Monday, June 29, 2009

The Definitives: Batman

In the Essentials feature on this very blog, I take an in-depth look at my very favorite comics, the runs that shaped my enjoyment of this genre and the stuff I would present to an outsider as my "this is why I love comics" evidence. However, given the sheer amount of comics I've had the good fortune to read over my nearly 28 years on this planet, there is plenty of material that while it would not make my personal "Best Of" list still had a profound effect on me as a fan.

For instance, there are certain characters who may not be among my absolute favorites, but I've come to appreciate them because of certain stories where I get the fundamentals of what makes them appealing. While I may not start a Spider-Man sketchbook or Green Arrow fan club anytime soon, I get why they are worthwhile characters and in most cases can point you to the reason why.

That's why I'm embarking on this new feature talking about the stories that personally define some of comics' biggest characters for me and help me to appreciate them; I thought about calling this "The Definers," because I'm pretty sure that's not a word and I dug that, but went with "The Definitives," because it's tried and true and you can dance to it. My hope is that you all check out some of these goodies and come to appreciate some characters you may not otherwise give a second look, because good, bad and ugly, it's all comics, and I looove comics.

So where better to start than Batman? He's not a character I'd get tattooed anywhere on my person, but I think even that guy in South Dakota who still uses rabbit ears on his TV (shout out to my South Dakota readership) knows who Batman is and knows he's pretty bad ass. Great origin, cool look and while he's been featured in plenty of bad stories across all mediums, he's been in a helluva lot of good ones too.

Here are the stories that I consider my definitive Batman reading list.

Year One
The second biggest strike against my nerd credibility behind not really liking Star Wars is that I'm not much of a fan of The Dark Knight Returns. While I'm sure that is a whole blog post in and of itself, let me counter by saying I love Batman: Year One, Frank Miller's other Bat opus with artist David Mazzucchelli. Like I said above, Batman may have the best origin in all of comics (Spider-Man runs close behind if not dead even), and here Miller picks it and the days that follow to perfection, really taking you on a ride. If you go into Year One thinking Batman is just too big an unapproachable a character, I think you come out feeling like you took his hero's journey with him; I think Frank Miller did the near impossible and made Batman relatable (well, as relatable as he can be), something the character has always lacked. The parallel journey of Jim Gordon is the perfect companion piece and really helps to build the world of Gotham City outside Wayne Manor. Just about all the best stuff from "Batman Begins" came from Year One.

"The Garden of Earthly Delights"
This little gem from Swamp Thing #53 hit right as Alan Moore was hitting the beginning of the home stretch of his legendary run on that title and while I only came across it a few months ago, I still consider it one of the best Batman stories I've ever read. Truthfully, Batman might not be at the heart of the story (Swamp Thing and Abby Arcane's love affair is), but his role is great fun and really hits on the core of the character. Swamp Thing has declared war on Gotham City until Abby is released from police custody and Batman is way over his head, but he gives it his best shot against Swampy anyhow. Watching Bats throw the best he's got in his utility belt against a foe far more formidable at the Joker is a bit humorous, but also really shows you both his ingenuity and his deep commitment to protecting his city, both big keys to what makes the Dark Knight tick.

This would be the prerequisite "I read it when I was a kid, so it's awesome" entry on this list, but I don't have much trouble defending the Knightfall trilogy (which also included the so-so Knightquest and pretty cool Knightsend). The basic premise of the story is "Bruce Wayne is the only man who can be Batman," a strong one, and one explored the long way around as Bruce is taken out of the picture, replaced, and forced to reclaim his mantle, and along the way we learn why that absolute is the case. Considering this story took place in and around 1994, not exactly a benchmark period for writing, I found it pretty well-executed, but moreover impactful and fun. The video-game-like "beat one bad guy and the next is waiting" approach taken by Knightfall isn't exactly high art, but it's cool and a structure with pretty wide appeal. I think the final leg, Knightsend, is one of the better psychological breakdowns of Bruce Wayne you'll get, and the conclusion is one you'll see coming, but it's satisfying nonetheless. Also: I thought Azrael was fairly cool.

New World Order
While I dig Arkham Asylum, I really consider it more of a villains story than a Batman story (just like I consider Killing Joke more of a Joker story), so the first arc of JLA is what I look to as Grant Morrison's first true crack at Batman, and he does not disappoint. I know the "Batman can beat anybody given sufficient prep time" can be polarizing, but I think it's the only way the character really works in the context of the Justice League, and Grant perhaps did the best job of making it a help rather than a hindrance. Batman alone against a team of super-powered Martians really is an unbeatable badass scenario to showcase how much he truly rocks, but Superman's whole "You've pissed off the most dangerous man on the planet" routine is really what sells it. Just killer stuff.

Dark Victory
Most times Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale come together you get magic, and Dark Victory is no exception. Like Arkham Asylum, a lot of its appeal comes from a focus on Batman's awesome rogues gallery, but they're really shown in degrees of how they reflect on the hero rather than on their own, so it's definitely a character-defining piece. Given that the story also re-tells how Robin came into the picture, it really is an exercise in world building, and since Batman has a fantastic world of characters and locales surrounding him, you could do a lot worse as far as a primer. Sale's art is gorgeous as expected, and again, a lot of stuff from the current Batman film franchise originates here, including much of the Bruce/Batman-Harvey Dent/Two-Face relationship from The Dark Knight. I would definitely recommend reading this story's prequel, The Long Halloween, first, but with a gun to my head I prefer this one by a slight margin mostly because of the Robin stuff.

No Man's Land
In many ways this sprawling years-long epic seems the opposite of what a Batman story should be (simple, grounded, focused), but it's so much fun read as a whole and gives such an interesting window on every character in the Bat-Family, not the least of which is the big guy himself. No Man's Land is about a zillion parts long (and probably a couple billion parts too long) and has everybody in Gotham freaking the fuck out after a massive earthquake hits and basically sets the city back to caveman days in terms of both tech as well as mob mentality and martial law. Initially, Batman seems to give up, but he claws his way back into the fight and slowly but surely takes back his city, rebuilding himself and his allies along the way and proving that not even mother nature is a match for him. The status quo is irrevocably changed many times over and if you commit to the whole thing, you will undoubtedly be frustrated many a time, but ultimately fulfilled.

"Batman: The Animated Series"
Quite simply, Paul Dini and Bruce Timm's vision of the Dark Knight in "Batman: The Animated Series" and its successors is the end all for me; it is the definitive definitive. When I visualize Batman, it is as drawn by Bruce Timm. When I hear Batman, it is as voiced by Kevin Conroy. When I "listen" to a Batman comic, the score from this cartoon is playing. This show took the essence of everything that makes Batman awesome--the origin, the look, the bad guys, the gadgets, the mission--and bottled it up for a cartoon that was both more mature than anything I had ever seen and yet so universally appealing that you could show it to anybody from ages 8 to 80 and they would immediately get it. There were soooo many great episodes, but if I had to pin down one as the absolute demonstration to me of what the show was capable of, it's "Perchance to Dream", where Bruce Wayne is given the paradise of a world where his parents never died, but learns why it can never be real in the most crushing of ways. Powerful stuff from a show that could do action, humor, horror and so much more so perfectly.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Brief(ish) and introspective

I have found myself watching TV shows and movies of late and actually wondering how is it one character is able to get in a car with another character for even a brief roadtrip without getting anxious about needing to go to the bathroom.

Isn’t it strange how things that seem so mundane to the rest of society can have such power over us? I know I’m not alone here.

