Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Melrose Memo IV: Vine

The facts: the original Melrose Place is probably my favorite television show of all time. I could write an essay on why, but let's just leave it at "it is" for now. I have waited patiently for a decade, and now at long last my beloved Melrose has been remade for a new generation...but will it be any good? That is what I will explore here each Tuesday night (or Wednesday evening) in the Melrose Memo. I understand that those of you coming here for comics, movie or general geek news probably have little to no interest in hearing my thoughts on this program, but people--it's Melrose Place.

Now, as my friend Sean would say, read on if you wish, but do not allow me to spoil the elaborate mythology of this show for you; in other words, watch before reading!

-The good news up front: despite poor initial ratings, the CW has picked up Melrose for six more episodes, proving once again it is the network that at least gives new shows a chance to find their audience...unless you're The Beautiful Life: TBL (but really those initials doomed it from the start). Seriously though, glad to hear The CW feels the show is "on the right track creatively," as I tend to agree, and am glad that merits the faith. On to tonight's episode...

-...and while it wasn't the worst, and was still highly enjoyable, it wasn't the new Melrose's best, despite some bright spots (which I'll get into). The main failing of tonight's ep I think came from a lack of Laura Leighton and Thomas Calabro, as while the younger cast definitely seems to be coming into their own, there's no doubt those two add some spice that differentiates this show from being just another CW soap. Clearly the writers felt that Josie Bissett's return as Jane would cover for the lack of Sydney/Michael action, but that's very much trying to jam a square peg into a round hole (more on Jane in a bit). Breaking from the flashback structure that had been established was also a bit awkward (thankfully they seem to be back next week).

-On the bright side, this was David's strongest episode yet in my eyes, as he is steadily climbing from one of my least favorite characters to the credible male lead the show needed. He had an odd chemistry with Auggie (definite bromance potential) and then a far more obvious one with Ella, so all his scenes were solid. He also broke out a decent cross-armed lean against a brick wall in an back alley as well as nice cocky douchebag moves while blackmailing, both headliner events in the Melrose Olympics. And hey, if you're a male character in primetime who wants to win over Ben Morse as a fan, throwing punches at the most inopportune time and preferably destroying at least one piece of furniture in the process is the way to do it.

-So it's been a decade, but Josie Bissett still hasn't really mastered the art of conveying believable emotion, at least with this character. It's not all poor Josie's fault though, as perhaps the folks behind MP 2009 didn't watch enough of the original to know that Jane is at her absolute worst when she tries to play the villain, and tonight was no exception. Having watched the character for six seasons, I know not to take her seriously when she tries to blackmail or threaten, but I'm wondering if virgin viewers felt the same way. She also got totally owned by Ella and even David, not just from a character sense, but an acting one as well. She was fine as a plot device/nostalgia guest, but I'm not anxious to see much more Jane unless she's interacting with other original characters.

-The one thing I am glad to see is that Jane remains a terrible fashion designer who can't understand why people don't love her hideous dresses, so at least we had a nice bit of continuity.

-Speaking of continuity, however, I'm bummed they didn't at least give some explanation of where Jane's husband, Kyle, and the baby she was carrying in the series finale of the original Melrose were. I get that Josie Bissett and Rob Estes got divorced in real life plus he's on 90210, so an actual Kyle spotting is unlikely (I can dream!), but even a throwaway line would have been nice.
-Two questions about the scene where the cops come to interrogate Violet: 1. Did that detective really just compliment her lamp? and 2. Did she jump out the same window Alison used to ditch her wedding to Billy?

-Y'know, I totally forgot Ella was bisexual until she asked Lauren if that female intern was hot--I have a feeling the writers did too.

-On the subject of Ella, Katie Cassidy continues to be the absolute breakout star of this show, absolutely shining in every scene she's in as well as elevating any character she comes into contact with. She is brilliant with the little touches, from the self-important way she holds her hands and arms while walking to the fast-talking/mumbling she tried to employ to get Jane hired by her boss. She does a great job balancing the over-the-top melodrama of classic Melrose with the more earnest approach this incarnation seems to be going for and is just a joy to watch.

-Ella's boss is in a Capture the Flag league? There are Capture the Flag leagues?!

-I don't get why Lauren is surprised that a guy propositions her in a hotel lobby when she is clearly wearing a hooker dress (Megan disagrees). In any event, the client who refused to pay was an interesting twist in Lauren's ongoing plot, but I think her whole thing needs to go somewhere, as the novelty is wearing off; thank goodness Kelly Carlson of The Marine fame showed up as a madam to make that happen (and holy crap does this show need a John Cena cameo now)!

-Nice to see the "every important event ever happens at Shooters or Kyle's" trope from the original has re-manifested with the restaurant Auggie works at here.

-I'm glad Jonah actually appreciated Riley's efforts to schmooze in order to advance his career as opposed to them getting into another predictable argument (it definitely seemed like they were headed there). Jonah is also getting his best moments as the guy getting increasingly frustrated that nobody else can see that Violet is batshit crazy.

-And speaking of everybody's favorite psychopath, more quality stuff from her this week, particularly her delusions about how happy Sydney was to learn about her and how much she seems to buy into said fantasy. I'm glad the stuff about her being Syd's daughter is out in the open but there is still both lies and mysteries surrounding the character. From what I'm reading about upcoming episode descriptions, the best is still yet to come with Vi as it sounds like once she meets Michael, the shit really hits the fan (in a good way).

-"Like I'm going to go bail out Marge if she's in jail." -Megan on why she wouldn't help out our deaf 80-year old neighbor like Riley did for Violet.

-Let's wrap things up by celebrating a trio of lines that made me start to like David this episode...

-"You did pretty well for your first time. The steering wheel can be a bit tricky." -David after having sex in the driver's seat of his car with some random chick.

-"Next time you divorce a paranoid psychopath, change your computer password." -David to Jane on Michael having dirt on her.

-"It makes sense, she does have red hair." -David on how obvious Violet being Sydney's daughter is in retrospect.

-But wait! Line of the night still goes to Ella, who brushes off David's claim that they had a "good time" hooking up the night before with this gem: "Don't flatter yourself, David, I always have a good time."

-As a final note, I have yet to understand the meaning a of a single episode title since "Pilot."

One year of the Cool Kids Table

I can't believe it was one year ago today that I first posted a welcome to the Cool Kids Table (and learned that the web address for that name was taken so I had to spell "Kidz" with a "z" like it was 1999).

More than that, I can't believe that Kiel, Rickey and myself have been able to motivate ourselves to keep posting here for twelve months and not have any of us drop out, but here we are.

I have totally fallen in love with having this blog and having a place to express myself through writing (and the occasional bad doodle) has been such a joy. Getting to come home and jot down my thoughts on comics or wrestling or movies or Melrose Place has proven a fun, rewarding and often frankly therapeutic experience.

Thanks to all of you who have come here over the past year and given us a shot; whether you've chimed in with comments or read in silence, we sincerely appreciate that anybody, let alone a fairly impressive (by our standards) amount of folks seem to want to hear what we have to say.

I really dig that both people I have never actually met follow this blog but at the same time my older cousins (because hopefully they are not letting their kids read anything I write) come up to me at family events and let me know I was right on about how Subway used to be way better (incidentally, I still don't think any single post has generated more discussion both on and offline than that one; amazing). It's a treat when comic professionals stop by or when guys I haven't heard from in years somehow find their way here.

We're glad you were all along for the ride and hope you don't plan on jumping off any time soon (and tell your friends about us!). You've all earned a seat at the Cool Kids Table.

We've got some neat anniversary stuff coming up this week as well as some visual changes you'll notice popping up here and there (including colors I can't see), but mostly we're just going to continue doing what we do best: being awesome.

Thanks again and kudos to my partners-in-crime for being nuts enough to enter into this endeavor with me. To really kickstart the celebration, here's a picture of us in San Diego with Sean McKeever.*

*-Sean McKeever will not be joining the Cool Kids Table. Sorry Sean, we just don't think you're quite there yet; we love you though, and Nomad is excellent.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Definitives: Green Arrow

If comic book fandom worked like a dating service where you input the qualities you're looking for in a character whose adventures you'd like to follow and get handed your best match, odds are I would have been a Green Arrow devotee from early on (how 'bout that for a weird opening analogy).

