Sunday, April 29, 2018

Shared Universes

Author's Note: This is a bit of a ramble. I apologize for how my brain works.

This weekend Avengers: Infinity War is in full swing. I haven’t seen it yet, but I have been paying attention to the way people are responding to it. I have no doubt I’ll like it if not love it, but I don’t get to the movies as much as I wish I could anymore.  And I think I’m passed the days of seeing things on opening weekend. 

There are many Marvel characters I like, though I think I tend to be more of a DC guy.  Nevertheless, 10 years and 19 films later, you cannot deny the juggernaut (pun totally intended) that is the MCU.  They have the shared universe that movie studios desperately want, but at the moment, they are the only ones that have managed to do it successfully.

Just to reflect: Warner Bros is stumbling along with their DC Universe. Paramount is trying to reboot the Transformers with a shared universe that will include a new G.I. Joe and possibly other Hasbro properties such as MASK, Rom: Space Knight, Visionaries, and Micronauts in a string of films. Sony was toying around with combining their 21 Jump Street franchise with a Men In Black crossover/reboot, and Sony recently went into business with Valiant to develop a shared universe for their comic book properties. Universal also attempted and already failed at a shared Monster Movie Universe right out of the starting gate with Tom Cruise's lackluster The Mummy remake. These are just the major attempts at a shared universe and I am sure there are others we don't know about yet. Regardless, none have come close to replicating the formula.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

The Book of Hope ... or not.

The week I read "The Book of Hope" by Tommi Musturi

Have you ever started reading or listening or looking at some work of art and immediately realized that it was something special?  This is one of those books.

As soon as I started I could feel what a work of art it was.  I could hear the whispers of the message Musturi was trying to tell me. 

Sadly I couldn't make out a single word of what he was saying.  He was like the drunk at the bar who tries to give you life changing advice before passing out.  Yeah, I got nothing.  I can tell it's a great book but I'm not sure why.  But I will attempt below the break...

Saturday, April 21, 2018

ACTION COMICS #1000 -- A Review

Action Comics #1000 -- So good I had to buy two copies!  Actually, I spent a great deal of time deliberating on the cover I wanted most, knowing I could only afford two.  And these were just the "regular" decade variants, not the premium offerings.  I first gravitated towards the 1930's Steve Rude cover and the 1960's Mike Allred cover, but eventually chose the Joshua Middleton 1980's cover and the Dan Jurgen's 1990's cover.  There were minor imperfections along the edges of the Rude copies and the Allred one seemed too busy after closer inspection.  The background of the Middleton cover is gorgeous and it also shows my favorite version of Brainiac and Luthor again.  I think it is important that the "1000" number be extra bold.  In my opinion they used the wrong logo though. It's the Byrne-era one (1987), but the image is strictly pre-Crisis early 80's. The Jurgen's one represents my favorite version of Superman, focused on Lois and Clark, and it contains the Superman logo. Which one did you select?

 As we all know, "you can't judge a book by its cover" or at least you're not supposed to.  But in this case, the covers do a good job representing the quality stories inside. Let's explore after the break...

Thursday, April 19, 2018


Happy 80th Birthday to Superman (and 18th birthday to my beautiful daughter, Helen [who likely will never read this]!!!  In celebration I plan on doing two review posts this week on recent publications honoring this historic event.  First up, is the ACTION COMICS: 80 YEARS OF SUPERMAN - THE DELUXE EDITION HC.

Is it wrong to judge a book by MY expectations?  How about judging it by its solicitation?  Read it for yourself below:

(CA) Jim Lee Join us for the 80th anniversary celebration of the most important comic book in American history: ACTION COMICS #1, featuring the first appearance of Superman! It's an extraordinary party as we revisit stories from across the decades, featuring the debuts of not just the Man of Tomorrow, but also Supergirl, Brainiac, the Fortress of Solitude and more! See the work of generations of top writers and artists on the original superhero! Enjoy sparkling essays from literary wizards who have won Pulitzer Prizes and hit the bestseller lists, including Jules Feiffer, who relives his memories of when ACTION COMICS #1 first hit newsstands. Plus, a historical essay by guest editor Paul Levitz, and all one thousand ACTION COMICS covers presented on a special 30' x by 39.75' poster! And as a bonus, don't miss a previously unpublished 1940s Superman tale believed to be written by Jerry Siegel with art by the Joe Shuster studio, salvaged fifty years ago and hidden away until now! This new hardcover serves as a companion to the ACTION COMICS #1000 comic book coming in March!

