Thursday, March 22, 2018

Comic News that Excites Me: Part One (DC Comics)

Growing up, I was more of a DC Comics fan than a Marvel one. That doesn’t mean I didn’t like Marvel Comics though. Spider-Man was my first jam and later Daredevil helped me find the first lapsed Catholic hero I could identify with. But DC Comics held my favorite heroes: Wally West, Jack Knight, Superman, Robin (Tim Drake), Nightwing, Zatanna, Donna Troy, Kyle Rayner, Oracle, and many others. Not to mention the Vertigo comics and all of the lovely mature titles that taught me comics could be so much more than superheroes.

In recent years, DC course corrected their much-maligned New52 with the better-received Rebirth. Essentially, it was the publisher getting back to basics in what made the characters great to begin with. Some of the new stories were derivative, and yes, they tried to eat their cake and have it too. There are two different Wally Wests now, Wonder Woman’s origin was rebooted again, Batman is both a loner and a leader of an army of vigilantes, and so on.

If I had one complaint during this time, it is that they are merging the Watchmen characters into the DCU over-arcing story. I have feelings about this “creative” choice that run deep to the bone and leave bile creeping in the back of my throat. This is not the time or place to air those thoughts however.

Instead, I want to talk about the things on the horizon at DC Comics that excites the comic fan in me.

The first exciting news is that Brian Michael Bendis is coming to DC Comics and taking over Superman. He’ll be contributing to Action Comics #1000 and then he will write a Man of Steel mini-series that will dovetail into him writing two monthly Superman books. The very news of this has echoes of John Byrne all over it. Byrne relaunched Superman in the late 80s in much the same way, though he also provided art for one of the monthlies. Byrne’s relaunch remains my favorite version of the character. Clark was humanized more. His origins were streamlined and made modern. In many ways it was my favorite version of Clark as it was Superman.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Finding My Way Back or How I Learned To Love Comics Again

I spent most of my life reading comics.

To be clear, I’ve had a love affair with reading my whole life, but it all started when I was five with comics. My neighbor’s son, a high school boy, was getting rid of his comics (outgrew them I guess), and he gave them to me. He just handed me a huge pile over the short fence between yards, and those comics hijacked my imagination.

I don’t remember much about most of those first comics, but I do remember one specifically. It was Amazing Spider-Man #46. Spider-Man fought the Shocker, and for most of the story, poor Spidey had his arm in a web sling. I devoured those single issues and before I knew it, every single time my dad went to the local High’s store for cigarettes, I was begging him to let me come and get a new comic book to read. (They had a spinner rack full of comics in the back. It was a magical creation.)

I’ve read comics at all times in my life, even when people in my life frowned upon it or tried to make me feel bad about it. The haters were never a problem, though sometimes when it came from friends or family, that did hurt more. But I never gave them up, never walked away from the medium. I even read and collected comics when I spent 13 months in Afghanistan. So there.

When I was a teenager, my love of superhero comics took a slight backburner to comics like Sandman, Hellblazer, V For Vendetta, Preacher, Strangers In Paradise, Hellboy, and many other mature titles. The superhero books that interested me during this time were those that weren’t the typical fanfare. These were titles like James Robinson and Tony Harris’ Starman, Stormwatch (later The Authority) and Planetary under scribe Warren Ellis, and essentially anything Alan Moore was doing. It was during that time I went back and discovered Frank Miller’s Daredevil run and his The Dark Knight Returns.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Xombi - The Series You Missed

So, the answer to the quiz the other night was the little known series, Xombi, written by John Rozum, illustrated by J.J. Birch, and colors by Noelle Giddings which was one of the last books published under the Milestone Imprint from DC.  So, why did I read this?  Well, my LCS recently picked up a large collection of Milestone books and luckily he got every issue of the series.  Sometimes, you just have to take a chance on the older stuff.

This week I read the first 12 issues with issues 1-5 comprising the first arc, issues 7-11 the second, and issues 6 and 12 are the "down time" stories for additional characterization for all the characters.

These issues reminded me of the early issues of Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol before it got too weird, too random, and too esoteric.  There's a level of bizarre that you don't get from your normal superhero books and it's wonderful.

For the good and the bad, see below the break.

