Tagged: Paul Dini

Ed Catto: Elasticity of Geek Culture

Every college freshman learns about price elasticity in Economics 101. Price elasticity simply means that consumers will be more accepting of price changes for some products than for others. And as I’ve been watching the CW’s new Riverdale television series, I’m translating this economic concept to Geek Culture. Specifically, I’m mesmerized how some fans embrace changes to pop culture properties with a Geek Culture Elasticity and others just can’t embrace changes.

Long-time Archie fans – he is, after all, celebrating his 75th anniversary this year – are wrapping their heads around this latest television incarnation. The new Riverdale show is a steamy and creepy manifestation of beloved characters that ostensibly represent Americana. Unlike their traditional comic counterparts, these versions of the characters were driven by dark and base motivations that are a part of real people (albeit gorgeous and glamorous versions of real people).

I really liked the show. But then again – I like Gotham and that’s not really like the traditional Batman comic books, and I like the current Silver Surfer comics, and they aren’t like the traditional Silver Surfer comic books either.

We should be used to twisted versions of the Archie gang by now. Long ago, the publisher realized the characters had great elasticity and created Lil’ Archie, miniature versions of the teenagers. More recently, the various Archie comics have been boldly publishing non-traditional versions of their characters in series like Afterlife With Archie (the zombie version), The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (creepy Gaimen-esque witch stories) and Life with Archie (The Archie gang grows up and becomes thirtysomething).

The entire line of Archie comics was recently refreshed with Mark Waid’s new Archie series. Jughead, Adam Hughes’ Betty and Veronica and the new Josie and Pussycats soon followed. Long-time Archie writer (for former Marvel editor-in-chief) Tom DeFalco just started up Reggie and Me in the same universe.

There have always been twisted Archie versions percolating about. One of my favorite stories in recent years was Brubaker and Phillip’s The Last of the Innocent series from 2011. Doppelgangers of Archie and his gang were thrust into their very own crime noir story. It was deliciously wicked.

But taking a step back and looking at the entire Geek Culture landscape, it’s easy to see that while some fans welcome changes, others are furious.

Kelly Thompson is the writer of Marvel’s new Hawkeye series, and has some thoughts about fan outrage that illustrates some fans’ In-elasticity when it comes to beloved to icons. In the Marvel Comics mythology, the original Hawkeye, Clint Barton, has been very comfortable with sharing his heroic mantle with a young upstart, Kate Bishop. And this new series puts Kate center stage as Hawkeye.

Thompson recently told a story on Graphic Policy’s BlogTalkRadio about how one fan was outraged that “Hawkeye wasn’t a dude anymore.” And this fan claimed to be the greatest Hawkeye fan, which seems incongruous when you realize that Kate Bishop has been Hawkeye in the ongoing comics universe for over a decade.

It’s easy for some fans to shake their fists in rage when creators, or corporations, change or alter their characters. And it’s just as easy for other fans to embrace new takes on old characters, like a female Captain Marvel or a black Captain America.

It’s not just the lunkheads who have trouble with changes. That’s too simplistic an analysis.

The proof is in the sales numbers. Many retailers, as well as fans, feel that Marvel has pushed the pendulum of change too far, and these wide swings have resulted in softer sales. The Marvel heroes might not have the Geek Elasticity that senior management had planned on.

Longtime fans tend to take change in stride. They are confident that any character reboot will eventually bounce back. They don’t get upset when Captain America is revealed to be an evil double agent because they’d seen it before and they know that the status quo will eventually bounce back.

I am also impressed how Geek Culture can easily keep track of all the different versions of their favorite characters.

For example, Flash fans know the Flash’s pre-Crisis mythology, his post Crisis-mythology, his new 52 mythology, his television mythology and his Rebirth mythology. And if you don’t know what all those terms means – don’t worry. You may be better off.

A big character like Batman can support many versions.
Batman is dark and brooding and in the movies, while his television is young and growing while his comic book self, ostensibly his true self is… well, I guess that changes a lot too.

Pop Culture today gets more complicated than ever, some versions, like the video game mythologies offer another take on the characters. The popular Batman: Arkham video game series, by Rocksteady has created its own darker version of Batman and his villains. Developers Rock Steady and WB Games Montreal has cleverly invited longtime Batman contributors like Paul Dini and Kevin Conroy to lend their creative talents to these efforts, further blurring the lines.

You know, it’s always been this way. Back in the in the 30s and the 40s a big hero had two competing mythologies that were both tops in their respective media.

  • The Shadow of the pulp novels was a mysterious crime fighter, with dark mysterious history, many identities and an intricate organization full of nuanced operatives.
  • The radio adventures of the character featured a ubiquitous millionaire playboy, who was often quite bumbling and less-than-competent. And when he assumed the identity of the Shadow, he became invisible.
  • The Shadow Comics confused things even more. In those comics he looked like the pulp version of the Shadow, but became invisible like the radio version. And then the comics introduced new characters not in the pulps or the radio show. Most memorable was Valda Rune. She was an enthralling femme fatale. I hope either Dynamite Entertainment or pulpmaster Will Murray will revive her very soon!

