Friday, December 9, 2016

FRIDAY TRIPLE FEATURE

Get yourself a big bowl of popcorn and your beverage of choice. We have three movies to talk about today.

The Legend of Tarzan [2016] might just be my favorite Tarzan movie of all time. My pal Anthony Tollin kept urging me to see it on the big screen and, foolishly, I never got around to it. I wish I had made the time because, even watching the film on a library-obtained Blu-ray was a breathtaking experience. The Internet Movie Database offers this short-form synopsis:

Tarzan, having acclimated to life in London, is called back to his former home in the jungle to investigate the activities at a mining encampment.

Let’s see if I can manage some SPOILERS FREE commentary. The movie stars Alexander Skarsgård as John Clayton/Tarzan and the actor does a great job portraying both personas and, best of all, makes both of them valid examinations of the legendary figure.

Margot Robbie is the beautiful and fierce Jane Clayton. You can’t take your eyes off her when she’s on screen.

Samuel L. Jackson is George Washington Williams. His character is an American entrepreneur as well as a veteran of the American Civil War and other not-so-righteous conflicts. He’s great fun to watch, but he also brings the weight of history to the proceedings.

Christoph Waltz is Captain Léon Rom, the kind of merciless villain you love to hate. He is masterfully slimy.

Djimon Hounsou plays Chief Mbonga, who seeks revenge on Tarzan for a reason I’ll not mention here.

The movie is set in 1885 or thereabouts. The European powers have divided Africa between them with Belgium getting the Congo. Minor spoiler: its intentions are not honorable.

Taking the Tarzan stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs as their starting point, writers Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer have crafted an exciting story that feels like ERB and yet addresses modern sensibilities. There is great respect shown for the African characters, including those who are enemies of Tarzan. The action sequences, both those that take place in the jungle and those that take place in a city, are stunning. The human sequences, including those involving apes, are powerful and relatable. I love the writing of this film.

Kudos to director David Yates for pulling together a great cast and a great script. I’m going to do my best to see his Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them while it’s still in the theaters.

After you’ve seen the movie, which I highly recommend you do, check out the trivia at the film’s IMDb page. It’s fascinating stuff and will give you an even greater appreciation of this wonderful movie.

My other favorite Tarzan films? Disney’s Tarzan [1999] is right up there. Tarzan's New York Adventure [1942] is a childhood favorite, as is another Johnny Weissmuller movie whose name I can not recall. It ends with Tarzan taunting a Nazi agent - “Here, Nazi, Nazi” - as he leads the villain to his jungle doom.

On my silly scale of great apes, I give The Legend of Tarzan...the  Full Monkey! 
                                                                            

Latitude Zero [1969] was a movie I’d heard of for years, but never saw until this month when I bought the double-disc special edition of it. I opted to watch the original Japanese version of the movie. Here’s the quicky synopsis from IMDb:

A journalist is saved by a giant submarine captained by a 200 year old man who takes him to an underwater paradise city where no one ages. That's when monsters and mutants sent by the captain's rival, a 200 year old scientist, attack.

That synopsis leaves out the two Japanese scientists also rescued by the 200-year-old man, the beautiful American who lives in that undersea paradise, the evil scientist’s wife and a totally bad-ass female Japanese submarine captain who gets...maybe I better leave that for after the spoiler warnings.

SPOILERS AHEAD
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Joseph Cotton plays Captain Craig McKenzie, the leader of Latitude Zero. His city is constantly making scientific breakthroughs which they secretly share with the world. His super-submarine Alpha has has many cool devices as TV’s Batman of the 1960s. His rival, Doc Malic of Blood Rock, is played by Cesar Romero with an eye-popping exuberance that makes Romero’s Joker look sedate. Patricia Medina, the star of The Beast of Hollow Mountain, plays Malic’s beautiful, mature wife. The couple drink at the drop of a body, laugh a lot and look like they would “do it” right then and there if this were not a joint Japanese/American production. Even a kiss is something of a rarity in the Toho films of this era.

Akira Takarada is one of the scientists rescued with just-slightly slimy journalist Perry Lawton [Richard Jaeckel]. Linda Haynes plays Dr. Anne Barton. The scientists are quite taken with Latitude Zero and its mission of recruiting scientists who want to do their work free of corporate and government concerns. When Malic kidnaps one such scientist and his daughter, McKenzie and his new pals mount a rescue.

