Thursday, December 29, 2011

Writing Checks Your @$$ Can Cash - New Year's Eve Special #1

I will not make a New Year's Eve resolution. That's like a morbidly-obese man swearing off gummy bears. Well, that's a start...

No, no, no, - I'll still be reading comics - which means the collection lives.

Has anyone ever seen a storage bin full of comics? It's like the elephant in the room walked out of the closet/garage/basement/attic/trunk/house (house? Yikes!) and snuggled into a bolt hole. In fact, these collections found in storage bins are more like bears than elephants - they found a cave to settle in for the winter - or at least swapped places with the Christmas stuff.

Two months ago I went to a storage bin that the owner stopped paying rent for (he resolved to forget about it). I found a "The Batman" action figure still in its packaging (more like a dust jacket than a display case) and a copy of All-Star Comics featuring the Justice Society with the Super Squad - Power Girl, Robin and The Star-Spangled Kid. It was a good comic, but it was mangled and it had been bagged with a pack of temporary tattoos - I sold it for five bucks. Eh. Seriously, they should do a revival of the Super Squad. The comic I read looked like DC's equivalent of Marvel's The Defenders, where you had alternating teams, but Power Girl's still around, so is Robin (well, Red Robin - the character, not the fast food chain), and Stargirl is Star-Spangled Kid's replacement...that could work...

Top 10 of 2011 - no rules, here, just comics that are/were available this year:

1. Doppelganger - Inspired by an old Dell comic, Tom Neely gives Popeye a little existential angst in this indie mini-comic. Is what he am all that he am and therefore, all that he is?

2. Savage Dragon #175 - Erik is firing on all cylinders, here. You could argue that this is a comeback after  an offkey decade.

3. Ducktales #1 - never mind the inside - what's outside is a surprise for a show that's been gone for over 20 years.

4,5,6,7 - Ducktales/Darkwing Duck: "Strange Currency" - The crossover and climax may remind you of Spider-Man: Maximum Carnage... or not. Worth a look, warts and all.

8. DC Retroactive: Justice League International Special - One more shot by Keith and J.M.. This one is better than the two "Formerly Known As/I Can't Believe It's Not" reunion mini-series.

9. Spider-Man: Spider-Island - What on Earth made this work? Dan Slott, that's who. Take a bow, Dan.

10. Batman Inc. #7 : This self-contained, Tony Hillerman-esque remake of "Batman: Indian Chief" stands out from Morrison's concept-heavy material of late. And it all made sense on the first read!

Oh, why not?...My resolution is to continue and keep writing. Stick around. Happy New Year, Everyone.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Christmas Playlist

Christmas Specials for 2011:

1. How The Grinch Stole Christmas

2. A Charlie Brown Christmas

3. Mickey's Christmas Carol

4. The Simpsons Christmas Special

5. A Flintstone Family Christmas

6. Doctor Who: The Next Doctor

7. The Proud Family (this Kwanzaa special is the best episode of the series - never mind that the holiday has been debunked - the meaning comes through very clear, here)

8. Winnie The Pooh and Christmas Too

9. Bugs Bunny's Christmas Tales

10. Yogi's All-Star Comedy Christmas Caper - just for all of you to stare and compare with the movie Elf and see what I mean. Wally Gator cameo!

Christmas themed episodes:

1. Married with Children

2. Darkwing Duck "It's A Wonderful Leaf"

3. Merry Christmas, Doctor Who (this is actually an outtake that has Tom Baker, Mary Tamm and K9 getting frisky with liquor bottles waved around) "What do you desire most for Christmas, Doctor?", asks K9. And Tom immediately glances at Mary Tamm. :) It's an extra on The Armageddon Factor-special edition DVD and on YouTube

4. Family Guy "A Very Special freakin' Christmas"

5. American Dad

6. Batman - "Holiday Knights" and "Christmas With The Joker"

Christmas Movies

1. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation

2. A Christmas Story

3. Santa Claus: The Movie

4. Love, Actually (actually, this is just one for the ladies - so that's where Garry Marshall gets his ideas!)

5. Home Alone

Merry ChrismaHanuKwanRam3Kings Eve Everyone!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Comic Book Rehab Carol - Part 3 (Behind The Scenes)

Yes, Virginia, I do have deleted alternate scenes.

I had a different intro in mind for the ghost of Christmas present - then I realized that this was not Caitlin Fairchild, this was Abbey Chase in the bathtub from Danger Girl. So , I started over, but I kept this set-up. Enjoy!

I heard a noise in the bathroom. Water splashing...

My bathroom was no longer just a bathroom - it had become a luxurious, glamorous, magnificent marble and gold palatial bath, offering a 360 degree panorama of Aspen's mountains at sunset. This explosion of warm orange, amber and violet color made this palace rich and...where the heck am I?

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Comic Book Rehab Carol - Part 6


 A draft made the window blind slam the window with such a clatter, I had awakened  to see what was the matter. I had slept on the couch, fully-clothed and with cap, as if I had not taken a long winters nap.

I opened the window and shouted out into the streets, "What day is this?"

An old woman walking her toy dog replied, "huh?"

Never mind, I thought, returning to my couch. I found the remote, turned on the tv, searched the program guide, and what did I see?

December 23.

I had not missed it! Well, actually, I missed the 21st, which was the day the new books arrived at the comic shop, but that means I had not missed the 28th! There was time! Time to check for holiday sales and new comics, if any! And I will be looking forward to it this time! For this time, I know the spirits will have a surprise in store for me...

You see, that night I spent was not a mere fool's errand - I had made the universe of comics and the comic book marketplace a BETTER place. The spirits took stock of the error in their ways and change would trickle down from within.

And then they will come back. Not today right away, but in the days, months and years ahead, a new joy will be found in the now-happy medium, one built on solid entertainment, honesty, and care.

And Big Boobs, of course.

And as I joined the grinning old man wearing enormous sunglasses in riding with him in his Ferrari to enjoy the fine Burbank sunset that day, we shouted,

"Merry Christmas to all! Excelsior everyone!"


Friday, December 16, 2011

A Comic Book Rehab Carol - Part 5

I felt something slithering across my feet - his cape! It had grown so long that it had flooded the floor like a red carpet - the corners of it crawled up and tied me up and lifted me off the floor and held me in the air, making direct eye contact with its host.

"Now, you will see what it feels like to be trapped in a world you never made!"

"Al?...go right ahead, but have you ever wondered why you never tried it before, or why you would need me to do it?"

He seemed to tilt his head just a bit, as if to pause and reflect on that was hard to tell with that expressionless face what a brown study should look like.

"I don't have much time," he admitted, and held out his hand. An unusual rectangular object appeared out of thin air above his palm. It was his power chronometer - the eternal countdown/gauge that measured how much power he had spent, how much was left, and how much time he had left. It was unreadable to all but him. "There's so much I have not many things I should have done in the time I had and wasted...just wasted...marking time.

"I discovered a way to change my fate - by trading universes,  I won't have to endure this shallow status quo. I will change."

"It won't work. Your plan is built on a false premise. You think you're all out of time, but that's what you've been made to think, so that you think you can't go anywhere because of this pathetic weakness, and as a result of this, you've ALL become Brand ecch."


His cape released me, and I landed on my feet. "No, it's true. You're blaming the faithful readership, chasing after a phantom demographic all these years - one that does not respect you. This plan of yours won't work because your energy does not exist in our world - your stuff is always the stuff of dreams - constructs of someone else's imagination - we think, therefore, you are."

"I'm doomed." His cape seemed to shrink back to a more standard size, his glowing green eyes dimmed, his body began to hide within the folds of the red cloak.

"No, you're not. You'll be fine, I'll be fine. But you know what you have to do. You and all the other spirits go back to where you belong and start the change from there. Change happens from within. AND I'M GIVING YOU JUST 10 SECONDS! SO, COME ON! CHANGE!!"

The whole room went fuzzy... I started to black out...

To be concluded...

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Boy Who Helped Make Good Batman Movies

I just read Michael Uslan's memoir, "The Boy Who Loved Batman," and maybe a more apropos title would be "The Boy Who Dreamed About Batman"...actually, that doesn't sound right...on with the review..

I came out of reading the book thinking that Uslan was portraying himself as a fan who made it - this is the guy who grew up loving comics and was never tempted to move on and managed to successfully parlay his hobby into a career as a Hollywood producer. And he wants to tell the story of a pop culture guru/whizkid who anticipated everything and saw it all coming years before everyone else. And the story of an average supernerd who gets lucky and lives out the fanboy fantasy of authenticating, validating, and vindicating the stuff of his youth and young adulthood, hitting paydirt via luck, social networking savvy and spunk more than anything else.

Uslan's greatest contribution as an executive was as a catalyst and support system - if any director had grand ideas for a Batman movie, it was Uslan who could step up as the happy warrior and fight for him, but only if those ideas appealed to his own reasoning. In Hollywood, if you don't have the support of SOMEBODY, a "warrior" behind one of those desks to push an idea, it can stay in "development hell" long after you're gone.  He had been championing the concept of doing a serious Batman film for years, but in my opinion, could never articulate it well enough for it to be realized until the arrival of Tim Burton. It was not a perfect union - Uslan hints that this relationship got ugly when Burton chose Michael Keaton for the title role. It took a hell of a lot of convincing to get Uslan and the other executives to see otherwise, and by that time so much money and energy and resources had been invested in the project, they had to go along with the decision if they ever hoped to recoup.

