Recent Posts
 

Quarterbin Follies #31: Spider-Man says “Happy St Andrew’s Day!”

Image1Hello and welcome to a special St Andrew's Day edition of Quarterbin Follies! What is St. Andrew's Day, you ask? Well, it is the feast day in honor of St Andrew, patron saint of the nation of Scotland, and so, I thought I would take this opportunity to look into Charles Vess's Spider-Man: Spirits of the Earth. But what does this have to do with St Andrew? Not much, but read on!

Charles Vess, you might recognize, is an artist and painter, and frequent collaborator with Neil Gaiman. In fact, it was Vess's gorgeous paintings that adorn the graphic version of Stardust (sadly, I only have the picture-less mass-market paperback that was released the year before the film hit theaters, but I digress).

As recounted by Vess himself in the Afterword, Vess suffered a very similar affliction as many of us Yankees—a fascination with the mysterious Highlands of Scotland. Yes, there are many of us under Old Glory's stripes and starry field that harbor a romance and longing for those foggy and forbidding slopes, and it was in 1983 that Vess took his first trip across the pond. Years went on and Vess found a way to combine his love of the land and people of Scotland with his job as a comics and fantasy illustrator.

In 1990, Vess released Spirits, having written, painted, and even lettered it, and it was a labor of love. The book was published by Marvel as a full glossy, hardcover book, complete with a fancy dust jacket and a $18.95 price tag. Now you might be asking why I am reviewing a $20 comic in a column called “Quarterbin Follies.” Well, I just have to say, “Thanks, Goodwill!” The other more pressing question is what is Spider-Man doing in Scotland?

Image4This is in fact the question posited by the fancy dust jacket. After all, there may not be a comic character more in tune with and tied into New York City than Spider-Man. The book even begins with a beautiful full page in inks and watercolors showcasing ol' Spidey enraptured with his home-turf. But before long we see our hero and his bride flying across the sea. Mary Jane (and, yes, I am going to ignore “One More Day,” thanks for asking) is the sole inheritor of a bit of farmland in the Highland town of Lochalsh. Mrs. Mary MacLeod left the cottage and bit of acreage to MJ in hopes that is would not be sold off, a fate she had lamented in the letter that accompanied the will.

Before long, Pete and MJ arrive in the scenic and peaceful village; and it isn't more than two pages before Peter begins complaining that the Highlands are just not New York. I mean, peace and quiet are nice, but what about the noise and danger?! The couple spend a couple of days puttering about the village and in the MacLeod cottage before an evening at the Pub turns very interesting. In over-hearing the town gossip, Peter is surprised to hear tales of fairies and specters across the moors that have more and more folks talking about selling out to a faceless real estate company intent on buying all the land round about the loch and the recently abandoned castle of Duncraig.

You see, this whole village and territory has been presided over for six generations by the scions and Lairds Munro, but of late, disease and misfortune have claimed all but three of the once great house: the Laird Hugh, his nephew Angus Munro and the Hugh's heir and grandson young Hugh. Several of the townsfolk and the Laird himself attest to seeing the young one snatched away by fairies, just like in some old legend. Not long after, ghosts and faeries sent old Hugh packing to a flat in town, and now he is a sad, broken shell of his former self.

All this sends Peter's skeptic and curious mind a-whirling, and after his own personal encounter with the spectral nasties, Spider-Man is enlisted by a local weird hag (and I mean that in a literary sense) called Dark Mairi of the Shore to save the land from this threat, which she is adamant has nothing to do with ghost or the Fair Folk below the hills.

Image5In the end, city-boy Parker finds himself at the crossroads of pseudo-science and magic far-far away from his beloved bright lights; and in a modern legend as at home next door to Scottish tales of the Kelpie or of Tam Lin as it is in the middle of Marvel's 616 Universe. I previously made mention of Peter's obvious discomfort in the setting of Highland Scotland, away from his city and from his scientific reasoning. Nevertheless, on the pages of Spirits this complaining does not set the tone for the piece. Rather, the graphic novel as a whole serves as Vess's love letter to the Highlands—Peter's discontent juxtaposing the surrounding and enthralling mystery of timeless places. It was also a treat to see MJ given a role in the victory in a way that honors her own fighter's spirit and the supportive love she holds for her husband.

These feats Vess completes with a nuanced grace, with the ease of a studied storyteller, and with stunning visuals to make the heart weep. My one complaint with the story is that the denouement is certainly too brief, and too tidily wraps up the handful of loose ends left behind in the climax. Nevertheless, this was a joy to read and to review; and well worth checking out at (almost) any opportunity.

##

The Saga of teh_Bast4rd_LeRoi: LymeJournal Post 09 Sep 2005 10:48:09

LymeJournal Logo   It always begins the same. New locations new surroundings, but it always starts with white fire. And always, when the flame crackles down, I have no idea where I am. It's just like some lame '90's cartoon--the story of a gamer, trapped on the internet! I never expected it to happen to me, teh_Bast4rd_LeRoi! If I ever find that sonovabitch LOLTroll I'm gonna--

YEAH RITE!

What am I gonna do. He is obviously some kinda leet wizard. And me? Pwned like a n00b.

Feh! Anyway, so since I've been stuck down in the|\|etwerx, I have been zapped uncontrollably from place to place like some kinda virtual super-ball! Still I can usually get a clue where I am from signage or signature design elements. If I end up near users, I can usually get information by eaves-dropping or reading over their shoulders, so to speak. Still, this adventure has been rough. It nearly broke me, to be honest. I mean, I didn't ask for any of this. Can I hack it?

