9/16/2017

Sheena #0 & #1

Sheena, Queen of the Jungle #0 Story: Marguerite Bennett, Christina Trujillo Art: Moritat Colors: Andre Szymanowicz. Letters: Thomas Napolitano Covers: Emanuela Lupacchino, Fabio Mantovani, J. Scott Campbell, Sabine Rich, Moritat, Andre Szymanowicz, Ryan Sook. Sheena created by Will Eisner and Jerry Iger.
Sheena, Queen of the Jungle #0
Story: Marguerite Bennett, Christina Trujillo
Art: Moritat
Colors: Andre Szymanowicz.
Letters: Thomas Napolitano
Covers: Emanuela Lupacchino, Fabio Mantovani, J. Scott Campbell, Sabine Rich, Moritat, Andre Szymanowicz, Ryan Sook

Sheena, Queen of the Jungle #1 Story: Marguerite Bennett, Christina Trujillo Art: Moritat, Dimi Maheras Colors: Moritat, Casey Silver Letters: Thomas Napolitano Covers: J. Scott Campbell, Sabine Rich, Ryan Sook, Moritat, Andre Szymanowicz, Carli Ihde, Michael Atiyeh, Cosplay Photo.  Sheena created by Will Eisner and Jerry Iger.
Sheena, Queen of the Jungle #1
Story: Marguerite Bennett, Christina Trujillo
Art: Moritat, Dimi Maheras
Colors: Moritat, Casey Silver
Letters: Thomas Napolitano
Covers: J. Scott Campbell, Sabine Rich, Ryan Sook, Moritat, Andre Szymanowicz, Carli Ihde, Michael Atiyeh, Cosplay Photo

Sheena created by Will Eisner and Jerry Iger.

Despite being one of the more popular characters from comics Golden Age, Sheena has fallen into partial obscurity as the jungle queen archetype declined in popularity. I should note that I don’t really follow the character, which makes it difficult to trace her history. Sheena has bounced from one publisher to the next, with her continuity being adjusted along the way. Sheena was transplanted from Africa to South America during the 1980s, distancing her from her original but regressive “Darkest Africa” setting. Her last comics appearance was published by Moonstone Books. That series took its cue from a reboot written a decade earlier by Hollywood writer Steven E. de Souza for Devil’s Due Publishing. As was his habit, de Souza located Sheena in the banana republic of Val Verde (the same settings of the movies Commando and Predator). Her biological parents were changed to be an American man and a local woman. I presume this was done to avoid the equally regressive convention of a displaced white saviour living with the natives and becoming their leader/greatest warrior. This latest incarnation from Dynamite Entertainment follows in the steps of the de Souza reboot.

Sheena held one advantage over other jungle queens which has kept her from completely vanishing from our collective memory - her iconic appearance. Jungle queens have always catered to adolescent males. But Sheena popularized the fashionable leggy blonde who wore an impractical leopard-skin swimsuit, a choice which allowed for both the display of ample cleavage and maximum freedom of movement. It’s a  look that’s been shamelessly copied many times, with diminishing returns. And none of her imitators could claim to be the first female character to headline her own title, making Sheena a pioneering figure for the statuesque “Amazon” beauty as heroic lead. The prevalence of this body type in comics has since come under considerable criticism for promoting a pretty narrow view of women in general, and rightfully so. Not that the Dynamite comic makes any apologies for this piece of the character's legacy.

Sheena, Queen of the Jungle #0 Story: Marguerite Bennett, Christina Trujillo Art: Moritat Colors: Andre Szymanowicz. Letters: Thomas Napolitano Covers: Emanuela Lupacchino, Fabio Mantovani, J. Scott Campbell, Sabine Rich, Moritat, Andre Szymanowicz, Ryan Sook. Sheena created by Will Eisner and Jerry Iger.

Hiring Moritat to be the series regular artist certainly doubles down on these qualities. But he’s still a bit of an unconventional choice. His anime-influenced aesthetic is a departure from the more familiar good girl art of past cartoonists. Moritat’s beautiful women are not what is often referred to as classically proportioned. They’re all voluptuous torsos and limbs that go on forever. His figures are elongated in a way that the anatomy doesn’t always seem to properly hold together. Sheena is drawn with juvenile facial features which imbue her with an unexpected and strangely elf-like bearing. This is further enhanced by the digital coloring which gives her darker skin tones than past versions. Moritat’s Sheena seems like a deliberate move away from the more traditional caucasian-looking portrayal of the character. But she also doesn’t resemble anyone hailing from any country in the real world.

This hazy exoticism extends to the rest of the story. The plot requires Sheena to enter an ancient ruin already covered up by jungle overgrowth. Despite its state of advanced decay, the structure’s various boobytraps are still in working condition because off course the are. Now I realize that Val Verde is a fictional nation, but seeing as how it’s also supposed to be located in South America, I found it odd that the ruin’s architectural details more closely resembled ancient South Asian art than anything found in pre-Columbian cultures. Later on, Sheena defends the tribal inhabitants of the jungle from the armed goons of a greedy multinational corporation bent on strip mining the place. The portrait of the natives are fairly generic: diminutive brown-skinned people who wear loincloths, carry primitive spears, and live in thatched houses. The attempt simply feels lazy.

Sheena, Queen of the Jungle #0 Story: Marguerite Bennett, Christina Trujillo Art: Moritat Colors: Andre Szymanowicz. Letters: Thomas Napolitano Covers: Emanuela Lupacchino, Fabio Mantovani, J. Scott Campbell, Sabine Rich, Moritat, Andre Szymanowicz, Ryan Sook. Sheena created by Will Eisner and Jerry Iger.