Uslan should be a familiar face to fans of superhero movies who watch DVD bonus features and documentaries on superheroes and comic books. He's one of the guests who offer socio-psychological-historic rhetoric on the enduring popularity of these characters - all of which falls apart the moment you actually get in the habit of reading the books or walking into any comic shop, unfortunately. I always wondered how marketing and collecting hoopla, large balloon breasts, promotional gimmicks, stunts fit in with all that talk of "Modern-day Folklore".  Uslan often drops numerical values of old comics throughout the book. Money gets mentioned a lot here, and it goes against the grain when he talks about passion and fidelity to portrayals of comic book characters.

Ironically, I  found that I could relate to Uslan in the sense that the love of Batman that we get from the book is of a Batman that exists in Uslan's imagination - he can point to Christopher Nolan's Batman and Tim Burton's Batman and Dennis O'Neil's and Steve Englehart's and say, "That's my Batman!", and he could point to an inconsistent sampling of 20 comics through the decades and say that his Batman is there, too. That list appears in the last third of the book, and it reads like a blog entry than what it should have been: a book itself, offering commentary and analysis as to what he finds in these choices a distillation of the Batman of his dreams. Then, we would have a more powerful book, and not a "The Kid Stays In The Picture"/"Field Of Dreams"-esque mish-mash. We also get invited to peek at his collection of boilerplate correspondence, autographs, memorabilia and false career starts and comics - can you imagine what it would've been like if he hadn't made it and this stuff was just rotting away in his house (or his parents house)? We would've lost a warrior.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Comic Book Rehab Carol - Part 4

I wasn't aware of the fact that I did not arrive back home - I was paying more attention to the large man with his back turned. The white tunic, light blue cape and large, turnip-shaped head made him all too easy to identify.

There is a time for action and a time for reaction. A time to object and a time to interject. For this creature, it is never one of those times. He never interferes. He simply and only watches.

So they say...

We were standing in what appeared to be a massive control room of sorts, with a clear high-domed ceiling that offered an uncharacteristically busy view of outer space. we were on the Moon. He was preoccupied with a massive wall of monitor screens - each appearing to offer distinctive images he requested.

He was a cosmic couch potato without a couch.

"Are you...the ghost of Christmas future?," I asked.

He turned to face me. his eyes were pools of glowing, firey amber. He turned to face the screens and pointed at a group of images with a lone finger...images...of me...

There was I, a decade older, drunk bidding a small fortune on an Adam West bust - the fourth in my collection...  )  ;P

There I was, 11 years older, picking up a package from the post office - 50 issues of Jughead featuring Trula Twyst...

Was I there? - 12 years older, paying 200 dollars for Mark Hamill's autograph for a photo of him from ...Corvette Summer ?

There - 13 years older, selecting the 4th, not the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd copy of a new issue offered on the shelf at a comic shop.

Was That me? - 20 years older, watching someone select the 5th copy of a comic offered on the shelf, then walking over and resetting that stack...why am I bothering to do that?

I...think I'm working in a comic shop...

I...think I'm in charge of a store I own...a dead comic shop...



" Yes, you, " the spirit spoke. He began to change. Transforming...becoming leaner, meaner, darker. The demure blue, yet quietly confident cape grew outward and expanded into bloody crimson red. The turnip-shaped head shrank into a narrow oval and the eyes outsized it - those firey amber pupil-less corneas glowing a bubbling, steamy green. Spiky studded chains and collars tore through the modest tunic - the long chains landing on the floor with a resounding clang that could wake the dead.

He became a darker shadow of his former self, literally and figuratively. If the former made a crow's nest among the stars, the latter was more likely to find a comfortable vantage point in a shadowy corner of a dank dead end nowhere - an alley, perhaps?

"You're the first spirit I've encountered with an identity crisis : a marvelous two-in-one. The 1st spirit wanted to stay relevant, the 2nd was an armchair spectator of the past, the 3rd wanted depth and recognition in the present day. What do you want?"

His voice was a low smouldering roar, his posture that of a sleeping giant finally awake. "I want to use my powers. I'm going to save my universe by destroying yours."

To be continued...

Friday, December 9, 2011

A Comic Book Rehab Carol - Part. 3

La, da, dee, da, da, da, da, daa - heaven must be missing an angel ... look what Santa left under the tree for me!

Lying on her stomach naked - with a long, long, wide red ribbon wrapped around the naughty bits - a tall, voluptuous, statuesque, red and gold highlight-haired goddess, with a perfect come over here stare, eyeing me up and down as I did likewise.

"There must be an angel playing with my heart."

She giggled. "You're sweet. But there's another song - 'Too Much of Heaven'. Do you know it?"

The voice did not go with the body - it was that of a haughty, insecure introvert, not an amazon extrovert - but it didn't turn me off. "Eiffel 65 - Europop. I used to have the album. What's your name?"

"Ghost of Christmas Present. I like to use code names, though. I'll be Number One and you can be ... Number 6. I had hoped you wouldn't mind if I unwrapped  a little early, but I kept the bow on. You can keep the wrapper." She tossed a piece of cloth to me and I caught it. It was a green and purple pleather one piece, with a "13" insignia stitched along the shoulders on both sides. I recognized her.

"My reputation and representation have been as good as stale egg nog for a long time, but I feel like trying again. Want to come with me?"

"You don't need to ask."

She smiled. "Great! Wrap me up."

She stood up and instructed me to grab layers and layers of ribbon that she had laid on top of and wrap them around her body until I could tie a large, comfortable bow across her bosom. The ribbon had blocked my view. When I finished, I found we had transported to another place - a busy comic shop.

She waved her arm across the crowd in the store. "Look at this crowd. They're here for a sale - all items in the shop up to 40% off. Do you know what this is?"

"Well, 40% off a four dollar comic book is -,"

"Is sad. These people don't come here every week. The stuff is not really in high demand, the supply is low to create demand, then the store has a sneaky sales gimmick to balance the profit."

"Comic shops always had sales - like 50-cent bins. Publishers always had gimmicks, like relaunches and re numberings."

She frowned. "50-cent comics - plus tax, muddled relaunches and numbers games...Look at that."

She pointed at a comic - Red Hood and The New Outlaws. "I can't believe people fussing over this lime-eyed Oompa Loompa and her teardrop-perfect -,"

"Spirit, why are we here?"

She snapped out of her funk, but her expression did not change. "If these shadows go unchanged, I see profitable drinking pubs where many comic shops once stood."

"But...that means...this medium will...die?"

The spirit seemed distracted by a particular comic on the shelf with the new books.

"Spirit? Number One? Cait -,"

"Look, a white sketch cover variant! There wasn't time for me to have one! But I can change that! I'll do a self-portrait! That'll keep me out of the half-dollar bins for sure! I've got the confidence now! No contrived rips or tears this time! Unwrap me and wish me luck!"

I did what she asked, and no sooner did her nude form fade out and appear on that blank cover...the whole setting began to go out of focus again.

"Good luck, Caitlin."

To be continued...

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Comic Book Rehab Carol - Part 2

I heard a light tapping on my window. I saw a gloved hand creeping along the side of it, then a full figure slowly emerge as it leaned sideways, asking me to let him in. He was wearing a bright blue suit, with a matching fedora and a domino mask over his face.

I opened the window and he climbed in.

"Thank you," he said, and removed his hat to wipe the sweat off his bald head."I never feel too old for climbing. Anyway, The Man left your address on this matchbook  I scooped up."

"You're the Christmas spirit of the past?"

"Yeah, - The Christmas Spirit. How are you?"

"I'm fine. You look familiar. Have I seen you in the movies?"

He leaned forward. "You didn't see me in any movie."

"Fine. Where are we going?"

He walked to the window that had the fire escape. "Fire escapes are not my style. I prefer using my hands and feet and grabbing a hold to get where I'm going, but not when I'm a guest. We're going down - back to where it all started."

We climbed out the window and onto the fire escape, where the spirit led the way down to the ladder leading to the street. Just when it looked like we were about to climb off it, the spirit stopped me.

"Right here. This is the right spot to look in on the action."

What used to be a laundromat on the ground level had now become a store with a sign that read USED BOOKS. In that short walk I had been transported to another time and place.

I looked in on the action. a few people were lined at the register buying some old hardcovers and paperbacks. At a far corner, I could see two teenagers digging through some long boxes.

"This is the germ of the idea for the comic book store. Old copies of comic books were sold in used bookstores. This activity did not go unnoticed, as publishers were interested in new venues beyond newsstands."

"Wow! Tell me more."

"No. Less is more. Now follow me. Take this."

He instructed me to tie rope around my waist using carabiner rings as he did to his waist. We hopped off the fire escape and climbed the wall of the building two stories and stopped as comfortably as you could imagine on a window ledge. He pointed at a wide window. We were again transported to another place.