My first complaint: no poster.  I mean, that was one of the things I really wanted to get this book for in the first place.  Although, I should have been suspicious when the dimensions were listed in feet, not inches!

Now, I don't blame my go-to hardcover online store, InStockTrades.  Every week the new Marvel and DC books are 50% off and if you spend at least $50, shipping is free and there is an additional 2% loyalty discount when buying consecutive weeks.  Since I was already getting the latest Avengers Marvel Masterworks (MMW), volume 18, featuring the awesome John Byrne issues with the secret origin of Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver (#185-187), I was going to pay the normal $4 shipping.  So, I bought this for $10.99 ($14.99-$4), instead of the listed $29.99.  At that price, I got my money's worth (and something else to write about), but there are still issues, including issues with the issues included.  More after the break.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Netflix's Lost in Space TV Series Season One (2018) -- A Review

The new Lost in Space series that premiered on Netflix 48 hours ago is PHENOMENAL!!!  I absolutely loved it and would venture to say that it is easily one of the Top 10 Sci-Fi (SyFy) TV shows of all time.  Yes, it is THAT good, especially if you like a lot of science in your science fiction.  I watched the first 9 episodes on Friday, which included viewing the first episode twice.  Saturday, I watched episode 10 and after a harrowing hour of rookie driver instruction, sat down for the 11th.  But it was already over! "Oh, the pain.  The pain!"

Speaking of pain, my wife figured out what we owe in taxes this year.  You've got until the 17th to file in case you thought it might be due today.  Thus, ends the public service announcement portion of this post.

Everything about the look of Netflix's Lost in Space is incredible.  The sets and equipment are wonderful, modern "realistic" updates of the classic series.  The Jupiter 2 is round enough to evoke the iconic saucer appearance that I love so much with the addition of vital functional features (like rocket engines).  And the chariot is still the best looking mini-van on any planet!  The costuming is top-notch from the spacesuits to the fuzzy-hoodie jackets, both of which use some of the coloring from the original show.  The special effects are on par with any blockbuster movie.  The Robot is the most different looking "machine" (Sorry, Robot), but it's super cool too.

Kazu Kibuishi's (Harry Potter cover artist) first ever drawing
of the Lost in Space Robot from the 2017 Baltimore Comic-Con)
If you've ever had to suffer through the 1998 movie version, "Have no fear", this version encompasses all the best concepts and stories from Irwin Allen's most famous creation, meaning nobody is dressed up like a carrot.  My thoughts on the first season's story and the characters continue after the break, but "WARNING! WARNING! SPOILERS, WILL ROBINSON!!!"  Seriously, if you want to be surprised, watch the show first and then see if you agree with my assessment afterwards.

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Invincible, From Beginning to End

I did it. As promised I re-read the entire Invincible series from issues 1-144. None of the ancillary series that spun out of it. Just the motherland. So here’s what I think. And SPOILERS. You’ve been warned.


This epic is the work of Robert Kirkman, Ryan Ottley, and Cliff Rathburn, for those who don’t know. Corey Walker was the co-creator with Kirkman and preceded Ottley, but Ottley did most of the work. Published by Image, of course.Image result for image invincible covers


Invincible the book is a good look at the development of Image as a publisher. The book started as superhero derivative, attempted to ape the Big Two, and grew past that to be an independent story that broke ground and told an excellent story.