For those coming in late, all my life I’ve had an anxiety about situations in which I do not have a bathroom readily available to me for any lengthy (or really any) period of time. I was formally diagnosed with this “disorder” by a psychologist when I was 18. My condition is not aided by the fact that I also have lactose intolerance and Irritable Bowel Syndrome, but it is in large part psychological.

This weekend, I drove with my fiancee, Megan, three and a half hours from New Jersey back to Boston for my cousin’s wedding and along the way had cause and time to reflect upon my situation and where I am now relative to where I’ve been.

On the whole, I would consider myself currently in a better place psychologically than I’ve probably ever been, let alone where I was (wow) nearly ten years ago. However, it’s worth noting that the more aware and comfortable I’ve become of and with my anxiety, the more focus I put on it and thus the larger issue it becomes. Back in high school, when I was blissfully unaware of any sort of problem, I routinely drove around with my friends, snacking on fast food and then piling into a car for a twenty-minute trip down Route 9; in the back of my mind, there was a nagging fear, but I didn’t give it a voice. Nowadays, I’m quite in touch with my neuroses and able to fully understand them, but I have trouble taking more than a five minute car-trip with anybody outside of Megan or my immediate family.

I’ve also in the past two years begun using the train as my primary mode of transportation, and I realize now this is both a blessing in a curse in some ways. On the one hand, it’s an ideal way for me to travel since there are always bathrooms within walking distance and I can be with my friends with minimal anxiety; on the other hand, as I discovered this weekend, it has really made driving seem like a foreign experience to me, to the point where I work myself up even on an empty stomach because I don’t have that safety hatch of a nearby lavatory I rarely even use to put my mind at ease.

So where do I go from here? Is this really a can of worms I even want to open? Honestly, I function just fine even with my “handicap” and people rarely guess I have a problem unless I tell them. Sure it would be nice to be able to carpool with friends to a party, but it’s not something I need to do; I can live my life despite my condition, it just requires finding ways around certain situations sometimes.

But could therapy help me? Is this a problem I can conquer fully or just something I need to learn to live with? Also, at what point is there really nothing more even a licensed shrink can do for you and you need to become your own therapist, regulating your nerves and deciding what’s best for you? People manage to live their lives despite fears of flying or using elevators or all sorts of random stuff—do I need to devote time and energy to bettering myself here or should I just focus on living my life best I can?

I don’t have any answers here, I just figured the questions were worth asking.

I apologize for those of you who came looking for a concise movie review or musings on obscure 90’s X-Men characters; as recompense, I offer this picture of due-for-a-comeback New Warriors archfoes, Psionex:

Next time, back to business as usual.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Linko! XII

So, Michael Jackson died yesterday, making what was already a super weird and stressful week even more bizarre. I'm pretty bummed about this as I still held hopes he had one more good album in him (and I didn't think the cuts I heard of "Invincible" were too bad). I know there are probably a million people who are going to use any reverential posts about MJ to snark about him being a child molester. Me? My point of view is that sometimes you've got to separate the art from the artist. Michael was doubtlessly fucked up in ways most of us can never understand. He was also a musical genius. What a bummer.

* In terms of nerd linkage, I've had very little time to amass a decent round up of tribute links, but luckily my friends have already done so here and here. Also, I cannot recommend Sean T. Collins' general write up and his brilliant argument for why the video for "Thrill" deserves to be in the horror movie hall of fame. In between reading all of that, please spend a bunch of time watching MJ videos on YouTube. Start with Heidi's picks here, or click below to see MJ meet Stan Lee:

* On to comics stuff! Mark Evanier has a great little post highlighting a letter a fan wrote about meeting legendary writer John Broome. I've been wanting to write a big, meaty profile on Broome for years, but the magazine I wanted to pitch it to stopped publishing. Would anyone out there pay me to write that?

* Killer interview of the week to read: DC Editor Joan Hilty talking about her second job as an alt newspaper cartoonist at CBR. I bet you didn't even know she did that, huh?

* JK Parkin put this story on Twitter: It's about Super Hobos

* TV might not totally suck after "Lost" wraps up link: a preview of Jason Schwartzman's new HBO mystery series.

* Sports link of the week that I bet no one will want to read: The Detroit Free Press' Joe Dumars profile. (Thanks to Jeff Katz)

* Speaking of Katz Link: Here's a profile on the kid from New Zealand whose comic he picked up.

* And speaking of Michigan: I've long been a reader of Gordon Young's Flint Expatriates blog, which keeps those of us who have left my beloved hometown of Flint for better jobs abreast of efforts to reinvigorate the greatest little city in America. Apparently, someone at Slate digs Gordon's work too as they asked him to write this killer essay on his search to buy real estate in Flint.

* It looks to be down right now, but later on check out this site that sells mashup stickers combining Star Wars with Hello Kitty.

* Speaking of Japan...Radical manga link #1: A gallery of Astro Boy color images forwarded to me by Matthew Brady.

* Radical manga link #2: CB Cebulski past on a link featuring images from the advertising campaign for Naoki Urasawa's new cartoon-inspired manga Billy Bat.

* Last week, Tom posted this link that features a meeting between R. Crumb and a long lost cousin that looks like a long lost brother. Crazy.

* As Mel Caylo pointed out, the only good thing about this news story is the ridiculous photo.

* Finally, someone from Flint posted a link on Facebook to this awesome video featuring animated stickey notes:

Have a good weekend, gang!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

To the X-Treme!

This week in Dark Avengers/Uncanny X-Men: Utopia #1, the kickoff to this summer's big X-Men/Avengers crossover, Matt Fraction gave me a birthday present six months early with the completely unexpected return of Adam X the X-Treme in courageous cameo form!

To celebrate, here is the text of an eerily prescient reply I sent to Kiel nearly two months ago in response to an e-mail thread he started called "Characters That Never Made It":

I don't know how many of you actually read X-Men enough in the 90's to remember Adam X, aka X-Treme, but basically he was the most 90's character created in the history of ever. He wore a backwards hat with an "x" on it, had ridiculous braids and a goatee, had blades protruding from every part of his costume, and his name was fucking "X-Treme." Nonetheless, Fabian Nicieza specifically and the X-Men PTB in general certainly seemed to have big plans for him. He was introduced in a pretty unimportant X-Force Annual (that was, I believe, Tony Daniel's first major work), but then the next time he showed up in an X-Force two-parter, he co-starred with Shatterstar battling Arcade but, more importantly, it was revealed that Mr. Sinister had some sort of interest in him. Not long after, he showed up in an issue of X-Men proper drawn by Andy Kubert where he was pretty much the only character in costume throughout (Jean Grey showed up for two seconds) and the whole story was about him having some sort of weird adventure with Cyclops and Havok's grandfather while he tried to learn about his past (he was, of course, an amnesiac). Also, at some point, he was revealed to have ties to the Shi'Ar.

Basically, in the course of that issue Fabian did everything but outright confirm that X-Treme was the long alluded to third Summers brother. And from what I've read in urban legends territory, that was absolutely the plan, but it got scrapped. X-Treme ended up next appearing briefly in the Fabe-written Captain Marvel series (starring Genis, but years before the Peter David book) where his story was resolved by (I believe) the reveal that he was the child of D'Ken and an Earth woman who was heavily implied to be Cyclops and Havok's mom, making him their half-brother (again, this has never been "officially" stated).