"Look. In twenty years time, comic shops are everywhere. This is the back room of one store. It's crammed with overstock."

"What happened? Nobody's buying comics?"

"They are - but not enough to match the number of copies being printed. The supply has outweighed the demand, and this store is about to be closed. Some of the stores facing this problem will survive, but only because their owners own the building."

"This is silly - you would think they would know not to buy too much of an item that's not in demand."

"Remember - comics were seen as an investment. Their ambitions and hasty decision-making was no different from yours - you all fashioned these memories yourselves."

"Wasn't there anything you could've done to change these events from happening?'

"Nah - I never faired too well in the shops. I fared better on the streets, in the papers. That bailiwick was my section."

He smiled at me and tipped his hat as he and everything around me fell out of focus...

To be continued...

Monday, December 5, 2011

A Comic Book Rehab Carol - Pt. 1

It was a very unseasonably warm night in December. I had turned my home into a counting house - for counting comics. I was tweeting about how my doorbell looked like an old man wearing sunglasses. I was just about to tweet a joke about stoking the fireplace with an unread stack of Gen 13's and DV8's when I heard a clatter of chains and an eerie draft entered the livingroom. The draft had the smell of browned comic book pages and Old apparition faded into view...

"A proton pack! A proton pack! My kingdom for a proton pack!," I howled.

"Face front and at ease, true believer."

I realized who I was looking at, or who the apparition had taken the form of - Stan. Stan "The Man". He was covered with mildewed patches labeled, "Pow", "Stan Lee Media", "The Governator", "Ravage 2009", "Stripperella", "Just Imagine", "NFL Superpro", "The 7th Portal", "Lightspeed", and "Mosaic".

"Do you remember how I looked when I was young and looked like Bea Arthur's husband on Maude?"

"Yes, I do. You know, if you were to watch that show and Jon Pertwee's Doctor Who back-to-back, you wouldn't know the difference."

"Hmmph...Odin will get you for that one, effendi."

"You think I'm hindu?"

"It's just an expression."

"Oh, sorry. Go right ahead."

"Do you remember when I presided over the wedding of Spider-Man and Mary Jane Watson at Shea Stadium and wished them a long and happy marriage?"

"Oh, yeah, sure - and when that marriage ended, you said that 'change is good' or something or other...who lives to keep track of quotes, anyway?"

"Silence!...Do you remember when I hosted Who Wants To Be A Superhero?"

"Yes,...all those poor, deluded, misguided fools..."

"That's enough! Listen - I'm here to warn you! You are doomed into wearing more patches than I! You may even end up as something much more horrendous - an Autopen!"

"What do you want me to do?"

"You will be visited tonight by three spirits. Listen to them, learn from them - or you may wind up trolling the halls of  next year's Comic Con in ill-fitting karate gi and claiming to be a Jedi Knight." 

"You can tear up my ticket right now."

"Oh, no, just wait...wait for them. Believe that, true believer. Believe that."

"Isn't there anything you could teach me?"

"Stay away from Brand Ecch. Excelsior!"

He faded away...

To be continued...

Thursday, December 1, 2011

No $#!+ Sherlock - Part. 3 of 5 - Comic Book Rehab

I finally got to see "Sherlock: The Great Game", or as I call it, "Doctor Who: The Two Doctors". Let me explain:

Cartoons produced by Hanna-Barbera are famous for capitalizing on the same idea over and over - Yogi Bear and Huckleberry Hound were their first big stars, so the following decade (this would be the 1960's) saw a large assortment of bow tie and porkpie hat-wearing anthropomorphic funny animals with similar vocal patterns. The Flintstones was their first successful half-hour length show, so they tried others, like The Jetsons and Roman Holidays. And every cartoon in the 70's was Scooby Doo in disguise - even The Superfriends! I actually thought Wally Gator was funnier than Yogi, and some people love Quick Draw McGraw over Huckleberry Hound, and some people prefer Superfriends over Scooby, and some (like Chuck Dixon) only enjoyed The Jetsons, but this goes against the grain - it's not asking whether the chicken or egg came first: we're just comparing eggs. It's like that picky shopper in the film "Clerks" who was picking a dozen eggs out of different cartons - is this madness? If we can tell the product is the same, why not move on or just stay with the one product? Why don't I find Yogi as funny as Wally?

I can answer that question easy - I don't like Ranger Smith, and the food-related storylines made the cartoon seem limiting - why would Yogi want to compete in a space race or solve mysteries in Jellystone Mall? He's just a bear who wants to snack on human food. Wally, on the other hand, was bored , and was eager to go anywhere, do anything , to break out - that speaks to anybody! Sure, the cartoons would end with Wally running back home, but after 7 minutes of "Next stop, anywhere," home is where everyone thinks of going back to.

Now... if you don't watch the BBC or BBC America, are not a fan of sci-fi and fantasy, and only surf the internet to swap recipes for rhubarb pie or see upskirt photos, than you're not reading this blog and I'm talking about Doctor Who and Sherlock Holmes, anyway. Doctor Who has had a very successful revival in the last few years - it used to known as "That British show with the worst special effects ever with the tall guy that looks like Harpo Marx with a long scarf and written by the guy that wrote The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy", and there are worse ways of becoming a pop culture phenomenon. Sherlock Holmes has had a big revival on film and television, beginning in disguise (CSI, House) then in an official capacity, with Robert Downey jr. on film, and Benedict Cumberbatch on television.

I've been paying more attention to the TV version in this blog, largely because I can kill two birds with one stone - Cumberbatch's performance has fans online saying that he would make a great Doctor Who, even better/equal to current Doctor, Matt Smith. But why are they so surprised? This new show, Sherlock, was conceived and written by Stephen Moffat and Mark Gatiss - two veterans of Doctor Who. I've already mentioned in Part 1 of No $#!+ Sherlock how much the character of Holmes and the actor's performance are very in sync with modern Doctor Who productions.

And now...the finale. I got to see the third episode, which sees the introduction of a modern Professor Moriarty. Moriarty is a wild card - he only appears in flashback in one story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - "The Final Problem", and is referred to in "The Adventure of Empty House" and "The Valley of Fear". Like Ernst Stavro Blofeld, much of what we think we know of the character is the stuff of pop culture osmosis. Was he a 19th century mob boss? Was he a mad scientist? Did he have two brothers? Was he just a simple math teacher that slept with Sherlock's mom and inspired a series of drug-induced hallucinations thereafter? Was he Sherlock Holmes in disguise? Everyone has fun guessing, but Conan Doyle was happy to see the back of him - he only existed as an not-so-fully-realized means to an end that didn't quite work out.

Andrew Scott plays the new Moriarty, presented here as a "Consulting Killer" - you hire him for advice on how to commit a perfect murder. Not everyone knows what they wanna' be when they grow up... Sherlock has obviously been cutting into his bottom line, and he decides to send his version of a friendly warning: tips on several murders that he helped fix and the one that got him started, leading to a showdown at a an indoor pool that's a rip-off of a showdown between David Tennant and Anthony Stewart Head in the Doctor Who episode, "School Reunion". Aside from a brilliant inside joke that only British fans are likely to get  (the reality show "Jim'll Fix It"), we get a "Lady or the Tiger?" cliffhanger ending - or not. I guess they wanted to end with Holmes and Moriarty taking turns at smoulder acting.

This stand-off/smoulder was the kind of thing they perfected with David Tennant on his Doctor Who and continue with Matt Smith- but here, it's with Andrew Scott and Benedict Cumberbatch. Watch a marathon of Tennant-Who episodes, then go back and watch this episode - Moriarty is clearly written as a kind of psycho Tennant. Now, watch a marathon of Matt Smith-Who episodes and repeat the same viewing steps I described. Cumberbatch's Sherlock is very Smith-ish, isn't he? Yes, you won't see the Doctor unload his revolver into the roundels of the Tardis, but the Doctor has always been viewed as a Holmesian character from the start.

Is ignorance bliss? I can still enjoy both programs (actually, I enjoyed Who because of Tennant's performance, not necessarily because I thought the show was perfect - plus, Smith's Doctor is a bit of a poser) knowing that one is taking ques from the other, but there is a sense that neither is as original as it wants to appear. And then there's the cartoons I mentioned earlier - do I need to like Yogi Bear to enjoy Wally Gator? Can I watch Wally and not acknowledge the fact that he wouldn't really exist without Yogi? I find that I can watch Yogi and wonder why he can't be as funny as Wally Gator.

You know, if it weren't for Hong Kong Phooey, The Hair Bear Bunch and the Smurfs, every Hanna Barbera cartoon in the 70's and 80's would be Scooby Doo in disguise. And I like Scrappy Doo, but that's a subject for another time...and the fact that every cartoon tried to be the Smurfs in disguise when that took off...

Which came first? The Egg? Or the other Egg?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Comic Book Rehab Thanksgiving - Issue #1

Ever try a Turducken? That's de-boned stuffed chicken stuffed into de-boned duck, stuffed into a de-boned turkey. I'm not so sure if it's good, or if, like the Chupacabra or Jeremy Clarkson's opinions, we're looking at a creature of myth, something in which sightings have been reported but not truly experienced. Duck meat is tough - just look at Scrooge McDuck - and despite most claims to the contrary, duck meat is not what you order when you want a briskly-paced dinner at a restaurant.