So at this point, there’s not a whole lot to recommend the comic if you’re not already a fan of Moritat’s brand of cheesecake. Or the alternative covers drawn by other artists. The most intriguing part of the story right now is that Sheena has experienced at least two separate encounters with flying drones being operated by an unidentified male university student or professor searching for something lost in the jungle. It’s kinda creepy that someone has the ability to spy on Sheena from the air, even though those encounters are purely accidental.

But for me, the most baffling sequence involves a camera. When she was prancing around the ancient ruin, Sheena finds an abandoned 35mm SLR camera which still contained a canister of exposed film. Despite her unfamiliarity with the device, Sheena instinctively pockets the canister. After she escapes and reaches the open air, Sheena unspools the film from inside the canister and examines a single frame of what is now a magically processed roll of color negatives. WTF! Just because virtually everyone takes pictures with digital equipment these days is no excuse for this kind of slapdash storytelling.

Sheena, Queen of the Jungle #1 Story: Marguerite Bennett, Christina Trujillo Art: Moritat, Dimi Maheras Colors: Moritat, Casey Silver Letters: Thomas Napolitano Covers: J. Scott Campbell, Sabine Rich, Ryan Sook, Moritat, Andre Szymanowicz, Carli Ihde, Michael Atiyeh, Cosplay Photo.  Sheena created by Will Eisner and Jerry Iger.

9/09/2017

Calexit #1

Calexit #1, Story: Matteo Pizzolo Art: Amancay Nahuelpan Colors: Tyler Boss Flats: Dee Cunniffe Maps: Richard Nisa Letters: Jim Campbell Flags: Robert Anthony Jr. Assistant: Philip W. Smith II.
Story: Matteo Pizzolo
Art: Amancay Nahuelpan
Colors: Tyler Boss
Flats: Dee Cunniffe
Maps: Richard Nisa
Letters: Jim Campbell
Flags: Robert Anthony Jr.
Assistant: Philip W. Smith II

Secession has become a regular part of American political discourse because it’s mostly just wishful thinking. The consequences for any state attempting to secede would be disastrous. Without outside intervention or the state's declaration of independence inspiring a much wider popular uprising throughout the country, the U.S. military would face fewer obstacles and easily outmatch any local standing army. And if the federal government does become a truly fascist regime as some well-heeled liberals fear will happen in the near future, it won’t have any compunction operating in the most ruthless manner to suppress even the most nominal opposition. All of these anxieties inform the bleak setting of Calexit, a collaborative effort from writer Matteo Pizzolo and artist Amancay Nahuelpan. The comic doesn’t actually begin with California’s declaration to secede. It shows what happens after the U.S. National Guard has been sent in to keep the upstart state from leaving the Union. This is a story of the resistance being driven underground and seeing no option but to wage asymmetric warfare on the occupying forces and their collaborators.

Calexit is not a subtle work. The comic extrapolates the country’s divisive political climate since the 2016 elections and dials it up to eleven. There’s no doubt who the story's fictional president is meant to resemble, both in physical appearance and his word salad style of oration. A throwaway line about certain retail chains boycotting the first daughter’s fashion line mirrors the real world administration’s all to familiar nepotism. And let’s not forget its flagrant xenophobia. Calexit quickly reveals that the action which triggers California’s defiance is an executive order signed during the president's second term, calling for “the immediate deportation of all immigrant civilians not recognized as U.S. citizens.” To quote the words of a wise man in order to summarize the effects of the process, "Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering"

Calexit #1, Story: Matteo Pizzolo Art: Amancay Nahuelpan Colors: Tyler Boss Flats: Dee Cunniffe Maps: Richard Nisa Letters: Jim Campbell Flags: Robert Anthony Jr. Assistant: Philip W. Smith II.

The main villain however is Father Rossie, the government’s point man in rounding up California’s immigrant population and squelching the resistance. He’s the kind of over-the-top James Bond villain who loves to watch people squirm while he monologues about how they’re all going to die. He’s also drawn to look like a latter day Steve Jobs when he was finally succumbing to cancer, with a dash of the creepy Mr. Burns for good measure. Playing Princess Leia to Rossie’s Governor Tarkin is the headstrong Zora McNulty, an immigrant on the run and a leading figure in the resistance. We know she’s a big deal because several well-off L.A. residents would sooner die at Rossie’s hands before revealing to him Zora’s whereabouts. And Calexit even has its own Han Solo figure in Jamil, a happy-go-lucky smuggler inadvertently caught in the conflict between the two.

Jamil is the main POV character, and his ability to get along with both sides allows us to witness the terrible conditions of the occupation. He supplies a Guardsman anti-depressants because they’re not exactly legal. Jamil has a friendly conversation about his profession with Rossie. He passes by an entire neighborhood razed to the ground by a pro-government militia without batting an eye. The comic’s main contention is that internal divisions within the state had already doomed California even before the federal government put boots on the ground. Many of its residents would have supported the executive order had it been enacted in real life.

Calexit #1, Story: Matteo Pizzolo Art: Amancay Nahuelpan Colors: Tyler Boss Flats: Dee Cunniffe Maps: Richard Nisa Letters: Jim Campbell Flags: Robert Anthony Jr. Assistant: Philip W. Smith II.

