At first glance, this does not sound like a good idea.
U.S. Avengers and Uncanny Avengers will not survive the new year. January brings us a three-month mini-event called Avengers: No Surrender. Okay; on the face of it, this seems like a good idea – and pretty much what I was calling for in this space back on September 6th when I said Secret Empire might have been a worthy eight-parter if it had been entirely confined to the two Captain America titles, segueing from Sam Wilson to Steve Rogers and completely in the hands of writer Nick Spencer. Okay, I guess I’m getting much of what I asked for.
However, Avengers: No Surrender also marks the cancellation of both U.S. Avengers and Uncanny Avengers and the “promotion” of The Avengers to weekly status… at least for the duration of the storyline. There are 13 shipping weeks in the first quarter of 2018, so at the current cover price that means it’ll cost you nearly $52.00 to read the storyline. Plus tax.
Now if you’re like me (which means at some point you made a drastically bad life decision) you do not presently read all three titles. Usually, I only follow The Avengers. No slight against the other two titles – there are only so many hours in the day, and only so much cash in the kitty. Writers Mark Waid, Al Ewing and Jim Zub, at least, will remain on the weekly title, doubtlessly divvying up the work in some equitable fashion.
Waid, one of the best superhero writers around, is blessed with a wit that is equal to his comics prowess, and he told The Hollywood Reporter No Surrender is “half celebration, half wake.” Well, that sounds half-interesting: it’s been a couple decades since readers would be vested in that “half wake” part.
I am merely expressing a concern; I’m not judging something that I haven’t read – something that, likely, is not yet fully written. No Surrender begs a serious commitment from Marvel’s evidently-dwindling readership. Not all True Believers have that kind of time, money … or desire.
This mini-event begs the question “what happens after?” Will The Avengers remain weekly? Will the title revert to monthly status allowing for the return of U.S. Avengers and TheUncanny Avengers, or will Marvel create two new titles? A year ago, I would have thought resurrecting U.S. Avengers and TheUncanny Avengers with new number ones would be a given, but Marvel has since gone on to eschew such overworked marketing stunts.
But a couple weeks after the alleged conclusion of No Surrender, the world will be lining up for Marvel’s latest and most crowded movie yet… Avengers – Infinity War. History has shown us this is not the time the House of Idea will cut their output of comic books with the word “Avengers” in the title. And with a couple dozen heroes in that movie, it seems unlikely that Marvel will be weeding out capes from the comic book team.
I suspect most comics shop owners will have a hard time deciding how many copies to order. They’re going to have to order at least two-thirds of No Surrender – eight or nine issues – before they find out of their customers will go for the thing. This is not a comfortable position for their retailer base, no matter how frequently they have been put in that position lately.
Let’s hope No Surrender knocks it out of the park.
In the past I’ve mentioned some of what AfterShock Comics has been up to in my column here, but I haven’t talked about them as much as I should. I really haven’t been talking about the good work they’ve been doing. Having recently read World Reader #1, I decided I need to change that.
AfterShock Comics gets it.
I’ll explain. I was having lunch with Noah Sharma who writes over at Weekly Comic Book Review and AfterShock dominated the conversation. We talked about the different titles we’ve been enjoying like InSEXts, Animosity, Captain Kid, and World Reader. Well, the conversation actually started when I brought up how much I loved World Reader so let me backpedal a bit and talk about World Reader.
World Reader #1 hit the shelves on April 19th. It’s written by Jeff Loveness, drawn by Juan Doe and lettered by Rachel Deering. Jeff Loveness is best known for being a writer on Jimmy Kimmel Live! as well as writing Groot over at Marvel. This is his first creator owned comic. Juan Doe has worked on many comics over the years including American Monster and Animosity also at AfterShock. on Rachel Deering worked on the Womantholoy.
Basically, World Reader is about an astronaut, Sarah, who travels around the universe trying to help figure out what is seemingly killing it. She’s helped in this effort by her ability to commune with the dead, whether she wants to or not. We read on as Sarah is pushed to limits of her own mind in her quest to save us all.
For being the first creator-owned effort by Jeff Loveness, it’s fantastic. We really get sucked into this dangerous world and Jeff is humble enough to not overload the book with dialogue when it’s not necessary. He lets the art tell the story. And damn, it’s a good story.
This is a good story is because of Juan Doe’s artwork and colors. This book pops in a way that most books just don’t. I’d say that Jeff wrote a hell of a page turner, but the book is so gorgeous that turning the page might be the last thing you want to do.
What helps push you to turn the page is Rachel Deering’s excellent lettering. It’s not often that the lettering in a comic pops just like the art does, but Rachel makes it happen.
This team really feels like lightning in a bottle and I truly feel like they are onto something here. I haven’t felt this excited to pick up a second issue in a while. If I’m picking up a second issue of a comic then, yes, I’m at least somewhat excited, or curious, or trying to give it a chance to let the story unfold, but here I’m pretty damn excited.
