Tagged: Ambush Bug

Ed Catto: Thrill Ride with Robert Loren Fleming – Part 2

This is the final part of my conversation with comics writer Robert Loren Fleming on the tragic backstory and forgotten history of DC’s Thriller comic book series. As I explained last week, this is actually an addendum to my recent article on this 80s cult favorite in TwoMorrow’s Back Issue Magazine.

Thriller was poised to be the next big thing from DC, but it seemed like many forces conspired against it. Despite it all, Thriller achieved a certain status. How did so many things go off the rails? The behind the scenes stories are as fascinating as the story between the covers.

Hazing, Publishing Style

There were some difficult things going on backstage at DC in those days. One of the uglier things was the hazing. It included everything from ripping up freelancers checks to harassing a female worker to the point where she was ready to clobber a co-worker on her way out.

At the end of last week’s column, Thriller’s artist, Trevor Von Eeden had just finished the first Green Arrow mini-series. He was finally ready to start on Thriller. Management threw a curve ball and told him his next assignment would be a Batwoman special. However, Von Eeden firmly reminded them that the deal they had struck was he could start on Thriller once he finished the Green Arrow mini-series.

So for Thriller, Fleming would provide full scripts and write the dialog. Artist Von Eeden was given the authority to make changes in the scripts, but he seldom did.

Suspiciously enough, it went further than that. No editors had made any changes. “That’s not a good thing. That’s highly unusual,” remembers Fleming. That should have been a red warning light to the creative team back then. “They wanted to screw with us,” said Fleming. As the new kid on the block who had, in essence, jumped the line to land a prestigious job writing a comic he envisioned, Fleming had made many enemies within the organization.

Fleming would later learn that someone had taken the script from executive editor Dick Giordano’s office, and then made the case that it needed a total rewrite. “They were going to have me rewrite it until it wasn’t Thriller.”

A few days before Fleming was supposed to start the rewrite, he was surprised to learn that Trevor Von Eeden had dropped off the all the pages of the first issue.

Plans for the rewrite were scrapped and Fleming was instructed to merely adjust the dialog to match the pages.

Now, years later, Fleming can understand the frustrations of the established folks at DC. It’s clear, as a young writer, he (Fleming) just wasn’t ready for a full writing assignment yet. At the same time, he also now realizes that the readers just weren’t ready for it then either. If it had come out five years later, it would have been much better received.

It wasn’t all bad at DC Comics. Fleming did have some supporters – specifically, the marketing department’s Mike Flynn and Roger Slifer. They were two of Fleming’s friends. They took a paste-up of the penciled pages, with Fleming’s hand-written word balloons, to use as part of a press release. Even though these pages were not properly lettered, public reaction to these pages was strong.

DC’s Marketing Department promoted it as a comic you couldn’t read fast enough, a line that Fleming had supplied. Soon, Fleming found himself on the convention circuit with a presentation, created by the Marketing Department, to tease the comic to retailers and fans nationwide.

Launching Thriller at that time through one of the major publishers was a blessing and curse. From our current vantage point, it’s difficult to remember that publishing a series like Thriller didn’t really have the many options that would be available today at Image or one of the smaller publishers.

Help Wanted

“I was keenly aware (back then) that it would have been great to get help <creating the comic>

But it was ‘do it on my own or not do it’,” said Fleming. He recalls that Dick Giordano was too far up the management chain, and stretched too thin, to be a hands-on helper for the title. Thriller’s editor, Alan Gold, was also new to the comics industry, having recently switched careers from editing medical textbooks. “He didn’t have a clue what we were doing.”

There was a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel. Fleming did manage to get in the good graces of legendary editor Julie Schwartz. “By the time I did a few Ambush Bug <issues>, Julie was in my camp. Most people would acknowledge Julie was probably the best editor at that time,” remembers Fleming.

Fleming is able to recognize the shortcomings of Thriller. “I have absolutely less affection for Thriller than the fans. I see it as a mess,” said Fleming. But he heaps praise on his collaborator, artist Trevor Von Eeden. “If we had had a routine artist, no one would be talking about this.”

