Category: Columns

Ed Catto: Robert Loren Fleming’s Thrill Ride, Part 1

In the 80s, DC comics woke up the comics industry with Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and The Watchmen by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons. Fans and retailers were anxiously awaiting the next big thing. Thriller, the comic that you couldn’t read fast enough, was supposed to be that next big thing. Management was excited about this fresh title. The DC marketing department got behind it and sent the writer on the road with a presentation. Distributors got behind the first issues. Comic shop retailers aggressively ordered the first issue.

And then…it wilted. Thriller wasn’t the next big thing. It doesn’t mean there weren’t a lot of great things about the series. There certainly were. In the recent issue of Back Issue magazine, I looked at Thriller and the tumultuous backstory. As a fan, I always liked the early issues of the series, and now, understanding the backstage drama, I love it, and respect it, even more.

Series co-creator and writer Robert Loren Fleming wasn’t able to fully participate in that article. Since it’s publication, there’s been a resurgence of interest in Thriller. And now, I’ve finally caught up with Robert Loren Fleming. So, as podcaster Karina Longworth always says: “Join us, won’t you?”… for an extended look from at the tragedy of DC Comic Lost Classic Thriller.

Breaking into Comics

Robert Loren Fleming loved comics and was determined to break into the industry with his secret plan. It was the early 80s and he had started at DC as a proofreader. He loved working for the company and being a part of the industry. But he was impatient to become a comics writer. He eventually did and scripted favorites like the Flash and Ambush Bug. But it wasn’t easy to crack the code at DC comics.

“I found out pretty quickly it was kind of a closed shop – pretty hard to break in as a writer,” said Fleming. “It was really difficult to get a story sold.”

The legendary Julie Schwartz even had some advice for Fleming when he was pitching Superman ideas. “Julie told me to go home and not to think about any ideas. He told me twice, in case I missed it,” recalls Fleming with a chuckle.

Upon reflection, Fleming realizes it was a kind of a hazing ritual. If you weren’t tough enough to get through it, you weren’t tough enough to be a writer at DC Comics.

At that time there was an unwritten career path for young writers at DC. And as a proofreader, he was, more or less, on that long track. Aspiring writers would work on the corporate side for a while. Eventually, they’d be given their start with short story assignments for anthology comics. Writing assignments for the company’s prestigious superhero comics wouldn’t be offered for quite some time. If you showed talent and professionalism, you’d be awarded bigger assignments.

His Sneaky Plan

Fleming reasoned that the only way to break into quickly was “to come up with my own personal story and a big idea that it would be so good they have to take it.”

An idea was percolating in Fleming’s head for a new series that would showcase some of the things he loved: pulp adventures, an ensemble cast and a science fiction adventure that would shift away from the traditional superhero stories, dominating the market at that time.

“When I finished it, I took it to four or five editors. They wouldn’t even look at it.” Clearly, Fleming hadn’t yet paid his dues by working on smaller projects first. Looking back, Fleming realizes his secret plan was fueled by the audacity and courage that comes with youth.

He presented his idea to the top guy. “So I took it into Dick Giordano. <This was> jumping the chain of command,” said Fleming. Editor-in-Chief Giordano had no problem with Fleming bringing it directly to him. “He read the thing and 15 minutes later he bought it. Paul Levitz read it a few days later – he signed off too.”

Partnership with TVE

Levitz suggested that a young artist named Trevor Von Eeden be assigned to the series. At that time, the Marvel series Master of Kung Fu, by Doug Moench and Paul Gulacy, was a big influence on Fleming. Fleming loved that series’ ensemble cast, the espionage themes and the casting of real people as comic characters. In fact, of the characters in his proposed Thriller series, Quo, was essentially Bruce Lee.

When Levitz showed Fleming the recent Batman Annual by Von Eeden, Fleming could see all of the elements he loved in Master of Kung Fu in the artist’s work. Fleming knew Von Eeden’s style would be perfect for Thriller.

Bucking the System

One of the things Fleming didn’t realize – no up-and-coming young buck ever does – is that you don’t gain a lot of allies internally by jumping over the established system. The editors at that time were not amused.

“It created a strong reaction against me,” said Fleming. “A very negative reaction. One of them (an editor) came out and said to Dick, ‘You’re not going to let Fleming write it, are you?’”

It got worse. The editors conspired to see Flemings non-traditional idea and audacious career tactic fail. They put a number of obstacles in the way of Thriller.

