Saturday, December 10, 2011

Reiterations in Red and Green

In my last post as the New DC Universe was just launching (Its been a busy couple of months) I suggested that the new Swamp Thing and Animal Man books were calling back to their Alan Moore and Grant Morrison glory days.

In fact after reading the first four issues of both it seems they are instead calling back to just after both of those writers left.

After Grant Morrison left Animal Man the book was given to writer Jaimie Delano who introduced the Red, gave Animal Man a more animalistic appearance and made Buddy and his daughter the avatar/elemental champions of the animal kingdom the way Swamp Thing is for the plant kingdom.  This is of course the currently running storyline in the new Animal Man series as well.

After Alan Moore left Swamp Thing Rick Veitch continued with much the same thematic approach as Moore until his Swamp Thing meets Jesus storyline was censored by DC (after originally approving the script.) and Doug Wheeler took over.  In a storyline that combined with fan backlash over how Veitch had been treated dropped sales to record lows Wheeler created an archetypal foe for the Green that Swamp Thing served, the Grey - the separate fungal world.  The resonance with the Rot of current Swamp Thing and Animal Man stories is obvious.

I have serious doubts about both of these books now.  Making an anthropomorphised villain out of the concept of decay seems to fly in the face of the themes of Moore's run that explicitly recognized death and decay as a natural part of both nature and the Green.  When the book suggested a conflict between parts of the natural world, the seemingly never ending 'vegetable wars' story was a conceptual, and sales disaster that the book foundered on.

Over in Animal Man, Jaimie Delano left behind the meta fictional conceits of Morrison's later run on the book and used the animal avatar concept to address radical political animal rights and environmental concerns.  Echoing an almost despairingly apocalyptic viewpoint from his Hellblazer run Delano's was a challenging read, feverish angry extremes with stretches of bleakness that were almost unreadable.  His run was fascinating but ultimately exhausting and disheartening.

The current Animal Man storyline and that of the new Swamp Thing haven't even mentioned environmental or political concerns except in almost purely comic book monster terms.

I wanted to like these books, I really did, but they seem like pale shadows of the characters glory days calling back to old narrative dead ends.  

Saturday, September 10, 2011

New Comics Sept 2011

The first wave of DC's rebooted 52 event are out and we begin to see the outlines of the new universe. Everybody's a little younger, costumes are more Hollywood friendly and reassurances are being given that much of the past continuity is intact if slightly different.

Essentially the creators of the 52 books hitting the stands over this month appear to have been given permission to keep the bits they like and ignore the ones they don't. I'm unconvinced but I will be spending more in the short term as I plan to give almost all of them a shot. The exception is Hawk and Dove by Rob Liefeld. I flipped through it in the store and confirmed my confident suspicion that yep, Liefeld still sucks balls so I can save some money at least.

The only new 52 title I could really have been said to be enthusiastic about is Action Comics by Grant Morrison and Rags Morales.  Morrison of course, the writer who gave us such mind expanding freak outs as Doom Patrol, The Invisibles and the fourth wall breaking meta-fiction of Animal Man before moving on to bringing his mind expanding 'wide-screen' approach to more traditional super-heroics with JLA and then spent the last few years on Batman with his fascinating approach of embracing all of the characters decades of bizarrely convoluted often contradictory continuity.

Now he takes on Superman again - his Silver age worshiping All Star Superman run can be considered a continuity all its own - and he goes back to the characters earliest roots.

The earliest Superman stories in the 30's by Seigel and Shuster were the adventures of an almost crazy grinning radical with super powers who would break down the Governor's door to stop an execution, kidnap arms dealers and force them to fight on the front lines of the wars they were supplying, force mine owners to work in their own unsafe mines and smack wife beaters through walls.  When the earliest strips Seigel and Shuster had completed before selling the character to DC (then National comics) ran out, the publisher firmly mandated bringing the character in line and making him a bland and nonthreatening protector of the status quo.

Morrison presents a Superman at the beginning of his career in a DIY costume abducting corrupt executives, getting shot at by the police and bleeding when he gets hit by cannon shells.  For anyone complaining this isn't the Superman they know Morrison has the unassailable defense that he's actually returning the character to his earliest roots.

I'm in for the duration on this one not least because of Morales' lovely art.