Cocky and outspoken, not to mention swashbuckling and romantic, Oliver Queen is an underdog who shares my real-life love (ok, like) of archery and has all Batman's cool gadgets plus a sense of humor to boot. How could I not have been Green Arrow for every Halloween from 6th grade on?

Well, mainly because Ollie Queen was mostly MIA during my first run as a comics reader.

Not long after I started getting into comics seriously and almost immediately after I began to expand my tastes into the broader DC Universe beyond Superman and Batman, the original Green Arrow took a dirtnap courtesy of terrorists and was replaced by his son, Connor Hawke. Nowadays I have a decent enough appreciation of what Connor brings to the table, and he did have that one really cool Grant Morrison JLA story where he kicked the Key's ass, but a Buddhist martial artist who didn't seem to like girls wasn't really what the doctor ordered for adolescent Ben.

When I got back into comics in college, though, Oliver Queen was re-experiencing a somewhat unlikely resurgence as Kevin Smith had resurrected Ollie and brought him to heights of success he'd never before gotten anywhere near. After getting into Smith's GA, I delved a bit into the past of the character and quickly discoverd I hadn't missed much; the truly great Green Arrow stories of the pre-Smith era were indeed quite good, but in my humble opinion, they were somewhat few and far between (though, to be fair, I haven't read a lot of the Denny O'Neil/Neal Adams stuff). Interestingly enough, for a character so often linked to the 70's liberal movement, I think between his last nine years of comic book appearances and Justin Hartley's standout performance on Smallville, Oliver Queen's best decade ever has been the last one.

Nonetheless, there have been quality yarns of the Emerald Archer sprawled across the past 68 years since his inception; here are the one that made the biggest impression on me...

"A Member No More!"
Like most Golden Age and early Silver Age DC super heroes, Green Arrow had no real unique personality to call his own; just another smiling do-gooder who spoke in exclamations and liked to smile a lot. Then, in the 70's, writer Denny O'Neil stripped Oliver Queen of his fortune, gave him a social conscience, and created the cantakerous windbag with a heart of gold we've all grown to love. In Justice League of America #173, GA pushes for the team to recruit Black Lightning based on the work the new hero is doing cleaning up the streets of Metropolis, but after BL rebukes the team, he chides Ollie for not focusing on that type of crime afflicting the average man himself. So eight issues later in JLoA #181, Gerry Conway pens this beauty, in which Green Arrow lectures Superman, Flash, et al about how busy they are stopping alien invasions while folks go hungry on the street, then quits the team, but not before going on one last mission with them and putting Felix Faust down for the count with a lucky shot after all his more powerful teammates fall; it was a defining moment for Green Arrow (and one tweaked and re-imagined wonderfully years later in JLA: Incarnations #3, an issue of a limited series I really need to cover in Underrated/Overlooked sooner rather than later).
Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters
I just borrowed this mini from TJ within the last couple months, and while it could not possibly be much further from the wisecracking Green Arrow I typically favor, it's such a powerful work and a strong take on the character that still makes sense. Essentially writer/artist Mike Grell had the idea to move Green Arrow out of the super hero realm, where he always seemed redundant or outmatched, and redefine him as an "urban hunter," really just a dude with a bow and arrow who polices Seattle after hours taking down drug dealers and the like. Grell's art is lush and gorgeous, which kind of goes without saying if you've ever seen his work, but his character work is so strong here. He doesn't shy away from the fact that Ollie has always seemed a few years older than his JLA contemporaries, delving into the fact that he may be having a mid-life crisis (personified by his relationship with the far younger Black Canary, who Grell also has a great handle on) and is not able to rely on his physical prowess and gadgets as much as he once could. The story is a dark and often shocking one that sees Black Canary physically abused by drug runners, Ollie reacting in kind, and the morally ambiguous archer assassin Shado entering Green Arrow's world. It's not pretty, but it's intense, masterfully structured and would set off over 80 issues of a Green Arrow renaissance under Grell.
"Zero Hour: Crisis in Time"
Oliver Queen's last hurrah in his initial run as Green Arrow as well as his first real interaction with the wider DC Universe in years came at the conclusion of the 1994 Zero Hour event, and whether writer/artist Dan Jurgens realized it or not, he gave the Emerald Archer a helluva sendoff. GA doesn't appear until the very last issue of the main mini, wherein his old pal Hal Jordan (formerly Green Lantern, now Parallax) has effectively destroyed the universe and is about to remake it "for the better"; Waverider managed to save a few heavy hitters like Superman and Captain Atom, but also snagged Ollie from oblivion in hopes he might be able to talk his fellow hard-travelling hero down from the ledge. Jurgens truly makes Ollie look ragged and worn here, a shell of the one-time Green Arrow who makes no secret he feels his best days are behind him with his pessimism and lack of faith in his own abilities--a far cry from the guy who walked out on the Justice League. But when all of existence is on the line and an innocent life is lost, Green Arrow pulls back his quiver and makes the most difficult shot of his life; Jurgens captures the raw emotion of the seemingly final interaction between Ollie and Hal with such power, poignancy and tragedy that it would bring a tear to a glass eye. The fact that Green Arrow's role in Zero Hour came so out of left field was perfect in a way for a guy who never quite fit in the DCU's hierarchy, and perfectly bookended the first phase of his legend.
In 2001, several years following the "death" of Oliver Queen, famed film director Kevin Smith, who had already given Daredevil new life at Marvel, brought the original Green Arrow back into the DC Universe and clearly had a tremendous time doing it. In a ten-part epic that featured Batman, Aquaman, the JLA, Hal Jordan as the Spectre, Etrigan, Black Canary, Arsenal, Black Manta, both Green Arrows and, last but not least, Stanley and his friggin' Monster, Smith and artist Phil Hester threw everything including the kitchen sink into an incredible journey that featured no shortage of action, mystery and laugh-out-loud moments, but most importantly, Oliver Queen never got lost in the shuffle and never felt more important or better-defined. Smith plays with Ollie as a man "out of time" and has some fun with that, mocks Batman's seriousness, explores heavy issues of spirituality and the afterlife, and writes incredible Etrigan dialogue all in the course of one story. Oh, and there are also absolutely amazing fight scenes, choreographed by Phil Hester, whose moody, angular, yet oh-so-fun art has made him one of the definitive Green Arrow artists of all time. I don't want to get too much heavier into the details lest I spoil it, but few stories about a guy with a bow and arrow feel bigger and more epic than "Quiver"; heck, few stories do period.
"The Archer's Quest"
Novelist Brad Meltzer's first foray into comics and, to this day, my favorite work he has done in the medium. It is very much Brad's love letter to Green Arrow and all the things he loves about Oliver Queen and his world, but to me it never gets self-indulgent, instead drawing you in as if you're reading over the shoulder of an enthusiastic kid who somehow got to write his favorite super hero. The presence of Roy Harper as he and his adopted dad go on a road trip to lock down the stuff Ollie lost while he was presumed dead is a treat as Meltzer really gets that character as well as what makes the relationship between Green Arrow and his former sidekick so unique. There are several great moments throughout this arc, from the surprising role of the Shade to Ollie's first real meeting with rookie Green Lantern Kyle Rayner as well as a neat Wally West moment and a game-changer cameo (though nobody saw it coming) for Catman. I would say my favorite part though remains the completel random and wonderfully crazy Green Arrow-Solomon Grundy fight, as Brad basically got curious what would happen if GA fought the Hulk and then put it on the page like that aforementioned kid talking to his buddies about comics. I've heard plenty of critiques of "Archer's Quest" from a lot of hardcore Green Arrow fans, but for me it was a refreshing breath of nostalgia from a guy who really seemed to be showing the love as well as a neat snapshot of a great character.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Nova has awesome bad guys

In the ever contentious world of comic book super hero fandom, I think you will find that one of the few nearly universally held opinions (and with a set-up like that I'm just begging for debate in the comments section, which I look forward to) is that though the order may be up for debate, Batman and Spider-Man have the two best rogues galleries in the business. If you ask me, Flash and the Fantastic Four clock in at three and four, though not necessarily in that order (Superman has three or four great villains, but that's still just three or four guys; I love the X-Men, but they spend too much time fighting dudes with ill-defined powers who stand in the shadows and gloat or bad guys whose names end in "o").

