Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Unearthed: Tigerman #3

Howdy, tiger. What say we bring Unearthed's Tigerman retrospective to a close? Catch up by reading my looks at Tigerman #1 & Tigerman #2. Remember, Tiger-Man's not just good, he's gr-r-r-r-eatly average.

The cover to Tigerman #3 gives us a fairly stock super hero image by line editor Larry Lieber himself. Elements feature a civilian in peril, a villain uttering a threat, will the hero be too late, etc. It's not as interesting as issue #2's collage by Frank Thorne, but it's still way more enticing to a 1970s super hero reading audience than Ernie Colon's "this hero is a loser" cover on #1. It is worth noting how different the "snout" on Tiger-Man's mask looks depending on the artist. Here, he looks like a wild tiger wearing a mane. In the 1960s & 70s, Larry Lieber seemed to base his art style on Jack Kirby and consequently, it gives his covers a very Marvel-esque feel no matter who the publisher is; of course, Atlas Comics were all too eager to invite comparisons to Marvel what with the cover's blurb "The most savage super hero of the Atlas Age!"

Although the cover warns "Death Is a Man Called Hypnos," our tale inside is titled "Hell Is Spelled... Hypnos." Hypnos means many things; it was the Burma Shave of 1975. The previous issue's creative team of writer Gerry Conway & penciler Steve Ditko has been kept intact, but Ditko is no longer being inked by Frank Giacoia as Al Milgrom has joined the team (Milgrom also inked Conway & Ditko's Destructor #4). What difference will Milgrom's inks make to this series, you might well wonder. Well, see above; Milgrom emphasizes the animal features in Tiger-Man's face, rather than the more abstract look from Giacoia's inks last issue. In general, the obvious thing Milgrom brings to this story are in the characters' faces, which have fewer traces of Ditko than the previous issue. Personally, I preferred Giacoia's work on Tiger-Man's mask. But let's get to the story...

Tiger-Man bursts into Harlem Hospital carrying a smouldering body and demanding medical help. While the professionals treat this man, Tiger-Man avoids answering questions and leaves the hospital, roughing up a security guard who tries to force Tiger-Man to explain what happened. It turns out the guard need not have forced him, he just had to read the next page as a flashback begins. In Harlem River Park (it's worth observing how feel black people we see in Tigerman comics considering the locale), a man who lost his job and his wife and was told by his shrink that he's "a hopeless paranoid" suddenly dumps a container of gasoline over his head then lights a match. Tiger-Man arrives and grabs a blanket to smother the flames. So, that's where the smouldering body came from. This page is pretty effective at introducing the mystery and making the events frightening. The only time the man's face is seen is in the image above, as he pours the gasoline over his head.

Back to the present; Tiger-Man enters a storage room in the hospital and assumes his guise as Dr. Lannie Hill, concealing his costume within his medical bag. He wonders why the man lit himself on fire and muses "Unless -- perhaps he was protesting something?" To audiences in 1975, that would have obviously brought to mind the many self-immolations which went on in the 60s & 70s to protest the Vietnam War. Dr. Hill now changes clothes again as he dons a surgical outfit (yes, it appears he's a surgeon) to join a Dr. Morgan in treating the burn victim. The man mumbles "Hypnos" before dying. Dr. Hill is tormented by the man's death, stating "It's all so useless... so pointless." Dr. Morgan, however, casually smokes a cigarette in the hospital (because its the 1970s).

This death causes Hill to enter another flashback, this time revisiting the events of issue #1. The difference being, this time it's being drawn by Sturdy Steve Ditko, not Ergonomic Ernie Colon. This time we see Hill's sister the moment before her death and we see Tiger-Man actually kill his sister's murderers, something Colon proved incapable of rendering in a comprehensible fashion. I am frequently frustrated by the storytelling choices Steve Ditko makes when he publishes his own stories, but when it comes to adapting another writer's story, Ditko has always been a pro - you are never left in doubt about the basic things a story needs in terms of location, action and expression. Anyway, thinking back over these events, Hill wonders "Maybe I'm not a hero. Maybe what I am is a psychopath." Considering Hill is a physician who took an oath to do no harm, it's great that Conway has granted him this inner turmoil which issue #1 gave little attention to.

