFM Holiday Network, which I always seemed to miss.  After reading this book, I even have a strong desire to delve into He-Man and She-Ra someday.

Some of my Filmation boxsets (forgot to include Tarzan).

I've been blessed to be able to share some of these shows with my children. The music is incredible, the live-action acting is very authentic with great "after school special" style morals, and most of the stories are really great.

If you're a FILMATION fan of any of their material, this is a MUST READ.  And if you just want to get to know a guy who tried to do his best all his life, but didn't always succeed.  A creative person who struggled at the end, living past his "prime" years, but was eventually rewarded by the fans who appreciated his shows that shaped their lives, then this is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.  It really makes me think of all our favorite comic creators that had super hot streaks, but eventually fell out of favor for various reasons.  We don't always get to know them personally or their stories, Lou's story is a good representation for ALL of them.

BONUS -- Here is the ISIS commission I got from Jerry Ordway this year at the Baltimore Comic-Con (according to him his first drawing of the TV version).



Sunday, October 28, 2018

The State of Comics And...

Our beloved founder and zen "pool" master, Jim, has let it be known that he's bowing out of our Comics And...Other Imaginary Tales reunion tour.  He's certainly been the guiding force behind this endeavor, encouraging us with his comments and schedule reminders.  Not to mention he's the one person we can always count on to actually read our posts.  According to said schedule, Shawn and Lee are up for the next two Sundays, but I honestly don't know if they or Thomas will want to continue on a regular basis or not (Gwen was already taking a hiatus).  I for one have two posts "in the can" to share that I keep pushing back for newer material.

Anyway, I, personally don't plan to stop (the "...of course, we can still be friends" stage), but in terms of a standard rotation or organizational format, I think it will be whenever the mood strikes us, i.e. "No Deadlines!"  It'll be interesting to see if not having the deadlines will promote more posting or less.  We're all quite busy (as I'll discuss more below) and this is just for fun.  I appreciate the opportunity to express myself and this is an awesome way to accomplish that on a semi-regular basis.  Without it, I'm just reading/thinking about stuff by myself and that's not nearly as enjoyable as being part of the larger Comics community.  We may not be comics creators (yet), but somebody's got to be the "Siskel and Ebert" too.  To quote Roy Neary from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, "This means something; this is important." Or not, maybe we just like to play with our mashed potatoes...


So, in typical comic-fashion, I've been having a Crisis of sorts...A Crisis of Too Many Unread Comics!  (That was going to be the original title of this post. I probably have well over a hundred by now.)  Every week almost without fail I faithfully stop into my Local Comics Shop (LCS) on New Comics Wednesday, the stupendous Cosmic Comix and Toys, which I've been a patron of for over 20 years.  I truly love it there, not just the atmosphere, but the chance to chat with the gang and the regulars.  It's a bit like my version of Cheers.  I get my books hand delivered for me from my box, or I'm allowed the privileged to go behind the counter and get them myself.  I carefully study the issues (like Juan Valdez) and if necessary go to the rack and select the best copy possible. The service is exceptional. They'll place stuff in my box (beyond my "normal" list based on just an e-mail [sometimes the day of]) to check out with no pressure or obligation to buy.  I can always put something back, because they know there is always something else I'll probably pick up.

Even when I try to cut back, I usually get something new.  For example, this week I picked up Batgirl #25, 26, 27, and 28.  The art by Paul Pelletier was the main draw, but the story was really great too and I highly recommend the series (and may discuss further in another post).  I canceled Vampironica by Archie Comics.  It was like a combination of Buffy and Blade with Archie characters and drawn by the excellent Greg Smallwood, but EVERY issue arrives DAMAGED.  I might be willing to pay a buck for a beat up book, but not four!


I also picked up a slew of Marvel books, including a lot of Infinity Wars/Warps tie-ins. (I really enjoyed Duggan's All-New Guardians of the Galaxy, but they've gone overboard with this Warps concept (trying to create the next Spider-Gwen or Cosmic Ghost Rider.) Really, the best thing about Marvel is their digital codes.  I have a friend in Australia who Paypals me cover price minus $2 for each of them.  It's a huge savings for both of us. Unfortunately, I've gotten so far behind in my Marvel reading that I get the books only to bag and board them for months at at time until I give up on ever hoping to read them and relist on ebay.  I just sold my Venom:First Host lot last Friday.  I actually read that and liked it, but it was one of the few things I thought would actually sell , so up it went (it took less than 24 hours).  It might have helped that I listed it for cover price minus a dollar per issue to account for the lack of digital codes.  I loved the finale of Dan Slott's Amazing Spider-Man, but the new series is a little too tongue in cheek for my tastes. Sure, it's funny and entertaining, but it doesn't feel like Spider-Man to me.  A lot of books are that way.  Then there are the super serious ones like Immortal Hulk and Captain America, both sporting exceptional Alex Ross covers.  I enjoy the Hulk quite a bit, but Cap is unreadable and the middle-aged Sharon Carter desperately hoping for some affection from Steve is painful to watch.

