Friday, December 30, 2005

The Best of the Spirit

The Best of the Spirit (Spirit) by Will Eisner
Edition: Paperback
Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Start here

The only reason I'm holding one star back is because I'm old. The art in these stories is so nuanced and rich that it should have been presented larger than standard comic book size. But that's the only bone I have to pick with this volume. Younger readers who don't have to squint to read this will be well rewarded.

And with a price like this, there's really no excuse not to treat yourself.

Will Eisner may not have invented the comic book, but he was one of the people who made them good. His talent and influence helped transform the medium from kids' throwaway entertainment to literature. "The Spirit" is Eisner at the height of his powers, and this collection is the best of the best. The phrase "no collection should be without it" has become watered-down through overuse, but in this case it is no less than the truth. If you're at all interested in comic books, this is where you start.

(I just added this review to's product page)

Saturday, December 24, 2005


I had no idea Pibgorn was a DC comic...

Monday, November 28, 2005

Hey, Kids! Comics!

JLA 60Plastic Man explains how Santa Claus joined the Justice League of America, courtesy of Mark Waid. This is just the kind of nonsense you could harvest in big honkin' buckets back in the Silver Age.

I am pleased that the new 21st century DC Universe is being guided (in part) by the writer who created this book.

On the other hand, this same writer (in the pages of Birthright) established that Superman is a vegetarian, because he can see living souls.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Interesting Marketing Decisions

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usYears ago, in 1986, there was a comic book. Technically it was an underground, I suppose: Today it would be called "independent". It was as poor a fit next to Robert Crumb as it would have been next to Jack Kirby. Then, as now, there was really nothing quite like it.

It was called Omaha the Cat Dancer. It was published first by Kitchen Sink, later by Fantagraphics, written by Kate Worley and drawn by Reed Waller. I was never able to find it regularly, and the story was far too involved to follow intermittently, so I never found out what happened. In fact, nobody has ever found out, since the comic ceased publication with its creators' divorce. In recent years, there was some talk of actually completing the story, but Worley died of cancer in 2004. Now, Worley's second husband, together with Waller, are planning to finally complete the story.

NBM has released "The Complete Omaha the Cat Dancer, Volume 1", and plans to issue subsequent volumes quarterly.

(I'm prepared to overlook my pet peeve that a book called the "Complete" anything ought to be complete. "The Complete [something] Volume One" is a title begging for a punch line. In this case, the more appropriate title would have been "The COLLECTED Omaha".)

One has to ask, though, where they expect to sell the book. The cover can't be displayed openly in most retail stores. (C'mon, Publix even hides Cosmopolitan.) Comic book shops are struggling to convince parents that they are not dens of iniquity, but safe and acceptable places to allow children to shop and play Yu-Gi-Oh on Saturday mornings.

Admittedly, the content is adult, being full of hot, furry, anthropomorphic sex, and it says "Adults Only" on the cover. But never in its years of "underground" newsstand life did Omaha appear stark full-frontal naked on the cover, as she does on The Complete Omaha, Volume 1 (and will on Volume 2). This book should have been shelved next to "Maus" and "American Splendor", and instead it's going to be put under the counter next to "Xxxenophile". And only those lucky people who know to ask for it are going to see it.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

No, Erik, it's not just you

CBR | One Fan's Opinion by Erik Larsen
If I was asked to draw, say, President Bush, there are certain parameters I'd have to stick to or you wouldn't get who it was that I was drawing. If I was drawing Charlie Brown I couldn't stray far off model before he looked like some young cancer patient. Try drawing Dick Tracy without painfully copying his face line for line from a Chester Gould drawing-- he won't look much like the guy. Ditto with Archie Andrews (although the Chester Gould reference isn't the way to go with him).

The point I'm getting at is that these are people and characters with very specific visuals. If you interpret-- if you deviate-- you're lost.

Now try Bruce Wayne.

...In a crowd scene you can pick out Commissioner Gordon, but not Bruce Wayne, and that's messed up! There are times when Mary Jane Watson appears in a panel or two without being identified and she's indistinguishable from any other female in the book. Hell, there are times that the colorists don't know it's her because the lettering is added later, done on computer, and the artist hasn't drawn her "on model" enough to make MJ look like MJ to them, the guys working on the book!
From 1939 to 1964, Bruce Wayne did have an iconic, recognizable face. Of course, it was swiped from Chester Gould, but if you're gonna steal, steal from the best. From 1964 to the mid-seventies, he had a different face, but it was still recognizable, even when he appeared in somebody else's book (say, Justice League, or World's Finest).

