Friday, August 25, 2006

Potpourri for 300, Art

Hi! Welcome to the new Recreation Annex! I received an invitation to Blogger Beta, so the joint has been classed up a bit. You can see there's a new list in the sidebar - this new Blogger interface allows for labels on each post, so I have backfilled those. Now my hundreds scores dozens of loyal readers can sort prior posts by category. Yay, technology!

I also took this opportunity to add some more comix blog links. I figure that I should have just about everything from my Bloglines here, too, right? Thanks to all of you for providing me with so much entertainment and information. And an especial shout-out today to the Keeper over at Fortress of Fortitude, who I have found thinks a lot like I do, but posts a whole lot more.

There's some actual new content this week as well, so go ahead and scroll down.

I guess I'm a Wonder Woman fan now

Way back in the day, I think pre-COIE, a buddy and I were talking about Wonder Woman. Her magazine was pretty lackluster (I know that doesn't narrow down the timeframe much) and we were trying to figure out how to jumpstart the character a bit. I had this idea:

Diana quits being Wonder Woman. They have another contest or some other selection process on Paradise Island to find a replacement representative to Man's World. Another Amazon is picked (who looks enough like Diana that no licensing/merchandising opportunities are affected); she comes to the U.S., and before she assumes the star-spangled swimsuit, she does a bit of research/recon of her new country. She discovers that while it has a lot of problems, the principles for which it stands and the values upon which it was created resonate with her. So she dons the traditional costume to remind Americans of what they could -- and should -- be. This reconciled WW's patriotic affect with my own progressive attitudes and provided what I thought would be a fresh approach to the character

Okay, but what about the original? Well, taking a page from hew own past, Diana Prince would shuck the costume and become a freelance adventurer, maybe a P.I.; she travels around the world, trying to figure out her place in it after so many years of being a superhero. Still possessing Amazonian strength and skill, she would be a formidable character, but she would be hanging more with the non-powered types in the DCU - Johnny Double, Jason Bard, those guys. Maybe I Ching would even have a little comeback. I pictured Diana wearing mostly black: workout clothes, weightlifting gloves, running shoes, maybe with a grey sweatshirt over the top. I dug through my files and found what I think is a little sketch I made of her:

Maybe that little backstory will help explain why I loved Wonder Woman #2 and this panel in particular:

It's like my idea is coalescing, twenty years later, only with really good art and writing! Diana has given up being Wonder Woman, another woman has taken up that role, Diana is still adventuring but is teamed with a non-powered character (Nemesis), and I Ching makes a cameo (however ambiguous). She's even wearing black at the start of the comic. What a fanboy dream!

Actually, notwithstanding the tenuous connection I am trying to draw here, this is just a really good book. It hits just the right balance between seriousness and fun, is beautiful to look at, and is full of wonderful touches (like Giganta's necklace), and has a great last-page reveal (again!).

Yep, I'm a fan. I just hope I don't have to wait so long for #3.

Shades of Mr. Christopher...

So, Pluto has been deplanetized by the International Astronomical Union as of Thursday, August 24, 2006. There had been some last minute politicking over the redefinition of planet (that's what this is all about) that would have actually expanded the category to clearly embrace not only Pluto but Ceres (the biggest asteroid) and Xena (a faraway, just-discovered body*) as well, but in the end the conservative forces won out and and after IAU Resolution 5A passed, we were down to just eight planets in our system. To add insult to injury, an additional resolution to name the category of bodies to which Pluto has been consigned "plutonian objects" failed in favor of the designation "trans-neptunian."

Poor Pluto. It was always my favorite planet, spinning out there so far away in space, the warm sun a mere bright speck in the sky. I liked the idea that after the four smaller terrestrial planets came the four gas giants, and then little Pluto, messing up the curve like the exchange student in French class. I liked that it didn't seem to fit in, and yet there it was, with all the other cool kids in the solar system.

Pluto was a great destination in science-fiction and in comics: even with a spaceship, it was often a long haul to Pluto. And Plutonians themselves were usually cool - in more ways than one. As a matter of fact, I can't think about Pluto without picturing this guy:

If memory serves, he came to Earth on some sort of mission, got amnesia, and couldn't figure out why he was so hot all the time. Then he remembered - he was from Pluto! Of course!**

So, the IAU may have kicked Pluto off the roster, and countless posters and textbooks will have to be changed across the country and around the world, but we'll still have the ninth planet, in all its comic-bookish incarnations, to keep us warm cool.