I admit that I’m a science fiction fan so maybe the kind of story they’re setting up here appeals to me more than it might to someone else, but anyone that likes sci-fi comics needs to pick up World Reader. Don’t think about it, don’t add it to your list, don’t put it in your big stack of comics that’s months old now that you just don’t know when you’ll get to it, read it! If you’re afraid if you get home with it it’ll end up in a pile then read it outside the comic shop when you get a chance, or in your car before you drive away, or put aside the eight minutes when you buy it on ComiXology when you buy it to read it right then and there. If you don’t normally like sci-fi, but you like pretty books with fantastic colors, you should give this a shot too.
What was I talking about? Oh, yeah! Lunch with Noah. So I talk about how I picked up World Reader #1 from Carmine Street Comics in Manhattan and after talking about how much I enjoyed it, we got talking about AfterShock in general. We talked about InSEXts and Marguerite Bennett and how that’s been absolutely fantastic, original, and one of the best books she’s writing. For me, it’s a flagship title for AfterShock, and a book they should be immensely proud of publishing. Animosity I haven’t gotten a chance to read, but it’s on my list. Yes, I’m being that person that I said you shouldn’t be about World Reader. I’m working on it, really!
One of the other books I really enjoyed that AfterShock puts out is Captain Kid. ComicMix’s own Ed Catto wrote about this book the end of last year, and I encourage you all to read it if you haven’t yet. Though it’s concluded as of April, it was a fantastic character driven story by creators Mark Waid and Tom Peyer, who oddly enough were both DC editors some years ago. The team includes artists Wilfredo Torres and Brent Peeples, colorist Kelly Fitzpatrick, with A Larger World lettering. The book is about a character that’s a bit of a reverse Shazam (I wish I could call him Captain Marvel) and uses that as a device to create a very personal feeling character piece about aging and coming to terms with your life. It looks and feels like a comic from a time where the stories were a bit simpler, in a good way. If you love the Silver or Bronze Age of comics, or the kind of person who loves groups like DC In The 80s you should read Captain Kid. If you didn’t get a chance while it was coming out, the collected edition comes out in June.
Sorry. I keep getting off track. Lunch… that’s right. So Noah and I ended up talking about these different titles and we come to the conclusion that AfterShock really gets it. Though they’re working with quite a few established writers, they are trying to take some chances. They throw stuff against the wall and see what sticks. Sure, not every title is going to be the next The Walking Dead, and some titles are going to be duds; it happens, but it’s the drive and creativity they have that gives AfterShock Comics the feel that they could be revival Image Comics one day.
Basically, what I’m trying to say is, if you haven’t checked out AfterShock yet, there’s no time like the present.
“What we heard was that people didn’t want any more diversity. They didn’t want female characters out there. That’s what we heard, whether we believe that or not.” Marvel VP of Sales David Gabriel, Marvel Retailer Summit, March 2017
“Let’s find a place they say, somewhere far away, With no blacks, no Jews and no gays” The Machine, Lyrics from There But For The Grace Of God, Go I, Dec 1979
“Now the big publishing guns are on this diversity thing, but for how long? Think it’s going to last? It won’t. It won’t because it’s a trend, a ploy. It’s a stunt. This, my friend, is nothing but business.” Michael Davis, Bleeding Cool, Feb 2015
Just as I predicted the fate of comic’s only true diversity architect, Milestone Media, I said the current diversity bug would go away. I did not think it would be with such a loud send-off. David Gabriel, who I have never met but people tell me is a good guy, tried to walk back his comments.
You can try, but after hearing “yes, i killed that bitch and i’m glad she’s dead” no matter how many times the judge says to disregard that statement the odds anyone does are slim to none. The only thing that stops a scandal is a bigger scandal.
It would not surprise me if David Gabriel sent the CEO of United Airlines the following letter:
Don’t for a moment think this was not on its way to becoming a bigger national story. Marvel is a global entertainment power, and the story had plenty of legs.
In walked or more appropriately dragged United Airlines and Marvel is off the hook.
I say that not because I’d like Mr. Gabriel (who simply told the truth) to be put under anymore duress but because a national debate would have served comics well.
Oh well the best-laid plans, year right. For the record, I’m convinced Axel Alonzo is committed to diversity, as are others at Marvel. Alas, diversity comes at a cost and right now that like the rent seems too damn high.
The following first appeared in Bleeding Cool over two years ago. I think it still rings true.
In 2001 I sent Karen Berger, at the time editor-in-chief at DC’s Vertigo, a proposal for a graphic novel called Miracle Town. The story was about a black super-powered being showing up in Mississippi in 1932, or to put it another way; it was Strange Fruit almost 15 years ago. Along with the pitch were eight pages of detailed pen and inked art. Karen passed, saying it was “all right, nothing special.”