Animal Man by Jeff Lemire and Travel Foreman and Swamp Thing by Scott Snyder and Yanick Paquette are more problematic but still are on my buy list on a probationary basis.  They bring in the concepts that Alan Moore and Grant Morrison explored in innovative runs in the 80's while grounding the characters in DC's mainstream superhero continuity.

Basically the plan seems to be to make Animal Man the avatar/elemental of the animal kingdom while Swamp Thing is the same for the plant world.  The art is beautiful and the writing is certainly competent, but ultimately for a long time reader of the characters this seems to be re-warmed versions of narratives I've read before with the added complication of more firmly grounding them in the world of long underwear types.

The real innovations of the Moore and Morrison runs were narrative, dialogue and character pyrotechnics that blew the lid off what readers could expect from the medium.  So far these books seem to be trying to adopt some of the story ideas of those classic runs, but in the context of more traditional comic book writing.  They have me for a few more issues at least and possibly more, but ultimately my recommendation for these characters is to pick up the trade paperback collections of the classic Moore and Morrison runs they are harking back to instead.

Also worth checking out from the new DC books this week are Batgirl by Gail Simone and Ardian Syaf.  Problematic decision to write out Barbara Gordon's paralysis notwithstanding the art and writing are beautiful.  I'll be giving a Static Shock, Batwing and Men at War a shot too .

Wow this is a tough one.  I'm a big Rick Veitch fan, his dream diary book Rare Bit Fiends is as innovative and fascinating a comic ever produced and his take on Superheroes in books like Maximortal and Brat Pack is darkly fascinating.  The Big Lie  is well written, beautifully drawn and Gary Erskine a tasty artist on his own provides a lovely gloss to Rick Veitch's pencils with his assured inking job.

But my overwhelming reaction to this book is... disappointment.

Disappointment that a creator I respect has falling down the rat hole of a conspiracy theory I most emphatically do not respect.

The book uses the framing device of a scientist from today going back in time 10 years to September 11th to try to convince her husband to get out of the Twin Towers as a framing device for all the various Truther 'facts' and 'theories'.  Lots of niggling little cavils about the inconsistencies and contradictions in the official story culminating in an unabashed statement of belief in the conspiracy theory that the Bush administration killed thousands of Americans to get the excuse they needed to attack Iraq.

I'm not going to get into the many reasons why this is nonsense, this Salon article eviscerates most of the theories in this book quite nicely and this Rushkoff piece expresses how I feel about what a waste of time and energy the Truther movement is.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Friday, June 10, 2011

Nightwing Red

In general I'm running pretty cold on the pending DC comics universe reboot, particularly as it applies to the Batman family of titles.  But the release of the cover for Nightwing #1 almost allays my fears.

The cool blue highlights of his old costume have been replaced with blood red explicitely tying the costume to the red vest of Dick Grayson's original Robin costume and even more so to the design esthetic of the cartoon Batman Beyond costume.

It's a much better costume than any of the previous Nightwing designs and creates a nice visual continuity between Bat family characters past and future.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Brave New World

The DC Universe is rebooting again.

I was a teenager in 1985, probably the perfect time to be a comic book geek as the DC Universe experienced its first major reboot in the groundbreaking maxi-series Crisis on Infinite Earths.  Over 12 feverishly cosmic issues Writer Marv Wolfman and artists George Perez and Jerry Ordway detonated decades of intensely intricate comic book continuity full of alternate dimension variations of all the main characters.  Whole universes of characters were devoured, crushed or grafted together to make new streamlined versions of older stories.

It was exhilarating.  It felt like being on the ground floor of something big, the original DC universe had lasted pretty much unchanged since the early 60's and here I was getting to read how a whole new universe that would surely last for decades began as it happened.

Twenty-six years later and the DC Universe has been picked at, unspooled, re-written and re-booted literally dozens of times since the original Crisis.  All the multiple universes destroyed in Crisis on Infinite Earths were brought back.  Most of the major characters killed during the Crisis or in its many aftermaths have been resurrected and now a generation later DC, staffed now with writers who grew up in the 80's, have returned the DC Universe to much the same shape it was before that first cataclysmic re-boot.

Now, in the coming aftermath of the Flash miniseries Flashpoint where Flash nemesis The Reverse Flash is using time travel to alter history, all of the DC titles are re-starting with new number 1's, new continuities and new status quos.