It was a case where one creator (Fabian) had created a plotline (the third Summers brother) and had a plan to resolve it himself with a character he created, but the mystery ended up far outlasting his tenure on the books (and continued on--and was actually largely forgotten about--until Ed Brubaker created Vulcan). Obviously there were big plans for X-Treme either just by Fabian or by him and his bosses (I mean, they did devote an entire issue of X-Men to him), but they were jettisoned. Why? Possibly because everything about the character screamed 1993 and there was no way in hell he was ever going to be timeless, but more likely because they saw that the mystery he was created specifically to resolve had some legs and after that there was nothing else for him to do.

For what it's worth, I liked X-Treme well enough, but I have shown a pretty huge weakness for anything dripping with 90's excess (see: Superboy's original costume). I did think he had a fairly unique power that wasn't just a generic energy blast, which was that if he cut somebody he could (quoting from wikipedia here) "cause the electrolytes present in oxygenated blood to ignite," but even that was super super 90's (unless you're a Red Lantern).

Utopia continues next week and here's hoping somebody's gonna burn!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Paolo Rivera is awesome

Allow me to make a prediction that I very much hope comes true sooner rather than later: Paolo Rivera is going to be a huge star in the comic book industry. And you know what? He totally deserves it.

I first saw Paolo's art on the fully-painted Mythos books written by Paul Jenkins and I was pretty impressed. His painting style is very much unlike what I'm used to seeing in comics with the smooth, brightly colored work of guys like Alex Ross or Greg Horn. Paolo's painting more closely resembles water color work, with a slightly more scratchy, gritty quality and more muted colors; his work is still very realistic, but he stylizes it in such a way that it feels to me much more like I'm amidst the action as opposed to just looking at a gorgeous picture (this is of course no slight to Alex Ross, et al, I'm just trying to describe what I feel sets Paolo apart).

I actually encountered Paolo in person for the first time at the one and only Wizard World Boston convention back in 2005.

I was coming up on a year at Wizard and had just been promoted from research assistant to staff writer. I wasn't actually scheduled to work the Boston show, but since my parents' house is about 15 minutes away from where it was held, I made the trip and had a blast. Besides taking the Wizard crew to FiRE + iCE where Rickey ate to the point of near explosion, Mel Caylo befriended the chefs and somehow ended up behind the grill, and Jesse Thompson became convinced after consuming shark that he had taken on the animal's qualities, I also got to take my parents to their first comic book convention.

Having met Paolo the day before, I noted that his work reminded me very loosely of the water color painting my mother does, so the next day I brought her around to his table and he was gracious enough to let us watch while he did a commission piece. You can always pick Paolo out of an Artist Alley lineup because he has an extremely elaborate set-up that includes a mini easel and other tools that allow him to create full-on painted pieces as opposed to just sketches; the speed with which he cranks out high quality work is incredible. My mom got to see a lot of artists do their thing that day, and was wowed by all of them, but Paolo definitely left an impression.

I made sure Paolo's table was always a destination for me at any convention where he was listed as attending. I would frequently do video interviews with him for Wizard because I found his process unique and visually captivating, but also because he's just a nice, humble dude who is a pleasure to talk to. I always harbored a secret hope that someday I could arrange for him to do a Wizard cover, something I know he's always wanted to do, but it never panned out. I did manage to get a fantastic Nova painting from him that I really need to scan and share with you all.

Over the last couple years since Mythos wrapped, Paolo dropped off my radar a bit as I started going to less shows and didn't see his name in any solicits.

Then, last fall, Amazing Spider-Man #577 dropped and so did my jaw.

I had heard through the grapevine that Paolo was going to be doing some straight pencil and ink work and was curious to see it, but I was not prepared for how (excuse the pun) amazing it would be. If you were to mix the artistic DNA of Steve Ditko and Paul Pope then throw in some Golden Age sensibility and include some x-factors of whimsy and dynamic design sense, you'd get Paolo Rivera. He's seriously that good. His Punisher is one of my favorite takes on that character ever. I remember passing the issue to Rickey noting he was in for something special (a claim I make a lot) and he came back the next day just as blown away as me.

Paolo is a fantastic painter and I hope he doesn't give that up completely, but working in the more "traditional"sense, he's really something special and unique. He showed it again in Amazing Spider-Man: Extra! #2 in another fantastic story written by his prior collaborator, Zeb Wells, teaming Spidey with Wolverine. If I thought Paolo was born to draw Spidey, I had no clue how perfectly he could capture Wolverine.

However, the comic that prompted this post was last week's Young Allies Comics 70th Anniversary Special. Paolo took a great story by Roger Stern and elevated both it and himself to the next level in my book. He weaved seemlessly between Golden Age and modern era making everything look so pretty, so (I'm sorry I keep using this word) dynamic and just so everything a good comic book should be. His Captain America (and Bucky and the Human Torch and Toro) also made me realize he wasn't born to draw Spider-Man or the Punisher or Wolverine--he was simply born to draw comics.

I don't think it's going to be long now before Paolo Rivera is one of the most sought-after artists in comics, mentioned in the same breath as some of the true titans, and I can say I knew him when. Way to go, Paolo.

And seriously, check out the first link in this article to his web site where there is so much awesome art your eyes will bleed rainbows. F'real. Also, check out his

I leave you with this:

Monday, June 22, 2009

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia 2009

We hit Wizard World Philadelphia this past weekend and, again, it was a sexy show.

When I wasn't busy posing in front of posters of Bon Jovi, I was at the convention center in downtown Philly or at a bar. And my girlfriend Sam and my buddy David were lovely enough to walk booth-to-booth on Saturday with me to dig through quarter and dollar bins (which is one of my great joys to do with a group of friends). Here's the little bit of stuff I grabbed:

A NextWave issue I was missing, a copy of the final issue of the Prisoner adaptation, Hickee #4 and the first 3 issues of a cute SLG book about a kitty called Ubu Bubu. All of these were a quarter!

A copy of Lauren Weinstein's Girl Stories (only 4 bucks!), a copy of Let's Hit the Road - a roadtrip book by Rich Tommaso I'd never heard of - for only $4, the first two issues of Comic Book Comics at Ryan and Ben's recommendation for a quarter each and a copy of the newest issue of Twisted Toyfare Theater from my friend, and Toyfare editor, Justin Aclin (Volume 10 is out in July, people!). Also pictured up there is the show's con program with a pretty little cover by Joe Quesada.

Justin also hooked me up with a customizable figure from Shocker Toys and then I bought some movies. I can't FUCKING tell you how excited I am about these!
  • I snagged a Drive-In theater video from John A. Russo, the co-writer of the original Night of the Living Dead. I'd been looking for it online, but it was always, like, $30. I was so psyched when I got it that I forgot to ask if he'd sign it. I dunno why he was even selling crap, but I'm glad he was. That reminds me, TJ hosted a panel on Friday with Tom Savini! Just wanted to say that. :)
  • I also got a copy of the BMX classic "Rad" on DVD! I first watched this with TJ on tape about 2 years back and David somehow got the soundtrack, so I've been looking for it. Now I gotta get this shirt, and I'll be set.
  • And prolly my most exciting buy: "Summer Camp Nightmare." Oh man oh man OH MAN! I love summer camp shit and I love horror movies and looking at the back of this box, it appears that this film is about campers killing their counselors and taking over a camp! As TJ put it, "So it's like Camp Nowhere with gore?" And as Katz put it, "Holy shit, you're gonna love this." And he knows a thing or two about horror movies.
Also on the floor was the original art to all 12 covers of Watchmen.