Now Mark Waid and J.G Jones, two white boys (said with love), show up with the same idea and it becomes the talk of the industry. Three weeks earlier Milestone 2.0 was the talk of the industry. Before that, Miles Morales, Black Superman, Black Avengers, Female Thor, Muslim Ms. Marvel, Black Human Torch, Black Captain America, yadda, yadda, whatever.
Now the big publishing guns are on this diversity thing, but for how long? Think it’s going to last? It won’t. It won’t because it’s a trend, a ploy. It’s a stunt. This, my friend, is nothing but business.
Superman will stay black just about as long as he remained dead.
Last year Mike Gold took a project of mine to an established and well-known publisher. Keith Giffen called this project one of the greatest ideas he’d ever heard. Now called Black Reign, it started life almost 20 years ago as The Underground at DC Comics. In asked Dwayne McDuffie to write it he changed the title to Glory Scroll. That lasted for a bit, but DC gave us the runaround, so I took it to Dark Horse, where it became The Underground again.
Mike Richardson’s involvement and keen insight challenged me to rethink the story. I did, and it became an entirely new story. That story with that title is still at Dark Horse, no longer a superhero story. When I pitched it to Marvel, it was called Black Power.
I sent “Black Power” to Marvel and never heard back. That’s not a slight, Axel is up to his ass in projects, and I’m simply not one to hound people. I’m never in any hurry with a pitch although I pitch so seldom. Because I spend lots of time coming up with concepts while servicing my existing projects. I let things take the time they take. If greenlit today, I couldn’t get to it for at least a year or more.
As you can see this project has been around and has had a home at three major publishers, DC, Dark Horse and my imprint Level Next. Level Next is a co-venture with Karen Hunter and Simon & Schuster. I later decided the first project from Level Next shouldn’t be a graphic novel but a mainstream novel.
So, enter Mike Gold. Mike and I happen to talk the day I made the decision to save Black Reign for a later Level Next release. Mike pitched the original superhero story, and for a second the project was called The Movement.
Black Reign BC!
After Mike Gold had pitched it for a moment, it was to be the Milestone 2.0 Foundation universe. That’s no longer happening — if it is, Lucy got some ‘splaining to do. What, pray tell, happened when Gold pitched this “incredible” (Giffen’s words, not mine) idea, rife with Black superheroes’ and filled with diversity?
He was told “Hollywood will never buy this. Too many black superheroes.” The only reason I’m not outing the publisher is the risk some people will find what he said, racist. He wasn’t racist; he was just saying what everyone is thinking.
Which is bullshit. Two words: Hancock, Blade, Spawn. Yeah, that’s three words but I went to public school, and math is not my thing.
“Too many black superheroes.”
So much for diversity, way, way back in 2014.
In 2015, there’s a debate raging whether Mark and J.G. Jones should even be doing this kind of story. Some say no because white guys can’t tell a Black superhero comic book story. What do I think? Of course, they should — Mark’s a fantastic writer and Mr. Jones is a badass artist.
The very real fact about black superheroes is white guys have always told the black superhero story, and unless a white boy does, it doesn’t count or doesn’t count as much. For my money, Mark Waid can tell any story he wants — in my book; he’s that good.
Yes, a black writer adds the certain legitimacy to black fiction. That’s not to say white writers can’t write a good black story; of course, they can. The example I hear most often about white guys in working in black areas is Eminem.
Eminem is one of the greatest rappers ever. To some, he is the greatest. To dismiss him because white is injudicious at best, stupid as shit at worse. To deny Mark because he’s white is just as silly. Few writers are on his level in comics, and that’s just the truth.
On, the other hand, Eminem doesn’t rap about being bnlack.
Regardless of your feeling towards who should write what, the debate shouldn’t be whether Mark or any other writer can tell that story.
No, the debate should be “why is diversity not a topic until the white boys say it is?”
Google any combination featuring the keywords black and superhero — with very few exceptions, the vast (as in massive) majority were created by white creators. When there were no authors of color, I will be the first to tell just how good it felt to see The Black Panther, Luke Cage, and The Falcon. Shit, as a kid all I cared about was seeing black characters in my favorite comics.
Then the battle was just to see people of color in comics, as characters and creators.
Now, African Americans as well as Latino, Asian and other ethnic groups are represented in both. The representation is small, but it’s there.
What’s not there is the acceptance of these characters and creators as A-listers. When DC or Marvel creates a black superhero, it’s embracing diversity, so when David Walker writes for DC’s Cyborg, that’s real diversity because David Walker is a hotshot, talented black writer.
David is among many writers and artists of color who have been bringing diversity to comics for many, many years. He was a talented writer well before he was writing for DC. He was also black before working at DC, in case anyone asks.
DC and Marvel will exploit diversity as the current fashion until such time it decides not to. Then, back in the closet, it will go to make way for next season’s hot designer and trendy look.
Nothing wrong with that.
It’s my hope this current wave becomes so huge that Marvel and DC stay in it. Failing that, when they get out to remember Marvel and DC don’t suddenly bring diversity to comics, this I know.
