Friday, September 30, 2016

"Only one thing to do... go all the way!" Heroes, Inc. #1 review

To follow yesterday's His Name Is Savage #1 review, let's turn the clock ahead by one year to 1969 and Wally Wood's Heroes, Inc. #1, first of an aborted anthology series.

Wally Wood drew some of the most appealing art to ever grace the comics medium. He drew gorgeous gals, tough guys, weird creatures and wrote plenty of funny gags. With Heroes, Inc. he had an opportunity to step away from the major publishers and do his own thing; it was at this time he was producing his immensely fascinating pro-zine witzend. Marketing this new book to military bases offered a chance to be a little more adult and sophisticated.

Joining Wood for the lead feature, Cannon, was Steve Ditko; the duo had previously worked together on T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents and would collaborate again on Atlas' Destructor (issue #1 covered here). Ditko would also unveil his first batch of Mr. A comics via Wood's witzend. Yet for all that, they're not an obvious collaborative team; Wood drew lovely ladies while many charged Ditko incapable of that; Wood liked free-wheeling sick humour while Ditko was (and is) a very tightly-wound conservative. And yet, Cannon would prove to be the one section of this book to truly catch on. Cannon is a CIA agent who suffered brainwashing at the hands of Communist agents; the CIA couldn't reverse his condition so completed his brainwashing to make him the perfect CIA killer - at the cost of his emotions. In this tale, Cannon is sent to rescue a beautiful woman who holds vital knowledge of the US's anti-missile defenses. It's really not that different from His Name Is Savage, except done in fewer pages with lots more vitality. Also, Cannon has an identifiable hook as a character - his emotional detachment.

The second feature, Misfits, is an odd science fiction tale. The Misfits are Mystra (psychic woman), Shag (tiny furry psychic alien) and Glomb (giant mutant). In this tale they meet each other while being held by the government and come to the Earth's rescue when alien invaders begin conquering the planet with their own mental powers. There's a funny non-PC moment I quite enjoy regarding the invaders:

Reporter: "A man just emerged from the ship... hey! It's a white man..."
Off-panel advisor: "Well, that's a good sign anyway... try to talk to him!"
Reporter: "No... I mean white! Like a sheet of paper!"

The Misfits breezes by a little too fast, given the many characters with various origins and the matter of an alien invasion! It's certainly not boring - and it certainly helps that Wood loaded his pages with panels (12 panels on one page!), but it's not as neatly done as Cannon.

And yet there's still more: a third feature, the comedic Dragonella. A beautiful lady has been raised by a race of saurian creatures; one of them, St. George, is smitten with Dragonella, but she wants a handsome man. Accompanied by St. George she begins her quest and encounters one Prince Hal (parody of Hal Foster's Prince Valiant). It's all basically an excuse for jokes about the fantasy genre with a few mild sex references. My favourite bit is above, where Dragonella suddenly begins talking like a comic book action hero as soon as a fight scene begins.

That's all for this book; Cannon would return a little later as a strip Wood prepared for the army. It contained all the lurid sex & violence Wood specialized in. Heroes, Inc. would not see another issue until 1976 via a different publishing team. Wood efforts in witzend and elsewhere contributed a lot to the eventual success of independent comics, but Heroes, Inc. was something of a dead end in its own time. Still, I feel it holds up much better than Kane's His Name Is Savage. Give it a whirl, if only for a few laughs at Dragonella.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

"If only it wasn't so far!" His Name Is Savage #1 review

The comic book business is an untamed field, its own wild west, perhaps even - savage. In the early days pioneers such as Siegel & Shuster gave away their creations, little supposing how comics would remain vibrant for decads to come. By the 1960s, matters had begun to settle - calcify, perhaps. Marvel established themselves as a major player in the business, drawing on teenage & college aged readers; between Marvel & DC, the medium was dominated by super hero action titles for all ages. Enter Gil Kane.

Gil Kane remains a star of the Silver Age, dabbling both at Marvel & DC during that era and contributing the redesigned Hal Jordan version of the Green Lantern into comics lore. Still, Kane hoped to blaze new trails. At the time, magazine publisher Warren had found success with their black & white horror magazines, taking advantage of the magazine's lack of Comics Code Authority approval in order to depict more violence and sex than any four-colour operator would permit. Kane even brought in Warren's beloved writer-editor Archie Goodwin to be his scripter on his passion project His Name Is Savage, which published its first (and only) issue in 1968.

Savage is an intelligence operative who (deliberately, on the cover) looks a fair bit like actor Lee Marvin. Serving a shadowy group called the Committee, Savage is pit against his former mentor General Simon Mace, a former war hero who is now a cyborg with ambitions to set off World War 3. There's not much else to the story - Savage looks up his former flame Sheila (Mace's daughter), but Mace's men kill her - thus eliminating the book's only female character. Mace impersonates Lyndon Johnson so he can order an attack on the USSR, but that's about as political as it gets. It's very light on plot and characters.

