Gladstone's School for World Conquerors riffs on the "Superhero Academy" trope, so it's obvious from the title alone that this comic will be populated by young, wannabe villains and their adult mentors. It feels like a less censorious version of something the Disney Channel or Nickelodeon would put on the air. While the tone is far from gloomy, the cast naturally imbues the comic with a certain edge not traditionally found in the formula. It's an especially odd fit to see such cutely drawn students attempting to act like typical bad guys. At first, there's a certain awkward charm in watching them learning to be evil. But by the end of this first issue, a certain adult world-weariness unexpectedly enters the proceedings, which flips attention away from the shenanigans of the juvenile characters.
The comic starts with a prologue explaining the school's origins - the tragic story of a failed supervillain who attempts to find personal redemption in the creation of the school, only to be robbed of success at the very end. This sounds like a cautionary tale, yet it appears to be meant as inspirational to the student body. What then follows is an introduction to the cast, which are predictable enough for a story centered in a school setting: The arrogant, rich jerk and his loyal toady. The introverted girl who has a crush on the popular boy. The handsome teacher and his coterie of admirers. The kids being picked on because of their disgraced parents, and the kids who bully them. There's not a whole lot that's new there, but they're all trying so hard to be evil! They're just not there yet. Good and evil are still mostly abstract concepts to these uninformed minds. Their concrete efforts follow more along the lines of kids attempting to act "cool", or "badass", or whatever slang is being used nowadays to connote toughness and rebellion. And that's kind of the point of the comic. The highlight of this issue is an entertaining schoolyard rumble between two cliques were, despite its bloodlessness, the stakes seem a little bit higher than usual. That's because as is their wont, they like to bring out the edged weapons and guns.
But then a curveball is thrown in using a flashback scene, suggesting that the conflict between at least one hero and villain might be an elaborate kayfabe under the control of unseen parties. At this point it's difficult to judge the final outcome of this glimpse into the inner workings of this world. And it's unclear how this connects back to the drama surrounding the school. Those subplots are barely laid out before the comic ends rather abruptly. There's still a lot of material in this inaugural issue that has yet to coalesce into a larger story with a clearer direction.
"Gladstone's..." is an attractive looking work, drawn in streamlined animation-style by Armand Villavert and saturated in suitably bright colors by Carlos Carrasco, each scene given its own color scheme. The character designs are particularly distinctive, which is crucial for such a large, diverse, and colorfully-dressed cast. And the aforementioned fight scene is dynamic and clearly staged. Moving forward, I anticipate that much of the pleasure derived from this series will come from how this quite capable art team will handle whatever is demanded of them by the plot.
|The third Wonder Woman TV costume (via Laura Hudson)|
Some reactions to the Wonder Woman TV series being passed over:
I don’t know if it’s cursed or what. I just have this one experience. They made a really fine pilot and Adrianne Palicki did a fantastic job. You look at what you have, what you need, and it just didn’t seem to fit in with what we were doing.
- NBC Entertainment Chairman Robert Greenblatt explaining the network's decision to pass on David E. Kelley’s high profile Wonder Woman pilot
Sure, an invisible airplane could look dopey if you do it one way, but I imagine it could be the coolest thing in the world if you do it another. I've said this before, but once you realize that Wonder Woman could absolutely get over if she were to crash that invisible airplane of hers into the front of Wayne Manor and beat the holy guano out of Batman for 15 minutes in the middle of his next movie, just punching him right down long hallways, it becomes clear that there are several ways for a character like that to work, you have just to stop fussing over the character and do one of them. Also, I figure once Thor gets over with audiences to the tune of a few hundred million, no one gets to complain about the impossible cross-adaptation task represented any other superhero character.
- Tom Spurgeon
...they overthought it. Those who followed the development of the pilot know that it was full of tweaks to the Wonder Woman concept in hopes of making her more applicable to modern culture. Joss Whedon’s failed script reportedly did the same thing. When you go down that road, you very much have to worry about “getting these things absolutely right.”
If there’s a curse, it’s the tendency of writers to “figure out” Wonder Woman to death. Why can’t she just be a strong, confident woman who beats the crap out of bad guys?