To be honest, I'm digging DC books more than Marvel right now. Hawkman by Bryan Hitch is a stand out for me along with Tom King's Batman, the recent Two-Face arc in Detective Comics and Justice League Dark.  Then there are the mega maxi-series like Doomsday Clock and Heroes in Crisis (are those people really supposed to be dead?!  Wally West?!  We just got him back!)  Although, I've given up on reading the Bendis Superman books for now.  Of course, I'm still buying them all, but I'm three months behind (times two series) and I'd spend all my limited time catching up. (Plus, I really hate Rogol Zaar and can't wait for him to be gone.)  Now, I may eventually binge read a bunch or try to sell them.  I've been getting the new Justice League series, but I'm like 9 issues behind now and the Drowned Earth series is just going to further tax my budget.  You can buy them here (second shameful plug).  Despite my interest, I'm just not invested in these storylines right now.  If only that were true for all the comics related TV shows I partake in...


I love all the Marvel Netflix series (those that are left, sadly).  I watched Iron Fist season 2 twice, the first viewing in 26 hours.  Then I rewatched Defenders with my daughter and started Daredevil season one for the umpteenth time.  I'd probably be well on my way of watching Daredevil season three by now, but my wife wanted me to wait to watch it with her (it's been a week since episode three [SOB]).  The fever has at least left me for now.


The new CW shows are all in full swing with Riverdale being my favorite.  Flash seems promising again this season, Legends is still a lot of fun, and Arrow has been pretty good.  I'm really excited that John Wesley Shipp is returning as the 1990's Flash in an upcoming cross-over.  I've been waiting for that since the beginning of the show.  I like Black Lightning, but I'm going to probably wait to binge it once the season is over.  I don't want catching up on my weekly TV shows to be a part-time job!  Besides, there are still some Petticoat Junctions to watch (excellent series, so funny).  My youngest son and I are about to finish the original Lost in Space series, which we usually view on Friday mornings before he goes to school.  We've finished the 60s Batman series and Six Million Dollar Man.  We need to finish Buck Rogers, Bionic Woman, and The Incredible Hulk.  We took a side trip and enjoyed the first (only?) season of the Justice League Action cartoon, which included great portrayals of Firestorm and Booster Gold.


So obviously, TV watching, which I'm highly invested in, takes up a bunch of my "free time".  Then there is blogging (thinking about what I want to write at least) or ebay listing (thinking about what I want to sell at least), not to mention unscheduled Facebook challenges!  There are also the numerous hardcovers I'm getting.  These are high on my reading list and kick the new comics to the curb.  The Doug Moench Fantastic Four's have been slow going for me (Marvel Masterworks volume 20).  Bill Sienkiewicz draws an unsettling Reed Richards with his neck always stretched out. The latest Iron Man volume (#11) contains some favorites and I'm eagerly awaiting volume 12 next Spring.  So much to read, so little time.  That doesn't even bring into play the fact that when I do sit down to read something, I often fall asleep!  Or when I wake up in the middle of the night from insomnia on the weekends (or just get up early), my eyes aren't focused enough to actually enjoy reading.  Plus, even with my new Oscar Goldman's I still have to vary the distance to get perfect clarity.

The point of this all is that I really need to change my buying habits.*  This year's Baltimore Comic-Con reminded me how much I love original art and classic Bronze Age comics.  If I severely reduced my new comic list, then I could afford some really cool commissions.  But it's so hard to stop, after all part of the act of buying something you may never read is a hopeful endeavor...a promise that you really will get that time by the pool to relax and enjoy something special one day.  What I want is a series or character I really care about like I do my favorites on TV.  Batgirl has some strong potential at least.  But some of the big events...it may be a great story, but in the scheme of things I can live without it or wait for the trade. 

*My motivation for the books I'm getting is out-of-whack:  It should be reading first, then collecting, and finally looking at resale value.  Instead it is more backwards, looking for resale (buying the next issue to help with a sale), mindlessly collecting, and then reading.

I have enjoyed some independent books lately too like Isola, Oblivion Song, and Hey, Kids Comics!  Unfortunately, the Simpsons ended it's 25 year run with Bongo the other week.  We didn't even get a new Halloween Treehouse of Horror this year.  Speaking of Halloween, the kids are back from the Halloween-Disco (thankfully I found that 5-spot on my dog walk earlier which helped pay for them to go), so I better sign off.  Happy Halloween and I'll see you around sometime when you least expect it.  Keep Reading!









Sunday, October 21, 2018

Royal City

Image result for royal city lemireJeff Lemire is a busy man. Most of it is writing, sure, but at the time this was published he was working on several books for Marvel, a couple for Dark Horse, and several for Image, including this one and AD where he also did the art. In Royal City his stated intent was to tell a long, more or less open ended story, but he soon realized that he was reaching the point of telling the story he wanted to tell and that forcing it further would be counterproductive. So it went 14 issues instead.

 

And a good decision it was.

 

Straight off, if you like his Essex County work you’ll like this. He even slips in a reference to that work in mentioning an opposing football team for the high school four of the characters in the story attend. If you don’t like Lemire’s art, as I know one person who doesn’t, this book isn’t for you.

 

I’m a fan of both his art and writing, especially when the latter is of characters of his own creation, such as this and Descender, which also just ended (sort of). More on that another day. Whether Essex County or the more fantastic Sweet Tooth, I find his art unique, spare, and wonderfully sketchy.

 

But on to this show. The story in Royal City is of the Pike family of the titular company town. The story takes place in 1993 and the present of 2017 when the book started. Peter and Patti have four children, Patrick (Pat), Tara, Richard (Ritchie), and Thomas (Tommy).

