Reviews
 

ICYMI–Quarterbin 33: Goodwin, Infantino, and Star Wars, Oh My

Image2In Case You Missed It, as anyone who knows me can attest, I am a huge fan of old things—old music, old stories, old whiskey.

AHEM.

Imagine my glee in finding a classic Star Wars Marvel comic from 1979 made by two giants—Archie Goodwin and Carmine Infantino! Follow me to Gaming Rebellion as I ask the question “Whatever Happened to Jabba the Hutt?”

Hello, Internet! To any of you who may have followed my column over at Ideal Comics, it is no surprise that I have a lot of comics. A lot. Now, I wouldn’t say I have an excessive amount or anything, but I do own several file cabinets whose only purpose is to hold comics–five of them, in fact.

Time was that I had all my books bagged and boarded and sorted by title and publication date; and all the good stuff Gen-X-nerds were supposed to do. In my mid-20’s I got just a little bit prosperous, and signed up for a comic subscription service, then I got busy and then I got poor again; and before you could say “limited edition, foil-embossed cover” I had a problem.

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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).

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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.

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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

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Terminator: Genisys Review, or Why I Hate Time Travel

Genisys-3There’s a riff in a classic Season 8 episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, where, after one of the characters in the movie Overdrawn at the Memory Bank comments “I’m bored!,” Tom Servo responds to his fellow riffers with, “Okay, which one of us said that?” I experienced a similar sensation while watching Terminator: Genisys when Kyle Reese says, “time travel makes my head hurt.” I looked around the theater and wondered, “Okay, which one of us said that?”

Terminator: Genisys is not the worst movie ever made. It’s not even the worst Terminator movie ever made. That said, it’s certainly not a good movie. This attempt to reboot the franchise with a fresh timeline, similar to 2009’s Star Trek, tries its best, but ultimately unravels the series’s own ethos, leaving us with a mess of a movie, and one that will most likely spark a hatred of time travel movies for many movie goers for many years to come. Continue reading

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Chris Watches TV: Humans, Episode 01

Humans-1I’ve always loved a good science-fiction story about robots. More than space travel and post-apocalyptic futures, my favorite science-fiction stories are the ones about blurring the lines between man and machine, between real and artificial intelligence. Whether the robot seeks to help or harm, when the servos start to click and turn, I start reading, or as in this case, watching.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I went into Humans. I had seen the commercials, and I was intrigued. It wouldn’t be the first story to question the line between humanity and robotics, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last. But, the production value seemed high, and I like William Hurt, so I felt it was something I should try. Ultimately, I’m happy I did. While the first episode felt a little slow, there was enough there to bring me back next week, which I suppose is all I can ask from a serialized TV show.

Humans tells the story of a parallel present in which the world is obsessed with Synths, androids that are programmed to serve humankind. The first episode is split into three different storylines, each of which focus on a different relationship between humans and their Synths. The first is about Joe Hawkins, a stressed father trying to take care of his home and three children in the absence of his wife, Laura, who has been called away for some work issue. At the end of his rope, Hawkins purchases a new Synth on a 30-day loan, which the family soon names Anita. Throughout the episode, Anita serves the Hawkins family as a faithful servant, though she has moments here and there that tell the viewer that things with her aren’t quite what they seem. For example, early in the episode, while the other Synths in the factory are shut down the for night, Anita stares up at the moon. It’s a subtle touch, and one that becomes more and more overt as the episode progresses. When Laura finally returns home, she is taken aback by her husband’s actions. She distrusts Anita, but also feels pushed to the side by the rest of the family.

The second storyline also involves Anita, but begins five weeks before the Hawkins ordeal. Five figures are walking through a forest, Anita among them. One of them, the clear group leader, asks the other four about their charge levels, cluing us into the fact that at least four members of the group are Synths. Later, three of the Synths are captured by junkers, leading the group leader, Leo, to head off to London to track them down. Included in the synths stolen is Anita, which explains how she eventually comes into the service of the Hawkins family.