Off Target with The Green Arrow

One obstacle, in particular, was the Green Arrow. At that time, Green Arrow was one of the characters who was always a bridesmaid but never a bride. He was a supporting player in the Justice League of America, a co-star in the groundbreaking Green Lantern – Green Arrow series and a staple of backup stories. He was finally getting the go-ahead to headline a comic with a four issue mini-series, written by Mike W. Barr.

Fleming recalls that Trevor Von Eeden was assigned as the series artist, specifically to keep Von Eeden busy. He’s too busy working on this Green Arrow series. The idea was that he’d be so consumed with this miniseries, and it would take so long for him to draw, that the young artist would lose his passion for Thriller.

But that did not happen. This Green Arrow mini-series looked phenomenal. Von Eeden delivered work that was fresh and exciting. One would think that he spent an inordinate amount of time on it. In reality, Fleming explains, the opposite was true.

Unbelievably, Trevor Von Eden finished all four in an incredibly quick amount of time – something like six or eight weeks. And then both the writer and artist were ready for Thriller.

•     •     •     •     •

Next week we’ll explore more Robert Loren Fleming’s memories and observations about what happens when you actually, against all odds, arrive at the starting line!

Interested in the full article in Back Issue #98? You can snag it here.

John Ostrander: Riding With The King

Last Monday was the 100th birthday of the King o’ Comics, Jack Kirby. The young’uns among you might not know the name (or maybe they do; I try not to be a fuddy-duddy most days) but Kirby was a force unparalleled in the comics medium. If you need a primer, Mike Gold wrote an excellent column about him.

Even if you know Marvel only from the movies, you owe him. Captain America? Jack. The X-Men? Jack. The Black Panther? Jack. The Avengers? Jack. And so on and so forth. And not just at Marvel; King Kirby seemed to be everywhere. And not just superheroes; he did Westerns, monsters, romance. And so on and so forth.

I met him in person exactly once.

The first thing I need to explain is that, before I became a professional writer in comics, I was a bonafide geek. Yeah, I still am.

One of the big thrills when I first started was that at conventions I could meet my heroes as a fellow professional. In theory. Not as a peer; that suggested I was an equal and that was not how I felt.

So – it’s early in my career and I’m working the First Comics booth at the Chicago Comicon along with my wife, Kim Yale. We were the only ones working the booth at that moment. It wasn’t in the main room and we weren’t getting much traffic.

Then this small group of people walk by, talking among themselves, and in the middle of it is Jack Kirby.

OMG! OMG! OMG! OMG! OMG!

(Point of historical accuracy: Back some 30 or so years ago when this story takes place, we never said “OMG!,” at least not in the Midwest. I just wanted to convey the impact of the moment in modern terms.)

Kim later said she watched me turn into a 14-year old fanboy complete with zits. I can’t imagine that was pleasant.

In the group, I spotted Julie Schwartz, himself a legend and an icon. There’d be no Silver Age DC without Julie. Possibly no modern comics industry.

I knew Julie a little through Mike Gold so I hiss at him, “Julie! Hey, Julie! Hey!”

Julie spots me and ambles over. “Hey, kid, how ya doin’?”

“Julie! Introduce me to the King!” I plead.

Julie looks at me like I’m demented and maybe, at the moment, I am. “It’s Jack,” he tells me. “Just go over and say hi.”

“No no no no no! I can’t I can’t I can’t! Don’t you see?! He’s the King!” “Hey, Julie! Help a guy out!”

Julie gives me a pitying look and says, “C’mon, kid.”

I walk over to the group with Julie and he does a nice intro of me. The King shakes my hand, says “HiHowareya.” I babble something about what an honor gee you’re my hero blah blah blah. And it’s over. The King and his group move on.

I wish I could say that I never washed that hand again but Kim would have insisted.

I doubt very much that the moment would have stayed with Jack Kirby but it has stayed with me in vivid detail for a couple of decades. Over the past few years, I’ve met some fans who treat me sort of like I treated Jack. (Trust me, gang; I’m not that impressive and I can give you references.) There was only one Jack Kirby and there will ever be only one Jack Kirby and he just turned 100.

Happy birthday, Jack. Long live the King.

Marc Alan Fishman: To Boob or Not To Boob

A short one act play, in response to this recent hubbub during the Wizard World Chicago Comic Con.

To boob, or not to boob, that is the question:

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind of cosplayers to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fans and parents

Or to take arms against a sea of tsk-tsks,

And by opposing, end them.

To diet (to fit in a form-fitting costume) – to sleep on the floor of your con hotel suite –

No more; and by a sleep to say we end

The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks

That the display of flesh is heir to. ‘Tis a consummation

Devoutly to be wish’d of the fans to see.