The most intriguing character is Captain Kuroi Ga [Hikaru Kuroki], commander of the Black Shark, Malic’s own super-submarine. She is also Malic’s mistress, a “bonus” of which Mrs. Malic is aware and willing to go along with until Kuroi keeps failing to destroy the Alpha. Kuroi’s fate is to have her brain removed and put in the body of a giant griffin created by Malic.

Latitude Zero is fast-paced with submarine action and deadly traps action and artificial bat-men action. It’s got a sense of wonder as Perry and the scientists see the incredible scientific advances of the underwater city. It’s even got a sense of humor, most often at the expense of the ambitious, avaricious journalist.

The struggle against Malik ends in a most satisfying manner. Those Japanese scientists opt to remain in Latitude Zero with their new girlfriends, Doc Barton and the rescued scientist’s daughter. Even Lawton gets a bizarre happy ending.

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Latitude Zero was directed by Ishiro Honda (Godzilla and so many other incredible movies) and written by Ted Sherdeman, based on his radio serial of the same name. The film’s special effects are not always as convincing as they could be, but the often-quirky story and the terrific acting makes for a movie that’s great fun. I have no doubt I will watch it again.

On my scale of zero to five Batman references, Latitude Zero gets three “nana nana nanas” and a “Holy Romero, Batman!” I recommend it to all my Toho-loving cronies.

                                                                                

MegaFault is a disaster movie from The Asylum, which made its SyFy Channel premiere on October 10, 2009. It was written by Paul Balas and directed by David Michael Latt. Here’s the brief synopsis from the film’s IMDb entry:

When miner Charley “Boomer” Baxter sets off a series of massive mining detonations in West Virginia, a gigantic earthquake is soon rocking the North Atlantic, exposing a deep seismic fault that runs the length of the North American continent. Joining forces with government seismology expert Dr. Amy Lane, Boomer must now race against time to stop the chasm that is threatening to tear America and the entire world in half.

The movie stars Brittany Murphy as Lane, Eriq La Salle as Boomer, Bruce Davison as Dr. Mark Rhodes, Justin Hartley as Lane’s husband Dan, Paul Logan as Major Boyd Grayson and Miranda Schwein as Lane’s young daughter Miranda. I’m going to dispense with spoiler warnings for this one. The synopsis is sufficient, though I will mention the script notes that the earthquake isn’t actually caused by Boomer’s detonations. It was a disaster waiting to happen.

MegaFault is what you expect. It’s 90 minutes of action interlaced with human drama. The extinction-level sense of menace adds to the intensity of every scene. The special effects aren’t award-winning quality - they look cartoon-ish in a few places - but they convey that menace well.

The acting is good to very good, especially La Salle. Sadly, this was Murphy’s last movie as she died a few weeks after its premiere.

Davison has solid sci-fi and super-hero chops. Hartley was Oliver Queen in Smallville. Logan would shine in Mega Piranha and will be appearing in the eagerly-awaited CobraGator. Schwein hasn’t been in any other movies, but, as young as she was, she did a good job in this one.

I was entertained by MegaFault. It’s not a great movie, but it’s a good one. Which is all I ask from SyFy original movies. On my scale of zero to five seismic events, I give it a shake, a rattle, and a roll. I can look at you, ‘til you don't love me no more.

I'm taking the weekend off, but I’ll be back on Monday with more stuff.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

Thursday, December 8, 2016

HALLOWEEN COMICFEST: PART THREE

Previously in Tony Isabella’s Bloggy Thing...

Halloween ComicFest is a smaller and spookier version of Free Comic Book Day. My pals at Stormwatch Comics sent me full-sized and mini-sized comics from the event. I’m attempting to read and review all of them before the end of the year.

I look for certain things when I review Halloween ComicFest items. Is the material in the comic well-written and well-drawn? Does it present a good enough chunk of the comic or graphic novel to entice a reader into buying the comic? Is it reader-friendly enough to welcome rather than confuse a new reader?

The Halloween ComicFest Challenge continues...

Black-Eyed Kids #1 Black & White Halloween Special [AfterShock] reprints the first issue of the horror series by creator/writer Joe Pruett and artist Szymon Kudranski. According to Wikipedia:

Black-eyed children (or black-eyed kids) are an urban legend of supposed paranormal creatures that resemble children between the ages of 6 and 16, with pale skin and black eyes, who are reportedly seen hitchhiking or panhandling, or are encountered on doorsteps of residential homes. Tales of black-eyed children have appeared in pop culture since the late 1990s.
The subject has inspired a couple of movies, episodes of TV shows, and some documentaries of sorts. The AfterShock series doesn’t seem to be related to them. From the publisher’s website...

