Category Archives: Retroviews

What I Learned from Watching The Super Friends

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When I was a kid, the only super-hero action you could get was on Saturday mornings, and then only from the classic “Super Friends” cartoon. Looking back, I realize it was a pretty bad show, but as I said it was the only game in town. So I watched the living daylights out of it.

All these years later, I only remember two things, both thanks to Aquaman:

  1. When crossing the street, look left, right, then left again.
  2. If you get something stuck in your eye, pull the upper lid out and down on top of the lower lid. You’ll tear up and wash out the obstruction.

So there you have it. He might have been terrible at fighting super-villains, but he could teach the heck out of child safety. Thanks, Aquaman!

The beautiful synergy of comics

I am criticized from time to time for not doing more positive stories (a very fair criticism, I hasten to add), so I wanted to share this example of comics done exceptionally well. It’s from a daily comic strip that predates even my ancient time called “Gasoline Alley” by Frank King. In its day it was as big as Spider-Man or Superman are today. But what caught my eye (thanks to a friend on Facebook) is the way the shadows define the forms here without requiring actual outlines:


(Click to embiggen.)

The last two panels are just breathtaking in their elegance, simplicity, and effect. You barely notice that the figures are made of nothing but shadows and negative space, a wonderful rendering technique just on its own. But the magic of comics comes from the way the effect works with the dialog to enhance the sense of foreboding the creator is striving for. There is beauty in their upcoming marriage just as there is beauty in the forest, but some darkness awaits as well. Either the words or the art by themselves are still good, but when combined they achieve a kind of beautiful synergy that only comics can provide.

(Original artwork and a great essay are from “Hooded Utilitarian“.)

Captain Obese back in print!

Legendary comics creator Don Lomax was kind enough to drop me a line earlier today in response to a “Captain Obese” panel I posted a while back. If it wasn’t clear in my original (and it wasn’t), I thoroughly enjoyed the book and considered it one of the gems of my “Random Bag of Ten Comics from Half Price Books” period. The art and writing were both stellar, taking what should have been an obvious parody and doing something both fun and “serious” with it. The pages simmered with active, engaging details and really pulled me in.

It turns out the complete “Captain Obese” series is currently being posted on the CO2 comics website and I highly encourage you to check it out. Mr. Lomax and CO2 Comics are also planning on releasing the original series as a graphic novel this summer, so keep an eye out for that.

Unlike some others I could name (cough-Liefeld-cough), Mr. Lomax is one of the truly gifted creators in the field and I’m glad to be able to report he’s still putting out high quality product. If you get the chance, spend a few hours looking through the site and catching up with his creations, you’ll be glad you did.

I’m also delighted to be able to share (with Mr. Lomax’ permission) the back cover to the upcoming graphic novel:

Freelance Friday: Babewatch edition

You don’t have to be a filmmaker to know if you like a movie or not, and to offer a critique of it.

You don’t have to be an author to know if you like a book or not, and to offer a critique of it.

And you don’t have to be an illustrator to know if you like a particular drawing or not, and to offer a critique of it.

Several times on this blog, I’ve drawn (get it?!) some fire for coming across as too harsh on a given artist or character or series or costume. Which is fine, that’s why they pay me the big bucks. But critique is a perfectly valid — in some ways, an invaluable — method of refining your own understanding of what you like and, more importantly, why you like it. Any art form can be appreciated (or not) at a gut level, and it’s perfectly fine to live your whole life experiencing it there and no further.

But for a subject you love, like me with comics, there’s so much more you can get out of it with a little time and effort. Which is why this week, I’m going to give YOU the chance to play critic.

I want you to go to Marvel’s site and check out the preview pages at the bottom for Rob Liefeld’s “Deadpool” issue 900. And then I want you to come back here and offer a genuine critique of the work. You don’t have to be mean, or glowing in your praise, or sycophantic, or snidely hip, or anything other than honest. I want you to look at the pages of what will surely be one of the best-selling issues of the year, and I want you to think about what you do and don’t like. Maybe you’ll focus on the panel layouts, or the overall page design. Maybe you’ll focus on the costumes or the environment, or the dialog, or the way the action flows.

Whatever it is you choose to comment on, give it some thought and give me your reaction to it. You all know my opinion of his overall “oeuvre” at this point, so there’s no surprises there, but I don’t want this to just be a bash-fest. The point is for you to take something that generates strong reactions in the viewer (which Deadpool 900 certainly should!) and to examine why you react to it the way you do. To articulate what it is you do and do not like.

Criticism gets a bad rap, because it’s awfully easy to slip from knowledgeable commentary for the purpose of enlightening your own understanding to schoolyard heckling. But it’s an important part of how we understand art, and I think it’s very much worth pursuing.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

Super-hero comics and originality

Frequent commenter Jose had some interesting points regarding the “Sons of Scissorhands” post that I wanted to address at more length. He said:

Granted, fanboys (I’m one) get the urge to outshine Superman, Spider-Man, and Wonder Woman (remember the 90’s ‘Bad-Girl’ fiasco?), but when someone wants to create a unique superhero Super-Skrulls and Amalgam Comics is a good place to start.
Is Badger really a Wolverine ripoff anymore than Black Cat or Ms Fury or Tigra or Cheetah (take your pick, DC or Gold Digger) or Vixen or Red Fox or Silver Fox or Hepzibah …etcetera are to… Catwoman?
Just a thought.

I do seem to obsess over 90’s-era Image and I’ve been trying to define exactly why that is.

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You say Nightwing, I say Blindside. Potato, potahto.

I felt kind of bad trashing Marat Mychaels in the Caption Contest post, so I thought I should look him up online and see what he’s been up to since 1992, when the Brigade issue in question was printed. I mean, 17 years is a long time, I figured he’d probably improved since then.