But nobody seemed to have an issue with enjoying two, or three, versions of a top heroic character like the Shadow. Maybe fans were more comfortable with the Elasticity of Pop Culture Icons back then. Or maybe they were better at just keeping it all in perspective.

And when it comes to the Archie, Veronica and gang in Riverdale…hey, who really knows who they are in high school?

Ed Catto: Podcasts… and an Enduring Favorite

I’ve been driving a lot more since my move to the Finger Lakes and I’ve been trying to use my time wisely. For music, I catch up on Pete Fornatale’s Mixed Bag from WFUV and ComicMix’s own Mike Gold’s Weird Sounds Inside the Gold Mind from The Point Radio. Both offer great tunes and insightful, thoughtful commentary.

And for thoughtful discussion, I’ve been really enjoying John Siuntres’s Word Balloon Podcast. John’s an incredibly passionate interviewer with a deep knowledge of and respect for pop culture and comics. Each week, he sits down to have an extended conversation with a creator. John has the uncanny talents of getting people to open up (often a creator will say “I haven’t told anyone this before”) and for making the listener feel like he or she is part of it all too. When I listen to Word Balloon, I feel like I’m sitting right there with them, but just can’t get a word in edgewise.

Recent interviews have included:

  • Tom King – one of the industry’s hottest writers, talking about his recent work on the Vision and Batman, and all the while framing it against his real life as a husband a father of young kids.
  • Danny Fingeroth – talking about Spider-Man and Will Eisner Week. It was so compelling, that I’m now working with my local librarian on an Eisner Week event. (More on that soon!)
  • Rob Liefeld – a polarizing figure who provides great insight into his creation Deadpool and the box office success of the movie. No longer a “young punk creator,” Rob is now able to offer a unique perspective to his success and the marketplace’s wants and needs
  • Ryan Browne – on Image’s new Curse Words Normally, I have passed over this series, but the passionate discussion and insights on the Word Balloon Podcast got me excited enough to give it a try.
  • Paul Dini – providing great insights into his new animation work on Justice League Action and his Jingle Belle character.

I’ve been doing more writing, and I just finished my first article for TwoMorrow’s Back Issue! magazine. Editor Michael Eury asked me to write about the 80s comic series from DC called Thriller. Created by Robert Loren Fleming and Trevor Von Eeden, Thriller was one of those innovative series that DC launched during the excitement of non-traditional comics like Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns & Ronin, Barr and Boland’s Camelot 3000, and Howard Chaykin’s The Shadow. During my research, it was amazing to find out how many fans fondly remember Thriller too.

Maybe it was the tagline. Fans vividly remember how the series announced, “She has seven seconds to save the world!” This actually had a double meaning. On one hand, Trevor Von Eeden’s innovative page layouts pushed the reader along the page with a real sense of urgency. And we were all soon to find out that the main character had seven agents, called “seconds” that she guided on her Mission: Impossible-like adventures.

Maybe it was characters. Robert Loren Fleming packed Thriller with so many unique characters. Most series would build a story around one fresh new protagonist. Fleming had eight heroes, two villains and another half-dozen supporting characters that the reader was dying to learn more about. And that was just in the first story arc.

Maybe it was the creative risks the creators took. Robert Loren Fleming and Trevor Von Eeden were trying something new and different. They took risks on a very public stage. They didn’t play it safe. They gave it 110% and left it all onstage. We all can applaud that. And even after all these years, that’s just so very impressive.

And I was able to dig up some fantastic insights and track down the startling truth behind a secret Thriller rumor. Back Issue! #98, focusing on DC in the 80s, will be on sale this July, just in time for San Diego Comic-Con. It should be a lot of fun.

Mike Gold: Our Own, Personal, Joker

Dark Night DiniDark Night: A True Batman Story, written by Paul Dini, drawn by Eduardo Risso • Vertigo Comics, $22.98 hardcover, $13.79 digital.

Wow. This one is tough.

It’s tough to read, it must have been tough to write, and knowing that makes it even tougher to read. Of course, doing so is at the reader’s discretion. The writer had no choice but to live it.

Dark Night is subtitled “a true Batman story” and, well, it is. It is true, and it is a Batman story. And it’s Paul Dini’s story.

Paul is one of those people who needs no introduction. However, if I don’t give him one I’ll be taunting the ghost of my junior-year high school journalism teacher, and after reading this book I don’t want to piss off anyone in the ecto-sphere. Mr. Dini is the well-celebrated writer of animation, television, video games and comic books. He’s perhaps best known for his work on Tiny Toon Adventures and on Batman: The Animated Series. Oh, yeah, and he co-created Harley Quinn with animator Bruce Timm. Now that I’ve made the late Mr. Koerner happy…

Paul_DiniSome two dozen years ago, Paul was walking home in the dead of the Los Angeles night and encountered a couple of muggers who proceeded to beat the crap out of him. Surgery saved his sight and time put the rest of his pulped body together, although – of course – the psychological scars are far more enduring. Your brain scoops up all kinds of life-long memories and turns them up to 11, distorting them like two elephants mating on a wah-wah pedal. The inner-dialog never really ends, even while you try to figure out how to stuff it in its place. In this telling, Paul uses the characters of the Batman, the Joker, Two-Face, the Penguin and, yes, Harley Quinn as that inner-voice, all the while revealing the youthful neuroses common to those of us pop culture fans of baby boomer vintage.