It’s dark. You’re alone. Then there’s a knock. You open the door to find two seemingly normal kids. They ask to come in, to borrow your phone to call for a ride. You find yourself overcome with an intense fear that you can’t explain.

And then you notice their eyes...black...SOLID black. You want to run, but now they’re inside. It’s too late. They have you.


The reason I giving you so much prelude to my comments is...I like this first issue a lot. I don’t know where it’s going. I do know it creeps me out in a good way. Based on what I’ve seen here, I’ll be buying the collection of the first five issues.

In addition to the 20-page title story, this full-size comic book has house ads for other AfterShock titles: Super Zero, Replica, Dreaming Eagles, Insexts, Anomosity, Alters, Shipwreck, Captain Kid and Rough Riders. It’s an extremely impressive line-up of creators and concepts. I’ll get around to all of them.

RATING: Excellent. The lead story hooked me. Based on the quality of that story and the creators involved with the other AfterShock titles, I’ll be checking out all of them. That’s as solid a win as a free comic book can achieve. Well done.
                                                                            

DC Super Hero Girls Halloween Fest Special Edition #1 presents 18 pages of the DC Super Hero Girls: Hits and Myths original graphic novel by Shea Fontana with artist Yancey Labat and colorist Monica Kubina. I have loved this concept since I first saw the full-length special on Cartoon Network. That led me to the YouTube videos and the young adult novels and the comic books.

This full-sized comic book captures all the delight of the series. Unless you’re hung up on a singular continuity, you’ll be charmed by these teen versions of Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Batgirl, Harley Quinn, Bumblebee and the rest. You’ll also get a kick out of this book’s takes on super-villains like Lionmane and its use of other DC characters as faculty. In this issue, Etrigan the Demon teaches “Intro to Myth” and does so in rhyme.

The issue also features fact sheets on several of the hero girls, a Harley Quinn maze, a Bumblebee spelling bee game, a Crazy Quilt costume design challenge and house ads for related stuff. It might be my favorite of the Halloween ComicFest offerings.

RATING: Excellent. Solid story and art with lots of extra features. Completely accessible to a new reader. If I weren’t already buying the DC Super Hero Girls books, this issue would have convinced me to start. This is fun stuff.
                                                                              

Rated Teen+, Evil Dead 2: Beyond Dead by Dawn Vol. 1, No. 1 [Space Goat Productions] seems to be a continuation of the Ash/Evil Dead movies. The 20-page story by writer Frank Hannan with pencils art by Barnaby Begenda and Oscar Bazaldua and colors by Chris Summers does a decent job of bringing a new reader - like yours truly - up to speed on the basics of the Evil Dead universe. But, for whatever reason, it just didn’t float my boat. I can’t and won’t fault the writing or the art. Both are fine. This full-size comic book just didn’t do it for me.

True confession. I have never seen any of the Evil Dead movies or the new Ash TV series. This is despite my sincere belief that every one on the planet should see anything and everything which features actor Bruce Campbell. Because he’s that cool.

RATING: Great...if you’re an Evil Dead fan. Good...if you’ve never seen or read any Evil Dead stuff. For my penance, I think I should watch anything and everything with Bruce Campbell between now and this time next year.
                                                                                

Where DC Super Hero Girls is a clever new take on those characters in stories appealing to younger readers, Spidey #1 Halloween Comic Fest 2016 [Marvel] is just another Spider-Man comic book and not a particularly good one at that. Apparently, this title features the earliest adventures of Spider-Man, something done much better by Kurt Busiek and Pat Olliffe with Untold Tales of Spider-Man, which made its debut in 1995 and ran for slightly over two dozen issues. This Spidey #1 just doesn’t measure up.

Digression. Spider-Man is clearly in a different place in current Marvel comic books. Last I checked in with his titles, he was the head of an international company that was giving Tony Stark a run for his money and then some. Those current issues are interesting, but classic Spider-Man they are not.

I don’t know if there is an actual need for an entry-level Spider-Man comic book. The basics of the character and his history are well known. Even if one considers the Stan Lee/Steve Ditko run to be too dated for today’s younger readers, their stories and the situations are still viable today. Why not have writers and artists take those classic adventures and update them as if they are taking place now? That’s the formula for the successful Spider-Man movies and cartoons.

Yes, there would be outrage among the fans of my generation. If we can’t be twelve any more, we can sure act like we are. But I think Stan Lee would be more than okay with his and Steve Ditko’s issues being re-created for a new generation. Stan has always looked ahead and not behind. End of digression.

