Archive for July, 2005

Classic Doctor Who: “City of Death” (1979)

July 31, 2005
After I was completely captivated and enchanted by the new Doctor Who, it seemed only logical to go back and catch some episodes of the original series to see how good they still are. I have very mixed memories of the series, which I probably last watched around 20 years ago. I remember really enjoying the work of Tom Baker and especially Peter Davison. I remember having a crush on Davison’s mouthy companion Tegan, and I vaguely remember assorted scenes from assorted episodes that brought me great joy. I also remember some very cheesy special effects courtesy of the penny-pinching BBC, and some very daft plotlines. I also have fond memories of reading about the long and interesting history of the program, and I’m fond of looking back at something I liked in high school as being a sort of dated dcument.
 
So I decided to try out "City of Death." This episode has a reputation as one of the finest Baker episodes, and is also known as the episode where Monty Python‘s John Cleese appears. The reputation is right. "City of Death" is prime Who, a clear reminder of why I found the series so enchanting.
 
The plot of this episode is secondary to the terrific chemisty and character interaction between Tom Baker as the Doctor and Lalla Ward as his companion Romana. Unlike nearly every companion, Romana was clearly the equal of the Doctor. The Doctor is a Time Lord, Romana a Time Lady, and she was clearly intended to be the Doctor’s equal in every way. In this episode, the chemistry between the two actors playing the two characters is palpable. I don’t know if it’s the story’s Paris setting that brought romance to the air, or that Baker’s and Ward’s reportedly tempestuous relationship was at a high point when the episode was filmed, but this episode positively crackles with high energy and chemikstry between these main characters. Their repartee is quick and wonderful, their rapport effortless. It’s no surprise that Baker and Ward later married; in this story, they seem to be completely enchanted with each other.
 
They’re aided by a terrific script co-written by Douglas Adams of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy fame. Adams was on staff of Doctor Who as he wrote the Hitchhiker’s  radio plays; Adams is predictibly outstanding at bringing his light and humorous writing style to the story. The Doctor is so insoucient and charming with the villains of the story that he’s nearly irresistable. Baker seems to float above the plot while also being true to it. The Doctor acts as if he’s above it all because he is above it all. He’s been through so many adventures similar to this one, defeated so many other evil foes worse than these villains, that he knows he will be able to defeat the villain without too much trouble. It makes Baker’s Doctor irresistable and charismatic, a truly formidible foe.
 
The only weak point is that, as I alluded to, the main plot of the episode is somewhat ordinary. There is a strange being scattered across time in differnet bodies, and they all want to reunite to destroy humanity. More or less, that’s the plot. But main actors Julian Glover and Catherine Schell are fine in their roles, and Tom Chadbon as the Doctor and Romana’s brutish ally Duggan is great as well.
 
Now I’ve done it. I’ve gotten hooked on the classic old stuff. Now I have to come back for more.
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Aquaman #59 (1977)

July 28, 2005
I picked this comic up this weekend at the Corner Comics "Golden Ticket" sale, where they had every back issue on sale for $1. The comic features art by the great Jim Aparo. Since he recently passed away, I was nostalgic for his work. Too bad this comic is an unreadable piece of crap.
 
Aparo was a consummate pro, always doing really professional and interesting work on even the most mediocre stories. He was always interested in using the most interesting camera angles and the most thoughtful panel arrangements to help tell his stories in the most interesting ways. Even on a dull comic like this one, Aparo goes out of his way to bring life to the story, to give readers more than just a simple nine panel arrangement. It’s really refreshing to see storytelling like Aparo’s these days. It’s not slick, it’s not flashy, he uses sound effects well, and doesn’t draw outside the margins. It’s fun to see his art these days.
 
The story doesn’t do the art any favors. It’s uncredited, which generally doesn’t have good implications, and is really rather pointless. This comic doesn’t have the sort of plot that is funny to make fun of, but it’s not good enough to explain either. It’s just kind of bland and generic.
 
Behind the 11-page lead story is an awful six-page story featuring Mera, Aquaman’s wife. After their little infant son is apparently killed, Aquaman and Mera go their seperate directions to try to save the boy. Paul Kupperberg, Juan Ortiz and the infamous Vince Colletta do this story, another dull stiory, this time helplessly badly drawn with typical Colletta butchery. Again, the whole thing just feel rather pointless and dull, not even worth the buck I paid for it.
 
One has to wonder what DC was thinking at the time to release such a comic. They couldn’t expect such a comic to sell well, could they? What would be compelling enough to bring a reader back? The answer, of course, is that this series was cancelled with issue #63. Nobody much cared. Aquaman has always been a hard series to sell to readers; such a mediocre series only made that problem that much worse.