- Michael May
Wonder Woman’s a really good character, one that resonates with a lot of people, and I’d say no more fundamentally complicated or weird than Superman, Batman, Captain Marvel, Mr. Moto, James Bond or Tarzan. Her uniqueness isn’t impediment to be figured out; it’s rich source material waiting to be folded in. While I know nothing about making TV shows it seems weird to treat her like she’s uniquely problematic until she’s proven to be uniquely problematic.
- Tom Spurgeon
So what is it that causes this mental block to occur whenever they get around to WW? Why do they treat her as uniquely problematic? What is it about her that beffudles major studios while they have no problems releasing something equally unrealistic as Thor? Is Hollywood simply uncomfortable with a strong, independent, female superhero as the lead? Are they hung up on the paradox that she's both a popular feminist icon and a sex symbol? Is it because of the cheesiness associated with her costume or the last television series? Are they being overly-sensitive or overly-reverent with WW's legacy? Or is it a case of trying to balance out too many conflicting interests that have ossified around the character?
DC has such a (well deserved) reputation for having a fetish for cosmic reboots that viewed from afar, its shared universe now seems to be in an ongoing state of being remodeled with each line wide crossover. The company's upcoming summer event, Flashpoint, seems pretty straightforward as these affairs go. But even here the compulsion to revamp and "darken" their stable of properties shines through. You see, the protagonist for this story is Barry Allen, the Silver Age Flash. Dying in the mid-eighties, he was bought back to life and his personal history further revised in the 2009-10 mini-series The Flash:Rebirth. The changes involved his mother being murdered when he was a child, and his father being wrongfully convicted for the act. It turned out that one of his arch villains travelled back in time to do the deed. So yeah, one more classic property was given the tragic past that was missing from his character profile. Thank you very much Geoff Johns. With Flashpoint, Barry is now trapped in a world with a markedly different history from the one he knew. So naturally, he sets out to fix it. But really, who's to say DC won't make this the official version given the ongoing trend to encircle everyone within a vast ring of death and violence?
Okay, that was mean. DC still insists on the fundamental decency of its core characters. And Flashpoint represents what happens if that disappeared, which sounds a lot like the premise of an Elseworlds title being injected into mainline continuity. To get the point across, the first five pages present the DC universe as it should be, including an incredibly mawkish scene of Barry as a kid and his mother. Barry looks up adoringly at her as she tries to fix the family car. It then cuts to the adult Barry looking at her case file before being caught in the lab accident that gave him his super speed. The rest of the intro summarizes his life and career as a superhero. Then Barry wakes up, and like George Bailey discovering that Bedford Falls has turned into Pottersville, he's shocked to discover that he's inhabiting an alternate reality. The first thing that gives it away is that he never got his powers, hence the Flash never came into existence. The second thing he notices is that his mother is alive and well. Needless to say this sets up another sentimental encounter, which prefigures an inevitable conflict between Barry's personal happiness and his need to set history straight. It's so obviously manipulative, but the problem is it's difficult to become attached to someone who is basically a bit character, not to mention another in a long line of supporting females whose only purpose is to be a plot device used to spur the male protagonist into action.
|Barry struggles to keep his big head on his shoulders|
The third thing Barry notices is the absence of DC's iconic properties. The most important absence is naturally of Superman himself, which is usually a sign that the world has gone to heck (it's either that or he's decided to rule the world). But aside from Barry and Supes, Green Lantern and Batman are also metaphorically absent. Since Abin Sur's only useful role was to give Hal Jordan the power ring before dying, his presence as an active Green Lantern is a bad sign. And this issue's big reveal is who Batman really is, as he's not Bruce Wayne. This Batman has no moral center, meaning he has no compulsions about killing bad guys. Though only referred to but not shown, the principal geopolitical conflict is an all out war between the Western powers and the kingdoms of Atlantis and Themyscira. Turning royal figures Aquaman and Wonder Woman into genocidal conquerors is pretty cliched, and in the case of Wonder Woman, a horrible misstep. I get that they're meant to be alternate versions, but in addition to being insensitive, really lazy characterization, the portrayal of the Amazons as man-hating, castrating, harpies, feels like a waste of the relatively tiny amount of goodwill Wonder Woman's earned from fans. Did DC conclude that her image hadn't suffered enough damage from the godawful Amazons Attack, and every mishandling of the character since then?
