Look, Up In The Sky!

Superman: The Movie is a motion picture that was released in 1978. Despite there being attempts at making comic book movies in the past, whether it be low budget movie serials or comedic films like Batman: The Movie from 1966, this was the first attempt at making a serious big budget motion picture that appealed to the masses. The choices made by the cast and crew of Superman: The Movie not only ensured that the movie itself would be entertaining for fans, it helped shaped the character of Superman and the world he inhabited in comics as a whole.

            The first lasting change starts with the opening location in the movie, Krypton. Before the movie, Krypton had routinely been portrayed as a typical 50’s sci-fi wonderland, similar to settings you would see in works like Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers. Richard Donner decided to take a different tact. Working with production designer John Barry, they envisioned Krypton as a cold, alien planet covered in crystals. This allowed the filmmakers to give the film a more modern look.

            The comics quickly took cues from the movie. After the landmark comic event Crisis On Infinite Earths, an event series intended to streamline the DC universe continuity, DC Comics commissioned noted comic creator John Byrne to reimagine the origins of Superman in his limited series Man Of Steel. The purpose of Man Of Steel was to essentially start over with the character. Mr. Byrne, taking cues from Superman: The Movie, took Krypton from the 50’s sci-fi wonderland it had been for over 50 plus years into an alien landscape that resembled the locations established in the movies. There were some changes, to be fair. Mr. Byrne presented Krypton as more of a desert planet, but the design of the buildings on Krypton closely resembled the world of Krypton in the films.

            The next big change had to do with Lois Lane. While she was never the typical damsel in distress, during the height of the Comic Code Authority of the 50’s and 60’s, Lois’s character became more focused on getting a man, not on being the best reporter at The Daily Planet. In fact, while she did have a comic book of her own during this era, Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane, that book typically featured her being boy crazy of some sort.

            Enter Margot Kidder. Margot took Lois Lane from a two-dimensional caricature into a fully fleshed out character. In the movie, Lois Lane is a tough, no nonsense woman who is good at her job and has no qualms letting you know about that. Sure, she loves Superman in the movie, yet her worth as a character is not defined by that love. She becomes the adult Wendy to Superman’s Peter Pan.

            How did that affect Lois in the comics? When John Byrne created Man Of Steel, his version of Lois Lane was influenced by the movie. She wasn’t portrayed as boy crazy anymore. The layers that Margot Kidder added to Lois Lane translated well to the comics. By giving Lois realistic motivations as a character, we the readers were able to connect with her in ways we simply couldn’t before. After the movie, Lois in the comics simply became more relatable because she was no longer a caricature.

            Another character that benefited by changes in the movie was Lex Luthor, greatest criminal mind of our time. In the comics, it was established that Lex and a young Clark Kent grew up together in Smallville. Thanks to a science experiment that went bad, Lex lost his hair, which caused him to seek vengeance on Superman. What greater motivation does a super villain need for world domination than male pattern baldness?

            The movie took a different path. Instead of presenting Lex as an evil scientist, Richard Donner took cues from the James Bond franchise and turned Lex into an evil capitalist with no moral compass. (Interestingly, the final script was written by Tom Mankiewicz, who wrote a number of early Bond films.) In the film, he desires land and will go to any length to get what he wants. For an audience in the 70’s, this was much more relatable than a mad scientist. A person could switch on the news and watch plenty of real-world Lex Luthor’s walking among them.

            The comics took note. Starting with John Byrne’s Man Of Steel, Lex Luthor was an evil industrialist that was head of LexCo. He used his resources as an industrialist to achieve his goals. By updating the character of Lex Luthor, making him resemble the character as portrayed in the movie, the comics took an outdated trope, the evil scientist, and updated the character into someone the average reader would think is real.

            Superman: The Movie is a landmark film. Similar to how the creation of Superman in the comics launched the superhero craze, the movie helped open the eyes of Hollywood as to what comic book stories can offer audiences. No longer are comic book characters marketed specifically to children. The movie, made 50 or so years after the creation of the comic, understood that generations of people grew up with these characters. By adapting them for modern times, by giving the characters more to do than the standard two-dimensional tropes you would come to expect from these stories, the movie opened the door for comic book creators to offer more depth to the world of Superman for which we the readers continue to benefit.

The Avengers #55

The Silver Age of Comics has brought about changes in pop culture that will reverberate for years to come. From the two major companies, Marvel and DC, the sheer amount of work they created that is still being mined is amazing. But do they stand the test of time? Not always.

To get back in the saddle of reviewing I thought I would dive into a classic issue of The Avengers. This issue was the debut of Ultron-5, the evil robot played so amazingly by James Spader in Avengers: Age of Ultron. The premise of the issue is that The Avengers have been kidnapped by the reformed Masters of Evil under the guise of the mysterious Crimson Cowl. While the previous issue came out and said Jarvis, Tony Stark’s butler, was The Crimson Cowl, it turns out Jarvis was being hypnotized by Ultron. The scheme was to have a hydrogen bomb held over the Empire State Building while Ultron contacts authorities for a ransom. The Black Knight arrives after Jarvis is able to escape, hijinks ensue, and The Avengers save the day.

The overall story itself was not horrible. I’ve certainly read much worse than this. Yet it does have a couple major failings. The biggest one is how Jarvis is dealt with. First, they imply he’s being hypnotized yet at the end of the issue Jarvis tells The Avengers that his mother was sick and he needed money so he sold them out. Which is it? Was he forced against his will through hypnosis or did he go along with the plan simply to help his mother? Also, maybe someone can fill me in as to what Tony Stark’s fortune was at this point in time but I strongly suspect that Tony would have willingly given Jarvis whatever cash he needed to care for his family.