The VillageWell it was just the other day that I found myself in the midst of what seemed to be a village. It was the strangest thing I have ever seen, full of Little cottages of all different kinds. Some were thatched roof Elizabethans with the top floor larger than the bottom. Some were after a Mediterranean style with terracotta roof tiles. There were Colonial buildings and Edwardian period houses, flat topped Middle East and buildings like pagodas--houses of all kinds crammed in clumps and tiny neighborhoods together with shops and carnival games. It was the very idea of a village--a madman's idea. Over the shops, and many of the houses, there were signs with electric lights flashing and humming. There was animation and neon, and out of place digitized shadows. Light seemed to come from everywhere, and from nowhere - - from over here and over there at the same time.

All up and down the roads, there were robot postmen zipping to and fro. Some walked on two feet, some zipped along on two wheels, and some even floated on magnetic clouds covering along the circuit-board-infused roads. And that's when I spotted it, Instead of an eagle, these postman were emblazoned with the tuna logo of the Wahoo! Internet Group.

That's how I knew where I was. I remembered reading an article in Wired about Wahoo! getting rid of traditional mail servers, and moving to a new series of integrated, wet-ware, A.I.-driven compiling machines, to combine the of their web search, custom browser, Email, and social networking apps. I realized, that's what I'm seeing from the inside. I'm in a Wahoo! Community "Village Server!"

This might be it, I thought. This might be everything I need-How to send a message to the world outside, maybe get some help and get away from this place. I'll admit, I was panicked. I needed a gleam of hope. I needed a win, after weeks of aimless wandering, of no real contact with others—and after the nonsense in that chat-room, a was desperate to try anything.

I walked toward the mass of buzzing bots, and tried to get their attention. I hoop and holler and danced. About. "Acknowledge me, you tin retards," I yelled, and more; But I got no response.

I slump to the ground there on the sidewalk, Feeling about as dejected and hopeless as I can ever imagine I remember. Was there even a point to all of this, I asked myself; or was there an internet equivalent to liquor.

In the. Middle of this, I felt a nudge—ah, man! I can feel it starting, another flash. I will try to get back her and finish the story!

LOLTroll 100xLOLTroll (9/9/05 @23:58:09): “And me? Pwned like a n00b.” He's not wrong.

.

.

Profile1 100xteh_Bast4rd_LeRoi (9/10/05 @12:05:59): Hey! Get off of my LymeJournal, you dillweed! Do you have any idea how hard it was to get back here? I don't even know how long I will be here before a flash-zap and I am gone; and I am just trying to get word to my fam that I am not dead.

Is he gone?  What a dick.

(collage by Rhys with apologies to Van Gogh, Hopper, and Lee; and thanks to the Rhys boys)

##

Quarterbin Follies #30: Madame Xanadu for You!

Image1Hello, Internet, and welcome back. This week, I am going to jump from a title that sounds spooky and was not (two weeks on The Spirit); and on to a book that is actually pretty spooky. If I'd had it all together, I'd have this for Hallowe'en. C'est la vie.

Well, this week's book begins at the end. That is to say, Madame Xanadu #1 is the first of nothing, but rather, it is the last installment of the '70's DC Comics 'mystery' strip Doorway to Nightmare. The strip was originally home in a book of the same name, but the title was canned in the infamous DC Implosion, and Xanadu was sent to a new home in The Unexpected. “Doorway to Nightmare” lasted until 1980, and in 1981 DC published Madame Xanadu #1 as their second ever direct market/comic shop exclusive. But that was the end of the “Door Into Nightmare.” Xanadu herself would return in a great many places, but I digress.

Madame Xanadu tales of the time fit a given pattern, and “A Dance for Two Demons” is no exception, here written by Steve Englehart and pencilled by Marshall Rogers. In the Madame's dark and creepy parlor, on a dark and creepy night, a lost soul has found his way there, looking for some kind of redemption or rescue. It is a down and out druggie named Joe. Hearing a rumor that Xanadu is a witchy-woman, Joe has come looking for a magic potion to help him kick the habit. Madame X tells him there is nothing she can do, that the magic he needs is the power of harnessing his free will through discipline. She sends the lost fellow down the way to a rehab center, instructing him to tell the folks Xanadu sent him.

Image2A few hours later, Madame Xanadu is again visited, this time by a red-headed hayseed-- a young gal named Laura with a story to tell. I turns out that back home in the mid-West while visiting her aged aunt, the older woman confided that in her youth she had dabbled in witchcraft--even gotten a hold of an ancient spell-book! Laura had been horrified, but also intrigued, and she admits to sneaking away the leather bound tome to check out in secret. Not long after, Auntie's house caught fire, and the old gal died. This freaked out Laura, who booked to NYC to meet up with her late aunt's old friend, the seeming ageless Madame Xanadu. Laura claims she doesn't really believe in magic, but permits Madame X to do a tarot reading.

Madame Xanadu determines that Laura is on a dangerous path, and will meddle with dark powers she is no match for. This Laura mocks, because, remember, she doesn't really believe in magic; but when Xanadu asks for the spell-book, Laura spooks and gets up to leave.

On her way out, Laura runs into a returning Joseph. He has bailed from rehab after a few hours because it was just too hard. He is certain magic is the answer, and is more than dissatisfied with Madame Xanadu's rebuffing. It is just then that Joe and Laura take notice of each other. A deep and enduring notice of each other.