Green Lantern: Hero’s Quest (2005)

July 27, 2005
I’m not a big fan of Kyle Rayner as Green Lantern. It’s not that I’m a fan of Hal Jordan or even John Stewart instead of Kyle. Rather, I just grew bored of Green Lantern in general at some point and never saw a compelling reason to come back to him. So I didn’t come into this prose novel with any real sense of expectation. Having never spent time with Kyle, I didn’t know what to expect out of him in this new prose novel. I was wide open to whatever writer Denny O’Neil presented. I knew and trusted O’Neil’s work. After all, he has been writing Green Lantern comic books for about 35 years, off and on. While O’Neil didn’t make me a fan of Kyle as GL in  Hero’s Quest, I did enjoy the book.

This is sort of a parallel universe take on Kyle. The Kyle of this novel begins as a lazy slacker, an underachiever with a crap job who lives in a disgusting apartment and has no ambitions for improving his life. When the Green Lantern ring is given to him in an alley behind a club, Kyle begins a journey in which his life changes completely. By the end of the story, Kyle has seen the galaxy, experienced wonders beyond his wildest dreams, and, most importantly, comes to realize that he has a lot more options in his
life than he ever realized.

Along the way, Kyle’s opinions of the rest of the Justice League are provided: his opinion of Superman is very funny, and I enjoyed his attitude towards Batman. Hal Jordan enters in a neat scene, and the novel presents a new take on the origin of the universe that has long been part of GL canon.

The whole thing is written from Kyle’s perspective. That makes for an alternately fun and annoying read. There were times where I enjoyed Kyle’s fresh eye on many aspects of the DCU that we fans have take taken for granted. But his slacker attitude and style was sometimes very annoying, such as when he’s endlessly mooning after the beautiful Diana.

Overall, it’s a quick, fun read that I really enjoyed. O’Neil’s novel isn’t as good as his comic book writing, but he doesn’t embarass himself either

Runners: Bad Goods (2005)

July 26, 2005

One of the great things about doing science fiction in comics is that creators can show anything their imaginations can create. Unlike movies or TV, there are no constraints of budget or time. The only constraint is the creator’s imagination. Whatever he can imagine, he can lay down on the comics page.

Sean Wang really gets that idea. In the first collection of his self-published science fiction series Runners, Wang introduces readers to a place that’s very different from where we live, where strange-looking aliens are as normal as the person down the street, and where enormous space stations are just another place to live and work. It’s a place where rogues battle each other, where spaceships are just another ordinary tool, where seemingly normal people often have bizarre and unique abilities. It’s an amazing creation in its seeming depth and cleverness. Under the hand of many creators, this might be a stale and cold exercise at universe building. Under Wang’s hand, this is a fun and inviting place to visit.

The world of Runners is bizarre and unique to Wang, a fascinating one-man show of creativity and invention. It’s funny and exciting, full of mystery and drama, all carried off with the pacing and attention to detail of a creator who really knows his world. It’s clear that Wang has thought through his world deeply and is excited to share it with his readers; there are enough mysteries and odd elements to keep this comic running for many years.

And, since I’ve been wrong not to mention it before, this is a damn funny and exciting space opera as well. Each chapter has some very funny and exciting elements. Chapter four is almost completely filled by a madcap chase through the largest and most breathtaking space station I’ve ever seen. The main group of runners, a group of smugglers living and working in unpoliced space, have run across the dread pirate Hamron the Handsome, an intensely vain and self-involved man obsessed with his appearance. In issue #1, the runners caused great psychological pain to Hamron by hurting him in a way that damaged his appearance. (I don’t want to ruin a good joke by telling you the punch line) Hamron has friends in high places, so he goes after our pals. Their run through the space station is hysterical, breathtaking fun.

There seem to be quite a few mysteries in the back story of this comic. Front and center for this volume is the background of the strange blue-skinned girl the team find on an abandoned freighter in issue one. She remembers nothing of her past and doesn’t even know her name. The search for the true identity of the girl they eventually name Sky takes up a big part of the collection, and the revelation late in the book about her origins only leads to a deeper and more interesting mystery.

Wang’s art is just breathtaking at times. His depiction of the space station and space vehicles display a ridiculous level of detail while at the same time not seeming busy. His aliens look authentically alien, but they have consistent and readable body language. His storytelling is fresh and friendly, and does a terrific job of moving the story along smoothly. I especially like the used and worn look of the world of Runners. Like the space vehicles in the original Star Wars films, these vehicles look like they’re traveled long distances and are worn and used. Wang’s world isn’t clean and tidy; instead, it looks, quite logically, as if people and other creatures live in it. 