The one thing I think we can all agree on though, is that without any question whatsoever, Nova the Human Rocket and his array of foes round out the top five.

Ok, that may not be true (it's definitely not true), but Nova does have one of the more underrated assortment of antagonists around, most of whom have been criminally absent from prominence for the better part of thirty years. When you've got the likes of Marv Wolfman, the brothers Buscema and Carmine Infantino hard at work, I guess the first part of that last sentence should come as no surprise.

Here are a few of the dope Nova villains who should be fighting the Avengers right now...

One look at this guy and you are probably instantly doubting any and all credibility you may have thought I possessed, but seriously, it's a name, design and general character that should be obsurd by all rights (and ok, he kinda is), but in the hands of the talented creators I mentioned, Diamondhead actually seemed like a credible threat. He's just your run-of-the-mill bruiser with diamond-hard skin, not a world beater by any stretch of the imagination, but he's possessed of that same "clearly minor villain who thinks he's hot shit" mentality that makes guys like the Rhino or Killer Croc so ultimately endearing. I mean, this guy gets his ass kicked routinely and has never scored even close to a major win, but he still goes out there every day in that outfit and thinks today's gonna be the day. He was also really Nova's first solo villain, and against the inexperienced Rich Rider he fared pretty well, so every time he butts heads with our boy, it's a decent barometer of where the Human Rocket is at (in their last post-Annihilation meeting, it was a very quick fight). And silly as the costume is, the Buscemas and Infantino really knew how to make it kinda cool.

The Condor
Points right off the bat have to go to the Condor (and Marv Wolfman) for being an African-American villain created in the 70's who didn't talk jive or deal drugs, but instead was a brilliant and malicious scientist who turned his genius towards his own thirst for power. I dig that unlike say Hawkman or Angel, Condor recognized right away that just wings were enough to rob banks and whatnot, but he was woefully undermatched against any and all super heroes, so the first thing he did was run out and recruit a far more impressive dude to partner up with (that would be Powerhouse, who we'll get to in a moment). Condor had an edge to him that most mad scientist types didn't in that he really did seem to get the big picture and made logical moves rather than crazy death traps and grandiose speeches (though he made plenty of those too). Also, like Diamondhead, Condor did have an inflated self-worth, which proved his ultimate undoing as the Sphinx (also to come) turned him into a bird, and he wouldn't return until years later as a 90's-tastic half-human monster I'd rather not talk about.

The key to Powerhouse was that he was uber-mysterious and neither Nova, his villainous cohorts or the reader quite knew what he was about. Condor basically found him in a crashed spaceship Ma and Pa Kent-style and convinced him he was a bad dude, but you always knew there was more to this garishly purple power player than him just being Nova's equivalent of the Absorbing Man, and that was intriguing. His abilities were also neat, as Wolfman took the old "absorbs all forms of energy" chestnut but put a decent spin on it of Powerhouse being able to expel said energy in all sorts of ways. The fact that Powerhouse would start instinctively using his gifts in more intuitive and clever ways as he went on as well as the fact that Condor and Diamondhead were pretty terrified of him realizing that he wasn't their buddy added a nice dimension to the guy. Eventually we learned that he was in fact a good guy, a hero from the world of Xandar (where Nova's powers came from) in fact; given that Xandar has been destroyed many times over now, a surviving Powerhouse either as a bitter villain or hero with a chip on his shoulder would be a cool encounter for Nova or the other Marvel cosmic heroes.

Dr. Sun
Ah, the sublime absurdity of Dr. Sun. The good doctor was a Chinese genius who was obsessed with vampires and blood and ended up butting heads with Dracula (over in Tomb of Dracula, which Wolfman also wrote), rarely to his benefit. In one of the more bizarre shifts of motivation in comic book history, Dr. Sun ended up turning his attention from bloodsuckers to Nova's Xandarian computer power source (this is another reason I love Marv Wolfman and his seamless ability to shift genres) and put his brain in an impervious computer body the better with which to battle his new foe. However, the way Dr. Sun got close to Nova was friggin' fantastic, as he posed for months as young Robbie Rider's (Rich's kid brother) "detective robot," Sherly (short for Sherlock Holmes) before making his move. If today's writers can't find a place for a Chinese genius vampire hunter turned brain in a mechanical body who can pose as a Sherlock Holmes robot at will, perhaps they aren't really earning their paychecks.

The Sphinx
Indisputably the top man among Nova's villains, the Sphinx is also not surprisingly the one who has the most success in the wider Marvel Universe (albeit success that has still been pretty limited). At first, he was just a guy in the shadows playing puppet master to Nova's other foes who happened to have a neat Egyptian gimmick/look and some insight into Xandar and the root of our hero's powers. As time went on (both in Nova's original book, in Fantastic Four and years later in New Warriors), we learned that he was actually a wizard in the court of the pharoah who lost a duel to no less than Moses and ended up getting exiled to the Egyptian desert where he discovered the uber-powerful Ka Stone, which both gave him sick abilities and also made him immortal. As centuries passed, the Sphinx became ridiculously bored and eventually undertook a quest to amass power not because he wanted to rule the world or anything, but because it beat sitting around doing nothing, which really is pretty neat and unique motivation. Sphinx had a few great story arcs in New Warriors where he first clashed with a female version of himself that turned out to be a chick he had spurned after first getting his powers but unknowingly also made immortal, then ended up forming a strange andogynous bond with her. He came back briefly in Erik Larsen's Nova book, back to the old power-monger version, but hasn't show up since...but that will change this December. I'm thrilled to see ol' Stoneface back as he's a great old school villain with the perfect mix of a bad ass visual, great reason for doing what he does, and an air of mystery that still lingers despite us having learned so much of his story. Can't wait to see what Dan Abnett and Any Lanning do with him, and hopefully he'll have life beyond Nova as well.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Linko! XXIV

* Earlier this week, a post on Cartoon Brew led me to discover that Bill Wray has a blog. I generally don't follow creator blogs as much as I should, and the above page from a 1986 horror comic he drew proves why I'm an idiot for that. Damn, can he draw. I'd say it's a real shame that he doesn't do more comics work (and it is), but it's hard to get too upset when Wray's current show The Mighty B looks like too much fun. It's the one created by Amy Poehler that I keep meaning to watch more of. The closest thing we've got to a new John K show on TV now, I'd wager.

* Last week, while looking up resources for my overly-long Gundam statue post I found two rad links I forgot to mention before. First: Detroit's own Andrew WK recorded an entire album of metal covers of the music o Gundam. That one must have hit the wire because like 10,000 other people (or, you know...like six) were Tweeting about it all week. Second: Gundam creator Yoshiyuki Tomino declared "Video Games are evil."

* I didn't find this Gawker piece on how it's all over between fans and "Heroes" was that funny, but I bet it's how anyone who ever liked the show now feels. Did you watch the season opener? I had it on for 20 minutes while cooking dinner, and it felt like every other season of that show except there were circus freaks...oh, and mind wiping. (From Mike Cotton?)

* Dave Paggi is a genius finder of genius links Link: The People of WalMart.

* Promising new webcomic Link: Natalie Nourigat's Between Gears. (Via)

* In "not nearly as awesome" news, Brendan McGuirk Tweeted this link to highlights from something called the Lingerie Football League. It sucks. I don't even know why I'm posting it except to bitch. I mean, I think the idea of a women's football league is totally cool, even an arena-league style one. Making the players dress in next to nothing with some fakey shoulder pads makes it way stupider. Having a highlight reel that's just shots of women getting hit with no play-by-play context is even stupider than that. Do the financier's of this really think men want to watch this all day? They know there's plenty of free porn on the internet, right?

* Insane: If you have like $1.6 million, you too can Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio's house complete with the legendary "The Barn" studio. Side note: I haven't had time to buy their new album yet...or the new Brendan Benson album. I suck.

