Sunday, December 13, 2015

"Superman: The High-Flying History Of America's Most Enduring Hero" by Larry Tye

Superman has been around for over 75 years now, so it made sense that someone wrote a biography of the iconic character's existence. I had purchased this book shortly after I was halfway thru reading Men of Tomorrow - the Gerard Jones book, which I had reviewed in the previous post - so of course, I'm going to suffer some slight deja vu.

It's a very good appendix of Superman and the many writers and artists who worked on the character over the decades...and of course, it wouldn't be complete without chronicling the lives of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, but this time, the strongest passages aren't so much about them, but about George Reeves, Alexander Salkind, Michael Siegel  ( Jerry's son, whom he neglected ), Christopher Reeve, and some crumbs of shrewd observations regarding every attempt at innovation or retooling the character doomed to erosion, always falling "back-to-basics". These pointed remarks are few and far between...I can imagine a leaner book, packed with more insights and less name & fact-checking..actually, about a 1/3 of Men of Tomorrow told the same tale, so if you, the reader, already own one book, you don't need the other.

One glaring omission: Larry Tye had little/nothing to say about Superman: The Animated Series. Two sentences! What's the deal?! He devoted 3 pages to Superfriends! Maybe he's saving something for an updated volume, which will include Batman vs. Superman...

Sunday, November 29, 2015

"Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and The Birth of The Comic Book" by Gerard Jones

T.M.I...Too Much Information.

Gerard Jones' opus on the origins of comic book publishing, Men of Tomorrow, is excellent, but I think it might've been too much to take in...things happen for a reason..why did the guys who created Superman live like paupers for most of their lives? Why did the writer who helped create/develop Batman go uncredited? The book is full of answers...

It's also obviously influenced by Michael Chabon's then-trendy novel, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, which would've made a lasting impression on me if I hadn't read Tom Dehaven's superior Derby Dugan's Depression Funnies a few years earlier. It's an irresistible narrative hook: the story of four men - two became tycoons (Harry Donenfeld, Jack Liebowitz), the other two (Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster) created Superman, which should've made them rich, but didn't - drives the book, but there is room for Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Bob Kane, Bill Finger, Will Eisner, Mort Weisinger, Bill Gaines and (a man whom no account of the history of superhero comics would be complete without ) Frederic Wertham, who actually gets a fair shake from Jones, the most even-handed portrayal of the man I've ever read anywhere. get a good idea of the origins of the business model for publishing magazines and periodicals..I can't help thinking that the business hasn't changed as much as people would like to think...though Bill Finger is finally getting credited with Bob Kane for Batman, now, so that's a nice epilogue...maybe Jones could update the book someday to include that. It would be somewhat.. reassuring.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Wayne of Gotham by Tracy Hickman

Gardner Fox is credited with writing the origin of Batman. In 1956, Bill Finger, the co-creator of Batman, wrote "The First Batman", a soft retcon of the origin, revealing that Bruce Wayne's inspiration for the act of dressing up like a bat was subconciously influenced by his memory of a costume worn by his father, Thomas Wayne, at a party held at Wayne Manor.

This story has been retold several times, with subtle variations. Sometimes new characters are added, the costume worn at the party is redesigned or substituted with another ( in Ed Brubaker & Scott McDaniel's retelling, Thomas wore a Zorro costume ), and in the excellent episode of Batman: The Brave And The Bold, "Chill of The Night!", Batman himself attends the party and assists Thomas, but the outcome is the same: an attempted robbery by a gang of party crashers is foiled by a man in a batsuit. Wayne of Gotham is essentially a retelling of this story, which author Hickman uses as a vehicle to showcase the relationship between Thomas & Martha Wayne and presents a convincing portrayal of what their lives were like as young adults amidst Gotham City's social scene, as well as fleshing out the story of Lew Moxxon, the gangster who played a key role in Finger's tale. I think Finger was trying to revise Fox's origin story to suit how he saw Batman, which is why he would retcon the death of the Wayne's as a mob hit on Thomas orchestrated by Moxxon, as opposed to a random mugging by Joe Chill, who was also retconned by Finger as a hitman who panicked and killed Martha as well.