As Larsen points out, there used to be someone at each of the Big Two whose job it was to ensure that their characters were drawn on-model, whether they had to send it back to the artist or touch it up themselves. Ah, for the days when MJ could try out a dramatically-new hair-do, a short curly perm, and still be recognizably MJ.

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I've previously noted that when Gwen Stacy's daughter was introduced recently, the artist drew her wearing the same black headband Gwen wore thirty years ago, and it still confused us readers.

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And the message forums for the month after this cover was revealed were full of, not shock, not surprise, but... confusion. "Is that meant to look like..."

Thursday, October 20, 2005

So you'd rather have the seventies' Batman?

Is it any wonder the only constructive thing the Bronze Age Batman could do in Crisis [on Infinite Earths] was knock out Calendar Man. Heck, I could knock out Calendar Man. Marsha Mallow could knock out Calendar Man.

...The modern Batman doesn't stand around uselessly during a Crisis ... he causes it. You show 'em, B-man!
This is why I love The Absorbascon.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

We chose this rut

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Greg Rucka said the plans have been in place for the OMAC Project and the other current miniseries tying things into the Infinite Crisis for close to three years. There was a lot of time in the planning and deliberate placement of certain events to help herald the payoff in Infinite Crisis. "We had to cordon off the DC Universe and decide what we had to do to tell the story we ultimately wanted to tell," Rucka said.
Hm. So, they used the same plot (Batman's contingency plans are compromised: heroes and innocents die) three times on purpose?

That has got to be the biggest, most blatant "that's not a bug, that's a feature" claim I've heard in a while.

I thought I'd be Bouncing Boy

You're Andrew Nolan, Ferro!

Which Legionnaire are you?
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Monday, October 10, 2005


Before DC's Infinite Crisis is over, there will be a new Blue Beetle. Yeah, yeah, I know, that's a lot like predicting Mr Haney will show up in a random episode of "Green Acres".

Either: (A) The new Beetle will be a woman, or (B) The new Beetle will be Booster Gold in a new costume, since his old identity is being systematically shredded.

All these fans who are salivating at the prospect of DC re-creating the Multiverse (Earth-1, Earth-2, etc) can just get over it. It ain't gonna happen.

Batman isn't going to change nearly as dramatically as some people think.

Billy Batson will become the new "Shazam", and Mary Marvel will resume operations as the one true Captain Marvel.

Jim Corrigan (from Gotham Central) will become the Spectre. Something about destiny. (Mind you, I'd really rather see Sue Dibny get the job. There's fresh ground for you: a pert Spectre. She and Death can pal around.)

More as I think of 'em.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Why 32 pages?

Steve Bennett, in his column Confessions of a Comic Book Guy, argues that, counter to the whining fans, comic books should be more expensive. And, more to the point, that the traditional format, the 32 page pamphlet, should die.

I agree. In fact, I don't think it should ever have shrunk down to 32 pages, although it didn't seem so bad back when comics had only eight pages of ads. Action #1 was ten cents for 64 pages, and the only ad was on the back cover.

Over the next twenty years, comics shrank in fits and starts, desperate to keep the magic ten-cent price point. By the time of the Justice League and the Fantastic Four (comics' Silver Age), they were at their present 32 pages, and about a third of that were ads. Costs continues to rise, as costs have a way of doing.

I've always suspected that the 80-page giants of the period were a test to see if the market would support a thicker, more expensive comic. Being reprints, the contents cost the publisher nothing (pay royalties? to a cartoonist? why?), and on that basis they must have been viable, but the continuing 32-page titles took a circulation hit when they went from ten to twelve cents.

And they still take a hit every time the price rises.

We're up to a minimum of $2.50-$3.00 for that same 32-page pamphlet. A comic that sold in the hundreds of thousands--or, occasionally, millions--thirty years ago sells in the tens of thousands now. Hard to believe that Batman, a comic featuring a character that almost everyone who speaks English knows, only sells 60,000 copies an issue.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Team-ups that should absolutely happen

The Black Cat and the Black Canary.

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Saturday, September 24, 2005

What DC should do

DC should revive and heavily promote its version of Thor (since Marvel isn't using theirs anymore). I can think of several ways to do this. Perhaps in a team book with their Hercules and Quicksilver (last seen traveling under the name Max Mercury). Perhaps this would be a logical direction in which to take their new "Son of Vulcan" title.

Or, maybe, a completely different Thor. One of the early Manhunters used to have a dog named Thor. No reason the current Manhunter couldn't have one.

When Marvel complains, offer to cease and desist in return for permission to promote DC's "Captain Marvel" character under his own name.

