Tagged: Abrams ComicArts

Martha Thomases: Batman and Reality

Bob left a message on my phone last Friday. “I’m glad you aren’t DC’s publicity manager today,” he said.

Me, too.

After the Columbine shootings in the 1990s, we got calls at DC because the killers wore trench coats and so did John Constantine. This time, the alleged gunman actually said he was the Joker.

Most likely, if I were still the publicity manager at DC I would have received a zillion phone calls on Friday. And, most likely, I wouldn’t have been allowed to say anything. I would have told the media to call Warner Bros. corporate communications VP and let that person sweat it. Since I’m no longer on the payroll, let me show you what I would say if I got one of those phone calls and could speak freely.

Reporter: Does DC Comics have anything to say about the Batman massacre?

Me: This tragedy has nothing to do with DC Comics or the Batman.

Reporter: The shooter said he was the Joker. He died his hair orange.

Me: The Joker has green hair.

Reporter: Doesn’t the violence in Batman glorify killing and inspire acts such as this?

Me: For more than 50 years and scores of writers and artists, Batman has been an outspoken opponent of guns. Insane people will find inspiration where there is none. Son of Sam took orders from his dog, but no one blames the dog. I think it was Lenny Bruce who said, you can take any page of the Sears catalog, and someone will whack off to it.

Reporter: What’s a Sears catalog?

As usual, the mainstream culture misses the point. Batman isn’t the problem. Batman fans are not the problem. Guns are the problem.

Yes, I know the right to bear arms is guaranteed in the Second Amendment. You know what’s guaranteed in the First Amendment? The right to free expression. In the wake of Friday’s horror, theater chains didn’t ban guns in their places of business but instead banned costumes. Maybe the costumes they should ban include loaded weapons and Kevlar?

(Side note: I cannot imagine getting dressed up in a costume to go to the movies. I don’t even really understand why people get dressed up in costumes to go to go to comics conventions. There’s Halloween, and St. Marks Place, and, for me, that’s enough room for funny outfits. Also, the 1980s.)

It is true that the alleged shooter had unfettered access to comic books, graphic novels, fantasy films, video games and hair dye. He also had unfettered access to weapons and ammunition. Opinions may vary, but I think it’s pretty cut-and-dried about which contributed more directly to the massacre.

If there is a graphic novel that should be attracting media attention, it’s My Friend Dahmer  by Derf Backderf, published by Abrams ComicArts imprint. The author, with a grace and elegance that awed me, shows how easily society ignores and humiliates misfits, some of whom grow up to do horrible rings.

If you don’t have it, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman


REVIEW: Felicity Seasons One and Two

felicity1-300x406-6060567Before Star Trek was Fringe and Lost, and Alias and before Alias was Felicity. It may be hard to recall that genre wunderkind Abrams actually broke into television by making a splash in 1998 with the WB series about a college girl. Created with Cabin in the Woods collaborator Matt Reeves, the series is worth a second look given the storytelling, music, and keen eye for casting that first introduced to an armload of performers who have gone on to success, including repeat appearances in later Abrams productions. Or do you think Keri Russell’s cameo in Mission: Impossible 3 was an oddity?

Lionsgate has resurrected the first two seasons in newly packaged DVDs, both out this week. The WB knew that a female-skewing series with a high concept would be a good fit for their struggling network so when Abrams and Reeves turned up with the concept, there was excitement. Susanne Daniels excitedly listened as Abrams outlined a five season arc for Felicity Porter, who would chuck everything she and her parents planned for, to follow a boy from California to New York. The boy barely knew she existed but all it took was for him to sign her yearbook and she was hooked.

So was Daniels who has written, “He brings heart to a pitch and can tell you clearly why anyone would or should care about the world he’s describing. But the single most impressive thing about J.J. is the depth of analysis he lays out in a compelling, almost professorial way. He can tell you everything about every character and their story arcs. And he can tell you how and why his show fits into your network, in the television business, and the world at large, and how the audience will relate to it.” (more…)

REVIEW: Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

Mission: Impossible is one of those malleable concepts that can tackle any content and is only as good as the concept, cast, and director. As a result, the film version of the classic 1960s television series has had its hits and misses, but seems to be getting stronger with each film. J.J. Abrams reinvigorated the franchise with the third installment and then handed it off to Brad Bird, making his live action debut with Ghost Protocol.

It’s been far too long since Ethan Hunt and IMF team were handed a mission after that strong outing so it’s thrilling to see Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol be such a rousing success. The movie is out this week on Blu-ray and DVD and is a Must Have because there’s so much to like about it. Bird, best known for the underrated Iron Giant and The Incredibles, takes everything from those animated adventures and brings them to the real world. Bird brings his sense of pacing and timing to the mission along with a much needed dose of humor, leavening the drama.