In Wayne of Gotham, the twist is that Thomas wasn't wearing the bat costume that evening: a new character, Denholm Sinclair, drug-addled vigilante friend of the Waynes gone mad after force-fed a mind-controlling cocktail drug by an ex-Nazi scientist whom Thomas was unwittingly assisting, becomes the catalyst in Hickman's storyline, which jumps backwards and forwards to present-day Gotham, where the repercussions of the events from that night are felt by Batman, who discovers that the mind-control drug is now being used on members of his rogues gallery to make them puppets in an elaborate revenge scheme, where the mastermind knows Bruce is Batman. The overarching theme is similar in execution to Archie Goodwin, James Robinson & Marshall Rogers' "Siege" story from Legends of The Dark Knight. That tale suffered from having a dull villain who was defeated easily; Wayne of Gotham also has a dullard unveiled as the brain behind the curtain at it's denouement, but Hickman was wise enough to pepper the book with Batman's classic rogues gallery to give it some snap - Joker in particular.

There are also easter eggs. Thomas Wayne drives a Lincoln Futura prototype - the car that became the template for the 1966 Batman batmobile. And then there's the status quo in which Hickman sets the book. This is the element of the novel that stayed with me long after I had finished's a mashup of various alternate futures for Bruce Wayne as Batman. Hickman's Wayne is older, working solo ( all the "Bat-Family" members/sidekicks/allies are conspicuously absent, save for Alfred Pennyworth, who is portrayed as being more agile and active than you would think he should be), cultivating a public image of a Howard Hughes/Charles Foster Kane-esque eccentric recluse, while trying out a new hi-tech, strength-enhancing Batsuit that sounds like a precursor to the Batman Beyond batsuit. I dug up any pictures I could find around the net that would complement what I was picturing. Not since the prologue to the 1st episode of Batman Beyond - with gray-haired Bruce Wayne having a heart attack while attempting to save the daughter of his old girlfriend Veronica Vreeland - have I been intrigued about reading another "old Batman" story. This isn't a bad book - it's well-written, but I think Hickman could've gotten away with less - a character story about Batman keeping up with the times while becoming more aware of his mortality - there's a Batman novel for you...NOT like The Dark Knight Returns, but more like the plot to Mr. Holmes, the Sherlock Holmes film starring Ian McKellen, which was a very good movie, by the way. A Mr. Holmes-esque Batman film/novel would be interesting...or maybe this was it..

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Yvonne Craig, "The" Batgirl, R.I.P.

I had a crush on Yvonne Craig's Batgirl.

I won't be surprised to see that on a lot of blog posts in the days ahead. And rightly so - I had a huge crush on Yvonne Craig's Batgirl and Barbara Gordon. She had amazing legs...thick and shapely, and then the episode of Batman where she's in a black bathing suit that revealed her impressive cleavage and left nothing to the imagination...oh yeahhh.

I'll leave it at that and try to keep things classy from here on...

Batgirl was cool when Yvonne Craig played her in the final season of the 1966 Batman TV series. She wasn't just likable - she was intelligent, confident, sincere, enthusiastic and feisty. She had a great body ( more curves than Julie Newmar, surprisingly ), but it was her charming, energetic performance that made her sexy. Add to that a shiny tight purple costume and she actually outclassed Adam West and Burt Ward's Batman and Robin. Before and after the show ended, her career was a series of guest-appearances and co-starring roles on film and television during the 60's and 70's, including appearances on Star Trek, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., My Favorite Martian and Mannix, but Batgirl was her career-defining role - the first female superhero from the comic books ever portrayed in live-action film/television.

That final season has often been written off as the time when the series was "..limping along", as Dennis O'Neill once put it, iirc. It had become too formulaic and predictable, plus, watching those later episodes, particularly the scenes where West is out of costume as Bruce Wayne...he looked strangely haggard - like he'd been enjoying the Hollywood night life too often and the carousing was beginning to take a toll, but the batsuit hid it well. And then they changed the format slightly: the stories eschewed 2-part stories in favor of single one-off tales ( aside from a deadly dull 3-part episode featuring Rudy Valle as Lord Fogg that NOBODY liked ), though the cliffhangers would persist to help promote the next episode.

This Batgirl didn't really exist in the comic books. The comics incarnation of Barbara Gordon was capable and amicable, allowed little moments of cleverness and flair  ( e.g.: possesing a photographic memory, making her casualwear a reversible Batsuit, running for congress and winning an election, enjoying a flirtation with Superman ), but she was less-artful and never so masterful. It's only within the last year that the comics are offering a take on Barbara that is reminiscent of Yvonne's Batgirl; prior to that, I did enjoy the episodes of the 2004-2008 cartoon, The Batman featuring her, a younger, spunkier take that revived the purple costume for the first time in a long time...