Let's wrap up with a shit load of video links, huh?

* #1 - Glenn Beck and the morning Zoo Crew. [Related: Andy Khouri's buds protest his 9/12 bullshit in style.]

* #2 - Andy Richter beats the pants of Wolf Blitzer and Dana Delany in Celebrity Jeopardy! Part 1, Part 2

* #3 - Christopher Reeve for the first time on the "Tonight Show." [I could write a whole post on this video both as a superhero fan and a late night talk show fan, but I'm too wore out these days to do that. Just watch]

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Eye candy

Feeling lazy and watching lots of TV tonight instead of blogging. However, in lieu of a real post, check out this picture of TJ, Rickey, Dave and me from Rockport in 2007:

We are literally laughing at danger!

As a special bonus, here is the photo that will be used for either our first album cover or a promo shot for our new CW show:


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

That time I bought Cyberfrog

So the truly knowledgable fans of comic minutiae among you may recall that prior to being the ultra-successful artist of projects like Flash: Rebirth, Ethan Van Sciver kicked off his career at the ripe old age of 19 by creating a magical character named CyberFrog. He looked like this:

Skip ahead to February of 2007 and I, Ben Morse, am out to dinner following one of the days at New York Comic Con with Ethan and several others, including none other than Rickey Purdin. As it usually did, talk eventually turned to CyberFrog and I was stuck with a genius idea: since Ethan didn't have any plans for the character, why not hand him over to an enterprising creator such as myself who could take that cyberball and run with it?

I used my not inconsiderable powers of negotiation and convinced Ethan to sell me the rights to CyberFrog for a cool $1 American. Rags Morales was on hand to act as our official witness and we drew up the deal of a lifetime...
Naturally I was so excited that I ran out ASAP and posted the following press release, complete with Rickey's dynamic redesign of the character, to Comic Bloc:

Cyberfrog-mania continues to sweep the comic book world!

High Five Comics ("Where we high five comics instead of slapping them down") is pleased to announce the creative team of CYBERFROG: REBIRTH, the revolutionary mini-series that will retcon all the crappy stuff Ethan Van Sciver did and launch Cyberfrog into an exciting new world of action and excitement:

Superstar artist Rickey Purdin (Wizard: Diary) and unknown writer TJ Dietsch ("I did an essay in my linguistics class on R. Crumb's work and then another essay that compared the characterization of LOEG characters from the comics and their original novels")!

High Five hopes to release an interview with the CYBERFROG: REBIRTH team later this afternoon if they have time, but until then, feast your eyes on this exclusive first look at the NEW Cyberfrog courtesy of Rickey Purdin:

I also added the following amendment:

I'm no longer using the inner capitalization when writing "Cyberfrog." It reeks of the 90s and this property, for me, is not about dwelling in the past, but about looking forward and realizing the full, brilliant potential of the epic story of a cybernetically-enhanced frog that Ethan Van Sciver created when he was 19.

So here we are, over two years later, and sadly no Cyberfrog product from High Five Comics ever materialized. I've been asked the same question time and again: what happened?

What can I say? We were just a bunch of kids with big dreams and big ideas, maybe too big. Life happened.

And after a year of us not doing anything, I realized the back of the napkin said Ethan got the rights back.

The moral of the story is that if you are a successful comic book creator reading this blog and have a character you created as a teenager and are not currently using, please sell it to Rickey, TJ and myself. We have totally learned our lesson.

Thank you.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Melrose Memo III: Grand

The facts: the original Melrose Place is probably my favorite television show of all time. I could write an essay on why, but let's just leave it at "it is" for now. I have waited patiently for a decade, and now at long last my beloved Melrose has been remade for a new generation...but will it be any good? That is what I will explore here each Tuesday night (or Wednesday evening) in the Melrose Memo. I understand that those of you coming here for comics, movie or general geek news probably have little to no interest in hearing my thoughts on this program, but people--it's Melrose Place.

Now, as my friend Sean would say, read on if you wish, but do not allow me to spoil the elaborate mythology of this show for you; in other words, watch before reading!

-So obviously tonight's new episode got a bit overshadowed as the world of the Place was rocked by the immense news that Heather Locklear will be making her return to 4616 Melrose in November, but before we get there, we've no doubt got plenty of crazy shit ahead even without Amanda, so let's get to it.

-Unfortunately this was a bit of a letdown from the first two tremendous episodes. It wasn't a total stinker and there was much good which I will get into below, but I think the heavy focus on Jonah, Riley and their relationship really exposed how weak those characters and that dynamic is next to the cooler stuff and dragged the episode down a bit; more on that as we go as well.

-Ok, they should just make it a mandatory rule that every recap end with a close-up of Violet's crazy eyes; the art of the crazy eyes is most definitely one Ashlee Simpson has nailed pitch perfect and that this show should exploit to the max. Speaking of Vi, after having a bit of trouble getting a read on her value to the show and just how good Simpson would pull off the character the first week then being surprised by the nuttiness last week, this time around she seemed to totally settle into the character and became absolutely indispensible in a matter of scenes. Just as Ella is carrying that Amanda torch, Violet is quickly developing into a suitable Kimberly surrogate (nobody can match the original, of course) with a nice dash of Sydney thrown in for good measure. The scene with her hiding in Syd's closet, everything with her wearing that dress, her weird bonding with Riley, her flirting with Auggie--it was all the perfect mix of entertainment and discomfort and I'm really pleased with what she brings to the table. The inevitable throwdown when she finds out Auggie is into Riley should be glorious. Hopefully Kimberly left some gasoline containers and duct tape in the laundry room.

-The other bright spot of this episode was Thomas Calabro getting the spotlight and letting a bit more of classic Michael Mancini bubble to the surface as opposed to his more subdued and mature act in the pilot. Michael degenerated into a bit of a goofball in the final seasons of the original Melrose, and that was a lot of fun, but I'd forgotten that his turn as evil bastard/stone cold manipulator was one of the sparks that ignited the show, and it was neat to see him getting back to that. I have no idea what angle he's working with Lauren, but I'm just happy to see him latching onto one of the naive new cast members and working his magic. He was also such a douche in their interview I had to smile; and of course it's not a matter of if he will bag Lauren, it's when and whether or not he'll be compensating her for it financially.

-Just as Michael was back to classic Michael in the present, Sydney was totally classic Sydney in her flashback scenes with him, which were all great. Obviously those two have always had a wonderful chemistry, and it was nice to see the flirty, needy, blackmailing schoolgirl side he brings out of her one more time (hopefully not the last time). It was also nice to see Laura Leighton playing opposite somebody closer to her age for once as it didn't make me feel like she was old, which depresses me.

-Speaking of Sydney and Michael, there's a lot about her faked first death that still doesn't add up and I certainly hope this isn't the last time they'll revisit it. For one thing, I have trouble buying that Michael actually cared about Sydney enough to put his neck on the line for her and pull the con in the first place. Michael loved Jane, was inextricably tied to Kimberly, was infatuated with Megan and wanted Lexie really bad, but Syd was only ever a plaything for when he got bored; either that tender moment they shared in the morgue was part of a bigger scheme on Michael's part or the writers didn't do their homework. I also didn't really understand what Sydney was saying as she was wheeled in about "somebody from her past" being responsible for what happened as it was definitely Samantha's dad who hit her with a car, and I'm pretty sure nobody has any interest in revisiting that character; I think she also said something about her husband, which would have been Craig at the time, and I can't see David Charvet getting a call to resurrect his deceased character either. Of course there's also the fact that when the event originally went down back in Melrose season five Syd was pronounced dead at the scene, but if they wanna retcon that I'm not really gonna bitch.

-So like I said, Jonah and Riley were pretty terrible in this episode, which was a shame given that they got the lion's share of the camera time. The "you haven't told your parents we're engaged" argument is such a lame cliche and I'm disappointed they went there. It feels like they're just manufacturing stupid shit for these two to bicker about every week so that they can have a romantic apology session at the end of each episode ala early Billy and Alison, and that's going to get real old real fast (it already is). And again, if they've really been together "like forever," how can they be having these mundane fights for the first time now?