It’s a harrowing experience made all the more horrific for the reader by knowing it’s a hell of a lot easier to read than it is to live. For those few who have never endured any degree of that experience, let me tell you this: releasing the story might be cathartic, but taking another peek into Pandora’s Box is risky to say the least.

Paul Dini is and has been one of the best comics and animation writers of the past 30 years and if all you’ve done is read and watched his stuff, you might not have known of his travails. While writing Dark Night might be his crowning achievement (after all, how you do top your own bloody, painful near-death experience?) in so doing he has taken American graphic novel writing to a whole new level, combining his life, his obsessions and his lifelong fictional posse to reveal a journey no one in his or her right mind would ever want take. People will be studying this book in writing schools forever.

I said this is Paul’s story, and that story is so overwhelming that at first reading you might miss the power and proficiency of artist Eduardo Risso’s work. Don’t worry; it’ll hit you once you wrest your nose from your belly button. Known for his work on 100 Bullets, Alien Resurrection, Wolverine and that other Dark Knight book released this year, his efforts are every bit as worthy as the story. Whomever put together that creative team – Paul, and/or editor Shelly Bond (who will be missed at DC) and/or others – hit the nail right on the head.

A non-fiction story co-starring Batman. Damn. This one was tough… and worth it.

Personal note: Really glad you made it through, Paul!

Marc Alan Fishman: “Beware My Bubbles…” Green Lantern’s Plight!

It’s been no surprise to my readers (hey everyone!) that I’ve been on something of an animation jones, something fierce. Well, with Young Justice successfully binged on, Netflix suggested I check out a little known show… Justice League. Bruce Timm’s multi-parter masterpiece was the first time the significant seven (pre New52, Flashpoint, Final Crisis, but post Crisis, ya dig?) were assembled to face off against the biggest baddies of the DCU. Mongul, Despero, Faust and Hades, Gorilla Grodd, and yes: Ocean Master (sorta). To be clear: I’ve seen the show. Often. But something has always troubled me about it. That trouble? John Stewart… the milquetoast affirmative action Green Lantern.

Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, and their well-crafted production staff assembled an amazing septuplet. The holy trinity: Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. The best B-Listers money can buy: Green Lantern and the Flash. And for clean up… Martian Manhunter and Hawkgirl. On paper, it all makes sense. Deuces are wild; Supes and J’Onn are the aliens adopting Earth, Diana and Shayera rep all of lady kind, Flash is choas to GL’s order, and Batman is Batman. I’m only going to focus on our representative Lantern for the sake of clarity.

I fully acknowledge, welcome, and love that Timm “went to the bench” to recruit Stewart. Hal Jordan is, was, and will likely always be the poster child of the corps. But in addition to not being another white hero, John Stewart as depicted in the animated series was inherently the anti-Jordan. Where Hal is a known hot-headed cocky flying codpiece, Stewart is a level-headed jarhead who fills out the ranks of the League to make plans and execute them. It’s fun to denote that our Flash in this series is also Wally West. Fitting then that Timm and team flips the script on the original Brave and the Bold. Where Hal was the cocky to Barry Allen’s careful, Wally is clearly the team’s impulsive recruit. But I digress.

What pains me to no end are the continual choices made throughout the show in regards to John Stewart’s character, both in and out of the space pajamas. We’re given no intro to him. He merely shows up, starts barking orders, and firing bubbles and beams (which I’ll be dedicating a whole block of prose to momentarily). With apparently less personality than anyone else on the team, the post-pilot reintroduction of the ring slinger offers us up a civilian Stewart: in a three-quarter length leather trenchcoat, walking through an urban neighborhood, while light funk/jazz twinkles away in the background score. You can practically hear the honkies checking off each box on the black character checklist. The episode in question (“In Blackest Night”) riffs on the destruction of Xanshi from 1988’s Cosmic Odyssey, but swaps Stewart’s pulpy pride for a soldier’s guilt for wanton destruction. Spoiler alert: it was all a plot by the Manhanters. Big robot fight. The day is saved when John recites the oath of the Green Lanterns really heroically. Guilt? Gone.

From here, Stewart was an also-ran. Aside from the now-quippy Caped Crusader, Stewart was often relegated to wet-blanket status. Torn between constant chiding of Wally, or hitting on Shayera. Late in the series, Stewart will have dated Vixen (because, black people, natch), but ultimately land Hawkgirl as his bae. They fight a lot. But, you know. They make a cool mixed-race Hawk-kid in the Batman Beyond universe. All this lovey-dovey stuff? It’s what they passed for dynamic character development. Whereas every other original Leaguer would eventually get a truly deep and amazing moment (Batman with Ace on the swings, Superman vs. Anti-Life Darkseid, Shayera’s betrayal, et al) John’s mostly left to knock boots and make bubbles.

