Thursday, June 23, 2016

Angola in the Comics Part 6: Roy Lance

Yesterday I looked at the creative and moral bankrupt ways of DC Comics. What's my transition? Well, Angola went financially bankrupt. Boom. Welcome back to Angola in the Comics!

This time I'm heading back to Fiction House's Jungle Comics and issue #6 (June, 1940). The Grand Comics Database does not know who wrote this story, but they think it might be Nick Cardy.

Our hero is one Roy Lance (who appeared in Jungle Comics from 1940-1942), one of that popular breed of action heroes best described as "the great white hunter." Unlike other brands of jungle heroes, the great white hunter seems to owe more to reality than fiction. Journalist Henry Stanley did his part to popularize his own brand of fiction - depicting himself as an unstoppable explorer, the type art would imitate with pith helmets and jodhpurs. This type of hero flourished in the first half of the 20th century (when jungle heroes were at their peak), with the likes of Allan Quatermain managing some staying power. As independence came to Africa the idea of white men "taming" the wilderness went out of fashion, but the romanticism associated with them endures to this day - witness the recent Cecil the lion story.

Our tale begins with Roy (clad in a smart red shirt and - of course - a pith helmet) aboard a ship bound for "the port of Angola, French Equatorial Africa." Er, what? Being a country, Angola is rather more than a port. At that time it was under the control of the Portuguese, not the French. Right here in panel number one, I'm tempted to give up; the problem with comic books set in Africa - no matter what era they're created in - is that so few comic book people have ever set foot in the continent, thus their ability to render the place believable is limited to the state of their reference files. Right here, it seems like someone totally misunderstood Africa's borders. Angola lay just beneath French Equatorial Africa.

Anyway, Roy is accompanied on this trip by Jill March, a "young woman scientist" whose mission is to combat "the dreaded tsetse fly." However, the governor of Angola, Malraux, orders them to stay out of the interior. Lance quickly decides to ignore him and leads Jill to the interior with a few Africans bearing their supplies. On their second night, a band of "savages" steal some of their supplies, but Lance heroically shoots them in the back. They finally reach a small village on the floor of a valley where they discover a population of white people who have been enslaved in order to manufacture weapons for Malraux.

One of the imprisoned men explains he used to work for Malraux and that the white people are a "lost tribe" and Malraux "took advantage of their ignorance. They were easily enslaved by Malraux's black brutes." Ugh! Once again, simply terrible; much like the popular H. Rider Haggard fiction of the day, this story posits the existence of white civilizations in Africa, a subtle way to validate the white man's supposed ownership of the continent. Further, the native Africans are the "brutes," the ones inflicting slavery upon white people. This is the kind of comic a racist of the time would look at, nod and remark, "sounds legit."

Anyway Malraux hears Lance is in the hidden village and sets out to confront him, but he's bitten by the tsetse fly and needs Jill to save his life. Jill does so and Lance uses Malraux's sickness as an opportunity to rally the white slaves to rebel. "You have a right to rule yourselves," Lance states. Which would be great, if the African population he was addressing had been, you know, African. Lance's words are effective and the slaves destroy the munitions factory. Lance brings Malraux back to Angola where the French authorities take charge of him. Lance kisses Jill, then goes on his way.

  • -5 estrelas for lousy understanding of African geography
  • +1 estrela for depicting the tsetse fly in Angola
  • -5 estrelas for putting the French in charge of Angola
  • -10 estrelas for immensely problematic racism

TOTAL SCORE: Negativos dezenove estrelas!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Watchmen Babies Noir

A few months ago I spoke to a professor of film studies about "film noir." As the term has become quite elastic, I wanted to hear how he defined the phrase. He admitted he held a very broad view on what could be considered film noir - in fact, he had taught a class on film noir using the John Ford film The Searchers, a western film renowned for its color photography and widescreen vistas, none of which are elements we commonly associate with noir. However, he argued that because the protagonist was a man returning from the war who finds himself an outsider and thrust into a situation of moral ambiguity, there was a valid basis for considering The Searchers film noir.

There was a time when film noir meant more than black & white photography or the lead being a detective. Film noir as it was originally understood meant Out of the Past, Double Indemnity or Kiss the Blood Off My Hands, but because the term leant prestige to films, fairly soon it was taken over by marketing until today we find "film noir" is a virtually meaningless descriptor.