This review sounds like a puff piece for Runners, like a press release put out by the publisher. But I was very pleasantly surprised by this tremendously inventive and intriguing comic book. My only real complaint about the book is that it sets up many mysteries but resolved few of them within its pages. A few small payoffs for the readers might be a nice prompt for us to feel like more mysteries will be solved in future issues. But this is a minor complaint. If there’s any justice, and if he can keep up his production schedule, Sean Wang’s Runners might fill the gap left by the completion of Bone. Wang’s no Jeff Smith just yet, but the potential is there.

 www.seanwang.com

Green Lantern/Green Arrow #77 (1970)

July 24, 2005
This might be the most overrated comic series of all time. The "relevant" reboot of Green Lantern was a fan-favorite when it first appeared, and has been the recipient of almost universal acclaim since then. The series has been reprinted at least a half-dozen time, most recently in an extremely high-priced hardcover collection. They are perhaps some of the most reprimted comics in the last 35 years. However, in my humble opinion, they just haven’t aged well, and don’t work well at all as comics.
 
I think part of the reputation has to come from the wonderful art of Neal Adams. His art is dynamic and exciting, and tells a story well. His art is also occassionally overwrought with emotion, over-dramatic in the extreme. It’s striking looking through this comic how often his characters seem to be in motion, with deep emotion on their faces, ready to spring into action. That works well for traditional super-hero comics, but in a story that’s intended to fit more into the real world, it feels unrealistic. It’s striking, too, how experimental Adams’s approach to storytelling is in this story. Figures often overlap panel borders, or odd forced perspectives are shown. This is all part of why Adams was such an influential cartoonist at his time, but it’s also a big part of what makes this story and series feel so odd to me.
 
See, Adams’s art is all about adding drama to the stories, making them more exciting and thrilling. In the meantime, Denny O’Neil’s stripts are all about applying realism to the stories, to having them fit within the real world of 1970. At least in this comic, he fails as well. GL/GA 77 is the story of a small mining town, called Desolation, that is being squeezed by uncaring bosses. Slapper Soames is the lead villain, who owns the law in the town, keeps the people of the town under armed guard, and generally oppresses anyone who doesn’t love him or his ways. He lives in an armed camp on a hill, has a former Nazi as an aide, and is fat and ugly, besides. There’s almost no subtlety in the story, no cases where the reader is given enough respect for making their own value judgements of the characters. Instead, everything about Soames reeks of evil. I have trouble believing this story would even appear in an episode of Mod Squad back in the day so silly and awkward is its plot. Yet here it is, the second story in an acclaimed series of comics.
 
I guess I’m just a guy who likes to question the conventional wisdom. First I praise Brother Power the Geek, one of the most despised comics of the late ’60s/early ’70s. Then I diss Green Lantern/Green Arrow, one of the most loved comics of that era. I love making up my own mind about things.

Comiculture Anthology (2005)

July 22, 2005
I started reading this collection knowing nothing more than that SilverBullet editor Keith Dallas really enjoyed this book. Dallas seems to have good taste, but I pride myself on my independence. I make up my own damn mind about what I like and what I don’t like, and I’m not going to rave over something my editor likes just to get on his good side (for one thing this is an unpaid gig anyway, so it’s not like being on his good side gains my extra cash).

But in this case Dallas and I are in total agreement. This is a great collection of stories.

The book grabbed me with its cover, of a lovestruck King Kong looking through the window of a highrise while a gorgeous woman lies in her bed, puppy at her side, reading comics. What a girl! She’s the girl of every fanboy’s dreams; Kong chose right. I chuckled, opened the cover, and found that the cover was part of a story, continued inside. I’ve never seen this idea before, for a cover to lead into a short little tale inside. It’s a very cute little twist-of-the-tail story, and really made me chuckle. It also put me in a great mood for what came next.

Comiculture contains seven long stories and three shorter ones, along with the cute cover yarn. Each one is different from the one before it. We get a travelogue from Kenya, a supernatural romance tale and a pirate yarn, among other stories. It’s such a treat to read a whole slew of stories from different genres in one convenient, high-quality collection. Each story is well-done and successful in achieving what the creators intended to do.

Take “Suffer the Salt,” the pirate story, written and illustrated by Chris Burnham. It tells the tale of a Christian pirate who is confronted by a heathen member of his crew. The crew member has gone native and worships the gods of the exotic islands that the pirates visit. As punishment, the man is punished with a keelhaul, an intensely frightening punishment that is discussed at great detail. The story is spooky and intriguing. Burham’s art is wonderfully moody, and his writing is clear and moves quickly. I want to find more comics by him.