This topicality makes it complicated to assess Calexit as an object. There’s a rawness to the art that imparts an unfinished quality, especially in the flat color palette. There’s also a sense of urgency throughout which transcends the usual objective of producing a comic book. Calexit presents an extreme forecast of the future in the hopes of heading it off. This urgency has only grown since its initial conception. Pizzolo explains in the afterword that when he was writing Calexit, “We didn't know the winning presidential candidate would lose California by nearly 2-to-1, a margin of almost 3.5 million votes. We didn't know the day after that President took power, the largest mass demonstration in history occurred, and the state with the largest turnout was California. We didn't know that California’s two major international airports, LAX and SFO, would be blockaded by furious protesters… I think one thing we can all agree on is that shit’s been hurtling into the fan at an accelerated pace lately.”

Of course, we could still end up being spared a second term.

8/31/2017

More NonSense: Jack Kirby Centennial

Comic-Con International 2017 Souvenir Book cover illustration, Jack Kirby Tribute by Bruce Timm.
Image via The Beat

Jack Kirby, the King of American comics, would have been 100 years old this August 28. The Jack Kirby Museum has a number of events celebrating his centennial.

Kyle Pinion recommends 10 must-read single issues from the King.

Jeet Heer on the King.

Walt Simonsson talks about the influence of Kirby.

Comic-Con International has made its Kirby's 100 tribute book available for download.

Marvel has a Kirby tribute page.

Heidi MacDonald has a few images of Kirby.

Kabuki Nagata of the Japan Times reports that digital manga sales might have overtaken its paper counterparts. That's a huge portent from the world's largest comic book market.
Thanks to smartphones, many people have changed how they read manga, with a myriad of e-comics just a few taps away on their handsets without the need to carry print versions. 
The rise of digital manga is also changing the landscape of the traditionally closed manga businesses as well. Seeing growth potential, many firms, not only existing publishing houses that dominated the era of paper comics but also tech and overseas players, have jumped into the market with manga apps. 
In the meantime, people in the industry say the paper market is likely to keep shrinking and its future remains uncertain. Some are seriously concerned about the fate of manga magazines, which have long served as mediums to introduce new titles, as their role is being taken over by smartphones.
Congratulations to the 2017 Hugo Award Winners.

Asher Elbein acknowledges the work of colorists and letterers.

Geoff Johns, Holy F*&!

8/27/2017

Solanin

Solanin, By Inio Asano Assistants: Yuichi Watanabe, Takashi Kondo Translation: JN Productions Touch-up/Letters: Annaliese Christman Design: Amy Martin.
By Inio Asano
Assistants: Yuichi Watanabe, Takashi Kondo
Translation: JN Productions
Touch-up/Letters: Annaliese Christman
Design: Amy Martin

It’s no longer an original observation to point out that the boundaries between adolescence and adulthood have become hopelessly blurred. Stories about contemporary youth working through the disappointment arising from quashed dreams, failed relationships, unsatisfying career trajectories, while wondering when they’ll grow up, are familiar territory, especially to an audience living in developed nations. Nowadays, personal crisis is simply to be anticipated with every major turning point. I blame the economy for our present melancholia. At any rate, when Solanin was first published in english back in 2008 (the year I began this blog), there weren’t any manga around that closely resembled it. Most manga being translated at the time could probably be stereotyped as being focused on the more juvenile end of the emotional spectrum: fantasies featuring rebellious boys showing off their cool fighting moves or doe-eyed girls immersed in maudlin romance. But manga readers were already growing up, and publishers had to keep up by dipping into a greater range of works from Japan. Solanin can be excruciatingly beautiful in its down-to-earth realism. It’s a manga that will most likely resonate with anyone who's ever been accused of being a slacker, a dreamer, a snowflake, or a man-child. At over 400 pages, it’s an extended meditation on youth struggling with the contradictions of a modern society that pays lip service to self-expression while demanding its members tamp down on all that nonsense and grit it out. Making his official english language debut, creator Inio Asano doesn’t attempt to find an answer. He just keeps it intimate and personal with a small cast.

Solanin arrived when Naruto and Fruits Basket were still defining the manga aesthetic to many western fans. Asano’s art (with help from his credited assistants Yuichi Watanabe and Takashi Kondo) could still be recognized as manga in appearance, but certainly less kawaii in execution. His youthful cast often look uncomfortable inhabiting their own bodies. They haven’t yet completely shed their baby fat, or the gangly forms of their teenage years. And there’s the half-assed facial hair found on the male characters serving as a constant reminder of oncoming maturity still delayed. The visuals are not only as detailed as anything found in manga, but realistic to the point that they’re clearly being photo referenced. The overall results are not exactly attractive. Sometimes the cluttered backgrounds can even be a little distracting to the action taking place in the foreground. But the Tokyo of Solanin definitely feels lived-in: an actual city haphazardly composed of narrow and overcrowded streets.

Solanin, By Inio Asano Assistants: Yuichi Watanabe, Takashi Kondo Translation: JN Productions Touch-up/Letters: Annaliese Christman Design: Amy Martin.

Asano’s meticulous approach is designed to convey the mundane existence of Meiko Inoue, a twenty something women stuck in a dead end job working as one of Japan’s countless office ladies. She cohabits her riverside apartment with her boyfriend Naruo Taneda, whom she calls Taneda. He’s also ensnared in his own thankless work routine he couldn't care less about. Meiko sees in her colleagues nothing but moral compromise. “Adults are made of ‘who cares?'... As long as I’m not caught, who cares?... They pay well here, so who cares?” When she finally can’t stand being surrounded by their mediocrity, she quits. Meiko’s now free to pursue her passions, only to discover she has no clue as what to do with all her free time. Her unemployed status makes Taneda the primary breadwinner of the household, something he gradually comes to resent. Asano’s careful tracking of the growing fiction in their relationship is one of the highlights of the manga. Taneda says all the right things wanted from a supportive boyfriend when Meiko announces her decision to quit. But the subtle sadness expressed by his face and body tells an entirely different story. Taneda fails to meet Meiko’s eyes whenever they begin to have a heartfelt conversation. Before long, his inability to communicate his true feelings causes Taneda to fall into a funk.