Finally, a number of modified second and third stringers have stepped into these vacated roles. There are a few unintentionally goofy touches, like the new Captain Marvel (using the Captain Thunder alias) transformation. Overall, this motley crew of supervillains, Vertigo castoffs, and a few surprisingly obscure characters are long on nerd appeal and short on popular charisma, and they're who will carry many of the related tie-ins. Thankfully, as quickly as they're introduced, they're summarily dismissed in order to refocus on Barry Allen's quest to return to the status quo. The whole point of the main Flashpoint series does appear to be about chronicling Barry's attempt to get the band back together, so to speak. But first he's got to convince Batman after the final page not to kill him. This first issue presents a clearly told narrative, with an equally clear-cut objective. The basic plot mechanisms to drive the story forward are there. Too bad everything else needed to make the story work has to be supplied by intense fan devotion.
|This is how a geek's inner monologue would sound like if someone listened in|
|Jimbocho, Tokyo by udono|
Go to: The world's most inspiring bookstores by Megan Cytron and Trazzler
At the risk of annoying Direct Market advocates, there's few things better for a travelling bibliophile than to while away the hours at a marvelous bookstore, perusing top quality shelf porn.
Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster
Wow! Nine hundred issues. Coming from a landmark series like Action Comics, one would hope that the content within live up to such an impressively long run. This should be a comic that tells us in no uncertain terms why DC's marquee character Superman is so vitally important to the medium. It should be a celebration of the character's many and varied interpretations from some of the industry's best creators. Ideally its content should blow readers away. It certainly got people talking about Superman's supposed rejection of his American citizenship. And that does demonstrate that the mainstream still cares about Superman, if only as a talking point. As a media event, the interest is mostly superficial. Most of them probably haven't picked up a Superman comic in years. I doubt much of the vitriol expressed indicates any real familiarity with this actual comic issue. Still, it's nice to know that the character can still earn a lot of attention. As for the stories themselves, they're okay I guess, but mostly fall short of being truly memorable.
The main story combines the continuing "The Black Ring" and "Reign of Doomsday" storylines, which involves Lex Luthor manipulating his way to obtain ultimate power, while Doomsday separately kidnaps various members of the Superman family, then assembles them within a cloaked satellite. These two threads are respectively drawn by Pete Woods and Jesus Merino, which irritates me because I find the resulting dissonance between the various art styles styles unnecessary. Plus the Doomsday plot is clearly the much weaker part. He's not a particularly interesting solo character, never transcending his original purpose as a life threatening complication for Superman. However, the sudden manifestation of a new power set just dilutes his identity as a vicious slugger who likes to punch through just about anything blocking his way.
Lex Luthor on the other hand is one of those characters with proven staying power. Like most long-lived properties, he's gone through numerous interpretations: from thuggish mad scientist, criminal mastermind, to megalomaniacal businessman. But whatever form he takes, he's always been the perfect foil to Superman. DC has positioned the modern incarnation of the villain to be Superman's self-proclaimed opposite - Metropolis' abusive benefactor to contrast with Supe's genuine altruism. While the plot involving the villain being bought down by his own hubris is predictable enough, and I still have no idea how he obtained his godlike abilities even after reading the dialogue of this issue, the story's a neat summation of how big of a dick Lex can be. Given the choice between saving the entire universe and killing Superman, he barely wavers in his decision. His delusional belief that he's more human than The Man of Steel feels like an apt expression of his own ludicrous self-importance. It's perfectly rational in its own right while at the same time being completely wrongheaded, given his terrible upbringing. And the revelation of his arch-nemesis' true emotional depth is a nice gotcha moment. I thought it was a perfectly satisfactory way for Lex to get his comeuppance. But this being a continuing series, it's only a matter of time before he returns. Maybe I'm just a mark for these kind of morality tales. But without bad guys like Luthor around, Superman's kind of a bore.
