Saturday, March 30, 2013

Time on my hands

I like making lists.

Some time ago I created a list on imdb which attempts to list every movie or television program adapted from a comic book (you can see it here).

For some reason, I thought it would be interesting to devote a list to the opposite concept as well - hence I just wrapped up a list of every movie which has been adapted into comic book (as near as I can tell). This latter list may be found here.

I suppose all the energy I used to throw into my work for Marvel has to find an outlet somewhere...

Friday, March 22, 2013

Supernatural Law week, day 5: the best of Supernatural Law

This week I seem to have apppointed myself an expert on Batton Lash's Supernatural Law... so I must have some favourite stories from the series, right? Indeed, there are four tales which I think are the best of the best. Each is available at Exhibit A.

"The Littlest Loup Garou" (found in Soddyssey) features artist Wallace Kneet, a man whose "loup garou" paintings are a sensation. However, Kneet's wife claims to be the true artist behind these works, forcing Kneet to defend himself in court. However, Kneet's paintings are the result of a terrible curse tied to the full moon. This tale at first heads to a conclusion you might have anticipated - then pulls out a neat surprise which changes how the story reads on subsequent visits. The overblown dime novel-style narration is also a treat. "Many moons will pass before this case will rest..."

"Personal Injuries... & Guardian Angels" (also found in Soddyssey) features Benjamin, a guardian angel who looks a lot like Jack Benny (real name: Benjamin Kubelsky; he's being sued by his client Dennis McNulty, who looks a lot like Jack's colleague Dennis Day (real name: Dennis McNulty). If you aren't familiar with Jack Benny, your appreciation for this tale might possibly be nil. It's packed to the gills with references to Benny, including characters based on Frank Nelson & Mel Blanc and Benjamin's behaviour is modeled on Jack's, from his catch phrases ("Now cut that out!"), humming "Love in Bloom" and breaking the fourth wall to glare at the audience. If you know your Benny cast of characters well, then you'll easily "hear" Jack, Dennis, Mel & Frank in your head as you read the story.

"The Death and Times of 'Dr. Life'" (found in Sonovawitch!) was one of the first stories I read; in a take-off on Dr. Jack Kevorkian, one Dr. Bakaleivagin starts reanimating the dead, which has all manner of unforseen legal complications. Can you get a "do not resurrect" order on your corpse? Like many of Lash's best tales, it performs a simple twist on a familiar idea, then mines the riches.

"Griswell's Demon" (found in Tales From the Vault: an Anniversary Special) was inked by Steve Ditko himself. Lash's skill as a Ditko imitator is such that at first glance, you might not even realize Ditko touched the page! It's a brief tale involving a sorcerer who conjures a demon to perform his dirty work, but doesn't reckon with Wolff & Byrd's legal resources.

And this marks the end of my week-long look at Supernatural Law. If anything I've shared has encouraged you to give the series a first look - or a second look - then it was well worth it.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Supernatural Law week, day 4: finally, the introduction

There is one part of Batton Lash's the Monsters Meet on Court Street which I single out for criticism - the part which Lash didn't write, the introduction. Each volume of Supernatural Law has been introduced by a celebrity and this tome's worthy is television personality and dabbler-in-comic book-writing Jonathan Ross. Ross states:

"...Which is kind of what surprises me about Supernatural Law. It's so good, so much fun, such an accessible, dynamite concept that I can't figure out why it hasn't been snapped up and turned into a TV series or a smash-hit movie and maybe even a theme park ride or two. No matter, because we have the comics-and lots of them-to enjoy. And until the rest of the world finally wises up and tunes in, we can all enjoy that nice, warm, smug glow that comes from being part of the avant-garde, the early-adopters, the cool kids with enough brains and good taste to enjoy a pop culture phenomenon before it's actually hailed as one by the people who don't really dig this stuff but really don't want to look like they're missing out."