Tiger-Man goes on another patrol and sees a woman on a set of train tracks, waiting patiently to be run over by the train. Tiger-Man tries to save her, but he's not faster than a locomotive; the woman is killed. The next day, Dr. Hill reads about the suicide in the newspaper and learns the victim was Hannah Markham, a student of Dr. Otto Kaufmann, a psychiatric who runs a clinic in Midtown. Thinking there might be a clue to Hannah's suicide in the file, Hill visits Kaufmann and asks for his help, but Kaufmann flips the matter around, refusing to lend the file and saying "You appear deeply perturbed, doctor -- perhaps you should be in therapy." Hill rejects this but Kaufmann insists Hill needs treatment: "Everyone does." Before Hill leaves he sees another of Kaufmann's patients Miss Day waiting for her appointment.

Not long afterward, Tiger-Man sees a car being driven erratically. He leaps upon the vehicle's roof to try and get to the dirver, but the car is deliberately driven over a bridge. Tiger-Man rescues the driver who is Miss Day and she mutters "Hypnos." This convinces Tiger-Man that Kaufmann is connected to the suicides so he breaks into Kaufmann's office to read his files. Kaufmann discovers him and tries to fight him, but of course Tiger-Man is superhumanly strong so Kaufmann has no chance. "But brawn isn't the only power that exists!" Adjusting his monocle, Kaufmann unleashes a beam of light from the lens which bathes over Tiger-Man. Calling himself Dr. Hypnos, Kaufmann plants a hypnotic suggestion in Tiger-Man's mind to set himself on fire, being aware of Tiger-Man's intervention in the earlier suicide case. Hypnos declares his means will "Pave the way for a new race of supermen. A world of beings untouched by neurosis. A world that can only exist once everyone on Earth has been destroyed!" Tough medicine!

Tiger-Man goes to a gas station and begins pouring gasoline over himself, but luckily the station is in the midst of being robbed. The two thieves knock Tiger-Man out and frisk him for money, then depart. The next morning, Hypnos is using his power on another patient, ordering him to kill himself, but Tiger-Man leaps in through a window. Knowing Hypnos' power now, Tiger-Man evades the monocle's beam. Hypnos runs from his office to the roof for a showdown. Hypnos finally succeeds in striking him, but only because Tiger-Man deliberately comes in close to grab the monocle; reversing it on Hypnos, Hypnos declares "Death... it's the only answer... after all... I'm insane!" Hypnos leaps off the roof and Tiger-Man crushes the monocle. As Tiger-Man heads back to the stairs he notes "He wanted everyone to be perfect... the fact that nobody can be drove him insane!" To that end, Tiger-Man thinks there's a lesson for himself: "Starting right now, I'm going to accept myself -- just the way I am!"

Comments: Tigerman #3 contains the series' first letters column. The letters are all reviews of issue #1 and are fairly positive, although one complains about the lettering and another didn't like the cover and complained about the Ernie Colon art being "cartoony."

There's something in this story which, had it been developed, would have been brilliant. Tiger-Man notes at the end how Hypnos' inability to make people perfect through psychiatry had driven him insane. I would have found this story more intriguing if Hypnos weren't trying to kill people, but instead was trying to hypnotize them into perfection, but this caused a weird neuroses in his patients so that they, realizing they could never be perfect, went around killing themselves. In any event this is a pretty good story, with the man immolating himself being the most *ahem* hypnotic passage. Pity that the Blue Leopard plot from the previous issue wasn't followed-up on, but such are the perils with hastily-cancelled series.

