Saturday, March 27, 2010

RIP: Dick Giordano

An excellent artist and inker and a driving force in the DC Comics of my youth, Giordano passed away this morning at the age of 77.

I'm so glad that he and Roy Thomas completed their adaptation of Stoker's Dracula in 2005 after leaving it incomplete for 30 years. At the time it was simply nice to see that bit of business finally tied up, but now it's a capstone to his career.

Friday, March 26, 2010

First Wave: at least one wave too many

Earlier this month, DC Comics began publishing a six-issue mini-series called First Wave by Brian Azzarello which features a "pulp" version of the DC Universe, using characters like Batman, Doc Savage and the Spirit. But by next month, with First Wave only on its second issue, it's going to be joined by new ongoing titles for Doc Savage and the Spirit. The decision to push the hard launch of a new shared universe so quickly has certainly struck some people as an unusual choice.

The overall verdict?

A few reactions:

"I’ll admit that even after reading First Wave #1, I’m still not entirely sure why DC is publishing this comic. I’m not saying that because of quality, but rather the general idea behind it all." - Greg McElhatton

"Does it make more sense for a publisher to put out a bunch of related material as quickly as possibly and bundled as closely together as possible, and thus it won’t matter if anyone likes it or if a series has buzz or legs or whatnot, because the company will have already sold a bunch of books?" - J. Caleb Mozzocco

"...I can’t for the life of me imagine any of these books now taking off or doing better than, say, 5k-ish by month #6; nor do I think these will have legs in collected formats either." - Brian Hibbs

What history suggests to me is that the current comics market isn't interested in shared universes beyond the Big Two (Marvel & DC). Although Image technically casts their super heroes in a shared universe, it plays by loose rules and lets each creator do their own thing, only coming together every few years to produce something like Image United. Readers of Image titles don't consider themselves as buying into a "universe," they only follow Image books that interest them (and successful titles like Walking Dead are set in separate universes). Attempts to launch new shared universes at publishers like Crossgen & Devil's Due met with failure. Wildstorm's shared universe is fighting for attention. There's probably a market for DC to try and sell Doc Savage & Spirit comics to, but by connecting the two together into a "universe" with First Wave as the "spine," that seems to guarantee fewer readers because they'll be afraid to commit to a single title for fear that they'll have to purchase a second to follow the story.

Like me, for example. I'm interested in seeing what Mark Schultz will do with the Spirit, but knowing he'll only be there for three issues and will be taking his cues from what Azzarello's doing in First Wave makes it appear like less of a creator-driven, story-driven project and more of a company-driven, editor-driven mandate. DC isn't publishing a Mark Schultz Spirit comic because Schultz had a vision, they're publishing it because they needed a Spirit comic in the schedule and Schultz had three months free. Or so it appears.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

This June: Handbook Update#2!



The OFFICIAL HANDBOOK continues its 2010 crusade to chronicle the Marvel Universe with 64 pages of ALL-NEW profiles with EXCLUSIVE ORIGINAL ART for dozens of characters! This issue covers the spectrum of the Marvel U… The men: Maximus the Mad! Phil Sheldon! Skeleton Ki! The women: Shooting Star! Poundcakes! Ecstacy! The aliens: Acanti! Dire Wraiths! Quwrlln! The groups: Leatherneck Raiders! Night Shift! Damage Control! Plus many, many more! 64 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

This June: Index#2!


The chronicle of the Marvel Universe returns as the All-New Official Index to the Marvel Universe delves into the history of three more of Marvel’s most enduring titles! Return with us to the Silver and Golden Ages as we launch our coverage of the Avengers (from AVENGERS #63), Thor (from JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #121), and Captain America (from both CAPTAIN AMERICA #156 and 1941’s CAPTAIN AMERICA COMICS #6). Watch the Marvel universe’s history unfold month by month as each issue provides synopses for dozens of individual comics, including back-up strips, introducing the characters, teams, places and equipment that appeared within, providing vital information about first appearances, where they last showed up and where they appeared next! 64 PGS./Rated A …$3.99

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Deadpool Handbook & Iron Man Index tomorrow!

Tomorrow is release day for Deadpool Corps: Rank and Foul, the first-ever Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe devoted entirely to Deadpool! Truly, comics have finally come of age. More about this book can be found here.

Tomorrow is also release day for Iron Man: Official Index to the Marvel Universe, which collects all of the Iron Man index material from OITTMU#1-14 under a single cover (with a few extras). The solicitation is here.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

X-Factor Forever#1 tomorrow!