Above: "Film Noir" Barbie clothes

On that note, here's a recent solicitation from DC Comics:

WATCHMEN NOIR HC

Written by ALAN MOORE Art and cover by DAVE GIBBONS

Now presented in stark black and white, highlighting Dave Gibbons dark, moody artwork, experience the greatest graphic novel of all time as never before! WATCHMEN begins as a murder mystery, but soon unfolds into a planet-altering conspiracy. As the resolution comes to a head, the unlikely group of reunited heroes—Rorschach, Nite Owl, Silk Spectre, Dr. Manhattan, and Ozymandias—test the limits of their convictions and ask themselves where the true line is between good and evil. Collects the original 12-issue WATCHMEN series in black and white for the first time! On sale NOVEMBER 23 • 416 pg, B&W, 7.5” x 11.5”, $39.99 US

"Watchmen Noir." Not simply "Watchmen in Black & White" but "noir." The term is used as a buzzword; it's printed in black and white? By Gar, it must be noir!

What is the purpose of reading Watchmen in black and white? The only idea I can conceive is that one might find a new way of appreciating Dave Gibbons' artwork without the colouring of John HIggins. Certainly, when I bought the black & white Essential Spider-Man back in 1997 I found a new love for Steve Ditko's art. Mind you, I also loved the book's $20 price tag - if I could have had the same content in colour for the same price then I would have switched to colour.

Watchmen Noir is like the reverse of Ted Turner's flamboyantly garish colorized films. But, here's the thing, Watchmen was not in colour by mistake. Gibbons didn't accidentally load his pages in the washer with his colours and go, "Whoops! I guess this has to be a colour comic now!" Part of why Watchmen continues to elicit such strong reactions from its audience - and is a mainstay of college comics studies - is that the creators had such fine control over their storytelling, that virtually every line, word and - yes- colour on the page was there intentionally and held a meaning. Black & white is a very worthy medium in comics, one I've enjoyed seeing creators such as Milt Caniff, Stan Sakai, Jeff Smith and Dave Sim labour within. But on the occasions they worked in black & white, that informed their artistic decisions.

But aye, as Will Smith once said, "there is the rub." Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons' creative control over Watchmen has long since become a joke, a mocking sneer from the publisher they trusted, an unwilling parent to generation after generation of Watchmen Babies. And yet, despite these repeated attempts to mine Watchmen's success, the work continues to stand, still considered a great achievement in comics storytelling. Moore and Gibbons may have had to bargain with a monkey's paw in order to see their work published, but they can rest secure on its continued reputation - which is more than you can say for the Watchmen Babies.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A Random Assortment of Reviews

BAKER STREET PECULIARS #1

"The Case of the Cockney Golem Chapter One: A Beast in Baker Street" by Roger Langridge (writer) and Andy Hirsch (artist)

This is a new series about three children (and one dog) who enter into the employ of someone claiming to be Sherlock Holmes in order to investigate the suddenly-animated statue of a lion which goes on a rampage through Baker Street. The series is inspired by some of the ephemera surrounding Sherlock Holmes. It's interesting, in fact, to note how minor figures in the Holmes canon like Mycroft Holmes, Irene Adler and Professor Moriarty loom much larger in works outside the canon. Likewise, Holmes' landlady Mrs. Hudson and the Baker Street children are the featured players in this series, while they were barely visible in the original stories. In fact, the Baker Street kids are more accurately the offspring of William Gillette's stage play, rather than the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

This story seems to involve magic (what with the animated stone lion) which is supposed to be a no-no in detective fiction, but it suits the light comedic tone. As an all-ages comic book, it has plenty of funny dialogue by Langridge. If I hadn't known from the outset that he didn't draw this book, I'd have looked at Hirsch's art and assumed it was Langridge using an inker; which is to say, Hirsch's art is perfect for Langridge's form.

Baker Street Peculiars is published by Boom! Studios: "Freelancers' least-favourite publisher!"

COPRA #14

"Wir" by Michael Fiffe (writer/artist).

I'm still slowly going through the series Copra an issue at a time and at this point, the series has begun to delve into character-driven tales of the various cast members, rather than addressing the ongoing plots. This issue features Wir, the armor-wearing teenage member of the team. For much of the issue it's a quiet narrative about the day-to-day doings of listless teenagers and their usual routines. Up until the closing pages where the usual tone of Copra reasserts itself, it's like a male version of This One Summer. A very nice change-of-pace for what is becoming a series - and creator - I intend to pay attention to.