Secondly, he was attacked by the Melter (after previously being attacked by Ultron) yet was able to escape with essentially minor bruises. When Jake and Elwood Blues in The Blues Brothers were attacked over and over again yet were able to simply walk away it was done for humorous effect. When a simple butler is able to survive an attack from a robot and a hardened criminal with simply nothing more than an Excedrin headache, it takes the believe ability of these villains, tosses it out a window, and lets birds use them for scraps for their nests. While I could let it slide when it happens to one of The Avengers, because let’s face it, even during the 1960’s you would expect members of a group to train for situations for like this, for an average civilian, you’d expect them to be straight up murdered.

Another issue I had was something I’ve seen a lot in Silver Age Comics. They introduce the big bad villain yet only showcase that villain for a couple of pages. Granted, I’m admittedly being a little impatient here. This issue was during the era where they were just getting into the groove of multi-issue stories. If you take early Avengers stories, early Spider-Man stories, most would be single story issues. With what is called decompression, they were letting stories breath really, letting them flow longer and more organically like a story in a novel or movie compared to the compression stories of the past eras. One drawback of the decompression method is if you find yourself in the middle of the story you may find that certain characters you want to see are simply not going to be around in a particular story simply because they’re not needed. Yet, I still found myself frustrated because for Ultron’s part in the story, we mainly saw him as The Crimson Cowl. Once he reveals himself as Ultron, he only appears in four more pages of the story in only a small handful of panels. This is a complaint…but a complaint I am sure a writer wants to see a person have because I wanted to see more of him.

So where do I stand on this issue? You have to take it in full context honestly. It’s a part of a longer story told in previous issues. With that, as a stand alone story, it doesn’t hold up too well. However, what it did right was not having the enjoyment of this issue be completely reliant upon total knowledge of what happened in previous issues. To me, the sign of a good comic is one that you can pick up with any issue and enjoy it. They have to have the mindset George Lucas said he had for Star Wars, that each film is its own story but all the films together tell one coherent story. This issue fits that formula nicely so I do recommend it as a read. It’s certainly not a classic in comics history along the lines of Amazing Fantasy #15, with a solid beginning, middle, and end, it does what it needs to do. In the age of graphic novels and comics available upon demand digitally, I think this is something some comics creators are forgetting today. They have the mindset that each issue is a chapter in a story and write it accordingly. Comic stories, even today, share more with old movie serials than they do with books. Basically, you have one issue to sell a new reader on your story so make whatever issue they pick up feel like a complete story, not a small part of something bigger. If they like what they read, they will purchase the other issues.

The Avengers #1

I’ve decided to change things up a bit. For a while I tried reading the first thing that interested me on a particular day. Then I went through the Spider-Island story. From there I’ve been reviewing Ultimate Spider-Man. While I am loving the Ultimate run, I do see the need to kind of have some variety. As the old saying goes, you can’t live on bread, or just Spider-Man alone. So with that, I’m going to have a schedule.

  1. Sunday-The Amazing Spider-Man
  2. Monday-Civil War
  3. Tuesday-Age of Apocalypse
  4. Wednesday-Death of Wolverine
  5. Thursday-Ultimate Spider-Man
  6. Friday-Fear Itself
  7. Saturday-The Avengers

This of course will be subject to change. Whether it be boredom or finishing up a particular story line, there will be times I shift to another series or event story. In the end, I think this will give me the variety I want plus more exposure to more writers and artists.

So what is there to say about The Avengers? For one, I really enjoyed how the backbone of the story has stayed pretty consistent throughout the years. There have been changes of personnel and relationships among the group have changed over time but the basic premise for the story has stayed surprisingly consistent. Contrast that with DC Comics titles from this time the you’d be hard pressed to find a story that bears any resemblance to their modern counterparts.

To me this speaks well to the genius of Stan Lee and the other contributors at Marvel. The only reason I single Stan out of course is that he’s pretty much the figure head for the writers and artists that Marvel have employed throughout the years. And for the longest time Stan was the man behind the words in all the comics Marvel put out which, even using the Marvel Method (where Stan would provide an artist a basic story outline, the artist would draw the entire comic, then Stan would furnish the story for the written work), is an amazing feat we won’t see from a major comics publisher again.

So what works in this issue? To me, it boils down to simplicity. A bad guy, Loki, wants to fight Thor, frames the Hulk for a crime he didn’t commit, and inadvertently gets a number of other heroes on his case before he is ultimately defeated. While it goes without saying that you would probably get a much deeper appreciation for the story if you have read the stand alone issues for each of these characters, another wonderful part about The Avengers is that the story for the most part stands alone. Prior knowledge of events that happened in other comics is not needed to enjoy what is happening, yet you will find plenty of editor’s notes indicating which comics in question you can read to find out the back story you may be interested in.

One character I haven’t really gotten used to is The Hulk. I will admit that this is because I grew up on the old Incredible Hulk television show which for my money is still one of the best comic book shows ever made. Since getting back into reading comics, I have found it quite strange to see the Hulk more cantankerous than I remember him to be. And the Hulk talking? Come on. To be clear, that doesn’t mean I don’t like the Hulk in this. Apart from him suddenly joining the team after being hounded by them all issue, he’s a wonderful character that I want to see more of in this story.

The only real complaint I have about this issue is Stan’s penchant for filling the pages up with as much text as possible. I fully appreciate that this story was written at a time where most folks were still used to radios being the main form of entertainment even though by this time radios were pretty much being regulated to a secondary entertainment tool in the home. The story comes across like a radio play. I found myself annoyed at some instances where Stan is describing what is going on when there was no need to do so because the art clearly showed what was going on. Again, this comic was a product of its age. If the comic were written today it would be much different. (As evidenced by this great reimagining from Joe Casey and Phil Noto.) Despite that, the story holds up incredibly well. The flaws for the most part add charm to the story because it is very much the type of feeling you get when a team gets together for the first time.