Both the Destructor and Tiger-Man had a bit of creative shuffling going on in their limited runs (Tigerman moreso) but unlike the Destructor, Tiger-Man never changed into a new costume or developed new super powers. There was a similar lack of care about long-term plotting and supporting casts in both books and Tiger-Man didn't have the glorious scripting of Archie Goodwin to enhance its tales, but Tigerman is not awful - once Ditko arrives. If the creative team had remained the same... well, I wouldn't have bothered reading it to begin with, I only bought #1 so I could know what exactly Ditko inherited. Conway did well with his scripting, giving Tiger-Man a decent Spider-Man feel to his monologues.

This is the end of Tigerman, albeit not the end of Unearthed and my look at Atlas Comics. Stay tuned for another Atlas feature in my next Unearthed!

Monday, January 9, 2017

Ten Great Princess Leia Moments from the Comics

With the passing of Carrie Fisher, I wanted to memorialize not only her but the character she portrayed - Princess Leia. To me, the Leia who appeared in the Marvel Comics at the time of the original films' release was nearly as legitimate as Fisher's. I previously listed ten great moments from Star Wars #51-52, my favourite story from the Marvel run and it included a pretty great Leia scene; here are ten other memorable moments from the comics:

#1: Leia takes Luke swimming (Star Wars #15, 1978, by Archie Goodwin & Carmine Infantino)

At about the same time as this early comic the novel Splinter of the Mind's Eye asserted Leia couldn't swim - yet Luke, improbably, could! Here, Archie Goodwin demonstrated a better sense of who the characters were as Leia was quite adept at swimming (plenty of water visible on Alderaan) while Luke was not (not many oceans on Tatooine). This moment brought back the sense of Leia's superior skill during the cell block rescue in Star Wars and was an early indicator that the comic series would be all right under Goodwin's guidance.

#2: Leia the commando (Star Wars #30, 1979, by Archie Goodwin & Carmine Infantino)

In a later issue, Goodwin sent Leia on a commando mission to an Imperial world. Considering Han and Luke were not (at this point in the series) going on such missions, it said a lot about Leia's uber-competency. She was the Snake-Eyes of Star Wars! It's a pretty great story as Leia fails to achieve her mission's stated goals but considers it a success because her actions have inspired other citizens to resist the Empire.

#3: Leia outwits Darth Vader (Star Wars #48, 1981, by Larry Hama & Carmine Infantino)

Speaking of Snake-Eyes, Larry Hama wrote some Star Wars! In this tale, Leia is playing a very clever con game against Darth Vader himself. She does succeed at everything she sets after this time - although at the last moment Vader is able to claim a minor victory. Take note also that this issue demonstrates that, prequels notwithstanding, it is possible to derive drama from economics in the Star Wars universe.

#4: Leia compromises (Star Wars #55, 1982, by David Michelinie & Walter Simonson)

Leia was helping to establish a Rebel presence on the planet Arbra, an ideal new base of operations. However, the native inhabitants, the Hoojibs, objected to the Rebels walking in and displacing them from their home. While some of the Rebels are willing to go against the Hoojibs' wishes, Leia notes they lost their own homes to the Empire and shouldn't repeat the Imperials' mistakes. That willingness to withdraw is what finally changes the Hoojibs' minds as they invite the Rebels to remain as their guests (Hoojibs remained a constant presence in the series from then on).

#5: Leia takes out an Imperial base (Star Wars #65, 1982, by David Michelinie & Walter Simonson)

On another commando mission, Leia intended to sabotage an Imperial base's reactor. An Imperial officer who had recently suffered a demotion due to a previous failure against the Rebels succeeded in trapping Leia inside the base. The exits were seealed and the officer set the base's reactor into an overload, believing it best to ensure Leia's death as a crippling blow against the Rebellion. Unfortunately for that officer, even with all the doors sealed and the base about to explode, he underestimated Leia's skill as she effortlessly knocked him aside and escaped (this issue also has a great scene where Leia takes out a hapless Stormtrooper).