Although I share Ross' love for Supernatural Law and most of his introduction simply gushes over Lash's creation, reading this paragraph made me ill. I believe Ross means to compliment Supernatural Law when he wonders why it hasn't become a film or television program. Ross' only comic book, Turf, has been optioned for the cinemas and producing comic books as a means of selling scripts is a tried and tested practice Ross's friend Mark Millar indulges in. The problem is indulging the idea that a comic book series is somehow incomplete without being adapted into another medium. In the first half of Ross' statement, it feels as though he's saying, "why, this comic book is good enough to be awarded with art's highest honour: a multimedia franchise! For his singular artistic expression, Lash deserves to pass his work into the hands of people with a lesser understanding of his ideas to interpret in an entirely differently fashion!" It seems that the success of comics on cinema screens hasn't entirely eradicated our old feelings of shame for partaking of a lesser medium - now our favourite comic book doesn't truly attain respect until Hollywood has granted its seal of approval.

The second half of the paragraph is at least a little reassuring. After first wondering why Supernatural Law isn't on film, Ross backtracks and assures the series' fans that we're the "avant-garde, the early-adopters, the cool kids," which is certainly what fans like be told. Back in the days before comic book-to-film adaptations had become immensely profitable and ubiquitous, I myself wanted to see certain comic books brought to film because I knew it would be a means of sharing some aspect of the stories I liked with friends and family who would never deign to read the original stories themselves. Telling ourselves we're the "avant-garde, the early-adopters, the cool kids," is a fine way to bolster ourselves. It's not that comic books put up barriers of price, format, availability or content which many television & film projects do not - it's just that we're too cool for them.

Would a Supernatural Law film or television series bring new readers to the series? Sure, it would be bound to lead folks to either Exhibit A's shop or Amazon, even without a marketing effort. Would such a film or program actually be any good? It's possible. Is it something Batton Lash wants for the series? Dunno. Would such films or programs enhance the experience of reading Supernatural Law? Not for this fan.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Supernatural Law week, day 3: My life in comics

To raise funds for the publication of the Monsters Meet on Court Street, Supernatural Law creator Batton Lash created a Kickstarter campaign. As a fan of the series I was all too happy to lend my support, but rather than simply donate a token amount, I was taken aback to see at a certain level, one could donate enough money to become drawn into the book itself, appearing as a juror during a trial scene. Did I possess the willpower to resist being immortalized for all time as a comic book character?


As someone who became a homeowner in the last year, it may not have been the most responsible way to spend my money, but at least it's a one-time indulgence.

In this short story, Wolff & Byrd are defending a Frankenstein-ish Monster from the accusations of a woman who claims to have been assaulted. Wolff quickly resorts to blaming the victim - or, rather, identifying the "victim" as a professional witness.

My juror character doesn't receive any dialogue - he's just a face in the crowd who appears for three panels, then races off-panel with the other jurors when they mistakenly think the monster wants to eat them for lunch.

It was my childhood dream to create comic books. At age twelve, when I first realized I couldn't draw, I was a little disheartened. Gradually, I began to think I could become a writer instead, but eventually I let that dream die. For years I thought it was enough to just be a fan - especially when I began using the internet to create websites about comic books. And yet, somehow I wound up leaving a mark on comics, spending most of eight years freelancing at Marvel, contributing articles to Proof: Endangered and now making a cameo in Supernatural Law. I intend to keep supporting Kickstarter projects which interest me, but I don't need any more validation - I'm pleased to be just another fan again.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Supernatural Law week, day 2: The Monsters Meet on Court Street