But Taneda finds likeminded company in the form of his friends Rip and Kato. The three had formed a rock band during their time in college, and they continue to maintain it as a hobby of sorts. In the meantime, Rip and Kato have each settled into their own respective rut. Neither of them believe they’ll ever achieve anything of great consequence with the band. However, it’s not long before Meiko begins to prod them into taking it more seriously. This sets up the principal thematic conflict: whether it’s better to reach for your dreams even when they’re obviously unrealistic. Or is it better to coast through life knowing your limitations?

Solanin, By Inio Asano Assistants: Yuichi Watanabe, Takashi Kondo Translation: JN Productions Touch-up/Letters: Annaliese Christman Design: Amy Martin.

Asano spends the first half of Solanin slowly ramping up the tension between his young quartet. It’s delightful low-key stuff built around elliptical conversations that first seem to be heading somewhere, only to veer off when something new catches their attention. The little arguments that Meiko and Taneda have are the kind of fights which stem when people circle around the main topic they’ve been studiously avoiding. These many interactions work because of the expressiveness of Asano’s character designs. But there’s a huge plot twist that occurs at the very middle of the story which slightly alters the tone of the manga. What began as a quiet slice-of-life narrative suddenly becomes more dependent on noticeable dramatic beats to propel it towards a slightly more conventional destination. The kind expected of any emotional account of the performing artist trying to make it big in the industry. It isn’t an unambiguously happy conclusion for Meiko and company. Far from it. But Solanin sacrifices some of its initial realism to arrive at it.

For all that, the manga’s climactic concert scene is a thing of beauty. Comics as a visual medium can’t reproduce the aural qualities of music. But Asano manages to capture the mood of the concert through a forceful series of wordless panels. Witnessing their kinetic release as the band powers through with their instruments is immensely gratifying since it comes after many pages of rehearsal sessions that seem to go nowhere. It’s the one glorious moment of clarity they've been seeking, knowing that the complications of their lives will inevitably overtake them again.

Solanin, By Inio Asano Assistants: Yuichi Watanabe, Takashi Kondo Translation: JN Productions Touch-up/Letters: Annaliese Christman Design: Amy Martin.

8/20/2017

Spy Seal #1

Spy Seal #1, By Rich Tommaso.
By Rich Tommaso

The anthropomorphic spy thriller Spy Seal is unlike any comic currently being published in this genre. Rich Tommaso sets the story in jolly old London during the Cold War era. Russian spies are afoot and causing mayhem throughout the city. But this isn’t a modern, gritty tale about the moral compromises that have to be made in order to uncover terrorist plots and save innocent lives. There isn’t any wallowing in the “dark side” as Dick Cheney once described it. Tommaso’s comic is a homage to classic high adventures starring a dashing protagonist facing off against an array of dastardly villains speaking with funny foreign accents. Only in this case, the hero happens to be a talking grey seal. Along the way, there’s government intrigue, elaborate assassination plots, beautiful femme fatales, and a macguffin that will presumably send everyone involved in a high stakes hunt to various exotic locales. Tomasso demonstrates an ability to capture the rhythms and plot points that propel this kind of story forward. The result is a fairly entertaining page turner.

It’s also a very pretty comic story inspired by the visuals of HergĂ©. Tomasso tempers the absurdity of his anthropomorphic cast by drawing them in the ligne claire style. There’s an attractive minimalism being demonstrated which unites what turns out to be a surprisingly wide variety of mammals, birds, and reptiles walking about the streets of London. The clean, geometric shapes and flat, pop aesthetic of his color palette gives the bustling metropolis a certain period glamour. And of course, the comic’s retro style instantly recollects The Adventures of Tintin to anyone who has ever read them. This is especially true during a bizarre rooftop chase, as these types of action scenes are a staple of every Tintin comic.

Spy Seal #1, By Rich Tommaso.

If there’s one glaring weakness, it’s that none of the characters have come into focus yet. They mainly fit into broad archetypes without any sharply defined individual traits to set them apart. This is particularly true of the titular protagonist Malcolm Warner, who already enters the comic with a set of useful skills as an ex-military man and jiu-jitsu exponent. While those make him handy in a fight, he doesn’t exhibit any curiosity or independent initiative. This unfortunately draws attention to the largely accidental nature of his involvement with the main plotline. If Malcolm wasn’t in the right place at the right time, and if he didn’t catch the attention of a certain undercover operative, he would have carried on oblivious to the events around him. Needless to say, there's some clunky exposition exchanged between the characters before the actual adventure can begin.

But there’s also a tiny hint of sardonic humor that keeps it from being just a nostalgic retread. The comic’s first act takes place in an art gallery where several of the works on display are vaguely reminiscent of Damien Hirst installations of preserved dead animals. Naturally, the remains of real world creatures have no noticeable effect on the gallery’s patrons. Why should they? It’s just Art.

8/13/2017

Mister Miracle #1

Mister Miracle #1: Story: Tom King Art: Mitch Gerads Letters: Clayton Cowles Cover: Nick Derington  Mister Miracle/Scott Free created by Jack Kirby.
Story: Tom King
Art: Mitch Gerads
Letters: Clayton Cowles
Cover: Nick Derington

Mister Miracle/Scott Free created by Jack Kirby.

