Category Archives: Comics

Comic book covers for Thursday (#SFWApro)

I cannot seem to focus on blogging this week, so I’m going heavy on images, light on text.

Julius Schwartz, editor of DC’s Mystery in Space and Strange Adventures was a master at picking covers that would hook readers. Often one of the artists would come up with an idea which Schwartz and the writer would shape into a story. So here are some eyecatching examples.

A Gil Kane cover—

And Kane again—

And a similar idea, but without a human POV character (Murphy Anderson this time)

A classic gorilla cover by Kane

And Nicholas Cardy doing a gorilla from when Strange Adventures was a reprint book (I prefer it to the original).

Anderson again. Confused aliens generated a lot of fun stories for the Schwartz anthology books.

Gil Kane does another set of confused aliens

While Murphy Anderson does an updated cover for the reprint

And here’s one by Kane that really screams Buy Me Now!

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Things that no longer take our breath away (#SFWApro)

One of the problems for specfic is that a concept that’s awesome when first introduced inevitably becomes mundane over time. Case in point, SILVER SURFER: New Dawn by Dan Slott and Mike Allred (cover by Allred, all rights remain with current holder)

This was an enjoyable, if very Doctor Who-ish riff on the surfer, who winds up with a human companion, Dawn, traveling alongside him on “Toomie” (“Isn’t that what you always call him — ‘To me, my board!'”). But there’s one major plotline that totally tanked for me. It involves a planet that has captured a cosmic entity called the Never Queen, who turns out to be the life partner of the cosmic entity Eternity.

Eternity. Eternity, the embodiment of our universe. Who with Death makes up all of our reality. Eternity has a wife?

That’s really, really stupid writing (Death is established to as Eternity’s sister, but that doesn’t press the same buttons for me). But it also shows the point I’m getting at, that Eternity, a being who was completely unfathomable when Dr. Strange first confronted him, is now so fathomable he has a love life.

And that’s true of lots of stuff in comics (and not just comics, but that’s what I’m using for my examples). When Reed Richards first discovered the Negative Zone, it was an alien region so savage and dangerous that entering it was close to suicide. During Civil War, the pro-registration side was building an Earth base in it, as if it were somewhere mundane like the moon.

When the Avengers have their first encounter with an altered timeline in their second annual — a new history where they’re the tyrants running the world (for its own good, of course) — they’re terrified at the thought the world they know no longer exists. Now of course, erasing the entire timeline is “It’s Tuesday.”

Of course even if they tried to keep things like that unearthly, long-time readers would end up finding it less mind-blowing just by repetition. Flashpoint tried to make erasing the whole DC post-crisis universe terrifying, but it wasn’t (admittedly that’s partly because I can’t take these reboots seriously any more). James Bond was shockingly violent and oversexed when he appeared in Dr. No, but now he’s something people take their kids too. And that’s true for most genres: as the protagonist puts it in Deathtrap, how do you startle an audience that’s seen all the twists in Ten Little Indians, Gaslight, and Dial M For Murder?

One approach is to kind of accept the mundaneness. In a sense that’s what urban fantasy does, present nightmares — black magic, werewolves, vampires, demons — matter-of-factly, weaving them into every-day life. I suppose that’s part of what I’m doing with Southern Discomfort.

Another is just to do the old stuff well. Ten Little Indians and The Mousetrap still work if they’re well executed — at least they work for me, even knowing the twists going in.

Another is to go over the top — more gore, more death, scarier monsters — but that frequently doesn’t work for me.

The ideal is to do something that’s wildly weird and different, as much as the old stuff was, but without going over the top. I’m currently rereading Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol run, for instance, and he’s a master at creating a supernatural world that’s stranger than anything I’d seen when I first read it — or today. Like the Dresden Madonna, which bleeds sour milk from her stigmata every 28 days, and that’s just a background detail. Or a sorcerer trapping cultist killers in Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses. Or the Dry Bachelors, homonculi formed from shed skin cells and animated by the bitterness of discarded love letters.

But giving Eternity a love interest was definitely not the way to go.