What emerges in the story really are two views of magic. Xanadu represents a passive view, using magic to gain knowledge and for defense only. Laura, who becomes enthralled by the spell-book and the power it offers, uses magic in an active way, willing to use even love and sex to control others and gather puissance to herself. Only when it is almost too late does she realize she has been used by forces greater and darker than she had comprehended.

Image3The book closes out with a sci-fi back-up by J.M. DeMatteis and Brian Boland called “Falling Down to Heaven...” It is a sad and somber tale of war, survival, injustice, loss and forgiveness as an alien and his ailing wife find themselves facing the prospect of dealing with an injured human who has fallen from the sky.

All told, this was a fun, if spooky, read. Perfectly in tune with the DC's 1970's mystery fair. It seems odd to me that this was the first and last issue. I imagine that it's status as the second direct market DC book (including a full-color center-fold poster of Madame Xanadu by character creator Michael Kaluta) probably means it was published as an experiment that didn't go so well. But I suppose that is he way things go. For my sake, I'm glad I ran across it and could bring it here, to the “Quarterbin.”

 
##

Quarterbin Follies #29: Losing The Spirit?

CAM00514It is another week and another “Quarterbin Follies,” the column where I myself write about whatever old comic books I read last week. I would like to start this column with a thanks and shout out to Zach, Levi, and all the folks at gamingrebellion.com, who have invited us at Ideal Comics into the Gaming Rebellion family (or club, or clique, or whatever it is), and offered to dual-post this column! We are excited to share our love of comics with a whole new audience!

Enough of that, let us begin!

It was a few years back, and my buddy Andrew Grant handed me a stack of comics. He picked them up for a song, he had said, and he thought of me. Why? Because it had the first three issues of the then-new Will Eisner's The Spirit from DC Comics; and he knows I like old, nostalgic things.

For the next few years books sat in the bottom of a box, and then a crate for a few years after that until last week when I pulled the things out to read. I tucked into the first issue on a Wednesday morning, and was less than impressed. Now here I really risk sounding like a horrid curmudgeon, partly because I have a lot to complain about here, and partly because I am in fact a horrid curmudgeon. All that being said, I think I will start with the highlights.

This 2010 effort was drawn by the mononymic Moritat the book is damned pretty. The first page is even a direct, and frankly 'wowing' homage to Eisner's unique design work. Within the book itself the style owes more than a little to Bruce Timm, with The Spirit's Great Lakes based Central City possessing a certain timelessness despite definitely not being set in the Forties or Fifties of the Eisner originals.CAM00513

Like in the original comics, the Mark Schultz-penned script treats The Spirit as an indefatigable defender of the downtrodden and the afflicted, and Commissioner Dolan as the haggard last-clean-cop in Central City. Well, that is about the end of the good, frankly. Once you get past the senseless progressive speech-ified narration, the setting is nothing but the dismal and stereotypical 'grim-n-gritty' Gotham City clones that pervaded the comics of a decade-and-more ago. There is nothing interesting or distinct here, and even the previously lauded timelessness seems distracting. Schultz does a fine job making the villains seem villainous, but only slightly more so that the police.

Entirely divorced from the tale is Eisner's whimsy. For any who might not have read my last post, much of the beauty and genius of Eisner's stories was his ability to balance the graphic with the cartoon--the silly with the serious. The Spirit had the ability to transcend the detective genre, which was his home, and tackle ne'er-do-wells of any stripe, and often with a self-aware smile shared by hero and reader alike. But under Schultz's pen, there is no joy and no hope, and no cock-sure bluster; just a grim, grey impulse more suited to Frank Miller or Dashiell Hammett than Eisner-- more Chinatown than The Spirit.

I gotta say that I have no problem with dark tales. There is a place for the Red Harvests of the world, but I think Schultz is just missing the point. He was writing The Spirit, and the Spirit has a zeitgeist of his own. But is seems like maybe Schultz was trying to write Ms. Tree instead.

CAM00516And before you go calling me a feeb who just doesn't get "it," let me point you to the "The Spirit: Black and White" back-up in that very issue, brought together by the formidable and legendary Denny O'Neil and Bill Sienkiewicz. It is a tale dark and serious, true, but with a delightfully ironic ending so sharp I almost started laughing. Now, THAT was a "Spirit " story, and well worth the price of admission (provided you can find it in the Quarterbin).

##

Quarterbin Follies #28: Getting into the Spirit

Image2So, I suppose all you, faithful pilgrims to the shrine that is "QuarterBin Follies," have waited with a fervor-like expectation for today's article. After many, many months I am finally set down to scrawl a note about The Spirit. Mark it on the calendar, kids. It is a big day. (Also, Happy Hallowe'en)

Ahem.

I did not grow up reading Will Eisner comics, or ever really knowing who The Spirit was. As I took my first steps into superhero comics in the 1990's, it was actually a time when comics printed letters in the back from fans and readers. These columns of tiny print discussed the monthly on-goings of your favorite spandex avengers, and that is where I first heard of The Spirit, but it was not until 1996 that I actually had the chance to see Eisner's is work.

1996 was a hard here for me. I was a high school senior who had been taken from his western Nebraska home and dropped in the middle of big city Denver, Colorado. In a tale that is not worth the telling here, I found myself skipping school and wandering about Lakewood (a Denver suburb), and there in the library I found a copy of Will Eisner's Comics and Sequential Art. Now, at this point in my life I had already decided I wanted to make comics--I already designed my first comic book universe (it's still pretty awesome)--but I had never been exposed to such a practical, thoughtful approach to comics from a structural view. Greatly impressed I was, but I had still never read The Spirit.

