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Comics…Deconstructed

Why You SHOULDN’T Read Watchmen First

As a corollary to Peat Muppet’s scathing indictment of Alan Moore, read this excerpt from an interview with critic Douglas Wolk, whose Reading Comics seems to be a must read:

Wolk: I was talking with some friends recently about the common mistake of recommending Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen, as great as it is, as a starting point for superhero comics–as one of them put it, that’s like recommending The Seventh Seal as someone’s first movie! For pure, unencumbered superhero joycore, I love Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s All Star Superman–if you’ve heard of Clark Kent and Lois Lane, you know everything you need to know to enjoy it, and it deepens with repeated reading. Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos’s cruelly witty Alias,
about a self-loathing ex-superheroine-turned-P.I., has lots of Easter eggs for the continuity-obsessed, but it probably works even better as a stand-alone story. And if you’re at all into Victorian literature and/or want to sample Moore’s work, the two volumes of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
(drawn by Kevin O’Neill) are hugely fun on their own, and also illustrate by analogy the way a lot of the best superhero comics and other pulp art work: providing metaphors to illuminate the central concerns of their moment.

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August 17, 2007 Posted by | comic books, Comics, Commentary, Graphic Novels, Watchmen | Leave a comment

I’ll Watch the Watchmen. Will You?

After a MASSIVELY long time, it seems the fabled Watchmen movie is finally going to be a reality.  Comic fandom now holds its collective breath in hopes that the film doesn’t completely blow.  The cast looks promising, considering that the producers didn’t pander the thing to every starlet and mega-star-wannabe on the block.  I’m most hyped about Jackie Earle Haley playing Rorschach. Based on his performance in Little Children, this is a man born to play the role.  The Watchmen website is spare, but it does contain the new poster (released at ComiCon) with art by Dave Gibbons.  Have a look-see:

poster

August 2, 2007 Posted by | comic books, Comics, Graphic Novels, Movies, Watchmen | 1 Comment

What’s Your Pull List?

By complete happenstance, I discovered an amazing and really enjoyable website last night – particularly for comic book fans.  The site – www.pulllist.com – is a DIGG-like site where users rate, review and comment on each week’s comics as they are released.  The site has a relatively tiny user base at the moment, and it needs a bit more visual polish, but overall I’m impressed at what one person has been able to accomplish in a short amount of time.  Please do yourself a favor and visit the site, and check the RSS feed in the right-hand column of this page to see my most recent “pulls”.

July 21, 2007 Posted by | comic books, Comics, Graphic Novels | Leave a comment

The Kyle Baker Show

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If there is one writer/artist I am glad to see still around and still viable today, it’s Kyle Baker. Yesterday, I came across an article on CBR (see below) about Baker’s new Special Forces series, and it got me thinking about my own history with this unique artist.

In the late 80s, I discovered Kyle Baker primarily through his work on DC’s The Shadow ongoing series. It was odd work, to say the least, and the stories were equally strange. I don’t know how he and writer Andrew Helfer got away with it, but they managed to simultaneously mangle and elevate The Shadow into a comic nightmare. The Helfer/Baker issues have a wicked sense of humor to them, coupled with an unbridled joy at deconstructing a pulp legend. I mean, who else could get away with decapitating the Shadow, only to then graft his head onto a robot? The infamous story that this took place in was sadly the last issue, and it’s really too bad, too, as these two creators had managed to create something avant-garde and unforgettable.

Thanks for pushing the boundaries, Kyle…. but do finish up that Shadow story some day.