I also want to read more stories about the erstwhile and inept witches of Don Hudson’s “Love Works Its Magic.” This funny supernatural romance tale tells the story of three girls, high school losers, who want desperately to be witches. They’re so inept they might actually know what they’re doing. Hudson’s story is light and fun. His art, though, is what makes the story really special. It looks like nothing more than the work of Marvel Comics legend John Buscema inked by fellow legend Tom Palmer. The two men were a pair of master creators; to see artwork like theirs grace such a fun little story adds a whole extra level of interest to the tale.

Marie Javins presents a wonderful travelogue of her visit to Kenya. Javins left her job as an editor at Marvel to travel the world, and has the spirit of one who’s seen a lot of the planet and knows how to deal with places that are very different from American cities. Readers learn about Nairobi (or “Nairobbery” as it’s sometimes nicknamed) because everyone there seems to have a scam. In her four pages, Javins provides readers a real feel for the place. She’s very talented at telling good stories and at helping readers to walk in her shoes. Hudson illustrates this story as well, with a looser, more cartoony style that takes the edge off of the story.

Jessica Wolk-Stanley’s “I Loved a Zombie” is, as the title suggests, an offbeat romance tale illustrated in a cute angular style reminiscent of Andi Watson’s comics. This is a wonderfully fun little yarn, full of humor and a post-modern wink towards old-fashioned romance tales.

The only story I really didn’t care for in the collection was Buddy Scalera and Alan Evans’s fantasy adventure tale “Clarissa: Down the Rabbit Hole.” I have to admit I’m a little prejudiced against fantasy adventure tales with cute creatures and beautiful girls, and this story didn’t do anything to dissuade me from my judgment. That doesn’t mean than Scalera’s story is bad (it’s just fine for what it is) nor that Evans’s art is bad (he actually does a wonderful job with a story that begs for color), but the story just didn’t work for me.

Readers also get a spooky werewolf story from Don Hudson and Vince Evans; a cute take on elderly super-heroes by Alex Zamm and Graeme Callander, an intriguing two-pager, beautifully drawn, by Mark Cooper and Allen Gladfelter, and cute one-pagers by Kerry Callen and the ubiquitous Buccellato, respectively.

Keith Dallas was right about this book. Comiculture Anthology is a winner of a book. There are some wonderful and unique stories by some intriguing creators. After reading this book, I jumped online to order more comics by these creators. You can’t get a better endorsement than that.

Brother Power the Geek #1 and 2 (1968)

July 21, 2005
I just finished writing a piece for my pal Jim Kingman’s fanzine Comic Effect on the infamous 1968 series Brother Power the Geek. If you’re not a hardcore comics geek like me, you probably don’t know the reputation this comic has always had in fan circles. Let me tell you, it’s not a well loved comic book. It’s hated, despised, laughed-at. And, you know, it’s for good reason. By any logical way of assessing quality comic books, this is a wretched book. It makes no sense, it’s weird, annoying, ridiculously dated… so why do I love it? Why did I feel a compulsion to write 2600 words defending this comic?
 
Because sometimes that which is awful is sometimes great. Brother Power is as much an auteur comic as Love & Rockets or Dark Knight Returns. Its unique setting in the the then-contemporary world of the hippies and its incredibly unconventional lead character could only have emerged from the mind of the comic’s creator, Joe Simon. This comiic is the full expression of the world of that era, filtered through Simon’s mind. It’s mainlined straight from Simon’s mind to the printed page, unfilltered and unfettered by anyone else’s vision of the book. For all its rambling, shambling awkwardness, all it goofy and bizarre pointlessness, all its wacky aimlessness, there is a soul and mind and spirit at the core of these comics that animates them in an almost magical way. The fact that people despise and laugh at these comics even after all these years shows the bizarre power of Joe Simon’s vision.
 
These are great comic books. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. No matter how they suck, they are also pure genius.

A Very Sammy Day (2004)

July 19, 2005
This was a very frustrating comic. "A Very Sammy Day" seems like it should be a wacky and quirky story of a robber who is haunted by his own bad luck. We should get slapstick scene after slapstick scene showing Sammy’s ineptitude. At least that’s what I was hoping for. Instead what I got was panel after panel of setup, and weak punchlines.