Copra is published by Michael Fiffe: "You guys, self-publishing is still a thing."

G.I. JOE: A REAL AMERICAN HERO #227

"Cobra Nation Part 2" by Larry Hama (writer) and S.L. Gallant (artist)

Larry Hama is still kicking it old school on G.I. Joe with an endless series of running subplots and his usual cast of hundreds. This issue features Cobra Commander being forced into a new arrangement with his former ally Destro; the new Snake-Eyes learning how to shatter a sword using ninja magic (which is getting well outside of the level of ninja mysticism I like to see in this series) and the Joes welcome a new member Bombstrike (new to this continuity at least). It's nice to have another new character in the Joes' ranks as part of what made Hama's original run on the series in the 80s so enjoyable was the steady influx of new faces. The absence of new figures to sell has made it easier on Hama to tell the stories he wants to without having to shill for Hasbro, but I liked the way the commercial demands made him pivot from time-to-time; after all, Hama has stated repeatedly that he doesn't plan the series in advance but instead plots everything on the fly. New characters should always be part of that.

G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero is published by IDW: "We're not an IP farm, we're an IP rest home."

THE MIGHTY ZODIAC #1

"Starfall Part 1: The Shadows Have Ears" by J. Torres (writer) and Corin Howell (artist).

Finally, we have the beginning of an epic story set in a world populated by anthropomorphic animal people. 12 of them are of the same race as creatures from the Chinese zodiac (snake, rooster, ox, etc) and are evidently being set up as the protagonists. It seems six stars have fallen from the sky and a dark power - represented by evil rabbits - are on the loose. A few of the heroes are introduced and it all has a lightness of touch similar to that of Kung Fu Panda. If that's your thing, this might be your thing too.

The Mighty Zodiac is published by Oni Press: "We publish more than just Scott Pilgrim, apparently."

Monday, May 23, 2016

"You self-blinded fool..." Mr. A #18 review

One of the best things to come of comic book creators turning to Kickstarter is that it's helped a true living legend of the medium - Steve Ditko - to continue producing work. Perhaps the exposure he's gained from Kickstarter is greater than what he had before, as self-published comics have a terrible time gaining traction in today's comic book market.

The latest Kickstarter production from Ditko is a new issue of Mr. A. Of all of Ditko's creator-owned characters, Mr. A is surely the best-known. Because the character is used to help enact Ditko's objectivist philosophies, he is also a character quite close to Ditko's soul.

In Mr. A #18 there are two stories; in the first, "Mr. A and the Horror," a man in a monster mask goes about extorting money from people. Mr. A sets out to stop the extortioner, but his victims are far too protective of him. In the second tale, "The Score," a businessman commits suicide and Mr. A sets after the men who drove him to that end.

Surprisingly for Ditko's work, there are sub-plots in these tales, whereas his self-published stories normally each tell a single tale. In both stories, there's troule at the Daily Crusader newspaper where Mr. A's civilian identity works, eventually leading to the return of the paper's first publisher who sets things in order at the climax.

Although I have no great love for objectivism, I rather like this book more than the other recent self-published Ditko comics I've read. His art seems more detailed and the lettering sharper. I only hope there are many more stories to come.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Rest in Peace: Alan Young

Another star from the days of old-time radio has passed away: Alan Young died two days ago, aged 96. He had a swift rise in radio, starring in his own program in 1944. It probably helped that during World War II there was a huge demand for performers. I don't personally find that his show holds up today but if you'd like to sample it for yourself, try this page at archive.org.

It was on television that Young really made his mark, starring in Mr. Ed as Wilbur, owner of the titular talking horse. I adored Mr. Ed in my youth and I'm sure I watched every episode on Nick at Nite. I can't recall much of the show's plots though, outside of the one with Mae West.

Young's other great contribution to my childhood entertainment was his lenghty turn as the voice of Scoorge McDuck on television's DuckTales cartoons. Young's career in radio clearly trained him for animation work (like so many radio veterans) and with his adopted Scottish accent I doubt anyone recognized his voice (though if you know Young provided the voice it's apparent immediately).

Rest in peace Mr. Young.