KYLE BAKER DEPLOYS HIS “SPECIAL FORCES” by Michael Patrick Sullivan, Contributing Writer Posted: July 17, 2007
“Special Forces” #1, on sale August 22

Kyle Baker has established himself as a modern renaissance man of comics. As an Eisner and Harvey Award-winning writer and illustrator, Baker has worked on iconic DC and Marvel characters without ever losing the indie cred he earned with such graphic novels as “Why I Hate Saturn” and “You Are Here.” Now, Baker brings his sense of humor and of outrage together in a biting satire about the state of the United States military, “Special Forces.” Baker briefly spoke with CBR about the six-issue miniseries. “First and foremost, this book is about teenage hot-bodies blowing shit up,” Kyle Baker told CBR News. “All the best comic books are about fights and teenage angst. You want messages, buy a phone. This story is more about teenagers growing up in the 21st century. A world where kids post suicide manifestos on YouTube before shooting up their school with easily obtained automatic weapons. A world where the hot underground drugs are Adderall and Xanax. You can’t make this stuff up.”

“Special Forces” is a comedy based primarily on recent news stories about armed forces recruiting scandals. “The military is so desperate for troops right now that they’re letting almost anyone in,” said Baker. “The main [‘Special Forces’] characters are criminally violent girl, an autistic boy, a crooked recruiter, a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ and an obese guy. There’s a black guy, but everybody knows the black guy always dies first.

“They all go to Iraq to battle terrorism. It’s a story about how young Americans from different cultural backgrounds confront their individual character flaws and become better people by uniting toward the higher purpose of bringing freedom and democracy to the oppressed savages of Iraq. This miracle is accomplished without the aid of armor or clean water. Also, about one million people get killed. Lots of explosions and gunfights.”

Baker mentioned a specific news story that particularly inspired the series. “Last year, the Army recruited two autistic kids and tried to send them to fight in Iraq,” Baker explained, referring to the case of Jared Guinther, who was diagnosed as autistic at the age of three and at the age of eighteen was allowed to enlist in the United States military with an eye toward the position of cavalry scout, one of the most dangerous assignments. Guinther was released from his commitment when his family protested the enlistment and the recruiter’s refusal to accept his medical records. The recruiters involved are now being investigated.

“It’s in the newspaper every day,” said Baker when asked about research for the project. “About ten pages after the Lindsay Lohan and Anna Nicole stories. ”

On the surface, the irreverent tone and military setting of “Special Forces” may put readers in the mind of such films as “M*A*S*H” or “Stripes.” Baker agrees, “It’s exactly like those two films, also ‘Dr. Strangelove,’ and ‘Catch-22.’ Every generation needs their war comedy.”

While recognized for his creative innovation, Baker chose to go in a more familiar direction, artistically, when it comes to “Special Forces.”

“My new creative innovation is to draw it in the old style I used on Marvel Comics in the ’80’s,” said Baker. “It’ll look a lot like ‘Why I Hate Saturn’ and ‘The Shadow.'”

A political satire such as “Special Forces” is likely to draw attention from quarters outside comics, and indeed it has. Baker’s even had inquiries from the film industry. What he hasn’t heard from is the United States Government itself. Said Baker, “I hope the military knows they have bigger problems than cartoons.”

“Special Forces” is one of Baker’s first projects to be published by Image Comics. After having operated Kyle Baker Publishing for the previous two years, “I was spending all my time at the Post Office,” Baler explained. “I didn’t realize that publishing involves making lots of packages and invoicing and purchase orders. If a book is successful, you will have to make hundreds of little packages, invoices, and [post office] visits. It was taking time away from the cartooning. Image is run by cartoonists –good ones– and I don’t get into arguments about format.”

Beyond “Special Forces,” Baker has much in the pipeline, both from Image and elsewhere. “Two more ‘Bakers; books,” said Baker, referring to the comedic graphic novels based on his family life, “and the long-awaited ‘Important Literary Journal,’” being Baker’s upcoming parody of high-art comics. “I’m doing a lot of animation, which can be seen at kylebaker.com. Inexplicably, I’m making income on the website, so I’m putting more energy into it.”

“Special Forces” hits the stands August 22, 2007.

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July 21, 2007 Posted by | Animation, Comics, Graphic Novels | Leave a comment

You Vote: Which Five Comic Book Characters Are Better Off Dead?