And what of those bubbles?! For the life of me, I’ll never understand if Timm and company had budget issues or something. Because John Stewart, in ownership of the most powerful weapon in the universe, would only muster beams and bubbles to serve his purpose. In the comic, Stewart ring slings with the best of them – with Hal once describing his constructs being literally built from their interior structures out due to Stewart’s civilian life as an architect. But in his animated life, John is relegated to clearly the simplest solution, always. They even make a latent potshot at it during Unlimited where a de-aged Stewart (donning Kyle Rayner’s crabmask) builds intricate and cool constructs to battle bravely with. Obviously in the future, he loses his imagination. It’s a low-down dirty shame, kiddos, I tell you what.

Ultimately, this is one of the nittiest picks I could have droned on about, but it was on my mind. The opportunity to break the mold came and went with John Stewart in Justice League. It’s a shame that over the course of five seasons, they simply couldn’t aspire to do more than the absolute basics. And now, with a new League being formed for film… I can’t help but be worried.

In brightest day, or blackest night,
I expected more from John Stewart’s light.
Let those who disagree flame me bright…
Beware my comments, Marc Fishman’s right!

Marc Alan Fishman’s Top 10 Batman Cartoons of All Time*

Batman TAS

As we near the debut of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Sepia Tones my mind races towards those pure gems of the Dark Knight that already exist in the ether of Animatia. Animatia is, of course, the fictitious country where all cartoons come from. Paul Dini is the dictator there – as he should be – and he rules with a dynamically drawn fist. And here, on this wonderful island, sit the tomes that built a generation of Bat-fans. Some (me) would say these tomes were truly the best generation of adaptations and explorations of Batman. I’d like to pontificate, ruminate, and extrapolate to you those episodes of Batman: The Animated Series (and The New Batman Adventures) that truly defined a cartoon legacy.

1 and 2. Two-Face (Parts 1 and 2)

Of all the designs Bruce Timm would bring to light for the Dark Night, it was Two-Face who took the prize in my mind for the most striking. Up to that point I personally had no knowledge of Harvey Dent. Being introduced to him a mere five episodes earlier, I’d figured the Gotham DA to be the fastidious order in Bruce Wayne’s reenactment of Law & Order. With this chilling origin story though, Alan Burnett and Randy Rogel show a deeply scarred man come to terms with is inner demons made flesh. The fact that Batman was just a step or two behind the explosion that would lose him a great friend to villainy was the kind of mature punch I wasn’t expecting in a children’s program. Keep that in mind as we continue our journey.

  1. Feat of Clay (Part 2)

Origin stories were B:TAS‘s most potent products of the series. While I could hit on so many points already listed with Two Face, here, it’s really the ending sequence of the second half of Clayface’s debut that earns it a spot on my all-time top ten. As Matt Hagen is confronted with a bank of TV’s mocking his present malleable form with the visage of a career’s worth of characters, he can no longer hold a single form. The muscle memory of his Clayface form jerks and contorts Hagen into a gloppy nightmare as a tenderized Batman seeks solace in the back of the bay. With no other option to stop the cacophony, Clayface electrocutes himself into unconsciousness – but not before he snarks to Batman that he would have killed for a death scene like the one he just performed. Natch.

  1. Almost Got ‘Im

Quentin Tarantino, eat your heart out! The key line here “And then I threw a rock at ‘im!”… “It was a big rock.”

  1. House and Garden

Simply put, if you don’t find yourself disturbed at Poison Ivy’s children mutating into plant monsters, then there’s just no hope for you. Again we’re presented with a concept no kids’ cartoon would touch prior, or frankly, afterwards. Was it all in service to megalomaniac super-villainy? Sure. But when you see the carefully placed seeds of doubt – that Ivy might have actually wanted normalcy at some point in her prior life – then you know that behind the ass-kickery is an artful commentary on the biological desire to procreate.

  1. Harley’s Holiday

While Mark Hamill’s Joker is the Joker of pop culture (in my opinion), it was the creation of Harley Quinn that deserves the recognition on my list. Here, amidst some obviously campy comedy, comes a deeper heart and message. That the broken Dr. Quinzelle still lingers somewhere beneath the makeup and madness. And while Mad Love would likely steal a spot on anyone else’s list, it’s the quick decent into villainy here that earns the episode my love. Harley truly tried to reform. But the universe had other plans.

  1. Deep Freeze

Mr. Freeze is forced to turn Walt Disney into an immortal life himself. OK, it’s not actually Disney, but… yeah. The final image of Grant Walker frozen on the ocean floor for eternity is frozen in my mind for the sheer ironic terror it invokes.

  1. Growing Pains

I think it should be clear: most of my favorite moments from the show all curtail towards the mature. Such is life. Here, Robin (Tim Drake, now), is duped into saving a little girl afraid of her evil father. The dad? Clayface. The daughter? Just an extension of malleable mud, played perfectly by the former actor. Robin? Never the same again.

  1. Legends of the Dark Knight

Look, I know I put another anthology on this list, but c’mon. Dini and his crew were able to capture the essence of Frank Miller, Dick Sprang, and Bill Finger in 22 minutes. That’s not just a novel approach to presentation. That’s a master class in adaptation.