 

The 1993 portion of the story is in the fall. Pat graduated in the spring, but his lofty ambitions of being a writer only have him working a drill press at the Royal Manufacturing plant where his father is a floor supervisor who’d rather be back on the floor. Tara is a senior with a boyfriend and is determined to not lead her mother’s life of young parenthood and frustrated ambitions. Ritchie is an outrĂ© personality and vigorous imbiber as well as adherent to libidinous habits that leave his girlfriend, Clara, betrayed. Tommy is 14 months younger than Ritchie and a freshman who suffers debilitating headaches that further his preference for being alone with music and his thoughts.

 

Image result for royal city lemireThings happen in 1993 that determine how the family interacts in 2017. In 2017 Peter has a stroke that leaves him in a coma, drawing Pat, now a successful writer under a past due deadline for his next book, back to Royal City. Tara is not her mother, though she's still living in Royal City.  Ritchie is a floor worker at the plant.  Tommy is the most obviously trapped in 1993, but all of the Pike family has been stuck because of events that happened then.

The struggles among them, spouses, affair partners, and a surprise grandchild are all told with a spectral presence who is perceived how each of the Pike family idealizes him. Each family member, reasonably or not, has guilt associated with the spectral presence.

 

One of my favorite aspects to the story is that marriages continue or end without over the top dramatics. There are arguments. There is sniping. But there’s also self awareness enough that all of the characters in three distressed marriages recognize there’s no high ground. No one is superior to anyone else in dissatisfaction with how the marriage is proceeding. Each of the distressed marriages is distinct in the causes and dynamics, with each coming to its unique resolution.

 
This isn’t a book to read if you’re looking for fighting. There are exactly two instances of anyone being punched. This is a book about relationships, events that stress and strain them, and how letting go of past events that have damaged those relationships doesn’t create Hollywood style happy endings but does tend toward happier people.
Image result for royal city lemire

A little bonus feature to Royal City is that Lemire throws in a mix tape at the back of each issue.  These are songs that influenced him or to which he listened during the creation of the story.  Or maybe just enjoyed that day.  Anyway, if you want you can compile the songs and listen as you read, if you're so inclined. 


The only writing for the Big Two that Lemire has done that I have read has been Moon Knight for Marvel.  On the whole I've been dissatisfied with the results of independent voices like Lemire writing characters that are owned by a corporation rather than the creator, but I did enjoy his Moon Knight work.  If your only experience of Lemire's work is Moon Knight or another of the corporate cowls, read Royal City, Essex County, Descender, or AD

Monday, October 08, 2018

Old Comics Teach Boys How to Be Men

Everyone knows Golden Age Comics can be, to be kind, inappropriate.  Have you ever wondered how the Silverage stacked up?  Well wonder no more because I'm about to tell you.

The book, Sarge Steel #1, from Charlton Comics, published December 1964.

The question, what to do when a woman is crying?  See the panel below...




So, what could you do?  Hug her to sooth her?  Talk to her calmly until she isn't frightened?

NOPE!  WRONG ON BOTH COUNTS!




And now you know how to deal with crying women!

Oh my on my how times have changed.

Sunday, October 07, 2018

The Place Holder

So, today was my day to post and... I'm way behind.

Why?  Lots of reasons but one of them was the fact that I was in Cali this week. 

And if you were convinced that Cali is it's own unique little corner of the universe, check out this sign.  It seems like an ordinary sign sign you would see in any ol'parking lot.



BUT, upon closer inspection you will notice that my car, and the fact that I need to drive the car to work are equivalent to a pack of cigarettes?  Oh my.  A close up in case you can't see it...

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Goodbye, Norm

I learned that artist/writer Norm Breyfogle passed away six days ago on September the 24th. He was fifty-eight years old. It's been a tough week in part because it broke my heart. His art was an extremely important part of my comic book consumption throughout middle school and high school. This was the second time I was given sad news about him, and the only thing I can possibly hope for is that he found peace.

Breyfogle is probably best known for his run with the Batman family characters. He worked on Detective Comics, Batman, and helped launch The Shadow of the Bat title. Breyfogle co-created characters like Ventriloquist, Anarchy, Victor Zsasz, Jeremiah Arkham, Amygdala, and Ratcatcher. Probably his most important creation along the way was his co-creation of Ultraverse's flagship character Prime. He worked on lots of different comics including having a run on Archie Comics in 2008.


The most influential part of his contribution to the Batman mythos (in my opinion) was not the co-creation of some of the previously mentioned characters, but his redesign of the Robin costume given to Tim Drake. It remains my favorite and arguably inspires every version of Robin's costume since. I can't even look at Damian's horrible redesign without thinking that Breyfogle's original design and Tim Drake wore it better.

I loved remembering Breyfogle and his art, but it was bittersweet receiving the news of his death. I like to remember him and look through his art, but I'm sad he's gone. After working on a Batman Beyond Unlimited digital comic in 2012-2013 (which was collected in print), I thought he was going to have a resurgence drawing mainstream comics again. His work on Batman Beyond was pure joy and I adored it.