Jack Kirby’s Fourth World is a major milestone of the medium. But his densely packed cosmos told through an interconnected web of comic book titles has never been sustained in any meaningful way past the original vision of its creator. And if we ignore the occasional appearances of main antagonist Darkseid, and the Forever People, the Fourth World has largely receded from the New 52 DC Universe. In short, most new comic book readers are probably unfamiliar with its continuity. But in their attempt to revive the adventures of Darkseid’s wayward son Mister Miracle, Tom King and Mitch Gerads make no concessions for them. In fact they double down on the titular character’s tangled history with his evil father with a rather abstruse, nonlinear tale that updates him for a less heroic age. Gone is the swashbuckling hero of the 1970s who defied Darkseid’s totalitarianism with a string of impossible feats of escape. What we have instead is the weary veteran who acts like he can no longer stem the rising tide of evil. Sort of like the gloomy Luke Skywalker as seen in The Force Awakens, but only more depressing.

Just to impress how bad things have become, King quotes the introductory text from the original Mister Miracle #1, dated from April 1971:
Is he a master of spectacular trickery or is he something more? You will have to decide when you confront the strangest, most incredible superhero to appear in comics! You will see what he does! You will wonder how he does it! But always waiting in the wings are his two greatest enemies: the men who challenge him—and death himself!
That final part leads to the comic's opening scene: A two page spread of Scott Free bleeding out on a bathroom floor after he has slit his wrists, apparently in an attempt to commit suicide. He’s rushed to the hospital by his wife Big Barda. The rest of the story becomes more fragmented: Scott recuperates while experiencing flashbacks, visions, hallucinations. Or is he being manipulated by unseen forces? Is he actually still dying on that bathroom floor or a hospital ward?

Mister Miracle #1: Story: Tom King Art: Mitch Gerads Letters: Clayton Cowles Cover: Nick Derington  Mister Miracle/Scott Free created by Jack Kirby.

Gerads is key to creating this sense of unreality. His lo-fi art is the antithesis of today’s slick, digital production values. Or more accurately, it’s just as slick as anything in mainstream comics. But crafted to appear more analog. Colors are washed out. Lines are blurry, as if the printing plates might have been improperly registered on the offset press. There are printing artifacts such as halftone and moirĂ© patterns. Some of the pages looked taped together.

And there’s certainly nothing heroic about how the characters are drawn. Gerads’ down-to-earth representations make Scott and Barda look about as ordinary and vulnerable as anyone in reality. The couple spend most of the comic shuffling about in their cramped home. The only parts which betrays their otherworldly origins are visits from Highfather and Scott's sort-of brother Orion. That and the ever present threat of Darkseid. Almost every page is organized into the nine panel grid. Its primary effect here is to make the setting very claustrophobic. But with every grid, one panel is blacked out and populated with the words “Darkseid is.” As the comic reaches its end, more panels are randomly blacked out, until the story arrives at an entire black page occupied with nothing but those words.

Mister Miracle #1: Story: Tom King Art: Mitch Gerads Letters: Clayton Cowles Cover: Nick Derington  Mister Miracle/Scott Free created by Jack Kirby.

This will probably resonate with many anxious Americans experiencing the creeping sense of authoritarian rule undoing years, even decades, of progress. Witnessing epressions of hate and intolerance becoming more common. Or even just the vague sense of existential dread permeating modern life. If things seem desperate enough, might death seem less like an enemy, but more a relief from suffering? What happens when your own mind becomes the trap? How do you punch away depression and paranoia? But King and Gerads do show two crucial scenes where Darkseid’s message is absent. It’s the readers’ and Mister Miracle’s lone slither of hope.

8/06/2017

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #22

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #22, Story: Ryan North Art: Erica Henderson Colors: Rico Renzi Letters: Travis Lanham Logo: Michael Allred  Squirrel Girl created by Will Murray & Steve Ditko.
Story: Ryan North
Art: Erica Henderson
Colors: Rico Renzi
Letters: Travis Lanham
Logo: Michael Allred

Squirrel Girl created by Will Murray & Steve Ditko.

One of the pleasures of reading The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is how the series has made no concessions to alter its offbeat tone to better fit into Marvel’s regular churn of crossover events. The Squirrel Girl comic is better characterised as Marvel Universe adjacent. And that’s fine as long as Ryan North and Erica Henderson can get to keep producing one of the best, not to mention the funniest, comics being released by the beleaguered publisher. So while every other series feels like it’s getting sucked into the dark vortex that is Secret Empire, our titular character is vacationing in the Savage Land and hanging out with dinosaurs, because dinosaurs are the best!

The reason Doreen Green and her roommate/fellow computer science major Nancy Whitehead get to hang out with dinosaurs is because they entered an online programming contest which claimed to award its winners “unspecified fabulous prizes.” Well, that doesn’t sound suspicious at all. No siree. For the reader expecting some kind of twist, it’s delivered at the very last page. But North and Henderson spend half the book carefully ratcheting up the anticipation of their arrival at the Savage Land, so the real emotional payoff is watching Doreen and Nancy geek out and identify every species they set their sights on, all the while dropping knowledge about the Mesozoic era. See, comics are educational.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #22, Story: Ryan North Art: Erica Henderson Colors: Rico Renzi Letters: Travis Lanham Logo: Michael Allred  Squirrel Girl created by Will Murray & Steve Ditko.