#6: Leia hunts the bounty hunters (Star Wars #68, 1983, by David Michelinie & Gene Day)

Simply seeing Leia in a pilot's uniform is a treat, but this tale, told in the year leading up to Return of the Jedi had Leia and C-3PO tracking the bounty hunter Dengar, which brought them up against Fenn Shysa, a Mandalorian warrior garbed exactly like Boba Fett, yet quite well-disposed towards the Rebellion. In issues after Jedi, Fenn would become a regular member of the series supporting cast and a new rival for Han to contend with over Leia's affections.

#7: Leia's best frenemy (Star Wars #73, 1983, by Jo Duffy & Ron Frenz)

There certainly aren't many women in the Star Wars universe, but Jo Duffy put a lot of effort into building up her character Dani the Zeltron, a man-chasing smuggler. By 80s comics standards, Dani was the Yukio to Leia's Storm. It made a difference to have Leia interact with another woman and this was the first of many instances where Leia would chaffe at Dani's over-enthusiastic friendship and questionable moral code. In this story, Leia and Dani wound up joining forces in an effort to retrieve the tapes of a missing Rebel pilot (a running sub-plot which ultimately led directly into Return of the Jedi).

#8: Alderaan, remembered (Star Wars #86, 1984, by Randy Stradley & Bob McLeod)

In this tale, Leia met a Stormtrooper who originally came from Alderaan and wore a piece of his homeworld's remains around his neck. Leia is disgusted with him for betraying their people's memory and much of the issue was comprised of Leia delivering pointed takedowns of the Stormtrooper's justifications.

#9: Leia brings down a Sith lord (Star Wars #88, 1984, by Jo Duffy & Bob McLeod)

The post-Return of the Jedi comics had to find a number of new enemies for the protagonists to face. Looming largest among them was Lumiya, a female apprentice of Vader's who assumed her former master's role and began exerting control over the Empire's remnants. But to Leia, Lumiya was just another punk and she won this first confrontation with a blaster shot to Lumiya's chest!

#10: Leia's dress (Star Wars #95, 1985, by Jo Duffy & Cynthia Martin)

Leia's distate for Zeltrons came up constantly and she wound up having four male Zeltrons assigned to her staff. The quartet were very well-meaning but rather vapid; here, they decided to help Leia's appearance at a formal function by altering her dress - under the apparent mistaken belief Leia was a cabaret singer. In spite of it all, Leia did her best to maintain her dignity.

I hope you enjoyed this list!

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Only Thing New Under the Sun Are the Old Books People Haven't Read. (2016 review, part 3)

Looking back at what I read in 2016, I found only one title which was actually published that year: Frank Coniff's 25 Mystery Science Theater 3000 Episodes That Changed My Life in No Way Whatsoever, an amusing series of essays where Frank recalled his time with MST3K. Other recent publications I read were The Sinister Shadow by Kenneth Robeson, a fantastic Doc Savage novel featuring the Shadow which worked better than the similar efforts I had seen comics attempt. I also read Klang! by Christopher Priest in which he delved into the making of his recent comic Q2: The Return of Quantum & Woody and why it wasn't as fulfilling an experience as he'd hoped; I've long appreciated Priest's willingness to pull back the curtain and describe the inner workings of his career.

I particularly like reading short stories and so deliberately went after a few authors' collections. I read quite a bit of Richard Matheson last year, not only his novel I Am Legend but his anthologies Duel and Nightmare at 20,000 Feet. Likewise, I read the compilation of work by his protegee Charles Beaumont, The Howling Man. Having recently read some Shirley Jackson, I also tried her anthology Just an Ordinary Day and found she wrote a number of very good and gently warm tales. An online recommendation led me to Nights of the Round Table by Margery Lawrence, which proved to be a great selection of little-known ghost stories linked together in that grand old "men at a club swapping stories" format.