Bottom Line:

This is a must read. That goes without saying. This issue is one of a few issues in comics history that stand as a true corner stone of what make comics great. While Joss Whedon didn’t follow this comic at all when he created the first Avengers movie, I was surprised at how much of a spiritual remake of the comic that movie was.

The art work is crude by today’s standards but make no mistake, most artists wish they could achieve a tenth of what Jack Kirby created. While images have gotten more streamlined and outfits of our heroes have changed over time, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who wouldn’t say these characters are the same as the ones in the comics today.

Interestingly, you can also say this was the time where the Fantastic Four handed over the mantle of Marvel’s most important team. Spider-Man and to a lesser extent Wolverine and The Punisher, may be the money cows of Marvel. For my money, The Avengers teaming up was the most important act Marvel could have made during this time even though admittedly if it weren’t for a little team at DC called The Justice League, who knows if The Avengers, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, would have heeded the call and joined together.

Ultimate Spider-Man #1

Ultimate_Spider-Man_Vol_1_1

Reviewing comics that interest me has been quite the rewarding experience. Coming into this I certainly was a comics fan but admittedly my reading material was Big Two, Marvel and DC, based. I rarely strayed beyond the comfort of what was known in my little universe. Through this, I’ve been able to dive into a number of amazing stories that I honestly would not have given two thoughts to before. Even when it came to stories I may not have liked, I have learned lessons I am putting towards my own writing. A writer is going to follow two rules. Read every day and write every day. When it comes to reading, straying out of your comfort zone may not yield the best results but you can still see what makes a piece work and what doesn’t.

One series that started my obsession with comics was Ultimate Spider-Man. The series was written by Brian Bendis and penciled by Mark Bagly. The point of the series was simple. Marvel realized that for some of their core characters, the history was a bit on the convoluted side in regards to all the twists and turns. That was fine for people who have been around since the sixties but a little tough for new readers to dive into without getting lost. Marvel had two ways to go with this. Either do a universe reset type of story that DC recently did, and failed with, in the New 52 or do what they did with the Ultimate line of comics and take characters like Spider-Man and essentially start over. It has the same premise but goes on from there. Long story short, this comic is a reboot. It is a beautiful example, a step by step guide really, to how to successfully reboot a franchise. It very much loves the source material but does an amazing job of not only modernizing the story but going off in directions that Stan Lee and Steve Ditko probably did not even conceive of.

So to finish off the year right and roll into the new year with a full head of steam, I am taking a different course. Instead of cherry picking through various comics with no real purpose, I’m going to start with a series from issue one all the way to its finale. That way I can examine a series from start to finish and make comments along the way about character development and the effort it takes the writer and artist to keep each issue entertaining all the while making you come back for more. While I will take little breaks here and there for other comics that pique my interest, I want my main focus now to be the Ultimate Spider-Man line. So, here we go.

I love the piece of business at the start with Norman Osborne. What a hell of a way to show the readers what a bastard he is! Instead of having two separate characters talk about him and deeds he’s done, we are shown through his actions that he is just a despicable human being. He doesn’t twirl a mustache or monologue about plans to take over the world. He’s a Wall Street corporate douche bag who’s looking out for number one, plain and simple. We’ve seen people like this on the news. We may work with people like this as our bosses. But this is the type of person most people loathe on the spot. The best part about the story was that we were not told to loathe him, we were given reason to.

When we finally meet up with Peter, we see through the actions of his classmates that he is not the most popular kid in school. While I wouldn’t call him the lowest level nerd around, I mean you have to be in somewhat decent status to get a girl like Mary Jane Watson interested in you, the jocks treat him like dirt. For the most part it’s realistic but the little bits of slang thrown into the story were annoying. The thing with slang is that you never know what will stick for the long term and what will become dated the next month. This is just nitpicking on my part to be sure but I have issue with slang tossed in for characters that is simply used to indicate their age. If you have to go that route, you’re doing it wrong. Just let them be assholes and say what you would say if you were an asshole yourself. Trying to guess what kids would say will just go down a very dark path that doesn’t often come out to where you want it to. Again, this is just a nitpick more than anything.

After Peter gets bit by the spider at Osborn Industries I was a little shocked at how quickly Norman sent someone to kill Peter and his family. Thinking of this as a reader reading this for the first time (I have read it before. I’m putting myself in their shoes.), seeing this just made me think why was it happening? You would think a businessman as unethical as Norman would be sending a fleet of lawyers to throw money at the situation in order to cover it up first, not sending a Jason Statham wannabe to whack a 15 year old boy. With a corporation the size you would expect of Osborn Industries, even if Peter died from the spider venom and Ben and May Parker sue Norman, he’d have his lawyers run cartwheels around the Parker’s lawyer for so long they’d be thankful for a settlement just to pay the legal bills. Sending a guy to take them out just seemed a little excessive at this stage especially with the fact that it is established that his son Harry is friends with Peter. You would think Norman would go out of his way to be the concerned parent who pops in on his son’s friend Peter in a ruse just to keep an eye on him. That’s ultimately where we end up after Peter, with his spider sense, leaps over the hit man’s car, causing him to crash into a tree so the whole hit man angle was pretty pointless at this stage.