The comic is naturally a playful subversion of the Lost World trope. It turns out that the Savage Land is now accessible via commercial airlines (even to airlines arriving from Latveria). The Land itself (or at least part of it) is being run as a wildlife preserve, complete with the usual tourist amenities such as hotels and tacky gift shops (which Doreen just loves). More importantly, everything seems to be running smoothly with nary a rogue dinosaur in sight eating any of the staff or guests. Suck it, you incompetents who run Jurassic Park!

So the mayhem promised by the comic’s Frank Frazetta-inspired cover has yet to be delivered here. But we do learn two significant things. Nancy likes cute boys who know their dinosaurs (even if they hail from Latveria). And Squirrel Girl will definitely get to ride a pterosaur (I'm envisioning the mighty Skybax rider) at some point, because it’s what she now wants out of life.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #22, Story: Ryan North Art: Erica Henderson Colors: Rico Renzi Letters: Travis Lanham Logo: Michael Allred  Squirrel Girl created by Will Murray & Steve Ditko.

7/29/2017

More NonSense: Comic-Con 2017 Edition

Comic-Con International in San Diego.

Comic-Con International in San Diego (at least until 2021) is the big comics-adjacent event this July. How did this year's super-massive convention go down? Here are a few links to get you started:

Words:
Moviepilot reports on DC's future publishing initiatives. Todd Allen reacts to the news that the comics industry is close to collapse.
John Lewis leads a march through the San Diego Convention Center.
Comics Announcement: The Terrifics by Jeff Lemire and Ivan Reis.
The 2017 Eisner Awards.
LA Times
Vox on the the film juggernaut that is Marvel Studios.
The Verge
The Beat, more, more, more,
io9more, more, more, more,
Time
Tor
Women Write Write About Comics

Videos:
Comics Announcement: Superman: Year One by Frank Miller.
The Beat,
io9, more, more, moremoremoremore, more,
Lupita Nyong'o, more,
Estelle
Tested
Yellow Productions, more,
Hyper RPG

Trailers & Clips:
io9, more, more, more, more, more, more, more, more, more, more, more, more, more, more, more, more, more, more, more,
Voxmoremoremoremore, more,

Photos:
Bleeding Cool
The Guardian
io9
Reuters
Space.com

Glen Weldon lists ten comics that changed the medium. It's a fairly conventional list since most pundits would agree with his choices.

Glen Weldon also lists his top 100 graphic novels.

Glen Weldon lists the most influential newspaper strips.

Matthew Thurber lists 10 cartoonists for art lovers.

Abraham Riesman on the rapidly expanding kids comics market.

Shannon Wattres, Tom King, And Veronica Fish list 17 comics to read at the beach.

Kelly Haircloth looks back at the 1950s boom in romance comics.

Amanda Shendruk analyses gender representation in comics.

Abraham Riesman on the fallout over Marvel making Captain America evil.

Christopher Butcher employs the somewhat unsatisfying "Marvel will be Marvel" observation when commenting on the publisher's recent woes.

Tom Holland trying to pass off as an American teenager in order to experience what life is like for students attending American high schools is cute. Then again, critics are going gaga over his portrayal of Peter Parker in "Spider-Man: Homecoming."

The "Marvel Cinematic Universe" version takes more liberties with the character created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko than the two previous Sony Studio incarnations. But the changes have actually resonated with the MCU audience because they still manage to tap into the character 's core appeal. Take his relationship with Tony Stark/Iron Man. Peter's classic Spider-Man suit being gifted to him by Tony would seem like a violation of the superhero's reputation for self-reliance and creativity. But the relationship also hones in on Peter's often troubled history with terrible father figures. And Tony, who essentially substitutes for Norman Osborne/Green Goblin as wealthy industrialist with dubious motives, is as terrible a father figure as any. Peter's rejection of his generous offer at the film's end is in line with the character's emerging maturity. In the meantime, his hacking of the suit's parental controls is what any overprotective adult should expect from a very bright, if not too experienced teenager.

Holland's dorktastic Peter isn't the lonely outcast of Lee and Ditko. But the bumbling hero who learns to rely on a supportive network is one of the more welcome changes of the Miles Morales/Kamala Khan generation. More importantly, Holland is the most convincing adolescent of any actor ever tasked to play Peter. And it is refreshing to see him interact with a similarly young (not to mention multiethnic) cast of actors after so many MCU films populated by serious-looking adults.

Alex Abad-Santos on the film's homage to the iconic scene in Amazing Spider-Man No. 33.

Pepe the Frog now has a lawyer in Kimberly Motley.

Sean T. Collins lists the top 40 "Game of Thrones" characters  and the top 25 episodes in anticipation of the series July return on HBO.

RIP Joan Lee, spouse of Stan Lee.

RIP Sam Glanzman (December 5, 1924 - 2017), veteran artist known for  his many war comics made for Charlton and DC in the 1960s and 1970s.

RIP Flo Sternberg (March 17, 1939 - July 23, 2017), Marvel's 'Fabulous Flo'. Tribute by Michael J. Vassallo.

RIP George Romero (February 4, 1940 - July 16, 2017), director of "Night of the Living Dead". the film that spawned the modern zombie genre. Reactions from his colleagues.

RIP Martin Landau (June 20, 1928 - July 15, 2017), veteran Hollywood actor, whose credits included "Space: 1999", "North by Northwest", "Mission Impossible", and "Ed Wood".

RIP June Foray (September 18, 1917 – July 26, 2017), celebrated voice actress. Tribute from Matt Zoller Seitz.