If Marvel is stubborn, make veiled hints regarding the Sentry's resemblance to a certain DC property who also wears an "S" on his costume. Mention the rumors that Marvel is going to republish Alan Moore's Marvelman/Miracleman series and hint that, difficult as that has been, it could get a lot harder (since the character originated as an unlicensed steal of Captain Marvel).

I'm sure they could work something out if they really wanted to.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Fat Chance Archives, vol 4

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Jim Aparo

Batman Family #11

I don't intend to get into the habit of noting obituaries, but the loss of Jim Aparo seems to have struck a nerve in the comics-commentary community. Aparo was one of those rare artists, like Curt Swan, Jose Luis Garcia Lopez and John Romita, who work continuously from the moment they break into the business to the moment they choose to retire, artists who can draw any damn' thing and make theirs the definitive look for that character.

Aparo was also one of those artists who never achieved superstar status, but in retrospect it's difficult to see why. I chose the cover above, not because it's particularly significant, but because for all its virtues it is utterly typical of Aparo's style. He's taken a situation that would have looked downright silly in other hands and given it an additional layer of dramatic tension. And there's no doubt that in the unlikely event that Robin and Batgirl (as opposed to Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon) ever did get married, that is exactly what they would wear to the wedding.

A generation of readers got their idea of what Aquaman, the Spectre, the Phantom Stranger and Batman should look like from Jim Aparo. Not too shabby.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

"The Best of the Spirit"

And in the new year, look for THE SPIRIT, the first issue of a new, ongoing series written and illustrated by Darwyn [Cooke]. This new series is set in modern-day Central City, where The Spirit will face villains both old and new.

Also coming in December is THE BEST OF THE SPIRIT, an affordable trade paperback collecting almost two dozen stories by Will Eisner, with a new introduction by Neil Gaiman.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Father's day

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My children love me. They must, to indulge their father's second childhood in middle age as they do. (We had a house fire a few years ago, in which my copies of these books were lost. They just replaced them for me.)

What is a son who reads Harry Potter and watches Yu-Gi-Oh! to make of Watchmen? How does the Batman of The Dark Knight Returns relate to the one now showing on Kids' WB? Or Adam West?

And, having read and enjoyed these books when they were new, how should that affect my discomfiture with certain events in Identity Crisis?

In some ways, I'm sorry editor Dick Giordano wouldn't let writer Alan Moore use the old "Charlton" characters (Blue Beetle, the Question, Peacemaker, Thunderbolt, Captain Atom & Nightshade) to tell the story of Watchmen. Giordano was right in that it would be impossible to use those characters after this. On the other hand, he had no way of knowing that, despite his grand plans, very little of any significance would ever be done with them. Had they been used in Watchmen, they would at least have been retired spectacularly.

Just as the nature of Sue Dibny's death, and the secrets revealed in the course of subsequent events, have generated far more interest in the character than has ever been seen before.

Watchmen is one of the few graphic novels that approaches being worth the hype that surrounds it. However, it is not the book I'd hand to someone who has never read comic books by way of introduction to the medium. Much of its appeal is rooted in the conventions that it deconstructs, the acceptance that it is perfectly reasonable for someone to put on a mask and tights and go chase crooks.

It's a very densely-written book, and you do yourself no favors by skimming it. Take your time.

The Dark Knight Returns, on the other hand, really isn't worth the hype. I mean, it's not bad, but it isn't the best comic book ever written, nor even the best Batman story ever told (Frank Miller's other magnum opus, Batman Year One, is better). Its importance to the Batman myth has been grossly overestimated: DC Comics has spent the intervening years reshaping the legend to make the Dark Knight future the character's most likely one, and I don't consider that an improvement.

Frank Miller has some serious issues.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Compensating for anything, Bruce?

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I mean, come on. What kind of megalomaniacal egotist builds a throne for himself like this, in his secret sanctum that (theoretically) only he and his butler see? Who's he trying to impress?

His feet don't even touch the floor.
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On the other hand, we know what he used to drive.

Heh. "What a weird car! Is it yours?" The car looks like a big blue bat. You look like a big blue bat. I look like a red-and-yellow circus clown. Right, it's my car. Just get in, World's Greatest Detective.

(Images from Superman/Batman #19 and Detective Comics #190.)

Monday, May 09, 2005

Okay, I like it

Every comic-related page has had something to say about DC Comics' new logo, so that's mine. I like it.