Will Eisner was one of the first professional comic artists, getting his start as a boy in New York City. Before creating The Spirit, he had already made a name for himself at Eisner and Iger Studios, where they produced original material for up-and-coming comic books companies such as Quality Comics and Fox Comics; and where Eisner created such characters as Black Hawk and Doll-man.

Image4Enter “Busy” Arnold, publisher of Quality Comics. It seems that in 1939, the newspaper syndicates were looking for a way to cash into the comic book boom. Arnold approached Eisner with the opportunity to be the guy and create the superhero to save the newspapers. Eisner left his profitable gig at Eisner and Iger to join the task, and created the masked detective and resident not-dead -guy The Spirit!

Back to my story. For the next nineteen years, I read about The Spirit. I read single pages from Spirit stories, and I even had the chance to read stories featuring Midnight, Will Eisner's less-than-serious copycat character for Quality Comics, but I have never actually read a Spirit story. So it was with some excitement that I got my hands on a copy of The Spirit # 9 from Kitchen Sink . It was back in the 1980's that Kitchen Sink began to reprint old issues of The Spirit weekly as a monthly book format; and #9 was published in 1985. I received #9 as a gift from my pal Andrew Grant, I think

There are five stories in this issue, ranging from the absurd “Distinguished Men Prefer Borschtbelt's Buttermilk,” which essentially follows the same plot as the Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy vehicle “Trading Places;” to the graphic and violent “The Vortex,” which a study of mental illness, greed, and power. For me, the stand out story is “Smugglers Cove.”

“Smugglers Cove” is a tribute/pastiche of the boy's adventure sub-genre of American pop-fiction. In this particular episode, The Spirit's youthful ward Ebony and adventuring toddler P.S. Smith head off to find adventure on a raft, accompanied only by Ebony's portable transistor radio. This story is without spoken dialoge, the perfomer on the radio narrates a pirate story calling boys of all ages to adventure. It a very interesting twist to watch the boys take off on their own adventure in Rounding up some modern-day casino-pirates to the narration of the radio program.

Image3I want to take a moment to jump off the rails and discuss the character Ebony. For those of you unfamiliar with The Spirit, Ebony is a young African American boy who is Spirit befriends early in his career. Eleven year-old Ebony is first shown driving a taxi in the Big City and making a living for himself. The Spirit finds him resourceful and clever, and takes him under his wing. That description is all well and good but the portrayal of Ebony has been somewhat disturbing, for while he was portrayed as intelligent and quick witted and kind, Ebony was drawn in black-face, and spoke with speech peppered with misspellings and malapropisms. These stereotypically racist emblems were intentionally used by Eisner to poke fun at the idea racial stereotypes. His intention was to demonstrate that regardless of education or upbringing or public opinion, a person is capable and valuable, and capable in whatever he or she would whole-heartedly set themselves. It is the strength of the Individual, not the limitation of biologic history that truly matter. Ebony is most certainly an example of this, and routinely displays capacity, whit, and courage without compare.

And it is easy to understand why The Spirit and his stories have had the staying power for almost 80 years. It was also very interesting to see what they did to stretch the genre of comics and sequential storytelling, especially for not being printed as part of the traditional comics magazine industry. In some ways, I suppose it might be said The Spirit was an original precursor to modern web comics, in terms that its delivery was intended for everyone. It was comics delivered to the common man.

While I really enjoyed Will Eisner's ears tongue-in-cheek style (both in art and In storytelling), it is his precise yet truncated or compressed writing style that continues to impress me the most.

If you enjoyed hearing about in The Spirit, stay tuned here to QuarterBin Follies, where I'm going to be reviewing some modern “The Spirit” offerings in the next few Weeks. Stay tuned, and as always, happy reading.

##

The Saga of teh_Bast4rd_LeRoi: LymeJournal Post 04 Sep 2005 22:26:36

LymeJournal Logo Profile1a 500xI don't know how long I will be here. I've been here for a while, but I can never tell these things. I just figured that while I was in one place, I should set the record straight. Leave something behind for those who will come after. I have no idea how long I have been 'inside', but it seems like years. How can you tell passing of time when the sun never rises or sets, when the winds do not blow, and no stars shine. Here it is the blackest dark, or the brightest bright, or some pulsing, shimmering, humming thing in between. I have heard some of the people here, if you can call them people, refer to things as 'cycles'--whatever that means. As long as I have been here, it makes no sense to me. Feh, I used to have a life. I used to be normal. I was just a guy--a regular dude playing video games, trying to “save the world”. Maybe I was brash, and I got a little famous for being reckless; but people knew my handle--teh_Bast4rd_LeRoi. Whether I was on the Worlds of StarCraft or the Marauders of Gaia, I was a known dude. It felt great, but I never thought of myself as a hero. It was all just a game, after all. Well, one day not long after the Spar7ann event, I was online on MoG, and I spotted this troll just picking on some noobs. Now, everybody gives noobs a little bit of grief, but this guy (his handle was LOLTroll) was just being a real dick to these guys. I mean just starting fights and crap. His HP was unbelievable and he was just picking on them. So I walked over to him told the guy told the guy he was being a douchebag and to back off. I told him, “Hey, we all got to start somewhere." His avatar looked at mine, and somehow straight into my own eyes. “You picked the wrong guy to screw with, chump,” he said. In the next minute the whole world erupted into white flame—a fire cold and hot and electric. Then it was black. I awoke on the floor, and then gingerly stood to my feet. The ground seemed further away then I remembered it; and when I looked at my hands, they were not my thin, engineer's hands, but the meaty clubs of a warrior. Somehow--by some magic, I suppose—I was trapped inside the game, and inside my avatar, the hulking LeRoi. I had little time for shock, as I spent the next three 'days' with the noobs fighting our way our of a wraith filled forest. At the edge of the woods, we spotted a village with an inn on the edge, but before we could reach the door, I was taken by another white flash. After this second bolt I found myself in something like a Roman forum, standing on the floor and surrounded by rising rows of faces, motionless, except for their roving and darting eyes. These faces were looking out over the forum and racing to type across the air, and I realized I was looking up to a message board. I tried to attract the attention of the posters, to find answers; but not one understood that I was not just another user trolling them. I did not have much time to get flustered before the white flash took me away. And that is how it has been for who-knows-how-long. I am stuck here in a place that some call the Netwerx—the convergences of the world's computer and telecom systems. It like Tron or the Matrix-- where users interface with each-other and 'bots and AI's. And most have no idea was is going on beneath the service. I wander when I can, 'jump' when pulled along, and try to get out. God, I hope I can just find a way home.   ('Marauders of Gaia' created by Sortelli, http://www.elfonlyinn.net. Used with permission.)
##

