Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Pinketty, Panketty, Poof!

It's not unusual to find issues of Wizard: The Comics Magazine in the half-dollar/dollar bins. On two occasions I've found issues that were still in their original bag - the first "special"/annual and an issue from 1998, which was opened, but still had a free chromium trading card that it offered - a picture of She-Hulk and Fairchild (Gen13)drawn by Jason Pearson.

Last week, some collector let go of his/her collection and the bulk of it was tossed into the half-dollar boxes at this particular store in NYC ("No names?" Yes, no names) and there were a bunch of Wizards from the magazine's heyday in the 1990's. The magazine had been around since 1992. The title is a holdover (or hangover) from the original concept: a mascot named Poof the Wizard, who would appear on the cover of every issue. When Gareb Shamus, the magazine's founder, learned that his cronies had suggested that name to have a laugh (Poof is slang for homosexual in the U.K. and Australia), the little cartoon wizard lost his chance at the spotlight, but the title of the magazine and 1st issue cover and copy had already been set and "proofed"! The solution? For the first few years, the cover of Wizard would show a comic book character holding a purple flag or cloth with white stars on it. Anyone picking up a copy expecting fantasy role-playing game tips was no doubt confused.

I recall Warren Ellis once remarked in his old column at Comic Book Resources (a website I am not affiliated with, though we have the same initials and I do lurk around on their message board as Joenosleep) that if you're on the Internet, you don't need to read Wizard. If you do, that means you're picking it up for the price guide. I would like to argue that there was a time when this was not so - between 1998-2001, Wizard was actually witty and informative. This might have to do with the fact that the "collector's bubble" had burst - huge print runs of comics published in the early 90's became worthless clutter as the publishers either blew deadlines or churned out bad comics. There were a lot of comics published by wannabes, could-have-beens and neverweres - all "Buy Me! This book is Hot!" and Wizard and Comic Buyers Guide and Hero Illustrated were the cheerleaders, rallying for these losers. Hot comics were hot not because the stories were good, but because they anticipated an event, or came bagged with a free trading card or had a shiny cover and the demand for this junk was considered hot. Ren and Stimpy #1 came bagged with an "Air Fouler" (air freshener-get it?) of either Ren or Stimpy - instead of packing both, you had to buy two copies - and guess what? Ren was harder to find! People cared about that!

And then it was over. The little guys weren't making money - just filling up their homes. Comic Shops went out of business - except for the worst ones, where the boss owns the building and can afford to run the store as he pleases, or shops that changed their name and appear to be "under new management", until you spot the old owner in the back of the shop.Wizard was last man standing when the bubble went "poof".

Anyway, I picked up Wizard #80, from 1998. The cover had the Hulk fighting Wolverine (one of the silliest recurring brawls in comics - the equivalent of watching a chess match with just two Kings standing on the board). The cover story was a countdown of the nastiest brawlers in superhero comics. Some of the pages had been torn from this section, so I assumed Wolverine was #1, while Azrael, Orion, Hulk made appearances. Azrael...the thinking man's Ghost Rider. Or Spawn. Or Death Scooter...

Oh, and once upon a time... Kevin Smith was cool! That's right! Before he became too fat to fly in a passenger jet, he was just the guy who made "Clerks", "Mallrats", "Chasing Amy" and the soon-to-be-released "Dogma", of which all anyone remembers is that it had Salma Hayek doing a pole dance (she did that a lot in her early movies - hmm, maybe Freida would've won her Oscar gold if it had a pole dance on museum scaffold). He had gotten attention for writing a rejected script for what eventually became Superman Returns, a film which became a cautionary tale in Hollywood for what happens when too many executives become too many cooks. The interview featured in this mag seemed to portray him as being on the rebound, hinting at his upcoming work relaunching the Daredevil comic book with Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti (Who knew this assignment was going to change the next decade of superhero comics? It seems so long ago..) and his work on Green Arrow (which landed with a thud, but it brought Oliver Queen back from old fart heaven, so go figure), and most interesting, but maddeningly - I wish this was something he had done - a film based on The Question.  When asked which characters he would like to direct a film about, he suggested this character and mentioned Dennis O'Neil's comic book series, that Hub City was like Sin City - fascinating. Can you imagine adding the Huntress to that mix? I hope the years of donuts and cannibus haven't wiped this idea out of his brain, because it's very good. He also gives Batman Forever a good poke in the ribs - "..that scene where he's like "I quit, Alfred. Batman no more. I'm like, 'Are you high?' Batman's desire for justice would never allow him to do this." And he plugs his N.J. comic book store - this was actually an ordinary shop; the Jay and Silent Bob's Secret Stash shop came almost a year later.

There were features I liked and missed when they were taken away - "Report Card"/"The Skinny", "We Read It For You", "Good Reading", "Thumbing Off", "Famous Firsts" and, in time for April Fool's Day - "Bad Readin'", "Famous Worsts" "Top 10 Comics" - all dedicated to reviewing comics and letting us know if any of this stuff was good.