Bottom Line:

This was one hell of a start to one hell of a run in comics history. Like when Gene Roddenberry created Star Trek: The Next Generation, plenty of people, myself included, saw no real point in this series being made and scoffed at it without giving it a chance. Boy did I end up eating my words. With beautiful artwork from Mark Bagly, especially when it came to scenes of Peter being depressed such as when he’s alone at the mall food court after the bullies threw food at him, and the amazing story from Brian Bendis, this was a great way to use the elements of Spider-Man that worked in the past all the while throwing in some new story elements to make something completely new. The original Spider-Man will always be there. This is a Spider-Man for a whole new generation. To quote The Who, Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Holy F*cked #4

holy-f-cked-issue-4-00

Here we are with the final issue of Holy F*cked and I have to make a quick comment on the cover. Take a look at it for a moment. Does it look familiar? Well, it should because it is a straight homage to an old Daredevil cover that Frank Miller drew.

Daredevil_Vol_1_181

If you’re going to rip off someone, you rip off from the best. And as Bobby the Brain Hennan used to say, it’s not stealing unless you get caught. Great cover.

So on to the comic at hand. The New Apostles have been defeated. Hercules reigns supreme and appears to be on his way to finally defeating the man he thought killed his father, Jesus. Satan is in the hospital in labor pains ready to give birth to the child of our lord and savior. And Hercules has such huge nipples that a cow would probably be offended by them and ask him to wear a shirt.

So I have to say I called it from the start. One thing I noticed from the beginning of the story was that Hercules was hell bent on blaming Jesus for the death of Zeus when it was in fact Maria who killed Zeus due to her lack of faith. Nick Marino all but confirmed this to me on Twitter when he mentioned that I was the only reviewer to point out that Hercules was mistaken in his belief. Score one for me! (As a married man you learn to take victories whenever you can.)

One other thing I liked as well was the fact that they never outright killed Hercules. Too often in comic book movies or just plain comic books today, they have these elaborate deaths for the villain of the story without putting much thought into what story elements you’re taking off the table once you kill them. Christopher Nolan did great with this in The Dark Knight. It’s not my favorite Batman movie and not my favorite version of The Joker by any means but at the very end, instead of having some elaborate death for The Joker, The Joker is simply captured leaving room for his reappearance in future films. Obviously those films won’t happen since Nolan decided to make it just a trilogy but I think you get my point.

Hercules was a pretty monumental threat here. For him to be taken out permanently in the story would be just plain wrong for all the buildup he’s been given. The story ideas of what could be done with him in future issues are pretty much limitless. What if he were able to wrangle the other gods who fled Zeus for a last stand against Jesus and Satan?

Satan has a baby and it’s a boy. I don’t know where they’re registered but this was the feel good moment in the story. For the silliness we’ve encountered so far, I still felt a connection to the characters that once everything wrapped up in their favor, it was great to see Jesus and Satan have that moment with their new son Rad. I don’t know how in the hell Satan got pregnant or was able to give birth being a man and all but hell, it was great to see them grow together as a couple.

Bottom Line:

So ends another Holy F*cked series. This series was pretty much straight on action from the get go. The other story was similar in a lot of ways but did add in the great bit about faith. This was the Chuck Norris ass kicking story with no pretense of being anything else and it is great for being it. What I encourage everyone to do is buy this comic. There are seeds here for a dive into a funny world that can only be explored if sales of these comics demand it. If you like goofy comedy that’s well written and comes with amazing art work, this is the comic for you.

One thing I’ve discovered since I’ve started this little journey is the fact that the general public’s perception of comics is really quite love. If it doesn’t have a Marvel or DC logo on it, then it must not exist. Yet we see television shows and movies coming out each year based on comic books that most people would not assume were originally comics. While I agree with Steven Speilberg about comic book movies having an expiration date at some point, when you factor in the idea that comic books have no set genre, you really have to question when that date could be. There are autobiographies, history comics, religious comics, romance comics, action comics, comedy comics; any genre you can think of, they make a comic for it. It really is a true American art form that allows folks to, not only with words but pictures, to express any idea that can come to your imagination. An idea like this may not work as a regular book. The artwork really does wonders with the story in showcasing the fact that it is meant to be silly. Holy F*cked is why comic books are so important in our culture. It may not be Les Miserables but it is one hell of a story and deserves your support. (Damn, this sounds like a PBS pledge drive.)

My next reviews:

ultimatespiderman

Fantastic Four #1

fantasticfour1

Origin stories. By this point people are kind of sick of them and for good reason. When it comes to comic book movies, it appears that almost every movie has to have an origin story attached to it. Yeah that’s an over exaggeration but the fact is too many origin stories have been told the past twenty years for most folks to care about them anymore. They all follow a formula. If it’s done well you can forgive it, examples being Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man and Iron Man.

An origin story will make or break you. If you can’t snare in readers from the first story, they are not going to care what additional stories you have to tell. And why should they? If you’re characters are so boring in the first issue, what is going to bring them to issue two? That was the dilemma Stan Lee and Jack Kirby had with the Fantastic Four. Everyone knows the story by now. Stan was close to leaving comics for good. He told his wife his intentions and she challenged him to write a comic that he would want to read. The worst that would happened would be that he would be fired and since he didn’t want to stay employed there anyway, what was it going to hurt?

That challenge brought us The Fantastic Four. Comics to this point, while fun reads, thanks to the Comic Code, were to put it nicely simplistic. For proof, check out any of the great collections that DC Comics have put together for some of their long time characters and read their stories from the 40’s and 50’s. They’re stories that would not make good children’s books now. Just horrible, horrible stuff.

Now don’t get me wrong, this was a bit of a hard read by today’s standards. The story itself does not stand the test of time. But much like Love Me Do from The Beatles, you can see from the first page on the foundations of what was to come. The simple fact alone that the characters, while they had a deep seated respect for each other, didn’t really like each other in this issue, is great to see. Ben Grimm, from the start, is pissed off at Reed Richards for directly ignoring his warnings about going into space. And speaking of the space trip, if Reed Richards created the spaceship they used to get into space, why would the four have to sneak onto a military base in order to covertly go into space? You would think that if he built the ship, he could fly it into space whenever the hell he wanted.