Can Heroes Be Saved?

Heroes-Featured-ImageThe year is 2006. It's the height of the aughts, and Daniel Powter was having a "Bad Day." I was a struggling journalist in Western Nebraska, trying to stay awake in the midst of local city council meetings and agricultural reports. Ideal Comics was just starting, a small, but slightly illuminous light on the landscape of independent comicdom. It was a weird time, is what I'm saying. In this midst of all of this, I -- along with millions of other comic book fans -- became enamored with Tim Kring's Heroes, a TV show focused on people who discover amazing abilities and have to decide what they want to do with them. The show was fresh and interesting, featuring a strong script, fantastic storyline, and great performances by all of the principal actors. There was mystery and intrigue, and action and suspense, all along with this underlying question of what makes a hero. It's not an original question by any means, but it was one of the few times that primetime TV had attempted to address it, and comic book fans like myself were hooked. At least with the first season. Now, I fell off the bandwagon about four or five episodes into the second season. I was struggling to stay interested, and I ultimately lost that battle. From what I hear, though, I jumped shipped at a good time. The series quickly went downhill, and the following two and a half seasons are often the target of ridicule from fans that had previously praised the first season. I eventually pushed the series to the back of my mind, content with the idea that I had dodged a bullet. Clearly, I didn't really miss anything. A few weeks ago, though, that all changed. My wife found Heroes on Netflix and, finding the idea interesting, started watching it. She had never seen the series before, but she was quickly hooked on the first season as most people are. I watched in the background, as I worked on my computer and such, and slowly found myself drawn in again. Trust me when I say that the first season of Heroes is good TV. It is as well-written as I remember, and it definitely holds up even ten years later. Before long, I found myself rewatching this series with her, all of the feelings from when I first watched the show returning. But, there was a major change this time. When season 2 came on, I didn't stop. I just kept on watching. Over the past few weeks, we have watched all four seasons of Heroes, and as of writing this, we only have the series finale left which we'll most likely watch tonight. I can see a lot of the problems that people have with the series, and I can definitely agree that it went downhill in seasons 3 and 4. I'm not sure it's as bad as I've heard some people say, but I might feel differently had I watched every week, rather than binge-watching them all in one shot. I know there were a few episodes of the third season in which absolutely nothing happened, and I would have definitely felt robbed those weeks, had I been a regular watcher. Binge-watched, though, it's not God-awful. It's not good, but it's not God-awful. Heroes-1In light of such criticism of the series from the die-hard fans, I'm actually a little surprised that NBC is choosing to reboot the series with a new mini-series called Heroes Reborn. This new series starts in less than a week and looks to feature a few returning characters, along with a host of new faces and powers. Some people are seeing this series as a chance for NBC to right the wrongs of the past. Others -- the more cynical of us -- believe that NBC is just banking on our nostalgia, looking to cash in any goodwill it has remaining from the brilliant first season. I'm not sure where I fall in that camp, but I do believe there are a few things NBC can do with this series to avoid some of the pitfalls from the first series. While these ideas are in no way a fix for all of the problems that the series encountered, I do believe a few of them can help rebuild some of the magic contained within the first season. (Note: I should state, right now, that I have not watched any of the webisodes that bridge the gap between the two series. We'll probably watch them this week. So, any ideas I have here that conflict with those webisodes -- forgive me in advance. Maybe I'll write an addendum after I watch them. Also, forewarning: spoilers abound. So, beware.) First and foremost, keep all of the characters focused on a singular goal. In the first two seasons -- the best seasons, really -- there was a strong drive for each character, culminating in a single event, a climax that held the fate of the world in its hands. Later seasons saw all of the characters branching off into their own directions, and the storylines all started to break down. You had story ideas start and then stop. You had characters with completely separate storylines from the main story, who were then clumsily shoehorned in at the last moment to bring together some sort of coherency. The first season -- and even the second to a point -- felt like a self-contained story, involving multiple threads that were all related in some way. The later seasons, not so much. Second, along those lines, stop introducing storylines and then abandoning them. In the third season, Claire made such a big deal about losing the ability to feel pain. She talked all about how she couldn't feel anything anymore, and she was worried about how eventually, she might even lose her emotions. Then, the eclipse happened, and it was never, ever mentioned again. Even if a storyline is bad, at least give us some resolution. In the fourth season, Hiro got a brain tumor, Peter went to Georgia to get the healing power, and then nothing. Two episodes in to the storyline, Peter got a new power, and the storyline jumped ship. Part of the joy of the first season was seeing all of these different threads come together. Do that again. Third, stop giving people random powers. In the first season, Isaac Mendez's power was very useful. The writers were able to storyboard entire events through Isaac's paintings. The second season did the same thing. With Mendez's death, however, the writers lost that crutch. To fix this, they basically gave the power to Matt Parker -- for some reason that isn't explained all that well. Something about a prophecy or a line of prophets or something. I don't know. There's no reason for Matt to have the future-painting ability, so why give it to him? Hiro went through the same spirit walk that Matt did in Africa -- why not give the power to Hiro? Since Hiro's ability is time-travel, that seems like a better fit. Later, Ando was given some sort of boost ability which is never referenced again, his power basically becoming red lightning bolts. Mohinder is then given a bunch of generic powers. None of these additions enhanced the story at all, and most of the time, they were only there for the sole purpose of moving the plot along. Bad form. And, lastly, give me a well-defined villain who I can't stop watching. Before he started all of the emotional angst of later seasons, Sylar was a great villain. He was sinister, and he was scary. Plus, he was a great foil to Peter, who was quickly becoming the "star" of the hero side. Most importantly, he had direction and purpose. He had a clear motivation that made sense. To a somewhat similar degree, I think you had the same thing with Adam Monroe in the second season. His motivation made sense. After centuries of seeing humans piss away the world, I'm sure I would feel like hitting a big old reset button myself. Compare both of them to Samuel Sullivan in the fourth season. I have no idea what his goal or motivation is. Is it the woman? Is it hatred? Is he evil? I have watched 17 episodes of this fourth season in the last week, and I have no idea what he's doing or why he's doing it. Now, again, I haven't watched the finale. But, I can't possibly see how they could possibly pull that out in forty-five minutes. At any rate, they haven't done it for the entire season, which seems like a waste. I think he could have been a cool character had they spent some time giving us an understanding of who he is and why we should care about him. We need a good villain to keep us watching. I don't know if they'll be able to pull any of this off with the new series. Tim Kring is coming back, and that's a good sign. I think his vision is much of what guided the first season. For all I know, though, they'll drop the ball again, and we'll further the crapstorm that was seasons 3 and 4. I do know that the characters are there, and the ideas are still cool. If done right, I think the new season could be a return to form for the series. Here's hoping.
##