As a Ray Bradbury fan I delved into quite a few collections of his which I hadn't read before: I Sing the Body Electric!, Quicker Than the Eye and Long After Midnight, plus his tale about the magical history of Halloween The Halloween Tree and his first two detective mystery novels, Death Is a Lonely Business and A Graveyard for Lunatics.

As an old-time radio fan, there are many authors whose work I was first exposed to on the radio and last year I made an effort to try out the original versions for many of those works. Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household was an excellent novel about a hunter who stalks Hitler (though I still prefer Fritz Lang's film version, Man Hunt). Donovan's Brain by Curt Siodmak was told as a great Suspense story with Orson Welles; I found the original tale not quite as compelling as the radio version gave the lead character a son to great dramatic effect. I haven't often found Joseph Conrad easy to get into, but the original text of Typhoon proved almost exactly like the Escape radio version I had enjoyed so the experience was great. I read Gouverneur Morris' The Footprint and Other Stories primarily for that lead story, but he turned out to be a neat little author who reminded me of W.W. Jacobs' work and I thoroughly enjoyed the collection. Marie Belloc Lowndes' The Story of Ivy was a great crime novel with convincing characters.

Some films I had enjoyed and sought out in book version were Graham Greene's Our Man in Havana (which was almost exactly like the fine film version); Invasion of the Body Snatcheres by Jack Finney (a lot more downbeat than the film!); Patricia Highsmith's Strangers on a Train (much more messed up than Hitchcock's film with developments which would clearly have not worked in a 1950s film); Dorothy B. Hughes' In a Lonely Place was so different from the film version they were practically different stories, yet still worked; by contrast, B. Traven's The Treasure of the Sierra Madre turned out to be almost exactly like the film; I enjoyed Laura by Vera Caspary, a good mystery story which I thinked worked better in film; John D. MacDonald's Cape Fear was similar, a good novel but not a gripping thriller in the way the film was; I also read a lot of Cornell Woolrich's books after having seen them adapted in many places, including The Night Has a Thousand Eyes, The Black Curtain, The Black Angel and Phantom Lady, each one convincing me to keep going further and I certainly hope to read even more Woolrich in 2017.

I got through a few more novels by Erich Maria Remarque, the best being A Time to Love and a Time to Die, The Night in Lisbon and Flotsam; at this point, I've probably read all of Remarque's best work. I finally read Jack London's White Fang and The Call of the Wild which I somehow avoided in my teen years for no good reason. I attempted to read E.T.A. Hoffmann's The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr having enjoyed Hoffmann's other tales but Tomcat Murr is only barely comprehensible as a story to me. I read the only major Vernor Vinge novel I hadn't covered before, Marooned in Realtime and read another great spy book by Eric Ambler, Epitaph for a Spy. The most pleasant discovery I had was the Star Trek novel A Stitch in Time by Andrew Robinson which told the life story of the Deep Space Nine character Garak yet managed to work despite the allure of mystery being part of the character's appeal.

In non-fiction I delved into a number of Christian books such as the biographies Wars Are Never Enough about an Angolan missionary, Joao Mawawana and God's Smuggler about the Bible smuggler Brother Andrew. I also read the last major C.S. Lewis book I hadn't previously covered, Of Other Worlds. I read Errol Morris' A Wilderness of Error about the case of Jeffrey MacDonald, an Army officer convincted of killing his wife, but in a case with a lot of unusual baggage; the topic certainly plays into Morris' hobby horse, the exploration of how memory and history are subjective. I also visited Tim Butcher's great book The Trigger, wherein he retraced the movements of Gavrilo Princip in the same manner as his other historical travel books. I learned of With the Old Breed by Eugene Sledge via Ken Burns' documentary The War and was instantly captivated by the frankness Sledge leant in discussing combat and atrocities. By comparison, Ernie Pyle's Here Is Your War may have been fairly truthful for its time, but reads as propaganda by comparison.