In 2014 Breyfogle suffered a stroke which left him paralyzed on his left side. He drew with his left hand, and although he did recover movement, he couldn't draw anymore. I can't imagine what it is like to have what you love taken away from you like that. He was pretty honest and upfront about it and chronicled his struggles online through social media. He seemed a kind and gracious creator and I knew he was trying to get into writing comics because he could no longer draw them. They say he died of natural causes, but I still think fifty-eight is way too young and he was gone too soon.

After Breyfogle's health issues in 2014, DC Comics put out a hardback of Legends of the Dark Knight: Norm Breyfogle Vol. 1. DC did this in part to help him financially, but it is truly a wonderful edition to anyone's Batman collection. A second volume will be coming this November. I own the first one and will be buying the second, and I'm hoping to track down the collection of his Batman Beyond Unlimited series as well.

 I recently discovered they also put out a Batman Black & White statue based on Norm's illustrations. I tried to see about buying one, but it is backordered. Maybe I'll get lucky at some point and pick one up. It's pretty cool looking and I think it would do my geeky home justice.

I realize that sometimes people we never meet still impact us and leave something behind that touches our souls along the way. Thank you Norm for your art, man. I always hated Batman's blue and gray costume, but never when you drew it. Your version was the only acceptable one as far as I was concerned. May you be at peace knowing you left behind so many fantastic comics.

Goodbye, Norm.

-SJD

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Fantastic Four: Behold...Galactus! OHC -- A Review

Wow, this week really has gotten away from me.  My plans on getting my stuff ready for the 2018 Baltimore Comic-Con (#bcc2018) next weekend epicly (why is this not a word?) failed yesterday.  However, we've got all my daughter's supplies and she's working on fanart to sell.  (See some examples on her FB page.)  So feel free to come by the Who's Mannz  Artist Alley table (A-135) to look at (and hopefully buy) her wares or talk to me about comics.  We got her some business cards and I thought about getting one for myself as a Comics And blogger. : )  We'll be there all three days, Sept 28-30 and Lord willing I'll have an interim update next Saturday just before our next blogger's post on Sunday morning.

Now in case you haven't noticed, something about the blog page is broken (or at least when I look at it).  Gone is the search field and the listing of posts by year.  However, there is a workaround.  If you go to an old post where those fields are still shown, then obviously you can still use them.  So, I'm putting this link here of a post from 2013, which is good background to the upcoming Superior Octopus series coming out.

Enough of this preamble stuff (consider it my warm-up exercise), let talk about the World's Greatest Comic Magazine PRESENTATION:  The Fantastic Four: Behold...Galactus! Over-sized Hardcover (OHC).  In this instance "World's Greatest" is not hyperbole. It. is. simply. beyond. belief.  It's AWESOME to the highest degree (no pun intended) and gives you a never-before-EVER uncanny reading experience like no other.  It's so good that I bought two more copies and had them shipped to friends as surprise gifts. (I wish I could've bought even more.)  This was helped by the outrageously inexpensive price  -- $25 the first week  (50% off) at www.instocktrades.com and afterwards about $29 (40%).  Unfortunately, I think it is already sold out there, but if you can get it for the $50 cover price it is still more than worth it.  $100 wouldn't be too much either. [Just checked - only $38 on amazon.]  The concept is simple: Let's reprint some of the best Galactus stories at a Galactus size.  And Galactus-size it is, the book is nearly two-feet tall!  Bigger than any Omnibus, Treasury Edition, and Artist Edition I've seen.


I had my eye on this book from its first announcement in Previews.  I knew it was going to be great, but I couldn't conceive of the unexpected ways. Find out more after the break:


Sunday, September 16, 2018

Kill or Be Killed




Yeah, I know. Another Image book. What can I say? They publish a lot of good stuff.

Kill Or Be Killed #1 

This one was easy to spot, being another Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips work. Elizabeth Breitweiser worked with Phillips on the art, having first joined with them for Fatale. As always with this team it’s great looking work.

 

Of course Brubaker and Phillips are deservedly well known for their noir work in Criminal, Fatale, and The Fade Out. Kill or Be Killed certainly follows in that vein in tenor and appearance. The back matter also includes great writing about noir films, most often by Kim Morgan. These essays are worth reading on their own.

 

But Kill or Be Killed is a book that uses the form of noir to examine consciousness. It never once uses that term, but that’s what it is. What is reality? Kill or Be Killed leaves the reader wondering.

 

Kill Or Be Killed #10Lead character and narrator Dylan has a history of suicide attempts, self medication, and complicated romantic relationships. His father, a talented but frustrated illustrator, was a suicide when Dylan was young. His father’s sexually charged horror illustrations were porn in the woods to young Dylan and his friends.

 

When the story opens Dylan is a serial killer targeting people who are unsavory, whether child molesters, Russian mobsters, or American oligarchs. Taking a nonlinear narrative approach that parallels Dylan’s own mental process, Kill or Be Killed jumps around to fill out Dylan’s story that includes girlfriends Kira and Daisy, roommate Mason, dealer Rex, and detective Lily.

 

Throughout the story the reader is pressed to determine how reliable Dylan is as a narrator. Is his perspective what’s really happening? Is it an adverse reaction to harms to his mind? Is he suffering from an organic brain problem? Better yet, the question includes whether Dylan is morally and ethically right in his actions even if he is unreliable as to why he he’s taking those actions.