The third, and final storyline, is my favorite. Hurt plays an old man, who is attempting to keep his older-model Synth from being replaced. The viewer quickly learns that this man is a widower, who feels an almost fatherly kinship to the Synth, Odi, who appears to be some sort of connection to the man’s deceased wife. It’s a touching story, and one that drew some real emotion out of me. It’s a relationship that I hope the show explores into the future.

Humans-2Throughout the three storylines, there emerges a very common theme: the emotional impact that occurs when the line between human and android begins to blur. If there’s a point at which artificial intelligence surpasses the human mind, Humans takes place right smack dab in the middle of it. Humanity is on the cusp of some real stuff going down, and we, the viewers, are getting a once-in-a-lifetime chance to observe. The writing, at least in this first episode, is fantastic. The three storylines are weaved throughout the entire first episode seamlessly, and the acting, especially from Hurt, and Colin Morgan, who plays Leo, go a long way to show how strong the bonds between humans and Synths can get within this world. There’s a subtlety to a lot of the interactions between the characters, and as an emotional character drama, they hit the nail on the head.

That said, with as much as I enjoyed the first episode, I’m not sure Humans has me hooked quite yet. It’s well-done, but I’m not seeing them break much new ground in this series so far. Books, movies, and even other TV shows, have focused on similar themes and explored them fully. I’m not sure if Humans can find even a sliver of an original statement to make on such heavily tread ground.

The series is only eight episodes long, so they don’t have much time to prove me wrong, but I still hope they do. As I said in the intro, I am a huge fan of science-fiction focused on robotics, and I’d hate to see such slick production values wasted on a boring and overdone story.

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Webcomic Review: Camp Weedonwantcha

WDW-1I love webcomics. Over the past two decades, I have moved here and there throughout the websphere, trying different comics, adding a few to my daily reading list, and removing the occasional comic that starts to lose me. I have actually been reading a handful of comics, like Penny Arcade and PVP, fairly consistently since they came online way back in the infancy of the industry. I have watched as many of these old guards worked to shape and define what the webcomic industry could become, ultimately paving the way for various newcomers to the medium over the past years.

Unfortunately, I have often become so embroiled in this old guard, that I approach any of these new artists with trepidation and fear, a rake in my hand ready to shake at them if they step on my lawn. Usually, when I do dip my toe into something new, I am greeted by the downside of having such established titans create the industry. I can’t tell you how many webcomics I’ve read that involve two gamers, one straight man and one fool, who sit on their couch and play video games. In fact, for the longest time, this was a fairly accurate representation of most video game webcomics. So much so, that I actually created such a Penny Arcade rip-off back when I started writing comics in the early 2000s. I’m not going to link to such embarrassment. There’s something called Google. If you really want to find it, I’m sure you can.

Sometimes, though, when I find a new comic, I’m pleasantly surprised. I not only find something that is enjoyable to read, but something that challenges me as a writer and creator. Such is the case with Camp Weedonwantcha by Katie Rice. Continue reading

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Quarterbin Follies #25: May the Fourth / FCBD Special

Image4Allow me to tell you a story. Actually, let me tell you two. The first one is mine, the second one is not. On to the first.

This weekend was a great one for the nerds, for the freaks and the geeks and the socially disjointed. It was the weekend of Free Comic Book Day, and for the first time ever, I braved the road and the crowds and stood in a line at two shops to get my hands on said free comics. It was a whole contingency of Rhyses that came from our little Scotts Bluff County hamlet to the big Cheyenne city, to get books from The Loft, and from Gryphon Games and Comics. There were staff and participants in costumes; there were nerds of all ages. There were cosplayers and comic up-and-comers. It made me wish we had our own products ready to go.

Continue reading

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Quarterbin Follies #24: Mars Needs Women or Luke Skywalker’s Grand-Pappy

Image1Next Monday — hoo-doggie. Next Monday is May The Fourth, and I have got a treat for all of you in seven days: a tasty, Star-Wars-y surprise. I figured, however, I would use this week before to crack open one of the oldest books I have: John Carter of Mars #2 from 1965 (Reprinted from 1953)! I am not even certain where I got this book (though I might blame Andrew Grant), and it is in pretty rough shape. Definitely a ‘reading’ copy, and that is just what I did!