Forget about food, let's talk Comic Book Turduckens. We're talking concept turkeys that have been stuffed with other concepts - superheroes that make you think twice about even trying to read about once because they have totally unappealing and cluttered histories and seemed doomed to stink over and over - they've got their own duck meat in the middle.

Hawkman - This character has had more than one origin, more than one attempt at revamping and reconciling his origin, more than one secret identity, and more #1 issue relaunches than you would think.
First, he was Carter Hall, an archaeologist - lind of a low-rent Indiana Jones. He was in the Justice Society of the 40's and early 50's. In the 60's the concept was re-thought and replaced with Kator Hol, a space cop from the planet Thanagar, who fights crime in a winged outfit (just like Brian Blessed in Flash Gordon, but not as fun). The Winged Detective was a bit of a jerk and a social dud, but his wife was hot, and this incarnartion became the longest-lasting, if not the most entertaining of the lot. He's the one that appeared in The Superfriends, but he was on his best behavior there.

In the 80's Kator the space cop's background was sharply redefined, with Tim Truman's Hawkworld mini-series. But that story hit the big reset button and gave the character a clean slate - what to do with all that continuity from the past two-and-a-half decades? Imagine that the big bird guy in the Justice League was never there? Well, actually, they imagined that Carter Hall, the Indiana Jones Hawkman, was in the League in it's early days, and the jerk with the hot wife that was in your dad's Hawkman comics was a Thanagarian spy, leading up to the Invasion! storyline, which is as memorable as it is now forgotten by anyone under 32. In the 90's they decided to cop-out and came up with Hawkgod, an entity who was Hawkmen of  all Hawkman comics/appearances - seriously, though, this only makes sense if they didn't think anyone was actually reading the comics - and who was reading superhero comics during the collectors bubble in the 90's? Maybe they thought they were on to something.

Within the last decade, we've seen Carter Hall return as a one-and-only Hawkman, and the different origins/concepts/cock-ups co-ordinated  under a reincarnation gimmick that seems to settle issues of continuity with anyone still trying to read or follow his adventures - now if only he had any.

The Spectre - This character reminds me of Spawn, only he seemed to use his powers in more offbeat/interesting ways, but nobody seems to like his secret identity, Jim Corrigan, or if his adventures are too downbeat to want to read for any length, even though it seems to work for Daredevil . It doesn't help that the Spectre is now viewed as a corrupt pasasitic entity rather than a simple loveable, huggable anti-hero, if that is possible. (Kevin Levin11 in Ben10 is likeable, even if at the core he's a jerk and initially a mean sonuvabitch). The Spectre became a turducken when he became then-former Green Lantern, then-dead (they get better in comics) Hal Jordan, and later becoming Crispus Allen, a character from Batman: Gotham Central. So now they've got Green Lantern continuity and Batman continuity (and, in some ways, Spawn continuity) stuffed into a Spectre turkey. What you care to try it?

Supergirl and Power Girl - Superman's cousins became turduckens when their orgins were revamped to satisfy short-term thinking. In this case, it was that Superman (and only 1 Superman - sorry, Superboy)should be the sole survivor of the planet Krypton. Eventually, their origins were reintroduced and their status as Superman's cousins was reinstated, but it's very hard to shake off the turducken tag.

Spider-Woman - Mulitple incarnations, multiple origins (in the Jessica Drew's case, three different origins coincided with eachother and a fourth tried to make them all fit) - this is a turducken by proxy.

The Huntress - there are two incarnations of this character: one, Helena Wayne, is the daughter of Batman and Catwoman on Earth 2. The other is Helena Bertinelli, daughter of some mobster and too many Valerie Bertinelli t.v. movies. Most fans are divided on which incarnation they prefer, and despite a notable attempt to split the difference (in Batman: The Brave and The Bold, the character is seen wearing the Helena Wayne costume with the Bertinelli identity) she's an unevenly cooked turducken. I think her best moments came when she served as a Batgirl temp in the late 90s Batman comics, coinciding with Batgirl's appearances on television in The New Adventures of Batman and Superman.

The Punisher - He's been killed off, he's been brought back as a ghost, (de-boned chicken) given a change of ethnicity (he was curious {black}) killed again, appeared in three feature-length turkeys, (de-boned turkey) fought man monsters with giant boobs, made into a zombie (de-boned duck)... this turducken is still not done!

We're all lucky there is no known quantity of Tryptophan in duck meat, or we'd all drop dead. There's more, lots more, like Ghost Rider - but this isn't a personal turducken - we've all had our share of it sometime, but we don't have to try it. We can chose not to have any turduckens in comics, or at least, not sample them.

For this, I am truly thankful.

Now, excuse me while I get the popcorn, jelly beans, toast and pretzels ready...

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Graphic Blandishment Featuring Superman - Part 2

Symmetry...The Strand has copies of  Superman: Krisis of The Krimson Kyrptonite for $17.50. It's moments like that where I'm glad I found a nice copy of an old book for a better deal. In this case, it was a well-preserved copy for 5 bucks.

This book is the long middle chapter in a trilogy of sorts - 3 stories in which Mr. Mxyzptlk gets Lex Luthor into his "Mx". Here, we see him create/offer Red Kyrptonite to Lex as a kind of magic lamp - wish a fate upon Superman, and that wish is granted. Lex wishes Superman was his equal. The rock takes away Superman's powers.  Unlike Mr. Ebert, I will spoil it for you: the wish is valid on one condition - Lex cannot tell Superman where the rock came from. Lex brags about it to Clark Kent, instead, and Superman gets his powers back. 

That sounds awfully simple, right? Cute, right? Good enough to have been adapted into an episode of Superman: The Animated Series, yes? Of Course! Why didn't they do that?

That outline I just described was used as a kind of sandwich for 5 issues of a powerless Superman/Clark Kent riddled with doubt about his fate as a superhero. Aside from Lex and Mxy, we meet a lot of "run-of-the-mill" (quote lifted directly from the script!) villains who are not even 3rd string, and some soap opera about Clark proposing to Lois Lane (she said yes, but it seems the pros wanted her to say no - check the current Superman comics and see for yourself). There's a lot of late-80's continuity abound, but not enough to make you want to go back and check out those issues - it's really like looking at a moment in time - with one exception: Roger Stern's Starman seems likeable enough, and it was nice seeing a seemingly angst-free superhero guest star - his costume could use a redesign, though. Maybe give it the Starman costume Batman wore in that zany story that was reprinted in Batman: The Black Casebook? Just a thought...Oh, and Gangbuster seemed O.K., even though his bailiwick wound-up handed over to Steel in the 90's.

In the end, what works is the iconic stuff: Superman vs. Lex and Mxyzptlk, Round 2. I recall the 1st round had Lex tackle Mxy alone while Superman was in space for the Exile storyline. Round 3 was a story by my favorite Superman team, Jerry Ordway and Tom Grummett, which concluded the trilogy with a play on that familiar logic puzzle involving a choice between three levers and who's telling the truth about picking the right lever. Maybe someday they'll put all three stories together - or all the Modern Age Mxyzptlk stories from the 80's and 90's into one trade. They're very good.

This book has been out-of-print for years but is not too hard to find - I think the final fight between Mxy and Superman loosely inspired the chase sequence in the episode of the animated series that featured Gilbert Gottfried as the voice of Mxyzptlk. The idea of having the imp re-introduce old concepts in modern continuity, as well as offering power to other DC villains pretty likely inspired the Emperor Joker storyline as well. There's also one of the best inside jokes I've ever read in a superhero comic, courtesy of John Byrne.

In the past few weeks, I've reviewed two books collecting stories that featured Kryptonite. Both were very mixed, or "Mxyd" bags. Did DC get around to trying "Best 1 Out of 3"? Yes, Yes, they did...

Thursday, November 10, 2011

No $#!+ Sherlock! pt.2 - Comic Book Rehab issue 2 of 6

I recently returned a copy of The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes DVD at the library. Now, when you think of "rivals", you think Hercule Poirot, Ellery Queen, Philo Vance, Nero Wolfe - characters that were published within Doyle's lifetime and managed to stick around, more or less. If you're under 40, maybe your parents were Ellery Queen fans and have a few beat-up books squirreled away someplace, or have seen the eponymous mystery magazine or watched Castle and Murder, She Wrote without realizing that you're watching Ellery Queen in all but name only. If you're a Poirot or Wolfe fan, those books are easy to find. Philo Vance novels popped in and out of print over the past few decades and films featuring Basil Rathbone, Errol Flynn and William Powell as "Needs-a-kick-in-the-pants-Vance" appear on Turner Classic Movies once in a while.