The backup stories in anniversary issues are usually one-offs not meant to impact DC's larger continuity (until DC, in their infinite wisdom, decides otherwise). Damon Lindelof and Ryan Sook's "Life Support" derives its emotional pull from a fatalistic understanding that the main characters interacting during Krypton's last days will face a horrible death. Paul Dini and R.B. Silva's story "Autobiography" is a vignette were Superman listens to a previously unrevealed alien who chooses to spend its senescence as part of the Fortress of Solitude's menagerie. But its brevity is nothing compared to Geoff Johns and Gary Frank's "Friday Night in the 21st Century", which ends with a two page spread of Clark Kent and Lois Lane hosting a party with Legion of Super-Heroes as guests. Wait, that's it? Should anyone even care that they're watching football on the TV? Richard Donner and Derek Hoffman's scripted "Only Human", with storyboards by Matt Camp, adds nothing new to the Superman mythos. Depressingly, it reveals how he can be both a hero and a prick at the same time. He's only human, right?
Then there's the infamous "The Incident" by David S. Goyer and Miguel Sepulveda. Reading it doesn't change my original complaints that Superman renouncing American citizenship was technically speaking, a nonsensical ruse because of the Clark Kent secret identity vs. Superman's publicly acknowledged alien origins. But it's also a very unsubtle attempt to address real world political developments via the character's humanitarianism. DC usually tends to avoided such direct references. So is Iran going to be swept under the rug now that Goyer has had his say? Because I doubt this can be a sustainable storyline within this fantastic shared universe. The controversy being stirred up over his patriotism is of course, complete bullcrap. It needs to be pointed out that Superman didn't renounce his American-bred values. If anything he was only trying to shut down any perceived restrictions to his aspirations to take a slightly more active role on the world stage. Still, if this real world approach were to be seriously followed up in the future, it would bring him just a tiny bit closer to the behavior of The Authority and Miracleman.
I've got no problem with the pinup by Brian Stelfreeze. He nicely incorporates a number of more recent visual styles. It's funny how earlier Supes was renouncing his American citizenship, and in this picture is clearly portrayed wrapping himself around the American Flag. But I wouldn't have minded including reprinted work from the most significant artists to work on the character. And for such an occasion, it would have been nice to have made a more generous acknowledgment, outside of their names being mentioned in the story bylines, of his creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Not doing so leaves a bitter aftertaste.
|by Pete Souza|
Last week's news was a reminder of the errant power of images. Photographic images to be more specific. In this age of digital manipulation, photography is no longer upheld as the standard for absolute objectivity, if it ever was. But a lot of the debate has centered on its ability to impact emotions and change opinions. In particular, what has gotten people upset is the U.S. government's decision not to release images of the dead Osama bin Laden. The White House has claimed that the disturbing nature of these photos would only further inflame anti-American sentiments. What they initially displayed are the now iconic images of president Barack Obama and his national security team watching something the viewer isn't privy to - tantalizing due to its connection to the raid on bin Laden's compound.
Despite the reasons given, this decision is very much in line with the behavior of the previous administration in trying to avoid exhibiting death, agony and the other negative consequences of war, e.g. when they wouldn't allow images of coffins of dead soldiers being brought home from the Iraq War. And like them, they're even more adamant about not displaying the pain and suffering they bring on their enemies, let alone any innocent civilians caught in the crossfire. Putting aside conspiracy theories for now, is this a precaution to guard against even the possibility of inadvertently immortalizing bin Laden through images of his corpse? Regardless, this administration is just as determined to control the flow of images in the War on Terror as the last one. They'll probably end up being just as successful.
When the White House finally released images of bin Laden, it was a set of videos of him in when he was still alive in his compound. They're an odd set, displayed for their supposed propaganda value. I watched one television commentator proclaim that the footage of bin Laden watching televised news footage of himself demonstrated his utter narcissism, and that maybe the case. But what could be seen was the complete opposite of the colossal military might that was bought to bare against him: An old man fiddling with the controls, confined to his own house, far more fragile than the Navy SEALs sent in to kill him. This bin Laden had become a small, plaintive figure. And this was the devil that the free world had gone to war with for almost a decade.
Update: Ruben Bolling makes a reference to the videos in this cartoon.
Japan as filtered through European sensibilities. In 1997, Frenchman François Boucq tackled the emerging manga phenomena via his signature character Jérôme Moucherot in the short story Manga-Jutsu. Since the story pre-dates the manga boom, its understanding of Japanese comics is gleaned more from Dragon Ball than from Fruits Basket: referencing shonen heroes, silly fighting poses, copious speed lines, and dynamic martial arts action. It's a more limited perspective by the standards of today's market. If anything, its general view of Japanese pop culture still feels stuck in the 80s. The premise involves the comical attempts of various American and European comics characters learning how to fight, manga-style, from a wizened, old Asian master dressed in a karate-gi. Mister Miyagi would have been flattered. Given his approach, should I be glad Boucq didn't try to mimic the "big eyes" look often associated with manga characters? Because holy moly, the sensei looks like he could have played Mr. Yunioshi from Breakfast at Tiffany's.