Kill Or Be Killed #15Brubaker, Phillips and Breitweiser don't tell the reader whether to believe Dylan or whether his actions are justified.  They weave a complex story that's full of questions, as well as a lot of violence and a little bit of sex.  The reader can take the surface joys of sex and violence as sufficient entertainment, or the reader can have the added enjoyment of thinking about what is consciousness, reality, and morality/ethics, and who decides any of those for anyone but themselves.

 

Coincidentally I was recently in a group discussion about consciousness in the philosophical sense. This book, which concluded at 20 issues, fell right in with that discussion, certainly as much so as the Force from Star Wars that owes its genesis to Jung and which was a part of the group discussion.

I should also mention the covers.  A small sampling here shows several of them.  Different arcs within the story merited a different theme to the covers.  The opening arc all had the dark background like the first issue.  In the middle there was a run of orange and the demon that Dylan says is his impetus.  No detail is too small for this creative team to use in telling the story.

 

Kill or Be Killed is an excellent read, full of tension like any great noir story, that has the addition of an insightful look at what is reality, who can be believed in telling a story, and the uncertainty that is life.

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Public Domain and Gwandanaland Comics


So I started drawing a blank for what I wanted to talk about this week. Lately I have been immersed in Gwandanaland Comics. They are a small company who specializes in reprinting material that is in the public domain. I have included a few pictures of the collections that I have ordered. I have sent two collections onto fellow contributor Lee for his enjoyment after I read them.

As this is all public domain material so anyone can essentially work with the material. Many companies have in fact obtain copies of the material and cleaned up the pages and published them as hard cover collections. Often recoloring the books.  While a great way to enjoy these comics it also takes away from the book having that feel of being the actual comic. Especially the coloring as it is way better in many collections, which is both a good thing and is like colorization of old black and white films is a bad thing. Something is lost and gained at the same time.

This format has the feel of almost sitting down and reading the comic itself. Every page is not always crystal clear, but it has been great fun for me to read books and material I have never heard of before and no one else would ever have collected this material. Even better they can create almost any collection that you want within limits. Take the Jane Martin War Nurse collection. I was not interested in all of it, I was more interested later in the series as the art and stories got better. I learned at that point that two different female artists worked on the series. I have also learned some female writers did comics but used a male name for purposes of publication.  It becomes a history lesson as well as entertainment.
Often when possible the collections will include the ads from the comics. The ads from the 40’s and 50’s are almost as entertaining as the comic themselves.  Dated to be sure, but also a reflection of the way society viewed itself at that time.

What was very cool is that they produced an artist edition version on Nyoka the Jungle Girl. I own the art for the full seven pages and found a local person who was able to produce high quality scans of the pages. I sent the scans to Gwandanland Comics and they produced a book with the color pages and the original art plus some extras to make the book big enough to publish.

Lance is the central contact point and he is cordial friendly and very helpful in explaining options. You can buy the books on Amazon or pay them direct – cheaper but slower mailing time. They only produce books when ordered as they have a huge catalog to choose from and are constantly adding material. Recently they had to delete material as they found some material that appeared to be public domain was in fact copyrighted.  I asked about how they could publish all the Charlton material they publish when DC had purchased Charlton characters. I was told Charlton published their material without a copyright. While the characters are owned by DC the Charlton material is public domain.

There is such a wide variety of material. Some is dated and some of the writing and art are weak, but there is also an amazing amount of beautiful art and fascinating stories. A lot is pure fun and enjoyment. It gets crazy at time as before the comic code the companies were pushing the envelope. Gwandanaland has a series of collections call Wertham’s Weapons that publish most of the comics that were referenced in the infamous Seduction of the Innocent.

The material here has captured most of my reading time at this point. It has the plus of telling complete stories often in eight pages. You can easily see how it might be expanded into 20 pages or more but I sometimes enjoy not having every comic book story I read be a Homeric epic.


Sunday, September 02, 2018

DC Universe Streaming

I've been debating whether or not to pull the trigger on pre-ordering the new DC Universe service that will start on September 15th. There are many pros and cons to pre-ordering and I can't seem to make up my mind. In case you are in a similar state, I thought I'd share what I've learned about this digital endeavor and maybe we can make up our minds together by the end of it.


It is no secret I love DC Comics if not the direction the company has taken in the Dan Didio era. I think Rebirth was a success while the Nu52 was a failure. (I don't care what the numbers might have said, at least, in the beginning.) The DC Universe digital service seems perfect for a fan like me. So why am I hesitant?

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Ninjago: The Dark Island Trilogy and More!


Review: Ninjago: The Dark Island Trilogy, written by Greg Farshtey and illustrated by Paul Lee

Story 4/5 stars
Recommended age: 3 and up

I had no idea Lego Ninjago even existed until I had a kid. I was vaguely aware that the Lego stuff was way cooler than when I was younger (Batman space shuttle, enough said) but I didn’t know much about the stories the Lego company owned. I’ve now be immersed in the Lego movie world, Ninjago, and Next Knights. Ninjago is by far my favorite. The TV show is surprisingly well done with compelling storylines. I mean this show has not only grown and changed over time (the characters grow up, they have dynamic relationships, the writers are not afraid to seriously shake up the status quo…) but the plots have been fantastic. 