None of those guys appeared in this collection. What's left is very interesting - a collection of detectives with gimmicks and M.O.'s that resemble a distillation of qualities we associate with Sherlock Holmes:

Profound knowledge of Forensic Science - Dr. Thorndyke

Streetwise, with an eye for opportunity  - Dorrington

Pragmatic and busnesslike in dealing with clients - Martin Hewitt

Brilliant Amateur Gentleman Slueth - Dixon Druce

Flashy Bravado - Max Carrados

Gothic settings and confronting the supernatural - Thomas Carnacki

Flair with Disguises - Romney Pringle

Quarrels with the police - Lady Molly

Inside knowledge of the Underworld  - Simon Carne

Eye for detail on a specific subject - Bernard Sutton

Most of the characters had one episode devoted to them. Some, like Martin Hewitt and Dorrington, had two or three to make up a full 13 episodes. They were run-of-the-mill stories, and not really interesting. Unfortunatley, I wish they had chosen to adapt more Carnacki  stories - I thought that episode worked best - it could've been made now, only with better special effects.
As Carnacki, Donald Pleasance seems slightly more effective than Dr. Loomis was at chasing Michael Myers, but at least Carnacki has neat gadgets, like the electric pentangle, and does not bore us with psychobabble. There were only six stories written with this original ghostbuster, with a number of pastiches that followed by other writers. Best of all, Carnacki appears in the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Comics.

DO YOU UNDERSTAND WHAT THAT MEANS!  For the first time, an obscure character that I'm actually interested in seeing more of has an important role in that comic! Now I want to go look for the stories featuring him and not wonder why Moore seems so dead-set against Sherlock or Dracula appearing in his funnybook. Yes!

Sadly, that one episode is the only onscreen adaptation of a Carnacki story. The summaries offered on Wikipedia hint that at least two more stories could've been filmed under the given budget. Another season of the show was filmed with a different crowd of would-be rivals, and I have yet to see it, but I have to be honest and say the BEST thing about the whole series was the title sequence. It's very catchy.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Writing stories for other writers - Special One-shot, 2nd print

The idea of taking a comic book superhero "Back-to-Basics" is nothing new. Every few years, Batman has to demand a little "Alone Time" from his surrogate family of sidekicks and goes solo. The Justice League headquarters gets blown-up or abandoned in favor of a new pad run by a smaller team of six or seven. A hero retires for the civilian life and passes the costume to someone else (though this is often not as smooth as it sounds). A company goes belly-up and a new company aquires the characters and decides to start fresh. The Green Lantern Corps and the X-Men have a massacre or two. Savage Dragon gets regular 'breaks' -killed off and replaced by other 'Dragons' for a time in rotations. Spider-Man and Superman have chunks of recent history erased. The latter three are the most extreme examples.

There is an alternative to having a character wipe the slate clean to tell new stories - wipe the continuity slate clean to re-tell familiar stories. Now, it's one thing to re-tell the story of how Batman met the Joker to a new audience that's never read the old stuff before. It's one thing to want to re-tell an old story because the original seems dated (the origin of the Fantastic Four is an example). It's one thing to joke about how it seems like the only Spider-Man stories anyone wants to tell are the ones with the clone, the dead Uncle, the crappy boss, the dead girlfriend, and the feeble Aunt. But how about this: I'm re-telling a familiar story because I want a Hollywood screenwriter to see it and take ques from it.

Let us suppose that a movie starring ... J'onn J'onnzz, The Martian Manhunter is in development hell because the screenplay gathering dust lacks snap.  Well, how about re-launching his comic book (he managed to have one for a while on the heals of the successful JLA launch, which made the animated Justice League/Justice League Unlimited possible, which is a good example of this phenomena) but within the context of something hip and happening right now.

Bear with me...these pitches only sell in a single sentence, more or less:

"Martian Manhunter - It's like Twilight with superheroes - Taylor Lautner as J'onn J'onnz, the Manhunter from Mars - he'll have his shirt off for 1/2 of the film."

Now I'll plot a 12-24 issue arc that incorporates his origin, along with all the bells and whistles to make it fit my one-sentence pitch, and be sure to set it up in a way that could help launch a Martian Manhunter film.

That's an example of using a character that's okay, yet kind of so-so...he's actually the only member of the League that does NOT have a movie in the works. Not a single one. I figured playing an all-purpose superpowered semi-clothed Martian would be a cinch for a former sharkboy-turned-werewolf.

Now Geoff Johns has a storyline in the new Justice League comic book that's easy to visualize as a storyline for a movie - the league meets and teams up to fight the ultimate representation of pure evil in the DC Universe. Sure, they've spent the last two issues fussing over a Mother Box, but that's the stuff of deleted scenes. Besides, Mother Boxes are nifty. They're iphone12's - can you imagine? That's their function, yet they're often portrayed/talked about casually like old Rubix cubes, dial-up or Compuserve. Not here. They've spent two issues picking at it like the fancy toy that it is, even at risk of seeming like hitting a creative dead end. Whatever. I wish Marvel did something like that with the Cosmic Cube - what the heck is that, really? It's a strong-enough Macguffin to build an Avengers movie, that's what, and what's good for the goose is good for the gander.

Besides, I don't find Darkseid very exciting. He's become more like a sparring partner at a boxing match than a really entertaining villain. A large statue with blinking laser eyes. All rope-a-dope. zzzzzzzzz...If the 1st six issues are devoted to this cosmic Chinese puzzle box with Darkseid creeping in for a cameo in the final panel - well, this was written for me to read, then!

Don't get me wrong - I'm not using my deductive powers for evil and predicting that Johns is going to try to top Joss' lil' ol' film before it clears the editing room, or that he's telling a familiar story with familiar plot devices to show how easy it would be to get a JLA movie made... well, yeah, I just did. I'm pretending I didn't so that I won't spoil my fun.

I wonder if Lautner has his own production company? He's got to stock-up on green spray paint for the big screen test...

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Halloween - Rescuing Halloween Cartoons from the Dustbin of History!: DTV Monster Hits

Halloween - Rescuing Halloween Cartoons from the Dustbin of History!: DTV Monster Hits This came in handy! Memories...If it wasn't for memories, I'd forget everything...;)

Joe & Nora's Halloween Playlist - Issue #13

Time to get my Halloween viewing list ready...

While everyone else is picking movies, I'm watching a collection of old tv shows/specials. Here's the list, in no particular order:

1) Garfield's Halloween Adventure

2) Witch's Night Out

3) The Great Bear Scare

4) Simpson's Treehouse of Horror - just a bunch of the earlier installments

5) It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

6) Bugs Bunny's Howl-O-Ween Special

7) Filmation's Ghostbusters - the dvd box set of this cartoon series was available in a number of DVD discount stores and I picked 'em up before they vanished. Good Deal!

8) The Batman vs. Dracula - spinoff of the underrated "The Batman" cartoon (2004-2008) which is actually a great Batman film and a great Dracula movie!

9) Ducktales episodes - Hotel Strangeduck, TheMasked Mallard and Ducky Horror Picture Show

10) DTV Halloween - part of a series of 80's Disney specials in which pop music was play over cartoon footage. Very YouTube before there was YouTube. The Halloween special is my favorite, but I don't have it complete (I had used the tape to record Ducktales episodes and the content erased the first 25 minutes of this special! The same fate happened with the Sport Goofy: Soccermania cartoon - which I would love to see on DVD or Blu-Ray some day)

11) Disney' Halloween Treat - I think I've got this on a tape's the only way - Disney tends to look forward - nostalgia is not te first thing on their plate. The tape might also have an episode of "Wonderful World of Disney" devoted to Disney villains. Hope I didn't erase that with some nonsense...

12)  MTV Celebrity Deathmatch Halloween Special - this is just great fun

13) Donald Duck "Trick or Treat" - great Halloween cartoon short

Cartoons, cartoons, cartoons, eh? Yeah, yeah, yeah...
I believe I've gone into overtime if I expect to watch all of this through the weekend at reasonable hours - I know there's lots more - maybe next year...

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Graphic Blandishment featuring Superman Issue #1

My pet theory about the origin of the words "Graphic Novel", is that the word 'Graphic' came from Will Eisner's book, Graphic Storytelling, and the word 'Novel' came from DC Comics habit of refering to issue-length comic book stories as "Full-Length Novel". Feel free to quote me on Wikipedia.

This "Full-Length Novel" jazz reminded me of how the Charlie Brown TV specials would sometimes credit animators under the words "Graphic Blandishment" instead of "Animators"/"Animation By:". An average issue of a comic book - a novel? No,no,no,no,no. We need to wrap this baby in a card stock cover and add offbeat story content before calling it novel! Now, ain't that sumptin'! Oh, and quintuple the cover price. I think I would've just settled for calling an average comic a Novel and calling it a day. "Yes Mother, I finished reading the latest Little Dot novel!"

The library had a copy of SUPERMAN: KRYPTONITE NEVERMORE! by Dennis O'Neil and Curt Swan (and, I suspect, key plot assistance by editor Julius Schwartz). It's not very good, but I didn't hate it. The best moment happens early on, when Superman takes a bite out of a chunk of green K as if it were an oversize Cap'n Crunch Berry. The book collects stories that attempted to sharply redefine Superman, but rather than modify the approach to storytelling, they opt for taking away his often overused weakness, and take away the range of his powers. None of the foes from his rogues gallery appear. Instead, the only suspense comes from an eerie doppelganger/adumbration of Superman made from sand that's more powerfull than him, but that ends in a cop-out. It wasn't Superman the whole time! It was some befuddled chap from Quarmm. And with that all sorted out, Denny bids the books adieu, and this trickly experiment becomes the stuff of online blogs and back issue fodder.