Hunt (Tom Cruise) is in a Russian prison for unknown reasons but an IMF team breaks him out and only then does he get told of a nuclear prophet determined to set off an atomic war to bring about change. His mission: find the man and stop him. Of course, nothing goes easy, especially when it appears the IMF is accused of bombing the Kremlin, a clever feint on the part of the real villain: Kurt Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist). As a result, the Secretary is in Russia to tell Hunt the president has executed the Ghost Protocol, effectively dissolving the IMF but handing Hunt and his team one final clandestine mission to save the world.

The team? The only regular from previous films is Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), now promoted to field agent. He’s accompanied by Carter (Paula Patton), who lost her fellow agent and lover (Josh Holloway) to an assassin who is now connected to the new mission so she sees it as a chance for revenge. The fourth member is new to the IMF; Brant, a consultant to the secretary (Jeremy Renner) who it is learned was a former field operative who believes he was responsible for the death of Hunt’s wife, Julia Mead, (Michelle Monaghan).

The screenplay from André Nemec and Josh Appelbaum takes us throughout Eastern Europe and the Middle East at a breakneck pace, but always pausing long enough to dole out character revelations and a chance for the characters to actually talk to one another, a rarity in these kind of action films. Bird clearly can handle the adventurous aspects and dramatic bits with an even hand. The cast works well together and the leads are well supported by a fresh cadre of international performers, including Anil Kapoor, Léa Seydoux, keeping the film looking and feeling fresh.  There are two nice cameos towards the end which tie all four films together and for those who haven’t seen it, I don’t want to spoil it for you.

Visually, the film is breathtaking, as we see the splendor of Mumbai and elsewhere but of course the set piece, Hunt’s magnetic climb up the world’s tallest tower, is stunning. Bird and the scriptwriters have hit upon a series of obstacles that feel like M:I but updated for today, which is a strength.

If anything doesn’t work, it’s the more tried and true elements such as an overlong chase through a bazaar (even with a sandstorm) and a climactic battle inside a car park. Everyone struggles to beat the countdown clock but it all drags out just a bit and the film could have been tighter with a few judicious edits, but they’re minor quibbles. Helping overcome that is Michael Giacchino’ s wonderful score which honors the original series and gives it a flavor all its own.

The movie is spectacular on Blu-ray and sounds swell. Now, if you loved the film, you should seek out the Best Buy exclusive edition which has an hour’s worth of bonus material you won’t find on the regular Blu-ray release. Whereas the regular Blu-ray stuffs the extras with the film on a single disc, the Best Buy edition requires a disc just for the extras.

“Mission Accepted” (47:35) is found on both versions of the Blu-ray release while “Impossible Missions” (51:37) contains most of the Best Buy bonus material. In both you get 15 minutes of deleted scenes which makes for interesting watching and it’s recommended to use the Bird commentary. The regular Blu-ray offers up “Heating Up in Dubai” (17:36), a pretty travelogue; “Vancouver Fisticuffs” (12:01), a look at the climax, which happened to be shot in Canada; “The Sandstorm “ (3:06), which took two weeks to shot in Canada and Dubai; and “Props” (3:07).

The Best Buy material includes “Suiting Up in Prague” (17:58), “The Russian Prison” (11:49), “Shooting in IMAX” (3:33), “Art Department”  (2:56), “A Roll of Film”  (2:33), “Life Masks” (1:40), “Stepping Into the Storm”  (2:02), “Dubai Car Crash” (8:15), “Lens on the Burj” (:57), and “Composer” (10:42).  The two original theatrical trailers are also included.

Jerry Robinson: 1922 – 2011

Comics legend Jerry Robinson died this morning at the age of 89.

Best known for his work with Bob Kane during the earliest days of Batman, the Trenton, New Jersey born artist started off as a teenager lettering and inking the Batman feature in Batman, Detective Comics and World’s Finest Comics. As Batman rapidly grew in popularity, he progressed to the role of character designer and, shortly thereafter, penciler of the feature. It was Robinson who named Dick Grayson “Robin,” not after himself (as often reported) but after N.C. Wyeth’s famed illustrations of Robin Hood. Shortly thereafter, Jerry designed Batman’s most famed enemy, The Joker. His original art for that initial design, in the form of a playing card, has been on display at various museums across the nation.

(It should be noted that the late Bob Kane disputed this and most other creator-credits regarding The Batman. As a matter of contractual obligation, DC Comics gives Kane sole creator credit for the feature, a matter of significant dispute with Robinson as well as writer Bob Finger.)

In later years, Robinson started an international newspaper syndicate (the Cartoonists & Writers Syndicate) and wrote an important history of the comics medium, titled The Comics: An Illustrated History of Comic Strip Art. He also served as president of the National Cartoonists Society in the late 1960s.

His other comic book work included Bat Masterson and Lassie for Dell Comics, Black Terror for Standard Publications, Green Hornet for Harvey, Vigilante and Green Arrow for DC (with his friend and frequent collaborator, Mort Meskin), Green Lama and Atoman for Spark Publications, Journey Into Mystery, Battlefront, Crime Exposed, Strange Tales and Battle Action for Marvel, Rocky and His Fiendish Friends for Gold Key, and Astra for Central Park Media.