For those not playing along, let’s cut to the chase. This past weekend, a cosplay maven – with distinct permission to come in her much-worked-upon Silent Hill cosplay – was jeered and leered at by some in the crowd, and ultimately (and incorrectly) walked back to her hotel room to change.

Per her posting, she had gotten the proper clearances, but miscommunication amongst the staff of the convention center and the con itself led to her removal. To her credit, she took the whole debacle in stride. As she commented in the aforementioned post: she expects some of the reactions she gets in her guise. As is her opinion, the human body can become a work of art; as such, her costume (the effort clearly of many hours of construction and creation) is her craft. If convention attendees find her faux – décolletage to be too much so be it. She clearly takes proper steps to ensure she’s meeting the criteria to cosplay by the rules.

This of course begs us to ask questions. Is she bending the rules to the given extreme? Is a well-produced facsimile of a naked body part – aligned to some measure of a costume – an allowable choice of expression within the confines of a convention? And if you personally find something akin to the display of the naked human body to be unsettling or offensive, are your rights inherently more potent than that of the cosplayer?

Let’s be clear: I’m not a show-runner, and thank Rao for that. What I am though, is a parent. My children, ages five and one, were attending Wizard World Chicago at the same time this particular cosplayer was doing her thing. The cosplay-picture-posing thing… not the being politely escorted away thing. Now, amidst snapping pics and moments with Wolverine, Batman Beyond, Deadpool and the like, my children nor my wife happened to see the naked-esque participant.

But what if they had?

Would I be chiding the choices of a fellow artist? Hardly. As it were, I sincerely agree with her opinion. The human body is not offensive. A nipple or breast out in the air – be it constructed, make-upped, or otherwise displayed – is of no more or less value to me personally than an ankle or an earlobe. If the costume itself requires the display of one’s personal nether-regions (augmented as necessary), and it falls within the rules of the given convention? Let it all hang out!

It mostly comes down to the show-runner. So long as their rules are on display in some fashion, the responsibility will fall on the patrons of the con to choose whether they feel they can enjoy the show or not. For a more family-focused show, perhaps there will be need to be more specific about the display of human flesh. But as with all things: we are all in shared space at a convention. Choosing to air your negative opinion in any way shape or form will always be far more offensive to me than any exposed tit.

As a parent, perhaps I wouldn’t make a choice for my kids to see this particular cosplayer – moreso because she looked genuinely scary – but if they had seen her? So what. My job as a parent isn’t to protect my kids from the world. It’s to help them interpret, understand, and appreciate it.

With a bare bodkin? Who would these fardels bear,

To grunt and sweat under a weary costume,

But that the dread of something after death –

The undiscover’d titty, from whose bourn

No traveler returns – puzzles the will,

And makes us rather bear those ills we have

Than fly to others dress as yet-another-Harley Quinn?

Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,

And thus the native hue of resolution

Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,

And enterprises of great pith and moment

With this regard, their currents turn awry

And lose the name of action. – Soft you now!

The fair Pyramid Head! – Nymph, in thy orisons

Be all my sins rememb’red. Sorry I stared a bit too hard at your cosplay.

Martha Thomases: The Insufferable Inhumans?

Somehow, I seem to have inserted myself onto the Marvel “Friends and Family” list for preview screenings. A few weeks ago I got an advance look at The Defenders in a small screening room with about 25 people. On Monday, I went to an IMAX showing of The Inhumans with an audience of several hundred.

The environment in which I see a film influences the way I feel about it. I love going to screenings because they make me feel cool and sophisticated. The Defenders event was in the morning, with a group that included people I’d known for decades, in comfy chairs with excellent sight lines. The Inhumans was in an enormous theater, with an enormous screen, and hundreds of strangers (although there were some people I knew, including a new friend, an old friend and a really old friend.

Even before the movie started (and, to be fair, it’s not really a movie, just the first two episodes of an ABC television series), the mood was festive and celebratory. My date, ComicMix colleague Joe Corallo and I found our assigned seats and gleefully looked around to see whom we might recognize. Lots of people brought children with them, and they were thrillingly well-behaved. Before the movie started, we sang a rousing chorus of “Happy Birthday” to Jack Kirby, in celebration of his hundredth. The print was crisp, and the creator credits received applause.

If only I could tell you I liked the show.

I knew nothing about the characters beforehand. I did a little browsing online, and Joe told me a few things (including how great the Paul Jenkins run was). I would imagine that most people who will watch on the ABC television network are similarly ignorant, and the show would allow for that.