I never liked the "four-star" bullet that has been gracing DC's comics since 1977. I think criticism of this one is unfair, and attributable to (1) "it's not the one I grew up with" (get over it); (2) "it's baby blue" (c'mon, it won't be baby blue every time they use it, it'll change color just like the current one does); (3) "it looks like a detergent box" (also because of this color scheme).

Saturday, May 07, 2005

An aging fanboy vs the new Marvel

[Continued from previous post.]

I think I understand what's going on. Marvel is jealous of DC having more-or-less successfully integrated their various Eras into a multi-generational continuity. The current Flash, for example, is the third of that name, having served his apprenticeship as the kid sidekick to the second (Saint Barry Allen, who was in turn inspired by the adventures of the first, Jay Garrick), and now has a Kid Flash of his own to worry about.

For Marvel, on the other hand, having few kid sidekicks and no elder statesmen, the transition must be even more awkward. What will we offer (they must be thinking) to the readers of DC's Teen Titans? This is what leads to the creation of Young Avengers. (Iron Lad, the Asgardian, Patriot, and... Hulkling?) And X 23, a teenaged girl with the powers (and claws) of Wolverine. (Cute costume, though.) And Araña, a teenaged girl with the powers of Spider-Man. (Of course, there's already a Spider-Girl, but being in an alternate future she doesn't count...)

And, now, the Pink Goblin (no, they don't call her that--at least, not yet), a teenaged girl with the combined powers of the Green Goblin and Spider-Man. (Remember that transfusion.) Coming soon, Scorpion, a teenaged girl with a poison touch. Vampire by Night, a teenaged girl with the powers of... Bela Lugosi, I guess.

(You know, ever since Frank Miller put an iconic costume on a teenaged girl, everybody wants to do it.)

Very easy to snipe at comics I haven't read.

But what we're facing is a problem that both Marvel and DC have had for years now: They've forgotten how to create characters. Look over the output of both companies: You can count on the fingers of one hand the number of books featuring a character created less than twenty years ago.

Friday, May 06, 2005

I was right the first time

When J Michael Straczynski gave Gwen Stacy a hitherto-unrevealed sexual liason with Norman (the original Green Goblin) Osborn, I was disgusted. However, because it was JMS, and because he'd earned the benefit of the doubt with his run on Amazing Spider-Man so far, not to mention the television achievement that is Babylon 5, I gave him to the end of the story arc to justify this outrageous plot turn.

It may have been unfair, given his B5 habit of leaving threads dangling for years before paying them off, to expect that he would resolve this story in a mere hundred or so comic-book pages.

Well, the end of "Sins Past" came and went, and nothing was resolved. The kids disappeared, after a blood transfusion from Peter saved Sarah's life, and a dose of Goblin serum drove Gabriel mad. No twist, no cop-out: We are expected to accept that these really are Gwen's kids by Norman Osborn.

And I resolved that this would be the last new Marvel comic I bought. I meant it when I said it.

Cut to several months later. The storyline was continued in another title, Spectacular Spider-Man, written by hell-no-I'm-not-JMS'-protégé Sara "Samm" Barnes. The four-issue arc, "Sins Remembered", has been collected in trade paperback. So far as I am concerned, it represents Marvel's last chance to get me back. After almost forty years of reading Spider-Man, it's hard to say goodbye.

Hm. Gwen's daughter's name is Sarah. The writer's name is Sara. Hmmmm.

When an unknown (to this genre) writer writes a story about a character who has the same name as herself, a character newly introduced into an existing mythos who gets all the good lines while the nominal star of the series gazes at her admiringly, she runs the risk of said character being thought of as a "Mary-Sue".
She's amazingly intelligent, outrageously beautiful, adored by all around her -- and absolutely detested by most reading her adventures. She's Mary Sue, the most reviled character type in media fan fiction. Basically, she's a character representing the author of the story, an avatar, the writer's projection into an interesting world full of interesting people whom she watches weekly and thinks about daily. Sometimes the projections get processed into interesting characters, themselves. Usually, though, they don't.
This one doesn't, either.

"Sins Remembered" is not a Spider-Man story. It is a year-one tale of the Gallopin' She-Goblin, Agent of Interpol. If you are not raptly fascinated by the character of Sarah Stacy, there is nothing here for you. Although brother Gabe appears, he's little more than a cardboard cutout. His function is purely MacGuffinite: Someone for Sarah to protect, someone to threaten Mary Jane, someone who does what he does because the story requires it, not because he has any discernable motivation.

Spider-Man himself appears in costume barely enough to justify the "Spider-Man" logo at the top of the cover. His function is to be supportive--and to be an utterly inept surrogate parent to the physically-mature, legally ten-year-old Sarah.