(issues #1-6 above and #7-12 are below along with color separations for issues #1 and #12)


Anyhow, we ate at the market across the street from the convention center as much as possible. Emily and I grabbed cookies from an Amish booth, TJ and I grabbed beers from the beergarden in the back, I had a cheese steak with Justin and Sama nd David and I ate crepes for breakfast TWICE!


On Friday the floor was more busy than I would have thought for a Friday and was crowded Saturday, which made shopping a little tough. Still, we made it across the whole floor in one day. Sunday was fairly slow from what we saw, but we were only there to say goodbye to people, so I wasn't really paying attention.

Back in artist's alley, I didn't find much that I was interested in, but artists like JG Jones and Rags Morales were around, which was neat. I ran into a table where Mike McKone was sitting and the guy was selling original art pages from only $10. TEN BUCKS! It was mostly stuff with no major characters in-costume, but it was still cool stuff. And the stack was something like 12 inches tall. For only $20, I grabbed the following two pages from JLA: A World Without Grow-Ups #1 because they feature Bart Allen.

So, I guess the theme this weekend was CHEAP DEALS.

Saturday night, we went to a Kaiju Big Battel match, and if you ever get a chance to go, you should. We headed over because 1) we heard there was an open bar, 2) it was only a couple blocks from the convention center and 3) we had VIP tickets, so we got to sit in the balcony. IT WAS NUTS FUN as guys dressed in ridiculous monster outfits out of some Power Rangers fever dream jumped around a wresting ring and hit each other as they fell on top of cardboard buildings.

Seriously, if you get a chance to go to one of these in a refurbished, 140-year-old theater with free beer and tons of friends, THEN GO.

But the most carefree, genuinely enjoyable, feel-good-in-my-heart event was the gong show karaoke with Skeletor following the monster wrestling. It was hot and we were sweaty, but no one cared as people took the stage to sing their hearts out in goofy hats until Skeletor was done listening to them and gonged them off the stage. And Skeletor looked GREAT:

Yes, that's a PBR with a straw in it.

Apparantly he does this once a month around Philly. I want to move there for him.

Follow that with drinks in the hotel lobby and Saturday became my favorite night there. The weekend was amazing once again because of my great friends showing up. So I just want to say it was great seeing you Matt (Get well, dude), David, TJ and Emily (thanks for letting us stay over and for the ride), Andy, Cotton (thanks for the ticket), James, Justin (thanks for your help with the room, I was glad to see you kick ass Saturday), Jim, Jordan, Alex, Ashley, Kiel (I don't remember what we talked about on the phone), Dan, Adam, Jeff, Shane, Isis, Sean, Paul, Shawn, Rob, Eric and so on and so on and so on...

And even though I had to wait an hour in the parking lot at the end of the show because our battery was dead and we needed a jump, the show was still dope. Hopefully it sticks around, and I get a chance to head back next year.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

My life as a ninja

From about age six on, I grew up in the suburban city of Newton, Massachusetts, a fairly wealthy, predominantly Jewish community outside of Boston that pretty closely resembles a lot of other similar towns you'd find across America. While many of my peers were members of the Jewish Community Center and would go there to swim, play basketball, etc., I would trek across town to the West Suburban YMCA, where my dad had been going since he was a kid. The Y at the time I was growing up lacked some of the spruced up facilities and expensive niceties of the JCC, but it had charm in spades and some of my best childhood memories come from my dad taking me swimming or to play raquetball and then getting to hang with the cops, firefighters, doctors and lawyers who called that old brick building their second home. I actually ended up working the front desk at the Y in high school for a few years and still try to make it back when I can (these days the joint is a heckuva lot ritzier and sporting many of those niceties I mentioned earlier in no small part thanks to the fundraising efforts of my old man, Abraham "Ned" Morse).

However, one thing about the Y was that since it was a good bit further away from where I lived than the JCC was in proximity to most of my buddies, I didn't participate in a lot of the activities that were a rite of youth passage for them. Case in point: pretty much everybody I knew (and many kids across the country) took some form of karate when they were younger, then quit once they were old enough to feel silly dressing up in gis with a bunch of other white kids in a community center basement.

It was towards the end of junior high school when my friend Brendan Twomey and I suddenly became enthralled by the films of Bruce Lee. I don't remember what the impetus was, but we would hang out in Brendan's basement and watch his movies as well as the dozens of biopics done on his life (Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story being far and away the best). I even got The Tao of Jeet Kune Do, the book Bruce Lee wrote about martial arts and life philosophy while recovering from a broken back, and tried to make sense of stuff way over my head. My AOL e-mail and screen name, which I have kept to this day, is "Dragon882," a reference to Bruce Lee followed by my lucky number and year of birth.

The crowning achievment of Brendan and my fandom was when we got all our friends together one weekend, grabbed my mom's camcorder, and filmed our own martial arts epic titled (of course) "Dragon: The Brendan Lee Story." Over the course of twenty or so glorious minutes, Brendan as martial artist Brendan Lee ran through a series of scenes we lifted from various Bruce Lee movies (we even edited in some of the original footage from those movies later), along with goofy comedy bits (mostly borderline offensive stuff like us lip-synching one set of lines and then badly dubbing them over later ala most kung fu flicks from the 70's) and fairly impressively choreographed fights where he'd fight our friends done up in goofy costumes in my backyard. I played the final boss of the whole ordeal and Brendan and I decided to bust out the weapons for our fight, with me using a big branch we found as a bo staff and him using two paper towel rolls held together with string as nunchuks that he ultimately strangled me with as an homage to the climactic scene of "Dragon."

Given that we were 13, I'd say our movie was fairly impressive, particularly by 1995 standards and done on a home editing board, but unquestionably the moment I (and my parents) will remember most was my buddy (and future wrestling co-captain) Scott Goldberg constructing a makeshift tiki torch out of another branch, lots of paper towels, a few normal towels and the use of his lighter and nearly setting my roof on fire in the process.

Good times.

Anyways, a few months later, Brendan and I tried to get a sequel off the ground, but after we spent several weeks writing and filming an elaborate prologue the length of the entire previous movie that involved drugs, alcohol and mistaken identity (can you tell we were headed into high school?), we decided maybe our moviemaking days were over.

It was time to become real martial artists.

Over on the west side of town, near the YMCA actually, we knew there was a martial arts dojo called Chung Moo Doe. In a city like Newton, places like that were pretty rare, and the joint looked crazy legit, so one days, we took our bikes and headed down. We met with the lead instructor and he acted like our committing to take two classes a week at Chung Moo Doe was akin to enlisting in the armed forces, so of course we signed up with giddy excitement.

Our excitement quickly faded during our first class when we were introduced to our instructor, a skinny white dude, and saw that the rest of our fellow trainees were mostly girls and little kids. At the very least we'd be the breakout students, right?

Well, we were the standouts of the class, but that wasn't saying much, since we were mostly learning simple self-defense shit, not the spectacular flying kicks and somersaults we longed to master. There were also cool weapons hanging all over the Chung Moo Doe studios, from swords to staffs, but were always told those were off-limits until we reached the "advanced class."

Like I said, Brendan and I were way better than the motley crew we were "training" with, but despite this, our instructor did not seem to care for us. This may have been because we were always eying the katana on the wall, or because we'd never yell "Ki-yah!" loud enough or possibly because when he'd do demonstrations with us, we'd frequently put up a bit too much resistance and make him look dumb--who knows.