-When they were separated, I felt like Jonah's stock in particular fell this episode as his bit with the pop star was lame and the whole set-up of him directing a music video on Ella's recommendation was implausible on a show built for the implausible. He still had some decent lines, but he was overall neurotic and annoying and it's tough to see why practically every lady on the show is throwing herself at him (this coming from a neurotic, annoying guy).

-That said, he did make that video much better.

-With Riley, I actually started to see glimmers of potential if she can just develop a bit of an edge like Alison did when Amanda came along. On one level pairing her with Auggie is a terrible idea if only because he's a pretty awful actor (unclench your teeth when you talk, dude), but on the other hand, it's more interesting than where she's at now and would put her on crazy Vi's radar.

-"His lips are really chapped and it's grossing me out." -Megan on Jonah's closeups.

-How did Syd get a piano in her apartment? Why did Syd have a piano in her apartment?

-Mention of both Facebook and Twitter in this episode reeked of them trying to be too relevant. Do something really bold and have Violet still be on Friendster, pissed off that nobody in the apartment has friended her.

-Riley suggested Vi make Auggie a mix CD?! Really?!?!

-That said, I would have loved to have heard it.

-"It's interesting that I don't find the girl with the gun to be the craziest person on the show. I think that's good." -Megan on the firearm-wielding pop starlet.

-Ella had an off episode, and again, I think it was an issue of being in proximity to the black hole of Jonah/Riley. Much as I like Katie Cassidy, even Heather Locklear had trouble making her part as the third wheel in the Billy/Alison relationship really work, and there's only one Heather Locklear (coming soon to this show!). I just don't buy her being interested in Jonah; if they had more chemistry, I'd have no problem buying a bitchy girl/nerdy guy hookup, but I'm just not feeling it.

-As for David, I still don't like him, but he lucked into having Michael as a dad, meaning he gets to share mucho screen time with Thomas Calabro and can basically just be a set piece while the man does his glorious overacting.

-"Even after all these years, I can't believe Michael is really a doctor." -Megan, having trouble picturing Mancini: The Med School Years (holy shit that needs to be a spin-off)

-Despite the fact neither of them wowed me tonight, both Auggie and Jonah had great lines with "Relationships are complicated--cooking comes with instructions" and "I'm pretty much the least intimidating person I know" respectively.

-I can honestly say I have no idea who killed Sydney; they're doing a great job thus far with the mystery.

-Another dynamite final shot! Michael has computer files on not only most of the new cast members but a bunch of the old ones as well! Obviously Jane and Jo are on there because they're confirmed to guest star, but did they somehow get Courtney Thorne-Smith as well or is Alison a weird red herring? And did he have files on more newbies than just David, Ella and Auggie and those are just the ones we saw or is that a clue?

-Despite this probably being the weakest episode yet, I was still thoroughly entertained. And next week: Jane's back! Jane is one of my least favorite characters from the original and Megan's absolute least favorite, but we were both jumping up and down during the preview (ok, just Megan was) which just shows how much we love this fucking franchise.

Monday, September 21, 2009

That Gundam In Tokyo Is Only The Beginning of The Giant Robot Craze

Wow have I wasted a lot of time on this:

So, anyone who reads Linko! weekly will know I've been semi-following the story of the massive robot that conquered the man-made Odaiba Island in Tokyo this summer. I say "semi-following" because really I've just been confusingly posting pictures of the thing sent to me by friends completely devoid of explanation or context. I'm not sure what this exactly says about me and loose collection of nerd reporter, but it can't be good that almost no one writing in the American comics blogosphere seemed to have much of a clue what was going on with this giant otaku installation beyond ging, "Wow! That's neat! Wait...they took it down already?"

So last week, I went google fishing to find out how much info was actually out there for an American audience to dig into this thing. Here's what I gots:

Announced sometime around March, the Gundam earned it's three-month stint of kind of lighting up and blowing a bunch of steam at random intervals in celebration of three factors: the 30th Anniversary of "Mobile Suit Gundam" (first anime of the whole Gundam franchise), the environmentally-driven Green Tokyo Project and, tangentially, Tokyo's bid for the 2016 Olympics (and I know I've been making a lot of jokes about that, but I'm seriously wondering how a temporary installation was supposed to impress the IOC. Did they promise to rebuild duder if they got the games?). Early word of the project must not have hit so hard in America as the earliest mention of the whole shebang I found was on the French Gizmodo where I nabbed the above CGI model from, but soon things started popping up in English

There's a great general write up on the project here, though it's really just a translation of a Japanese newspaper article, and the LA Times travel blog posted a basic fact-sheet on the project and how to get there. These are nice and all, however news of the event rarely popped up on nerd-centric sites. The one major (and probably obvious) exception was the Anime News Network who had all the latest news that for some reason never got widely reposted amongst American comics types, including some great coverage of the robot's unveiling complete with videos I couldn't entirely understand:

A while ago, I got into it with some folks on a comment thread at The Beat about whether or not American comics journalists were any good at covering manga and other Japanese pop culture crazes. I said then and still think now that we do a pretty shitty job of noting the spaces where our interests crossover with those of Japanophiles and teenagers who really dig Naruto and what not. ANN is doubtlessly the site covering this stuff better than anyone out there, and I'll take some shit outright for admitting that I barely check their coverage of anything because I don't connect to/don't understand so much of it. If there's a blog that aggregates more of the manga news and the bigger geek cultural stuff that comes out of sites like ANN for folks like me, I'd love to hear about it in the comments.

Anyway, ANN had plenty of other fun bits on what Sunrise did across the summer to draw more attention to the 59-foot fucking robot they erected in a major city, including an auction to have one's photo taken from the 'bot's shoulder and the search for the perfect couple to be wed at the statue's feet.

God, I wish I would have heard more about this as it was going on. By far, the absolute best thing I found online was this photoset and too brief news report on the 30-something couple who won the privilege of finally making their three-children relationship legal at the statue's feet while the groom announced, "I swear my everlasting love to Gundam in front of Gundam." You just can't make this shit up!

I'm sure plenty of folks in America see the fact that the Gundam's already been disassembled as a missed opportunity, but ultimately we may be better off not having it around. See, despite it's status as a promoter of a Green Tokyo, the statue's presence seemed to really fuck up the nature 'round Odaiba Island. Plus, there are plenty of ways to live the magic of real life giant robots to this day as the craze seems to just be starting!

Example 1: Baby Gundams!

For anyone super bummed about missing out on the Gundam specifically because they love Gundam and not just giant robots, the owners of the property have plenty of other impressive bits scattered throughout Japan including the above Gundam chibi which stands outside Bandai's headquarters and several "memorial" statues in Toyko at anime museums and the Sunrise animation studios. If that isn't enough, you'll have to be content looking over photosets of the big guy or watching this crazy time-lapse video on a repeated loop.

Example 2: The Kobe Project!

My personal pic for the next excitement-worthy Japanese robot statue is the Kobe Project – the currently underway project to erect a giant version of Tetsujin 28. I think it opens in October (if this blog's info is still accurate), although I can't tell if it's temporary or permanent. In any event, read more about it with photos here and here.

Example 3: The Robot Taekwon V Amusement Park!

As you can see, this one's still in the development and design stages, but it appears that South Korea isn't going to take their neighbor's giant robot construction sitting down. Plans are underway for a whole amusement park centered around that country's Robot Taekwon V franchise (what do they call animated films in Korea? Is it still anime, or do they have a different name like manwha?). Anyway, you can read what little I've found about this project over here.

Example 4: All Robots Are Bigger In Texas!

For anyone who won't be able to afford a trip to Asia this year to celebrate giant roboticism in immobile statue form, the good ol' U. S. of A. has got you covered with Dallas' The Traveling Man installation. Sure, it's not based on a cartoon or anything, but it looks pretty neat. Plus, I bet if this trend continues, we'll see a big ass Iron Man or Stormtrooper in Hollywood by 2011.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Goodbye, Grandma

Below is a picture of my grandmother, Joan, and my grandfather, Larry, from their wedding day.
Late last night, my grandma passed away peacefully in her sleep, 17 years to the day after she lost her husband. She lived a long, wonderful, fulfilled life and this was not something unexpected, so please understand this is not me asking for pity or even condolences (in fact, I debated even posting this because I don't want it to be misinterpreted as that, but I figured we've got a nuanced audience here at the CKT).