Manga-jutsu may not be the most penetrating analysis of the medium, but at least Boucq did recognize just how unusual and innovative manga was for contemporaneous Western readers looking for an alternative. Plus we get to see Spider-Man use the "Punch of Fong" on Superman.
|Savage Dragon #145|
Sean Kleefeld reminds us that contrary to popular comic book portrayals, bin Laden wasn't just another two dimensional villain:
... He's been America's Bad GuyTM despite no one having actually seen him for the better part of a decade. He's a man so inherently evil that he even didn't deserve a trial (much less a fair one) in the same way Saddam Hussein did. He's a man so inherently evil that the government didn't even bother to TRY to claim that he took his own life rather than potentially get captured by Americans. He's a man so inherently evil that the only place he could hide would be a remote cave in the mountains.Alex Boney finds clarity in The Question story inside Solo #5 by Darwyn Cooke when sorting out the conflicting feelings arising from bin Laden's demise:
Again, I don't condone anything bin Laden said or did. I don't know what effects his death will have on al-Qaida. But I do know that this isn't a comic book villain we're talking about. Which, on the plus side, means he won't be advocating America's destruction any longer but, on the down side, means that there will almost certainly be consequences of some sort. The "Mission Accomplished" banner was premature in 2003, and I think it's be premature in 2011.
...Vic’s response is straightforward and (true to his origins) objectivist: He fights the force of violent terror with more of the same. He’s not particularly emotional about it; for him, it’s a rational, measured response. Revenge may often be prompted by emotion, but it’s also rational from a certain perspective.Kevin Melrose ponders how these real world events will affect the progress of Frank Miller's controversial graphic novel Holy Terror. Funny how real world events have rendered that project's original premise obsolete.
It’s this perspective that was useful to me last night. I felt no desire to hang a flag outside my door or chant “U.S.A.!” in the streets. For me, these responses seem out of proportion and lacking in self-awareness (both personal and national). As Eliot might say, there’s no objective correlative there. But I did feel a sense of satisfaction that the life of the man who had planned the intentional, random murders of thousands of people in my country—and continued to plan attacks that would presumably kill hundreds or thousands more—had been ended. I’m not sure if that’s revenge, justice, or simply assassination. Maybe it’s all of these things. But Cooke’s story helped me make better sense of the mixed signals that were coming in last night. And I’m glad I had occasion to revisit it.
|The Stranger cover illustration Jim Blanchard|
Daryl Cagle (via Tom Spurgeon) indexes bin Laden related cartoons. he singles out some of the more partisan ones, and those from foreign cartoonists.
Matt Bors posts his own cartoon on the matter. He also critiques some of the worst offenders of the bunch.
Signe Wilkinson comments on al Qaeda and the Arab Spring with her cartoon.
Richard Thompson reposts and old Osama bin Laden cartoon from 2001.
Tom Tomorrow reposts old cartoons here, here, here...
Noah Berlatsky connects the War on Terror to Paul Verhoeven’s adaptation of Starship Troopers. I suppose this comparison was going to happen sooner or later. is it prescience or the viewing of the movie coinciding with external events?
Matthias Wivel on bin Laden's death.
Matt Bors and Andrew Wheeler critique the infamous Hajo de Reijger cartoon of Obama presenting Osama's head that references The Lion King.
Good, and good riddance. But it’s hard to see how it changes anything important.
- Paul Krugman on Osama bin Laden's death
... the most significant way in which bin Laden's death could achieve positive macroeconomic change is by boosting the general sense of confidence Americans have in the future. A less scary world -- one in which, as economists like to say, "there is a net reduction in risk premia" -- is a world in which people feel more secure, and more willing to take entrepreneurial chances. It will be of enormous benefit to Obama and the economy if Americans attribute that sense of security to the notion that their president knows what he is doing.
- Andrew Leonard expressing the dissenting "glass half full" opinion