The launching conceit was that a Superman like hero called Omni-man (Nolan Grayson) has a son (Mark) with a human woman (Debbie). Mark develops the same powers by his senior year in high school and adopts the name Invincible. The series follows the growing pains of a new young hero, right down to a Teen Titans aping group called the Teen Team, juniors to the JLA knock off Guardians of the Globe.


By the end of the opening twelve issues the story takes an Alan Moore turn when it’s revealed that Nolan’s Viltrumite people aren’t benevolently protecting Earth to aid in human develop but are preparing it for conquest and incorporation into the Viltrumite Empire. The reveal is Nolan killing all his Guardians teammates and nearly killing Mark when the latter refuses to go along.


Image result for image invincible coversThe series rolls into the better forgotten time of an Image wide crossover event that centers on somewhere under 20 versions of Mark from other dimensions trying to take over the world. There are a lot of versions of Mark that are ok with world dictatorship and mass killing.  It would have been a great story if limited to Invincible and the many superhero teams Kirkman had already created in that world, but it involved all the remotely superhero characters Image published. Fortunately it didn’t involve The Walking Dead, but it was unwieldy and unsatisfying as you'd expect from a crossover event.


This is when readers learned that Atomic Eve (Samantha Eve Wilkins), love interest to Mark, is effectively immortal. With the dangers she and Mark frequently faced, it was handy that both she and Mark are near immortal. Nolan was over 1000 years old and still in his prime at this point. Mark was likely to follow.


The series runs through more alternate dimension stories and a lot of forays off Earth. Nolan is redeemed as a goodish guy. Mark winds up with a half brother, Oliver (Kid Omni-man) from Nolan’s time hiding after the big fight with Mark. Mark and Eve have a daughter, Terra.


The series is best when it’s about the characters. Mark and Eve can be a little trying with their various arguments, but they are the core and are realistic in their fears as young lovers and young parents.


Perhaps the two biggest social issues addressed during the series are abortion and rape. The former does the most benefit by considering abortion a medical decision between a woman and her physician. There’s not even a hint of a specious argument that anyone else is or should be involved.Image result for image invincible covers


The rape story is a bit more problematic. Mark is raped by another Viltrumite when she refuses to follow orders to mate with a human and thinks Mark is a better choice as a half Viltrumite. Mark’s reaction and feelings of guilt and shame are a great exploration of what it means to survive rape. The problematic is the reformation of the rapist by her eventual development of feelings of affection for a human. She’s never punished in any way for the rape. It’s quite like church sexual assault cases that get a round of applause for confession. Interestingly, this story occurred before that incident.


But forgiveness is one of the two major themes of the book. Nolan is forgiven for killing the Guardians and thousands of civillians. Mark forgives Dinosaurus. Amanda (Monster Girl) forgives Rex/Rudy (Robot). Eve forgives Rex (Rexsplode). Everyone forgives Immortal. Mark forgives Allen the Alien. Nolan forgives Thragg. Some of the forgiveness works out better than others. It’s a mixed bag on forgiveness.


The other theme is ironic with an atheist writer. There’s a real argument that the conclusion of the book is that benevolent deism is a good thing. Throughout the story characters try to rule Earth, the known universe, or both. Some are purely in it for personal gain or revenge. Others are claiming to act for the benefit of all


Image result for image invincible coversThe most significant is Robot who implements a dictatorship of his unparalleled intelligence. Mark opposes him, in fits and starts, but the end result is not only that there remains a behind the scenes dictatorship over all of Earth headed by an immortal duopoly but also Viltrumites become a similar universal force to such an extent that a federal system of planets is dissolved. Very curious conclusion.


I would have like more time to develop that but the series felt like it rushed to the end, especially in the last issue. Up to that point the story felt like it moved as originally intended. Terra was a great six year old character with a lot of future. The last issue rushed through her future and that of many others, yet still left the stories of Debbie and Zandale (Bulletproof) unresolved.