Monday, May 9, 2016

"And now we must reckon with what we have done to our own blood." Black Panther #1 review

Since I quit working for Marvel in 2012 I've mostly kept my distance from their comics (for a variety of reasons) but occasionally I do check in on some titles. Such a comic is the new Black Panther by writer Ta-Nehisi Coates and artist Brian Stelfreeze. The series has, no doubt, come into being because the Black Panther is making his live-action debut this month in Captain America: Civil War, but it's also receiving a lot of attention because Coates is a noted journalist from the Atlantic; in the mere two years I've been reading the Atlantic I've certainly come to look forward to his essays. Coates has thus become the third black man to serve as the ongoing author of comicdom's first black super hero, the Black Panther - following in the footsteps of Christopher Priest (1998-2003) and Reginald Hudlin (2005-2009); further, artist Stelfreeze is likewise black, him being an artist whom Priest long wished he could have had as a collaborator on his own series. As I enjoyed Priest's Black Panther in part for its political side, from Coates' background I anticipated a similar interest in playing with politics.

I seem unable to keep from thinking of Priest's Black Panther - it was certainly one of my favourite comic series. Like Priest, Coates' first issue features T'Challa and his Dora Milaje bodyguards and a plot against T'Challa which originates from a neighbouring state and is fomented by a manipulator who tries to turn his people against him; even the Kimoyo technology is back. Whereas Priest's book was told through the eyes of the buffoonish Everett K. Ross (himself debuting in Captain America: Civil War but missing from Coates' pages), Coates' story is told primarily through T'Challa's perspective, something which goes against Priest's own belief that T'Challa should be somewhat inscrutable, kept remote from the audience.

Whereas Hudlin set out immediately to retcon much of T'Challa's world, Coates seems willing to play with the world he's been handed; Wakanda's enemy Niganda from the Hudlin run is brought back, T'Challa's mother Ramonda from Don MacGregor's work is given a proper reintroduction, T'Challa is dealing with the reprecussions of various recent events in other comics and the Dora Milaje - who were present only in the background of Hudlin's work - are again part of the series narrative. As teenage "prospective brides" for T'Challa, Priest had always intended them to be somewhat probelmatic characters, with one of his initial Dora Milaje - Nakia - developing a terrible obsession for T'Challa. Here, the Dora Milaje are called Aneka and Ayo; having recently killed a lecherous chieftain, Aneka is sentenced to death, but Ayo liberates her. It also appears that the duo are lovers.

Aneka and Ayo carry much of this comic because T'Challa is - despite providing a monologue of his thoughts - not much of a protagonist. In his day, Priest had to deal with fans' impatience at how T'Challa would seem to be running behind on the villain's actions, slow to react, when in actuality Priest always considered T'Challa as hyper-competant and several steps ahead of the villains, but it would often take 3-4 issues before T'Challa would spring his carefully-laid plans. Priest had in part based his interpretation as a reaction against the work of Don MacGregor, whose T'Challa seemed to be constantly losing fights and always lagging behind his enemies' plots. It's hard to know from one issue where Coates is bringing T'Challa, but as the hero's inner thoughts are maade available here I sense rather more MacGregor than Priest; throughout this issue T'Challa is shown mourning the death of his sister, brooding over recent battles, unable to confront the person menacing Wakanda, unable to intervene in the Dora Milaje matter and denounced by his own subjects. Although I trust T'Challa to claim some form of eventual triumph, if this is the character's opening position it's hard to imagine his life getting much better in the coming story. Overall, T'Challa is depressed; what a bummer.

While Priest withheld the identity of the person (Achebe) manipulating events against T'Challa until his third issue, Coates identifies the person responsible in this issue. And while the former villain used political theater to help sway opinion, this latter villain uses mind control powers, which is certainly in-keeping with the Marvel Universe setting, but a heck of a lot less interesting politically. Although Coates is new to the comic book form, he seems to understand many of the tricks used by today's popular super hero creators, such as the unwillingness to render a story with a beginning, middle and end; this comic is all middle and thus not satisfying as an individual unit of entertainment. No doubt the collected edition of this story will be the best way to judge his future in comics - I mean, assuming he wants a career in comics.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Free Comic Book Day 2016 Roundup

I didn't bother going to the comic shop for Free Comic Book Day in 2015 because I felt I'd rather wait for the year's offerings to turn up on Comixology rather than brave the FCBD crowds. But otherwise, I've been out for Free Comic Book Day almost every year since the first one. My preferred shop offers two FCBD offerings for free per customer, $0.25 for additional comics. I came away with six books; here's what I thought:

The Invincible Haggard West #101 by Paul Pope (First Second).