Rather, my grandmother was always a person who loved the field of communication (she worked for the Boston Globe for many years) and enjoyed reaching out to people. I truly believe were my grandma still in her prime, she would have one killer blog. So as a way of celebrating her life and saying goodbye in my own way, I thought I'd post this picture and a few words about it, not really to work through any grief, but because I know she'd get a kick out of it.

Love you, Grandma.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The "downside" of "making it" in comics

I should warn and caution that what I'm going to semi-complain about here is likely to get an eyeroll from many of you, and not an undeserved one at that.

So I'm in Mystic, Connecticut for the weekend staying at Megan's parents' lovely home. As an added bonus, Mystic is only a stone's throw away from New London, where I went to college. I actually took the train here last night and thus got a nice whiff of nostalgia as I stepped out of the station and briefly glimpsed some of my old haunts. Specifically, I spotted my college comic book store, Sarge's Comics, and made a mental note that I had not been there in a couple years now.

Lo and behold, Megan and her mom took a trip to the site of our upcoming wedding today, leaving me alone at their house (her dad mysteriously disappeared) and looking for stuff to do. I figured why not borrow Megan's car and take the 10 minute trip down I-95 to Sarge's.

I once again rode the nostalgia wave into New London and nearly OD'ed on it once I stepped foot within Sarge's, which despite having shuffled some sections around and hired some new people out front still had that old familiarity of the place I redsicovered my love for comics in (and remains for my money the biggest, best, most extensive comic shop I've ever seen).

20 minutes of browsing later, I walked out empty-handed. And I gott be honest, folks: that bummed me out a little.

During those 20 minutes, I saw a lot of comics, trades and toys I thought about buying, but I didn't. To be fair, part of that was due to what I like to think is my growing maturity in a rough economy where I'm doing my best to limit my purchases, but a bigger part was there was not a single item I saw where I couldn't justify not getting it with "I can get this for free" or "I can borrow this from one of my comics-inclined friends."

Don't get me wrong, I still spend a lot of money on new comics each week (particularly for somebody who has that aforementioned access to free goods), but I've been noticing more and more as I hit up conventions and shops I don't get that frenzy for back issues or holy grails anymore.

Certainly this isn't really a bad situation to be in by any stretch of the imagination; even more than the fact that I can get comics by the busload for free by virtue of my career choice and good fortune, I dig that the amount of people I hang out with who actually have robust collections I can pilfer has increased to this point as it means I not only have access to that material, but friends with whom to discuss it.

(As an aside, I just remembered I should also mention that a vast chunk of stuff I didn't buy today consisted of trades I got to read while I was at Wizard, which is a fairly significant x-factor I didn't really figure into this rant)

Still, for the busload of stuff on the plus side, I definitely do miss that feeling of "Holy shit, there is sooooo much stuff here" accompanied by the knowledge I'd be unearthing some hidden gem and bringing it back to my dorm room (wow, that sounded both a little dirty and a little sad) I used to get when I walked into Sarge's. I gotta say I do admire Rickey in that if you read any of his con reports, you know that he still manages to find about eight billion cool little things to buy every time he goes to a show.

The moral of the story is this: of the countless awesome reasons you could have for getting into comics professionally, getting free stuff shouldn't be one of them.*

*I'm kidding; of course it should be.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Linko! XXIII

* So every nerd blogger in America and their sister put up links to photographer Win McNamee's pics of President Obama hashing shit out on the White House lawn with a lightsaber this week, but with rare exception, most didn't point out WHY the president had the more elegant weapon on hand. As the Huffington Post points out, the event was to promote Chicago's bid for the 2016 Olympics. Don't you know what this means, y'all? It means that Tokyo's stupid temporary Gundam can suck it! Our president's a fucking Jedi FOREVER!!! And while it will be the First Lady who will travel to Coppenhagen on October 2nd to convince the Trade Federation International Olympic Committee that Chi-Town is the place for the games, I'm hoping that the Commander-in-Chief will make an appearance via blue hologram.

* Hey, speaking of that Gundam...I spent like 6 hours last weekend looking up links about its rise and fall. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to post them this week as it's been crazy 'round here and Ben's been on an awesome run of truly sick CKT posts. Look for Gundam news on Sunday, but in the meantime check Ben's thoughts on The Suicide Squad, Exiles and the Teen Titans character named after his lady.

* Jeff Katz posted this link of Detroit baseball announcer and legend Ernie Harwell saying goodbye to the fans at Comerica Park after it was announced he has incurable cancer at 92. I couldn't help but cry watching the thing. Not only is Harwell's voice something that's permanently attached to my brain in the best way, always working its way through the static and delivering the play-by-play in a subtle, shaky baritone. I mostly listened to Tigers games from the back seat of my grandma's car, driving around Flint after most school days. Grandma lived with us from when I was about ten right up until we lost her last year to cancer at 92. I miss her every day.

* On a lighter note Link: Ryan Penagos pointed me towards the hidden Triforce in the one dollar bill. That reminds me, if you're even in Manhattan in Union Square, stand with your back to the Shoe Carnival and look skyward. It's wicked. Also: don't you think Nintendo would sue over this? (Via)

* Hey...did you guys watch "Community" last night? It was funny! And I didn't realize until hours before it went on that the show was created by former comics scribe and Rob Schrab associate Dan Harmon. Thanks to my buddy Zach Oat for interviewing both Harmon and star Joel McHale about the show and about comics.

If you never read my super nerdy interviews with Schrab from back in the Wizard days, you should know that the Scud: The Disposable Assassin books they put together were quite possibly THE favorite series of Middle School Kiel's existence. I'm super psyched to see them both doing so well, getting nominated for an Emmy for writing the Oscar ceremony this year and having some great shit on TV at long last (Schrab writes, produces and directs a big chunk of "The Sarah Silverman Program"). You should check out their work when you get a chance. They're funny, as evidenced by this photo Rob had on Twitter last week:

* Local Cartoonist Profile on Chris Onstad.

* Semi-political Link #1: this Ghost Fleet is fucked up. (Via everyone, but I think it started with Andy Diggle on Twitter)

* Semi-political Link #2: The Tea Partiers have no sense of humor. (Via Mark Waid)

* Hey, they're unleashing a Green Day musical next? Wow. It does star John Gallagher Jr., who I met once on a bus outside of New Orleans with Gob Bluth. He was a solid dude.

* Finally, I don't link to a lot of the stuff I find on Tumblr, particularly the really cool original superhero pinups the guy who runs the Comic Books! account finds on Deviant Art and reposts because there's just too many of them, but this week there were two I really liked. Namely:

This classic Cyclops piece by some dude called xShaunx. Even growing up with the '90s Jim Lee Cyclops, I still recognize that this costume design is still the best Scott Summers has ever had. And...

This bad to the bone Rocketeer by Robbi Rodriguez. I love the Rocketeer, but few people who've drawn him for fun have had as nice results as Robbi, who most people probably know from his Oni Press work on Maintenance, although the first time I remember seeing his work was on this Vertigo book called Codename: Knockout, which looked like a dumb ass titty book, but I got a few issues as a DC intern and thought it was pretty clever and fun. Does anyone else remember that?

Random Reviews: The Red Circle parts 3 & 4

[Editor's Note: As always, the nowhere near semi-regular feature known as "Random Reviews" should not be considered any of the following things: The opinion of anyone who works at DC or Marvel. Brief. Smart. Entertaining. Insightful. Spoiler-free. Or vaguely resembling something worth your time unless you're madly in love with Archie superheroes like I inexplicably am. - KP]

The Red Circle: The Web #1
Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Penciled by Roger Robinson
Inked by Hilary Barta

For anyone who didn't play along with my reviews of the first two entries in DC's Red Circle launch – a series of four semi-connected one-shots meant to introduce Archie's Mighty Crusaders heroes into the DCU under the pen of writer J. Michael Straczynski – the basic gist of that post was this: I thought the Hangman story was pretty bland, and I thought the Inferno story was a total mess. Contributing to my lack of enjoyment was JMS' bare bones "super story" that was supposed to connect the books in some sense but ultimately explained very little within the story about how the characters are connected, what the so-called Red Circle is or even why the latter character exists or does anything. So: bad start.