  1. Perchance to Dream

Laren Bright, Michael Reaves, and Joe R. Lansdale deserve the highest kudos. We drop into the episode in medias res (yet another mature presentation choice, for kids cartoon show). Things feel off. Bruce Wayne’s life isn’t as it should be. He’s happily in a romantic relationship.  But the words in the paper are illegible. Confused, he stares out to the skyline. And Batman swings past him. The tension reaches a boiling point. And then, Thomas Wayne gently offers his hand to his adult son, Bruce, in comfort. The needle scratches on the record of the young minds watching. The Mad Hatter has captured the actual Batman in a dream machine, whilst he pilfers and plunders Gotham City. Before the dream can end (with Bruce Wayne pitching himself into oblivion), the Hatter appears. “I was willing to give you any life you wanted… Just so you’d stay out of mine!” Consider my mind blown, and my heart stolen for an amazing moment captured in celluloid.

* Please note: I figured I should finally title my article with a super link-baity trap like this to lure the unsuspecting and angry public to my musings. Suffice to say the list above represents just my opinion. If you don’t share that opinion, clearly, you are wrong and you should feel ashamed that you’d dare disagree with me.

Marc Alan Fishman: Injustice and the Marvel Continuity Crisis

Fishman Art 140111Over the holidays I purchased for myself the Injustice: Gods Among Us video game. While I freely admit I have little to no real prowess with fighting games, I am invariably drawn to them. Compared to other types of video games, fighters allow users to enjoy a gaming session that’s like a great one-night stand; get in, get your business done, reap the rewards, and leave before it gets complicated.

The game is built on the Elseworlds principle wherein we explore the mighty DCU through the lens of yet-another alternative dimension where a slight change in the continuity results in a completely new world to explore. In Injustice, Superman is duped into killing Lois by the Joker, who adds a delightfully evil icing to his cake of cacophony by nuking Metropolis. Dead girlfriend (carrying his super scion to boot) plus nuked hometown equals Superman deciding he’s done being a reactionary hero. Cue the totalitarian state, and the necessary rebellion lead by Batman. Add in the needed Kryptonian Super Pill to balance the whole “how do you let Green Arrow fight Black Adam and not get pummeled into slime” problem and you have a damned enjoyable fracas.

I made my way through the story mode in a manner of a few nights. It was a fantastic little tale. As you may tell, it got me thinking. Why is it that DC always seems to flourish under the Elseworld concept where Marvel fails?

I assume some of you immediately get what I’m talking about. Others may be cackling at their screens “Show your work, nerdlinger!” Allow me to make my point as clearly as I can, as quickly as I can.

Here we go: At DC, Red Son. Kingdom Come. The Dark Knight Returns. The Nail. The Animated DC “Beyond” Universe.

At Marvel: 1602.

Wouldn’t it be awesome if I just stopped my article right there? Well, while I’d like to be that lazy, I shan’t be. DC seemingly lends itself to the remix better than Marvel by more than a handful of examples. To be honest, I’m not sure exactly why. It’s not like Marvel is devoid of DC analogs (and DC to Marvel, etc.). Both companies have employed more than a fair share of amazing talent to boot. But there must be something that makes DC more suited to a change of clothing more than the merry mouse-killers at Marvel.

My knee-jerk reaction is to equate DC characters as being more mythically malleable. Because they have clearly defined backstories, costuming, and personality traits, it’s much easier to simply pick one, change it and let the fun fly. Superman’s rocket lands in Russia? Boom, story changed, and a new universe is easily defined. Because the DCU is so easily reshaped while still being clearly itself, Elseworlds are amazingly easy to form, play in, and move on.

It helps that at the basic origin levels of the main players, DC is much freer to shift. Captain America will always be defined by World War II, the Punisher to Vietnam (though they’ve attempted and failed to retcon that a time or two). the X-men to civil rights. Batman, Superman, Green Lantern and their ilk are all tied only to mythologies. Bruce’s parents can get shot at any point from the industrial revolution on. Abin Sur could crash yesterday, if he needed to.

No better argument could be made than through the multitude of mediain which each have dabbled. Marvel has proven that through continuity, they will shine. Their movie-verse has bled into the teevee, and Mickey has never been stronger … or richer. In contrast, DC’s best movies and TV shows have all existed within their own confines, yet somehow continue to reap monetary rewards.

The animated DCU itself was a Bruce Timm / Paul Dini behemoth that somehow existed in one universe, but DC was able to create whole new strains of life in their Teen Titans, Legion of Super-Heroes, and Batman: The Brave and the Bold cartoons without missing a beat. While Marvel spawned a few gems in their own animated right, none hold a candle in comparison. Anyone here watching Hulk: Agents of S.M.A.S.H.? Didn’t think so.