Adam Hochschild's works have each been enthralling to me, bringing to life historical humanitarian concerns and his World War I book To End All Wars did the same to that conflict, looking at the impact the war had on various social concerns of the day. My interest in Africa led me to A Savage War of Peace by Alistair Horne, a very thorough look at the Algerian War. I also read a pair of similarly-focused slave narratives, the well-known 12 Years a Slave by Solomon Northup and The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, a work I learned of through Adam Hochschild's Bury the Chains. In film, I read two great books about the silent era: The Speed of Sound by Scott Eyman about the impact talking pictures had on all aspects of movies; and King Vidor's the Crowd: The Making of a Silent Classic by Jordan Young, which looked at the details behind one of my favourite silent movies.

Finally, for fun, I read some more of Robert Benchley: My Ten Years in a Qundry and How They Grew and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea or, David Copperfield being my two favourites. Shall we close with a quotation from Benchley? Yes, we shall: "There is a great satisfaction to us clumsy humans when we see an animal that is supposed to surpass us in skill making a monkey of itself. I am still gloating over a blackbird that I saw, with my own eyes, in as disgraceful a bit of flying as any novice ever put on."

How was your 2016?

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Nothing Will Ever Be the Same Again, Again! (2016 review, part 2)

via Birth Death Movies

I am not precisely one to make a big deal out of going to see movies, yet I wound up at the cinema quite a few times in 2016. The most fun I had in 2016 was seeing Captain America: Civil War, but there were other highlights; Doctor Strange was good, albeit familiar; Star Trek: Beyond proved to the best of the Star Trek reboot films while my favourite, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was re-released to celebrate the franchise's 50th anniversary; I checked out Jason Bourne and found it unfortunately inferior to Matt Damon's earlier films; Shin Godzilla took the notorious Godzilla back to his roots in a very welcome piece about bureaucracy and Japan's complicated history with nuclear energy; finally, Rogue One was a decent but very problematic Star Wars film which I felt worked in spite of all its plotting problems.

Thanks to Netflix, I delved into quite a lot of other pictures which were brand-new last year; highlights of those included Zootopia, which proved to contain a very effective message about proving oneself and combatting personal prejudices; For the Love of Spock, Adam Nimoy's documentary tribute to his father, centered on Leonard Nimoy's performance as Spock; Green Room, an extremely intense thriller about a punk band trapped inside a Neo-Nazi bar; The Legend of Tarzan was surprisingly good, delving into a chapter of real African history which I was already interested in; I watched the horror mockumentary They're Watching primarily because its creator was Micah Ian Wright, a controversial comic book creator; I saw Deadpool and concluded "I can see how someone else would find this funny." Deadpool had the potential to be something different but its claim to be something other than a typical super hero movie was an exaggeration - it's just another super hero, only with nasty language.

Netflix also led me to some fine documentaries, with Hot Coffee discussing the infamous coffee lawsuit at McDonald's and how it was perceived as a frivolous lawsuit when, in actuality, it was a legitimate case; Winter on Fire told of the toppling of the Ukraine government and was very informative. Some other good films included the Disney movie Inside Out and the excellent horror adaptation Kwaidan. But the best film I saw for the first time in 2016 was Creed, the new sequel to Rocky, which I found captivating in part because it paid its dues to the Rocky franchise while simultaneously working hard to develop its own identity.

Tomorrow: Books!

Friday, January 6, 2017

Look What the Cat Dragged in! (2016 review, part 1)

Why do so many "best of" lists appear before the year in question is done? Why do we begin memorializing all the dead famous people of the year when more might die in the last few days of the year (ie, Carrie Fisher)?

Me, I don't have to make deadlines or earn ad revenue based on how many clicks my blogging gets; the two dozen of you reading are sufficient for me. And yet, this was a pretty good year for the blog as my list of Creator credits for Luke Cage season 1 was the most-read Section 244 post of 2016. Obviously, the creator credits will continue to be a feature of this blog in 2017. A tip of the hat again to my friend Kevin Garcia and his site MonoMythic for promoting my efforts.