Still, I remained undaunted from my goal of keeping up with new comics featuring these characters I for some reason really dig and soldiered on into the final two issues of the introductory series, which coincidentally starred two characters that at face value seem to have a WAY better chance of drawing some attention in the superhero-crazy direct market by dint of having a more traditional heroic design and outlook (in the case of the Web) and having a little bit of actual recognizability with the more casual readers who can still be called fanboys (in the case of the Shield). Well, after reading JMS' take on those two guys, I'm happy to report (well...maybe "happy" isn't the best word. Let's say I'm relieved to report) that things got a little better.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Secret Origin of Miss Martian

I know that some of you are aware of this fact, but for those who don't know perhaps the coolest bit of comic book trivia about my life, there is indeed a Teen Titan named after my fiancee.

In 2006 after attending Wizard World Los Angles, Megan (my aforementioned intended), her friend Ashleigh and myself remained in the City of Angels for a couple more days on vacation. One night, we met up with Geoff Johns for an evening of sushi and Sapporo (the latter for me and Geoff) on him (he makes Hollywood money and I was 24, folks, no shame on my part). After Geoff and I overcame our disappointment over the fact that they never served us the Superman Roll we ordered, he told us a bit about his upcoming plans for Teen Titans, Megan's favorite comic (really the only one she read) at the time. Geoff mentioned that he was trying to come up with new characters for both the One Year Later roster and for what eventually became Titans West, and that he wanted to do more legacy characters for heroes and villains who didn't actually have any yet.

Perhaps it was the Japanese beer that fueled Geoff and my creativity as we noted that Ashleigh's last name was "Catsos" and thus there should really be a Catgirl (she ended up being cutting room floor material), but I've got to give full credit to him for realizing if you put Megan's first name and my last name together (as we're planning to do in under a month and a half), you got an alliterative identity in the classic tradition of Clark Kent, Peter Parker, John Jones, Matt Murdock, etc. Not only that, Geoff already had a character in mind who was going to have a double-M name to begin with.

And that's how Miss Martian got her civilian identity of Megan Morse (or M'gann M'orzz if you're from Mars).

Truthfully, we weren't sure if Geoff would remember his promise from that dinner, even though he had already put Megan in one issue of JSA the year before as an Air Force pilot who gets hit on by Hal Jordan (the best I did was score a cameo as a zombie who gets decapitated by one of Mr. Terrific's T-Spheres in an earlier JSA). Lo and behold though, Teen Titans #37 rolled around and there was Megan in all her Martian glory. Both Geoff and Miss Martian's co-creator, artist Tony Daniel, claimed around that time that her visual appearance was based at least a little bit on Megan, but I'm pretty sure they were just humoring her. It was definitely tough for me to keep the secret Geoff told me that she was going to end up being a White Martian from Megan so that when she went all monster form at the end of Teen Titans #40 I could watch her freak out, but I did.

So needless to say, even though Megan doesn't read Teen Titans regularly anymore, she always wants to know how "her" character is doing and always gets a smile out of reading her name being "spoken" by Wonder Girl or Kid Devil (and she just loved that issue where future Miss Martian made out with that dreamy Robin). We also both live in constant fear that the character will get killed off at some point, but with my old Wizard bud Brian Cunningham currently at the editorial helm of Teen Titans, I'm sure we have nothing to worry about...or everything to worry about.

Following in the footsteps of me and my Nova sketchbook, a couple years back Megan began her own sketchbook featuring Miss Martian. I need to scan in the entries from Todd Nauck, Bill Willingham and others, but I do have this gorgeous piece that Ethan Van Sciver did for the inside cover handy.
It's totally classic and awesome EVS, from the meticulous detail to the pronounced horror vibe (and as more than one person has pointed out to me, it's almost certainly not a coincidence that Ethan drew those aliens in the background in perfect position to see up Miss Martian's skirt). Megan couldn't have asked for a much better opener to her book as it definitely screams to whoever is drawing in there "You better live up to this benchmark," which Ethan said was his goal from the start.

Megan also bought the uncolored very first appearance of Miss Martian off Teen Titans inker Marlo Alquiza a couple years ago for me on my birthday (so she essentially got me a picture of her for my birthday, but that's my girl) and it hangs proudly framed on our wall.

The moral of the story: get Geoff Johns drunk enough and you too could have your very own Teen Titan (provided your name is alliterative)!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Underrated/Overlooked: Exiles: A World Apart

Judd Winick has spent so many years now as exclusively a DC talent focused primarily on characters like Batman and Green Arrow that it's kinda nuts to think that a decade ago (wow) he was across the street at Marvel writing, in a somewhat roundabout way, one of the least street level franchises of them all in the X-Men. Honestly, most of the Winick work I've been reading of late is his earlier moody/quirky cartoon stuff like Pedro and Me and Barry Ween, so it seems like a million years ago to me that he was penning the adventures of a reality-hopping team of mutants working their way through the pivotal moments in X-Men history.

But once upon a time, that's just what Judd Winick did when he launched Exiles, and it was excellent.

Exiles launched in 2001 right as I was getting back into comics and it was one of the first books I start picking up regularly. There was something magic about what Winick and artist Mike McKone were doing; it felt like a gateway to the imposing, towering mythology that was the X-Men but one that was easily accesible. I could relate to the characters because on some level they were like me: they had a cursory understanding of the worlds and situations they found themselves on or in (as did I as a lapsed fan), but they needed some clarification in order to fully function (again, ditto). While I wasn't at a place as a reader that I could really appreciate the heady stuff Grant Morrison and Joe Casey were doing over in the primary X-Men titles just then, Winick and McKone (plus frequent fill-in artist Jim Calafiore) served me up a monthly helping of mutant adventure that was easy to jump into and also of high quality.

While Winick's run on Exiles had its ups and downs (he lasted over 30 issues, albeit with a hiatus during which time Chuck Austen wrote an arc), I'd say a lot of the really good stuff came quite early on, with the first year being particularly excellent. There was a real energy and sense of fun as you could definitely tell Winick and his artistic collaborators were enjoying the freedom they had to delve into the X-Men Universe in a way few others did. However, when I pluck early issues of Exiles from the longboxes sitting back in my house in Newton, the one story I can read over and over is "A World Apart," which unfolded over the course of three issues from #8-#10.

The story starts with a cold open on Mimic in chains, fighting in some gladitorial arena as a raucus crowd cheers him on. Mimic wins his match and is escorted back to his cell where his teammate, Thunderbird, is being prepped to fight. In fitting with his optimistic tone at this point in the series, Mimic tries to give T-Bird a pep talk and gets a glare. We learn quickly that our heroes are captives of the Skrulls, who have conquered Earth, and that they've been prisoners for some time now.

Elsewhere, Blink and Morph have eluded the Skrull captors and are searching for mankind's last hope: Reed Richards. It's not spoiling much to say that they find him, but as is usually the case with Exiles, he's not what they (or we) expect.

The first half of the storyline focuses on this situation and Winick effectively and masterfully paints for us the picture of a fully-realized universe we've never seen before in the course of an issue and a half. He builds on character dynamics only hinted at in the series' half dozen prior issues, such as the somber romance between the flirtatious Nocturne and moody Thunderbird. He begins his dissection of Mimic, setting him on a lengthy journey that will force him to question everything he believes in and test him as never before. Along the way, we get some great fight scenes between the Exiles and other-dimensional versions of Marvel mainstays all decked out in exotic new costumes, something a design master like McKone excels at. McKone is also great at choreographing fight scenes on a cinematic scale, be it the "Gladiator" type brawls we start with or the "Braveheart" style war to come.

And that war comes because halfway into the story, Winick blows up everything he's been doing and brings Galactus to Earth. The Skrulls flee, the heroes are freed, and the Exiles are stuck with like a day to train the champions they've looked up to all their lives but who have been muddling along as slaves to fight a god.