I also know diversity in comics was here before this and will be here after they leave. All you must do is Google, independent black comic books, and you can do that right now.
Comics are a business, and right now diversity is good for business. Conversely, for creators of color, diversity is not the current fashion or latest look. As much as the media would have you believe it, Marvel and DC are not the end all and be all when it comes to diversity.
This past week, I went out to LA for the first time. It was primarily to attend fellow ComicMix movie reviewer Arthur Tebbel’s wedding, and he had even movie popcorn as a snack during the cocktail hour.
I flew in on Thursday where I spent most of the day either meeting or hanging out with queer comics creators. They like The Golden Girls out there too. Sidenote: that was also the name of the cheerleader squad where I went to high school. And no, they were not senior citizens.
What was equally impressive was the rain. I rode up from West Hollywood with some other comics creators and it took about two and a half hours to get to Long Beach while going over flooded roads and hoping for the best. As a result we missed Joe Illidge’s keynote speech, which was quite disappointing. The harsh rain kept more than a few people at home as well.
Additionally, some people ran late who had every intention of being early and the torrential downpour adversely affected the sound equipment. And to make up for some lost time at the Comic Creator Conference, the panels were cut in half to about 20 minutes or so.
I originally thought it might have been nice if they were the original length, but after talking to The Beat’s Heidi MacDonald, she sold me on how it ended up being a real positive. Having the shorter panels kept them concise and got people the time to see them all if they wanted. As soon as we arrived and got to the panel room myself and most of the attendees stayed until they wrapped up the last panel. While this format was made to accommodate an unforeseen situation, it’s something the organizers should consider repeating next year if they do this.
Before Arthur’s wedding on Saturday I took a trip over to Meltdown Comics. I’ve heard a bunch about it and it wasn’t too far from where I was staying so I felt I owed it to myself. It’s a big shop with a nice, diverse selection. What I was most attracted to was the indie comics and zines from local creators section. I made it a point to pick a few up.
One of them is called Low Light by Tristan Wright. It’s a 28-page oversized comic about a young woman who misses what she thinks is her last train home only to discover a strange train pulling into the lonely station. From there she meets some interesting characters that flesh out a bizarre world that we can only happen upon through the odd hours and happy accidents that ever-so-rarely crash into each other. I definitely recommend you check out Tristan Wright’s work. You can check out a preview of Low Light on the website under Late Night Special in the comics section.
I also picked up one of the Melt-thology zines; number 28 to be exact. This is a series of in house zines made up of one page comics drawn by dozens of creators in one day then made available at Meltdown. The one I picked up was mostly dedicated to sending off 2016, and it was the send off it deserves. I think this is a pretty great idea that other stores like Carmine Street Comics here in New York City should be doing. Or maybe Desert Island.
Another one of the comics I picked up, The Mad Mind Of Anton Sebaum, was drawn by Jude Vigants, one of the creators I rode up with to the Comic Creator Conference. Small world. Check out his stuff.
It was a really nice trip and I’m looking forward to going back and discovering more. Hopefully it will have stopped raining by then.
This column is the last one I’ll be writing under an Obama Presidency. This is also the last Tuesday of the Obama Presidency. Though I have some disagreements with his policies, I’ll miss him as our President. So I figure this would be a good time to talk about some of his impact on the comics industry.
Barack Obama himself is no stranger to comics. He’s talked about his comic collecting and his fondness of Conan The Barbarian and the Spider-Man comics in the past, even if he forgets the hyphen in Spider-Man sometimes.
Obama has appeared in many comics as well. You can find him in comics for nearly a decade since 2007 when he was a Senator. He’s appeared in comics published by Marvel, DC, Image, Dark Horse, IDW, Dynamite and more. Everything from Savage Dragon and Youngblood to Army of Darkness and The Other Dead, Obama has been there.
The most popular and celebrated appearance of his in comics is likely The Amazing Spider-Man #583. The issue came out on January 14th, 2009 less than a week before Obama’s inauguration. While the main story was written by Mark Waid and illustrated by Barry Kitson, Obama appeared in the backup story written by Zeb Wells and illustrated by Todd Nauck. This five-page backup story Spider-Man has to step in when a second Obama appears who turns out to be The Chameleon. It’s a fun, cheesy little story where Obama gets to talk to one his favorite superheroes right before he gets sworn in. This particular comic went on to five printings and became a collector’s item before it even came out. My one complaint is that Peter Parker complains about taking the bus from New York to Washington D.C. and used to take the bus down to D.C. from Chinatown and I never had a problem with that. Perhaps I’m made of stronger stuff.
Spider-Man, as well as all over major superheroes, will not be making an appearance at Trump’s inauguration, either on or off the page.