Louise Simonson's tenure on X-Factor back in the 1980s led to some of the best writing on an X-Men title outside of Chris Claremont. She's probably best remembered for building Apocalypse into one of the X-Men's greatest threats and renovating Angel into Archangel, but there's so much more to her 50+ run. Other highlights included Cyclops suffering a mental breakdown, Iceman losing control of his powers, Beast becoming dumber each time he used his strength but refusing to stop, Scott and Jean finally putting their emotional baggage behind them and working together and X-Factor's trainees becoming an interesting bunch of characters in their own right.

Tomorrow is launch day for X-Factor Forever, in which Simonson returns to the series right where she left off to tell one last story about the characters, using a separate continuity. It has art by Dan Panosian. It also has a back-up feature by me.

So, bring it home, yeah?

Monday, March 15, 2010

RIP Peter Graves

"He learned almost too late that man is a feeling creature... and because of it, the greatest in the universe. He learned too late for himself that men have to find their own way, to make their own mistakes. There can't be any gift of perfection from outside ourselves. And when men seek such perfection... they find only death... fire... loss... disillusionment... the end of everything that's gone forward. Men have always sought an end to the toil and misery, but it can't be given, it has to be achieved. There is hope, but it has to come from inside, from Man himself."

He's still the only IMF leader in my world. He will be missed.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Oh, Henry!

I recently completed a heavy, hardcover edition of the Complete Works of O.Henry, clocking in at over 1300 pages. I was aware of some of O. Henry's writings, but had never actually sat down to read them for myself. The tome is comprised almost entirely of short stories, but also includes a few poems, letters and editorials.

Some of his writings are dated and the humour in particular has lost some potency, but his stories were, generally, written skillfully and cleverly. He seemed to love poking fun at his work as he was composing it, such as this aside in "A Night in New Arabia:"

"Don't lose heart because the story seems to be degenerating into a sort of moral essay for intellectual readers.

There will be dialogue and stage business pretty soon."

O. Henry is best remembered for "the Gift of the Magi," which is a well-polished story and representative of most of his work. Indeed, the "twist ending" of Magi is how his name is recalled today, the so-called "O. Henry ending." In fact, his work has endured criticism both contemporary and since that he was formulaic.

What can I tell you about the best of O. Henry's work? Well, let's start with his urban tales. O. Henry loved the city and set many of his romantic tales in locales like Manhattan, often bridging two people of different classes together through unlikely circumstances, but almost as often keeping the would-be lovers apart, such as in "While the Auto Waits." Some other great tales of the city include "the Cop and the Anthem," concerning a man desperate to spend a night in jail; "Mammon and the Archer" which poses the old question of whether money can buy love; "After Twenty Years" reunites two old friends who have wound up on separate sides of the law; a similar tale with a romantic bend is "Hearts and Hands;" in "the Fool-Killer" a man's love of liquor leads him to draw some paranoid conclusions; "Vanity and Some Sables" is a fine story of pride; and in "the Last Leaf" a woman concentrates on the last leaf on the branch by her window as she faces what might be her deathbed.

O. Henry loved the west. His more "rural" works include "the Caballero's Way," which introduced the Cisco Kid. Film, radio and television turned the Cisco Kid into a typical two-fisted hero of the old west, but O. Henry's original story is quite different. He's really a terrible man who finds a clever loophole to punish his unfaithful lover while maintaining the code of the Caballero. Some other great stories are "the Pimienta Pancakes" with two men pursuing the same woman, one with the aim of learning a pancake recipie; "Cupid a la Carte" where a woman working in a diner can't stand how men eat, driving her would-be suitors to literally starve themselves to win her favour; "the Princess and the Puma" where a woman saves a man's from a puma and he tries to turn the tables on her; "a Double-Dyed Deceiver" where a man on the run agrees to impersonate a wealthy heir; "Friends in San Rosario" where a bank examiner finds a singular discrepancy and has to be convinced of the trust of friendship; "the Hiding of Black Bill" concerns a drifter who takes up work on a farm soon after a certain robbery; "the Friendly Call" concerning two men whose quiet loyalty knows no bounds; "the Whirligig of Life" about a couple seeking divorce but find it a little too costly; "Red Roses of Tonia" has two men compete to deliver a hat to the woman they love; and "One Dollar's Worth" where a district attorney faces bloody vengeance.

Perhaps O. Henry's best tale of the west was "the Roads We Take," which has an unexpected twist that reframes the entire story.

O. Henry wrote a number of tales concerning a pair of grafters, told from the duo's point of view as they swindled various people out of their money. Often they get away with their schemes, sometimes they're outsmarted by someone a shade cleverer than they. The best of these stories include "Jeff Peters as a Personal Magnet" with a medicinal scam; "Modern Rural Sports" with a farming scam; "the Chair of Philanthromathematics" with a university scam; "the Exact Science of Matrimony" with a matrimonial service scam; "Shearing the Wolf" with a counterfeit money scam; and "Conscience in Art" with a fine art scam. All of these tales - collected together as the Gentle Grafter - are some of Henry's funniest material.