*Which I just realized would have described Lucy Lawless in 1995.

**I also remember this comic as a particularly egregious example of the great cover art/not-so-great interior dissonance. While this scene does indeed appear in the story, even the Infantino/Sachs interior art pales next to this cool Kubert drawing.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

A league of their own

I didn't plan well enough to make time for a thoughtful post this weekend (I'm heading out of town), so I thought I would be the johnny-come-latest on Bully's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen-themed meme. (It might take some of the pressure off Jake at YOCBB.)

I had one little misgiving about the concept: so far, most of the teams have played into the traditional approach that the only woman on the team has as her primary characteristic just being a woman. Even if it is specified that the woman must be mysterious, it still feels a bit tokenish. In response to my personal response to that feeling, I decided to stand the meme on its head.

The League of Extraordinary Women
(from the late and sometimes lamented TV of my youth)

The Leader

Mrs. Emma (Knight) Peel
This "talented amateur" has been on enough successful counter-espionage missions to have developed the tactical chops to lead any team on any operation - the more bizarre, the better.

The Rogue

Honey West
This proto-feminist P.I. didn't always play by the rules, even with her loyal partner.

The Muscle

Det. Katy Mahoney
Known as "Dirty Harriet" for her tougher-than-nails approach to dealing with criminals, Mahoney packs quite a punch - with or without her .357 Magnum. (Seriously, her show Lady Blue was way over the top, even for the eighties. Check out this NYT article.)

The Man of Mystery

Remington Steele
Who is this sexy, alluring figure that walked into Laura Colt's detective agency and assumed the identity of the fictitious partner she had created? No one knows - but they don't mind having him around.

The Gal with a "Boat"

Col. Wilma Deering
Okay, I'm reaching on this one, but she does have access to a spaceship that could carry everyone, and she rocked. It could be pretty cool.

The Mastermind

Jessica Fletcher
Who else could keep track of labyrinthian plots and the chess-like strategems the League will need?

I'll put this gang up against anyone's.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Totally... something

Not too long ago, there was a bit of discussion on the comix-blogs (Progressive Ruin, as well as other places) after Infinite Crisis on the (dare I say it?) artistic merits of Giant Company-Spanning Crossover Events, as well as their efficacy as marketing tools. Some of the discussion centered on the audience for these tales; were hardcore fanboys and fangirls the only ones who could appreciate - or understand - them anyway? Or would a newcomer to the [fill-in-company-name] universe be captivated by the breadth of characters and the sweep of the story and become a permanent fan?

This got me thinking about a different GCSCE, one that is in the Last Shortbox. It is a five-part prestige format miniseries, graced by superb Bill Sienkewicz covers:

Total Eclipse Nos. 1 - 5, May 1988 - April 1989, Eclipse Comics
Writer: Marv Wolfman;
Penciller: Bo Hampton (et alia); Inker: Rick Bryant (et alia)

Eclipse Comics was an independent making a run for the big time back in the eighties. They had some very interesting properties: the whole Airboy family of golden-age aviation-related heroes, including Sky Wolf, Valkyrie, The Flying Dutchman and others; original stuff from the mainstream Spidey-esque Prowler to the oddball time-traveler Aztec Ace; disparate insider characters Miracleman and Destroyer Duck; supergroups like New Wave; and the one-of-a-kind Beanworld were all published under the Eclipse imprimatur.

I read some of their offerings back in the day, but I wasn't a big fan, by any means. I probably bought Total Eclipse because I wanted to sample the line, as it were, and kept it mostly as an historical document. It has been over fifteen years since I first read it and likely ten since I last looked at it; the long span of time between 1988 and now is enough for me to have forgotten most of what I might have known about the characters. I figured this would be a good test of the appeal of the GCSCE: would this epic be accessible to a relative stranger, someone who was unfamiliar with the characters and the motifs, even if predisposed to the form?

Well, in a word, no.

To tell you the truth, I couldn't even really read the thing - it's nearly incomprehensible. There's some kind of plot about a reluctant immortal named Zzed who wants to commit suicide but can't, and who somehow gets involved with a bad guy named Nine-Crocodile, and there's some sort of cosmic maguffin that everyone is after, and different realities are blending into each other, and heroes meet and punch stuff to set things right. Whatever. In any event, there's so much that has to happen to make all these people meet each other that is just seems too complicated to follow or care about, especially if there's no special resonance with the characters already in place.