Although Batton Lash has never stopped producing new Supernatural Law comics, it's taken some time for his trade paperback collections to catch up to his output. The most recent collection, the Monsters Meet on Court Street is only the sixth such trade and is mostly concerned with material from 2003-04.
After a brief new story (more about which tomorrow), the collection gets underway with a run of stories connected (at times) with a subplot about Chase Hawkins, a lawyer who's been in a relationship with Alanna Wolff since the first volume, but it's been a problematic affair as Chase isn't particularly faithful. Chase receives more attention in this volume than in any previous book and while as a reader I extend some hope for Chase to turn his act around, it's only really because I've been made to care about Alanna; Chase has terrible self-control, from his inability to give up smoking to his philandering. By the end of the book, Alanna seems to have moved on from Chase and he's left unredeemed. But perhaps his story will continue in the future?
The Chase Hawkins tale comes to a head during "the Mamamomo Matter," easily my favourite chapter of the book. In this tale, Chase is representing a client who's been passing off his various crimes on his childhood imaginary friend, Mr. Mamamomo (who I think is meant to resemble Mr. O'Malley of the Barnaby comic strip?). Naturally, Wolff & Byrd become Mr. Mamamomo's lawyers, but as his one-time friend continues to spurn him, Mr. Mamamomo's physical presence diminishes, providing a "ticking clock" for Wolff & Byrd to race against. Unfortunately, Mr. Mamamomo fades whenever people ignore him and at the moment, Alanna is preoccupied by her troubles with Chase, Jeff is distracted by reporter Roberta Bronski and normally-reliable secretary Mavis is out-of-sorts after having heard her ex-boyfriend Toby is getting married. The story has plenty of great jokes about imaginary friends, a lot of character development for the series cast and even ends on a heartfelt moment.
Also noteworthy is "Appeal of the 800-lb. Gorilla," a sequel to a story from the previous volume which involved Nicky Gorillo, a man transformed into a gorilla. In what seems to be a joke based on DC Comics' one-time belief in selling comic books by placing gorillas on their covers, Gorillo returns in this story to become rich and famous due to the public's inherant fascination with talking gorillas. So Julius Schwartz really was on to something!
The book concludes with the great "13 Court Street," in which cast members see their possible futures reflected within a magic mirror. It proves to be a great means for the characters to confront their personal issues and undergo a bit of growth.

More about the Monsters Meet on Court Street tomorrow...

Monday, March 18, 2013

Supernatural Law week, day 1: what is Supernatural Law?

Comic book creators who self-publish have an uphill battle when it comes to remaining on people's minds. Having to create, publish and promote themselves (practically) solo usually means promotion gets short shrift. Being bound to Image guarantees some coattails to latch upon, but it's a small wonder so few self-publishers survive; who can produce their most creative work, make the right decisions on how to print it and do right by promoting the work as well?

And yet, Batton Lash's Supernatural Law (sold at Exhibit A Press) has existed in one or more forms since 1979, appearing as a newspaper comic, a National Law Journal cartoon, a comic book (now bound together into trade paperbacks) and a webcomic (which can read here). I'm still a relatively new Supernatural Law fan, but today I'll do my best to summarize the series for you.

The lead characters are Jeff Byrd and Alanna Wolff, occasionally dubbed "Counselors of the Macabre." Their particular expertise lies in cases involving the paranormal - the supernatural, extraterrestrial and otherdimensional . Frequently, they find themselves defending a paranormal client who would normally be the antagonist of a horror story, but through his lawyers, is finally able to give his perspective. Sometimes the clients turn out to deserve whatever scorn has been heaped on them and a suitably "ironic" resolution closes the case. Jeff tends to be good at dealing with the clients, while Alanna is at her best in the courtroom.

I could divide the kind of humour in Supernatural Law into three basic types:

TYPE 1: Monster jokes

Lash's stories use many of the monster types you might expect - vampires, werewolves, Frankenstein-ish monsters and so forth. Often they subvert the usual media tropes (such as in the above image, where the readers are led into thinking the vampire and werewolf are going to fight up until we see them fist-bumping). Other times, the monsters are played fairly straight as they react to our culture - such as when Dracula pays a visit on a Ann Rice expy ("Bad Blood").

TYPE 2: Lawyer jokes

Not being a lawyer, I couldn't tell you how many jokes about the law are contained in the series, but often the jokes seem to be drawn from real life legal cases which are well-known to the public, as in the above story which satirized the Lorena Bobbitt case. Other cases are less specific and refer more generally to types of court cases in the real world, such as when Frankenstein's Monster's impending wedding is used to satirize same-sex marriage ("The Life Partner of Frankenstein").