In this story, Sammy is a thief who turned informer for the police after some criminals steal money earmarked for a children’s fund. He’s given an apartment to hide out in. After getting chewed out by his landlord, Sammy goes up to his apartment. The tension builds as a whole page is devoted to Sammy climbing the stairs and opening his door. When he opens the door, two men are in there wearing gas masks and spraying something in his apartment. Sammy is startled, stumbles out his apartment door, over the railing and knocks himself out. It’s a funny moment that should set up an even funnier moment when these men confront Sammy. Instead, it turns out they’re just a couple of guys sent to fumigate the apartment. Oh well, so much for slapstick humor. It turns out that Sammy’s just a goof who overreacted. You might find this sort of thing funny. I just founded it rather pointless.

The whole comic is made up of scenes like that one – nice setups for very disappointing climaxes. It’s a shame, because the art by Azad, whoever he is, is pretty charming. The comic does read differently from any other comic on the stands, and it has a unique feel to it. It has promise. But the first step is disappointing, at least for me.

Solo #5 (2005)

July 17, 2005
To me, The most exciting news to come out of the San Diego Comicon is the news that Darwyn Cooke is going to be doing a new ongoing Spirit comic for DC Comics. The quality of the Spirit, of course, goes without saying for any true comics fan. And having such a comic be done by an artist of the caliber of Darwyn Cooke is doubly exciting, since Cooke is one of the finest creatoirs doing comics today.
 
Cooke, of course, was the driving force behind the outstanding New Frontier mini-series that came out last year, along side several other interesting projects. Cooke has always displayed a terrific reverance for the past. He stands on the soldiers of giants and glories on their achievements.
 
The most recent comic created by Cooke is the wonderful fifth issue of Solo. Solo is a comic from DC that spotlights the work of a specific artist. There have been issues devoted to terrific creators like Paul Pope, Tim Sale and Howard Chaykin. Cooke’s issue shows why he’s clearly in the same league as these cartoonists.
 
In Solo #5, Cooke is set free to play with characters and formats, colors and stories, He creates a charming framing sequence that is colorful and intimate, and has a cute two-page section of jokes and pin-ups. He also plays with different genres and styles. There’s a wonderful autobiographical story, done in black and white and subdued colors, telling the story of how a very young Darwyn Cooke became inspired to become an artist. The story, "World’s Window", ends with a charmingly quiet sequence that does a great job of displaying the connection between the child and adult Cooke.
 
"Everyday Madness" is a cute and cartoony piece about a man in love with his vacuum cleaner. Here Cooke uses a very animated style to convey a light and silly tale. He follows it with a dark and spooky tale of the Question, full of collage and dark shadows and a spooky style. If it seems a bit inconclusive and obscure, that still fits the story.
 
The bes example of Cooke standing on the shoulders of giants is "Deja Vu", a tale of the Batman that’s a sequel to a ’70s story by Steve Englehart and Sal Amendola that’s long been seen as one of the finest Batman stories ever. Cooke effortlessly invokes the mood of the original story and filters it through his own viewpoint. It’s a wonderfully dark and spooky tale, terrifically done.
 
One of the things that made the Spirit such a great strip was that Will Eisner could use the Spirit in virtually any type of story. Based on this issue of Solo, Cooke looks to be able follow in Eisner’s footsteps. There’s no finer compliment I can give Cooke.

GLA #2 (2005)

July 16, 2005
This is an interesting little comic from Marvel, exploring the more obscure and mediocre sides of the Marvel Universe. The GLA, or Great Lakes Avengers, are a bunch of loser super-heroes who are mired in their strange little corner of comics, a group of eternal second-raters who are aware of their mediocrity and still try to soldier on. This second issue sees them undertake a membership drive. Spider-Man and Wolverine turn the team down – no problem there – but, in a wonderful two-page scene, so do Hercules and Tigra, Black Bolt and Iron Fist, even the Grizzly and Brother Voodoo. Still the team battles on, trying vainly to find their newest teammate, finally recruiting Squirrel Girl. Well, she’s better than nothing.
 
This is a very entertaining comic. It’s written by Dan Stott, who did such a great job with the revival of She-Hulk last year. He’s alternately funny nand sad in his writing, making you pull for these second-raters even while you laugh at them. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next; this is a neat ride.
 
Artist Paul Pelletier does an OK job, neither great nor awful. He’s a classic Marvel artist, and therefore is a good choice for a comic like ths one.
 
The story of the Great Lakes Avengers is interesting and even a little bit inspiring. No matter what kind of adversity comes their way, the GLA keeps battling through. They’re survivors; even though the rest of the world is apathetic towards them, the team battles onward, hoping vainly that their luck will turn. Not a bad message to present.