It's fucking sweet.

You get to see pretty much every hero and villain in the Marvel Universe learning on the job as they try and fend off a hungry Galactus and his herald, Terrax the Tamer. It's the underdog story you could never really do in the Marvel U proper since the Fantastic Four and friends were all already pretty experienced when the Big G first showed up, and Winick works the beats perfectly; you'll cheer for the small victories and you'll cry (or at least frown) at the major sacrifice (and it's a big one). Mike McKone opens up like he's George Perez drawing Crisis On Infinite Earths and treats these three issues like the biggest event crossover ever. Actually, that was one of the cool things about those early days of Exiles: every storyline basically was a huge event crossover told in a few issues from a very specific point of view.

There's an epilogue/coda in issue #16 called "Nocturne and Evensong" that I don't want to spoil because this is a story you really should hunt down (and it's pretty readily available) and it really is one of the more beautiful little stories Judd Winick has ever written.

Though Exiles remains a fun vehicle to this day, given the core concept it was inevitable that it would eventually become a little bogged down by continuity and explanation, so there's a real fun and innocence to these early issues where it was just a bunch of confused mutants jumping through alternate worlds with no need to get bogged down in the details. Good stuff, check it out.

You can purchase A World Apart on its own or as part of the first Exiles Ultimate Collection.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Melrose Memo II: Nightingale

The facts: the original Melrose Place is probably my favorite television show of all time. I could write an essay on why, but let's just leave it at "it is" for now. I have waited patiently for a decade, and now at long last my beloved Melrose has been remade for a new generation...but will it be any good? That is what I will explore here each Tuesday night (or Wednesday evening) in the Melrose Memo. I understand that those of you coming here for comics, movie or general geek news probably have little to no interest in hearing my thoughts on this program, but people--it's Melrose Place.

Now, as my friend Sean would say, read on if you wish, but do not allow me to spoil the elaborate mythology of this show for you; in other words, watch before reading!

-Much of this episode centered around Auggie, a character who didn't get much play in the pilot, as apparently they're going to structure the Sydney-centric flashbacks Lost-style with one character a week getting the bulk of the focus (this could of course be proven wrong next week and was already somewhat by the end of this episode). My opinion from last week of Auggie not being that interesting but the actor playing him (Colin Egglesfield) being able to look crazy intense has changed to the character actually having some intriguing baggage, but the actor playing him is pretty awful. Megan pointed out to me the irony of Egglesfield being probably the most experienced of the younger actors, having done several hundred episodes of All My Children, but once she noted that as his biggest prior gig, it made sense to me. I'm sure even Jim McCann, Marvel's guiding ligt, would agree with me that while there are many talented actors on daytime soaps, the skillsets required for those shows are vastly different than those used in prime time, even on a show like Melrose Place; Egglesfield, possessing a very daytime soap set of acting chops (he has a great look and plays high emotion well, but his delivery is stilted and kinda inhuman), sticks out a bit like a sore thumb here. But y'know what, that's a good thing in my estimation. The original MP was founded on the nuanced actors splitting the screen with the hams, and so must its successor endure.

-They built up a nice sense of community in this episode, from the opening interaction between David and Lauren (two characters who didn't really speak in the pilot) to that final pool part/BBQ. I dig this.

-Detective Rodriguez proudly carries on the grand Melrose tradition of shitty extras being cast as cops.

-I don't care how many times I said it last week, it bears repeating: Laura Leighton is still cute as a damn button and knows how to turn on the sex appeal! Her flirtation at that AA meeting with Auggie segued into getting it on was Sydney at her finest; she could have acted that scene with a broomstick and still made it work.

-Fuck you cold open/lack of theme song! Oh well, I do at least like the new logo and how they worked the pool in.

-On the flipside of Colin Egglesfield, Katie Cassidy is so wonderfully at home on this show and is rapidly owning it as the breakout star. She's very good at balancing intensity with humor and just the right amount of campiness to remind you this is Melrose Place after all. She's also quick with the blackmail, be it with David or some British actor, and blackmail is an essential survival tool at the Place. I do hope they don't overexpose Ella's character too too much (she was already juggling a lot of storylines and scenes this episode), but I think if anybody on the cast is up to that challenge, it's Cassidy; Amanda was at the heart of three or four plots at any given time on the original, and while I'm not quite ready to proclaim Katie Cassidy this generation's Heather Locklear, she could certainly get there.

-David is doing the opposite of growing on me. He's trying to coast on the brooding Jake routine, but he's no Jake; he just doesn't have that it factor that Grant Show had. Even the fact that he's short, usually a surefire way to win me over to your side, isn't doing it for me. He reminds me of the dude on the first season of the new 90210 who was supposed to be the cool jock but I didn't buy it because he just looked like a nerdy weasel. I expect more from you, spawn of Mancini.

-"It is a business of referrals." -Megan on Lauren's burgeoning career in prostitution.

-And speaking of Lauren, her storyline is just the right mix of absurd and "wait a minute...could this shit actually happen?" that I love it. I'm definitely seeing what other people saw in the character, even though Stephanie Jacobsen lost her accent a couple times (or as Megan put it: "It's hard after a night of sex to keep up your American accent").

-"We've been sleeping together three months and now you tell me you have a girlfriend?" Great line from Syd to Auggie.

-I do not buy for a second that Sydney would stop sleeping with Auggie (or anybody) out of the goodness of her heart. I think there was more than meets the eye going on there, as later events would seem to indicate. What was she using Auggie for?

-I love that Jonah was sitting watching the footage from the surveillance camera he set up, because in my mind that means that the whole security system idea was founded on the premise that he would watch every second of footage every day at some point. There was a throwaway line later that Ella had told him to specifically watch the tape of Riley and Auggie, but I'd prefer to go on believing that he's sitting there at 3 in the morning watching David piss in the pool or something.

-Last week I mentioned that I dug Jonah and Riley being a pre-existing couple as opposed to a developing romance ala Billy and Alison (that was a relationship that really only fit season one of the original show, and that's not an era that needs to be revisited), but the downside of this is that they can really only be written as having been together five blissful years until they need to start arguing and being jealous and shit and then they seem more like they just started dating. I don't really care, as it's just one of those necessary evils, but Megan found it annoying. Also, Riley totally has a double standard on the Ella/Auggie thing.

-In general Megan doesn't like the Jonah/Riley relationship because it reminds her of Billy/Alison and she really really did not like Alison. I see it as being integral to the show that there is that one happy couple and one storyline involving more mature, grounded issues, but just like the audience turned on Billy/Alison in favor of crazy shit with Amanda, Sydney and Kimberly, I see the same happening here, the difference being I think the creators are expecting it and are likely prepared.

-The pop culture references need some work. I can't remember the last time Josh Hartnett was topical.

-Sydney-Michael intrigue! The episode was definitely hurting from lack of Thomas Calabro, but hearing Auggie mention in his final flashback that Sydney was involved in some sort of presumably elaborate revenge scheme against Michael before she died made me smile huge.

-And then there's Violet. I was thinking the whole episode how I'm digging Violet in small doses but will be curious to see how she does and how well Ashlee Simpson holds up when more about the character gets revealed, but then holy shit they went ahead and dropped the "She's a psycho!" bombshell to end the episode and it was excellent! I knew about the fact that Violet is supposedly Sydney's daughter before the show started as it had been tossed around in interviews and stuff, but the flashback scene where she shows up and does the doe-eyed stalker routine was tremendous! "You won't get rid of me that easily...not again." Eeeeee! Love it! I'm not sure if Ashlee Simpson is really all that as an actress, but she has the perfect look and demeanor to play a crazy person and it is science that crazy people make for better Melrose. In fact, after nearly two episodes of thinking they did a good job casting Violet to look like Sydney, I was all of a sudden struck during the flashback and final pool shot how much she kinda looks like Kimberly! How amazing would it be if Violent was Kimberly's daughter out for revenge against Sydney and maybe Michael?! Ok, gotta be careful not to dream too big, but this revelation was certainly a welcome one.

-Overall, by the time we had DVRed our way halfway through the episode, I was amazed and annoyed we only had half left, and that's a great sign.