In addition to the 20-page Spidey story, this full-size comic book has house ads for several Marvel collections and titles. The house ad run every three pages, which is annoying when you’re trying to read this issue’s story, but they are well-designed and could get readers to sample a few other Marvel titles.

RATING: So-so. The story lacks the zing which could send a reader running to the comic-book shop to get more issues of Spidey. Which makes it harder to get him or her to run to the comic-book shop to try the titles touted in the house ads. Marvel should rethink what they did here before next year’s Free Comic Book Day and Halloween ComicFest. Always forward.

More Halloween ComicFest to come in a couple days. In the meantime, I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

RAWHIDE KID WEDNESDAY 93

The Rawhide Kid is my favorite western comics character and one of my favorite comics characters period.  Something about the short of stature (but big on courage and fighting skills) Johnny Clay spoke to the short of stature (but big on comics-reading skills) teenage Tony Isabella.  After rereading the Kid’s earliest adventures when Marvel Comics reprinted them in a pair of Marvel Masterworks and an Essential Rawhide Kid volume, I wanted to reacquire every Rawhide Kid comic, reread them and write about them in this bloggy thing of mine. This is the 93rd installment in that series.
 
The Rawhide Kid #107 [January 1973] reprints “The Ape Strikes” by Stan Lee and Dick Ayers. This strange 18-page story first appeared in The Rawhide Kid #39 [April 1964]. Jack Abel penciled and inked the new cover for this presentation of the story.

I wrote about “The Ape Strikes” back in October of 2012, calling it “a wacky classic of the Silver Age of Comics.” You can read what I wrote by going here.

We only have a handful of new Larry Lieber stories remaining before The Rawhide Kid goes all reprint. When we hit those issues, I’ll be linking to past bloggy things discussing the reprinted stories and adding new comments about stories not discussed previously. I will continue discussing new editorial material and advertising as seems appropriate.

When we get to the all-reprint issues, I will probably cover two or three issues at a shot. When we get to the end of The Rawhide Kid, I’ll move on to some other Marvel westerns. It might be The Mighty Marvel Western. It might be Western Gunfighters. It might even be random issues of whatever old Marvel westerns catch my fancy on the given day. I’ll ride wherever the trail takes me.

This issue’s Marvel Bullpen Bulletins page kicks off with Stan Lee  plugging his new Monster Madness magazine in “Stan’s Soapbox.” As I told you last time around, the magazine consisted of big photos from monster movies with Stan writing humorous dialogue balloons on them. I got a kick out of the often corny gags, but it wasn’t until I worked with Stan on the third and final issue of the title that I realized how much he loved doing the magazine. Maybe someday I’ll do something like it.

The next item announces The Monster of Frankenstein, a new series by Gary Friedrich and Mike Ploog. That’s followed by a plug for Halloween-themed issues of Thor and Amazing Adventures (which was starring the Beast). And that’s followed by a teaser plug for new developments in the life of young Franklin Richards in the new issue of Fantastic Four. 
 
The “Marvelous Marvel Mini-Items” this month:

Dick Ayers was teaching a course in comic-book artistry at the world-famous Guggenheim Museum. It was for the benefit of underprivileged kids in the New York City area.

Rich Buckler became a father. This made him a day or two late on a few deadlines, but Marvel seemed okay with that.

John Jakes’ Brak the Barbarian appeared in Chamber of Chills in a story written by Jakes with art by Val Mayerik and Dan Adkins.

George Alex Effinger and artist Gray Morrow bought an end to the “Warrior of Mars” feature in Creatures on the Loose.

Hero for Hire was promoted to a monthly title with art chores being shared by Billy Graham and George Tuska.

The “Mighty Marvel Checklist” listed 29 issues. Some highlights: War is Hell #1 (featuring reprints drawn by Al Williamson, George Woodbridge, Dick Ayers and Bon Powell); Spoof #3 (parodies of The Partridge Family, The Frogs and John Wayne); and the first issue of  Tex Dawson, Gunslinger with a new cover by Steranko and reprints by John Romita.
  
Running across the bottom of the page was an ad for the adaptation of The Invisible Man in Supernatural Thrillers #2.