One lesson I do remember pretty distinctly is when our guy took us down to the awesome looking basement of the Chung Moo Doe studio and taught us forward rolls. Not only do I recall this because we were actually learning something somewhat exciting, but also because he instructed us to always "roll to the side as opposed to straight on to avoid the broken glass." Yeah, for some reason he always approached our lessons as if we'd be getting into fights in some sort of dark alley where there would be broken beer bottles strewn about as we were surrounded by a gang of toughs. As much as you may figure we'd find that scenario appealing, firstly the chances of any of us getting into a gang fight in Newton were slim to nil, and second if the situation did arise it was unlikely that our deadly array of forward rolls was going to help us out against anybody with a knife or something.

Our three months of lessons at Chung Moo Doe ran out and Brendan and I elected not to re-up for another round. The lead dude seemed pretty disappointed when we informed him of this news after the ceremony where he upgraded our belts from white to white with a black mark on it. He gave us some kinda weird speech about how he saw a lot of potential in us and was saddened we didn't want to realize it. I'm pretty sure if he had taken us to some secret room and shown us the secret ninja army he was training using suburban white kids, we would have enthusiastically signed on for life, but he just went on a bit about the fabled "advanced class," so we weren't sold.

Funny thing I came across while looking up links on Chung Moo Doe to refresh my memory for this post: Apparently it was a scam.

Well that explains a lot.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Paragraph Movie Reviews: The Proposal

This movie is a textbook example of how good actors can elevate subpar material when they really try. As far as story and script, "The Proposal" is pretty cliched, not that well-paced and generally lacking in a lot of areas; in other words, it's an average romantic comedy. However, this film is so well-cast that the lean portions are at least watchable and the good stuff that could fall flat in lesser hands really shines through. I've long considered Ryan Reynolds the king of making the most of what he's given, as he always seems to make his portions of even bad movies very entertaining with his charm, and this is no exception, though interestingly he's more the straight man here, carrying the bulk of the movie's dramatic end and doing a fine job of it while also earning his laughs. The pleasant surprise here for me was Sandra Bullock, who I realize I really haven't seen in many movies, both because she's somewhat selective and I tend to stay away from the genres she works in most; she's the real star of the movie and carries it well, playing both the bitch and the girl you end up wanting to root for and providing a sensible progression beyond what the plot would seem to allow. She's also just really funny, both in her delivery and in her physicality. Rounding out the main players, Mary Steenburgen and Craig T. Nelson are servicable, but Betty White is absolutely hysterical--should that really be any sort of surprise, though? Denis O'Hare and Oscar Nunez make the most of their scene-chewing supporting parts, while Malin Akerman just looks pretty and says her lines. "The Proposal" is a somewhat clever premise with not such a great follow-through, but where it could have been an outright bomb, Bullock, Reynolds and company manage to make it sustainable in parts and very sweet in others; I wouldn't recommend you run out and see it, but if you happen to, the cast (and the fantastic Rockport, Massachusetts backdrop used to simulate Alaksa) will at least make sure you didn't waste your money.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Linko! XI

OK, so I don't think it's any big secret that I swipe a lot of links from Twitter and from the people on there with much stronger RSS feeds than me (because I don't actually use RSS feeds!), and this week Twitter was ablaze with news of the protests in Iran. Reading up on the story of an entire people's loss of basic voting freedoms (and seeing the frightening and, as you can see above, inspiring photos that go along with that) can make comic bookiness feel pretty stupid. In any event, I still have plenty of dumb nerd links this week, but let's start with some real world news I found pretty intriguing.

* Perhaps for comic fans, the most interesting bit of Iranian new is word that Persepolis cartoonist Marjane Satrapi took evidence of election fraud to members of the European Union Parliament. And I know that nothing 100% conclusive of fraud has been 100% confirmed by news organizations, but reading stories like this one can be pretty damn convincing, even if they're written from a place of obvious bias.

* One of the most interesting things for me about watching this news roll out on social media networks is the way in which we as Americans respond to it. You can count me among the numbers who were pretty shocked that big news networks like CNN didn't make a bigger story out of this from the start, but I think the overall rage has been a little out of place, especially considering the great job places like the NY Times' Lede blog have been doing covering the story. Still, even more shocking to me was the fact that I found myself agreeing with a lot of what was said in a post on a blog called Young Manhattanite. I know, the name is fucking stupid, and I'm betting the rest of their posts are pretty vapid too.

* Then again, in the Times' own profile of a young Iranian photographer covering the event, the comment thread broke out with people equally praising her for her work and praising her for being hot. I swear to God, some days I think we'd all be better off if Americans just woke up blind tomorrow.

* But you know what the craziest thing of all has been for us Americans this week? Fucking Twitter, man. Not on has the State Department been fighting to keep the site active over the past week on behalf of Iranian protestors, but the whole thing seems to actually be working to spread information during massive internet lockdowns within the country. I'm following two Iranian protest groups myself now. It's nuts. I also think it's funny how nerds now get to use phrases previously only seen in William Gibson novels and have them mean something important. Way to go, goobers. If anyone's looking for a straightforward take on why Twitter works so well for Iranians, you could do worse than this interview at the TED blog.

* All right, back to our regularly scheduled stupidity. The above screencap is only a fraction of the madness that is sprawling relationship map of the cast of the Uncanny X-Men. I remember being in high school and the girls at the lunch table doing this with friends of mine. In any event, as Agent M said to Topless Robot when it was passed between them: "That's like the videotape in The Ring. Once you see it, you have to pass it on so you don't die. MADNESS."

* I enjoyed this interview with Aspen Comics and upcoming Blackest Night: Titans writer JT Krul. JT went to Michigan State. He's all right.

* Marvel editor Steve Wacker sent around the link to this news story, saying, "If I edited Aquaman, this would be the issue this month." I thought that was pretty funny.

* Crazy but true: Laura Hudson's roommate posted a photo on Flikr, and now that photo is the cover to an album by Bon Iver.

* Also from Hudson: I already knew #2 on this list, and it's been one of my favorite cocktail party stories to tell for years, but the rest of the 15 Reasons Why Mr. Rogers Was The Best Neighbor Ever is pretty epic. Related: watch this.

* My friend Song put up a link to something called My Bathroom Ninja. I'm not 100% what it is, but it's called My Bathroom Ninja.

* I've been kicking myself for a while for not yet having read Cory Doctorow's latest book Little Brother, and now that I've learned that a Chicago theater has put up a stage version of the book that's only running a few weeks, I'm feeling the pressure to read it even more. I'd rather read and then see than the other way around, you know? Also: I guess it makes sense that people know Doctorow more from Boing Boing than anything else, but I still find that silly.

* My buddy Josh Wigler interviewed Mike Allred about the end of Madman Atomic Comics. It's always sad when a Madman iteration ends, but I'm always lifted up by the fact that Allred will come back to Frank and the gang sooner or later. This volume was really wild, wasn't it?

* Finally, thanks to Tom Brevoort, watch a real Gundam come to life:

More here. I know this is going to sound like a really nasty stereotype, but do Japanese people love robots or what?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Pimping My Stuff: War of Kings: Warriors #4

The conclusion to Crystal's story in War of Kings: Warriors has arrived my friends!

When last we left our excellent elemental, she had been tasked by the rest of the Inhuman royal family to squash a Kree uprising before things got nasty and ended up discovering a bomb had been planted at the site of her daughter Luna's class field trip! This time around, Crys tries to disarm the bomb, save the day, and prove to the Kree that the Inhumans aren't all bad--no small task. And win, lose or draw, she still has to face the icy glare and crazy hair of her big sister Medusa.

It's a key glimpse into the psyche of one of the key players in War of Kings and it's available now on Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited!