Video: Stronger than You

7/24/2017

Batman/Elmer Fudd Special

Batman/Elmer Fudd #1 “Pway for Me” Story: Tom King Art: Lee Weeks Colors: Lovern Kindierski Letters: Deron Bennett Variant: Bob Fingerman  “Rabbit Season” Story: Tom King Art: Byron Vaughns Colors: Carrie Strachan Letters: Deron Bennett  Batman created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger. Elmer Fudd created by Tex Avery & Chuck Jones. Bugs Bunny created by Ben Hardaway, Cal Dalton, Tex Avery.
Batman/Elmer Fudd #1
“Pway for Me”
Story: Tom King
Art: Lee Weeks
Colors: Lovern Kindierski
Letters: Deron Bennett
Variant: Bob Fingerman


“Rabbit Season”
Story: Tom King
Art: Byron Vaughns
Colors: Carrie Strachan
Letters: Deron Bennett


Batman created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger.
Elmer Fudd created by Tex Avery & Chuck Jones.
Bugs Bunny created by Ben Hardaway, Cal Dalton, Tex Avery.


When two tonally dissimilar fictional characters meet in a crossover, the resulting story must play a delicate balancing act that lends credibility to both. Archie Comics has usually accomplished this by setting their crossovers in the Archie universe (see Archie vs. Predator). However, the current DC/Looney Tunes series of one-shots splits the difference: a main story takes place inside the DC universe, while a backup story takes place within the more cartoony Looney Tunes setting. The latter isn’t that hard to imagine, given that Looney Tunes has already skewered DC multiple times (remember BatDuck?). But the former requires DC’s stable of writers to be clever when reimagining the Looney Tunes characters operating in a timeline that normally doesn't acknowledge talking cartoon animals.

Regular Batman scribe Tom King succeeds by making Batman/Elmer Fudd a noir story about the small town vs. the big city. His Elmer is a starving country boy who moved to Gotham and parlayed his hunting skills to become a hitman. When his girlfriend is murdered, Elmer tracks down her killer Bugs “The Bunny” to a local dive called Porky’s. Bugs bargains for his life by giving up the name of the client who ordered the hit - someone named Bruce Wayne. Without realising it, Elmer has been put on a collision course with the Dark Knight Detective.

Batman/Elmer Fudd #1 “Pway for Me” Story: Tom King Art: Lee Weeks Colors: Lovern Kindierski Letters: Deron Bennett Variant: Bob Fingerman  “Rabbit Season” Story: Tom King Art: Byron Vaughns Colors: Carrie Strachan Letters: Deron Bennett  Batman created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger. Elmer Fudd created by Tex Avery & Chuck Jones. Bugs Bunny created by Ben Hardaway, Cal Dalton, Tex Avery.

The comic’s appeal rests on artist Lee Weeks being able to transplant the Looney Tunes characters into the gritty noir setting while maintaining their general features. Elmer looks out of place in Gotham with his hunting jacket and oversized cap. But the getup serves as his menacing calling card. Bugs is bucked-tooth, and weaselly looking. Porky’s regulars also happen to be other Looney Tunes characters: from mustachioed biker Yosemite Sam, to a mohawked tough guy named “Taz.” What elevates the story from noir to some place even more surreal is that Weeks’ visuals are accompanied by Elmer’s first person narration. The character’s trademark “w” substituting for “r” and “l” speech impediment remains intact while he monologues like the typical male protagonist dead set on carrying out his revenge in the name of his dead lover. It sounds hilarious, and shows an awareness of the comic's own absurd premise.

When the inevitable confrontation between Elmer and Batman takes place, the fight is more evenly matched than most would expect from an Elmer Fudd/Batman fight. Elmer holds his own with nothing more than his signature shotgun. His brutal efficiency works so well against the caped crusader’s fancy, acrobatic dodging that even Batman has to eventually talk his way out of getting shot in the chest, again. Take that, f@#* one percenter! It's a duel between two people whose contrasting fighting styles reflect their backgrounds from different social strata. Not a small amount of class resentment is mixed with the desire for revenge when Elmer resolves to kill this spoiled billionaire playboy he doesn't know, but who probably never had to hunt and kill his own food.

And if that’s not to the reader’s delicate taste, Tom King’s backup story is basically the same story done in the more conventional Looney Tunes style. As Batman himself would say in the comic, “He is… quite a stinker.”

Batman/Elmer Fudd #1 “Pway for Me” Story: Tom King Art: Lee Weeks Colors: Lovern Kindierski Letters: Deron Bennett Variant: Bob Fingerman  “Rabbit Season” Story: Tom King Art: Byron Vaughns Colors: Carrie Strachan Letters: Deron Bennett  Batman created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger. Elmer Fudd created by Tex Avery & Chuck Jones. Bugs Bunny created by Ben Hardaway, Cal Dalton, Tex Avery.

7/09/2017

Wonder Woman: Steve Trevor Special

Wonder Woman: Steve Trevor #1 Story: Tim Seeley Art: Christian Duce Colors: Allen Passalaqua Letters: Josh Reed Covers: Paul Renaud, Yanick Paquette, Nathan Fairbairn  Wonder Woman created by William Moulton Marston, H. G. Peter, Elizabeth Holloway Marston, Olive Byrne.
Wonder Woman: Steve Trevor #1
Story: Tim Seeley
Art: Christian Duce
Colors: Allen Passalaqua
Letters: Josh Reed
Covers: Paul Renaud, Yanick Paquette, Nathan Fairbairn

Wonder Woman created by William Moulton Marston, H. G. Peter, Elizabeth Holloway Marston, Olive Byrne.