The “Ridin’ the Trail with Rawhide” letters page had three letters from readers. Jeffrey McHale of Troop, Pennsylvania loves Rawhide Kid, but wants to know why so many Marvel western heroes are wanted men and why so many of their horses are gray. The less than spiffy editorial reply segues into plugs for Red Wolf and The Gunhawks

Scott Phares (no address given) doesn’t realize being a jerk on the Internet won’t be a thing for many years. He writes:

I have just finished reading a copy of the RAWHIDE KID. I think the Kid is sorta dumb. He probably couldn’t even pick up a Colt. 45. Much less swing one around like he does.

That delightful note is followed by the usual arrogant missive from the anonymous Gringo Kid of Elmsford, New York. Sigh. I guess the comics industry has always had its anonymous trolls, but the lack of the Internet kept them from being a daily boil on comics fandom's ass.

The issue has the usual classified ads, several of which placed by comics dealers. It also has an ad for The Menomonee Falls Gazette. Now that was a wondrous weekly publication, presenting such great newspaper strips as Tarzan by Russ Manning, Secret Agent X-9 by Al Williamson, Superman by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Modesty Blaise and many others. Somewhere in my Vast Accumulation of Stuff, I have the complete run of the newspaper.
                                                                              

As “a special blockbuster bones from mighty Marvel,” the original Jack Kirby/Chic Stone cover from Rawhide Kid #39 runs following the last page of the story. The cover has always looked a little weird to me, but it’s also growing on me. Go figure.

The final editorial page in the issue is “a Marvel Masterworks pin-up” of the Rawhide Kid. It’s the image of the Rawhide Kid from the Kirby/Ayers cover of issue #20 [February 1961] with the background replaced with some sort of green wall with a large hole in it, as well as some other alterations. The Kid is now firing one of his guns and the other is now smoking as if it was just fired. We will probably see more such pin-ups in future reprint issues.

That’s it for this installment of “Rawhide Kid Wednesday.” I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.
 
© 2016 Tony Isabella

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

TONY'S TIPS #186

This week in TONY'S TIPS at Tales of Wonder...It's all about the magic as I discuss the Doctor Strange movie, Marvel's Doctor Strange Omnibus and the Scarlet Witch!

MARVEL 1990s: FOOLKILLER #1

I’m working my way through Marvel Firsts: The 1990s Omnibus [$125] - all 1288 pages of it - a story at a time. I was not a big fan of Marvel during the 1990s, but I figured it was time to take another look at the characters and comics launched in what has been called “comics' most divisive decade.”

The 1990s had a lot of ups and a lot of downs for me. My comic-book store had closed in 1989 after a series of disasters including an attorney who was supposed to represent me in various matters...and who ended up doing the exact opposite of that. For years afterward, he would attempt to bully me, threaten me, accuse of me of crimes. However, when I sued him and my new attorney took him to court, my ex-lawyer got his ass handed to him. I took perhaps too much delight in that ex-lawyer’s vile habits leading him to being arrested and to doing jail time and to losing his license to practice law. He deserved all of that and more.

My writing income during the 1990s was less steady than I would’ve liked. I’d get regular work from an editor for a while...and then that editor would move on. I tried my hand at non-writing jobs and none of them worked out for me. I did some ghost-writing for over-committed comics writers, up until that disastrous month in which three different clients stiffed me.

I don’t share the above because I’m looking for sympathy. I hung in there. I endured. That stubborn refusal to surrender paid off for me quite well. Circa 2016, I’m in a great place in every aspect of my personal life. Wonderful wife, family and friends. Work I enjoy doing. Respect from my readers and my fellow professionals. Solid paychecks. It's why I laugh when the occasional anonymous coward tries to troll me here or elsewhere. Those sad creatures are so completely out of their league. They can't lay a glove on me.

Circa 2016. My life is good. 
 
The 1990s? Not so much when I was in between gigs and without cash to buy comic books. I missed the entire ten-issue run of Foolkiller [October 1990-October 1991] by legendary writer Steve Gerber, with penciler Joe Brozowski (as J.J. Birch) and inkers Tony DeZuniga and Vince Giarrano. I knew the first Foolkiller from his appearances in  Gerber’s Man-Thing run, but the second Foolkiller was introduced in other comic books I had not read.

SPOILERS AHEAD
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“Mad... As In Angry” (22 pages) is a sensational departure from the slam-bang super-heroics of the era. While the first Foolkiller was a religious zealot, Greg Salinger, his criminally-insane successor, defined "fools" as those guilty of materialism and mediocrity, or anyone who lacked "a poetic nature.”