At the end of the day (on our Earth, at least), DC summarily allows itself infinite worlds with which to create its identity. Because of this, jaunts like Injustice become instant classics by allowing creators to riff on a theme without being locked into the ramifications of exhaustive continuity. For whatever the reasons are, Marvel forever will have a harder time to match their doppelgänger with this ease. While they cry into their pile of movie money, I think they’ll land on their feet. In the mean time, I’ll enjoy the next Earth to splinter off… in hopes that it will be finally be the one that makes me forget the New52.

SUNDAY: John Ostrander

MONDAY: Mindy Newell

TUESDAY MORNING: Jen Krueger

 

Marc Alan Fishman: Ultimate Spider-Man Vs. Teen Titans Go!

FIshman Art 130629I freely admit a bias. DC’s animated efforts have always trumped Marvel’s. Always. Super Friends smacked Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends two ways from Sunday. And for every great episode of the 90’s X-Men or Spider-Man there were two Batman or Superman: The Animated Adventures. And sure, Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and the Sensational Spider-Man were brilliant, but they don’t belong in the same breath as Justice League Unlimited and Batman Beyond.

At present moment the only animated war (and it’s a weak one at that…) that may be around is Ultimate Spider-Man against Teen Titans Go! Both are meant to skew young. But only one of them is doing it right. I’ll give you half a guess – it’s Teen Titans Go!

In the simplest of terms, Ultimate Spider-Man ultimately sucks. And that hurts to say, because my personal lord and savior Paul Dini, is a creative consultant. The show is a schizophrenic attempt at making Spider-Man for a new generation. This is after the way-better-written Sensational Spider-Man, mind you. Every single trope a cartoon can use to wave the white flag of “love me!” is plastered throughout the show. A misfit team of B and C listers meant to accompany the star? Check. Family Guy style cutaway gags every few minutes? Check. Frequent guest stars to make you forget there’s no character development? Ch-ch-check. In all the episodes I’ve sat through, the only thread that connects them all is the desperation that oozes from the pores. Here is a series that reeks of plot by committee that does anything short of shuckin’ and jivin’ in order to grab the kiddies’ attention.

On the other hand, Teen Titans Go! seems to suffer from none of this. An oddly post-modern retread of its former self, TTG takes the titular titans of 2003, and re-imagines them in kawaii form. This super deformed (more cartoony, if such a term could ever be applied to a cartoon) Titans show plays towards the micro-sized popular companion toons like Regular Show or Adventure Time. With no serious episodes to be had, TTG is a show hellbent on solely being entertaining. No secret machinations present. Where USM seeks to birth a brand new Marvel Animated Universe™, TTG seeks only to get some laughs. I should note in the wake of the cancelation of Green Lantern: the Animated Series and Young Justice I was apt to be cranky with whatever replaced them. It took literally two minutes of TTG to crack my grimace.

Normally I’m a bit more verbose, but the proof is in the pudding. As it stands, Marvel continues down a terrible path, choosing to aim at any market that will have them. DC continues to allow their creative teams to explore, experiment, and ultimately (heh) aim their cartoons with laser focus. Combine that with their continued brilliant voice casting, and smart writing? You get, more often than not, a superior product.

‘Nuff said.

SUNDAY: John Ostrander

MONDAY: Mindy Newell

 

Marc Alan Fishman: Comic Books – Where A Kid Can Be a Kid

So the other day, in my second life, I was discussing Unshaven Comics with a coworker. He’d just read our first two issues of Disposable Razors. Suffice to say, these early issues of ours were geared towards our peers – violent, misogynistic, foul-mouthed, and raunchy fun. He then asked me about the next issue, featuring the Samurnauts.

“Dude. Why did you go kiddie?”

“Simple,” I retorted. “I’m still a kid.”

Deep down, beard be damned, I’m still 12. I can’t walk into a Target / Wal-Mart / Meijer without taking a detour through the toy aisle. My DVR is as full of worthless NBC comedies as it is high quality cartoons. And to a degree, my continuing love for comics in general fulfills that childish need for escapism that obviously will never leave me.

Beyond myself though, I am lucky to be surrounded by two others who share the exact same mentality. We Unshaven Lads make no bones about it… at our core we’re far more interested in giant robots, Kirby krackle, and figuring out the relative power levels of various Power Rangers than the latest polling data, Iranian diplomacy, and the relative cost of bathroom tissue. Suffice to say it was a no-brainer that we’d eventually strike gold by tapping into those roots and pulling out The Samurnauts. Iran be damned.

And what’s truly refreshing? Being able to share our book with everyone. From kids to teens to adults, no one is safe; kung fu monkeys and zombie-cyborg space pirates makes everyone giggle. And when they read the issue and see we do it without having to wink and nudge our audience? Well, that’s when we show that this isn’t just for a gag. Frankly, it’s what’s missing throughout much of mainstream comic books these days. Yup. I’m going there.

You see, when I was growing up (frankly, not all that long ago) we were already knee-deep into the Angst-Era of comics. There was a hard line: either you spurted blood and boobs all over the page or you dubbed your book for kiddies, and neutered everything about it, quality included. And despite the relative universal success of titles like Tiny Titans, Super Dinosaur, and dare I suggest Fables, most books on the shelf still seem to be stuck in a rage. But at the same time Spawn was murdering the comic book world, there was an epiphany in kid-level fiction; animation.