It's as though Denny didn't have it all figured out, and his afterward in the book offers no insight into each of the stories in this collection, just that the top brass at DC was hoping he would trap lightning in a bottle again, the way he had done with Batman, but not like his revamp of Wonder Woman...or Green Lentern/Green Arrow (actually, the latter two have become cult fan-favorites, they were poorly recieved at the time and come off dated - an aquired taste). I thought he fared better writing Superman team-up stories in World's Finest and DC Comics presents, where the pressure was off and he was free to just tell stories. By comparison, the stories here read like they were re-written by the editor to fit the wants and needs. It doesn't read like an O'Neil's script, except for the small scenes with Morgan Edge, Clark's then-new boss at the GBS network.

What the comics in this collection did achieve was the staus quo Julius Schwartz used for Superman comics throughout his run as editor. Morgan Edge, Clark Kent: GBS news reporter, odd one-shot villains, unusual monsters, Superman's self-doubt, Batman cameos - all that stuff figures in the comics for the next 15 years! This experiment didn't wipe away Superman's powers and weakness for long, but it did set the pace of the comics themselves. For a while, anyway.. ;) If your library has it, check it out.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Batman Deux - Comic Book Rehab Issue #1, Volume Deux

I found issue #2 of Batman. Since I did not find issue #1, I have to go along with the old idea that every issue is accesssible, even in a chapter of  a long arc (it rarely ever is, only in the sense that you observed some things that have happened).

We get a new villain, The Court of Owls...that sounds more like a Daredevil antagonist to me - he has a villain named the Owl, and he could use better villains...why not The Court Of Bats? Whatever. They've got it in for Bruce Wayne, and we get a neat sequence where Bruce Wayne (Batman) gets pushed out the window of his office building (a location which is always featured in the comics but never used in the films or tv series, possibly because of its egg-shaped peak, like a kind-of rejected design for the Daily Planet building). He survives the fall in a way that pays off the wordy (in teeny tiny print) first page.

We get a interesting action sequence involving some stolen statues aboard a helicopter with Batman following on motorcycle that I guess the writer was bored with, because he ends it abruptly, but I thought it was more entertaining then this dull CSI scene with an autopsy that was run-of-the-mill, oh, and a Nightwing cameo (in which we are reminded that he still exists in this new continuity) and a very dull character named Lincoln March, who willl join Tommy Monahan in the Batman-villains-who-introduce-themselves-in-their-civillian-guise-first category - but if I'm wrong, then hats off to Scott Snyder.

What we're left with is mostly middle and set-up. I wonder if the 1st issue had anything going on at all - was it just Batman swinging around, doing his "I am the Night" schtick before finding a dead body on the last page? We get a preview of a Batman Graphic Novel, Noel, which reads like a story I might have read before, but New-er-er or "Like New".  What does work is the art. If the script seemed leaden, the art never lets on that it is, and Greg Capullo gives Gotham a look that reminded me of old Legends Of The Dark Knight comics from the late-80's-early-90's

I remember joking that once Grant Morrison was off the Bat-books, the tone and format of the comics would go back to the 90's Batman, which had him going after street gangs, ersatz Fu-Manchu/Mola-Ram types and beefed-up thugs with gimmick names...well, it's back, and we can expect a rematch with Bane next spring.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Yellow Journalism: Trouble on Mt.Olympus- Comic Book Rehab, Yellow Cover, Issue #1

Another year, another contract dispute. All the Simpsons cancellation rumors got me thinking about brushing up my Simpsons history, so I checked out a book, The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History.  Like an Apocryphal Bible, I dive in to read what I haven't read before.

Now it turns out the show has been renewed for two more seasons - what to do? Well, there is something amiss - a mystery! I'll solve it! Why do people complain so much about the decline in quality of the show? My only clue will be John Ortved's book.

Fact: The show's creator, Matt Groening, isn't quite as (or, to put it dangerously, never was) involved in the day-to-day output of the show's production. In fact, according to the book, he's much more involved in the cottage industry of Simpsons merchandising and stamping his signature on it. The book makes no mention of Bongo comics, the company he owns which has published Simpsons (and Futurama) comics and is currently approaching its 20th year in business. Next to Image comics, it is one of the few, true success stories of the comic book marketplace in the 1990's.

Fact: The job of showrunner (the top banana among the writers who serves as chief wrangler) has been held by Al Jean for nearly a decade, the longest time served in the show's history. In the past, showrunners served an average of two years. Mike Scully (who ran the show before Jean), served for four. Although it is a cartoon, The Simpsons is a show where the writers are the driver and engine, and the book hints that during Jean's tenure the quality of the scripts have softened the show's edge and the spontaneity has been lost. In the past, the show had a small, but talented circle of writers working in a single room. Today, the show has many writers working out of two conference rooms (between the lines, Ortved is hinting that the episodes now have a watered-down, written-by-committee feel that may be the real cause of what's happening).

Fact:  The upstart competition is outpacing the forerunners. Ortved is no fan of Family Guy, but he admits the show's popularity (and that of creator Seth MacFaarlane) are echos of The Simpsons glory days in the early 90's.

Fact,fact, fact,fact...

Conclusion: My conclusion is something that Ortved neglected to mention and is staring him right in the face. The Simpsons are no longer a gimmick. When the show premiered, people ooh and aah'd the return of the prime-time animated sitcom. When the show became popular in the early years, they had a merchandising feast and wow'd over that. When the show became a launchpad for a number of writers who went on to have successfull careers launching their own shows, the show became established. When the show spawned imitators, upstarts, rip-offs and parodies, the show became a class act. When Celebrities began appearing on the show (and never stopped), it became trendy to people in the mainstream media and no longer required persuasion to watch it. When the movie came out, people wondered what took so damn long.

We're waiting for something new to talk about - a new gimmick concern to lump the show under. I believe that a show's lifespan has its own rite of passage, and when it runs as long as the Simpsons, people begin to look at it as if it achieved Godhood - to cancel it would be unthinkable. Really Are we really bored with the show, or is the show bored with its audience?  That is the question...the question that has not been asked...the question that might bring the end of all things... yellow... ;)

By the way, I did enjoy the book, especially the profiles of Groening, Sam Simon, George Meyer and John Swartzwelder, whose books are hard to find (aren't hard-to-find books the kind that should be available in public libraries?). That is the question...the question that has not been asked...the question that might bring the end of all things...

I am curious (yellow)! ;)

Thursday, October 6, 2011

It's How We Play The Game - Comic Book Rehab - issue #1 (2nd printing)

I haven't reviewed any issues of the DC relaunch because I was away from the shops last month. I thought, "No Problem!, I can stop by anytime and they'll have SOMETHING." Boy, I was wrong.

I was right, too - there were plenty of comics to buy - just none of the DC #1's. Why is that?

No, it's not because everybody bought them - when you hear that a comic book sold out, they're refering to comic shops buying all the copies that were printed. All the sales figures buzzed about online are just that. So what's really happening? The shops are hoarding.

The way to increase demand on a large supply is to ration it and make it seem scarce, then create a demand for reprint editions to be printed quickly and sold quickly. The 1st editions can be resold as back issues for 2 or 3 times the cover price, depending on popularity. The little guys (us, the shoppers, the fans, the man in the suit, or the kid or parent thinking of this stuff as investments) won't mind because it only helps lift the value of what they have bundled and sealed or slabbed in their closet or drawer or trunk or wherever.

The flaw in this reasoning is that the market for comics has dwindled into a subculture. You can be a fan of these characters and still never have read a comic book. If the demand declines for various reasons, then the issues you've been hoarding in the back of the shop deteiorate into sales slime, and that's how you end up with brand new, pristine 1st issues in quarter/half-dollar/dollar bins at shops and conventions, or online sellers posting lots of copies in one bundle for auction.

Another problem - the values are for trade - you can still go to a shop and the owner will still offer to buy your collection for a dime per book. The numbers you hear about are the comics value bartered for stacks of  comics, plus some cash (if any) that adds up to that much. So, yes, it is possible that that copy of Amazing Spider-Man #1 from 1998 that you bought for $20.00 cash is actually what it trades for. Well, if you see something you really like...

So...if you're hungry for those new #1's that came out - as a reader, wait for the reprint edition. If you're a collector, you could save up to buy the original 1st edition #1's instead. This gimmick ... every new #1 issue offered never seems as old and rare as the first from long before our time...

See, this is why we need Lara Croft. The next Tomb Raider film should be about finding some cache of old comics...never mind dusty old temples of made-up gold. Actually that could be the plot of National Treasure 3 - Harry Truman's secret stash.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Why Do We Need A Masked Manhunter? Comic Book Rehab Relaunch Issue #1

People still ask, "If you had any superpower, which one would it be?" Meanwhile, the most successful superhero is a guy who has no powers. Actually, he does have a power, the most powerfull of all.