The story begins with Salinger in the Central Indiana State Mental Institution. The Wikipedia entry on Salinger and Kurt Gerhardt (aka Foolkiller III) sums up the first issue of this series:

Kurt Gerhardt had reached a state of homicidal despair after the random murder of his father, a divorce, the loss of his bank job (part of the savings and loan crisis), and being brutally robbed at his new job in a fast-food restaurant.

The issue shows much of Salinger's life in the mental institution. He details nightmares and guilt to his doctor. He expresses a desire to write out his feelings, believing it will make him feel better. The doctor points out that the last time Salinger was given a pencil, he drove it into his own neck. Salinger promises it won't happen again. The therapist allows Salinger to use [a computer] so  he can write letters. He decides to send his memoirs and thoughts to media and publication centers. No reply comes back.


The first issue ends with talk show host Runyan Moody, having more of less threatened his way into access to Salinger, just starting to interview the killer for his show. Gerhardt is listening to the talk show. Oh, boy.

SPOILERS OVER
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Even revealing as much as I did about that first issue won’t spoil your enjoyment of it. Gerber’s chillingly magnificent script hits so many real-life issues: criminal street violence, the effect of the savings-and-loan scandals on average Americans, pompous right-wing media celebrities. If you’ve read a newspaper any time in the past decade, you know these evils are still with us.

Brozowski’s art contributes to the realism of the story. The world he draws, the occasional costume not withstanding, feels very real to me. The issue was colored by Greg Wright, lettered by Phil Felix and edited by Craig Anderson. Everything - art, colors, letters - works with the script. It’s a riveting comic book.

So there I am, having read this first issue and feeling what Gerhardt is going through, and knowing I must read the rest of the series as soon as humanly possible. As near as I can tell, Marvel never collected the ten issues into a trade paperback. Which seems like nigh-criminal negligence to me. Fortunately, thanks to Amazon Marketplace, all ten issues will be making their way to me before the end of the month. I’m approximately 160 pages into Marvel Firsts: The 1990s Omnibus...and Foolkiller #1 has emerged as the comic to beat.   

If you’ve been keeping score on this series of reviews, we are now at 3-2 with stories I liked leading stories I didn’t like by a slim margin. It’s been too long a while since I’ve written about these 1990s Marvels, but I’m going to do my best to bring them to you on a much more regular basis.

“Rawhide Kid Wednesday” is on tap for tomorrow’s bloggy thing. See you then.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

Monday, December 5, 2016

HALLOWEEN COMICFEST: PART TWO

Previously in Tony Isabella’s Bloggy Thing...

Halloween ComicFest is a smaller and spookier version of Free Comic Book Day. My pals at Stormwatch Comics sent me full-sized and mini-sized comics from the event. I’m attempting to read and review all of them before the end of the year.

The Halloween ComicFest Challenge continues...

Zombie Camp, Vol. 1, #0 [Space Goat Productions] is another mini-sized comic. It features 10 pages from the series by Frank Hannah with artist Dev Madan, which is enough to give a new reader an idea of what to expect from the ongoing series.

Camp Wannachompya is a summer training camp for young zombies, the better to help them survive a world filled with living humans who want to shoot them in the head. That’s a funny concept, which plays out well in these ten pages. I found the Camp Director particularly amusing. Since I’m not much of a zombie fan, I’m on the fence when it comes to whether or not I’ll buy this series. But I think there is an audience out there for it.

RATING: Excellent. It does what a giveaway comic book needs to do. It presents entertaining material in a manner accessible to a new reader. The style of the art even works with the mini-size format. I’d say “thumbs up” but, if I did, some zombie kid would probably just bite them off.

                                                                                

The mini-sized BoooOOOoooM! Box Halloween Haunt 2016 [BOOM! Box] is a collection of delightful, but sadly too-short, snippets of four  series: Lumberjanes, Giant Days, The Backstagers and Goldie Vance. I’m already reading Lumberjanes and, despite the briefness of the other snippets, I plan to buy those series as well. This would bode well for BOOM!, if I were a typical comics reader.

Going mini-sized was the wrong choice for BOOM! The larger format would have allowed for more sample pages for each series. It would have also allowed room on the contents page for a sentence or two describing each series. I don’t believe the smaller size gives the new reader enough to win them over.

RATING: Just barely good. The comics themselves are wonderful. The presentation of the comics is deeply flawed.

                                                                                  
  
Johnny Boo and the Pumpkin Tiger [Top Shelf Productions] is a mini-sized comic that presents a 12-page story by popular cartoonist James Kochalka. It’s a charming tale of an impetuous young ghost, an ice-cream monster and a pumpkin tiger. It made me smile and that is almost never a bad thing.