A Thrilling Prescience

So many story elements of Thriller, a series created in the 80s that takes place in the “near future”, seem to have predicted actual future events. Fleming talked about how much of what he created for the book was simply an extrapolation from the headlines of the day. The long list is impressive and canny and includes things like America’s escalated conflict with Islam, self-driving cars, and the grisly filming of political decapitations.

On the other hand, Fleming admits that Thriller’s “black president was just a cheesy cliché” meant to signal the future. “Of course, I tied him to one of my characters,” he added.

What Could Have Been

Fleming touched on what could have happened. “Trevor and I never had a falling out,” said Fleming. “In fact, a few years later, we did a pilot for a Salvo series.” Salvo was the unflinching marksman, and one of Thriller’s Seven Seconds, in the original series.

“I was always trying to revisit Thriller,” admits Fleming. This would have been a prequel revealing the backstory of the marksman, Salvo. It would also detail how he first met Janet Valentine, (White Satin), and her husband Quo. “Quo was basically Bruce Lee,’” chuckles Fleming.

An earlier incarnation of the evil Scabbard – named Sheath Largos – featured prominently in the prequel. If the original Thriller series had continued, Scabbard was slated to return from the dead. “He was War of the Worlds in reverse,” reveals Fleming. “Scabbard was actually a mechanical alien in the shape of a sword who grew a fleshy body around itself simply for transportation.”

“That’s why we did Scabbard in Ambush Bug,” said Fleming. “You see something bursting out. It’s flesh growing. Keith (Giffen, his collaborator on Ambush Bug) knew what I was going to do.”

The Thrill is Gone, Baby

Fleming admits that it would unlikely he’d ever return to the series.

“One reason is because it was science fiction, it makes it hard to contemplate going back. “Things have changed so much. The thing about science fiction is that it reflects what’s happening when it’s being written,” explained Fleming.

But there’s a lot of lessons he takes away from it all.

First and foremost is that not knowing the rules is a good thing. The exuberance of youth actually allowed Fleming and Von Eeden to courageously create a series that, in retrospect, is astounding that it even exists. “Thriller was world-building before it was in vogue for comics,” said Fleming.

There’s a sense of pride but also a sense of generous humility. “The best thing about it was Trevor’s artwork,” remembers Fleming. “His artwork took it to a new level.” Fleming also explained how he meets many fans who explain that this groundbreaking series inspired them to break into the industry.

“The reason for going into this – the generally accepted wisdom was that Thriller was a big failure,” reflects Fleming. “It wasn’t a failure. Thriller was created so I could become a writer. In that way, it was a success. I did become a writer… from zero to sixty. I became a comic book writer.”
And that sounds like a thrill to me.

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

Mindy Newell: Making The Cut

Newell Art 130930Mindy went to her grandson’s bris today. Meyer Manuel, known in Hebrew as Avraham, is named for all three grandfathers. He had his first taste of wine, too, suckling on a cloth dipped in Manischevitz. It’s supposed to “quiet the baby,” which means lead him into a drunken stupor, so that the pain of the circumcision will be dulled. It didn’t help.

Meyer Manual cried, and Alix wept, as did most everyone else; the only ones not crying were Jeff, who did look shaky but stayed strong, looked shaky but he managed okay. The only ones who didn’t cry were the moyel (the artist performing the procedure) and Grandma me – the moyel because, well, that’s his job – and also he was wonderful, attentive to Alix and Jeff and incredibly caring to Meyer Manuel – and as for me, well, I think because I’ve seen so many circs (as we say in the biz) in my other life as an OR nurse that I knew what to expect, and also, I needed to be strong and calm for everyone else, meaning I had my professional face on.

Brit Milah: (Hebrew) “Covenant of circumcision.” Commonly referred to by its Yiddish term, the Bris, it is the Jewish religious ritual in which the male infant is circumcised at eight days old.

Then God said to Abraham, “As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised.

Like so many Jewish commandments, the brit milah is commonly perceived to be a hygienic measure, so think about this. The early Israelites were primarily desert dwellers. Now, all you men out there, think about getting some sand between the foreskin and the head of the penis.

Eeewwwwww!

Pretty smart, those Children of Abraham.

Also very intriguing – although the Torah does not specify a reason for the choice of the eighth day for performing the brit milah, medical research has discovered that an infant’s blood clotting mechanism stabilizes on the eighth day after birth.