What might be Obama’s greatest contribution to comics was his help in making John Lewis’ March become a reality. No, Obama didn’t collaborate, edit, or make a few phone calls to make it happen. For all of those who have had the pleasure of reading March it’s framed around John Lewis talking with Obama at Obama’s inauguration and goes back and forth between January 20th 2009 and different points in John Lewis’ life through the Civil Rights Movement. If you haven’t picked up March yet you could find copies at your LCS, some bookstores, directly from Top Shelf, or Amazon although the three volume slipcase is still temporarily out of stock after Trump’s attacks on John Lewis over the weekend.
Speaking of Trump, he’s had far less love in comics. Criticism of him in comics has spiked recently for obvious reasons in everything from mainstream comics to indie comics like GWAR:Orgasmageddon and Black, both of which I’ve written about before here. Even his closest foreign ally, Putin, has been portrayed as a villain over at Valiant Entertainment which fellow ComicMix columnist Molly Jackson wrote about here. Whether you feel it’s fair or not, it’s certainly a reflection of what the creators feel and what people will buy.
Very little of these portrayals of Presidents comes close to the depth and scope of how Nixon has been portrayed in comics, unflattering as it has often been, like in Watchmen, but the comparison is hardly fair.
We still have a lot of time, for better or worse, to see how Trump will be portrayed in comics, but what we know about Obama is that he was often portrayed with dignity and grace, and sometimes even as a kick-ass hero himself. Between that and his impact on the lives of many of us in comics including John Lewis, all I really have to say is thanks, Obama.
Way back when, as I was growing up in the Finger Lakes region of Central New York State, I enjoyed The Syracuse New Times. This funky weekly newspaper ran a cartoon by Tom Peyer that often skewered the politicians of the day with its clever, biting wit. It was creative, irreverent, smart and subversively fun.
And then, one day, Peyer worked in an “Earth One/Earth Two” reference. That was kind of like a geek dog whistle – perceptible only to comic fans. I knew I’d be a fan forever.
Tom Peyer went on to a robust career writing and editing comics, with impressive runs on the DC’s Legion of Super-Heroes and L.E.G.I.O.N. His fantastic Hourman series brought characters like Snapper Carr and Bethany Lee to life in such a credible way that, like long lost friends, I still miss them.
Like me, Tom has recently returned to the Central New York region, so it made sense to catch up with him. I knew it would be a lot of fun, but I also wanted to learn about his fascinating new series from Aftershock Comics, Captain Kid.
Captain Kid is the story of a middle-aged guy suffering all the discomforts and indignities of middle age. But he has a secret. And that secret is that he’s really the new teen superhero who’d just burst onto the scene.
Tom teamed-up with his longtime pal Mark Waid on the writing chores. Wilfredo Torres is providing strong covers and solid interior artwork.
Aftershock is a new publisher with a myriad of titles from talented creators.
Mark Waid urged Peyer to tell this story for years, and when the Aftershock opportunity came about, they jumped on it.
Peyer explained to me that the genesis of this comic series came from his observation that comics aren’t about wish fulfillment anymore. In the old days, characters like Jimmy Olsen, Captain Marvel or Robin were all about young boys wanting to hang out with, or become, their heroes. But today, many comics buyers read stories that are about heroes and protagonists who are younger than themselves. Thus, Captain Kid flips old time conventions upside down.
Peyer also took a fresh approach to the well-worn concept of time travel. It occurred to him that in a culture where time travel is commonplace, certain generally accepted norms would naturally arise. Maybe the norms wouldn’t always be right, but they would soon become baked into people’s behavior.
In the universe of Captain Kid, “obey your elders” is a mantra that the characters embrace. The thinking is that you will most likely, at one point or another, run into a future version of yourself. And it is assumed that they are wiser and should be respected.
As with so many of Peyer’s and Waid’s stories, the secondary characters are as rich and interesting as the lead. Helea, a female black superhero who mysteriously appears, is one such engaging character. Or maybe I should say “characters,” as Captain Kid features both a younger and an older version of this woman.
She serves the role of a mentor figure, Peyer explains, like Merlin or Obi-Won Kenobi. The story gets really interesting as the whole series is predicated on a mistake she made. Helea’s trying to make it right, but because time travel is imprecise, she’s fixing all the problems thirty years too late!
Wilfredo Torres’ art is crisp, clear and imbued with just a drop of nostalgia for sharp-eyed comic fans. Torres deftly conveys big ideas with a character’s expressive body language or simple brush strokes that denote the crinkle of an expression.
Peyer told me a little story about how Torres gave a supporting character an apple to hold. The character was supposed to be just sitting down in a certain part of the story and the apple was a surprise to the writers. Wilfredo explained to Peyer that even when people are sitting down they are never just sitting down.
Peyer just loves this straightforward art. “I used to call over-rendered, over- detailed, hyper-detailed comic art ‘incontinent,’” said Peyer. “But Torres art is just the opposite. I’d call it continent.”
Peyer told me about an insightful interview he had with Chris Simms. After the concept was explained, Simms summarized that Captain Kid was all about hope and fear. Or, more precisely, how we hope for a better future but fear that we can’t protect ourselves from the present.