This comic’s publication coincided to take advantage of the Wonder Woman film opening, so curious audience members could learn more about the character’s comic book incarnation. Apparently, that means reading more about Steve Trevor, who has been recently reinstated as Diana’s official beau. That will sound odd to most non-comics fans, but Steve hasn’t been romantically linked to her since the mid-eighties reboot authored by George Perez. But make no mistake, everything has now been set right by the powers that be. The comic even introduces the story within as “Wonder Woman's Boyfriend Steve Trevor” just in case there are any lingering doubts from skeptical comics fans who still remember that Superman and Wonder Woman were still an item until earlier this year. But given that in the film’s [Spoiler Alert] onscreen romance was kinda doomed, maybe DC is also hoping that film fans will be relieved to learn that the happy couple are still going strong within the pages of their own comics.

And yes, this is a Wonder Woman story even when Steve occupies most of its panels. Just as a Lois Lane story is actually about how Superman is seen through her eyes, or a story about James Gordon and the GCPD is ultimately about how Batman helps keeps Gotham safe from its resident lunatics. Steve is called away from Wonder Woman’s side to take part in a covert mission. But the mission itself, which involves rescuing a supernaturally enhanced individual from the clutches of nefarious forces, reminds Steve of his own complicated feelings towards Diana. Love is mixed with guilt over Steve being the person who contributed to Diana’s decision to leave her home in “paradise.” These emotions inevitably inform his actions on the mission.

Wonder Woman: Steve Trevor #1 Story: Tim Seeley Art: Christian Duce Colors: Allen Passalaqua Letters: Josh Reed Covers: Paul Renaud, Yanick Paquette, Nathan Fairbairn  Wonder Woman created by William Moulton Marston, H. G. Peter, Elizabeth Holloway Marston, Olive Byrne.

This is an okay though unremarkable story drawn competently enough by Christian Duce. But the comic’s main purpose becomes apparent when Steve meets up with his usual team of crack operatives for the mission. They turn out to be the same trio of misfits from the film: The British sniper Charlie who suffers from PTSD, Moroccan aspiring actor and conman Sameer, and Native American tracker/smuggler “Chief.” Their comics appearance is remarkably quick compared to other characters introduced in other mediums making their way into the comic book pages. For now, Steve has kept his covert activities and his work with Diana far apart. But it’s safe to assume that at some point these two worlds will collide spectacularly as DC’s writers continue to flesh out this newly minted version of the Diana-Steve coupling. Corporate synergy, folks!

7/01/2017

More NonSense: Harry Potter 20th Anniversary Edition

Harry Potter Box Set illustration, by Kazu Kibuishi.

The Harry Potter franchise will be 20 years old this June 26. The publishing phenomena taught a generation of kids how to enjoy reading an increasingly hefty book series, and they would grow into one of the defining fandoms of 21st century popular culture. Pottermania helped push geek culture into the mainstream. The Harry Potter and "Lord of the Rings" film adaptations from the 2000s made it impossible to dismiss sci-fi/fantasy as mere niche entertainment.

But Harry Potter's early fame would naturally court controversy, namely with conservative Christians accusing the books for promoting occultism, paganism, devil worship. The usual stuff. Such dunderhead arguments did however touch on an important truth - Harry Potter's early appeal rested on Hogwarts. Like Starfleet or the Xavier mansion before it, the wizarding school was the kind of nerdvana misfits and outcasts could dream about. Everyone feels the desire to belong somewhere. And like its titular hero, fans would come to see Hogwarts as an ideal home for them as well. Who wouldn't want to attend a school which feels so comfortingly familiar, yet teaches subjects that are so cool, useful, and unconventional? A safe haven from the oppressive muggles who don't understand their geeky obsessions. And who now doesn't want to know which of the four houses is a natural fit for them? Go Slytherin! Or maybe it's Ravenclaw?

Tiffany Babb examines the mythological structure of superhero comics, using Marvel character Loki as a case study.

Abraham Riesman lists eight Comics You Need to Read This June.

Marta Bausells profiles Jillian Tamaki.

A short video on Trina Robbins as the first women to draw Wonder Woman.

Alex Abad-Santos on how the Wonder Woman film tackles her origin and its feminist content.

Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige thanks God that Wonder Woman has helped make it easier to make female-led superhero films. Alrighty then.

Cecilia D'Anastasio on the state of manga scanlators trying to go legit.

Deb Aoki on why manga industry can smile in 2017. Among them are increased variety of genres, digital first initiatives, and simultaneous English/Japanese publishing schedules.

Michael Livingston explains what "The Great Wall" gets wrong about Chinese history, and how it ends up playing into the White Saviour complex.

Derf doesn't have anything good to say about the ACHA.

Charles Pulliam-Moore asks why so many black superheroes have electricity powers? Sadly, it didn't occur to me until I read this that Jamie Fox playing Electro in "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" follows in this trope.

Sean T. Collins ranks ninety three "Game of Thrones" characters in order from most good to most evil. I don't think there's any disagreement on who the bad guys are. But who is the worst of the worst? The placement might spark some debate.

Matt Furie keeps trying to save his creation Pepe the Frog from being appropriated as an alt-right token. His latest move is to launch a kickstarter for Pepe to reclaim "his status as a universal symbol for peace, love, and acceptance." I wish him luck. It must be infuriating when one of your characters is officially considered a hate symbol. But the attempt sounds pretty futile.

Is Michelle Pfeiffer in "Batman Returns" the best movie supervillain?

RIP Adam West (September 19, 1928 – June 9, 2017), the world's most beloved Batman. More from Glen WeldonEvan NarcisseKeith DeCandido.

RIP Michael Bond (January 13, 1926 –  June 27, 2017), creator of the beloved character Paddington Bear.