When did this renaissance end? Around the same time the X-Men and Spider-Man films began production. Joe Quesada and Bill Jemas were running Marvel and using a lot of gimmicks to plant their feet. DC had Jeph Loeb and Joe Kelly boasting about their Superman comics, Bob Schreck was running the Batman comics with big stunts, like "Bruce Wayne: Murderer". J. Michael Strazincski was writing the adventures of a character that he wanted us to believe was Spider-Man - anyone who disagreed needed to "...get out of their parents basements." Joss Wheddon was getting his pop culture crown fitted. Grant Morrison slipped on the pop culture banana peel and achieved his own nirvana. Alan Moore became a wizard himself. Neil Gaiman and Todd MacFarlane butted heads over old comics. Leggo my ego, it was time to throw down.

And then there was ... boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom ... a giant monolith appeared from out of the sky ... BENDIS! Seriously, on his message board, Brian Michael Bendis would sign his posts like that. Oh, but he was cool at that time, too. Now he just looks like Kristin Davis' hubby on Sex and The City

So, if you perchance see any dusty issues of Wizard lying in a half-dollar bin somewhere, from 1998-2000, please don't laugh - those are actually my cup of tea.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Fever is Coming Back...

 Every fan gets it - certainly a true comic book fan. I'm not talking about those two-arm,two-leg, "I'll-just-buy-one-issue-or-two-and-that's-my-collection" phonies or the "Oh,-these-comics-are-not-in-good-condition.-The-price-is-good-and-the-books-are-hard-to-find,-but-I'll-pass" and "This-shop-is-just-too-out-of-my-way-for-me-to-come-in-every-week" or "This-shopkeeper-is-racist!-I'm-never-coming-back!" pretenders. Feh!

  Comic books are like potato chips or gummy bears - you can never have just one. There's a reason why a serving of gummies is 15 bears. On the other hand, you can eat just one bon-bon - especially if it's that bitter, gooey, dark chocolate/caramel hybrid that leaves a bad taste in your mouth. Have you ever seen anyone eat two of those back-to-back? Outrageous!

 Remember the days of "self-contained" stories? If not, you're young (and I didn't know young people bought comics - I just assumed you waited for your Mother to force Dad to get rid of his collection or wait for Gramps to kick the bucket. This is strictly an adult hobby - did you not see all the old people walking around the shop?). A self-contained comic was simply a story that was complete in one issue - you need not fear finding out if Batman succumbs to bumping off the Joker in part 2, because there was no part 2. Of course, nowadays we would buy part 2 to see if he does kill the clown, knowing that if he did, we'd be up to our armpits in ninja gangster stories - this will never happen...oh, wait, they do that anyway. Today, a self-contained issue is a "launching point" or a "key issue" for a new storyline - a point-of-entry for "new" readers who want to know where they can hop abroad the moving train. These issues tend to be a bit threadbare in plot and story - usually a thrown-together mash-up of stock activity (Batman taking down gang members, Captain America riding his motorcycle and throwing his shield, The X-Men having a picnic or playing baseball, Savage Dragon getting a recap of what went on before while he was out, Spider-Man chasing car thieves) and then two-three pages of set-up for a new storyline (never a story-just a storyline) where some sign of dread appears - maybe a character watching from the shadows or some poor fool getting killed. "Not the end...check next month's issue and read this Wednesday's Comics and Stories #508 for another angle and read Death Scooter #267 to see Wendell check out the action alone!"

 But wait a minute - if you're a lowest common denominator, hardcore comic book fan, you're not going to sit and wait for four weeks for the story to continue, you'll want to check out what happened last month and the month before that (in the case of Transformers comics, you'll be checking on the last two publishers that had the character license). That means you're at the mercy of the back issue aisle - a wretched hive of scum and villainy if there never was one. Here, you can expect to be charged a tax on used, dog-eared periodicals, or - even sneakier - a tax on last month's issue, which may not have been bagged or boarded, but left sitting next to the current issue on the stacks. Here, you can thumb through a stack of old books and wish for hand sanitizer after gazing at your fingertips caked with dirt. Here, you can stare at dead bugs trapped in Mylar. Here, you can sweat through your clothes like a pizza slice in a paper bag when you realize the shopkeeper shut off the air conditioner so that you'd run out of there. Ha! As if that will work!

 Wait a minute...those tricks do work. They do make anyone with half a brain turn around and say "Never again..." They do lose new customers and new readers who developed a genuine interest in comics but can only go as far as waiting for the next issue and ignore the recent past. Who can wait for next issue when it takes over a year for a storyline to resolve itself and the price of a new issue keeps going up beyond casual spending. The fever goes away...

 The fever never leaves the die hards, though, especially the ones with Debit and Credit in hand. Yes, yes, even in the days of Cap'n Credit Crunch and Fannie Big Mac/whatever, you'll still see people spend $30/$40 dollars a week on comics. These die-hards won't pause when the total rings up an additional 8.25/god knows what % sales tax that makes no sense (even less sense when the clerk explains that it's because "It's an old comic" - wtf ?).