This is actually a comic book from 2013 which sold for $2.99, but I guess there was a lot of overstock. Free Comic Book Day is actually a good venue for this comic - it's the opening sequence from Paul Pope's graphic novel Battling Boy, telling the final adventure of Haggard West, whose death has reprecussions on the rest of the book. The only thing wrong with this comic was its original cover price; since the entirety of the contents were in Battling Boy, the publisher was basically banking on getting Paul Pope fans to buy something twice. As a free book (or if it had been priced at $1 or lower) it's appropriate as a preview comic - it will make you (hopefully) want to pick up Battling Boy to have the rest of the story. I've already read Battling Boy, but I judged that $0.25 for some Paul Pope was a good deal.

Free Comic Book Day 2016: General (great title there) by Chris Roberson, Stephen Byrne, Mike Mignola, Richard Corben, Brian Wood and Tristan Jones (Dark Horse Comics).

This poorly-named comic contains three original short stories to advertise three ongoing Dark Horse properties. These are Serenity by Roberson & Byrne, Hellboy by Mignola & Corben and Aliens by Wood & Jones. Aliens did not interest me, but Serenity and Hellboy are properties I've enjoyed in the past. The Serenity tale is given the cover along with Joss Whedon's name (he's "executive producer," whatever that means in terms of comic book production; guys, you probably don't need his name to sell a free comic). It's a harmless bit of fluff where River tells a bedtime story to Zoe's daughter about the crew's adventures in the style of a fairy tale. If you already know Firefly/Serenity then it brings nothing new to the table, but it's a good bit of pandering. The Hellboy story involves a young Hellboy deciding to check out a cursed mirror his father told him about and that turns out to be a bad idea. Corben draws some great monsters.

The Tick: Free Comic Book Day 2016 by Jeff McClelland, Duane Redhead and Ian Nichols (New England Comics).

It's hard to go wrong with the Tick; although series creator Ben Edlund has long since moved on, the character is still a lot of fun. This book is easily the best value of all the FCDB titles I picked up as it contains three complete stories. The first two involve the Tick dealing with the problem of various alternate reality versions of himself appearing in the City, while the 3rd story involves "Tickfest," the Tick's first convention (which is actually a trap set by a super-villain). It's entirely suitable for kids or adults with plenty of fun lines of dialogue: "Reality and I have never been great allies, I suppose."

FCBD: March by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell (IDW/Top Shelf).

I've heard many complimentary things about March, the graphic novel adaptation (in 3 volumes) of John Lewis' participation in the civil rights movement. This book collects an example from each volume, together giving a good impression of the scope of Lewis' tale. I certainly do intend to get around to reading March one of these days.

Rom #0 by Chris Ryall, Christos Gage, David Messina, John Barber and Chris Evenhuis (IDW).

IDW has recently picked up the licenses to the Micronauts and Rom, two toy properties whose comic books were produced by Marvel, but everything Marvel invented remains with that company. Can Rom work without Marvel's involvement? I dunno. For some reason IDW has redesigned Rom, taking away his sleekness, making him look bulkier. His distinctive pointy-feet have been turned into normal boots, his mitten-hands are now normal gauntlets and his neutralizer looks completely different. It's the same set up (Ultimate Rom, as it were) with Rom battling the Dire Wraiths. I thought the Dire Wraiths belonged to Marvel, but perhaps the toy company owned the name? Anyway, these Wraiths don't use any of the previous Marvel designs, instead going for an H.R. Giger Alien look. Once again, Rom comes to Earth to stop the Dire Wraiths; this time he'll do it in a clumsier costume and opposite a completely different supporting cast (not introduced here). I think I can safely say this isn't for me - I'm not interested in Ultimate Rom and thought writer Ryall's earlier creator-owned book Onyx was already a decent enough revisiting of the Rom mythos.

Free Comic Book Day 2016 (Captain America)#1 by Nick Spencer, Jesus Saiz, Dan Slott and Javier Garron (Marvel Comics).

Like so many of Marvel's FCBD offerings, this one previews some upcoming stories. Captain America gets the headline treatment because of his new movie and it features him battling Hydra alongside Sharon, the Falcon (who is also Captain America) and another Falcon (who is not Sam Wilson; comics, everyone!). Meanwhile, a Spider-Man story pits him against people who have mysteriously returned from the dead, something which happens every single dang month in comic books, but one assumes it's different this time. I'm still happy to remain on the outside of Marvel and not go back the ol' MU - too many memories. But these are decent previews. If I were still reading super heroes, I'd be following that Spider-Man story.