Now how did they know that? Trial and error? (I hate to think of all those newborn baby boys bleeding out before their parents got it right.) Or was it “Ancient Aliens?” Did some advance civilization, mistaken for gods and angels by the Hebrews, instruct them on the rite of circumcision?

Hmmm…

The translation of the words sung during the opening of Battlestar Galactica is something like this, from the Sanskrit:

We meditate upon the divine light

of spiritual consciousness

May it awaken

our intuitional awareness.

Did Ronald D. Moore actually connect with the cosmic consciousness when he rebooted Battlestar Galactica? Were the three angels who visited Abraham actually Admiral Adama, his son Major Lee Adama, and Gaius Baltar?

Are any superheroes circumcised?

Certainly Gim Allon, aka Colossal Boy of the Legion of Super-Heroes would be, as it has been established that he is Jewish. As would Marc Spector (Moon Knight), Pietro Maximoff (Quicksilver), Reuben Flagg (American Flagg!), and Irwin Schwab (Ambush Bug).

As would be Max Eisenhardt, aka Magneto. And Ben Grimm, the ever-lovin’ blue-eyed Thing. And Ray Palmer, also known as the Atom.

Superman?

Well, some people think he’s Jewish.

TUESDAY MORNING: Emily S. Whitten, Esq.

TUESDAY AFTERNOON: Michael Davis, PhD

 

MARTHA THOMASES: More For The Gift-Giving Challenged

I don’t know about you guys, but I could use a laugh. One would think comics would be a great place to look for laughs, since, you know, they’re called “comics.”

And yet…

But I don’t want to bitch and moan about stuff that’s not funny. I’d rather celebrate what is. Different people find different things amusing, but I suspect that at least one thing on this list will do it for you.

Here, for your entertainment pleasure and in no particular order, are some really funny books, done in the graphic novel format.

Kyle Baker is one of my favorite humans. There isn’t a book he’s done that doesn’t thrill me. The Cowboy Wally Show made me laugh so hard I couldn’t breathe. And if you want to know how he does it, you could do worse than track down How to Draw Stupid and Other Essentials of Cartooning, which is more hilarious than any educational book needs to be.

Another funny guy who works in the comic book business is Evan Dorkin. And luckily, Dark Horse has published a collection of his flagship series, Milk and Cheese.

Howard Chaykin is a known more for his elegant drawing style, his brilliant use of page design, and his sharp insight into the dark side of human society. I, however, love his sense of humor, which I first discovered in American Flagg. I mean, the man made up a character named Pete Zarustica. I’m in love.

Another comics genius known primarily for brilliant use of the medium and his expansive and cosmic intelligence is Alan Moore. He’s funny, too! One of his first series, D. R. and Quinch, is available in a collected edition. It’s like, totally amazing.

Am I stuck on English language humor? Maybe. It is the language I speak and the language in which I form thoughts. That said, I am no cultural imperialist. For example, the Japanese series, What’s Michael, is my idea of brilliant. There are more than a dozen collections, but this Dark Horse edition is a good place to start. Warning: It probably helps to live with a cat.

Believe it or not, there was a time when there was no Internet and people got their news from newspapers, and, when they wanted other points of view, from alternative weekly newspapers. These papers were great places to find brilliant comics, starting with Jules Feiffer in the Village Voice (also syndicated to “normal” newspapers). After a few decades, there were syndicates for these cartoonists, and, today, it’s possible to buy collections of two of my favorites. You don’t have to be queer to laugh at Dykes to Watch Out For, but you do have to be able to recognize that “political correctness” started out as a left-wing joke. If you followed my advice and bought The Complete Wendel you’re familiar with this meme. Ripped from the same pages, and long before The Simpsons, Matt Groening was giving us a guided tour of hell. The nuclear family and all its intermeshed relationships were never so radioactive.

The comics page in daily newspapers is still alive, if not always well. If you miss your laugh a day, you can catch up with excellent compilations. I’m always happy to read Get Fuzzy and would enjoy a whole bunch of them together. And one of the great, and most hilarious, strips of all time is now in one big book. It’s enough to make a person love alligators.