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New Screen Rant column: Heroes who hung up their capes (#SFWApro)

Unlike the previous column about heroes who retired, this is heroes who quit temporarily (as Spidey does above — image by John Romita, all rights to current holder) rather than forever. Where the previous column was a real challenge to find material (“White Tiger’s perfect …. oh, came back into action.”) I could easily have added another dozen temporary quitters (Barry Allen, Wally West, Guy Gardner, Vision, the entire Teen Titans, the entire Legion of Super-Heroes [counting the team as one entry], Johnny Blaze …)

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Maps, shadows, and Dr. Strange: books read (#SFWApro)

DRAWING THE LINE: Tales of Maps and Cartocontroversy by Mark Monmonier covers the kind of material I thought On the Map glossed over such as the Mercator map with its distorted presentation of the world (which he notes is not an issue in its original use for navigation), the maps of Pangea drawn as proof of continental drift, the problem of boundary maps that may not match reality (Trees are uprooted, hills wash away, rivers change course”) and how map design influences our concept of safety (“If our town is included in the map of environmental risks, we automatically assume it’s threatened.”), not to mention the specifically political uses of mapping (some Palestinian maps ignore all developments and settlements since 1948; former British colonies replace European place names with ethnic ones). Monmonier’s core argument is that maps create the illusion of objective fact even though they may be politically slanted or unintentionally skewed by subjective assessments. Very interesting.

THE CHARWOMAN’S SHADOW by Lord Dunsany (cover by Gervasio Gallardo, all rights remain with current holder) is a remarkable little story and a quasi-sequel to his Don Rodriguez (one character is Rodriguez’ grandson). Ramon, the son of a penniless Spanish grandee goes to work for a wizard learning how to make base metal into gold, something his family needs to give his sister a dowry.  When Ramon learns the wizard’s elderly charwoman (Britspeak for housekeeper) is enslaved because she sold the mage her shadow (“It used to make the grass such a tender green. It never dimmed the buttercups.”) his new priority becomes finding and freeing her shadow. Clever, beautifully written, wryly humorous in spots; I think I liked this more than I remembered.

ORLANDO FURIOSO: The Ring of Angelica was the first volume in Ballantine Adult Fantasy’s translation (courtesy Robert Hodgens) of Ariosto’s epic (regrettably none of the other volumes came out, though I have read it elsewhere). As the story is a sequel to the earlier Orlando Inamorata by Boiardo, it starts in media res as the sorceress Angelica, the knights Bradamante, Ruggiero and Orlando and various supporting players travel across Europe in engaging feats of derring-do and wizardry. Full of wonders and unlike William Morris, Ariosto’s combat scenes really move (he makes me appreciate how much Morris falls short of the people he’s modeling his fantasies on). He’s also surprisingly sex positive, which is different from the English epic tradition I’m used to. I do agree with editor Lin Carter though that the plotting is kind of random, as Ariosto’s more interested in hurling new and exciting things at us than following a mere plotline.

DOCTOR STRANGE: The Oath by Brian K. Vaughn and Marcos Martin has the sorcerer supreme and the Night Nurse (a doctor who runs a secret clinic catering to super-heroes) begin investigating when someone steals a miracle cancer cure (Wong’s terminal) from Strange’s sanctum. What follows is not only a battle of magic, but a look at how Strange’s Hippocratic oath still shapes him — and in different ways, his adversary. The relationship with Night Nurse feels a little forced, but I’d have liked to see it continue — subsequent crossover events took Stephen in a different direction (and not a good one) Well done.

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New Screen Rant column out: 16 Facts About Jay Garrick (#SFWApro)

I have a new Screen Rant column up about Jay Garrick, the original Flash. Learn how smoking gave him super powers. How he came out of retirement because of an artist’s challenge. Why he ages slower than ordinary people. And more!

Cover by Carmine Infantino and Murphy Anderson, all rights reserved to current holder.

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Floods, mutants, vampires and more: comics and books read (#SFWApro)

NOAH by Darren Aronofsky, Ari Handel and Niko Henrichon shows the impulse to do Biblical epics didn’t die off with Cecil B. DeMille. This story of Noah getting his ark up and running despite the interference of a local warlord and his own doubts whether humanity should survive works well as spectacle (it’s apparently based on Aronofsky’s recent movie) — not great art but entertaining. Though I’m not sure switching out the usual portrayals of decadent civilizations for eco-destructive ones really worked.

THE SUNDERING FLOOD was William Morris’ last romance, in which a boy and girl on opposite sides of the eponymous river fall into long-distance love, then go off and have adventures, which in the girl’s case means getting captured a lot (disappointing given she starts out as something of a free spirit). This moves faster than usual for Morris, and I found it more engaging than much of his work. However Morris’s action scenes remind me of the long, inferior stretches in Malory where there’s nothing but endless tournament after endless tournament (i.e., not terribly interesting). Part of this is that as a historical writer, Morris dwells much more on details of medieval life that Malory didn’t bother with. Pleasant enough to read though, and what a lovely cover by Gervasio Gallardo (all rights to current holder)

WOLVERINE AND THE XMEN: Tomorrow Never Learns by Jason Latour and Mahmud Asrar starts off well as the Jean Grey School gets seriously weird (Krakoa the living island is now Krakoa the Living School Grounds, there’s a supply of bamfs around to provide instant teleportation). Unfortunately the plot — Askani warrior hunts down Quentin Quire for the evil he’s going to do when he acquires the Phoenix Force — is stock X-book stuff, and very convoluted, plus the usual angst and guilt from Wolverine.