Quarterbin Follies #27: Robin and “Nature’s Bride”

  (Authors's note: I have been trying to get this thing done for the last two weeks. It is not my magnum opus, but it is starting to feel like it.)

If you were here last time, you might have noticed that I mentioned I was intending to review Will Eisner's The Spirit. Well, that guy, the me from the past, was just wrong. He was an idiot. This is largely due to the fact that he mislaid the Spirit comic.

I swear it is around here, someplace.

Image1Anywhere, I have chosen to discuss Robin: Nature's Bride. This 80 page giant by Chuck Dixon and Diego Barreto runs directly into the midst of Dixon's monthly Robin epic. But more than that, it stands to itself as a delightful jewel. But before I get ahead of myself, I should spend some time talking about two the protagonists, and why they are the best.

Unless you have been living under a rock, or at least a different rock than me, you probably know Tim Drake, the third Robin. Tim was introduced in 1989's "Batman Year 3", the Batman opus by DC stalwart Marv Wolfman. That story was mostly intended to shed new, post-Crisis light onto Dick Grayson's past and future; and Tim was instantly and blatantly positioned to be the next Robin, and Dick's spiritual successor, after Jason Todd's untimely death.

Tim came into his own a few months later in the pages of thematic sequel "A Lonely Place of Dying." For my money, "A Lonely Place of Dying" maybe one of the best comic book stories ever written. It has action and mystery and intense human relationships are all going on together. And it was the perfect re-introduction for a now teenaged Tim Drake. From the onset, and for the next year and a half (real world time) as Tim was rigorously trained for the role of Robin, Tim stood out as distinct from every other youth to wear the red and green. Tim was the kid who figured out Batman's secret Identity. Tim was the kid who risked his life to save Batman. Tim was remarkable. He was serious, brilliant, and sober minded. He was of course, a hero; but also a giant nerd. Tim was the kid I wanted to be.

Stephanie Brown, created by Chuck Dixon, was something different altogether. Coming from the broken home of a third-rate-supervillain father (the Cluemaster) and a drugged-out mother, Stephanie Brown came into Tim's life as The Spoiler, a vigilante identity purposed to ruin her father's nefarious schemes. Steph was brash, headstrong, impulsive and sincere, all things that lead Batman to insist she not pursue a crime-fighters life. Nevertheless, Tim saw something in her, something that compelled him to invest in her, to train her. They were a dynamite couple, one somber, Image4one brash—one devoted to a cause, one seeking meaning. These two stood as discordant, but still complementary souls.