I did not care for Sue Storm this issue. She wasn’t really given much to do apart from be invisible and challenge Ben Grimm’s manhood by calling him a commie for not wanting to go into space. They may have well just had her cluck like a chicken. They could have had her ask if he wanted to borrow one of her dresses because there was no way he was a man anymore. I get that this was the sixties and this time was NOT kind to women in fiction, especially comic books, but much like Amos and Andy or Bugs Bunny talking about getting Japs, you just cringe at how wrong they present her.

This is the absolute worst part about reading older comics because you can’t help but read the story through modern lenses. Me personally, I want the women in stories I read, or write (https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/48189), to be strong. Sure, they can be damsels in distress. As a guy, it is instinct to want to save someone that is weaker than you. But seeing characters presented as nothing more than eye candy simple due to the lack of male genitalia is just simply a waste. There was so much more they could have done with her that they ultimately did over time.

The art work was crude but again, in the realm of comic history it is important work. Using the music analogy I used earlier, this very much was crude compared to later work that he drew. But when your work influences an industry like Jack Kirby’s work did, my god, that is a legacy worth having. At the end of the day, while more average folks may know who Stan Lee is, even more people know of and are conditioned to the work of Jack Kirby and the legacy he has in comics. The man was a legend. Admittedly when it comes to art I am not the greatest critic. I know what I like and don’t like and can pretty much say a lot of words saying one or the other. Little details that happen in art will slip by me. It is something that I am working on and reading a comic book a day has definitely helped in that regard. So for a novice with art like myself, there are not enough words I can put together that will reflect the impact Jack Kirby has had on comics and pop culture as a whole.

Bottom Line:

While this comic can be hard to read in 2015, you can not deny the impact this issue had on comics. The fact that the heroes in the story acted like real people, arguing and all, brought much needed reality to stories that bordered on inane. While I cannot recommend this as a must read comic it would still be something I would say you should own. No, not the original comic that is hard to find originals of and cost thousands upon thousands of dollars. I’m talking about heading to Marvel’s website, Comixology, or wherever you buy your comics and buy yourself this issue. While someone may have come along over time and did something comparable to what Stan and Jack did, they were the flag bearers. They ushered in the Silver Age of comic books with this issue. The world would be a much different place if we didn’t have this issue.

The Amazing Spider-Man #1

AmazingSpider-Man1

Boy was I a fool. If you had told me before today that Steve Ditko was alive and well I would have called you a damn liar. But it turns out he is quite alive and today, November 2nd, is his birthday. So with that in mind, I figured it was time to talk about the comic that cemented his legacy among comic book artists.

The Amazing Spider-Man #1 is the stuff of comic legends. After the resounding success of Amazing Fantasy issue 15, Marvel had to come out with a stand alone Spider-Man comic and for good reason. When it comes to origin stories, this sets the benchmark for how to do it right. Most have tried to simply copy the formula that Stan and Steve presented in that issue but forgot one thing. Without characters you care for with motivations that any one of us could relate to, then while we may still have a story we will like, there will be a disconnect there. We won’t get fully invested in the life of the characters because they’re somehow distant. Marvel Comics, compared to DC Comics, had characters that you could actually see yourself being, not characters you wanted to become like Superman and Batman.

The Amazing Spider-Man issue 1 picks up where his debut left off. Uncle Ben in dead. Peter has to sit back and watch as Aunt May is forced to pawn their personal items in order to pay the rent. When he tries to make money again as Spider-Man, he’s paid with a check. Since he doesn’t want to reveal his identity he is left with worthless paper.

We’re introduced to J. Jonah Jameson in this issue. We see that from the very start he has hated Spider-Man. Why? Well, his son John was an astronaut and he felt that Spider-Man was a phoney, someone that the public should not have admiration for when his clean cut son, the astronaut, was a hero the country should get behind.

While it’s easy to think of JJJ as simply a one dimensional douche bag, you can see that the seeds were there right from the beginning to show that there was more to him than met the eye. JJJ was a hardass who 95% of the time was a heartless guy hell bent on getting the scoop to advance his paper and whatever mission he wanted to reach the public. But when it comes to his son, what parent wouldn’t think that? I can think about how I would react if one of my children became an astronaut while some punk kid in a spider outfit was causing a scene around town. My kid was heading to the freaking moon while some idiot could swing around a television studio. Hell yeah I would do everything in my power to show why that idiot was not as good as my son. To top it off, when that same idiot actually saves my son, I would again do everything I could to make sure that I distorted the truth to show what a hero my kid was.

I really appreciated how, despite the fact that this issue was self contained, it did continue the overall arch of Peter Parker worry about his Aunt after Uncle Ben was murdered. It allows you as the reader to get into each issue without having to have a masters degree in the history of the story while also rewarding readers of Amazing Fantasy #15 with little nods to the previous story. Yeah, you may argue, this is only the second damn issue. Why congratulate them so quickly? Again, it’s issues like this that set the template for what works in comics. DC at this time had great adventure yarns that could excite you. Marvel had the emotional hook that comics were missing thanks to the Comics Code which kept readers emotionally invested in the continuing adventures of these characters.

The art work, while crude by today’s standards, is still amazing for its time. The layout of Spider-Man alone is great. I really wished this design could have stayed with him consistently over the ages. I really dig the web wings he has on the outfit because it makes sense that when he is swinging through the air, he would want some help in flying longer. He could use them as makeshift gliders. The wings make sense for what powers Peter Parker possesses.