Friday, March 09, 2018

Remembering Billy Graham and When Archie Shared the Same Message


Last week my daughter Evelyn and I had a very special father-daughter outing on her Sweet 16 birthday.  We went to the US pay our respects to Billy Graham.  It was tremendous.  Not only was the weather picture-perfect and unusually warm for February, it was very moving to see his casket inside the Capitol Rotunda. The picture below is a screenshot from the C-SPAN coverage - That's me and her on the far left.

Why did we go? Just to be part of a historic event?  Because we revered him as a church leader? No.  We went to honor a humble servant of Jesus Christ, who was inspiring because he so was faithful in his calling to proclaim the Gospel to the lost souls of the world.  The memorial card shown below sums up his ministry in his own words:

Last Sunday, right before the Oscars began, Fox broadcast an excellent documentary of his life, entitled Billy Graham: An Extraordinary Journey.  I can't seem to get this link to work for me right now, but I hope it does for some of you, because you really should watch it.  To hear his booming voice again (especially in his younger years) express God's love and forgiveness and quote Scripture is thrilling to me, because I know that God's Word doesn't return void (Isaiah 55:11).  I also enjoyed hearing how he desegregated his crusades in the South (and was criticized for it) and the impact his crusades in Eastern Europe had on the end of the Cold War.  The Russians even invited him to a peace conference in the early-80s with intent to use him in propaganda, but God opened a door for him to speak boldly for Jesus.  Again, I highly recommend it even if your intent is only for the history part of it.

In case you think I may have violated Jim's directive that any of our uncensored and diverse views and commentary had to be somewhat associated with comics.  "Fear Not!" I wanted to share with you one of the Spire Christian Comics Archie books from 1973.  Even Elton John was singing about "Jesus Freaks" back then.  Was all of it legitimate or were people just taking up the latest fad?  I'm sure there was a little bit of both, but this comic is the real deal!

This book as well as all the Spire books were written and drawn by Al Hartley.  According to his wiki bio, he drew a long run of Patsy Walker issues for Marvel and was drawing a "nudie-cutie" strip for a men's magazine, when he became a Born Again Christian and decided to stop.  He was able to license the use of Archie for some of his comics.

The comic consists of a series of short Archie (or his "Pals 'N Gals") focused stories with the typical Archie humor.  There is also a few pages of direct evangelistic material. I started with scanning only a few pages, but I ended up scanning most of the book, because it's better to experience it yourself.  Click on the pictures (AFTER THE BREAK) to be able to read it better.  I apologize in advance if some of the pictures or gaps between text is a little screwy.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

The Weekend Preview - Can you Guess The Series?

This weekend I'll be talking about a series you most likely didn't read but should have! 

So, this is the double page spread of the villain in issue #5.  He's the embodiment of pollution...

"Every footstep he takes releases toxins into the air. 
His very breath chokes the air with poison.
Everything he passes dies.  Pigeons, rats, turtles, impatient lovers grappling in the bushes.  Everything."

So can you figure out the series?

And yes, that's a stove pipe coming out his asss... butt.

Sunday, March 04, 2018

Matthew: Year One (1977): Origin of the Comic Collector -- First Comics

It was too serendipitous that my return to blogging for Comics And so closely coincides with my 41st anniversary of collecting comics that I had to make my first post of our reboot about my first comics.  These days my short-term memory seems to be more Swiss-cheesed than Sam Beckett of Quantum Leap. (I couldn't remember the term "sciatica" the day after I suffered from perhaps my first bout with it last week.)  I chalk it up to advanced maturity or my James Bond style sleep schedule (you'll have to dig into the Ian Fleming novels to understand that reference).  Contrast that with some childhood memories, which never disappear.  Even though they may be faded and blurry like an old Polaroid or Fotomat 110 print, at least they're still present.  Fortunately (and I use that term linguistically for style rather than a belief in luck or fortune - "Blessedly" or "Thankfully" would be more accurate, but that would get old real fast),  we have physical evidence and ultra-cool online resources to help clear things up a bit.

The "high tech" (scotch-taped) photo stitch below depicts my original comic collection, then only a few months old circa May 1977. More detailed comments and recollections continue after the break...

Thursday, March 01, 2018

The Black Panther: A Discussion (or A Monologue, if no one comments)

Image result for black panther movie poster 

I have now seen The Black Panther twice in the last week. There’s so much about this movie that’s ripe for discussion that it could be a college course unto itself. Cultural significance. Feminism. Colonialism, past and present.  A binary view of the world. It’s a cornucopia of ideas and provocations for introspection, so much so that it should be on the Oscars list for 2018 movies, and that doesn’t even factor that it’s so big that it’s going to be a world culture touchstone. Better still, it’s highly entertaining in its milieu.