Issue #3 just went on sale. I’m going to be sure to get a copy from local comic shop. You might want to snag one too!
When I was a kid I’d make the trek to Lewis’ Drug Store to buy comics with my allowance money. Maxwell’s Food Store had a better selection, but that was on the other side of the treacherous “Five Points” intersection, and I wasn’t yet allowed to cross that on my own.
Detective Comics, starring Batman, was a favorite, and you can make a case that some of the very best Batman stories were appearing each month during that early 70s period. They were fantastic thrillers by Denny O’Neil, Neal Adams, Irv Novick, with the occasional Michael Kaluta or Bernie Wrightson cover. I didn’t know how good I had it.
So you can imagine my surprise when I picked up Detective Comics #429 and looked at the interior story’s artwork by Frank Robbins. I remember thinking “Is this a joke?” and “Is this a Golden Age reprint?” His cartoony figures and heaving brushwork was unlike anything I had ever seen. It was not my cup of tea, to put it mildly. In fact, I thought it was hideous.
“Besides, isn’t this ‘artist’ Frank Robbins guy really a writer?” I thought. I had recognized his name as the writer credited to so many cool Batman mysteries. My pre-teen brain immediately declared he should stick to writing. I thought he was an awful artist.
I seem to remember a few issues later, in the letter’s page, a fan wrote that he felt the same way. Like me, that fan didn’t know what to make of Robbins’ artwork. One of his snarky comments stuck with me: he said that Batman looked as if he had just finished working on the Batmobile’s engine and was covered in grease!
But things change. And in this case, it wasn’t the artist and it wasn’t the artist’s work. It was me.
Over the years, I’ve grown to appreciate Frank Robbins. He’s now one of my favorites.
As my tastes have matured, I’ve grown to realize that there are so many types of art. It’s so much more than just “who can draw the most realistically.” Way back when, Neal Adams was probably my favorite artist. He probably still is one of my very top favorites (as both an artist and as a person). But with age, one develops an appreciation for different artists’ skills and visions.
I’m not the only child of the 70s that has learned to love Frank Robbins’ work later in life.
Frank Robbins has a flavor that’s all his own. Oh, many will point out that he’s from the same school as Milt Caniff and Noel Sickles, but I think he’s more than that. I think he’s gone beyond that wonderful style and his artwork has established its own coherent universe.
Contemporary artist Chris Samnee is the same way. He’s clever and pushes the envelope routinely. When I read a Samnee story, I feel like there’s a whole Samnee universe out there. A universe where all the visuals fit together and more importantly, are fascinating and beautiful to behold.
Mark Waid, Samnee’s frequent collaborator, recently told me “Chris Samnee is one of the most talented storytellers I’ve ever had the privilege of working with. His linework is spot-on, the way he spots blacks and uses contrast is masterful, but it’s his ability to tell the most story with the least amount of extra lines that I most appreciate. It’s a lean look without an ounce of fat.”
As usual, Mark is spot-on.
I’m not yet ready to argue that Frank Robbins is the Golden Age Samnee or that Chris Samnee is the modern age Frank Robbins, but I’m getting close. In reality, both artists’ work is brilliant and can be enjoyed without any forced comparisons. But you get the idea.
And that’s why I’m loving Hermes’ Press Frank Robbins’ Johnny Hazard: The Newspaper Dailies collection. This adventure strip ran for an astounding 33 years – from 1944 to 1977. Again, it was initially cut from the same cloth as Caniff’s Steve Canyon or Sickles’ Scorchy Smith. But in reality, Johnny Hazard started more like Indiana Jones and ended up more like a Sean Connery 007 movie.
This wonderful newspaper comic strip jumped right into the action, as Johnny Hazard was a WWII pilot. These gorgeous Hermes volumes start with the very first strips.
I’m very appreciative of the format of these books. They are landscape style with two daily strips per page. Robbins artwork has an extreme sense of urgency, but there’s so much detail that the reader is caught up in this wonderful push-pull. On the one hand, you can’t wait to find out what happens next, but on the other hand, the eye is lured into lingering over the figure work, the lush backgrounds, the stunning aircraft art or Robbins’ pretty girls. These books fulfill each of these artistic interests.
And while I’ve been gushing about Robbins’ artwork, I’m surprised how much I enjoy the characterization of the initial female lead. Brandy, a love interest introduced early in the Johnny Hazard continuity, is fresh and fun. She’s a plucky mix of Eve Arden’s confident wit mashed up with Veronica Lake’s stylized sexiness. She’s a memorable character and I want to see more of her adventures.
I recently spent some time reviewing original Frank Robbins pages from the 60s. By that time, his style had progressed and he became masterful with his rendering and pacing of the globetrotting adventures. It’s astounding how comfortable Robbins was rendering everything from downtown Hong Kong to mountain climbing adventures – sometimes back to back.