Where Savage comes through is in the action department; throughout the story, Savage either broke men's teeth or shot them in the chest. This sort of violence could be felt throughout the crime & horror comics of the 40s & 50s but had been scarce since the CCA's arrival. But what was rattling by the standards of 1968 is fairly tame by those of 2016. Kane pushed the envelope further than CCA comics of '68 would have gone, but today's super hero comics push much further. Such is the story of history. Perhaps the book's most lasting impact on the comics medium is that Rich Buckler evidently based his hero Deathlok's visual on that of Kane's General Mace.

Comics were on the cusp of big changes in '68, but His Name Is Savage wouldn't be the book to change it all; 70s arrivals such as The First Kingdom, Elfquest and Cerebus would eventually shepherd a place in the industry for mature storytelling outside the super hero genre.

Friday, September 23, 2016

1 Weird Trick to Get Your Screenplay Made!

Can't sell that screenplay? Alimony wearing you down? Coke prices skyrocketing? No problem! Sell your screenplay to comics! Yes, comic book publishers are pleased as punch to have any whiff of Hollywood on their product! It doesn't take any skill or understanding of the genre to make comics - and you certainly don't have to draw! Sell your screenplay to comics and before long, you'll be a power player!

Because once you've made a deal for your screenplay in comics, you can turn around and sell it back to Hollywood! Boy, won't they feel foolish for turning you down last March, huh? Now your previously untested property has a following of 4,000 readers - more than enough to gamble an entire television series or film franchise upon!

But it's not only screenwriters who can get into the act! Wise comics professionals can sell their misogynistic, misanthropic man-child musings to Hollywood for fast cash! If Hollywood's got your number, then the comics industry will have to take notice of you!

Don't worry - Hollywood knows what's wrong with your comics! they'll smooth over the imperfections and apply their decades of experience so that it's no longer your voice, but that of a traditional three-act screenplay. What do you care? You've got your money!

It won't happen overnight. You might have to shop around for a decade. Persistence is the key. Also, you must actually publish your comic book - it's no longer good enough to simply claim the comic is in-development - you'll have to take a risk and publish. Some people in Hollywood actually know what "vaporware" is. But don't worry - the comics industry is full of people desperate for money; those chumps won't even ask for a percentage of what the film makes! It's like getting your storyboards for free!

But once you've published, the risk-taking is over. Coast your screenplay gently all the way to Hollywood's shores. The best part is, Hollywood doesn't understand how comics work! If you claim you've written a hit property - well, they'll just have to take your word for it!

Heck, you could theoretically bankroll an entire publishing empire around selling comics to Hollywood. It doesn't matter if only 1 out of every 5 comics makes it to the screen. Sell enough options to keep the lights on and publish just enough to get buyers curious.

Then - BOOM! Sold. Now you can get out of publishing and into film making, where your talents will be truly appreciated.

In fact, skip the comic. The concept art should be enough to seal the deal.

And don't forget who let you in on this trick! Seriously, don't. I just need you to look at my screenplay, it's really good...

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Book review: The Sinister Shadow by Will Murray

Earlier I wrote about Michael Uslan's underwhelming Justice, Inc. comic book. Quite by accident, I later stumbled upon a recent Doc Savage novel by Will Murray (under the usual pen name "Kenneth Robeson") in which - much like Justice, Inc. - Doc Savage meets the Shadow. But oh, what a difference!

The novel, The Sinister Shadow, finds Savage with three of his operatives involved in the case of a criminal called the Funeral Director. The Funeral Director is capturing wealthy men and ransoming them, killing his victims with a gas which induces a heart attack. The Funeral Director's most recent hostage is Lamont Cranston, which complicates matters considerably because Cranston is very important to the mysterious personage called the Shadow; moreover, the Funeral Director is an old enemy of the Shadow and is determined to learn his foe's true identity.

Perhaps because Doc Savage and the Shadow both originated in prose fiction this is the medium to which they are best suited. Murray writes The Sinister Shadow as though it were being published in the 1930s - not in the manner of pastiche, but simply obeying the narrative conventions which Savage and the Shadow belong to. The story is full of familiar faces from the pulps, most notably in the Shadow's supporting cast.

To some extent, this book is actually a Shadow novel; it takes a while for the Shadow to come to the fore, but when he does the novel is all but his - it tends to follow he and his agents rather than Savage, particularly as the villain and his intended victim are both Shadow characters. For much of Savage's investigation the Shadow is a complicating factor as Savage doesn't understand how the Shadow is connected to Cranston, nor if the Shadow truly exists. When Savage and the Shadow finally meet up the duo are forced to compromise in order to work together as neither approves of the other's methods - the Shadow kills his foes while Savage brainwashes his and gives them new identities.

Considering so much of Doc Savage's DNA was used to create Superman and the Shadow to create Batman, it's interesting that Savage and the Shadow have a complicated relationship much like their comic book inspirations, but there is no homage to Superman & Batman found in this book - Doc Savage and the Shadow are icons in their own right.