TYPE 3: Comic book jokes

Finally, there are jokes which come from the comic book medium, usually to allow Lash to show off his incredible talent at mimicking not only popular super hero artists like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, but the likes of Bernie Krigstein or Winsor McCay (above). Lash has indulged in everything from a somewhat affectionate Chris Ware homage ("The Scariest Kid on Earth") to a somewhat unaffectionate Dave Sim homage ("Huberis the Dybbuk"). Lash samples styles from across the medium, truly benefiting those of us readers who appreciate the references.

Tomorrow: beginning a look at Lash's most recent Supernatural Law collection, the Monsters Meet on Court Street!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Presenting: Sasuke, the Demon Queller!

Stan Sakai's Usagi Yojimbo is, for all I know, beloved by all who read it. However, based on how seldom the series comes up around the blogosphere, I have to assume many of you are not reading the series. Perhaps the 25+ year publishing history seems daunting to you? It shouldn't; Sakai carefully crafts his tales to accommodate first-time readers joining the narrative at any point. On the other hand, suppose the adventures of funny animals in feudal Japan isn't your milieu? In that case, allow to argue in the favour of Usagi Yojimbo as a comic book series anyone can enjoy, even if you scorn funny animals.

Amongst the dozens of characters who comprise Usagi's cast, there's one who stands out as being a little more familiar to readers of comic books than most; his name is Sasuke and his singular occupation is that of demon queller.
When Usagi first met Sasuke in the story "Kumo" (found in trade vol. 14: "Demon Mask"), Sasuke appeared to be fox-man ronin. Up to that point, the tale had involved Usagi discovering webs left behind by giant spiders, spiders which had consumed a full-grown man. Venturing into a local tavern, Usagi began to describe what he'd seen to the locals. Sasuke is seen at first from the back of his head; he's just a figure in the crowd, one of the tavern customers. Of course, regular readers of the series know when Usagi meets another ronin in a tavern, the newcomer must be fated to aid or hinder our rabbit protagonist.

The first significant thing we learn about Sasuke comes when he calls Usagi by name, despite Usagi not having given it. "You must have introduced yourself when you came over," is Sasuke's simple response; Usagi might accept this, but we readers have the advantage of looking back over the previous panels, where we can see Usagi did no such thing. Something is off about Sasuke's explanation, but it's not because he's heard of Usagi by reputation or has been secretly observing our hero from afar; Sasuke knowing Usagi's name is just one of his supernatural talents.

The supernatural has figured in Usagi Yojimbo comic books almost from the first story, almost alwaysto bedevil Usagi. In "Kumo," Sasuke is an ally - and quite a powerful one!

Sasuke's magic goes beyond his mystic foresight and includes conjuring up bolts of eldritch energy, in a manner like any of Steve Ditko's sorcerers! Later in "Kumo" Sasuke battles a "Spider Queen" by conjuring up a giant frog to consume her massive spiders. Sasuke's demeanor against such supernatural horrors is as reserved as his explanation for knowing Usagi's name; one gets the impression his life is much less ordinary than our protagonist. In fact, Usagi can be quite unnerved by magical goings-on, providing a neat way to undercut his usual stoic manner. Just as Usagi could face a dozen armed men with grim determination, so does Sasuke confront the very demons of hell!

I enjoy how Sasuke's knowledge of people's names (and other pertinent information) is repeated each time he appears like a running gag. In "Sumi-E" (found in vol.18: "Travels With Jotaro"), Sasuke not only knows Jotaro's name before it is given to him, he also surmises Usagi is Jotaro's father. Again, Sasuke offers weak suggestions that he came by this information honestly. "Sumi-E" is an absolute delight, containing a loving tribute to Japanese giant monster movies such as Gamera and Godzilla. Perhaps the best Sasuke tale thus far is the full-colour graphic novel "Yokai" in which some details of the hero's tragic origins are revealed.

There you go: Usagi Yojimbo is not just a funny animal book with a period setting, it's also a raucous fantasy adventure! Is that helpful? Please consider picking up a Usagi Yojimbo story - don't dismiss such a fine series sight unseen!