The original storyline (basic chosen one type story) was okay but the following plot when one of the main characters sacrificed himself to save his friends was very well done and fairly deep for a kid-oriented show. The current episodes have managed to take what could be a very dark theme (one of the main characters is systematically broken down and made to think he has lost most everything but he finds a way to keep fighting and is now running an underground resistance) and still make the show completely appropriate for a 5 year old. On top of all of this the show has changed with the times. Nya, the main girl character, went from being a side character to a pretty cool self-made hero, to a full member of the ninja team. While Lego hasn’t completely succeeded in integrating solid female characters in their shows they have made a strong effort and continue to improve.

Now don’t confuse this with the Ninjago movie from last year. While cute it is a very different story and universe than the main Ninjago stuff and I just consider it an elseworld of sorts.

So, what does this have to do with comic books? Ninjago is one of the only Lego stories that also has a comic book version. The graphic novels follow the same timeline as the TV show but usually have side stories that there wasn’t time to tell during the course of the TV season. They are all written by Greg Farshtey (the artists vary) and generally they are so-so in quality as the author is constrained to mini stories that could easily have taken place in the same timeline as the show. My son adores them and they are hands down his favorite comic books because he knows enough of the context of the story that he can generally tell what is going on even though they are mostly above his reading level at the moment. I’m genuinely sad that they haven’t put out new graphic novels for 3 seasons.

The books I am reviewing today are the only stand-alone Ninjago comic book material. The Dark Island Trilogy was written to take place right after season 6 of the TV show and before the TV special: Day of the Departed.

First, the good.

The Dark Island Trilogy story is okay but it too broken up into odd segments to really come together. The start to the story was strong with two of the characters investigating a mystery that leads them to the Dark Island (a location from the early days of Ninjago that definitely deserved further exploration). The characters come under attack from an unknown group and just manage to leave a message for the ninja to find warning them to stay away. Of course, they don’t, and that’s how the ninja and Sensei Wu end up on the Dark Island.

The strong points of the story have to do with the characters struggling against their own demons and it was interesting to read about overcoming inner weakness. This is a good talking point with my son as well and we always discuss the first rule of being a ninja: ninja never quit.

The final battle of the book was laid out well, especially giving a chance for Master Wu to shine a bit more as the ninja’s teacher is often shunted to the side of the story.

The art was nice here as well. Occasionally Lego hires artists who are less experienced and it was nice to see they kept the same solid artist for the entire trilogy.

Now the bad

The big reveal of the big bad guy and his plot to “take over the world” falls a bit flat. Honestly how many bad people out there actually want to rule the entire world? It is a bit silly.

My son and I both liked reading a brand new Ninjago story but it was annoying to have the main plotline constantly interrupted by journal entries written by “Sensei Wu”. They were somewhat insightful but did not hold my son’s interest as he just wanted to know what happened next. If they had been less disruptive to the flow of the plot it would have been more interesting.

Finally, there seemed to be a lot of buildup going into finding out what happened to a missing character (Kai, my son’s favorite ninja) but when you finally get to his story it was disappointing and no where near as involved as the other characters’ struggles on the island.

Bottom line: B+

          Overall, entertaining for Ninjago fans but it is not what I’d use to introduce anyone to the franchise. Also, it can be expensive to get ahold of as it is out of print and Lego never published it in a different format from the original hardcovers. Still, my son got a big kick out of it so I don’t have any regrets from spending the time to hunt down less expensive copies.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Books you missed... Jughead Vol 1

Have you ever noticed that people have a default comic book genre?  I'm convinced that people, when they want a good read, naturally gravitate towards one specific genre.  For example, Jim loves crime noir, Matthew loves nostalgia and has a soft spot for every book from the 80s, and Thomm just love confrontation.  I meant, a spirited discussion about people's inability to use gramar correctly.

My default comic genre is always humor.  From Carl Barks Ducks to Groo to Squirrel Girl, if a comic has a good joke there's a chance I've read it.  EXCEPT for Archie books.  For some reason, I've never been an Archie fan.  But, when Archie relaunched their entire line a couple of years ago I knew I had to give it a try!  Which is why.... this week, I want to talk about Jughead Vol 1 tpb collecting issues 1-6, written by Chip Zdarsky with art by Erica Henderson.

Don't worry if you've never read a Jughead comic, the first issue quickly set the stage by introducing all the main characters and the plot.  Riverdale H.S. has a new principal and according to Jughead he's turning everyone's favorite high school into a training school for spies!  Or is Jughead just dreaming it and if it's true, how will Jughead avoid detention?

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Batman #53 by Tom King and Lee Weeks -- A Review

With the third chapter of their third Batman story together, Tom King and Lee Weeks have unequivocally established themselves as one of the greatest Batman creative teams.  Top 10, Top 20, Top 40?  It doesn't matter what their rank is, because that would be debatable; the fact remains that the achievement has been reached (if it hadn't been already with just the Elmer Fudd story).  I will layout my case to support this bold claim below (after the break) in my SPOILER-FILLED Review: 

Thursday, August 16, 2018

There's still time to SUPPORT The Middle Age HC Collection Kickstarter Project

I've been following Steve Conley's The Middle Age award-nominating, weekly web-comic since the beginning.  Following and backing as a monthly Patreon supporter.  This community of fans help fund Steve to find the time to produce the best series work of his career!  If he gets more supporters then he'll be able to do two strips a week, rather than just one. It takes time to create those detailed images with the lavish colors and funny/punny jokes.  Steve usually provides current status updates and bonus features for his supporters too.