But the Hermes collection showcases work from years before that. Right now, four volumes are available and the fifth one is scheduled for this November. The good news is that with the abundant adventures that Johnny Hazard enjoyed, there’s years of material to be collected.
In retrospect, it’s a shame that it never made the leap to other media. A radio adventure or a 60s TV show seem like no brainers. Johnny Hazard toys and merchandise would have been fun. Why wasn’t there a Big Little Book? Why were his forays into comic books so rare? At the very least, in ’66, Johnny Hazard should have had his own Captain Action costume set.
My younger self wouldn’t believe that my middle-aged self would be so enthusiastic about Frank Robbins artwork. But then again, I used to think girls were icky and wine tasted awful. I’m grateful for my maturing tastes.
Hermes Press Johnny Hazard: The Newspaper Dailies Volume 5 is available November 29, 2016. Like all this series, this is reproduced entirely from the King Features Press Proofs.
Over the last few weeks we’ve seen a vigorous discussion among people who create and/or love comics about the relationships and responsibilities of creators and fans. This is nothing new — fans have been demanding certain kinds of stories that authors don’t want to create at least since Conan Doyle was forced to bring Sherlock Holmes back from the dead — but the internet brings so many more people into the conversation.
And too many of these people on the internet don’t understand the difference between a discussion among people with different points of view and a unilateral demand for submission.
The specific irritant this time is the big reveal that Steve Rogers, our beloved Captain America, is and always has been an agent of Hydra.
Now, I don’t read Cap. Nothing against him, just not my jam. Still, when I read a commentary from the Israeli newspaper, Ha’aretz declaring that Cap’s creators, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, wouldn’t have approved because of implied anti-Semitism, I found it interesting.
Interesting. Not canon. Not a papal edict. Interesting.
Apparently that story, while critical of Marvel’s editorial decisions, was an outlier. Many more fans took up keyboards to proclaim their displeasure and demand that things go back the way they used to be. Here and here you can read intelligent analyses of what happened.
I think it’s important here to draw a distinction between someone who says “I don’t like this,” and someone who says, “I don’t like this and you suck and I’m going to find out where you live and kill you.” There is also a difference between someone who says, “I don’t like the start of this story, and I’m not going to read it” and someone who says, “I don’t like the start of this story, but I’m going to read a few more issues and see if it gets better.”
Some stories, written by people I like, drawn by people I like, just don’t do it for me. Some stories, written and drawn by people I haven’t liked in the past, break through my previous assumptions and I enjoy them. Sometimes, because of specific things that have happened to me, a story will provoke an association in my mind that is different from what the authors intended.
I can make connections that are interesting to me even if these ideas are different from what anyone else sees. Years ago, when I read Kingdom Come, I remember telling Mark Waid that the story seemed to be an allegory for the Democratic Party at the time, with the ideals of New Deal Democrats coming face-to-face with the new reality of Clinton’s New Democrats, which diluted and militarized FDR’s dreams.
Mark, of course, looked at me as if I was crazy. Maybe. Still, it was an entertaining conversation to have. At least for me.
Do I think Nick Spencer, the writer, and Marvel, the corporate entity, are deliberately trying to offend fans and insult Joe Simon and Jack Kirby? No, of course not. I think they are trying to tell stories that will entertain enough people to make a profit. At the same time, I think fans who buy comics and don’t like the story have every right to say what they don’t like.
Politely, and within the accepted parameters of comic book criticism (which I would define rather broadly). In other words, you can say the story sucks. You can say the writing/art/editing suck. You can say that corporate ownership of intellectual property inevitably decreases the value of that property. You can make an analogy to what has happened to Captain America since the Kirby/Simon days and what’s happened to Harlem since gentrification.
But you can’t make physical threats against people.
At the other end of this conversation, we have people who object when someone who created a beloved body of work continues that body of work. I’m talking about J. K. Rowling and her new Harry Potter stories. Apparently, there are fans who are upset that Rowling authorized and contributed ideas for a play about grown-up Harry and Ginny, their children and friends. To these fans, anything beyond the original books is heresy, and Rowling should do something else.
If Rowling somehow went back and erased all previous editions of her books and the movies based on them, maybe these fans would have a point. That isn’t happening. Those stories are still there. Fans can continue to read and re-read stories about Harry as a student at Hogwarts.
Just as they can continue to read and re-read the Simon/Kirby Cap, and any other issues they liked. In a few years, there will be a new creative team on the series, and I would bet money that this Hydra story will disappear.
At least, I hope so. I’m really hoping that this run of Wonder Woman will be forgotten as soon as possible.
With the imminent arrival of Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn Of Justice, a lot of the old arguments generated from the previous film are being taken out and argued. Most prominently on one side of the argument is Mark Hughes filing at Forbes, he other is most eloquently represented by Mark Waid, who has the advantage of, y’know, actually having written the character numerous times. (for starters) and Kevin Powers.