Some jokes are universal, and then there are inside jokes. They not only make us laugh but they also make us feel understood. For us comic fans, I recommend Fred Hembeck who was a regular feature in The Comics Buyers Guide. His work is really dense, and really funny. I also adore Keith Giffen, for his Justice League, his Legion of Substitute Heroes, especially when he’s working on Ambush Bug with Robert Loren Fleming.

I’m sure I’ve left out some brilliant work, but you could do worse than start here when the holiday cheer gets you down.

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman

Brightest Day Swims Close to the Horizon…

Brightest Day Swims Close to the Horizon…

Face it DC Fans, the last couple months have been nothing if not bleak.

Heck, even before the Blackest Night was animating corpses and murdering heroes left and right, several crises left beloved wives raped and murdered, martians punctured and burned to Choco-dust , and the original Batman shot by a time bullet trapped in time! But, thanks to DC’s May solicits out this month, it seems after the Blackest Night will come the Brightest Day! And leading the pack of solicits came quite the image (we decided to be nice and put it right over there for your viewing pleasure). For the cover of DC’s Brightest Day #1, its new bi-monthly book, it would seem after being all ‘deadite’ like… Arthur aka Aquaman aka King of the Seven Seas aka The Only JLA Member Able To Pull Off Wearing Orange is back in the land of the living!

But for how long? If we look at Artie’s long career, well, it may not bode so well. Not that he’s played the whole “I’m dead!” / “Now I’m alive!” card like some others (we’re looking at you, Ollie, Diana, Kal-El, Hal Jordan, Kyle Rayner, Jason Todd, and Donna Troy…) he has had his fair share of just-plain-ick moments. For a complete run down, we recommend you check out this great article from NPR. For those who are click-impaired, or just want to gist though, allow us to simplify: Every time Arthur takes one step forward (growing a manly beard and installing a hook for a hand, a’thank’yew…) it doesn’t take long for him to drown two steps back (water hand? octopus head?). And with our preview cover tease depicting Aquaman perhaps have to face his recent stint as a Black Lantern, and a wife who may stay a blood-burping bride of Atrocitus, just how will Aquaman rebuild his life in the post Blackest Night DCU?

In addition to that teaser cover for Brightest Day #1, DC also let loose solicits spinning out of events to come. Over in the Oan space of the DCU, we now have a trio of books. Geoff Johns and Doug Mahnke stay put on Green Lantern. Green Lantern Corps will now be headed up by R.E.B.E.L.S. scribe Tony Bedard and Ardian Syaf take hold of the reigns. And Peter Tomasi fans worry not, as he and Fernando Pasarin will be moving to a new book, Green Lantern: Emerald Warriors, starring everyone’s favorite hot headed former bar owner, Guy Gardner. Also spinning out of the Blackest Night after party will be a new book founded on some old favorites. Judd Winick joins Keith Giffen to scribe Justice League: Generation Lost. The book catches up with Booster Gold, Captain Atom, Fire, and Ice, as they take on the mystery of who’s taking out their former JLA colleagues. My money in on Dan DiDio, as seen last as the villain of the chart topping Ambush Bug series.

So ComicMixers… plenty to discuss here. Will Arthur be back to stay? Will another emerald tinged book make it’s way into your pull boxes? Will Marvel make any claims that the ‘Brightest Day’ won’t shine a single ray of light on their own ‘Heroic Age’? As our Aunt Linda would say… “Discuss!”

‘Paul is dead’ and other reactions to the DC Comics restructuring

‘Paul is dead’ and other reactions to the DC Comics restructuring

It’s ironic that on a day that many people in the world are talking about the Beatles in one form or another, people in the comics industry are asking if Paul is dead.

Certainly, you don’t see this amount of coverage of a man’s life until his funeral. It reminds one of Twain: “They say such nice things at a man’s funeral that it’s a shame I’m going to miss mine by only a couple of days.” Paul Levitz has had many, many nice things said about him. Mark Evanier may have the best post placing Paul’s place in historical context so far:

DC and Marvel could not now interface with Time-Warner and — assuming the deal goes through — Disney if they had not evolved from hot dog joints into real businesses.

Many have taken credit for that evolution, including some who fought it until it became inevitable and a few who resisted even after that time. Among those who honestly do deserve great credit is Paul Levitz.