It is not good. And it’s not good in a way that makes it seem, to me, to be the anti-X-Men. People with mutant powers are exalted here and given high-status government responsibilities. Those with no powers are sent to work in the mines.

The Inhumans live on our moon, in a city at the border between the light side and the dark side. We first see the king and queen, Black Bolt and Medusa, in bed, where she is using her superpowers (magically manipulating her long hair) to excite him as much as network television allows. These two people are attractive and playful, so I was ready to like them. Also, the actress, who plays Medusa, Serinda Swan, looks like a grown-up version of Ann-Margaret in Pocketful of Miracles, one of my favorite movies.

We see them getting on with their royal responsibilities, as they walk up and down and through the massive castle. First up is a ceremony in which two siblings find out if they have super-powers. It is there that we meet Black Bolt’s brother, Maximus, who we know must be a bad guy because it is the same actor, Iwan Rheon who played Ramsay Bolton on Game of Thrones. Maximus seems to have no powers but is allowed to stay in the royal quarters because his brother is such a softie.

There is lots of back-and-forth travel to Earth, sometimes through a sentient wall and sometimes with a giant bulldog which I think has some kind of fan following (and, hence, anticipation) but which is just a big CGI dog in these first two episodes. There is a royal betrayal, a rebel uprising, and a great escape. Each character gets a chance to use his or her powers, sometimes to great effect, sometimes just because, I assume, Jim Shooter said every character must use powers within the three pages back when he was editor-in-chief at Marvel. Some powers, like being able to come back to life after being killed, seem like a narrative cop-out, a deus ex machina of the gene pool.

A lot more questions were raised for me than were answered. Where does the royal family get all the leather for their outfits? What are they digging for in those mines? Are terrific eyebrows a way to tell which women have super-powers? Where does the food come from? I would have preferred to see more of the city as a whole, and less of the king and queen walking up and down stairs. Also, why are we supposed to think the king and queen are good and Maximus is bad? Wouldn’t it be more interesting from his point of view?

I think that Inhumans wants to be the new Game of Thrones, but without the historical parallels, the multiculturalism, the armies, the enormous cast or the budget. Instead, it seems much more like high school writ large, with the cool kids getting to have a working source of light, and the rabble doomed to the underworld.

Will it get better? Will it be even worse when it’s on a television screen, not in a theater? Will there be dragons or just giant dogs?

•     •     •     •     •

Just a reminder: It’s not too late to get in on our Kickstarter campaign for Mine! A Comics Collection to Benefit Planned Parenthood. This book will be full of cool stuff… including a story by Neil Gaiman and Mark Wheatley! You’ll be helping people around the country receive quality health care. We’re on track to hit our initial goal, and if we raise more than that, there will be lots more other goodies. So check it out, and pledge whatever you can afford.

We have to take care of each other.

Dennis O’Neil: Browsing Around

I’m guessing that comics began edging into my toddling into our flat when I was somewhere just north of infancy: five, six, somewhere in there. Paperbacks, though – different story. The first modern paperbacks weren’t published until 1935, just four years before I burst, noisily, into my parents’ existence. So, the publishing venue and I arrived at approximately the same time and we’ve both been around ever since. Mass market comics, the kind that printed original material, joined the party in 1938, a year before I did and lo and behold, there we are, comics, paperbacks and me, all growing old together.

Later, after I’d moved to a metropolis that hosted a relatively large number of bookstores, I would browse: enter the shop and just patrol the aisles, maybe lingering a bit in the science fiction and detective sections. (There were no comics sold in regular book stores – not yet. And the comic shops, the kind we know and love, we as yet unborn.) Sometimes I would even – o thrill! – buy something.

Then: something new, a new place for browsing – video stores. I’d been aware of them, these new browsing sites, pretty early on, I guess. I lived in a hip neighborhood and the nearest video renter gave discounts to writers and artists and if you think that Scrooge O’Neil would ever pass up that kind of sweet deal, well… Then a friend introduced me to some really big video places in Brooklyn – I’m taking seriously bigand there I was again, on the browsing trail.

End of story?

You know better than that!

We weren’t done with browsing, we children of the war, but our technique evolved. We began to do it, some of it anyway, with no wear and tear on our sneakers. Oh, don’t put it past me to half-kneel and check the titles on the lower shelves, but these days I’m more likely to have entered the store in search of the coffee counter than to buy books, which are more likely to arrive via electronics. So, yeah, we shop from the couch, in front of a computer screen like the one you’re looking at.

All done?