I do find it ironic that Yvonne's passing will likely reverse judgment on that last season. It was a silly show, but there was nothing silly about her. To many fans, she is not just the definitive Batgirl..she was Batgirl.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Fantastic Floored

Are the Fantastic Four cool? I don't think so. I don't think they are edgy or dark or, to be honest, likable or heroic in an archetypal sense - they're too flawed. What makes them an effective superhero team is that they're dependant on eachother to accomplish anything. Reed Richards likes to work in solitude, Sue Storm-Richards is often described as having potential to be the real powerhouse heart & soul of the team, but while she does have her moments, she is not Wonder Woman. Johnny is a giant dork who thinks he's cool, but always runs the risk of being a fatuous phony. Franklin is the wild card - one moment, he's this ordinary, sometimes saccharine Beaver Cleaver-type, the next..he might as well be a djinn. Valeria thinks Doctor Doom is a cool guy and would probably leaves the back door open for him to crash family events. Namor is the myopic homewrecker. As for Victor, he's the guy who has everything, but not exactly to his liking.

And then there's Ben - The Thing. This guy can hold his own against The Hulk, knows how to fly rocketships and has a college education..yet he likes to downplay his intelligence, which is interesting..but never explored much.

All these characters play off eachother and are dependent on eachother...but they are not The Incredibles. That lazy analogy keeps coming up and bores me because the Fantastic Four have a much richer, varied and interesting world than the one depicted in that Pixar film.

I have a theory that nobody really knows what to do with these characters, which is why I'm convinced we've seen a lot of boring/unremarkable/awful comics, cartoons and movies with them. I think it's because the Stan Lee and Jack Kirby run is so highly regarded that the book stagnated and went out of gas, creativity, although John Byrne and Walt Simonson's respective tenures do have a lot of fans. But the consensus, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!", has resulted in either crude pastiche or grotesque reinvention, appealing to fewer people each time. Consider how Doctor Doom was once regarded as one of the greatest comic book villains, the inspiration for Darth Vader, even - yet his portrayals on film have cast him as a roadshow also-ran. Sailor Moon could beat him up.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Ducktales DuckGossip

This news is more apropos of Gossip Gerty, but it's Ducktales news! And Darkwing Duck - related! And Kim Possible - related, if you're a fan of that show. I couldn't decide which picture should headline this post: Gossip Gerty from the Batman movies, as played by Bob Kane's widow Elizabeth Sanders, a cover image from Topolino homaging The Simpsons Movie, or Magica de Spell as a fortune teller..the last one sounds right...or maybe a picture foreshadowing something...

Last month, I read a comment on artist James Silvani's Facebook page reacting to a rumor that the relaunched Darkwing Duck comic book from Joe Books has been postponed due to development on the new Ducktales TV series airing on DisneyXD in 2017. That's not been confirmed, but news about the book has been nonexistent for some time now...

Then, last week, Jim Hill of Jim Hill Media - the valuable Gossip Gerty of all things regarding all things Disney - was interviewed at The Daily Disney Blog Podcast on Stitcher. He revealed a few tantalizing tidbits he had learned at this year's San Diego ComicCon:

The new Ducktales series WILL be animated in CG : That's a blow to fans who were hoping the new episodes would stay consistent by sticking to traditional hand-drawn animation  (albeit, scanned & digitally rendered by computer; animation studios haven't used celluloid pages - "cells" in over a decade), so we'll have to wait and see if Scrooge McDuck & co.'s CG designs will resemble episodes of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse or The Garfield Show. We HAVE seen Scrooge in cg before..and better cg depictions of McDuck on Deviantart...I have no problem with this new long as it feels like these are the same characters and not knock-offs, the way longtime duck fans reacted to watching Quack Michael Barrier's words, when he reviewed Looney Tunes Back In Action: "They might as well be djinn!"

Alan Burnett or Paul Dini may be working on the show: Hill was being cryptic here, saying that development/production hasn't been moving as fast as desired, so..."a writer" from Batman: The Animated Series has been brought in to help out with the process. My guess is between Dini and Burnett; Dini has been doing a lot of work for Marvel Studios TV cartoons, while Burnett's past credits include working on the original Ducktales TV series during its later seasons. Hill didn't want to name names, but my guess is Dini, because he's there, doing work for them. I actually think Burnett would be the better choice.