I was truly blessed to grow up on what I consider is the truest golden age of cartoons – Batman: The Animated Series, Superman, the X-Men, and my personal favorite Exo-Squad. All employed the most basic tactic that elevated the term all-ages to an unforeseen level of quality. Simply put, these series all decided it was easier to tell a great story, than worry about talking down to kids. And as a kid, I recognized it.

Here were cartoons that dealt with war, murder, politics, government, ethics, and god knows what else. And sure, there were batarangs, guest stars like Lobo, the Dark Phoenix saga, and Neo-Sapien uprisings, but they were presented and treated without a hip wink at the camera. And because of it, when I turned to the world of comics, I gravitated towards Alan Moore, early Frank Miller, John Ostrander, and Denny O’Neil. Here were guys giving me the same credit as Bruce Timm, and Paul Dini, all without having to plunge their books into infinite sadness and meaningless quarrels.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy a touch of the ultra-violence. But when its used every other issue, it deadens the impact. DC especially seems to be marred in grit and angst again, and because of it I’m down to less than half the subscriptions I enjoyed a little over a year ago. The best ongoing title in recent memory was Fantastic Four, which in and of itself was too kind to not spend all its time with gnashed teeth. Meanwhile, Harley Quinn is being plunged into a vat of acid and donning a corset as a costume. Maybe the kid in me is just sick and tired of rape, death, cursing, and thigh pouches in my cape’n’cowls every week, in an effort to boost sales. Maybe it’s why I spend my time amidst future space stations and pirate ships when it’s time for me to give back to the world of comic books.

Now if you’ll excuse me… I need to go load up my Nerf guns. Thundercats is on.

SUNDAY: John Ostrander on Comics

 

Marc Alan Fishman: To The Digital Age and… Beyond!

For as forward-thinking as I’d like to position myself as being, I am a comic book luddite. Where I was like the rest of my generation – adopting the the MP3 over CD, and taking to the cloud the second I had the opportunity – I have never been lured by the siren’s song of digital comic book reading. That is until I was gifted some not too long ago. And here I am to report on whether I’m slowly turning towards the horizon of sequential fiction.

First off, you should know what prey-tell I was gifted. DC’s Justice League Beyond, as pitched to me by Mike Gold, was “…perhaps the best straight-forward action team book being put out today.” Well, given Mike’s pedigree and tastes, I was willing to bite on that. And with no more pretense than that single line of praise, I tore through 12 digital issues. At the tail end of them, I’m happy to report Mike is very close to right with his kind words.

JLB is an extension of the animated Batman Beyond Universe, birthed by our lords and saviors Bruce Timm and Paul Dini and brought to us by the writing, penciling, and inking team of Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs. And much like Dini and Timm’s futuretoon, the digital book appears light as a feather in presentation, but its looks are truly deceiving.

Beneath the veneer of simplistic art and truly light prose, comes a world-shattering tale worthy of the Justice League. Backed by a few “secret origins” to break up the main story, a solid hour of reading gave way to lasting moments of truly memorable scenes and concepts. Case in point: Fridolfs and Nguyen are able to create a New Gods story that is near Kirby-level in its weight and presentation. If that isn’t cause enough to pause, well, I don’t know what else is.

From the visual standpoint, I’m less than thrilled. I get that the appeal of the book ties directly to its parent animation. But in the realm of comics, there’s far more to do than just replicate someone’s style and call it a day. Call me crazy, but I’d like to see them reach a bit further visually then what DC delivered. Without knowing anything beyond what I was reading, the books ‘looked’ just the teeniest bit phoned in. It could be the stylistic choice of editorial to match the show so closely.

The truest compliment I can lay out though comes in aforementioned origin issues. Meant as breathers between the main “War to end all wars” arc, here we get glimpses into the backstories of two characters that never struck me as more than filler bodies. Warhawk and Aquagirl are each given a backstory treatment that would shame the king of origins, Geoff Johns. Delivering real pathos, enhanced by a few Easter egg nods and winks to the comic historians amongst us. And for those (like me) that lived-ate-and-breathed the Dini/Timm-Verse? Well, this whole series is like a trip back to a better time. And better than that, they took the time in both cases to try a different visual approach. Loose and simple still, but with enough of a change to allow to enjoy the stories on a higher level.

But the crux of the matter to me was in the enjoyment. Did I have as good a time e-flipping through the pages as I do with normal comics? Sadly, no. To be fair, I tried reading the files both on my large iMac screen and my wife’s iPad – which is as close to the size of a single comic page as one can get digitally. The book itself is cut in odd places. It was hard to tell if it was built in “standard” format akin to be eventually printed, or if it was always intended only for digital consumption. Given what I saw, I believe it to be the latter. And that in and of itself isn’t a dig. For the longest time, I enjoyed DC’s Zuda line of web comics mostly due to its formatting being suited for the screens at the time. Here though, the digital books read just a bit wonky to me. Some pages are portrait, others are landscape. And although each issue is 20+ pages, in some issues there’s barely six or seven actual pages worth of content.