Not yet. One more venue should be acknowledged. It does not allow you to own something you want, it allows you to rent movies and television shows and maybe sports. It dwells somewhere in the vast cosmos of television land and I reach it by using something called a Firestick, though you may employ another modern miracle to do the job. And after Mari retires for the night, I sometimes sink into the couch and, yes, browse the hundreds of entertainment and information listings Firestick makes available.

Maybe next week we’ll say something about the content of those listings. No promises, though.

Mike Gold: Mutt & Jeff & Marcia & Me

Do you remember the name of the first comic book you ever experienced? I do. It was a copy of DC Comics’ Mutt and Jeff, one of the very first daily newspaper comic strips and purportedly the first to be anthologized in what we today consider the comic book format. It was made as a subscription inducement giveaway.

This happened to me sometime around late 1953 or early 1954, when I was three years old. Okay, I was precocious (a synonym for “obnoxious”) but hardly anybody was that precocious. No, the comic book was read to me by my sister. Being almost seven years older, and much to her understandable chagrin, she was pressed into service as my babysitter. That certainly pegs her as precocious as well.

Marcia picked up a comic book from her stack, Mutt & Jeff #34, March 1952, and proceeded to read it to me. My sister had taste: that issue sported a cover by the legendary Shelly Mayer. Being only slightly out of toddlerhood, I learned how to recognize the shapes of the word “Mutt” and the word “Jeff.” DC ran the daily strips in two-page spreads, each one carrying the “Mutt and Jeff” logo. Page after page of them.

Proud of my achievement, I pointed to each logo and shouted, “Mutt and Jeff” over and over and over. For some reason, my sister/babysitter did not murder me on the spot.

What Marcia couldn’t have known at the time was that she had opened Pandora’s Box.

That initial experience led me to discover the comics in the newspapers, and over the next two years, those comic strips taught me how to read. This is actually quite bizarre as our paper of choice carried Pogo, Li’l Abner and Abbie ‘n’ Slats, and they didn’t quite speak English, at least not as we spoke it in the Midwest.

The newspaper strips led to my discovering comic books on my own – initially by finding Marcia’s own four-color stash, later by coercing my parents to buy me a comic book or two at the neighborhood drug store.

Of course, my love of comics led to many friendships and, ultimately, to comics fandom. A piece in the paper led me to fanzines, which led me to the conventions and then to advising comic shop retailers and organizing comic book conventions, and then to the first of two tenures at DC Comics, the co-creation of First Comics with Rick Obadiah … and to ComicMix with Glenn Hauman. With a whole lotta other stuff thrown in; allow me some modesty, okay?

Last weekend, I left the Chicago Wizard World show a day early to go to Detroit. Marcia Judith Gold Bashara had died at the age of 73, due to heart problems. I was fortunate enough to see her one last time on my way to the convention, spending a day with Marcia, her husband and my friend of 53 years Salem, and my wonderful nieces Heidi and Cheri.

Yeah, it’s really tough to type these words.

I used to tell people – usually, people writing articles about comics – that we comics people who were born during the baby boom and Fred Wertham’s anti-comics crusade decided to get into the racket as revenge for our parents’ tossing out our comics sometime in the mid-1960s.

And there’s some truth to that, but if not for my sister Marcia’s sharing her enjoyment of the comic book medium, I might not have had any comic books for my parents to toss.

For the record: about 15 years ago, I returned the favor by introducing Marcia to Will Eisner’s graphic novels. She absolutely loved them.

•     •     •     •     •

A tip of the hat to the many, many people who consoled me at Wizard World and to my fellow ComicMixers who helped pick up my load. And, most of all, to Maggie Thompson for consistently being there with her advice, her intelligence, her wit, and her charm. Which actually means “to Maggie Thompson for being Maggie Thompson.”

 

 

 

 

Box Office Democracy: The Hitman’s Bodyguard

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I have to imagine production of The Hitman’s Bodyguard started with director Patrick Hughes gathering the whole cast together and giving them some kind of speech along the lines of “Look, we all know this script is a piece of garbage but if we pull together we can elevate it way past tolerable” and then there was some big cheer and they ran out to the set like a sports movie.  It’s a laughable script that doesn’t hold together under the smallest bit of scrutiny, but the cast absolutely crushes it.  It’s the best bad movie I’ve seen all year and I don’t mean that as faint praise.  The world is full of people doing average work with average material but seeing fantastic work come from a wretched foundation is something special.  This is a diamond found in a coal mine.