Stepping out of hype mode for a moment, I gotta say my personal thank you to writer Jay Faerber, who totally reads this blog (which is in itself very cool). Jay has been around this biz awhile and written lots of great comics I've enjoyed reading, so it was both exciting and a bit intimidating to get to work with him on this, but he totally made me feel at home in my first editor gig, was awesome about going back-and-forth with a wet behind the ears rookie, and taught me a lot about how this all works. Breaking this story with him was a great experience and I will be forever grateful; I really hope to work with him again soon, and not just on the Lilandra portion of this series (coming next month!), but on some of the other cool ideas we've kicked around. Jay Faerber: good people (buy Noble Causes and Dynamo 5!).

And while I'm doling out praise, our art team of Adriana Melo and Mariah Benes rocked it up to another level this go around and did some really beautiful stuff. I think it meshes very well artistically with the stuff Paul Pelletier is doing on the War of Kings proper book and that's high praise for my money. Also, allow the colorblind dude to say it was neat seeing Nei Ruffino's coloring process and I think those of you who don't share my ailment will find the palette of this story delightful.

Read War of Kings: Warriors #4, starring Crystal, NOW!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Ben's Indy Odyssey: The Mighty Skullboy Army

I've been meaning to check this out for a long while due to great word of mouth from many friends and after seeing the kick ass Nite Owl sketch Jacob Chabot did for Rickey at MoCCA, I decided to get to the borrowing.

It ended up being a relatively quick read that didn't change my worldview or anything drastic, but it entertained me and actually made me chuckle out loud more than a couple times; if a comic can do that, I deem it a successful venture.

First and foremost, I love the way Chabot draws, flat out. When it comes to humor comics, I'm a big fan of smooth Jeff Smith-style art that manages to take basic shapes and use them to tell as elaborate a visual story as need be without getting overcomplicated. Chabot pulls this off and makes his characters adorable and streamlined, but not simplistic, a point I can't stress enough. He also has a lot of energy in his art, right down to the small points like facial expressions and sound effects. I want a sketch from him really bad.

The premise of The Mighty Skullboy Army is one of those set-ups you'd only get in comics and it makes me love the medium: an elementary school kid named Skullboy who has a skull head and talks like a Bond villain also runs an evil corporation and tries to commit heinous crimes between classes with the help of his two henchmen, a robot and a monkey. I love the sentence I just wrote. I also love that Chabot doesn't give any backstory as to how this situation came about, it just is, as it should be (I'm not clamoring for a Skullboy: Year One mini...though now having thought about it for two seconds, maybe I am).

So with those ground rules established out of the gate, this collection is a bunch of short stories starring Skullboy and his cronies as they embark on various schemes. As you'd expect, some of the strips work better than others, some jokes soar while other fall flat. What I admire throughout is that while I got a kick out of this book, I totally think my kid cousins would as well, because at its heart it's a kids comic that also possesses a level of sophistication that adults can enjoy (at least I hope it's intended at least in part to be a kids comic, because otherwise I'm gonna feel like I just insulted Jacob Chabot without wanting or meaning to at all).

The humor that tickled my sensibilities the most came from the voices Chabot gives Skullboy and Unit 1 (the robot). Skullboy is more or less your typical megalomaniac, but aside from his situation setting him apart, he's also got this great unflappable confidence and drive about him that is totally endearing; he is never convinced he has been defeated and just can't understand why his sidekicks are unable to keep up.

Unit 1 was definitely my favorite character though. He's this fantastic mix of snivelling, condescension, arrogance, insecurity and wit. I love how he'll swivel from cowering in Skullboy's locker to firing his Death Ray to pining over his love for a soda machine. That's poetry, man! His inability to recognize the ridiculousness of his predicaments works perfectly with his unchanging expression to just make you smile. He's a great straight man. I wasn't that into Unit 2 (the monkey), probably because he doesn't say anything, but he was a perfect foil for Unit 1 (and the scene where they go hat shopping and he buys like eight hands cracked me up).

The stories where Skullboy gets an adult intern who then has to go try and collect leaves for a class project with the Units and the one where the Units pawn their pagers and attempt to earn money to buy them back with a lemonade stand are definitely my favorites. But just simple crap like the monkey putting a woman's hat on the robot's head and Unit 1 proclaiming "I can't see" really entertained me--it's not rocket science but it works! I also really really like towards the back of the book where Unit 1 starts becoming obsessed with love and tries to talk to Unit 2 about it to no avail. Fuck, I just love when Unit 1 disdainfully calls Unit 2 simply "Monkey"!

Chabot had fun with this and it comes through. The more I think back to write about it, the more I'm realizing how much I enjoyed it. The guy can write, he can draw, and he's got a cool sense of humor that doesn't need to be crass to be funny. I love it and I'd like to shake his hand (and get a sketch, seriously).

Monday, June 15, 2009

Megan Fox: Maybe not so bad?

Up until the past few months with the publicity blitz for Tranformers: Revenge of the Fallen, I honestly had not given Megan Fox much thought. Well, ok, I had given her some thought, but nothing really beyond what most guys (and many girls) think: she is a very good-looking girl (in most cases, not all).

However, these past few weeks/months, as I've seemingly not been able to pick up a magazine, click on a web site or throw a rock (law suit pending) without seeing Megan Fox, I've been forced to think about her more. Many of those thoughts have not been flattering.

In many of her recent public appearances, most notably at the 2009 MTV Movie Awards, she's come off as snotty, rude and a bit too full of herself to the common oberver (that would be me). At times it seems like she's almost too hot and she knows it. Sam actually pointed this out in her awesome post about lady crushes last week, so I'm not alone here.

Imagine my epic eye roll then when the newest issue of Entertainment Weekly arrived at my doorstep this week sporting a Megan Fox/Optimus Prime cover. More with this chick? Ugh.

But then I read her interview.

Honestly, it didn't bring me around to thinking Megan Fox isn't any of the kinda nasty things I wrote about her three paragraphs back, but she seems to be so self-aware of her shortcomings, unapologetic for them and brutally honest that I can't help but have gained quite a bit of respect for her. Most of young Hollywood seem like they vacillate weekly between acting like prima donnas and then doing spin to claim they're not, so it's a bit refreshing to read an interview with a 20-something "hot" actress who does not seem to give a fuck.

Allow me to share some excerpts...

EW: Transformers turned you into an overnight star. Looking back, how do you feel about the movie?
Fox: I'm terrible in it. It's my first real movie and it's not honest and not realistic. The movie wasn't bad, I just wasn't proud about what I did.
EW: What percentage of your range have people seen so far?
Fox: Seven percent. On the new one, I tried. But unless you're a seasoned veteran, working with Michael Bay is not about an acting experience.

Kudos to her there for not only being candid about her own weaknesses as an actress, but not bagging on the flick that made her a star; the dig at Michael Bay is gravy. Those themes continue here...

EW: You don't sound convinced that [Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen] is the greatest movie on earth.
Fox: It's not trying to be the greatest movie on earth. It's going to be the best action movie of the summer. Hands down, it will win that. But it's not trying to be a Golden Globe-nominated film. It's a badass popcorn summer movie.

Impressive healthy display of confidence/arrogance but also the opposite of pretentiousness. Anybody else find it weird she went with a Golden Globes reference over an Oscars one though?

EW: You up for a third Transformers?
Fox: Sure. I mean, I can't s--- on this movie because it did give me a career and open all these doors for me. But I don't want to blow smoke up people's ass. People are well aware that this is not a movie about acting. And once you realize that, it becomes almost fun because you can be in the moment and go, "All right, I know when he calls Action! I'm either going to be running or screaming or both."