@markhughesfilms@Forbes I can't believe a company like Forbes gave you a forum to whine about how you lost a Twitter argument. Get lost.
Regular readers of this site can probably guess where we come down, and yet, we still understand the conflict leading so many to wondering. A strange visitor with godlike powers that was sent here by his father from above is known all over the world for his great deeds, constantly watching over us and protecting us from great evil while walking among us, and yet people say it isn’t enough– he doesn’t reflect the world we live in today. The man on the street can’t identify with him, and so his story must be changed to become relevant to a mass audience. In light of this, it seems only fair to ask…
Should Jesus kill?
Oh, wait. That probably should have read “Superman”.
Surely you can understand the confusion. People go every week to a special spot and plunk down money to hear stories about his life and teaching by example, be entertained, and hopefully enlightened.
And yet, it does seem that we’re hearing a different version of those types of stories a lot lately, doesn’t it? “Superman should kill people, and fight only for Americans!” “Jesus would take a submachine gun to those Roman soldiers trying to put him on the cross, and then haul ass after Judas!” “Superman will protect our way of life by any means necessary!” “Christ commands us to hate gays!” “Kindergarten teachers should carry guns!” “Soldiers should waterboard family members!”
The people who say those things are fundamentally missing the point. And what they say shows not only that they don’t understand, but that they are crude, materialistic, self-serving, cruel, and antithetical to the teachings of their stories. Rather than aspire to their level of goodness and hope, they insist on dragging the hero down to their level after a quick mud bath for good measure, because it’s what they would do themselves.
All of this would be bad enough, but it gets worse. Because lately, these same sorts of people who say Superman should kill have also been using another phrase about someone else:
“He says what I really believe. He says what everyone wants to say.”
Yeah, that’s what worries us… that many people really have been having thoughts like that, and have been all along, along with other thoughts they wouldn’t dare say out loud, and they were just waiting for someone to come along and let them express their innermost desires. A man of wealth and taste, who doesn’t feel ashamed about flaunting it.
As it turns out oh-so-conveniently for the theme of this column, there’s a comic book character who’s been making a splash in other media who does the exact same thing.
Maybe you’ve heard of him. Hope you guessed his name.
Next week is Thanksgiving, and so I’m trying to remind myself that I have many reasons to be thankful. First, of course, I am grateful for my family and my friends (human and otherwise) who make my life so entertaining.
But you didn’t come here to read about how fabulous my life is. You want to read about comics. And so, I present to you, Constant Reader, those things about comics for which I am most grateful.
Image Comics. Back in the 1990s, I agreed with the founding principles of Image (creator ownership and control) but didn’t really like what they published, which to me looked like a lot of scratchy drawings of women with gigantic tits and tiny little ankles. Now, however, I find myself buying a few Image titles every week. Was I wrong in my original impression? Maybe. Are they publishing a more diverse list now? Definitely. In any case, they provide me with more joy.
Boom! Studios. I confess that I originally mostly picked up the Boom! titles when Mark Waid worked there, because I strive to be loyal. He is no longer editing their books, but they publish a lot of things I like. I told you how much I like Americatown. I started Last Sons of America and that looks promising, too. They publish lots of cool stuff, including Last Sons of America, Adventure Time, Lumberjanes, and Mouse Guard. You could do worse.
Forbidden Planet. I am fortunate enough to live in a place where there are many different comic book stores near my home, and a high percentage of them are excellent. However, for more than three decades, Forbidden Planet has been the one I go to most often. A lot of that is location (they are near the subway station that goes where I need to go on Wednesdays), but I also like the vibe. When I go, I’m greeted by name. The folks at the check-out know I want a paper bag, not plastic. They recommend books they think I’ll like. Some people have a favorite bar where everybody knows their names. I have Forbidden Planet. I hope you have a local comic shop that makes you feel just as special.
Kids. Every day, there are opportunities to turn kids on to the fun of comic books. After I get my stack on Wednesdays, I go to the hospital where I volunteer on the pediatric floor. I’m there to teach knitting, but there are some kids who don’t want to knit. If I have a Simpsons comic or another age-appropriate title with single-issue story, I’ll often give it away. Every child, even those without hair or with a port in his chest, lights up in beauty with a glorious smile at the sight of a new comic.
The revenge of the nerds. Sometimes I wonder if comics are really mainstream now, or if I simply live a life in which that can pass for truth. But, really, there is at least one television show based on a comic book on prime time just about every day. “Superhero” is now a movie genre, one taken (mostly) seriously by respected film critics. The New York Times Book Review publishes best-seller lists for graphic novels in hardcover, paperback and manga formats. Comics are now so respectable that parents try to make their kids read them.
Comics! Let’s not forget how great they are. Even when I’m irked by some current controversy and what it means about our sociopolitical climate, I still love the feeling of sitting down to a fresh stack of comics, with my cat purring next to me on the armrest.
And, as always, I’m thankful for you and your indulgent attention. Happy holidays, folks.