The chemistry between Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson is basically driving the whole movie.  We’re getting a Deadpool-lite version of Reynolds thick with meta commentary on the events of the movie and sort of action movie in general.  This plays well with the standard action-comedy version of Jackson we’ve been seeing since Die Hard with a Vengeance.  This interplay drives the whole movie dragging a murky nonsensical plot and a seemingly endless numbers of big pauses for jokes that just aren’t that funny.  Everything that’s Reynolds and Jackson bickering is great, every scene that has Selma Hayek in it is good, everything else is pretty bad.

The action in the movie is good enough, but it feels more like a greatest hits compilation than any kind of new composition.  The best sequence in the film is one where Jackson is walking through a Dutch square seemingly oblivious to potential attackers while Reynolds stealthily takes them down.  It’s a good sequence but it feels an awful lot like a knock-off of the Waterloo Station sequence in The Bourne Supremacy and while it’s 10 years later feels a bit slower.  There’s also a reasonably thrilling chase through a canal with Jackson in a boat being chased by bad guys in SUVs while Reynolds on a motorcycle harasses them.  It’s a nice idea salad mixing bits from a number of other movies.  Maybe greatest hits is too reductive, more like a remix of some old favorites, you ought bop your head a few times but odds are you’ll go back to the original.

Most of the story of The Hitman’s Bodyguard is just low-level stupid.  You know, stuff like trial scenes that were written by someone who has only experienced the legal system from their drunk friend describing Law & Order episodes to them.  But then toward the end they try to pretend like there’s some big moral quandary between a life spent protecting terrible people versus a life of killing bad people for money.  For one, I don’t believe that you can make a great living as a contract killer just sitting around and waiting for bad people to need killing that badly.  Also, people who decide to hire assassins to deal with their problems aren’t people who are on the highest of high grounds to start with.  It’s not an interesting moral quandary, and it directly detracts from the stuff that’s actually entertaining in the movie.  Wikipedia says that when this script was named to The Black List it was a drama— maybe this is an artifact from those days, but it has no place in this movie. (I also can’t imagine this was a better movie as a drama.  I’m bored just thinking about it.)

The Hitman’s Bodyguard is good because you get to see Deadpool interact with Nick Fury.  They had to file off all the serial numbers, superpowers, and sci-fi gadgets— but that’s what it is.  We’ll never get the actual pairing because of all the various rights headaches (and honestly, what would need to be happening in the MCU for it to even happen) but we can get it here stitched on to a wretched story about the trial of a dictator who commands an army of mercenaries while imprisoned at The Hague.  Come for the cast, stay for the cast, leave with a smile on your face, pick it on Netflix 18 months from now, never think about it after that.

I Spidey

Before we move on to my regularly scheduled column, I have to plug the Kickstarter going for a ComicMix comics collection running through September 15th. It’s got a lot of great talent like Neil Gaiman, Gabby Rivera and Gerard Way. Check it out!

Now that that’s out of the way, let me get back to my hot takes on the comics biz.

Last month I wrote about Spider-Man: Homecoming and how I wish they had more comics the reflected that interpretation of the character. There isn’t really a comic they put out recently that does, but I heard Spidey is kind of close so I picked up the first trade.

Spidey originally hit the stands back December of 2015 at #25 on the sales charts equating to 65,503 copies sold. The idea was to do an out of continuity Spider-Man that went back to basics; Peter Parker is back in high school, he’s back to crushing on Gwen Stacy, he’s back to taking pictures of Spider-Man for JJ, Aunt May is back to struggling to pay her bills, the bad guys aren’t quite as deadly serious, the book is more light-hearted and the stakes are lowered.

The series is written by Robbie Thompson and the first three issues are illustrated by Nick Bradshaw with Jim Campbell and Rachelle Rosenberg coloring. In the first three issues we have run ins with Doc Ock, Sandman, and Lizard. All three of them are doing what you normally expect them to do; Doc Ock is trying to steal technology, Sandman is trying to rob banks, and Lizard is trying to make more lizard people. While it’s all pretty goofy and at least somewhat self aware, Nick’s art is very sleek and his heavy inks with Jim and Rachelle’s colors really make the pages pop. It feels like Saturday morning cartoon quality work. Some of the characters could look a little more different from each other as I felt his Peter Parker and Harry Osborn look too similar, but I also acknowledge that’s a bit overly critical.

After issue three, the series takes a bit of a turn.

Nick Bradshaw has a very distinct style. Once he leaves after issue three, the rest of this trade is illustrated by Andre Lima Araujo. Andre’s style is drastically different from Nick’s. Gone are the heavy inks and Saturday morning cartoon look. In its place are very thin line inks, and the kind of art you may expect in a Top Shelf or Pantheon type graphic novel. Facial expressions and other little details like sweat are more prominent. The teenage angst and awkwardness spills out of the pages more, but the tone is so different from this art style that it’s jarring. On top of all that, in issue six Iron Man teams up with Spider-Man to stop Vulture from stealing things and it felt like such a push to do something that might tie in somewhat to Spider-Man: Homecoming that it immediately sucked me out of the story.