A "Disney Afternoon"-themed expansion pack for "Disney Infinity" consideration: I don't own the Disney Infinity video game, but those statues/figurines used as game pieces that are scanned into the game look awesome. Hill revealed that if the new Ducktales CG series is a hit, then ...wheels will be set in motion. The current trend at Disney these days is...glancing at old properties and considering new ways to dust them off, as opposed to films based on theme park rides. They're doing a live-action adaptation of The Sword In The Stone, a remake of Pete's Dragon...the creators of Kim Possible pitched a CG reboot of the series that could be greenlit if Ducktales is a hit. Contingent on the show's success, the game will feature an expansion pack following the Star Wars expansion that's debuting in time for Christmas.

I remember Pete's Dragon was one of a handful of Disney movies that played in heavy rotation in the 1980s on syndicated television. I recall liking the film - I would have to watch it again to see if I had a different opinion - I remember it being kind-of melancholy at times (too many villains; Jim Dale & Red Buttons as the con men were alright, but Pete's surrogate family of country bumpkins weren't really interesting, even if their "We got a 'bill of sale' r'ight he'ere" song remains permanently ingrained in the back of my head. And Helen Reddy's performance seemed to be out-of-sync with the Petticoat Junction -esque antics, but Elliot the dragon was excellent. I heard he'll get a redesign for the new film, more from Asian dragons than from Don Bluth's influences (seriously, when Don Bluth designs a housecat, he seems to draw them looking miniature mustachioed lions; Elliot looked like a brontosauros with a pink wig).

As for Kim Possible, I'm not a big fan of the show...I thought it pandered to teen trends and focused more to her bumbling sidekick, Ron Stoppable and the villains, Doctor Drakken in particular, as it went on. As with Scrooge McDuck, we've seen what a cg update of this show could look like, thanks to fan art and video games.

And then there's Darkwing Duck...there are subtle nods to the show existing within the Disney Infinity game (his motorcycle, The Ratcatcher, and his signature gas gun have often been spotted), but these tidbits hint very strongly that he might appear in the new Ducktales show..and in CG...

"Gossip is always true." - Clarabell Cow

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

4 Doctor Who Novels: "Beautiful Chaos" by Gary Russell, "The Coming of The Terraphiles" by Michael Moorcock, "Dead of Winter" by James Goss, "The Crawling Terror" by Mike Tucker

Four Doctor Who novels. Three featured boilerplate storylines, though one purportedly had an original idea, only it's author wrote it on a whim, resulting in boilerplate execution. As such, I felt all four books deserved to be written up in a single review..with good quotes for your viewing pleasure, of course. Onward...

Beautiful Chaos by Gary Russell: Among Doctor Who villains, the Mandragora Helix - a malevolent, sentient constellation with mind-controlling abilities - is not unlike the Great Intelligence from "The Snowmen" and "The Bells of St. John", and his/it's scheme has the same m.o. to it. The big difference is the Doctor and companion highlighted. The Tenth Doctor  is more fun to read about than The Eleventh Doctor, but Donna Noble, in retrospect, has nothing interesting to say..I don't think she ever did; her whole "arc" consists of her becoming better-educated/worldly via her travels with the Doctor before receiving a "Flowers For Algernon"-style I.Q. boost that allowed her to save the universe and serve as deux ex machina ( by typing, very fast, nonsensical technobabble onto a random computer keyboard ), before having to give it all up and become "Uneducated Get-To-The-Toe Donna" again ( this is certainly no Clara Oswald )..Thankfully, Gary Russell has her granddad Wilfred play a larger role here. The subplot about Wilfred's girlfriend coping with Alzheimer's is clearly trying too hard to echo Russell T. Davies' faux-TV style sentimentality, and Mandragora has more in common with The Wire from " The Idiot's Lantern " in it's ineffectiveness as a compelling villain, plus I don't recall Donna's mother really regarding the Doctor with contempt onscreen, so that bit seemed phony, but the Tenth Doctor characterization is just right, so it made the book a breeze to read. The book balances between fanfic and potboiler - Average.