Which brings up another point. It’s an overwhelmingly white story. Characters who aren’t white include Bulletproof, Black Samson, Dupli-Kate, Multi-Paul, Darkwing, Elephant, Scott, an unnamed but oft seen Viltrumite, and Best Tiger. Only Bulletproof is at all developed as a character, and his development abruptly halts and is never pursued or resolved. Then again, there’s exactly one not straight couple, half of which is often a petty, self-absorbed tool before suddenly being much better after finding the partner who works. Considering how much more Kirkman has developed a wide variety and wide number of characters in The Walking Dead, the same would have been nice in Invincible.  The two books have been around a similar amount of time, though fewer issues for Invincible.


Image result for image invincible coversSimilarly, in a book that doesn’t shy away from graphic violence or “language” the prurience about depictions of sex is disappointing. People fuck a lot in this book, but there’s never a realistic depiction of how that looks. It’s network TV cover and angle. Again, The Walking Dead has had realistic nudity in the appropriate situations. It’s been years seen I’ve seen any, but it has. I know Kirkman has addressed it as a ratings/availability thing that a superhero book audience has, but given the massive popularity of The Walking Dead that far exceeds Invincible, I don’t find the argument compelling.  Less so with the spot on depictions of sex in Image hit Saga.


Overall Invincible is well worth the read. Image found its footing as a great place for creator owned stories during this run and the book benefited from the company’s and its writer’s growth during that time. There are a lot of great areas for discussion amidst a story that was well told. I suspect the rushed feeling of the final issue is a window for the creators to return to it sone years on if the urge arises, but the final as it stands left quite a bit unresolved if it is a final.

Sunday, April 01, 2018

Raising Kids with Comic Books

It’s no secret that I was raised in a comic book store. I attribute my strong early verbal skills to comic books as well as some of my sense of right versus wrong. All things considered, I think I turned out okay, and as a result I decided early on to share my love of comic book stories with my son. I thought I’d share some of the things that I’ve observed in regards to raising a child with comic books.

First – some kid appropriate superhero stuff:

Anything Lego Superheroes – awesome! Phonics books, movies, graphic novels, step books, and actual Lego kits, video games…

Image result for lego dc superheroes

Batman and Superman Phonics books – good for after you’ve gone through a slightly more basic phonics program

Justice League animated series (Batman and Superman as well) – these are some amazing comic book stories appropriate for ALL ages. These are some of the best superhero stories I’ve experienced AND they have the best animated version of the Legion in JLU. The Supergirl/Brainiac 5 romance alone is worth it.

Image result for animate Legion of superheroes justice league unlimited
What should have been the LSH animated characters...

Legion of Superheroes Animated Series – I dislike this series. They took my favorite character (Brainiac 5) and made him a lame robot. Ugh. I just couldn’t watch it. However, my husband showed our son the series and they enjoyed it. I actually love the idea of kid appropriate LSH material, but there is not a lot out there that isn’t older material. I expect my son will read my Archives one day, but we are going to finish reading A Wrinkle in Time first. As a side note the Legion does show up in the animated shows and the Lego material here and there – we do have a cool Cosmic Boy minifigure!

DC Superhero Girls (I both like this idea and am annoyed by it, I wish the boys in the show were less lame. I’d like my son to see everyone working together equally)

The new JL movie – my son loved this. As a bonus they were fighting parademons, pretty straight up bad guys. I’ve never let him watch Dawn of Justice because I didn’t want to explain why two good guys were beating the crap out of each other (same for Civil War).

Superhero novels (mostly Step into reading books) – these bore me to tears, but my son likes them

Batmobiles and assorted superhero cars – these never get old and my son acts out pretty elaborate dramas. He actually mimics the ethical dilemmas from his other stories sometimes.