Jerry received numerous honors and tributes during his long life, including four separate awards from the National Cartoonists Society: the Comic Book award in 1956, the Newspaper Panel Cartoon in 1963 for Still Life, the Special Features Award in 1965 for Flubs and Fluffs, and the Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000. He was inducted into the Comic Book Hall of Fame in 2004 and, in 2010, was the recipient of the first annual The Hero Initiative Dick Giordano Humanitarian Award for his “outstanding efforts in changing comics one day at a time.”

The Giordano award focused on Jerry’s less-well known work as a political activist obtaining the release of jailed and tortured cartoonists in Uruguay and the Soviet Union. He also joined Neal Adams and others in the creator rights movement and aided Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in their struggles with Warner Communications / Time Warner in obtaining recognition and financial security for their efforts.

[[[Jerry Robinson: Ambassador to the Comics]]], the definitive history of this critically significant cartoonist, was published by Abrams late year.

On a personal note, I had the honor and privilege of dining with Jerry and discussing both politics and comics on numerous occasions during the 1970s, 80s and 90s. When, last year, we met up at the Baltimore Comic-Con at the reception prior to his Giordano Award presentation, I found Jerry to be as gracious, as warm and as sharp as he had ever been, and he entertained my daughter with stories peppered with quotes from material I had written about him many, many years earlier.

It was one of the most wonderful moments of my life.

Review: Super 8

There’s a tremendous bit of nostalgia wrapped up in Super 8, one of last summer’s most pleasant surprises. For adult moviegoers, it makes us long for the pre-Internet days when a movie can arrive and surprise us. The movie is clearly director J.J. Abrams’ homage to the movies of Steven Spielberg, the ones he grew up watching thirty years ago, movies filled with the fantastic including Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T.

But, Abrams’ valentine is intended for today’s more jaded moviegoer and as a result, unlike the benevolent aliens who visited Earth in those two films, the ones seen in the new film are more terrifying, evoking an entirely different set of emotions. But, the innocence of childhood is retained as Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) and his pals set out to make a movie and wind up having the adventure of a lifetime.

Like the best of Spielberg’s work, this movie evokes happy memories of childhood and family so just as important as the friendship ties is the relationship between Joe and his widower father Jackson (Kyle Chandler) in the middle American town of Lilian, Ohio.

Given the setting of the story, it makes perfect sense that the young teens are using a Super 8 camera to shoot a zombie film as the previous cycle of zombie movies was just winding down. They witness and record a train wreck that unleashes a deadly secret, one the military and sheriff Dad try to contain. Unfortunately, and just like in a good Spielberg film, odd things keep happening: there are the missing dogs, missing metal objects, and then people go missing.

Abrams knows how to ratchet up the suspense and then lull you into complacency with all the family drama between father and son and young romance as Joe notices Alice (Elle Fanning) in a new way. And since this is a film about kids, of course they unrealistically factor into the climax in ways less organic than in E.T. Still, you don’t often get two top filmmakers collaborating on something that has this much heart and soul as opposed to mere pyrotechnics (although this offers those up, too). Abrams also benefited from another winning score by Michael Giacchino.They wisely spent their $50 million budget, turning out a compelling 112-minute movie that you can enjoy at home.

Paramount Home Video sent a DVD for review and the standard transfer is excellent along with superb sound. The extras available on this single-disc package include some fine Audio Commentary from Abrams, co-producer Bryan Burk and DP Larry Fong.  There are tons of fun-sounding extras on the Blu-ray disc but we’re left without them, instead just able to see “Deconstructing the Train Crash”,  a nice featurette complete with storyboards and interviews.

REVIEW: Will Eisner’s P.S. Magazine: The Best of The Preventive Maintenance Monthly

[[[Will Eisner’s P.S. Magazine: The Best of The Preventive Maintenance Monthly]]]
By Will Eisner, selected and with an overview by Eddie Campbell
272 pages, Abrams ComicArts, $21.95

As far back as 1940, during the publicity campaign for the launch of The Spirit Sunday section, Will Eisner spoke of the potential for comic books to do more than entertain but to educate. Within a decade, he got to put theory into practice by winning the contract to package P.S. Magazine: The Preventive Maintenance Monthly for the United States Army. After over 700 issues, the magazine continues to chug along with the likes of Murphy Anderson and Joe Kubert following in his might footsteps.

Anyone reading a biography of Eisner knows that he took on P.S. in part because he wearied of the weekly grind required of The Spirit and because he was restless but unless we’ve enlisted, getting to see the legendary magazine proved problematic. Thanks to Abrams’ ComicArts imprint, that is being readied with this volume, a sampler of Eisner’s work from 1951-1971. Cartoonist Eddie Campbell gleefully took on the herculean task of sifting through thousands of pages to find representative work decade by decade. Apparently, he was contracted for an overview and got deep into the research so what we got to read is based on his enthusiastic efforts. (more…)