I also love how Mr. Ditko had drawn the character to still be very much a teenager. There’s a panel where Spider-Man is hopping out of a window after telling JJJ and a military general that he would save Jameson’s son. You can really get a sense of both his physical strength as well as his physical immaturity due to his age. He’s all of 16 at this point. So Peter may physically be a man, he’ll still be a little awkward and spindly compared to someone ten years older than him. It’s little attentions to detail like this that make this story so enjoyable.

Bottom Line:

It’s sometimes not fair to judge comics from older generations to comics from today. Thanks to the further appreciation of comics as a true American art form, comics have expanded to do so much more than what the founding fathers ever contemplated. Comics in the past were told for teenage boys. That’s it. The folks at Marvel were probably the first to see that comics could so so much more and added some ingredients to an already rich soup that made it taste so much better. Then as time passed on, yet others added more till we have now a nice, thick winter stew that will please everyone. (If it doesn’t please you, you have no soul.) While Stan Lee laid the foundation with his words, artists like Steve Ditko did their part by laying down the visual foundations of what makes comics what they are today. Every comic book artist, no matter the genre they draw for, owes so much to men like him. He planted the seeds that bared fruit we’re still feasting on today. To hear a legend like this is alive and well brings a smile to my face because it is great to know that he sees what an impact his part in comic history has given the world. Happy Birthday Steve Ditko!

Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight Volume 1

Batman_Legends_of_the_Dark_Knight_Vol_1_1_Newstand

Batman. The name says it all. While I was introduced to Batman via the Super Friends cartoon…

to me my love for the Dark Knight occurred in 1989 with the only Tim Burton movie that I like, Batman. Despite some flaws (like the fact that Gotham City is supposed to be a version of New York but apparently all of twenty people live there) the movie had everything going for it. Acting, writing, even the direction were all melded together to make one hell of a film. From there, the quality of the films went downhill until Christopher Nolan took over the franchise.

But that didn’t mean Batman went away. One of the greatest cartoons of all time, Batman: The Animated Series debuted in the early 90’s on Fox and changed the way cartoons were made. Previously, cartoons were drawn on the cheap. The reason of course was money. People thought that children could give two shits about the quality of cartoons so they made cartoons with as many primary colors they could jam onto the screen and with scripts that helped showcase the newest toys the companies were actually showcasing.

Batman: The Animated Series was different. While it could be argued that the animation has not exactly stood the test of time, the writing and acting on the show is the epitome of excellence. My favorite character was The Joker and it was all of five years after the show debuted that I found out that Mark Fucking Hamill, Luke Skywalker himself, was The Joker. That was an insane revelation.

Then when I first moved out and became an adult I gravitated to the comics. I would occasionally pick up issues here and there growing up but growing up poor I didn’t get a chance to buy comics like I wanted to. It didn’t help that I didn’t have a comic book shop near my home that I could at least hang out in. One of the writers I enjoyed from childhood was Denny O’Neil, Batman writer from the late Silver and Bronze age of Batman stories.

Reading his work is kind of like a history lesson in the comic book industry. If you read his early stuff it is just as hokey and silly that other comics of the era are, where you have bad guys anticipating the actions of people they did not know could be there to stop their evil plans. From there, his work transitioned from the Adam West type of Batman to the Batman we know and love today. To me, the Batman cartoon most resembles the work of Denny O’Neil. Frank Miller definitely helped wipe the slate clean in the general public’s eyes of the goofy Batman that was in the 1960’s show but without Denny, Frank’s work would have been much more tough. Denny could show Batman being dark without making him so dark it borders on freakishness.

This story was the start of a group of comics called Legends of the Dark Knight. Made as a way to capitalize on the success of the Batman movie and works like The Dark Knight Returns and The Killing Joke, it goes about telling stories of Bruce Wayne before he is established as Batman.

This issue revolved around Bruce taking a bounty hunter with him to Alaska to find a criminal. They quickly find that criminal who shoots the bounty hunter dead. Bruce outwits him but the bounty hunter falls to his death. Bruce is left on a cold mountain without his gear alone.

He is eventually rescued by some local natives. He gets told an ancient story. He gets better and heads back to Gotham where he dons the cowl and becomes Batman. Than the story he was told comes back to haunt him when a woman he saved killed herself while referencing the story.

They did a good job of shoehorning in the story into the mythology of Batman without tying it directly into any other more well known work. It could easily be the Batman that Frank Miller created with his Dark Knight Returns or Year One story. It could also be an updated version of the Batman that Bob Kane and Bill Finger created. It’s ambiguous unlike Frank Miller’s work that we know is out of the existing Batman time line.

What I didn’t care for was how quick he was found on top of a snowy mountain in the middle of Nowhere, Alaska and brought back to health. The story sped along too quickly. The story that Bruce was told, the story that he should have kept his damn mouth shut on, was dealt with as if it were some delusion of his being unconscious and was dealt with and out of the way quite quickly. More should have been done to show how serious the story was and how Bruce would make a bad mistake if he didn’t head this man’s words.

In some ways this story is a lot like Gremlins. An arrogant white guy receives a gift from a minority, ignores the instructions he received upon getting the gift, and then wonders why everything is fucking up at the end. That is fine and all for a story but it was dealt with in such a rushed manner that you had no real idea of what was going on until the very end. From there I had to go back and read the beginning just to understand what the hell I read.

The artwork was typical late 80’s, early 90’s fare. These artists never met a background they could paint a single color onto. There’s no depth at all in the art. The character models are fine. I especially liked when Bruce tried on his uniform for the first time. I got the sense that this was the same Batman we saw flying across the cover of Detective Comics #27. But man, if only the backgrounds and other locations drawn in the story had a more realistic flair to them. Reading up on how comics are created, I’ve found that during this time comic artists had to use the four color palate in order to create their work. Now yeah, they could mix and match those colors to make different shades and colors but in the end it helps to have characters like Superman that have the one single, bold, iconic color and look about them that offering some shading or off color would not have helped. But sacrificing the look of the locations where the story took place takes me out of it as a modern reader. This may have been acceptable in 1989. This would not be published if presented for printing today.