To begin my look back on 2016, let's start with comic books, the foundation of this site and my so-called sideline career. My recurring feature Unearthed returned in 2016 to revisit Atlas Comics with The Destructor #4, Tigerman #1 and Tigerman #2. There will be more from Unearthed and Atlas in 2017!

In honour of Captain America: Civil War I looked back at how the relationship between Captain America and Iron Man had been portrayed in the comics; it ran 5 installments: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four and Part Five.

Looking again at comics history I looked over the publication life of The Atomic Knights and found it a mixed bag with some clever, charming or dynamic stories interspersed with dull material trying too hard to be "important." I also found the long-ignored Mysterious Traveler comics by Trevor Von Eeden, which turned out to be fairly effective weird horror stories.

I delved into a few early creator-owned characters, examining Wally Wood's Cannon and Gil Kane's Savage. Further, their descendant Cerebus came back in 2016 via Cerebus in Hell?. This was also the year where I finally tried Michael Fiffe's Copra and have enjoyed the experience most thoroughly.

I still have much to learn about the field of comic strips but I sampled a few more books such as the vast book The Comics Before 1945 and found a few things to like in the adventure strip compilations Buz Sawyer: The War in the Pacific, Milt Caniff's Dickie Dare and The Phantom vs. the Sky Maidens. I also gave the Phantom another chance with his most recent tale, The Phantom: Danger in the Forbidden City.

In contemporary comics I found Margaret Atwood's Angel Catbird to be an amusing tale. I was pleased to have a new Beasts of Burden story to enjoy and the recent Fox mini-series by Dean Haspiel and tried out a graphic novel adaptation of Lafcadio Hearn's Japanese ghost stories, The Faceless Ghost and of M. R. James' Ghost Stories of an Antiquary.

Through Kickstarter I've continued to support a few projects from beloved creators; I spotlighted two of Steve Ditko's recent publications this year with Out of This World, Tales of the Mysterious Traveler and Mr. A. I also supported Batton Lash's latest Supernatural Law collection, A Vampire in Hollywood.

I was very nicely surprised by Twilight Zone: The Shadow, which was certainly the most ambitious Dynamite-published Shadow comic I had read. I gave a few Aftershock comics a try and while nothing stuck with me, Garth Ennis' Dreaming Eagles was all right.

Mark Waid's Empire returned with little fanfare via Empire: Uprising which I still hope will find a sequel as it took a concept which could have been left complete as it was and (once again!) left its story incomplete.

In more popular fronts I was surprised to find myself buying a DC comic again - Deathstroke, no less, but the presence of Christopher Priest drew me in with his ever-vital and ever-complex plotting and the steady hands of Carlo Pagulayan and Joe Bennett on art duties. I'm still following Larry Hama's G. I. Joe: A Real American Hero, which produced a notable issue featuring only female characters which I highlighted on the blog. I tried out the new Black Panther #1 and didn't particularly connect with it but I certainly have a great deal of affection for the character and wish it the best. Further, I continued to follow Stan Sakai's Usagi Yojimbo, Walter Simonson's Ragnarok and Kurt Busiek's Astro City & Autumnlands (also read Busiek's graphic novel Redhand).

But there were so many other comics I read which I didn't bring up on the blog! 2016 was the year I finally delved into Alan Moore & Eddie Campbell's From Hell, tried the first volume of Larry Gonick's Cartoon History of the Universe, read some Chester Brown such as The Little Man, Evan Dorkin's Eltingville Club, Jason Lutes' Berlin, Dean Motter's The Return of Mister X, Ben Edlund's The Tick, and finished reading Grant Morrison's Animal Man.

I audited a university class on comics this year and while most of the reading material comprised books I was already familiar with, Alison Bechdel's Fun Home was one new-to-me book which stood out.