And that is about where our story starts, well sorta. It actually begins 50 years ago as the Justice Society faces off with the witchy Raveena in far Eastern Rheelasia. Raveena boasts that her magic amulet guarantees her victory as Hawkman, Doctor Fate, Wildcat and the original Black Canary battle Raveena's Animal-Kingdom Army. However her gloating is premature, as Raveena falls victim to volcanic activity by falling into a suddenly open crevasse. The Canary jumps to save Raveena, but the latter swears vengeance. After muttering an arcane incantation, she plunges herself bodily into the crevasse taking her amulet with her into the depths. And all of this is witnessed by a strangely attentive turtle.

Flash- forward 50 years, and Jack Drake, the father of a certain Tim, is playing archaeologist in the very same Rheelasia. And what should he dig up there, but a certain amulet--the perfect gift for his soon-to-be wife. That's right kids, in case you hadn't noticed, Tim used to possess a rare trait unique amongst Robins--Tim had parents. Originally, Tim was the boarding-school son of a globe-trotting power couple, until Tim's Mom was murdered and his father immobilized in coma during 1991s “Rite of Passage" story. Well, in the pages of Robin, Jack made a recovery and began dating socialite Dana Winters, a relationship that was about to present Tim with another challenge as the Boy Wonder must again contend with two concerned parents and a secret identity.

Meanwhile, back in Gotham City, Robin is out crime-fighting with the Spoiler. But they get quickly into a row when Stephanie displays her in-born impulsivness (that has kept Stephanie out of Batman's good graces); and almost puts an undercover Black Canary (the second one!) to in danger. Canary dispatches the threat with her typical martial aplomb, and as the three heroes part company, Tim pleads with Steph to be more cautious while Steph makes no bones that she thinks Robin is holding her back.

Through out the story so far we have seen several interludes--a turtle spied Jack at excavation, and took to the sea. There, he locked eyes with a gull who flew from sea to shore. Now, finding a stray dog, the bird passes the "baton" again as the dog is on a search.

Later and elsewhere, Tim catches up with his family as wedding plans are discussed, and Jack presents his intended the recovered medallion he pulled out of a hole in Asia. Dana wears it proudly, and a dog looks in from the street before heading to the Zoo.

Meanwhile, Spoiler returns to The Canary's apartment to beg her for training. She drops by in the midst of a sparring match between the Canary and Wildcat, mistaking Wildcat for an attacker! Black Canary is less than down with Steph's request, but the conversation is ended abruptly when Wildcat spots a press photo of Jack and Dana with the amulet about her neck. The old boxer recognizes the medallion immediately, and calls for action!

Across town, the Drakes and Winters are at the zoo setting up for the wedding rehearsal, but the whole works is interrupted when animals attacImage6k! Tim drags his soon to be step-mother to the safety of his car, but they are pinned down by a panther. The panther stares at the amulet before locking eyes with Dana. Like a snap, Dana is overcome by the spirit of Raveena, who, attacking Tim, sends the car veering into the woods. After crashing, Tim sneaks away to change into his Robin get up. The Black Canary, Wildcat, and the Spoiler arrive as Robin emerges from the brush fully costumed; and the four heroes make a plan to engage the processed bride.

It's crazy man-versus-beast action as the seasoned heroes face Raveena's zoo-army of elephants, big cats, snakes, et al.; but they make no headway until the day is saved by the ingenuity and physical prowess of Stephanie Brown, the Spoiler. How? Well, you wouldn't want me to spoil it, would you? Suffice it to say, Tim gets to attend his parents wedding the next day knowing he owes it all to Steph.

I had never heard of this story with first came out, but I'm very glad to have found it now. It was very enjoyable to read Dixon's take on golden age characters, and he had already proven is skill with Black Canary in the pages of Birds of Prey. It was especially neat to see Stephanie as the final linchpin in their victory. Nature's Bride is also one of the better examples of Tim's worlds colliding. Tim is both a dutiful son and Batman's sidekick, and a part of both worlds and yet beyond them both he is Stephanie's boyfriend. We see Dixon set the foundations of something really great in both this book and in the greater Robin mythos. All in all, it was just a great story--a ton of classic comic book fun.

##

R.I.P. Yvonne Craig (1937 – 2015)