Early this year, Steve launched a super successful Kickstarter button campaign. I proudly wear the King Waddlebottom one on my jean jacket (seen above), along with two ApologetiX pins. ApologetiX, the Christian parody-band just released an awesome new single (She's Got Cooties/Dumb Questions) that I've listened to over 45 times this week at work (I just didn't get tired of it).  Now, Steve is in the midst of another Kickstarter campaign to compile his first few chapters into a glorious larger-sized hardcover (for all our middle-age eyes).  There are also a ton of cool stretch goals unlocking as we speak.  For one we're going to get a Waddlebottom solo story (and if enough people pitch in, we'll get a printed copy).

So please check it out here:


Hey, and if you just want to enjoy the series for FREE you can always do that too.  Just follow Steve on Facebook.

And although Thom Zahler's Kickstarter collection for his (SHOULD have been award-nominating [I nominated it for a Ringo]) web-comic: Warning Label is over. I posted about it a few months back.  You can now order the book directly from his store.
 #warninglabelks

See after the break for Steve's inks over a Godzilla pencilled commission the late-Herb Trimpe drew for me:

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Marvel Masterworks Fantastic Four Volume 18 -- A Review

Wow, I just finished the 18th Fantastic Four Marvel Masterworks volume and in record time.  Perhaps, I consumed it a tad too fast, but I've got to ride this FF interest wave for as long as I can.  You know, before something else comes up and takes its place.  Pity my poor stacks of unread new comics; they just can't compete.  While it wasn't quite the masterpiece volume 17 was, which I posted about this past Sunday, it was still good and contains some classic moments in FF history.

This volume covers Fantastic Four issues #192 thru #203 and also includes the 12th and 13th annuals from 1977 and 1978, respectively.  A brief (maybe) recap follows (after the break):

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Marvel Masterworks Fantastic Four Volume 17 -- A Review and Celebration

This past Wednesday, 2018 August 09, marked the 57th anniversary of Fantastic Four #1 hitting the stands.  To celebrate, Marvel, after a publishing hiatus of the series, released the much anticipated Fantastic Four #1 (2018).  While I won't go into the details here (since Jim's copy probably isn't in the mail yet and it's not the focus of this post), I liked it and the ending of the first story actually left me slightly verklempt.  Plus, Scottie Young's Impossible Man one-page feature was really nice to see too (for reasons soon to be revealed).

You see, the new relaunch already had a positive effect on me since it influenced what I took to read on my second week of Summer Vacation: Marvel Masterworks (MMW) Fantastic Four Volume 17, which covers issues #176 thru #191.  And I actually had time to read the entire thing while staying at my Aunt's (formerly my Grandmother's) house in Kansas that has been in the family over 65 years.  Of all the Fantastic Four tales I could have picked, why might you ask, did I pick this collection?  Simple, it contains my first issues from 1977 and includes some stellar storytelling by Roy Thomas, the late great Len Wein and George Perez with Joe Sinnott among others.  Find out more after the break...

Sunday, August 05, 2018

Exceptionalism


And taking a sharp turn from two weeks ago's kid friendly recommendation I’m recommending two limited run books that are very adult. One is just beginning it’s run while the other has just finished.

 

Mirka Andolfo’s Unnatural, published by Image, is just starting its twelve issue run. That makes it new to readers of English, but it was originally published in Italian in 2016 and has been published in several other languages since. But I am an American and suck at other languages, so it’s new to me. Chances are it’s new to you, too.

 

Unnatural #1 Cover A Regular Mirka Andolfo Cover (Limit 1 Per Customer)

Unnatural features rather sexy anthropomorphic animals that have had some reviewers and interviewers compare it to the wonderful and explicit Omaha the Cat Dancer by Reed Waller and Kate Worley. Andolfo doesn’t think the comparison holds beyond the sexy and anthropomorphism, and so far I tend to agree.

 

Leslie is a literal pig and the lead. Where sex between species was common and inconsequential in Omaha, it’s forbidden in Unnatural. After one issue we don’t know why, but in this world there are two great sins. One is sex outside of your species. The other is same sex relationships. Both interfere with the government mandate for procreation of the many species.

 

Leslie has two big problems in this life. She’s fantasizing in detail, and with increasing frequency, about sex with a wolf. She’s also just turned twenty-five and is unmarried. The former she can keep to herself, though she has shared with her roommate, but the latter means the government can now pick a spouse from within her species for her. And that’s where the first issue ends.

 

The book has the always reliable hook of sex, but like Omaha, there’s a lot below that surface. It’s a story about race, sexism, homophobia, and fascism disguised as religiously sanctioned truths. In other words, perfect for our time in America. I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes.

Just ended is the five issue run of Mat Johnson’s and Warren Pleece’s Incognegro: Renaissance, published by Dark Horse under its Berger Books line. This is a prequel to their Incognegro graphic novel that saw Zane Pinchback, reporter for the The New Holland Herald, pass as white in the Jim Crow South to write about lynching.