And, briefly, to be comic relief in his own book. Boy, this scene torques me. In an attempt to web-swing around Paris, Spidey knocks a gargoyle off a cornice. Because, you know, Paris is just so much older than New York City. Didn't his spider-sense get amped up just last issue? Wouldn't you think that if it isn't good for anything else, it'd warn him if he's about to land on something that isn't strong enough to hold him up?

(There's another issue abandoned: The twins, their appearance and medical condition notwithstanding, are minors. Who's their guardian? Does French law care? Shouldn't Peter care? Should I?)

Monday, April 18, 2005

That's "the WORLD FAMOUS Elongated Man"

Perhaps there's a reason the Elongated Man never made it into the top tier. Too hard to spell. Difficult to pronounce. Doesn't clearly say what his power is. Difficult to work the word into a dynamic logo.

Well, perhaps there are several reasons.

It is difficult to come up with a name that hasn't been used. The Elongated Man dates from 1960, but editor Julius Schwartz has said that if he'd known that DC owned the rights to Plastic Man at the time, he would have used that name instead. He could have gone with Elastic Man, but Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen was having intermittent adventures as "Elastic Lad". Worse, Jimmy and EM both wore relatively featureless purple tights--although Jimmy had the worse taste to actually have "Elastic Lad" on his chest.

Even the Incredibles' "ElastiGirl" was already taken. (Uncharacteristically, she was the "muscle" of the Doom Patrol. She didn't stretch, she grew to gigantic size.*) (I remember reading at IMDB that DC allowed Pixar to use the name in the film so long as it wasn't used in merchandising. There are precious few toys of Pixar's ElastiGirl, and the only one I can find, the cloissone pin, is labelled "Mrs Incredible".)

So, actually, the Elongated Man is the only major stretching superhero whose name doesn't rhyme with "plastic".

Most of them are played for laughs, anyway, with the conspicuous exception of Reed Richards, the Fantastic Four's "Mr. Fantastic". (Usually. Remind me to tell you about the time Dr Doom was bragging about having his own European country and Reed shot back, "I have a hundred pairs of stretch socks!"** But it still rhymes with "plastic".) I suppose when you think about the kind of distortion these characters are theoretically capable of, you could go either grotesque, or goofy.

I'm taking this too seriously, I guess.

* By the way, that green kid on the "Doom Patrol" cover? That's Beast Boy. Yeah, the same one who's currently appearing in "Teen Titans."

Okay, I cheated. The "stretch socks" scene wasn't in any "real" adventure of the Fantastic Four. It was a parody in the pages of Marvel's short-lived but fondly-remembered "Not Brand Ecch." The funniest part of this uneven humor title was just how short the distance was from Stan Lee's melodrama to out-and-out comedy.

More information: Great Comic Book Database (from whence the covers come): Dibny Dirt, the Elongated Man Website.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Reset button for the Silver Age

Last week I bought these three comics:

Since DC's promotional preview images don't always have the logos--and sometimes even having them doesn't help--I'll identify these three books: Seven Soldiers of Victory #0, Zatanna #1 (a Seven Soldiers tie-in), and the unnumbered DC Countdown to Infinite Crisis.

For those who think that these two universe-spanning Events are intended to reset the DC Universe to its pre-"Crisis on Infinite Earths" Sweetness and Light atmosphere, I'll commit a thesis-disproving spoiler: In the course of these three books (which I was unfortunate enough to read all at once), twelve heroes die, and a thirteenth is severely injured.

For those keeping score, that would be: Vigilante, Gimmick Girl (aka Merry, Girl of a Thousand Gimmicks), Blue Boy, Dyno-Mite Dan, I, Spyder, The Whip II (Seven Soldiers); Timothy Ravenwind, Ibis, his wife Taia, Dr 13 (Zatanna); Blue Beetle, Skeets, Booster Gold (critically injured) (DC Countdown).

Later: You can't tell the crises without a scorecard (spoilers ahoy).

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

What are you looking at?

Classically, one of the first signs that you may be outgrowing comic books is when you realize that if you really had x-ray vision, you'd be peeking under people's clothes all the time. This is a thought that mainstream comic book writers and artists used to try not to draw attention to... normally.

So, my question is, now that we've established that Superboy does, in fact, look under people's clothes just for the hell of it... Gosh, there's no easy way to ask this... Why is Lana Lang on this cover? And why is Clark more curious about what new-kid-in-town Gary Crane has under his shirt than...

Well, I guess by this time Lana, how shall I say this, holds no mysteries for him.