On top of this, there's just too much else to do while trying to tell the story. First of all, every character has to be introduced with his or her shorthand background story, so we get deathless internal monologues such as this one from the Prowler:

Shades of the Silver Age! Scipio would love it, but it sure gets old as character after character is introduced.

Even worse than the introductions are the juxtapositions. While the book tries to stay with a core group of heroes that seemed to complement each other, trying to shoehorn in every character published (that was the total in Total Eclipse, see?) at some point was an unworkable self-restriction. (I think it worked okay in DC's Showcase #100, but that was just really just a 64-page stunt.) It lead to a lot of dissonance, as this page with Spirit-homage Masked Man, Millie-the-Model-homage Max and Mo, and noir heroine Ms. Tree all responding to the same eclipse shows:

I think as a dramatic device, that worked about as well as that time that the cast of Friends was caught in a blackout that Kramer caused on Seinfeld.

But of course, it's really all about the tights 'n' fights, so we are treated to specatular battle scenes such as this one:

The bad guys aren't the only ones who are confused - I needed to flip back through the pages to see who was who, because I couldn't tell a lot of the time.

The upshot? I had fond, if vague, memories of this series and wanted to like it. Looking at it somewhat objectively, I have to say that if its task was to lure in new readers, it wouldn't have worked with me. There are a few moments of grace and humor, but overall it just seemed like a relentless crossover engine that just kept chugging along, shoving a new character into my face every few pages or so, characters who, however lovingly crafted by their creators, were reduced to stereotype in these pages. What this means in the context of Infinite Crisis or Civil Wars or whatever is next down the pike, I can't say for sure, but I think I'll likely give the next GCSCE a pass, as I have done for most of them.

But Total Eclipse sure did rock some great covers:

Sunday, August 06, 2006


I have tried to stay away from self-reflection in this forum and to concentrate on the comics themselves, but let me get meta for a moment, if I may.

My relationship with comics has been problematic of late. I clearly have an affinity for the form, since I keep returning to it, but I'm not exactly sure what I get from it - or what I want from it. A look at three of my purchases last week at the the wonderful Zanadu Comics in Seattle are emblematic of this issue:

99 Ways to Tell a Story
2005 Chamberlain Bros. Matt Madden

I am a teacher of rhetoric and have been interested lately in a more scholarly approach to understanding comics. The internet is full of folks pursuing similar goals: Scott McCloud is probably the best-known analyst of this nature, Neil Cohn has done extensive work with what he calls visual language, and Derik Badman is doing some interesting and fun experiments with formalism at his site, just to name a few.

Madden's book is a great work in the vein: he takes a simple story (a man en route to the refrigerator from his desk is asked the time by his housemate; this interruption causes him to forget what he was after) and tells it 99 times, changing art style. or page layout, or perspective, or genre - you name it. It is an amazing and insightful exercise, with applications not only for understanding comics but all types of writing and storytelling. It was well worth its price and I'm sure I will refer to it over and over. But it's not really comics; it's about comics.

Enemy Ace: War in Heaven
2003 DC Comics: Garth Ennins, Chris Weston, Christian Alamy, and Russ Heath

In addition to reading about comics, I still want to read comics themselves, and this is comics. I like the graphic novel format (Cohn would have it graphic book; I still like prestige format) rather than pamphlets or singles these days and this purchase, however you wish to label it, did not disappoint. Ennis provides a textured, layered story that takes all the threads from the original Enemy Ace comics and tells a complex story of a complicated man in difficult times. With excellent, moody art (Heath!), readers get excitement and engagement not only through battle scenes like the one above, but through quiet moments such as this one:

This book is a fully developed work, a thoughtful treatment of important themes with a mature sensibility in every panel; it represents the best that comics can be and exactly what I am looking for these days.

And yet...

Agents of Atlas No. 1
2006 Marvel Comics: Jeff Parker, Leonard Kirk, Kris Justice

... I did buy a single, because, you know, who can resist a robot and a machine-gun-toting gorilla in the same panel?

Agents of Atlas is a rollicking good read, an update of a fairly silly What If? from years ago which, in addition to robots and gorillas, has spies, flying saucers, and Fu Manchu. It takes me back, and if they don't try to make it a "serious" treatment (how could they?), I may even stick with it.

So there it is: My multivalent relationship with comics. Thanks for coming along on this exploration. Next time: back to the shortbox.