This is the first Doc Savage novel I've read; I can't speak to whether Doc Savage fans will enjoy it, but Shadow fans - wow, get this one now!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

From Marvel in December

A new Bendis collection means one of my old books - New Avengers: Most Wanted Files - is being reprinted yet again:


Award-winning writer Brian Michael Bendis transforms Earth’s Mightiest Heroes! But before he can build his New Avengers, he must disassemble the old ones! In the team’s darkest day, one of their own tears them apart — seemingly forever! But when Electro triggers a breakout at super-villain prison the Raft, Captain America and Iron Man find themselves fighting alongside a new, and very different, group of allies. Spider-Man, Wolverine, Luke Cage and Spider-Woman join the new order as the Avengers are reborn! But will the mysterious Sentry add the power of a million exploding suns to the lineup? First he needs to figure out who he is! One glorious era ends, and another age of greatness begins! Collecting AVENGERS (1998) #500-503 and #500 DIRECTOR’S CUT, AVENGERS FINALE, NEW AVENGERS (2004) #1-10 and #1 DIRECTOR’S CUT, and NEW AVENGERS: MOST WANTED FILES. 504 PGS./Rated T+ …$39.99 ISBN: 978-1-302-90362-6

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Beyond Space Dudes

"Can't we just get Beyond Star Trek?" - Old Klingon Proverb.

Star Trek has turned 50 and I find myself at this time very much at peace with the franchise. The time when I was a devoted Trek fan was considerably brief - 7 years - but those corners of the franchise which I once disparaged I'm now friendly towards and of late I've taken to revisiting a lot of old Trek episodes and films.

The breaking point for me was the series Enterprise and, coupled with the one-two-punch of Star Trek: Nemesis it seemed as though the franchise had turned sour and needed to be fixed. However, thanks to Netflix I've reappraised Enterprise and discovered it became genuinely good near the end of its 2nd season. There many things about the program which I find fault with, but overall I'm positive about it and will even recommended it to others (with the proviso they avoid the many episodes which frustrated me).

And this brings me to Star Trek: Beyond, the most recent film in the Trek film franchise begun by J. J. Abrams. In examining the previous two films I dubbed them "Space Dudes" based on my theory that "there is nothing wrong with the films that changing their names to 'Space Dudes' wouldn't fix." But to continue my reconciliation with the franchise, I'm now placated by the Abrams films and I won't be using that disparaging nickname any longer.

The previous two Abrams films directly clashed with Trek on purpose in the vein of "you've never seen these characters like this before," which was a little misconceived as these were new incarnations of the characters and didn't have the same backstories as the originals. Leonard Nimoy's Spock kept his emotions bottled up and when they came out, they were usually morose and melancholy; compare that to Zachary Quinto's Spock, whose emotions are barely below the surface and come to the fore as extreme rage. William Shatner's Kirk was a ladies' man who could improvise brilliant plans and defy authority for the greater good; Chris Pine's Kirk engages in meaningless sex with unimportant characters, is extremely brash, entitled and bad at taking orders. Nichelle Nichols' Uhura was defined solely by her job as communications officer; Zoe Saldana's Uhura is defined... well, primarily as Spock's girlfriend. Progress! These changes work as a contrast to the previous performers' roles but consequently, I can't buy Quinto's Spock as "the" Spock - he's drifted too far from Nimoy's.

Thus, Star Trek: Beyond pushes back a bit; Spock is again reserved and if at all emotional, is morose; Kirk is intelligent, can outfox his enemies and, shockingly, doesn't try to pick up any ladies; McCoy is back to being one of the leads and banters with Spock. And so forth. At the same time, what came before is still there but it feels justified; like, Kirk riding motorcycles and listening to Beastie Boys in the first film felt like pandering; Beyond makes those elements seem organic.

Beyond has trouble, and that's everything to do with the villain, yet another revenge-seeking madman with a doomsday weapon (5 films in a row now). What makes this villain particularly painful is that his backstory is withheld until the climax of the film is already underway; the sudden pause to explain who the villain truly is kills the momentum and invites all manner of "but if he's really this guy, then why..." questions. The villain plot is basically a waste.

Although the Abrams Trek still hasn't figured out how to write villains, the good news is that the characters are likeable and they carry the film regardless of whatever nonsense is unfolding. Trailers did not accurately reflect what the film was like, making it look like one of director Justin Lin's Fast and Furious flicks. There are a lot of great action scenes, but the characters are the best part of the movie. Perhaps the best scenes are the McCoy-Spock scenes as they start by bickering with each other, then eventually have a heartfelt conversation.

And now that I'm finally on board with the new Trek... obviously, now audiences disagree with me. I did hear that Into Darkness may have lost money because of its high advertising budget, but Beyond seems to be doing considerably worse, having all but vanished at the box office due to the intense glut of big budget action movies this year. I'm sure the Trek films will be back, but perhaps they should take a cue from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and trim the budget back; who knows... when you've got less money to throw on the screen, it might force you to write a compelling story instead...