Craig2Yvonne Craig died this week, and that makes me sad. For most of us, Craig was known as Barbara Gordon/Batgirl on the ultra-campy 1960s Batman TV show. Along with Adam West and Burt WardCraig fought famous Batman villains, like the Joker, the Penguin, Catwoman, and Egghead in the show's final season from 1967 to 1968. It was, of course, in reruns that this role continued to make her famous, and continues to make her well-known throughout much of the comic industry. Even if you're not a fan, you've most likely seen an episode or two of the Batman series, and you've most likely seen a bit of Craig's most excellent portrayal of Batgirl. I don't want to spend too long talking about Craig's life. There are plenty of obits all over the Internet that are doing exactly that. A simple Google search will net you plenty of information about where she was born, when she started acting, her roles outside of Batman, and how she died. I don't want to spend too much time worrying about all of that. Now, I'm not avoiding that because it's not important. It is. I just want to spend the limited time I have here, as I write this on my lunch break, to celebrate the importance of Craig's role as Batgirl on a campy 1960s superhero TV show. No one is going to argue that Batman is a masterpiece of TV storytelling, or even a masterpiece of superhero narratives. The show is campy as heck. Fun, but campy as heck. The puns are groan-worthy, the villainous plots are simplistic, the fights are silly, and the storylines are all formulaic. Despite that, though, the show -- for better or worse -- shoved Batman into the general consciousness, pushing him near the top of the recognizability list of comic book characters. The show basically made Batman a household name, turning him into a pop-culture icon, a status he maintains today. Whether you enjoy the show or not is irrelevant. This show IS important to the Batman mythos, campiness and all. And for all of this status, the show really only has one concept to thank: its characters. As mentioned before, nothing else in the show is all that well-done, but the characters themselves are memorable. From West's Batman to Caesar Romero's Joker to Burgess Meridith's Penguin to any of the other bright and colorful characters that graced TV screens every week, these representations remain first and foremost in the minds of people that watched this show growing up. Mind you, the numerous portrayals of these characters in media since may overshadow them a little; however, when you mention some of these characters to the average Joe on the street, chances are the portrayals from this TV show will immediately spring to mind. And in the midst of this stood Yvonne Craig with her purple outfit, red wig, and sweet motorcycle. Introduced in the comics only two years earlier, the appearance of Barbara Gordon in this show was important for a number of reasons. First, it was one of the first portrayals of a female superhero in television and film. Ten years before Lynda Carter spun into her Wonder Woman costume, Craig donned her cowl to punch the Joker with a Ka-Pow! She stood on the same ground as Batman and Robin, often saving them from whatever dastardly deathtrap the villain of the week had caught them in. And, in doing so, she inspired girls young and old the world over. I talk a lot about how representation is important, and Craig is case in point. Right now, you can do a single Google search to find countless stories of young girls for whom this show was a gateway drug into the world of comic books, and Craig's Batgirl is at the top of the list of the reasons it resonated so much with them. Representation in media is important, because we all want to imagine we're comic book characters fighting crime, and that's made much easier when we can identify with them, much easier when the characters look like us. Now, as a white male, it's easy for me. I have a million comic book characters I can pretend to be. I can pretend to be obscure characters from the 1930s, or I can pretend to be the latest big-name superhero to grace the silver screen. They're, for the most part, white and male. But, you go outside of my group, and you find the pickings slim. People who don't look like me? They don't have a ton of options. But for the past 50 years, from broadcast to reruns, Yvonne Craig has helped to fill that role, and she did it well. Craig1And because of this, I think it's important to note that her portrayal is also a counter to one of the traditional arguments people trot out regarding diversity in comics: Companies only do it as a quick cash-grab. In Batman, Batgirl was exactly that. Ratings were lagging, so they thought if they introduced a female character, they could keep things going for a little while. It didn't work, of course -- the show only lasted one more season. But, that doesn't change the fact that the producers only introduced her to try and make a little more money. To that, I say this: Who cares? She was only on the show for a season, but look at what she inspired. The motivation for including her is irrelevant, but the result of including her is important. And the result of her inclusion in the show is a ton of little girls watching a superhero show and wanting to become Batgirl. And that is awesome. The other reason that Yvonne Craig is so important is that the show did much of the same for Batgirl as it did for Batman. Batgirl had only appeared in the comics for a couple of years before she was introduced to the TV show. Without the show, who knows if she would have continued. And then, without her, we wouldn't have Oracle or Cassandra Cain or any number of other female heroes inspired by her. And I think that so much of that public awareness is due to Craig's portrayal. As previously mentioned, she stood up with Batman, completing her own stunts and proving Batgirl as a viable member of the bat-mythos. I don't know if you can say that we definitely wouldn't have our idea of Batgirl without Craig, but there is definitely a strong chance of that. The Batman comics were already faltering during the 1960s, and DC was considering cancellation entirely. What saved the comics were editor Julius Schwartz and Batman, the TV show. So, I don't think it's a far cry to state that Craig is to thank for the popularity of Batgirl, a popularity which allowed her to continue as a character for the past fifty years. Craig lost a fight with breast cancer this week, a fight she had been taking on for nearly two years. My condolences go out to her friends and family in this time definitely, but also, my condolences go out to anyone who Craig inspired with her costumed escapades. I can understand what she meant to you on a theoretical level, but I can't truly understand how important her portrayal was. I'm not equipped to do so, and my experience in this world is different from yours. With that said, I do praise Craig for doing what she did, and I hope I've honored her memory with this post.
##

Re-Evaluating “The Killing Joke”

The Killing Joke 1At San Diego Comic-Con a few weeks ago, Bruce Timm announced that he would be producing a direct-to-video animated version of “The Killing Joke.” This was cause for much celebration for many fans on its own, but their celebration was soon heightened by the announcement that Joker veteran Mark Hamill would be returning to do the voice of the Joker. While either of these announcements would have been enough to produce massive amounts of excitement on the part of fans, together these two announcements create something new, something entirely different, something larger than life. You have one of the most iconic voices for the Joker combined with one of the most famous Batman stories. It sounds to me like an idea that prints money, and judging by the response from the fans, I’m not far off. And this is something I find a little disturbing. I get the Hamill thing. His version of the Joker is really one of the best of all time, and his voice and laugh have become associated with the character in many fans’ minds. I know I’m not the only one to hear Hamill’s voice when I read the Joker in the comic books. Any time he revisits the character is exciting and very welcomed. I, like many other people, struggle with the choice of “The Killing Joke” as the story to adapt. I didn't always feel this way. When I first purchased this book off a sale shelf for about five bucks, I was blown away. I felt like the story was complex, providing an excellent backstory for the Joker, while still maintaining an air of mystery for the character. I thought he interactions between Batman and Commissioner Gordon were all extremely well-done, and the ambiguous ending was remarkably thought-provoking in every way. Over the years, though, as I've grown as a writer, reader, and person, I've started to question that original assessment. I've started questioning if this story really deserves as much praise as it receives. Continue reading
##