Ok, that last quote cracked me up.

EW: Do you think you're a good actress?
Fox: I think I could be. If I really buckle down, I think one day I could be a very good actress. But so far, I haven't done anything yet.

Again, that struck me as a very honest answer, and one that many of her contemporaries wouldn't give.

EW: Do you think you're good-looking?
Fox: Well, I'm clearly not ugly.


EW: You've got a lot of confidence.
Fox: I think most people are extremely insecure. As far as girls go, I have a really badass personality. I'm smart and I can be really funny and interesting and I can go toe-to-toe with anybody in a conversation. So I'm not afraid to speak, and I think that's what some people read as this uberconfidence. I have a mouth and I'm not afraid to use it.

Putting that wonderful concluding entendre aside for a moment, I'm not sure I buy her, "Oh, I'm not arrogant, I'm just outspoken" rap, but at least she has some sort of rationale.

And then, the coup de grace...

Fox: I don't understand why people don't have a f---ing sense of humor. Always assume that I'm being sarcastic. Like when I said those things about High School Musical. I didn't really mean that it's about pedophilia. But if you get high and you watch it, that is what that f---ing movie is about!
EW: Did you watch that high?
Fox: Yes, and it blew my mind.

How can I top that?

So anyways, Megan Fox, if you're reading this blog, I want you to know that while it may be wrong for me to pre-judge you one way or another given that we've never actually spent any time together, you seem pretty ok. If you want to get high and watch High School Musical some time, I would not be totally opposed.

Oh, and the full interview is online here, as well as this follow-up where she admits to liking comics!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Pimping My Stuff: Cup O Joe

NOTE: This is a verbatim repost from Four Color Forum, which I almost never do, but this time I kinda thought it appropriate. Sorry if you don't like reading my crappy prose twice. - KP

So, I'm not 100% sure how this happened to me, but a little while back Jonah Weiland (AKA Mr. CBR, AKA My Boss, AKA Captain Moneytrain) called me up and asked me to participate in CBR's new Cup O Joe feature, a weekly Q&A with Marvel Comics Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada. After a few weeks of being copied on e-mails and other unspectacular planning type stuff, the feature launched today over at CBR, and it's pretty nifty.

I encourage all six of my regular readers to bookmark the Cup O Joe mainpage where new interviews will go up at least on a weekly basis (and almost daily for this first week) and where Joe will be posting some fun sketch material like his process for drafting the above Spider-Man cover.

In the meantime, check out the first interview where Jonah and I ask Joe about the possible resurrection of Captain America, Marvel's renumbering to 600 madness and the controversial topic of changing comic prices.

Linko! X

Holy Lord. Have I been doing this ten weeks? I've got to find a better way to use my time.

* So yeah, MoCCA. I can't even begin to describe how great a time I had last weekend in NYC for that show. Like, a life-affirming, sanity-saving, outlook-altering great time. My comics friends are some of the coolest, funniest, most beautiful people I know, and it's a total bummer that I don't see them more often. That said, it's crazy how little of my enjoyment over the weekend came from the show itself. I mean, it's not like I had as many complaints against the festival as some others (though I had one big complaint that no one else in all the writing on the show has hit upon), but overall this was the first MoCCA I went to where I didn't feel super excited about returning next year. I may not go back. Anyway, I'm putting some of this here because after writing my CBR report on the show and contributing to the PW report, I didn't have time to do a personal round up for the blog and am now feeling I'm behind the times to write one here.

* In any event, there's plenty of people whose write-ups you should read that aren't me, including Sean's first big post, Rickey's rundown, Heidi MacDonald's personal report, Heidi's link-o-rama and for everything else just go to Tom Spurgeon's mega post. Oh, and there were some fun reviews I saw hitting the sites too like these from Matthew Brady and this from Sarah Jaffe. And yeah, I posted the least awful of my terrible photos on CBR's Live! blog (scroll down a bit).

* My buddy Chris Ward is writing an Obama comic for Blue Water Productions. I'm sure you've already decided whether or not you're at all interested based only on the words "Obama" and "comic," but I think we can all agree that his run in the local press is hilarious including this local paper profile and ESPECIALLY this video.

* In other "my friends do cooler things than me" news: new music project from Pauly Doerr: Chasing Dinosaurs

* Via Alejandro: apparently Namor is a gay icon:

* Another Onion bit via Michael Kupperman: One of the better opinions I've seen there in a while.

* Two Sides of the Same Coin Link #1: According to The Wall Street Journal, Baby Boomers are coming out in force at this year's college commencements to apologize to young people for fucking up America. No shit, you guys.

* Two Sides of the Same Coin Link #2: According to The New York Times, trust fund hipsters in Williamsburg can't survive without their parents. Jesus, my generation sucks too, don't we? We're all doomed.

* Brian Warmoth has discovered the most expensive book for the Kindle.

* Back to comics, I saw my first Twitter fight break out this week. It was crazy. Laura Hudson and Chip Zdarsky called Rich Johnston out for this post, the ins and outs of which are explained here. And look, I know that I'm friends with Hudson and friendly (I think?) with Chip and that I don't know Rich from Adam in real life, but looking at all this objectively, does anyone think that Rich isn't implying intellectual theft with his Swipe File feature? I don't really care what The Comics Journal used to say or what disclaimer he runs with it, when 90% of your column is comparing photos to the artwork of Greg Land for humor effect, I think even the most well-read and reasonable people are going to assume that you're always implying one artist steals from another when you post two images together with dates on them. Am I crazy in thinking that?

* Coincidentally, writer Mark Waid is offering to give $10 to the Hero Initiative for every person who blocks Rich on Twitter.

* What's that? You want more depressing comics news? OK, how about this laughable "Girl's Guide to Comic-Con" from the L.A. Times?

* Back to fun: Is "30 Rock" a "Muppet Show" rip off? (Via Brian Bendis)

* Whoa. A website that can identify the color in any image for you.

* I'm not sure what led to my discovering this cache of reviews of infamous box office flops at the AV Club, but I enjoyed what I've read so far, including this one on the Super Mario Bros. movie and this one about "Even Cowgirls Get The Blues, the book of which I just read last year and thoroughly hated.

* Finally, I'm actually really bummed about how the digital TV transition means the Death of TV on the Radio. I used to listen to soap operas with my grandma every day when she'd pick me up from school and always thought it was so awesome. Tonight, I plan on hooking up my rabbit ears one more time and watching the signal go out. Does anyone else hope they'll show a cheesy "We now conclude our broadcast day" montage like in "Gremlins 2: The New Batch"?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Make These Action Figures II

I had a good time with this the first time around, so let's give it another go...

As he was customizing a USAgent figure for the latest Marvel Super Heroes: What The--?!, Alex Kropinak made me aware of something I did not know: there is no existing USAgent figure (hence, y'know, why he had to customize one). That is of course madness, as despite being an off-kilter Republican and the favorite character of Arune Singh, USAgent is a brutally cool looking character. Captain America's iconic costume is one of comics' true classics (there's a reason it wasn't updated for nearly sixty years), but when Steve Rogers temporarily became The Captain, his togs got a slick redesign that was more a coat of black paint and some tweaks than a full reinvention. When Steve went back to being Cap proper, John Walker inherited the new gear as USAgent and I would love to be able to pose those two side-by-side on my shelf.