The Coming of The Terraphiles by Michael Moorcock: The hype/backstory behind this book is more interesting than what we got...I recall that the original plan was for Moorcock to introduce a new status quo for Captain Jack Harkness as commander of a ship that traveled through a route between alternate universes and have him meet the Eleventh Doctor and Amy Pond for the first time, but the launch of Torchwood: Miracle Day likely derailed that idea, so he has the Doctor & Amy meet a new incarnation of his character, Jerry Cornelius, instead, and introduce his take on the application of parallel universes in Fantasy-Adventure fiction...sounds intriguing...but what we got was a potted, rambling, shaggy dog mess. Eleven and Amy weren't really complete characters at the time Moorcock was writing this, so they read like complete ciphers, here; he would've been better off using the Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith, although BBC Books was still shy about relaunching a line of Past Doctor Adventures in the wake of the new series until the novelization of Shada in 2012. The strongest passage in the book has nothing to do with any high-concept stuff: it's a P.G. Wodehouse-esque pastiche with a Bertie Wooster-like character attempting (i.e., failing) to steal a ghastly hat and clumsily take credit when it disappears. Everything else feels like it was just Moorcock typing away unconsciously...lots of incoherent nonsensical descriptions of ships encountering ships and traveling through spatial matter...I do remember THIS book was hyped up just as much as it's faded away into obscurity. - Pure Drivel **

Dead of Winter by James Goss: Of the four books featured in this post, this novel had the strongest character work, featuring character development we didn't get from the show, because the writers became increasingly preoccupied/distracted with hashing out River Song's paradoxical backstory. Her absence from this book allows Goss to offer insight on the relationship between The Eleventh Doctor, Amy and Rory that confirms suspicions  ( that Rory and Eleven tolerate eachother's presence to keep Amy happy, while Amy sees her husband as consolation for the unattainable and forever enigmatic Doctor, who seems to be trying to recreate the relationship the Tenth Doctor had with Rose Tyler, but frustrated that Amy would have feelings for someone else* ) and plays on expectations with a brief amnesia/role-reversal subplot for the trio. The main story - about a seaside clinic ridded with doppelgangers - is given some snap by Goss's decision to used a mixed 1st-person narrative; most of the characters featured narrate several chapters in rotation. Never dull, though lacking surprise, I was disappointed that the scene depicted on the cover does not occur in the attractive zombie woman wielding the Doctor's sonic screwdriver sounds epic to me. - Not bad

The Crawling Terror by Mike Tucker: The author probably noticed the nod to Jon Pertwee's Third Doctor when Peter Capaldi's initial costume for the Twelfth Doctor was revealed, so he fashioned an adventure fitting the Third for Twelve. Giant bugs are ubiquitous in two of the 3rd Doctor's best-known stories ( The Green Death, Planet of The Spiders ), along with misguided wealthy British meglomaniacs delving into mad science abundant during that era. Technically, I thought this the best-written book of the four in this post - the suspense is genuine, the atmosphere has the right mix horror and sci-fi/adventure, and the Twelfth Doctor & Clara are depicted right, so it felt authentic, and the pace is just right for an adventure about English villagers possessed by colonies of giant aliens resembling Earth insects. It risks bad taste by putting a baby in danger in one scene before coping out. Clara gets her mind swapped with the leader of the alien spider bugs, so we get more "Evil Clara", which is fun. The only drawback is a personal one: giant alien bugs aren't an appealing menace to me; I picked this up because I had already read the other two novels featuring 12, but it is a well-written adventure - I would've preferred alien foxes or mummies..if Paul Magrs can have the Eighth Doctor encounter alien, I liked the passage about wild foxes in the village being regarded like wild raccoons...and then Tucker drops a suggestion/hint about a possible rejected idea that he might recycle someday: UNIT soldiers fighting robots emerging from a volcano in the Canary Islands...a sequel to The Fires of Pompeii ?!! Mike Tucker! - when Moffat finally gets around to answering the question of why The Twelfth Doctor chose to look like the same man his Tenth incarnation met in Pompeii, may we PLEASE see THAT story?
- Okay

*That last bit about 11 wanting his own Rose Tyler for a companion was my pet theory; once Billie Piper left, Tennant's Doctor became increasingly angst-ridden and melancholy, which soured the acting chemistry the actor had with his later co-stars; perhaps Moffat was trying to casually recreate the same dynamic with his launch as showrunner?...

**I'm keeping this one - I'll try it again some other's like they say: "Some books are just for having."