If there is one truism in comic books, it’s that no character stays dead for long.  Like soap operas, the episodic nature of comics seems to compel writers to develop (sometimes) creative ways to extricate characters from seemingly impossible situations.  Rather than generate our own list, we thought we’d ask our readers and see which characters comics fans wish would just stay in the grave.  Read the overview below, then leave your vote and comments below.  I’m sure many have been let off, so feel free to add your own to the list if you wish:

 

175px-UncannyXMen101 Jean Grey:  Many would argue that Jean Grey’s death in the pages of X-men represents one of the best moments in comic book history. The nobility of self-sacrifice in the face of overwheming odds, coupled with a love story and well-executed writing and art created a transcendent moment in comics.  Her return, while not destroying the sanctity of the Claremont/Byrne story, significantly devalued the character in what was obviously a marketing ploy.

 

 

 

 

 

160px-Deadjason Jason Todd:  Never has a character been so loathed that readers actually voted to kill him.  Thus is the original fate of the second Robin, Jason Todd.  Victim of a publicity stunt where DC allowed readers to call a 900 number and vote whether Jason lived or died after a vicious assault by the Joker, readers essentially agreed that it would be best for the Joker to beat the hell out of a young boy with a crowbar.  It is amazing, then, that DC opted to resurrect the character.  Jeph Loeb played around with this concept in his classic Hush storyline (and, in retrospect, perhaps he should have been encouraged to bring him back in those pages), but it was ultimately Judd Winick who had the cajones to return the character to DC continuity.  I’m not sure anyone is really clear about how he returned, but like it or not, he’s back!

 

 

170px-Bucky Bucky Barnes:  A few years ago, the thought of resurrecting Captain America’s long-dead partner Bucky Barnes was simply anathema to creators and fans alike.  Things change, it seems.  Bucky’s back, rechristened the Winter Soldier by scribe Ed Brubaker.  While the reaction to Bucky’s return has been decidedly mixed, there is no doubt among fans that Brubaker is in the midst of crafting some of the very best Captain America stories ever told.  Testament to this fact is that he has continued writing a riveting book even following the assassination of its title character.

 

 

 

 

200px-Mar-Vell Captain Marvel:  No, not the DC SHAZAAM! variety of Cap.  Like Bucky, Marvel has also decided to bring back a character that no fan ever thought would come back.  Mar-Vell died in a poignant story (one of the very first graphic novels, actually) ungracefully titled The Death of Captain Marvel.  Cap’s death from cancer is strangely still in Marvel continuity, since the convoluted method of resurrecting him doesn’t change any of the facts of his death (Don’t try to figure it out.  I’m confused just writing about it!).  Still, he IS back, and no one is quite sure if that’s a good thing.

 

 

 

215px-Warlock-172 Adam Warlock: Not sure who Adam Warlock is?  You’re probably not alone.  One of the lesser-known characters created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, Warlock began his existence known only as “Him” in the pages of The Fantastic Four.  The character suffered through several “showcase” titles and even his own lackluster title in the 70s, but it was not until Jim Starlin began working on the character that Adam Warlock became a noticeable part of the Marvel Universe.  No stranger (no pun intended) to cosmic-level stories, Starlin used the Warlock character to continue many of the themes and conflicts he developed earlier in the pages of Captain Marvel (who he would later kill, see a trend here?).  Self-sacrifice, per usual, plays a huge role in Warlock’s demise, but no good (or even mediocre) character gets much rest in the Marvel afterlife.  Starlin resurrected the character in the 80s during his extended Infinity Gauntlet storyline, and Warlock again had his own title, but it, like all the others, was short-lived.  If ever a character showed evidence of Repetitive Death Syndrome, it’s Adam Warlock.