The most disappointing thing about reading Spidey after seeing Spider-Man: Homecoming is seeing how few liberties they take with a comic that isn’t in continuity. They don’t really change up the characters too much, everyone is still white who was white, all the characters are back doing exactly what you already know they do. What’s the point in taking another shot at retelling the early years of Spider-Man if you’re just going to give me everything we already knew and how we already knew it? This is likely at least part of why the series ends at issue twelve, making it only two volumes on trade paperback.

Overall, Spidey Vol. 1 was fun, had a few exceptional moments, but overall fell a bit flat. If you absolutely need more simple Spider-Man stories, you absolutely should pick this up. Or if you have a child in your life around ages 8-12 this is probably the most appropriate Spider-Man title for them to read. Spidey also gets bonus points for not having parallel universes, time travelling, and clones. Especially for not having clones.

It feels good to write about comics I’m reading again. So good even, I may just do it again next week!

Ed Catto: Happy Birthday, Jack!

Jack Kirby would’a been 100 today! The best part about it all is that the world can take a break to smile and to be astonished at this man’s incredible imagination and talent.

As you probably know, Jack Kirby was a tough, scrappy kid from the tough, scrappy part of New York City that grew up to be a very important comic artist. Kirby was a guy who made countless contributions and created a phenomenal number of characters and even launched a few genres. He was also a veteran of WWII and a family man.

But as a big comics fan, I almost loathed his work! But my entry point to Jack Kirby, where I really first noticed the man’s work, was with an image that was SO hideous and SO disgusting that I was worried I’d have nightmares forever.

Here’s what happened. As a very young boy, my Dad bought me an issue of DC’s The Demon. My (very generous) Dad would let me chose one comic every Sunday after feasting on our Sunday dinner at my grandmother’s house. The Demon was not one of the usual comics I was reading at that time, but the cover must have grabbed me and I selected it that week.

When I read it, I was absolutely horrified by one particular full page image. It depicted a character who’s face was horribly disfigured. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was sort of an homage to a scene in the classic Phantom of the Opera movie.

The character screams, “My face! It took my face! Look!” And as a nine-year old, I had to look. I couldn’t not look. It was the most horrible thing I had ever seen.

I was just starting to read the creator credits on comics at that time. I thought: “This Kirby guy is awful!” I realized – then and there – that I should always avoid Jack Kirby comics.

Not long after that, as Kirby was returning to Marvel Comics after several years working for the publishing competition, I was perplexed by the titles he was creating.  Devil Dinosaur was supposed to be the work of a genius? What was I missing?

It took me a while to understand it all. Sometimes I’m a bit slow on the uptake. But I would eventually figure out that one gruesome page was certainly not what the genius of Jack Kirby was all about.  I’d spend years and years later trying to understand the genius of Kirby. I now realize I can’t fully comprehend everything this great man created, but it’s so much fun to try. Reading his work is always treat. It’s both a thrill and creativity to be celebrated.  

I hope you treat yourself to a little Kirby today too.

I’ve been invited to the Buffalo Comic-Con this year. I’ll be on their Jack Kirby at 100 Panel. The convention is September 31 to October 1st – hope to see you there! For more details, check it out here!

Mindy Newell: Feet Of Clay

I don’t carry a sign over my head announcing my feminism—I do it with a tote bag from Emily’s List, which I use to, uh, tote my lunch and papers and such back and forth from work.  Said bag is inscribed with the following:

feminism noun fem-i-nism ‘fe-ma-,ni-zam

The belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities

—Merriam-Webster

I’ve always thought of “equal rights and opportunities” in terms of work and salary, but I suppose it can also be applied to the prerogative of making a total ass of yourself in public, regardless of gender.

I am referring to the “Whedon vs. Cole” controversy that my buddy John Ostrander talked about yesterday, and which has caused mucho uproar all over the web, including over at the Whedonverse fan site, which is supposedly shutting down over it, although I had no trouble opening the site when I tried today.

As I replied to John,

Struggling man succeeds, becomes rich and powerful and famous.  Man cheats on wife while spewing words about feminism and publicly praising wife.  Ex-wife chooses to feel herself empowered by publicly detailing events that happened while married to ex-husband.  Ex-husband, through a spokesman, says that allegations are misrepresented.