Kurt Busiek also sums up:

Paul has been at the forefront of just about every industry
development of the last couple of decades, and has been key to how the
industry’s shaped itself over those years. Shifting from a
periodicals-only business to a strong backlist-oriented business with
trade paperbacks and hardcovers, adding imprints like Vertigo, creating
new opportunities for creators and for creator ownership, seeing that
DC gave a fair (or at least fairer) deal to the creators who originated
the concepts that turned up in DC-based movies, from Arkham Asylum and
Lucius Fox to Robin’s motorcycles (yeah, because they called Chris
O’Donnell’s ride the “Redbird” in one of the movies, Paul Levitz saw to
it that Chuck Dixon got money) and more, Paul was an important part of
a huge number of changes that DC’s seen, and that the whole industry’s
seen. Some of them big changes everyone’s noticed, some of them
behind-the-scenes stuff few people know about.

Heidi MacDonald, another one of us who toiled in the vineyards under Paul, said: “Paul is one of the smartest, kindest people I’ve ever worked with. He changed comics for the better in such vast ways that it’s hard to imagine where the industry would be without his stewardship. I wish him all the best.”

Marv Wolfman said: For years now, Paul has talked about retiring someday soon and
returning to writing, his first love. For that reason alone I am so
happy for him because I know that’s what he deeply cares about and has
been wanting. As readers, we are in for some major treats. I
can also say, without fear of rebuttal by anyone who is in the know,
Paul is probably the best, the smartest, the most creative and the most
moral Publisher the business has ever seen. Most fans have no idea how
important Paul is, not only to DC, but to the entire industry. I have
often said, and mean, that without Paul there very well might not be a
comics industry today. I am not speaking in hyperbole. I am being
literal; I mean exactly what I wrote.

And I’m fond of Rich Johnston’s comment: I asked Keith Giffen what was up with Ambush Bug. He told me “He’s taking Paul’s job.”

One more thing that I’ve been told that I haven’t seen mentioned: Paul contributed tremendous numbers of comics to Len Wein when he lost his collection in the recent fire. Huge numbers.

So now what? Me, I’m just waiting for those great Legion stories… hey, and what is it with guys who write Legion going on to become head honchos at comics companies? Paul Levitz, Jim Shooter with Marvel, Valiant and Defiant, Mark Waid at BOOM!… what makes it such a prerequisite?

Spoiler for ‘Blackest Night’: Cheeks, the Toy Wonder is a Black Lantern!

Spoiler for ‘Blackest Night’: Cheeks, the Toy Wonder is a Black Lantern!

Yes, he’s back from the recycling bin! It’s Cheeks, the Toy Wonder as a newly forged Black Lantern! Now we know why Ambush Bug #6 has been delayed, it had to tie in with Blackest Night

…okay, maybe not.

Still, the art from Thom Zahler, the big galoot behind Love And Capes, is still important, because it’s helping John Ostrander regain his sight.

At the 2009 Chicago Comicon, Comix4Sight has joined forced with Wizard Entertainment to hold a charity auction the evening of Saturday, August 8th.  The goal is to raise sufficient funds to help cover the costs of John Ostrander’s
treatments in his battle against glaucoma, and it is John’s expressed wish that should we raise funds
above his needs, that excess money is to be donated to The Hero Initiative to help them continue their great works aiding comic creators in their times of need.

Artwork is still coming in for the auction, and we’ll be showing you stuff prior to the auction. Don’t forget this Batman/Hawkman piece by Andy and Joe Kubert, Gonzo Davros by Roger Langridge, writer/artist of The Muppet Show comics from BOOM! Studios, and Captain America by Neal Adams. Now we add Zahler’s piece to the auction.

Keith Giffen Returns to Ambush Bug

Keith Giffen Returns to Ambush Bug

Ambush Bug is back… and there was much rejoicing.

According to a recent announcement on Newsarama, Keith Giffen will be returning to Ambush Bug, the character he created in 1980s to point a finger at some the silliness of some of the goings-on in the DC Universe at the time. The six-issue Ambush Bug miniseries will hit shelves in July and feature Giffen as both writer and penciller – a dual role he hasn’t filled in quite some time.