 



 

This story takes us back to Zane as a cub reporter, broom closet for an office and all, who pushes to pursue the story of the death of an up and coming black writer at a party celebrating the publication of a once great white writer’s first book in many years, with the assistance of the now dead young writer. As you might surmise, this one is set in the Harlem Renaissance.

 

Issues of race are forefront, of course, but homophobia, sexism, police corruption, and corporate malfeasance appear as well. We learn how Zane learned to pass in the later story. We learn about the presumptions of white supremacy and white privilege. We learn how often those are willing to briefly turn a friendly face to others as long as others serve them but will abandon them, not in a pinch (heh) but as soon as it’s convenient.

 

These are two very different books, but they effectively and entertainingly delve into the never ending issues that keep America from greatness, have always kept America from greatness, and now threaten to drown America in mediocrity at best, and perennial poverty of empathy and economics more likely.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Three Great Books and Goodbye to Steve Ditko


My reading of comics is somewhat sporadic. I have a ton of new comics to read, old collections I want to re-read, regular books and various news articles. What this means is that it is often that I’m reading something which is old news in the comic book world. Still I finished three series recently that deserve mention. Doctor Star by Jeff Lemire and Max Firuma, Grass Kings by Matt Kindt and Tyler Jenkins and Harrow County by Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook. All were complete stories with a beginning, middle and an end. In addition to that I also don’t want my column to miss out mentioning the death of Steve Ditko. So let’s take them one at a time.

First off is Doctor Star. Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormistad have created what is an analogous version of the DCU with Black Hammer. From that series Jeff has spun off some mini-series and one was Doctor Star. Written by Jeff Lemire and brought to life by artist Max Fiumara and colorist Dave Stewart. It is a story about making choices, being heroic, being a father and being a husband. Jeff pays homage to the DC Starman series by naming Doctor Star James Robinson. It is a story that interlaces adventure and heroics with Greek tragedy.  The story is one that draws on the familiarity of knowing DC super heroes but ultimately, I believe can be read without any prior knowledge. It is more of an Easter egg type thing as it adds to the enjoyment if you know it, but you are not missing anything if you do not know it.  The choices our hero makes are done for good and altruistic reasons. As a hero and with the instinct to help others you would find it hard to blame him. Sadly, those choices cause untold pain and heartbreak to his family. The ending is both sad and wonderfully touching. If I was the type to tear up, this story would have made me do it. I’m being purposely vague about details because I want to encourage any reader to go out and buy this book or I’m sure a forthcoming trade.

Second up is Grass Kings by Matt Kindt and Tyler Jenkins. The story is about a group of people who have decided to live off the grid. Inside of this setting Matt has built a story about the loss of a child and wrapped it up in a fantastically well-done murder mystery. What is so surprising about the series is that I never even felt like it was a murder mystery the whole time because the character development was so well done that I got wrapped up in knowing the players.  You really don’t need to know anything else about the story other then it is a complete story. It does leave room for future stories about the Kingdom. Matt is at the top of his game the last few years and basically if Matt is writing it, I’m at least trying it. I’d be greatly remiss if I failed to mention the art. Tyler Jenkins painted art is gorgeous. It takes Matt’s story to a whole new level and fits the story to a “T”. I loved the work so much I purchased a page from the series (seen here). The best part about this page it is absolutely the page I wanted.

Third is Harrow County by Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook. Now Cullen is a writer who I am beginning to enjoy more and more but only his independent work. Cullen and Tyler tell a story over 30 plus issues of a young girl who discovers she is a witch and how she handles her origins and everything about Harrow County. I loved the ending as it wrapped up everything in great fashion. Over the course of the story we meet many “Haints”, supernatural creators of all shapes and sizes. We meet Emmy, the main character, family, friends and extended family. You often wonder if she will make it out alive and in one way she ---- no, no spoilers. I will add that the skinless boy was one of my favorite characters in the series. Highly recommended, seek out the trade paperbacks and buy Volume 1, if you like that you will love the rest.
All three of these writers are gentleman who have been in the industry for a decent amount of time. All 3 have held jobs or still hold jobs at the big two, but all 3 shine the brightest with their creator owned work. For me the prospect of stories having a begging middle and an end is a major plus.  At this point in time I would say Jeff, Matt and Cullen are 3 of the top writers in comic books, with Tom King as another great story teller.

Finally, a quick tribute to the man, the myth, the legend Steve Ditko who died recently, reportedly alone as that was how he lived most of the last few decades of his life. Best known for Spider-Man and Doctor Strange, but the litany of characters he created include The Question, Mr. A, Static, Hawk & Dove, the Creeper and many more. That doesn’t include all the villains he created. Steve was a follower of the Objectivism Philosophy of Ayn Rand, which helps explain his very black and white view of many situations. Still he was the writer and artist for perhaps one of the best comic book stories every done, Amazing Spider-Man #31-33, the original run. The two-page spread shown here are images forever locked in my memory. The life lesson I took from that book as a young child was you must do the right thing no matter the personal cost. I have tried to live up to that ideal most of my life and have fallen short, but I have also often achieved that goal. My personal philosophy has been better to die with my principals then to live with them compromised. Steve’s future work is often over looked and criticized by many.  Personally, as I read more of his writings and his later books he raises interesting questions and things worth pondering. Whether one agrees or disagrees his viewpoints are at least worth considering.  Steve Ditko was a one of kind talent whose work will live on achieving him some level of immortality.