Bottom Line:

This is not a bad start for a comic. Yeah it’s flawed but much like JJ Abrams first Star Trek movie, the good far outweighs the bad in the story. So if you do come across the story I suggest you buy it and enjoy a good read. As far as the story goes it is pretty solid. While I can certainly nit pick about certain elements of the story, the fact that it fits so seamlessly well into whatever version of Batman you want it to says a lot about what this comic did right. The only drawback of the story is the art in this case. I feel bad commenting on it because that would be like comparing He-Man from the 80’s to a cartoon being made today. Even the worst drivel you would find on Cartoon Network is much better than what He-Man was simply due to the fact that cartoons are made differently today. He-Man was a cookie cutter cartoon made on the cheap to help sell toys. Cartoons today have a lot more freedom to express themselves all the while being made cheaper that what it could be. But this art just doesn’t stand the test of time well. When any artist, whether it be illustrator, author, inker, whatever, starts creating work that will fit the here and now, their work will surely be judged harshly the more time goes on. Go back into Marvel’s history and you’ll see that they made huge mistakes in regards to capitalizing on current events at that time. Dazzler anyone? When they do that, it prevents future readers to enjoy what is going on because they just won’t get it. While it could be argued that art could be more representative of the times and be a window into the past, please remember that I am not referring to hair styles or the music people listen to in the story. We’re talking about how the damn thing is drawn. It’s just not good and brings what could have been a more enjoyable experience down.

Holy F*ck Issue 3

Holyfuck3

Holy Fuck, I’m still doing this. 54 days in a row. And I have to say the response I’ve been getting, and frankly feeling, has been quite good. I made the right decision doing this. Politics has its place and all but at the end of the day, talking about comics and why I may or may not like them is just damn fun.

One thing I wanted to accomplish with this site was to vary my comic reading. By default I’ve been focusing more on Marvel Comics not because I think Marvel is the greatest comic book company in the world but because I have a subscription to Marvel Unlimited. I love Marvel Comics but at the end of the day too much of one thing can make you quite bored with what once entertained you. What has kept things varied has been great services like Comic Blitz. They’re in a lot of ways the Netflix of comics. They’ve brought together a couple well known companies along with a nice group of companies the average person may not heard of. Once such comic company is Action Lab Comics who also produces a mature label called Action Lab Danger Zone.

One comic I discovered was called Holy F*ck. Admittedly, if these types of a la carte services did not exist, if we were back in the 1990’s, this may not have been a comic I would have bought. And frankly that would have been my loss because each issue keeps getting better and better.

One analogy I used for the comics in my earlier reviews was comparing it to a fart joke. I kind of regret that in hindsight. While folks who know me get what I am saying, to the average person that analogy probably comes off as a bit condescending when it really wasn’t. I was referring to the fact that the first two issues were not subtle. At all. And there is nothing wrong with that.

Take Mel Brooks. He has made a lot of funny movies over the years. Even movies like The Producers (the original, not the abortion that was the musical), a movie I didn’t really care for, was funny as hell just for the audience reaction to Springtime for Hitler. Mel, when he made movies so in this case I will use the past tense when describing his work even though he is thankfully quite alive and well, has two ways to make you laugh. He can hit you over the head with his comedy…

…but he could also make you think.

To me, the greatest comedy ever made was Blazing Saddles. Never before, and probably never again, had we had a movie with a very real and serious message dealt with by glorifying the stupidity of the bad people you are supposed to look down on. Mel realized that when dealing with racists, people were going to respond more to laughing at them than they were going to with a movie that dealt with the issue seriously. Yeah, yeah, there have been many great dramas throughout the years that have dealt with racism and have done it beautifully. To Kill a Mockingbird is one of them. But to me, to really show the absurdity of something like racism, you have to show how utterly fucking dumb it is. Because come on, anyone stupid enough to treat someone like dirt just because of the way they look deserves to be laughed at.

For Holy F*ck, I thought this comic fell into the Spaceballs camp of funny. Jokes for the sake of jokes. Turns out I was gladly wrong with that assessment. After Jesus saves the nun, he escapes with her and Satan to the desert. There, Jesus and Satan give up. The nun verbally slaps them both into place by telling Jesus that she refuses to lie down and take the actions of Isis and Zeus because she will not worship a god out of fear. If she is going to worship a god, it will be out of love.

There was the deeper meaning I was looking for in the first couple issues! It’s a simple moment, going by quickly, but it takes a story that is silly but funny and makes it a story about why people of faith do the shit they do sometimes. Whether you believe in a deity or not is besides the point, people with faith have done amazing things because they felt that the love for their deity was worth everything they were going through. Take Ghandi. Take Martin Luther King Jr. Take the Dalai Lama. Those are three famous names but there are millions more over the centuries who have fought for the public good because of their faith and for the love of their deity. Faith and love can and are powerful mental broadswords that can get you through quite a lot in life.

One other aspect I really enjoyed this issue was Zeus and Isis on the Helen DeGenerate show. It reminded me of Idiocracy, the classic Mike Judge film about the dumbing down of society. The glazed look in the host’s eyes as Zeus and Isis calmly declare their intention to blow up the world and the audience happy they received designer gas masks says a lot about our society today without really having to say anything. We live in some strange times where people are more concerned with being on television than they are about making the world a better place for people to live in.

Oh...yeah.
Oh…yeah.