But I want to talk about two aspects of the movie. One is the question of Wakanda’s place in its fictional world. The other is the harm that damaged little boys can do as men.
Image result for killmonger's father

There’s been some discussion that N’Jadaka (Killmonger),and by extension W’Kabi, is correct to bring Wakanda to the world by force, overthrowing its tradition of isolation and secrecy, and installing itself as (benevolent) ruler over all. More, including director Ryan Coogler, support Nakia’s vision of Wakanda as a diplomatic, financial, and technological force for improving the lives of the downtrodden, particularly those descended from Africans taken from Africa as property.

Klaw describes Wakanda as El Dorado, hidden in Africa rather than South America, but the real world analogy to Wakanda is Switzerland. Both are small, mountainous nations formed from the joining of once warring tribes that have developed great wealth and comfort for their people by leveraging their resources and talents while maintaining neutrality and secrecy. Different sorts of secrecy, but secrecy nonetheless.


In recent decades Switzerland has been pressured to open its banking secrecy to benefit the wider world, particularly in pursuing criminal actions. No one argued that Switzerland should take over the world as a benevolent invader, though. No one even suggested that Switzerland owed the rest of the world any wealth or technology that other parts of the world might not have.
Image result for wakanda movie picture


Wakanda, operating quite similarly to Switzerland, is under a different burden that reflects the African diaspora and the fact that merely being black in America and the world is a political statement. There is no European diaspora that is the result of forcible relocation to other continents. Yes, the Irish fled in great numbers to America due to English oppression and famine, but they weren’t sold to America. On the whole the spread of Europeans around the globe is voluntary, often opportunistic at best and repressive or murderous of others at worst.


For The Black Panther, both the movie and the character, the Switzerland model is simply a non-starter for Wakanda. While that’s been the way for centuries, it can’t be the way of the future. The plight of other Africans and African descendants is not the same as the status of Europeans and European descendants. Is it fair to put that on Wakanda? The movie doesn’t ask if it’s fair. It asks if the balance between Wakandan safe borders and the health of the rest of the world should be changed and in what way.

A corollary question can be asked why those who advocate that Wakanda owes the world a more active, if not interventionist, existence don't advocate that the Jabari owe the world the same.  They're within Wakandan borders, but they're separate from both the world and the rest of Wakanda.  They're not so wealthy as the rest of Wakanda, but they're secure and prosperous.  Do they owe the world as well?


Coincidentally, a movie that started before anyone conceived of the regime now running the US is talking about the wealthiest fictional nation having an obligation to help the rest of the world without imposing its will on the world by force, while the US regime abdicates any form of help in the world that isn't granted via the recipient becoming a vassal state and exponentially expands the resources for forcing its will, albeit ineffectually implemented.  Not so coincidentally, the border force of Wakandan is as trustworthy with power as the border forces of the US.


Which brings us to damaged little boys. N’Jadaka is damaged by the loss of his father, N'Jobu, when he’s about 10 and by his subsequent childhood in Oakland. He carries that loss and the lessons of inequality that his father imparted before that loss to fixate on revenge for the slights the world has inflicted on him. But his revenge is directed to the whole world, regardless of culpability. He doesn’t seek justice for a wrong that may have been done to him or his father. He seeks revenge against everyone and cloaks it in a righteous mission to lift up the true people. He lies about Wakanda and its history.  It’s all very Trumpian.

Image result for killmonger's father's name


Trump is a damaged little boy, too. He wasn’t damaged in the impoverished streets of Oakland but in the wealthy skyscrapers of New York. He didn’t work and fight to achieve from little resources. He didn’t have the least intelligence. But he arrived on the stage of adulthood similarly self absorbed and willing to do anything to satisfy his desires for power, acceptance, and glory. He adopted a similar story of aggrieved righteousness for himself and the true people. He adopted the same martial mania.  He lies more prolifically than Gretzky scored goals. 

The result with both men is that they become destabilizing forces in the world, seeking the oppression of others to satisfy their own inadequacies.  Large scale death is just an acceptable collateral damage.  Both are willing to turn on an ally in an instant if it serves his own moment.

Much to ponder in The Black Panther.  That makes it art, politics, and entertainment of the highest quality.  That makes it worthy of honors from its industry.  But if those honors aren't forthcoming, they don't diminish The Black Panther.  They diminish the industry.