Giffen said he plans to focus Ambush Bug’s snarky sensibilities on both the abundance of "world-shattering events" happening all-too often in the DCU, as well as some of the long-lost characters that the company might rather remain forgotten.

NRAMA: Can you give any examples of something you’re trotting out again?

KG: Oh, well two come to mind right away. Whatever happened to the Green Team? And whatever happened to the Glop from Outer Space?

NRAMA: Oh, it almost seems cruel to bring back a character called the Glop. [laughs]

KG: The Glop from Outer Space was a Wonder Girl villain. He was this big blob from outer space that ate rock ‘n’ roll records. And I thought, well, there’s got to be a follow-up story, because they don’t make rock ‘n’ roll records anymore.

.

Ambush Bug Lives!

Ambush Bug Lives!

The official Comics Should Be Good “Reason to Love Comics” for Monday was my man Keith Giffen. (“My man” in the sense that I agree that he’s totally awesome, not that I’ve ever met the guy.) And once again, I must demand Ambush Bug trade paperbacks to make the world the kind of place it should be.

The Irish Independent looks at the graphic novel adaptation of the first of Eoin Colfer’s “Artemis Fowl” books.

Comic Book Resources talks to Neil Gaiman via the magic of video.

Comic Book Resources has also drunk the DC Kool-Aid and is trying to convince us that we ever cared about Booster Gold. Sorry, it’s not working…

The Beat has San Diego photos, with commentary – your money quote: “Nothing is sadder than a Superman with a droopy vinyl crotch.”

Elliot S! Maggin, author of the greatest Superman novel ever (sorry, Tom De Haven, it’s Miracle Monday), is running for Congress. Hey, if Gopher could make it in, I think he’s got a good chance. [via The Beat]

Sci Fi Weekly interviews Neil Gaiman, reviews Elizabeth Bear’s Undertow, and sets John Clute to wind up Jay Lake’s Mainspring.

The Golden Duck Awards, for excellence in science fiction for children, were presented at TuckerCon, this year’s NASFiC, over the weekend. The winners were:

  • Picture Book: Night of the Homework Zombies by Scott Nickel, illustrated by Steve Harpster
  • Middle Grades: Apers by Mike Jansen and Barbara Day Zincola
  • Young Adult: Rash by Pete Hautman
  • Special Award: Write Your Own Science Fiction Story by Tish Farrel

[via SF Scope]

(more…)

Could it be… magic?

Could it be… magic?

Some of us are total suckers for magic. I mean, let’s be honest, all that super-science stuff that purports to explain how people have superpowers and everything — how different is that really than just saying "He flies? She shoots beams from her eyes? It’s magic!"

To some of us it’s all much of a muchness, but superhero comics universes are peculiar about that sort of thing, they seem to demand differing levels of disbelief-suspension depending on whether we’re talking about Batman or the Spectre, Spidey or Dr. Strange.

At both Marvel and DC, magic is a part of their fictional universes but, like religion, is usually distinguished from the mythmaking involving superscience. The DC Universe has had a number of recent stories dealing with a transformation of how magic works in that fictional milieu, and now Marvel’s about to undergo a similar shift in their interpretation of the fantastic.

For my money, even though I’m not paying for it, the best story currently dealing with DC’s attitude towards magic and superheroes is the Doctor Thirteen backup tale currently running in Tales of the Unexpected, wherein superscience and magic and nonsense and fourth-wall breaking all collide in a fun romp that proves DC is well schooled on how to puncture its own pomposity. Maybe it’s not Ambush Bug-level surreality, but you can’t go wrong with talking pirate gorillas, parodies of the 52 writers, and Infectious Lass.

Now Marvel’s gearing up for their own big magic event this summer, Mystic Arcana, leading off with, appropriately enough, a Magik one-shot written by one of my personal heroes, Louise Simonson.  Firm believers in not being able to tell the players without a scorecard, Marvel’s also bringing out a companion guide called Mystic Arcana: The Book of Marvel Magic, 64 pages of bios and character sketches and probably not storytelling.

Meanwhile, Scott at Polite Dissent decries the use of the "humans only use 10% of their brains" misinformation employed so often in comic book fiction as a way of introducing magical (or even superhuman) abilities.  Dang, there goes about 90% of the captioning for future origin stories!