Bottom Line:

Each issue keeps getting better. What started off as a funny but silly story is quickly turning into something more. While it certainly won’t end with “This Comic has been brought to you by the Watchtower Society!” it is still a great story about the power of faith and love. Following someone, anyone, out of fear may work in the short term but long term you will be overthrown. Just ask Emperor Palpatine! Comics are a true American art form. This comic shows that what comes off as a bit silly can have quite a bit more substance. It doesn’t have to be slathered all over the story like a young kid emptying a syrup bottle on his one pancake he’s having for breakfast. It can be just that right amount of syrup that makes eating a pancake worth it. Cause pancakes alone, unless you cook them with a bag of fucking sugar can taste like crap. I hate pancakes. Bad example. But hopefully you get my point. I strongly encourage you to read this comic. Apart from Ms. Marvel, Holy F*ck is one of my favorite comics around today. Thanks to Nick Marino and Daniel Arruda Massa for making the series, Action Lab Danger Zone for publishing it, and Comic Blitz for adding it to their collection for me to find. Marvel and DC are great companies. They would just never touch a story like this with a ten foot pole. In the end, it would be their loss because this is fucking amazing.

Holy F*ck #1

holy-f-ck-issue-1-cover-r1-1280

This comic is not for the faint of heart or folks even the slight being Judeo/Christian religious. This is about how a nun, Jesus, and Satan help save the world from Zeus and Isis from destroying it by nuclear weapons. To Kill a Mockingbird this is not.

I have a weird sense of humor. Sometimes the dumbest things can make me laugh. Like this…

Dumb yes but if you don’t find yourself laughing than you have no soul and are probably a Donald Trump supporter.

This comic is called Holy F*ck. It’s a simple premise and a simple story. A nun, with the help of Jesus, has to stop Zeus and Isis from destroying the world. The issue details her meeting the Messiah in a Japanese karaoke bar where he is smoking crystal meth with a couple naked prostitutes. She takes him to New Jersey where they meet up with Satan who it turns out is Jesus’ long lost lover. The last image of the story is Jesus and Satan kissing. The nun is also kidnapped by the bad guys and Jesus saves the day with guns ablazin’.

This comic is meant to shock. Its purpose is to take images that people hold dear and completely flip them. People will either enjoy what the writer is doing or wish for his place in the deepest place Hell has to offer. The humor in the story comes from the sheer ludicrous situations you find the Savior in. What self respecting deity would find themselves smoking crystal meth? He couldn’t afford coke?

I do like the premise of gods people used to follow looking to cause chaos in order to get people to believe in them again. The only reason Zeus and Isis are looking to do this is to get them, and the other deities that work with them, the faith they had been forsaken for many years due to Jesus. If the comic were to be expanded, which apparently it is just a four issue series, than there could be some room for exploration of the bad guys in the story from just generic bad guys to somewhat sympathetic people who are jealous of their power being taken away due to lack of interest from their former subjects.

The story is funny but have no doubt that this is a one note story. The 24 pages of the story fly by fast because there is not much dialogue to speak of. It is very simplistic and ruins a chance to, while still being something that is very much offensive to people of faith, a vehicle that could explore faith and how humanity has shifted their faith throughout the years. But this story is having none of that. It’s focus is taking images people take as sacred and do their best to put them in as many ridiculous situations as they can. For the most part they’re doing what South Park has done, and done better mind you, yet failing to get why Trey Parker and Matt Stone have been much more successful at writing religious satire than this. If you like seeing Jesus with a machine gun, this is the comic for you.

The art work is simplistic at best but it fits the tone of the story. Being that this is a one note story, if the art were drawn realistic or even drawn in the classic comic style, it would kill the tone. The simplicity of the art, the almost childish aspect of it, helps elevate the tone. It brings out the humor more than a realistic drawing would be.

Bottom Line:

This comic is the equivalent of a fart joke. That doesn’t mean it’s bad cause when the times right, there is nothing more funny than a good, loud fart. I love farting near my dog just to see her look of confusion at the sudden noise coming from my backside. Funny stuff. But being that the story is the equivalent of a fart joke, the substance of what could actually be a pretty decent look at faith through the lens of satire and dark humor is wasted for cheap jokes. I thought the comic was funny and I recommend it but I have to give the story a 5.

The art does a lot to elevate the tone of the story. It is simple and childish but like the material it knows the audience it is shooting for and hits it out of the park. I think that art that was more serious or traditional would have probably killed the joke. I give the art a 7.

Now I want to take a moment and talk about the app I read this comic on. For a few months now I’ve heard about a Netflix for Comics service that was on the way called Comic Blitz. I had tried Comic Fix out and while I enjoyed it some, I was disappointed in the amount of content they had at the price they were charging. Comic Blitz is different. For example, Comic Fix had The Boys from Garth Ennis and had a decent number of issues. Not all however. Comic Blitz has all 72 issues. They also have the Django/Zorro comic line as well as other gems from the indie comic world. The first month is free. Each month after that is $9.99. The sheer volume of comics they have is amazing and I hope to see more companies and more issues and new stories added as time goes on. While I love me some Marvel and DC, the fact is there is more to comic life than just those two companies. One day in and Comic Blitz has been well worth my time and a service that I will certainly enjoy for the foreseeable future. They are not paying me for this. No one from the company has contacted me asking me for a review. While I would certainly love some freebies from them, cause I am one cheap bastard, I want to see them succeed and encourage ALL comic book fans to support this company. Digital comics are the future. While I never wish for regular paper comics to disappear, like Pandora or Netflix, digital services like this are great ways for people to sample material they may not have given a chance to due to price. Services like this allow you to try something that may be out of your comfort zone. Take Marvel Unlimited. Without that app I would not have read Ms. Marvel and now that is my favorite comic. With the new Comic Blitz app, a new favorite is waiting for me to find. I started one called My Boyfriend is a Monster which is off to a good start. Thanks Comic Blitz.