Other new material I tried included J. Torres' entertaining martial arts epic The Mighty Zodiac, Mike Baron's revived Badger series. Dan Abnett's The Wild's End wrapped up in 2016 but I keep forgetting to revisit that series for the blog; I also recently went through Corinna Bechko's Miss Fury and hope to blog about it soon. I tried the beginning of Roger Langridge's Betty Boop, but despite my great affection for Langridge's humour it unfortunately didn't connect with me. I read a fantasy epic about boxing called Kings and Canvas on Comixology, but the series is incomplete.

Other notable comics: Tom Gauld's great humour book You're All Just Jealous of My Jetpack; the World War I book Above the Dreamless Dead; Regis Loisel's The Quest for the Time Bird has a great premise but an unsatisfying final quarter; Ron Miller's Velda was an amusing parody of Matt Baker adventure comics; the early graphic novel Four Frightened Women turned out to be well-rendered but not exactly special; I read the mangas Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths by Shigeru Mizuki and Black Blizzard by Yoshihiro Tatsumi and I located the always-great Michael Kupperman's Snake 'n' Bacon Cartoon Cabaret.

As it stands, I'm cautiously optimistic about comics. It helps, I think, that I've untangled myself from much of the noise surrounding the industry and instead focus squarely on the concepts, characters and creators who I enjoy. So long as people such as Stan Sakai, Christopher Priest, Kurt Busiek, Walter Simonson, Roger Langridge and Dave Sim have a platform to work through, I remain a comic book fan.

Tomorrow: Films!

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

RIP: Carrie Fisher

I did not know Carrie Fisher, but for most of my life I have known Leia Organa; she was one of my heroes.

Over the past few days as word of Carrie Fisher's heart attack circulated on social media, culminating in her death yesterday, I saw many people articulating what she meant to them. Mention was made of her personal struggles, her family, her wider career and accomplishments. But, to quote Max von Sydow in The Force Awakens: "She'll always be royalty to me."

Once again, I find myself feeling well-disposed towards Star Wars; I liked The Force Awakens and Rogue One. That being the case, I'm better able to connect emotionally with my long-held affection towards the cast of characters. The protagonists of the original three Star Wars films loomed large in my childhood and Princess Leia Organa was both pivotal and unique - not only the most significant female character in the films but the only one with an arc or more than one scene of dialogue.

I was surprised to find out in the 1990s that many Star Wars fans of my age considered Leia a sex symbol and salivated over the slave outfit she wore in Return of the Jedi. To me, she was one of the guys. Similarly, my favourite character wasn't Han Solo (unlike many), who was, to me, the hero's best friend. I liked Luke Skywalker more than any of the characters and Leia being Luke's sister was a development I wholeheartedly approved of - everyone got to be happy! Rather than a body to be glared at, I took Leia as one of the heroes - feisty, sharp-tongued, heroic. She could fight, plot, snark and in every other means match wits with any of the other characters. She even seemed to spark the 1980s fascination with male-centered action heroes taking on one member who would be "the female one." With few exceptions (G.I. Joe's Scarlett) such heroines were not the equals of their male comrades, unlike Leia.

Part of my affection for Leia stems from the relationship I have with my own sister; to some extent I thought of the Princess Leia action figures as "girl's toys" and was happy to let my sister collect them. Still, eventually I obtained a figure of Leia in her Hoth outfit and it received a lot of play from me. Frankly, the adventures I had with my Star Wars toys were incomplete 'til I began adding Leia to them.

I felt a little uncertain of Carrie Fisher's return to the role in The Force Awakens - not because of her appearance (she sure looked like Leia to me) but because her voice seemed to have aged so much, sounding older than her actual age. Regardless, it was emotional to see her again; it will no doubt be all the more emotional when I see her again next winter - for the final time.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas!

Your humble blogger wishes you and yours a very merry, very happy Christmas.