 That is why a "jumping-on point" comic is not just a beginning - it's an ending. Yes, the first dose might even be "Free" (right, Free Comic Book Day?), but the next dose is always hardest to take. Once you've got the fever, the prescription is a trip out of the store, or a four-color cocktail of last month's, last year's, next month's, or tie-in issues. Down the hatch. Never say "when". Oh, and never think about whether the stuff is any good - generic comics are never a steal. Yes, some places do tax issues from the quarter/half-dollar bins.

Happy Wednesday.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Dr. Desire's Valentine's Day Prescription

TV Specials/Episodes:

Be My Valentine Charlie Brown/A Charlie Brown Valentine

Ducktales : "Back To The Klondike", "'til Nephews Do Us Part", "Metal Attraction", "Ducky Mountain High", "A Ducktales Valentine"

Darkwing Duck :  "My Valentine Ghoul"

X-Men : "Weapon X, Lies and Videotape"

The Flintstones: "Dino and Juliet"

Disney's DTV Romancin'

Doctor Who: "Army of Ghosts/Doomsday", "Destiny of The Daleks", PRIME Computer ads

Bugs Bunny Cupid Capers

Power Rangers Ninja Storm : "I Love Lothor"

Batman: "Mad Love", "Love Is A Croc", "Harley and Ivy", "Chemistry", "Catwoman Goes To College"/"Batman Displays His Knowledge".

Avonlea : "Ah..Sweet Mystery Of Life"

Justice League Unlimited : "Double Date", "This Little Piggy"


As Good As It Gets

LA Story
Valentine's Day

Valentine (was it Jessica Capshaw or David Boreanez - they were both nuts!)

I Hate Valentine's Day

The St. Valentine's Day Massacre

Candy :

Valentine lollipops

Cherry Cordials

Elmer's Assorted Chocolates

Now go, go, go!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

No $#!+ Sherlock, Part 4 of 5

I wonder what the most typical Sherlock Holmes story is. A few years ago, a documentary - The Agatha Christie Code - showed researchers using Concordance - a word recognition software program that analyzes writing samples for patterns. Research showed that Evil Under The Sun is the most typical Christie mystery. It has all the elements that a fan would expect to find in an Agatha Christie novel. It's not her best, but as a gift idea for the reader who only wants one representative sample of an author's work, it's a pick for the shopping basket. What would I recommend?:

The Labors of Hercules
The Big Four
Third Girl
A Caribbean Mystery
Halloween Party
The Murder On The Links
Cards On The Table
Partners In Crime
Mrs. McGinty's Dead
Elephants Can Remember
The Pale Horse
Three Blind Mice and Other Stories

Without Concordance , I'll need to hazard a guess at the most typical Sherlock Holmes story. I'd say "The Adventure of The Six Napoleons" in The Return of Sherlock Holmes. It has a puzzle that's solved in an interesting way, with Holmes and Watson stomping around London. It has Inspector Lestrade. There's a chase of sorts and a battle of wits of sorts. There is also a scene in a morgue and a stakeout and scenes where Holmes gets to show off his powers of deduction. There's also a gimmick - "Who is running around London smashing statues of Napoleon Bonaparte, and why?" - with a solution that is a surprise.

That's not really typical at all - that's actually very good! How about "Silver Blaze"? "The Red-Headed League"? Those two are often the first Sherlock Holmes stories read by children. People who don't care for mystery/detective fiction have read/encountered them because they're reprinted in textbooks...

I was not a fan of the Sherlock Holmes stories when I was a kid. The early scenes set in the study that began with "Mr. Sherlock Holmes was often taken aback by the gripping events that occurred in that fretful year of 18-,"zzzzzzzzzzz. With Agatha Christie, I had a habit of checking the first few chapters to see if her detectives were featured front and center and not some drippy dolly bird and her milksop boyfriend, standard Christie stock characters.

I enjoyed the movies - The Great Mouse Detective is a one of my favorite Disney films. Without a Clue, The Seven Per-Cent Solution, Sherlock Holmes In New York, and Sherlock Holmes and The Secret Weapon are fun. I enjoyed the two films with Robert Downey Jr. and their League of Extraordinary Gentlemen-ishness. Watching Jeremy Brett on television made me pick up the books - just to see if this was not some crazy actor hamming it up. No,no, no... it's all there. Brett is closer to how that character is portrayed in the books than anyone else - even Benedict Cumberbatch! In fact, Brett's portrayal is the only one in which all the episodes were based solely on the canon - ish. There was no Fu Manchu story by Doyle, if you know what I mean. If you do, that's great - I don't have to write that up...(episode 2 of Sherlock - series 1, OK).

I'm sure the reaction to Cumberbatch and Downey has fans checking out the books for the first time just to see if this is the same guy. The circle of life. Read "The Six Napoleons".