I am all for the idea that the comic companies shoot to create all digital publications; it’s the future whether or not I’m an adopter. But the key here needs to be the same as it in print. That is to say the final product need not short the reader with content, just because its home is on the backlit screen of a retina-display.

At the end of the day, I know that this initial pass into the non-inky realms was not enough to lure me over permanently. That being said, I would be more prone at this point to enjoy digital titles should they wholly separate entities built specifically for the medium. And if they are significantly less money than the printed counter part (akin to the music or TV episodes), then I’m even more likely to consider incorporating it into the fabric of my e-life.

Most important though is that the quality is no different on screen than it’d be on the page. When you have to make art that is only 72 DPI, it can be tempting to become chinsy with the deliverable (both in words on the page, and the stories delivered per issue, as I was noting in the over-before-they-got-started JLB issues). The comic brethren must remember that the digital music and movie media eventually made their way to HD.

With all of those pieces in place? I can rest happy that my son may end up collecting his longboxes on a hard drive instead of a basement. Assuredly though… this digital-aged bearded bloke will still be bagging and boarding his wares until they stop putting them in the stores.

SUNDAY: John Ostrander

 

Marc Alan Fishman: Lights, Camera, Inaction!

It was inevitable this week, now wasn’t it? All of us true-blue-comic-geeks are reveling in the acclaim and success The Avengers is enjoying. The critics generally liked it. Audiences are eating it up. Mark Ruffalo’s star is rising like Apple after the invention of the iPod. And comic book columnists are dancing in the aisles over it all. Michael Davis wrote a great piece on how the flick is a giant bitch smack to Bruce Wayne and his Brothers Warner masters.

Now I could suggest that, based solely on the sheer brilliance of Nolan’s Bat Films, our resident Master of the Universe (his phrase) isn’t exactly on the money… but why start a fire? Rather than blather for the sake of creating a phony flame war between the king of San Diego Con and this lowly Midwestern cracker, I’ll find my muse in Michael’s throwing of the gauntlet. It’s the idea we’re all thinking; DC could just copy Marvel’s blueprint and rake in the dough. But really, when we dissect that idea, this molehill quickly becomes a mountain. Where to begin? How about with the lynchpin – Superman.

Man Of Steel can set DC on the right path – or just nail the coffin closed. As many have seen with the various leaked set photos, and blurbs being dropped on the interwebs… the movie is assuredly in the vein of Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, where realism is king. The men with the checkbook want results this time. No doubt that influenced all those in on the production to match the tone and soul of Nolan’s films. And the skeptics all agree, the blue Boy Scout should be as gritty as soft-serve and real as well… Superman!

Paul Dini, fifteen plus years ago, got it right. Based solely on some production stills, Zack Snyder isn’t paying attention. Granted I like Snyder a lot, but his last few cinematic efforts (Sucker Punch and the Watchmen) didn’t exactly incite waves of acceptance from the geek nation. It leads me to state the obvious: There’s only so much angst the fan base is willing to accept for the prodigal son of comic books as a whole. Simply put, Superman without a smile is indeed no Superman at all.

Think back, just a week ago, when you were watching The Avengers. Think how many times you laughed out loud, smirked, or just geeked out over a simple fight. Now think of Green Lantern. The proto-franchise out just one summer ago showed just how wrong DC “got it” when it came to the bridge between the pulp and the picture on the big screen. The movie was over-produced, under-written, and a pitiful invitation to celebrate the greater DCU. Don’t believe me? If that movie had lived up to its potential, mark my words, there would be no “New 52.” When Marvel launched the Avengers initiative, they did so with Iron Man. And that movie, nose to tail, was as good as Batman Begins. Hold that up to the boy in the green jeans? Don’t even try.

If DC intends to make their way into the arena to match The Avengers with a multi-franchise comic book based pantheon, they must be mindful of more than just the broad strokes. The House of Mouse was smart enough to hire genuinely good directors and writers to helm their pieces. They chose strong stars. Most important, they spent time developing stories that kept in mind plot, pacing, and fun… more than toy tie-ins. In order to match, or dare I suggest, beat Marvel at their own game, Warner Bros. needs to do more than throw money at the problem. At their very core, they need to trust DC with their product and presentation. That means when the screener gets a bad reaction, you don’t just write a check to increase the CGI budget and hope special effects cover up the plot holes. It means not demanding you gank a style of a successful movie and apply it to a wholly different franchise in hopes of snagging an unsuspecting public.

In other words… do what Marvel did.

DC has truly globally recognized properties in Wonder Woman, Batman, and Superman. Second tier talent like Green Lantern and Flash have oodles of untapped potential. DC even boasts a far better villain list. The Chitauri were undeveloped screaming CGI props to be blown up. Darkseid’s parademons are too, but they serve a grander purpose. And Darkseid brings with him InterGang and a slew of lieutenants that add flavor to a generally one-note bowl of soup. The pieces are all on the table, it’s just a matter of taking the time to put them together instead of mashing and taping them. Here’s hoping DC takes the time to realize the potential they have – and make the choice not to squander it for a quick cash-grab.

SUNDAY: John Ostrander