In an unplanned bit of synchronicity, like TUROK from last week, John Carter had a home at Western Publishing’s Gold Key imprint. (In a planned bit of synchronicity, it is something of an open secret that John Carter was one of the prime inspirations for George Lucas and Star Wars. That’s right, breathe deep and taste the rarefied air!) Sprung from the mind of Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Borroughs, John Carter was based on the most “with-it” and the most “out-there” ideas about space travel, solar power, anthropology, cosmology, and, of course, Mars. The setup goes like this: Civil War veteran JOHN CARTER awakes on Mars (or Barsoom to the locals), having been astrally projected there. Being an earth man, and raised in our heavier gravity, Carter is stronger and faster than the average Martian, and he has soon played the hero and won the heart and the hand of DEJAH THORIS, princess of the Martian city-state Helium.

This is all background for us today, as we pick up in the midst of a titular graphic serialization of Borroughs’s second John Carter novel Gods of Mars which was itself originally serialized in All-Story magazine in 1913 (collected in 1918). I say “titular” because the events in this particular comic seem more drawn from Warlord of Mars, The third John Carter novel. Regardless, we begin with a chase, as Cater and crew (DEJAH, TARS TARKAS, and the rescued THUVIA) flee the Black Pirate THURID and PHIADOR, another Martian Princess of the Thern, or White Martian peoples. (Really, Borroughs laid his racial context very thick in these tales. So thick with races and peoples, it would be hard to address in a blog. So, I probably won’t.)

Image2As I said, it begins with a chase, but during this chase, an event happens that I almost never spot in modern comics — expositional dialog. Now, allow me to clarify a skoche. Lots and lots of comics use dialogue to forward the narrative, but that is not what I mean. I am talking about the way comics used to be written before the direct sales system. You never knew for sure what issues you were going to get where, and so monthlies had to fill-in the kids that missed out last month. With this story, I more than got the gist of the first issue (mainly that John had killed Issus, the false goddess of the Martian ruling classes) from the first three pages of this one, and all while NEW stuff was happening!

Thurid, having a faster ship, overtakes the Carter’s and sends them from the sky. In a ploy involving carnivorous plants and nerve gas, John and Tars Tarkas are left for dead, while the ladies are kidnapped into the mountains. One rescue later, and John Carter hunts down his wife on his lonesome, only to see her taken by Thurid again! This time Thuvia is left behind to tell Carter that the pirate has escaped to the far North! The two friends must venture into a place where legend has it know one returns from!

Meanwhile, Thurid stands captured before Salensus Oll, the Jeddak (king) of the forgotten and hidden Yellow Martians of the North Pole, whose Pole connected super magnet has kept all flyers from returning southward for some time. This king has decided to take Dejah Thoris as his Queen, and the only thing in his way is John Cater!

Image3There is more political intrigue and plotting to be had, plus characters and monsters; but you wouldn’t want me to ruin it all, right? All in all, it was a right fun read that packed a lot of content into it. Unlike many newer books, I actually had to read this one! No writer’s artist info were given, and while not the best of either I’ve read, it was still pretty good.

I did not grow up with John Carter. In fact, my first exposure to the character was in the back of Allan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. That and the afore mentioned Disney movie. Well, I really love the world Burroughs built for Carter. It is rich and textured, and I cannot wait to read a bit more. This comic was a little like Burroughs-lite, but it was a great primer for the Sci-fi engine as we taxi toward Monday next!

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QuarterBin Follies #23: Turok Tuesday

Image1bI guess with a title like that, the metaphorical cat is out of the imagined bag, here. Today, we are going to discuss and review Turok, specifically, Turok: Dinosaur Hunter #1, the opener for the 1993 Valiant Comics series. Turok has long been on my ‘B-team’ of comic fandom.

I ought to explain, because the B-Squad is NOT the not-ready-for-prime-timers, au contraire. My B-team is populated by the characters I like enough to say I dig ’em, but not so much I have spent so much money on them. Folks like Zorro, Daredevil, Hellboy, The-Big-Red-Cheese Captain Marvel, and even Supes himself. Time-tossed Turok is among these noble warriors, and I am glad to have him there! Continue reading

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