 

175px-Green_lantern_76 Green Arrow:  Don’t mistake me here.  I LOVED Kevin Smith’s resurrection of the character in the new Green Arrow series, and I even enjoyed Brad Metzler’s follow-up Archer Quest.  The problem is that very few writers seem able to competently handle Oliver Queen.  His backstory is not terribly compelling or original, and his “rogues gallery” is virtually non-existent.  Denny O’Neil wrote Ollie superbly in the 70s by developing a radical political viewpoint for the character, but that is given relative lipservice today (odd, considering the politically-charged climate we now live in).  A recent attempt at bringing politics into a Green Arrow storyline just devolved into the usual slugfest. There’s no doubt that Green Arrow is one of the best characters in the DC Universe when properly written, but too few have been able to do just that.

 

 

250px-HAWK005 Hawkeye:  If Green Arrow is a second-rate Batman, then Hawkeye is a third-rate Green Arrow.  Wearing what is arguably the ugliest costume in superhero history, Hawkeye has bandied about from one side of the Marvel Universe to another, only to find himself killed in the now-famous Avengers Disassembled.  In an extremely quick turnaround, even by Marvel standards, Clint Barton is back again, though whether or not he will become Hawkeye again is up in the air (any bets, anyone?). 

 

 

 

 

180px-Crisis7 Supergirl: Just who the hell is Supergirl these days, anyhow?  After multiple iterations of the character (and one colossally terrible film), many are left stumbling for an answer to what should be a very simple and straightforward question.  One thing is clear: the character most recognize as the classic Supergirl DIED in the pages of Crisis on Infinite Earths.  Today we have an approximate reincarnation of the same character, which in some eyes diminishes the impact of her death in the 80s (well, if nothing else, at least her headband died).  Supergirl is ultimately a character who cannot maintain interest in her own title.  Many attempts have been made, and now she has rather mechanically been grafted onto the current Legion of Super-Heroes series.  If she dies again in the future, how will all of THAT mess be sorted out?

 

 

200px-Deathofsuperman Superman:  Let’s get controversial, shall we?  In a media circus that eclipsed even the death of Jason Todd, DC opted to kill its flagship character, Superman, in the early 90s.  Why this got so much press is beyond me, when it was more than clear from the very start that the character would be back in fine form in no time.  Still, he was technically dead for a short while, and its arguable that he should have remained dead.  Like the current death of Captain America, Superman has become more of an icon and symbol than a character.  In death, then, why not fully elevate him to symbolic, almost mythic proportions by removing his physical (but not spiritual or emotional) presence from the DCU?  Again, this is, in essence, what Ed Brubaker is attempting in the pages of Captain America.  DC could have done the same thing more than a decade earlier.  Should they have?

 

230px-Dd181 

Elektra:  Of all the characters listed here, none has had as wild a ride as Elektra.  Dead and buried after Frank Miller’s Daredevil run, she remained out of the Marvel Universe for years and years.  Interest certainly never waned for the character; in fact, her death at the hands of Bullseye became the stuff of comic book legend.  Still, Miller couldn’t let her stay dead, and chose to resurrect her in an extremely oblique way in the graphic novel Elektra Lives Again (and we won’t even try to comprehend the significance of the Miller/Sienkiewicz Elektra: Assassin mini-series).  The character continues to show up throughout the Marvel Universe, even inhabiting her own ongoing series for a time.  The question must be asked, however – was she better off dead?

 

There’s the list.  Again, we want to know what you think.  Post your comments, votes and suggestions below.

July 17, 2007 Posted by | Comics, Commentary, Graphic Novels | Leave a comment

Persepolis Transitions to Film

Marjane Satrapi’s brilliant graphic novel has quickly developed into an animated film.  The current release is in French, but Sony Classics has optioned it for an American release.  The preview (see below) looks tremendous! Now, if only someone could be daring enough to adapt Maus!

[YouTube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rUp9o_CNo04]
YouTube – Persepolis – Teaser

July 14, 2007 Posted by | Comics, Graphic Novels, Movies | 1 Comment