Old story.

Yes, I am saying that Ms. Cole made an ass of herself as much as Mr. Whedon (allegedly) did.  And no, I won’t be surprised to be hit with outcry and insults from individual women and attacks from feminist websites.  I get it, I do.  What I think is definitely a very unfeminist thing to think.

But sometimes the best thing to do is to walk away and not look back; there’s a Wiccan belief (yeah, I tend to think of myself as a “Jewiccan”) that whatever harm or ill wish you inflict on another will come back to you three-fold.  So allow the universe to take care of it.  Karma, as they say, is a bitch.

John also mentioned his GrimJack episode in which Gaunt shot someone in the back.  Which made me remember the two-part Magnum, P.I. story that opened Season 3 of that venerable and much-beloved series.

In Part One of  “Did You See The Sun Rise?”, a compatriot from their days in Vietnam visits [Thomas] Magnum (Tom Selleck) and his friend TC (Roger E. Mosley), telling them that all three are being pursued by a man named Ivan, a Russian agent who caught and tortured them during the war.  At first, neither believes Nuzo; they think he is suffering from PTSD.  But it turns out that Nuzo is right; Ivan is somewhere in Hawaii. But the Navy wants to keep Ivan alive (for their own reasons) and assigns Lieutenant “Mac” MacReynolds, another friend of Magnum’s, to make sure that he does—they are afraid that Magnum and TC will kill Ivan; in other words, find Ivan, but make sure Magnum does “nothing stupid.”  So Mac claims that he quit the Navy, and starts hanging around with the private eye, saying that he wants to “learn the biz” from Magnum.  After a night oat a bar, Mac says, “Let’s drive up to the lookout point, and watch the sunrise,” rushing ahead of Magnum to get into the Ferrari.  The car explodes.

In the second part, Magnum discovers that Nuzo is actually Ivan’s operative, and that TC was “brainwashed” while in captivity in Vietnam.  Nuzo triggers the brainwashing, which will cause TC to kill a visiting Japanese prince.   Magnum stops TC in time, but due to political immunity, Ivan is set free.  But Magnum captures him, and while Magnum holds a gun on Ivan, they have this conversation:

Magnum:  It was all planned, back at Duc Hue?

Ivan:  Not specifics, not even target.  Just trigger.

Magnum:  How many others are out there like TC?

Ivan:  You are still a schoolboy, Thomas, using schoolboy tricks.

Magnum:  No tricks.  Who’s next on your hit list?  Begin?  Thatcher?  Reagan?

Ivan:  I have a plane to catch.  If you are going to shoot me, do it now… You won’t.  You can’t.  I know you, Thomas.  I had you for three months at Doc Hue.  I know you better than your mother.  Your sense of… honor and fair play.  Oh, you could shoot me—if I was armed and coming after you.  But like this—Thomas…never.  Goodbye, Thomas. 

Ivan says Do svidaniya, turns, and walks away.  Magnum stops him.

Magnum:  Ivan?

Ivan stops, turns to face Magnum, saying, Yes?

Magnum:  Did you see the sun rise this morning?

Ivan:  Yes.  Why?

Magnum shoots him in cold blood.

One of the reasons this episode was so effective was that up to now, Thomas Magnum, P.I., was played as an extremely likable character.  He’s endearing, he’s comic, he’s vulnerable, and often insecure.  He’s faithful.  He makes mistakes.  He lives from hand-to-mouth.  He can be incredibly lazy.  So much like us, in fact, that we forget that he is a Navy SEAL, that he’s trained to kill, that he’s seen and done things that he would rather forget, that we would find horrific.

This episode is a slap in the face, a bucket of ice water sloshed over our bodies, a lightning bolt“Holy Shit!” we collectively said.  “I forgot that he’s a Navy SEAL, that he’s trained to kill, that he’s fought in and survived a brutal war, that he’s seen and done things that are really, really ugly, and can still do them.” 

Only children’s heroes are perfect.  As adults, we are bored by them.  Think of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s first seasons.  Be honest…it was pretty damn boring, wasn’t it?  (Really, if it hadn’t been Star Trek, I’m convinced it would have quickly been cancelled.)

Gaunt and Magnum are the best kind of heroes.

Those with feet of clay.

And for those who worship Joss Whedon, think about that before sending him to the Hellmouth.  And do the same for Kai Cole, okay?


I want to extend my sincerest condolences to ComicMix’s Mike Gold and Adriane Nash, whose beloved sister and aunt died on Saturday.  May Hashem and the Goddess bring all of you peace.