I have never been a huge fan of Kochalka’s comics. Sometimes they work for me and sometimes they don’t. That I enjoyed this one does not mean I’m rushing to read the next one. But I recognize how much many people do love his work. Good for them. Good for him.

My only “problem” with this flight of fancy is that I think there should have been some sort of brief explanation as to who Johnny is and what his world is like. Nothing extended. Just a leg-up for the new readers.

RATING: Very good. This is a fine story, one which could resonate with a new reader and convince him to seek out more of Johnny Boo and Kochalka’s other comics. For me, the bottom line with this and other free comics is...does it sell other comics to the new reader who got it for free? That’s the true mark of success for both Free Comic Book Day and Halloween ComicFest.

                                                                             

Aspen Presents The Adventures of the Aspen Universe [Aspen Comics] is a full-sized and quite unusual comic book. It has two stories. The title story is written by Vince Hernandez with art by Siya Oum and Joie Foster.

“The Adventures of the Aspen Universe” is a 23-page story combining comics with puzzles and other activities. It’s an extremely clever idea, marred only by a lack of leg-up information about its young heroes and their magical world. I think younger readers will enjoy it a great deal.

The second feature appears to be a five-page excerpt from a comic book or graphic novel. “Charismatic Sparkles” is written by Vince Hernandez and drawn by Siya Oum. This story is much more serious than the lead. It introduces a young cat who seems to have powers of some sort, abilities that frighten its family. The cat’s mother sends her away from the family, which would be horrifying to most young readers. It’s a terrible companion piece to the frivolity and fun of the lead story...and it doesn’t do a good job of leading the  reader to the comic book or graphic novel it comes from.

RATING: Fair. As good as the lead story is, the publisher’s failure to properly promote the two included features and the unsuitability of the secondary feature torpedo this giveaway. To me, this comic feels like it needed another hour or three of editorial reflection  before it was finalized.

                                                                            
                                                                            
I really wanted to like DC’s Scooby Apocalypse and Hanna-Barbera Halloween Comics Fest Special Edition #1 and not just because it took me five minutes to type that entire title. I have fond memories of Hanna-Barbera cartoons from my childhood and beyond. I keep badgering Dan DiDio to let me write a “Ruff and Reddy” comic book. I am not even a little ashamed of my love for that ancient cartoon. However, most of the comics previewed in this full-sized free issue didn’t float my boat. Heck, most of them tried to sink it.

Scooby Apocalypse twists the core characters of the old Scooby Doo show to such a degree that none of them are likeable. I would not have thought that possible. Scooby, Shaggy and all the others are not just likeable. They’re downright loveable. I even loved those two Scooby Doo movies with Buffy the Vampire Slayer as Daphne and an unbelievably hot Velma. But these versions of the Scooby cast? They make me want the old-man villains to get away with it.

Future Quest, by contrast, is an exciting compilation of terrific action heroes. Johnny Quest, Space Ghost and so many others. Writer Jeff Parker has kept them close to the characters we love. Artists Evan Shaner and Steve Rude put the obvious love and skill into each and every page.

The Flintstones? Still trying to make my mind up about that series. The story excerpt intrigues me, but there’s not enough there to win me over. If/when I can get a copy of the first volume from my local library, I’ll give it a shot.

Wacky Wasteland? It makes me yawn. I never saw the cartoon this is based on, but I know enough about it to realize this new series is not fun. It’s sort of like the bastard child of Death Race 2000 and Mad Max. The excerpt is too confusing and too dark for the sake of dark to interest me.

RATING: Fair. While this special edition did include some “leg-up” information for every feature, the excerpts were too short, except for Future Quest and The Flintstones, to get me interested. On the other hand, I’m clearly not the audience for the other two series. Your mileage will likely vary.

More Halloween ComicFest to come in a couple days. In the meantime, I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

Sunday, December 4, 2016

SUNDRY SUNDAY

Wherein Bloggy Tony digs into the pile of notes he’s jotted down as possible bloggy thing columns and tries to discuss them clearly and concisely. There may be spoilers in the mix. It’s anyone’s guess how well this will go.

Bruce Wayne will never be Batman.

Yes, of course, Bruce Wayne is Batman in the comic books and in a number of cartoon series, movie series, movie serials and a 1960s TV show that I have grown rather fond of in my dotage. But, in this case, I speak of Gotham, the TV series that airs Monday nights on Fox. The good Fox. Not the bad Fox News.