O. Henry wrote some splendid detective parodies; one of his Sherlock Holmes parodies, "the Sleuths" is a good example of his dated humour. It has many funny moments, especially for Holmes fans such as the passage:

"I remember a case that I brought to a successful outcome a year ago. A family bearing the name of Clark disappeared suddenly from a small flat in which they were living. I watched the flat building for two months for a clue. One day it struck me that a certain milkman and a grocer's boy always walked backward when they carried their wares upstairs. Following out by induction the idea that this observation gave me, I at once located the missing family. They had moved into the flat across the hall and changed their name to Kralc."

But "the Sleuths" is ruined by a dated punchline. Much better are the Holmes parodies "the Adventures of Shamrock Jolnes" and "the Detective Detector." He also sent-up the famous real-life detective Eugene Vidocq with his tales "Tictoq" and "Tracked to Doom," which are both quite funny.

Some other examples of O. Henry satirizing the fiction of his day are the medieval farce "the Prisoner of Zembla" and the burglar parodies "Makes the Whole World Kin" and "Tommy's Burglar" and stage play mockeries "a Strange Story" and "Fickle Fortune or How Gladys Hustled." His story "Confessions of a Humorist" may not be autobiographical, but it is very funny.

He often seemed to get caught up on certain pet peeves, such as his stories "the Dog and the Playlet" and "the Proof of the Pudding" which take the same concept and lead to the same outcome.

And then there are some O. Henry stories which are quite different from everything else. "Holding up a Train" is supposedly told from the view of an authentic outlaw; it certain feels authentic. "Roads of Destiny" follows three possible outcomes for its protagonist, but all come down to the force of destiny; his "Bexar Scrip No. 2692" is a pretty good crime story.

Overall, I highly recommend O. Henry to people who enjoy early 20th century short fiction, especially if you like the whimsy found in writers like Damon Runyon, John Collier or M.R. James. I don't think you need to bother with his complete works as I did, but if you find the best collections - say, the Four Million, Heart of the West and the Gentle Grafter - you'll do just fine.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Christopher Priest's "the 18th Letter"

Recently, a comic book podcast group called the Dollar Bin put up a two-part interview with Christopher Priest which ran more than two hours, touching on many ages and aspects of his career, from his days working the Xerox machine at Marvel in the 70s to his last freelance work in the early 2000s.

It's a terrific interview for fans of Priest and one I particularly enjoyed because I had never heard his voice before; he has an excellent speaking voice and carries on his recollections at a quick, steady clip. And his laugh is infectious.

So, I was inspired to investigate a mostly-forgotten work of Priest's which he's spoken highly of on his website. It's a Wonder Woman tale called "the 18th Letter" which ran in the obscure title Legends of the DC Universe #30-32 (2000).

During the interview, Priest mentioned feeling as though all the stories had been told and that what he tried to do as an author was to find fresh angles, to tell stories in a different way. "The 18th Letter" has a hook that is so different from a typical Wonder Woman story that you have to keep reading it just to learn how it plays out.

The concept: an east European country is beset by a terrible war (think: Bosnia) and super heroes such as the Justice League are forbidden by the UN from intervening. However, one of the leaders in the conflict sends for Wonder Woman to make an unusual proposal: he will order his armies to stand down if she agrees to sleep with him.

Now on the face of it you think, "there's no way Wonder Woman would sleep with him." Well then, how will she end the violence? Many of the additional characters in the story - Wonder Woman's friends, mother and fellow Leaguers - all assume that she will refuse the general, no matter how charismatic he is. In that case, what is Wonder Woman's plan? And even if she does have a plan to stop him without comprising her virtue, suppose he manages to seduce her all the same?

So yes, "the 18th Letter" keeps you turning the pages all the way to end to see how Priest answers the unusual dilemma he dreamed up. In the interview, Priest described his disappointment that the third and final chapter was illustrated by a different artist who was a novice and hence didn't bring his best work. This novice artist was none other than Pablo Raimondi, now considered a pretty good artist for his work on Peter David's Madrox & X-Factor, Ed Brubaker's Books of Doom and his current Realm of Kings: Inhumans. He was indeed a novice back in 2000, but it's still interesting to see how he started out.

Priest fans who haven't read this story - Wonder Woman fans who think they've seen it all - anyone who thinks this sounds like a great hook for a story - should track these comics down.