THE COLDEST GIRL IN COLDTOWN by Holly Black has a teenager wake up from a wild party to discover everyone else has been victimized by vampires, which leads to her, her slowly turning ex-boyfriend, and a seemingly helpless vamp (“No-one has ever saved me before.”) journeying to one of the Coldtown ghettoes where vampires are quarantine, with the protagonist planning to wait there until she knows for sure if she’s infected. I like this much better than I expected — Black writes well, and in many ways this seems to undercut the cliches of the post-Anne Rice vampire fiction by showing that under the beauty and celebrity, vampires really are just disgusting corpses who feed on the living. The stretches of internecine vampire struggles, though, I largely skimmed. In a minor note, Fables writer Bill Willingham gets to be a vampire victim.

CHEW: Taster’s Choice by John Layman and Rob Guillory has “cibopath” Tony Chu reluctantly recruited by the federal government to use his super power (psychometric flashes from anything he eats) to solve crimes (one nibble on a victim’s finger …). I thought the later volume I read was fun enough, but this is really gloriously, goofy fun with a lot of eccentrics and weird psionics (like a woman whose restaurant reviews make you actually taste the food when you’re reading her). Great job!

DC REBIRTH by Geoff Johns and various artists launched DC’s latest continuity-mangling Big Event, which while implying it will fix the problems of the New 52 will probably make them worse (as every reboot since Crisis has managed to do). This has the pre-Flashpoint Wally West warning Batman about what’s coming, Lois and Clark watching the New 52’s Superman die at Doomsday’s hands (“Perhaps he’ll recover as I did.”), Batman learning the Joker’s not one man but three (I can’t even guess where they’re going with that one) and we learn Dr. Manhattan is secretly behind the entire New 52. While I was never a fan of the New 52 reboot, I have no faith whatever’s coming will be an improvement, particularly as the same creators who thought the New 52 would be a great step forward are still running the show.

 

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Abe Sapiens and an Exorcist: Updates from the Hellboyverse (#SFWApro)

While I have added all these to the Hellboy Chronology, I haven’t reviewed them yet, so here we go. Some spoilers.

25852939ABE SAPIEN: The Secret Fire by Mike Mignola, Scott Allie and Sebastian and Max Fiumara (cover by the latter, all rights reside with current holder) was a disappointment for me. It’s mostly Abe dithering and worrying about his role in the end of the human race — something he’s been doing since the series started — and getting lots of advice from various mystical people. Meanwhile the sorcerer Gustav Strobl, who’s been hunting Abe all through the series, continues hunting him. It felt like filler that didn’t advance the story, didn’t stand on its own, but did stretch things out a few issues longer.

ABE SAPIENS: The Desolate Shore (same creative team) stars better as Abe discovers the BPRD’s Professor Bruttenholm knew all about Abe’s human past two decades before Abe learned his origins. Why did he stay silent? And what exactly did Abe’s former self, Langdon Caul, discover in the depths of the ocean. Having raised the questions, we get more brooding (apparently they’ll be wrapped up when Abe rejoins the BPRD for the mythos finish), which got frustrating. And while I like Strobl’s agenda (the mage believes he should be the template for the next age of man, not Abe), his final showdown is over so abruptly it retroactively makes Strobl pointless — why exactly were we wasting time reading about this guy? I hope the BPRD series wraps up better.

On the other hand I really enjoyed BPRD: Hell on Earth: The Exorcist (Mignola, Cameron Stewart, Chris Roberson, Mike Norton) which introduces almost-new BPRD agent Ashley Strode (she had a brief cameo in an earlier book). In the first story in this collection, she confronts a demon and becomes an exorcist as a result of her trials; in the second, she’s now traveling across country exorcising evil things in the old Hellboy manner (only with ritual rather than a right to the jaw). The stories were good, and it’s nice to have a relatively optimistic character in the spotlight for a change. I believe Strode is also the first gay protagonist in the mythos, but I can’t swear to it.

The Exorcist proved a slight challenge to the chronology as the two stories take place fifteen months apart. I’m guesstimating that the second one happens “now” or as close as we can get (as I’ve mentioned before, I think the rapid pace of events puts the timeline several years behind our own) and fitting in the first story based on that.

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