In Gotham, Bruce Wayne has been trying to uncover why his parents were murdered. He found the actual trigger man. He figured how the hit was ordered by the Court of Owls. He doesn’t know exactly why the Court of Owls ordered it, but he’s now attempting to bring them down. He’s been doing all the above as a young teenager who’s kind of sort of dating the future Catwoman.

Several classic villains have been introduced in Gotham. Penguin. Riddler. Azrael. Mr. Freeze. Hugo Strange. Mad Hatter. Someone who appears to be the Joker. All of them are a decade or so older than Bruce. By the time he becomes Batman, if he becomes Batman, some of them will be collecting Social Security...unless the Republicans of the Gotham Universe have managed to destroy that.

Gotham doesn’t need Bruce Wayne to become Batman. The show already has its conflicted and slightly crazy hero in James Gordon. Who has  committed murder and many lesser crimes in his quest to, depending on the day, protect the people of Gotham, bring villains to justice or take revenge on those who have particularly irked him.

Gotham is not a show about white-hat heroes. I’m okay with that as I have never felt every hero has to be The Lone Ranger or Superman back when Superman had a code of conduct. The acting and writing on Gotham keeps me coming back week after week.

Bruce Wayne will never be Batman in Gotham because Gotham doesn’t need him to become Batman. It has Jim Gordon filling the key role of grim bringer of justice. Personally, I’d like to see Bruce take down the Court of Owls - never been a fan of them in the comics - and then go off to college. Maybe in England or somewhere else far from Gotham. Maybe with Selina tagging along to distract him from his studies and add some adventure to his life. It’d be wonderful to see a happy Bruce Wayne for a change. Boy and man, he’s suffered enough for a dozen heroes.

As for Gordon...I think he’ll have to settle for small victories. I don’t see Lee, the woman he loves, getting over what she saw in the last episode of 2016. I could actually see an alliance of sorts with his crazy ex-fiancé on account of that could be fun in a Will Eisner’s The Spirit kind of way.

The best thing about Bruce not becoming Batman in Gotham. He won’t start endangering children by dressing them up in bright costumes. It’s like he’s telling the villains to shoot them first.

Creators conundrums

Who created (fill in name of character here)? Current practice in the comic-book industry is to credit the writer and the artist who first wrote and drew a character as said character’s creators. As standard practices goes, it’s not terrible. But, in a many cases, it’s simply not accurate.

Aquaman is credited to Paul Norris, who did, indeed, draw the very first Aquaman story. But Mort Weisinger wrote that first story as he also wrote the first stories for Green Arrow, Johnny Quick and the original Vigilante. Weisinger does not receive credit on those heroes.

When folks ask me who created Black Lightning, my answer is “I did” and, indeed, that’s how the creator credit was listed during Black Lightning’s entire first series. Now Trevor Von Eeden drew all of those first series issues, but I have always contended every vital element was created before I ever brought my creation to DC Comics. On the other hand, Trevor did visualize other characters, including Tobias Whale, from my brief descriptions in the scripts. The first and no longer used Black Lightning costume was the work of several people, including myself and Trevor.

These days, the Black Lightning creator credit is supposed to read “Black Lightning created by Tony Isabella with Trevor Von Eeden.” I’m okay with that.

When folks ask me who created Misty Knight, the character who was such a sensation in the Luke Cage series on Netflix, my answer is “Me and Arvell Jones.” Because Arvell and I saw Black Belt Jones together. Because we were both impressed by the heroine played by Gloria Hendry. Because we both thought the Iron Fist series we were doing for Marvel needed a character like that.

What about when an editor creates a character and then hands that character off to a writer and artist? Should he or she get a share of the creator credit? I would say “Yes.”

The point I want to make is this. If the comics industry is going to standardize the creator credits for the sake of character equity payments and the like, those credits are not necessarily accurate except in a legal sense. Which is fine if the creators accept this going into any agreements. However...

Comics history demands a greater accuracy. Which, of course, will spur healthy and sometimes unhealthy debates about who did what for any given character. Which debates will not always lead to results everyone will accept on account of, in many and perhaps most such cases, the debaters were not in the room when the act of creation was taking place. It can be frustrating, but that’s often the way of things in both art and life.

Comics history will never be absolute in every instance. But all of the involved parties - fans, historians, professionals - should at all times strive for the greatest possible accuracy. While allowing and accepting that certainty might forever elude us.

I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

© 2016 Tony Isabella