The constant wave of re-boots is starting to wear a little thin to this long time reader, but it's probably going to be thrilling to a lot of geeky teenagers.  I can't begrudge them it, out of nostalgic solidarity if nothing else.

The picture is from the upcoming Justice League #1 art by Jim Lee.  There are some interesting visual changes, Superman has a New S symbol and appears to no longer wear his underoos over his tights, most of the characters sport a similar Star Trek Next Gen uniform collar on their costumes and the way the Flashpoint series is launching Cyborg from the B - List to the A-List seems to be something they're keeping in the new continuity.

I just really hope that Grant Morrison's big fairly recently newish take on Batman isn't one of the pending victims of universal reboot although its rumored that Morrison will be given the Superman rewrite so we'll see.

I'm iffy on the new Hawkman, but with rumours of a possible Hawkman movie I can see why they would want to butch him up:

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Batman Brings the Fun!

Like most comic fans who grew up in the 80's I got my mind blown by the massive upswing in quality led by Alan Moore and Frank Miller.  The darkly verite so called 'grim and gritty' style they exemplified has been used hard and put away wet since then, so its hard now to remember how fresh and revelatory it seemed at the time.

Moore went on to rue the way a style that came out of, as he put it in 2001, 'a bad mood I was in 15 years ago' became omnipresent and associated with the lamest of writing and cheapest of reader exploiting tactics.  Miller, after pushing the style into realms of absurdity has descended into self parody and almost desperate reiteration.

The style is still  dominant in the superhero genre and nowhere has it been more overt than with the character of Batman.  Frank Miller's one-two punch of The Dark Knight and Batman: Year One, respectively the last year and the first of Batman's superhero career, combined into such a strong vision of the character that the obsessed and grim avenger of the night became the only version imaginable for literally years.  Only now is the character beginning to emerge from its shadow.

Grant Morrison has been in charge of the character for the last few years and has been operating with the exhilarating approach of embracing all of Batman's history and persona from the comics, both the warrior of darkness and the cheerfully heroic comic book superhero he was portrayed as years ago.

The experiment has reached it's most recent artistic peak with issue 4 of Batman Incorporated.

This is, quite simply the best superhero comic I've read all year. A brilliant display of raw technical writing  ability with its meta-fictional conceits and narratives nesting within narratives, like exquisite Russian dolls brilliantly merging the Golden/Silver Age Batman, with his modern counterpart.  A lot of credit has to go to artist Chris Burnham who expertly and imaginatively matches the art style between the modern darkness and light hearted flashbacks.

This a Batman that embraces multiple, seemingly contradictory conceptions of the character seamlessly, a rare feat.

The other place where the light-hearted Batman is experiencing a resurgence is the animated cartoon Batman: The Brave and the Bold.  This is a Batman who is a serious professional superhero but not one with no life outside of combating evil.

In the latest episode he teams up with a giddily wonderful Silver Age Superman to fight crime in Metropolis for a day because it sounds like 'fun'.   This is the classic comic book Superman of the Curt Swan/Wayne Boring era, with tons of tributes to old comic covers from the 50's and 60's spoofed in a matter of minutes.  The voice acting is particularly fun with Sirena Irwin in particular doing a great Rosalind Russell/Hildy Johnson voice - perfect for Lois Lane - and almost as good as Jennifer Jason Leigh's version in The Hudsucker Proxy.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Animating the Superhero universe

Superhero cartoons have been riding a serious high since Bruce Timm brought Batman to the small screen. Currently there's a nice mix of action, whimsy and intensity in superhero animation.

The Avengers is a slick production, re-telling the earliest days of the Marvel super-hero team but with an eye to backstopping and reinforcing the big screen interpretations in existence or pending. Young Justice (Don't call them the Teen Titans) brings the more realistic and glossy design and animation of recent superhero straight to video movies like Justice League: Earth 2 and Batman Under the Red Hood to television animation. Batman The Brave and the Bold goes a completely different direction emphasising the campy kid friendly approach that is an equally valid take on Batman as the grittier, darker versions are.

The Avengers is a straightforward superhero action cartoon with great hero/villain battle set-pieces. It's essentially the classic 60's line up but with the enjoyable and interesting narrative decision to ask what if The Hulk, the sullen but not completely stupid version he was at the time, hadn't left the Avengers and had actually stayed on the team.  This offers a clue that suggests that Joss Whedon's take on the Hulk in the Avengers movie will be based on a smarter more talkative version as he's been portrayed in the comics lately.