Which, clearly, he has, as you can see at his web site.

But while poking around, I noticed a page from his Store, titled “Nightwing Tryout Page 1″ (already sold) that looked an awful lot — an AWFUL lot — like his gallery page of Blindside. Whoever the heck that is.

For your convenience, here they are side-by-side:

nightwing-blindside

Look, I’m the last person in the world to cast aspersions on someone for re-using art — I do it all the time — but damn. I assume the Blindside work came first, and then was later redrawn with Nightwing’s costume as sample submission. But why bother? If you’re already a published artist, why do you need to try out for something? And if it was the tryout that came first, did he use that basic script later for Blindside?

There’s nothing unethical about any of this as far as I can see (assuming the Nightwing tryout didn’t come with a pre-written script), it’s just kind of weird. I don’t know Marat Mychaels at all, I’d never even heard of him until this morning. His art’s gotten much better, and he’s a published, successful comic book artist, which is far more than I can say. So props to him for that.

It just seems weird, is all.

(All images © Marat Mychaels.)

Retroview: Comic Book Villains (2002)

Comic Book Villains DVD coverI recently rented 2002’s “Comic Book Villains” and I hated it, not because I felt insulted by their depiction of anyone who loves comic books and super heroes as pathetic, anti-social losers, but because I think entertainment in any medium should be a) entertaining and b) not crap.

“Comic Book Villains” failed on both scores.

Poorly written, poorly plotted, haphazardly acted, and offensive when not insufferably stupid, I found very little to like in this movie aside from a couple of good performances from actors who, frankly, should have known better than to take this job.

The plot was insipid, as if the worst parts of super-hero villains were tossed into a blender and only the most inane of their world-beating schemes allowed to escape. Nothing anyone did at any point made sense if you thought about it for more than a second. The characters’ motivations were confused and at times self-contradictory.

I got the feeling the director couldn’t decide what this movie was supposed to be, whether it was a dark comedy or a drama or an outright farce or what. Ultimately I was left with a feeling like “Fargo” had gone under the knife for unsuccessful reconstructive surgery, and what I was left with was a shambling horror with awful bits of its predecessor grafted onto its grotesque corpse.

OK, that’s probably a bit over the top, but I really found myself getting angry while watching “Comic Book Villains” because it had many elements of a good movie. And none of them ever bore fruit. It was a very frustrating experience, and I can’t recommend this film to anyone. For any reason.

Retroview: The Life of Captain Marvel

These random comic book baggies are strange. Sometimes I can go through all ten and I get nothing worthy of comment, just a big pile of meh. Other times, one issue is so chock full of great, mockable items I almost can’t believe it. A case in point is “The Life of Captain Marvel”, a 1985 reprinting of Jim Starlin’s 1968 “Captain Marvel” run:
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Retroview: Great C-C-C-Caesar’s S-S-Stutter!

There were three “Silver Age Classics” in last week’s Random Comic Stack, and reading back through the old issues was a real treat. Besides all the stuff I already knew, I was surprised to discover that everyone in the Fifties and Sixties stuttered. Everyone. It was always from an excess of emotion, and not even Superman was immune to it. Frankly, I blame Watergate, “Three’s Company”, and hippies (in that order) for desensitizing us to the point that no one gets stuttering-inducing fits of emotion in comics any more, which is a real shame when you get right down to it. You have to go to soap operas nowadays to get that level of real feeling, but I have high hopes that Frank Miller will soon have the Caped Crusader go all retro and say “I’m the G-G-Goddam B-B-Batman!”

Anyway, to prove the point, here are a few of the panels from just one of the super stuttering stories in the “Action Comics 252″ reprint. This all takes place in the span of a mere eleven pages, people, and I am not even including all of the examples — there’s more. LOTS more. Know f-f-fear.

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(The actual onomontoPOWia is supposed to just be RR, but of course the avalanche stutters.)

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I think that last one is my favorite. Either Clark’s an idiot and thinks the natural assumption when someone resists your grip is “That guy must be Superman!”, or Metallo is literally crushing everyone’s hand to pulp.

Besides the overwrought emotions, what really jumps out at me upon reading this issue is what a douche Superman is. Really. He flies in to find Metallo dead because he used fake Kryptonite — conveniently provided by Clark himself — to power his metal heart. And Superman’s only thought is “He brought it on himself” before proceeding to make two tasteless puns about the deceased. This sort of thing has been well documented elsewhere, so I won’t go on, but really, the Golden Age Superman was kind of a jerk.

The other main feature of these early books is just how implausible and slipshod the plotting is. Nothing really makes much sense if you think about it for more than two seconds, and there’s always some weird coincidence that diverts Superman just in time for the criminal to escape. I also love the cavalier way everyone treats uranium, the other power source for Metallo. It sits around in cans on shelves, the Professor who builds the artificial body just happens to have some laying around the lab, etc. etc. I am surprised no one glows in Metropolis.

Make that “I-I’m s-surprised that n-no one g-g-glows in Metroplis.” I wouldn’t want to not fit in, after all.

Retroview: Black Dragon

In 1985, Marvel (through their mature-audience “Epic Comics” line) published a six-issue limited series written by Chris Claremont and illustrated by John Bolton titled “The Black Dragon”. A “historic fantasy” set in medieval Europe, it was an unusual offering in a super-hero-crowded market. Claremont himself, of course, was best known as the genius behind the enormously successful “Uncanny X-Men”, and has likely been responsible for more comics sold than any other individual in history.

On his web site, Claremont says that he is “especially proud” of his creator-owned “The Black Dragon”, so when I encountered several issues of it in the Great Random Comics Pile, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at why that might be.

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