The Golden Age
One of my favorite stories of all-time, James Robinson's classic Elseworlds epic The Golden Age had a sprawling, colorful cast of characters who could support a whole series of action figures for several years. While Robinson's encyclopedic knowledge of those great 40's characters and his ability to drag them into the modern day as three-dimensional, complicated characters were a big part of what made Golden Age work, another key component was Smith doing the finest work of his career, taking classic designs and breathing new life into them with craftsmanship and flair. Just like there have been DC Direct lines specifically modeled after art done by artists from Jack Kirby to Ed McGuinness to Shane Davis over the past few years, a Golden Age line based on Smith's work would be just keen; for the first line I'll take Green Lantern, Johnny Quick, Liberty Belle, Dynaman and Manhunter.

The cosmic corner of the Marvel Universe is a source of vast untapped potential that I'm sure makes toy and statue designers salivate. While I've certainly got my fingers crossed for a modern Nova figure somewhere down the line, the updated Drax designed by the awesome Mitch Breitweiser would also be a great place to start. It would be a neat-looking figure that would stand out in most collections and could also come with some fairly badass accessories considering the cool knives Drax carries around to do his business. If we're looking at a line, alongside Drax include Star-Lord, Gamora, cosmic Ultron and Rocket Raccoon.

Given the popularity of Grant Morrison's JLA run, I'm honestly surprised one of his coolest creations, the villainous Prometheus, has never gotten any merchandise. I mean look at the guy: it's like Howard Porter designed him thinking, "Hey, this would be a cool action figure" (and maybe he was). He's got a quirky costume with a neat weapon and the potential for rad extras like making the helmet removable or giving it a "port" to put little fighting skills discs in. Prometheus had a bit of a rough spell for the last few years, getting treated more or less as a joke, which probably hurt his chances to get that elusive figure, but now he's back on top and seemingly positioned for big things ahead, so let's make this happen.

I was initially thinking about how I just wanted a figure of Captain Britain in his new costume, but then I realized there really aren't any members of MI13 I don't think I'd at least consider buying. I'd love a modern Blade, Pete Wisdom is such an offbeat choice I'd dig it, Spitfire has a simple but great look, Faiza is somewhere along the same lines as Pete, and I think the Black Knight may already have a figure, but I've always been a fan of his visuals and would gladly take another. Heck, toss in Meggan and Dracula and you've got a sweet box set!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Underrated/Overlooked: Arsenal by Grayson & Mays

I'm not sure he'd make the cut on any sort of list I'd put together of favorite characters, but I'm definitely a fan of Roy Harper (aka Speedy I, aka Arsenal, aka Red Arrow). He's got the whole reformed bad boy deal going, he's got wit, he's an archer (and as a former certified archery instructor myself, though I sucked at hitting the target, I can still fool myself into thinking that's a common thread) and he's got a rich history in the DC Universe. He's been in some series and stories I hold great affection for, from New Teen Titans to Suicide Squad to Green Arrow and onward.

Given all the characteristics I rifled off above, you'd think Roy would be a writer's dream, but I get the hunch he's actually quite challenging to handle, in part because he's almost too good to be true...if that makes sense.

Let me elaborate by listing all the stuff Roy has going on in addition to the core personality I already outlined:

-He was raised by Green Arrow.

-He was a junkie.

-He was a government agent.

-He had an affair with a super villain/terrorist that produced a daughter.

-He now raises said daughter as one of (if not the only) single father characters in comics.

-He's a known ladies man who has knocked boots with the aforementioned Cheshire, Donna Troy, Grace, the Huntress and Hawkgirl just to name a few.

So right there I just threw out half a dozen things that could easily define a character and give writers plenty of fodder for many many stories; the trick with Roy is he's got all of those things going on. I've seen plenty of stories starring Roy Harper that try to cram in that he's an ex-junkie single father who carries a torch for his super villain former lover while flirting with other chicks and trying to use his government agent skills to cut through his daddy issues because he was raised by Green Arrow all into the same plot.

Oh, and he was also in a band.

So because Roy has such tremendous potential but at the same time so much baggage to overcome in writing good stories in which he is featured, I have tremendous respect for writers who can accomplish that task, and for my money, Devin Grayson has pulled it off more than once.

Devin Grayson wrote the excellent Phil Jimenez-illustrated JLA/Titans three-issue mini, which prominentaly featured Roy (then Arsenal) and also led into a new Titans ongoing book, again written by Grayson (for the first 20 issues) and again with Arsenal taking a major role. Over the course of those 23 issues, Grayson did some great stuff with Roy's character, but prior to that, she wrote a four-issue Arsenal limited series that I guess you could consider a trial run for what came next.

What I find nice about Grayson's approach to Roy Harper is that she acknowledges that all those things I mentioned earlier are ingredients in what makes him such an appealing character, but she knows how to use them in moderation and also doesn't let any of his "gimmick" hooks overwhelm his personality; in other words, she makes him being a recovering heroin addict or single dad part of his story, but not define him and make him an afterschool special.

In the case of the Arsenal mini, Grayson actually makes some light of all the cliches Roy has racked up over the years and makes it work for the story. A big part of the plot is Roy trying to balance his life between being a super hero and trying to raise his daughter, doing his best he doesn't let one life bleed over into the other and put people he cares about in jeopardy. Grayson makes Roy almost manic as he cycles between hero and dad as well as horndog, spy, addict, etc. She shows that these are all facets of what makes Roy Roy, but pokes a little fun by piling them all one on the other; she also gets it all in there up front and then narrows her focus to telling a story with the character that isn't predicated on him suffering withdrawl or pining for Cheshire, recognizing that those are each stories that need their own space.

Out of that set-up, we get a fun adventure that highlights the swashbuckling Green Arrow protege side of Roy, but also points out how different he is from his "dad" (who was "dead" at the time) in that he's committed to the family he has (his daughter, Lian) and has grown up to be a very responsible man despite the facade he may present to the world.

Grayson milks the Green Arrow connection further by having Black Canary and then-GA Connor Hawke as featured guest stars. I've always enjoyed the Roy-Canary dynamic when done right (which it is here) because it's so unique: she's a beautiful woman who's really not that much older than him, but she's also the closest thing he has to a mother and he is immensely respectul of her; on the flip side, Dinah is far more protective of Roy than she would be even of Ollie. It's a nice relationship and Grayson writes it well. She also gets good stuff out of one of Roy's first encounters with Connor, Ollie's actual son and our hero's polar opposite, disciplined perhaps to a fault. I enjoy the bickering brother routine and, on a more base level, that even though Connor is one of the best fighters in the DCU, Roy can still one-up him with a bow and arrow and also shows off that he has surpassed even his "dad" by becoming a master of many weapons, not just one.

The plot is a little wacky, but it's fun: immortal villain Vandal Savage has discovered that Roy is one of his descendants, so he kidnaps Lian in order to extort Arsenal as possible heir, but more likely to use his organs at some point down the line. It makes for good action and provides high stakes, but really it's all secondary to the character stuff and Roy's ongoing evolution as a hero, a father, and a man.

Rick Mays provides the art for this series, and he's a guy I really wish we saw more of. I love his Manga-influenced style, the fun energy it has and his awesome action sequences. His work on the dearly departed Ultimate Marvel Team-Up where he drew a two-parter teaming Spider-Man and Shang Chi was simply poetry, as he was born to draw fight scenes, which he demonstrates again here, but another thing he proves on this assignment is that he excels at bringing out genuine emotion in his characters.

This book is definitely a hidden gem and one of the best examples of what a blue chip leading man Roy Harper can be if done right. If Devin Grayson has a Red Arrow pitch, I hope somebody over at DC has the time to listen and perhaps Rick Mays on speed dial.