Classic Avengers villains and stories are referenced but with the advantage of being able to take years worth of continuity and incorporate them into a cohesive story arc.

Some great voice acting - Lance Henriksen as the villainous Grim Reaper is a standout - kid friendly designs and kinetic animation make this one of the best of the animated Marvel universe cartoons.

Young Justice adapts the Peter David written comic series with the addition of recent DC Comics interpretations of Aqua Lad and the new character Miss Martian.  It's also Peter David who brought back the intelligent but mean version of the Hulk in a big way although others explored it before him.  More people see the cartoon version of these characters than read the comic book versions, so Peter David is exerting a lot of influence on the public perception of both the DC and Marvel universes right now.

The Superboy is the cloned version introduced in the death of Superman story-line with lots of young teen clone angsty goodness.

By far the darkest and most superhero realist take on the comic book hero genre, Young Justice features dark conspiracies, complex character beats and grand cinematic scale to lesser seen corners of the DC universe.  A high point was the most recent episode with its in depth exploration of the Atlantean society of the DC universe with a beautiful visual interpretation of an underwater city.

Batman The Brave and the Bold goes the exact opposite way with an appropriately boldly cartoony version of Batman and the DC universe.

Some fans of superhero cartoons have been taken aback after the more quasi-realist approach has been so dominant for so long but in fact The Brave and the Bold succeeds and it does so completely precisely because its creators bring the fun.

Most recently, the impish other dimensional fanboy Batmite who perfectly personifies this sunnier Batman cartoon hosted a special episode animating some of the odder interpretations of Batman in comics and cartoons including an early Kurtzman  Mad Magazine Batman parody, Bat Manga and another sequence celebrating the long alliance of mighty heroes between Batman and Scooby Doo.

Writer Grant Morrison has suggested that the DC universe can be viewed as a real universe constantly accreting detail and even sentience.  Universes are vast, they can contain multitudes.

Honorable mention to a cinematic version of the classic superhero/supervillain diad in Megamind, just out on DVD.  This is the hero/villain war paradigm as joyful game and simultaneously unresolved childhood complex.  Fun and well worth picking up.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Guilty Pleasures TV Edition

Sometimes you just want your culture in greasy, bad for you, cheese filled quick gratification form. Here's some carnival food stand slices of TV entertainment the dweller has queasily enjoyed lately.

Todd and the Book of Pure Evil 

As if 1980's Degrassi High and Buffy the Vampire Slayer had a baby and then let the kid smoke pot and listen to Heavy Metal all day.

Starring headbanging underachiever Todd, his one armed best friend Curtis, The indie chick Jenny that Todd crushes on and the science loving Hannah who crushes on Todd.  They battle 'the Book of Pure Evil' a living, flapping malevolent tome that grants wishes to the lost and demented kids in their odd high school, inevitably in gruesomely ironic ways.

But strangely, the real star of the show is Guidence Counseler and closet  Satanist Atticus Murphy JR.  Whether he's sarcastically cringing before the sinister cult looking for the book or screaming impotently at his phone alone in his office he steals every scene he's in.

The first 13 episode season has aired on Canada's Space Channel.  Keep an eye out for a DVD release soon hopefully.  Fun cheese.

Doctor Who The Movie Special Edition

In the dark days between when the last episode of the original series aired in 1989 and it's triumphant rebirth in 2005 the one new piece of TV fans got was a Fox movie of the week that transplanted the Doctor to America (as played by Vancouver of course.)  starring Paul McGann as the Doctor with Eric Roberts camping it up outrageously as the Master.

It was a bizarre and flawed entry in the series but with its own odd charms.  It's canon for one thing, featuring a long intro sequence with seventh Doctor Sylvester McCoy before he dies and is resurrected in the most blatant Christ metaphor scene you'll see outside of a Narnia book.

McGann is a perfectly acceptable Doctor and with all the criticism this entry got from fans the consensus was he did a good job and deserved more time as the character.  He has done a series of audio dramas continuing his eighth Doctor's adventures.

This 2 disc set features the movie, and several good behind the scenes features and interviews.  An oddly fascinating look at the dark times for fans of the Doctor and the abortive movie and series projects that kept the fire burning.

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