Batman's been around for over 70 years - he's been played in live-action by seven different actors, he's starred in a bunch of cartoons, had his face plastered all over merchandise, and supports a whole line of comics - a "Batman Family" of books - within DC's line, for over the last 20 years.

Some credit this success to the fact that he's a very flexible character - open to differnet interpretations, yet never inconsistant; no matter how light or dark the portrayal, he remains Batman. How is this possible? I suspect it has a lot to do with the fact that his origin came sometime after he was introduced, and when you're working backwards like that, it means you have a concept first, and when that happens,  it's possible to go any which way you please, because the backstory came later. That's how you wind up with the giant props, the cheery sidekicks, magic creatures, crazy costumes, goofy adversaries - the whole bit. Strip away all these elements and you can still tell Batman stories. Add in more elements and you can still tell Batman stories. He's still The Dark Knight. And The Caped Crusader. And The Masked Manhunter. And The World's Greatest Detective.

There are disagreements as to which interpretation is considered proper Batman. Some think it's the recent movies directed by Christopher Nolan. Others believe it's the popular cartoons from the last two decades, which feature a fully-realized Batman that outclasses the one that appeared in comics simultaneously. Some say it's the Batman of the 1st Tim Burton film. Some people think it's the Saturday morning Batman that hanged out with Scooby Doo and the Superfriends.

 And there are many that think Adam West is still the best Batman - event though that show has been written off as a spoof.  Use of the word "spoof" seems recent to me - just a way to give it a place on the shelf. Personally, any time I've picked up a book reprinting Batman comics from the 40's-60's, I've found the writing to be no different in execution than the show, save for a few knowing winks and nods to the audience. The same goes for the Superfriends - it may have been a spinoff of Scooby Doo, but the Justice League comics were not too different from the show, save for it being overrun with 2nd and 3rd string characters.

Why is it that one interpretation never stomps out the others? I recall Batman's light blue and grey costume lasted well into the mid-90's, and still appears in merchandise, and in a recent cartoon, 'Batman: The Brave and The Bold" which offers a light and fun Batman. Maybe the light and fun Batman seems more human than the Dark Knight. Maybe a lighter touch can endure the ridiculous merchandising demands and ebb and flow of audience tastes better than Mr. Serious. Is the Dark Knight fun for a dreary Sunday afternoon?

Regeneration is quite an amazing superpower - do you think he was bitten by a radioactive bat? That's a story that'll never be told.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Supergods by Grant Morrison - Book Review

Grant Morrison is an interesting case. He was part of the British Invasion of comic book writers in the 1980's (with Frank Miller as their token Yankee), and his work at the time didn't quite grab attention like Alan Moore or Neil Gaiman, but he's the last man standing. Alan Moore became the modern day Howard Hughes, Gaiman became a bestselling author and screenwriter, recently getting positive marks for writing an episode of Doctor Who. This year Morrison has managed to complete his opus, Supergods, which he often hinted at in interviews over the past few years as being a survey of Superheroes and how people read them, as well as cobbling together a lot of the rhetoric about their popularity which often appeared in bits and bobs in many of his interviews.

Morrison's work can be described in two categories - stories that use structure: there's a beginning, a middle, and an end, the audience is hip to what's going on, the characters are in fine form; then there are stories that consist of moments: cause-and effect built around high-concept metaphysics. These are stories that approach the character as a concept, with reflections that play off representative samples of how they were portrayed over decades, as well as creating suspense about the nature of the world/universe/hyper reality that serves as their backdrop/soundtrack, decompressed into a 30/40-issue arc. This approach is the more ambitious, often  sabotaged by modern scriptwriting. Stories like Seven Soldiers, Batman R.I.PFinal Crisis, and Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne feel rushed and incoherent, making more sense in talk back interviews. Final Crisis felt like a typical Zombie/Vampire movie with a tired superhero/supervillain twist and not very interesting, but it was only upon reading Supergods that there was a more intriguing undertow that should have been front-and-center. It was as if Grant had been stretched thin and had to move on to his next "big event thing", his next wide screen comic book epic.

Two things Morrison neglected to mention in his book had me curious. In 2000, having completed a successful run redefining the long-running, but often mediocre mainstay, Justice League of America, as well as wrapping his creator owned title, The Invisibles, Grant claimed he was through working with DC, believing that concepts he created for The Invisibles had been ripped-off by the Matrix franchise. He then began a four-year tenure with Marvel, headlined by an interesting run on the book New X-Men that ran out of gas very quickly. Then he returned to DC. I guess he got over it - he makes no mention of the fit in particular, except perhaps with a wink when he recalls seeing the Matrix and describing his work on The Invisibles.

The other thing was a series of ads for Calvin Klein jeans that appeared on the back covers of Marvel comics a few years back. After giving Rob Liefeld a poke in the ribs for starring in a Levis jeans commercial in the 90's, I suppose Morrison couldn't find a way to make his celebrity (and that of his cronies, contemporaries, and upstart proteges) distinguishable from Rob's (and the founders of Image comics) without his reasoning falling apart.

He describes his work a lot here. For this book is a memoir disguised as a history lesson - yet that's what it does, it offers the history of Superheroes as the soundtrack to Grant Morrison's life and his universe. For within these pages, these so-called "Supergods" are his muse - his theories about life, the universe, and everything have some connection to the characters that only exist on printed paper, on TV screens, as merchandise, and the cinema. He runs the risk of making mountains out of molehills and coming off glib, but once you realize that he's offering insight into how he works, then the book becomes more interesting for it. We rarely get a chance to pick inside the brain of a popular author, see what makes him tick, and look forward to his next project with greater insight into the origins of his imagination.

In lesser hands, this book would've been an ego trip - many will see it that way. Morrison is still playing his cards close, but he's letting us take a quick peak at his hand. For now, anyway. It's worth a look.

Take Care.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

No $#!+, Sherlock. - Comic Book Rehab Dime Novel, Issue #1

When people talk of adapting and updating Sherlock Holmes, they're really talking about the films. Whenever you see a new Holmes film with Watson and Lestrade left in the dust, that's not Conan  Doyle, that's Rathbone and Bruce. Curiously, the only time the 'canon' was ever faithfully adapted was when the late Jeremy Brett played Holmes in the !980's and early 90's in a series for British television that found its audience here in the USA on MYSTERY!. That's the exception.

Never mind exceptions, let's talk PERCEPTIONS. The new series of Sherlock Holmes adaptations is based on that. The new films with Robert Downey Jr. are taking their cues from Billy Wilder's "The Private Life Of Sherlock Holmes" by completely embracing the 'friends of Giuliano' rumors. Kingsley Amis, in his essay "Unreal Policemen", wrote that the magnifying glass and the dozen roses belong to two different worlds. Sherlock Holmes with a girlfriend gets in the way of solving the puzzle, so he has no girlfriend, but as a consequence, his "buddy" becomes more than his creator imagined. People read too much, don't they? The character and the stories were popular enough to inspire a cottage industry of imitators - all following the same approach, all stuck with alleged 'bachelors-in-the-closet' in thinly-realized worlds of their own, and the rise of the 'hard-boiled' school becomes its opposite number, with strong emphasis on the "one girlfriend a book" rule that Ian Fleming established in the Bond novels. That doesn't mean no fan hasn't tried to dig further than the surface...

Back to Holmes. The new Sherlock series with Cumberbatch (which really sounds like something you have to look for in the supermarket aisle) is not bad, even if it borrows heavily from Doctor Who - both have the hero/villain showdowns - and the use of the internet and smartphones seems forced (Holmes relied a lot more on logical inferences than that showy parlour trickof deducing a man's profile his hat, but the use of maps is acurrate). The first adventure really got rolling with the final confrontation, the second was a little too Fu Manchu-y, and I have not seen the last, in which Moriarty is revealed to be a nondescript guy in a suit with a smug smirk. Ooo, those nondescript baddies...

To be continued... (really? yeah. I'm gonna find the thrid story. Hold your breath) ;)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

September Scrimmage - DC's Previews - Comic Book Rehab :Special issue #0

Last month, comic book stores gave away (well, I'm assuming YOUR STORE gave it away) free copies of a preview of the September relaunch, which is spining out of this summer's Crossover, FLASHPOINT. One thing I can tell you, the price point is still 3 bucks for most of the books. I'll come up with other usefull observations...

They look alike/they talk alike? - The solicitation form the new comic RED HOOD AND THE OUTLAWS hints that Red Hood (Jason Todd) is starting to act a lot like Grifter from the Wildcats.

Green Arrow - everyone's favorite writer, J.T. Krul is back with a new take on Oliver Queen. The murky "Watcher in the woods" angle is gone, replaced with a "World's Policeman" angle. And trick arrows. And Dan Jurgens on art, but a nice cover by Brett Booth. I hate when we have no clue what's inside but get nice art on the outside. It's like Boom!'s Ducktales comics - the covers by Leonel Castellini are fantastic, but they do not reflect what's happening inside - that's like false advertising. The inside is kind of like what a Gold Key Ducktales comic would've looked like if that company had survived.