There’s more out there, but that’s a decent starting list. Here’s some of what I’ve actually tried to teach him using superheroes and comic books:

Image result for superman fighting someone
It's always okay to punch Lex Luthor in the face kids!
Teaching Right from Wrong

This has been a difficult area to work with in regards to my son only being 5. He understands the basics of good versus bad behavior but a lot of the more complex dilemmas are hard for him to grapple with at the moment. I’ve found that I run into some gray areas with stuff like Batman. We’ve had to talk about the differences between when it’s okay to fight and when it is not. We, like many other parents, started off with the blanket rule that hitting is bad. However, obviously, Batman and a majority of the other heroes hit. So, then you have to explain that they are hitting bad guys but that doesn’t really work that well. Eventually we explained that they are hitting bad guys to protect other people. The rule had been that hitting is bad unless you are protecting yourself or other people – and that we should ALWAYS try to get help first.

The one thing I found to be extremely helpful was using a lot of the Lego superhero material. Since it is geared towards kids (mostly) the messages are a bit clearer for a younger age group. Flash has to learn how to slow down and make a plan, Batman has to learn how to work well with others, the first rule of being a ninja (Ninjago) is a ninja never quits… good, easy to understand lessons for kids.
Beyond the Lego material it’s surprisingly difficult to find kid appropriate comic book material these days. The more adult-oriented material has a lot of mixed messages that are harder for a 5-year-old to understand. The older JLA and JLU animated series is great, but some of the newer animated series can get a bit dark. As far as actual comic books it’s nearly impossible to find anything that works. There’s Mouse Guard, Tellos, and other non-superhero stuff but as far as mainstream comics they all cater to adults only it seems. Which leads me to teaching reading using comic books – and also back to Lego again.

Teaching Reading with Comic Books

Given the sparseness of kid appropriate (and non-crappy) superhero comics I had to find an alternative. Luckily Lego Ninjago comes in graphic novel form! I started picking these up for my son and he fell in love with them. The reason I use these rather than a multitude of other kid appropriate graphic novels is because my son already recognizes the characters. He enjoyed Tellos, but he couldn’t figure the stories out on his own as well. The Ninjago graphic novels are side stories based off of the TV series (except the Dark Island Trilogy, which is a stand-alone storyline). My son can interpret most of the story from the pictures and it has motivated him to learn how to read. I didn’t realize how much this had improved his skills until we started a 100-day reading program.

Image result for tomb of the fangpyre

We have been using the Distar 100-day reading program and are currently on day 46. Part of the program includes picture comprehension that is based on the readings. My son caught on to this part of the program faster than I expected, and I realized it was due to reading graphic novels. He had gotten used to merging picture and word comprehension.

Image result for lego superhero phonics booksWe’ve also been using Superhero phonics books to supplement the program and give him more practice. The Batman phonics books are decent, although a little advanced for a starting reader (they’ll be fine once he’s finished the reading program). The Lego DC phonics books are just about perfect for his level, and I plan of getting the Superman phonics books somewhere down the line.

Again, he is more motivated to read when he recognizes the characters, he is able to use the pictures as context when he’s struggling to read a word, and he has picked up some of the more advanced words just because they are used fairly frequently in line with comic book lingo.

Teaching Emotions with Comic Books

This is a surprisingly easy area to build on, if nothing else to teach someone how not to handle their emotional issues. Due to the nature of superhero-ing the characters often struggle to deal with powerful emotions so when we read comic books I often ask my son to explain why someone is acting a certain way. He can tell me that Batman is sad and misses his parents, and he can tell me that Wonder Woman doesn’t like to see people get hurt so she wants to help them. It’s been a pretty good tool for early explorations of human emotion and reactions to emotional states.

And lastly, Discipline with Comic Books

Bad guys go to Arkham Asylum. Knowing this is usually enough to convince my son he doesn’t want to misbehave, haha. If things get really bad we can always introduce the Phantom Zone!

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Your kids won't enjoy this time out location!

If you've made it this far, thanks!

I will now shameless plug my archaeological research in Pompeii - please share, and (if you can) donate :) Archaeologists help prevent powerful artifacts from falling into the hands of evildoers, support Archaeology!

Oh, and just in case you were wondering, here is Cosmic Boy with Lego Gwen (archaeologist) and Lego Jen (chemist) exploring the Ninjago lighthouse. Because it's awesome.