Justice League - 2 books, one attempting a comeback with the late 80's-era league - sans Ted Kord, & BIG sucka', with Jim Lee art, that seems to be carrying this leaked-out angle that a big reset button has been pressed and, ... well, these are the only kinds of stories anyone knows how to tell anymore - origins, deaths, rebirths, weddings, funerals, godlike a-holes who shout dull speeches, zombies, and obnoxius awkward teenagers, which reminds me...

They're trying again with Blue Beetle - poor Jaimie. They try and try and puch and push and the only fans you've got are that little old spanish lady who (according to an anecdote by the character's creators) thought it was wonderful to have a latino superhero for kids to look up to. See, Jaime's got groupies - little old spanish ladies who'll buy his comic for their kids...who'll wonder why they didn't get Batman or Spider-Man comics, instead. Oh, and fans of Nova, the human rocket, who I'm convinced is the template for this incarnation of Blue Beetle - they'll be picking up the book too, just for the sake of remembering how 'cool' Nova was and maybe if they buy this, then Marvel will try a reviving Nova again. Yeah,yeah, that's the ticket.

Oh, and Superman. They've been wanting to erase his marriage to Lois Lane for years and years, and now they've got it, but that was the most distinctive element of the comics - you don't see a married Lois and Clark potrayed anywhere else in the media for any long period of time, so the comic will REALLY have to entertain us with a status quo that goes beyond dodging bullets and hoping over traffic.

Oh, and that guy with the bat ears. Batman gets to be just Bruce Wayne, again. Batgirl gets to be Barbara Gordon again. Damien gets to still be Robin. No clue on whether the book will go back to rehashing old "NYPD Blue" or disaster movie scripts like in the past. At least Converse like Batman's blue costume.

Oh, and there's a bunch of other books I didn't get to because there's too many that look like cannon fodder at the moment. I'll approach them when they appear on the shelves.

Take care - behave yourselves.


Thursday, July 28, 2011

Borders goes Bonk! My last visit - Comic Book Rehab second issue #2 variant cover

I went to Borders this week to check out their getting-out-of-Dodge sale. I felt my membership card deserved one last scan - though it may not have been needed. I wouldn't know. I didn't buy anything. Here's what happened...
The first thing I noticed was that the same liquidation company that handled the closure of Virgin Megastore and Circuit City here in the U.S. was also handling Borders. They use the same discount signs and the same price guide chart that's convieniently taped all over the store. It's a good time to own a discount stockcard sign company!
How are the sales? On Tuesday, it was 10% off most books (that's about a 1/2 dollar off retail), 30% off romance novels (about $1.50 - $2.00 dollars off), and 40% off magazines. Items I was hoping to find (Doctor Who magazine, some Agatha Christies) were not there...kind of. They had Dame Agatha's worst book - Passenger to Frankfurt. They had a bunch of James Bond novels, including Quantum of Solace, and some Doctor Who novels, plenty of those Twilight/Vampire Diary things, if that's you're cup of tea, only a few Harry Potters, LOTS of Harry Potter wannabes Lemony Snicket, Percy Jackson, that 39 clues/ bar code thing where you're not just buy to read a book (how silly is that ;), but to enter an online contest, lots of manga, lots of dog-earred comic book trades, lots of cookbooks, bios, science,business, westerns, horror, sci-fi, and other books you promise to get around to someday.
The big issue for me was that the sale wasn't so great. I always reserve the right to walk out empty-handed. I imagine all the stuff that went unsold will appear in some new discount bookshop like the DVD stores that have popped up around NYC lately. I'll go cut up my card now - at least that was free. Barnes and Noble charges a processing fee (huh?) for a 10- 20% discount membership. Wouldn't that be covered by the amount I'm paying to get the card?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Comicon on G4 goes "Bonk" - Comic Book Rehab Issue #1D

 There's a Calvin and Hobbes book titled "Scientific Progress Goes Bonk!" 'Bonk' is the most unimpressive sound effect used for any attempt at innovation, and Bill Watterson uses it for one of Calvin's cardboard box inventions. 'Bonk' isn't even offered as a ringtone. 'Bonk' is what I use to describe G4's coverage of 2011's San Diego Comicon.
 Imagine, you're the only network on television offering 6 hours of live coverage of an event that's usually given 2-3 minutes of airtime everywhere else. You have a chance at offering something new and different - so of course you'll offer more of the same pap we can find anywhere else! Why not?
 Why not, indeed? Why not flood your first hour with coverage of video games that you often cover on your regular programming schedule? Why not flood your remaining 5 hours on endless vaccuous celebrity interviews that offer nothing controversial/insightful/interesting? Why not host the show at the dullest camera angles imaginable?
 The point is, I've learned more about what went on at the event by checking Twitter and not from what went on the air. Most of the coverage was essentially boring and the little coverage of comics was more perfunctory then informative/interesting. Coverage of this kind would be perfect for a class in Anthropology - we don't learn anything about comics, here - only that "All you really care about" translates into inane brownnosing.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Comicons with Holy water - Comic Book Rehab 4th #1 issue

By 2013, it will be a decade since attending a comic book show in a church.

I'm not sure why that is - if anyone out there knows of any shows/conventions in NYC set at churches, feel free to chime in. How about Temples? Mosques? Scientology Centers?

The last church show I attended was at 9th street and 9th avenue, at St. Paul Church, on the same block as my college, John Jay College of Criminal Justice (shameless alumni plug). Between 1999 and 2003, there were about 15 Big Apple Con shows held there before Big Apple moved to the Penn Plaza Pavilion across the street from Madison Square Garden - where it stayed until it became Wizard World Big Apple Con in 2009.  1998-2003 were my college years, so the juggling of the Saturday class schedules were the stuff of Blake Edwards movies. Sit in class, class ends, time for 'break', attend show, exit, attend another class, leave, go back to the show. Of course, anyone noticing the stamped hand would know what I was doing...

Anyway, back to religion. there was no holy water offered, or conversions. The shows were often held in the Basement - a very large basement. One time the show was rescheduled without anyone knowing and I wound up walking in on a ballroom dancing competition! I did notice that the space provided looked a lot brighter and cleaner when it's not jammed with tables and boxes of comics. I'm sure if this were a Blake Edwards film, I would've had to have made dancing shoes of my sensible sneakers and try a pasa doble wishing it was a quick step instead...

The first church show I attended was near Sullivan St. in the Village (aka NYU) and there was no basement for that one - they cleared out the benches and devoted the main space to just a few tables with only a few dealers and guests. It looked a bit like a Clean House yard sale caught in a dry spell. It was dark and stuffy in there, so the front doors were kept wide open, with the benches stacked on the sides, like the bleachers in the high school gym when they're cranked back in place against the walls. I bought a great copy of Spider-Woman #1 (this was in 1998, before Bendis made her seem like a big deal) for two bucks. I bought it because the idea of having an old comic from before my time in mint condition was cool. I really wanted to get an autograph from an inker (yeah, an inker - any name that appears in your comic collection showing up to a sigining can attract a mob of autograph hounds)...who didn't show up. I also bought some other comics from half-dollar bins - mostly early 90's stuff like Trencher, Next Wave, Troll - all never-read and brand new because they were kept finer than fine china. I was there for about 15 minutes - that record was broken after I attended a show at the Holiday Inn that I spoofed in the last entry.

Church shows are low-risk when it comes to spending for admission and finding/not finding what you're looking for. Are they a thing of the past? Are they being swallowed by a new generation of Big Comicon wannabes? Hard to tell. Are people still getting hand-stamped? Nowadays they use disposable bracelets that are color-coded for each day of the show's duration. When I went to the Brooklyn Lyceum in fall 2010 for King Con, I felt like I was walking into a church, but it turns out it used to be a public bath. Now THAT'S  a scene in a Blake Edwards film. :)

Be good everyone.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Imaginary "Special Globe Trekker Extra" Comic Book Rehab Ashcan

Ahh...The Holiday Inn at midtown Manhattan - or as some out-of-towners call it, New York, New York.

I'm here to cover Super Collector's Mega Show Spectacular - a small convention devoted to comic books that also features toys and guests. Walk with me...

It's just up here on the second floor...

Ah, here we are - admission is ten dollars - not bad, these days, although I remember another convention held at this same hotel with admission at six dollars. It's a good idea to compare admission prices on shows - depending on your destination. Try to find out  what the shows feature in advance and check on the web for any videos or photo galleries offering a view of what the convention looks like. I wish I had.

Awfully small here. Too small. It's the size of my aunt's apartment in Brooklyn - one long corridor with windows.

Hmm...a bunch of old comics with pretty high prices - when you've seen comics you don't want in quarter and half-dollar bins in the past, then see them in the present in higher-priced bins in bad shape, it's very disconcerting.

The only guests here are a couple of models from some independant horror films that I'm not familiar with.

The only toys being sold are a bunch of old figures that you might have seen at the toy shop long ago and paid no mind to - and they look kind of grimey...

Ah...bootleg DVDs - most are of shows not expected to turn a profit on official release, but have some fanbase wanting it - remember the Savage Dragon cartoon from the mid-90's? Or Hanna-Barbera's weird take on the Thing? Thing ring/do your thing... twenty dollars and up to relive your memories. All aboard the memory lane train...

Ah, the exit! Well, that's it then.

Cue end titles and "Gong" noise...