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 #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

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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

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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

The Amazing Spider-Man #1

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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!

Holy F*ck #1

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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.

Batman: Endgame Special Edition

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The Good:

You can never go wrong with Batman. Unless it’s a Joel Shumacher film but I digress. I decided to check out the Batman Day comic that was given out for free in the iBook store which carried issue 1 of the Endgame story line. It starts off with a strange smoke covering Gotham City. From there, all hell breaks loose as various heroes, under the influence of someone or something attack Batman.

The story does a decent job of ratcheting up the tension, bringing obstacle after obstacle Batman’s way. Just when you think he’s about to overcome a particular person, something else comes along keeping him from getting the heroes in question to actually think about what is going on.

The art work is pretty solid this issue. The characters are drawn in the traditional fashion which makes the characters quite crisp and realistic. It gives the characters a chance to emote emotions otherwise not shown if it were drawn in the latest sloppy style that seems to be all the rage. I also liked the scope of the locations. It really felt like the characters were in actual locations, you got a real sense of space. Too often in comics the scenes appear to be located in what appears to be movie sets, unrealistically small settings that don’t fit the action that is happening on the page. This felt like a movie which I think accomplishes its goal.

The Bad:

Yet again we have a story that is the first part of a much longer story. I get that comics today do not really start and end with one issue. They don’t need to either if they are told right. Comics must be told in a way that acknowledges the fact that the person buying a particular issue needs to be convinced to buy the next issue. There needs to be more desperation on the creators part to want to get readers interested not only in how the story turns out but in the entire back story as well. And you have one comic book which is approximately around the 20 page mark to do so. There are some masters at doing this, Brian Bendis being one that comes to mind from the current batch of comic writers. Scott Snyder, the writer of this issue, is pretty good as well but to use a baseball analogy, he struck out big time with this issue.

I had no real sense of what was going on. We start off at the tail end of a previous story which as a reader I was given no real encouragement to want to read because they didn’t give me a reason to do so. From there he starts fighting Wonder Woman, Aqua-Man, and Superman while under the illusion that that are being affected by gas from The Scarecrow. It turns out he is wrong. The heroes in question were drugged by The Joker.

My question is….HOW THE FUCK COULD THE JOKER DO THAT? I get that The Joker is a master criminal for someone of Batman’s caliber. But taking on a god like Wonder Woman or getting close enough to Superman to infect him? I just don’t buy it. My opinion could easily be changed with other issues in this particular story but I still find that to be a failure.

Now admittedly I have not read much current DC material apart from the Court of Owls and Death of the Family stories from Batman comics. I would like to know how Superman has become so damn ineffective against criminals. Too many stories from the current generation of DC stories that I have read have involved Superman being manipulated by criminals and I have to wonder why. It’s great and all that they want to take a character with pretty much unlimited powers and find ways to show that he has weaknesses so he can be somewhat relate able but making him so easy to be manipulated just makes him dangerous. He has good intentions but when someone with his power can be made to do evil things so easy why should we be anything but terrified of him?

Bottom Line:

I would have been upset if I had paid for this comic. This is not good. Maybe the other issues in this story would change my opinion somewhat but still, the first issue needs to entice readers to want to know more of what is going on. I felt lost and confused from page one on. For that I have to give the story a 3.

The art work is what redeems this. The artwork for all the Batman series from the New 52 line has been pretty damn good. It has great scope, appears to be situated in real locations, and is not sloppy, allowing the characters to show real emotion. I give the artwork an 8.

Batman: Death of the Family Issue 17

Death of the Family

It happened a lot sooner than I anticipated. The story didn’t get off to a good start and apart from some decent issues, the Secret Invasion story line has just burned me out. On top of that I think the opportunity to fully dig deep into my comic collection and find some gems I may have over looked was too appealing a thought than sticking with a story that I was fast losing interest in. Fact is, I am doing this for fun. Why make this a chore?

So thanks to Batman day coming up tomorrow, I took advantage of a sale on Comixology and purchased the Death of the Family story. One of the greatest villains created in the 20th century was The Joker. There’s so much you can do with that character, from the silliness of Caesar Romero’s version on the 1960’s Batman to Jack Nicholson’s demented glee in Tim Burton’s only good movie Batman. I had heard some good reviews of this story and thought I would give it a quick read.

The Good:

The Death of the Family story is best read as a whole. Think of it like a puzzle. Take a piece away and the puzzle is not complete. This piece of the puzzle is the grand finale of a story that will go down as a Joker classic. The various men (and boy) where were Robin as well as Batgirl and Alfred have been kidnapped by The Joker. Batman is tied up at a table and wakes up seeing them tied to chairs with bandages on their faces. The Joker makes Batman believe that he has removed their faces, going so far as to show Batman fake faces in serving platters.

To say The Joker is demented in this story is putting it lightly. What the writer Scott Snyder did so well was still inject humor in what he did. In an earlier issue The Joker was forcing guards at Arkham Asylum to carry a horse to a room in the asylum. They drop the horse and it traps one of the guards. Like a child, The Joker says that the horsie is ruined and shoots the horse. Then he said the trapped guard is ruined too and shoots him in the face. The way the art and the words compliment each other makes a scene that, in someone else’s hands may come off as scary, come across as disturbingly funny.

This issue is, in a weird way, a love letter from The Joker to Batman. The Joker sees the times he shares with Batman as fun. He loves their tangles. Everything about their time together just keeps the never ending smile on his face. The over all story was a great way to touch upon previous Joker adventures but with a twist which was nice to see. The nostalgia was used to great effect as well as being used as an actual way to move the story forward and not just a cheap trick in order to falsely keep your interest. One thing that I could see being a problem for a writer of established characters like this is the fact that after 75 years, what could you possibly do different that hasn’t already been done to death yet? Especially with a story like a comic, unless you come to a point where one of the characters dies and dies for good, you will find yourself repeating what others have done before. It’s inevitable. So for the writers here to turn the table a bit and rehash some older Joker stories all the while turning the story on its ear is great.

The art is some of the best artwork I have seen. Very well done. The Joker at this point had his face voluntarily removed and it is pretty much stapled to his face at this point yet thanks to a perfect marriage of words and art, you still get the idea that The Joker absolutely loves everything he is doing. He is batshit insane, no question about it. He gets pissed at times and like a child will throw a tantrum, albeit a deadly one. But The Joker is pure ID. He does what he wants when he wants. Through his mannerisms and facial expressions you can almost see him do his best to try and get Batman to join him in his insanity. This is work that you will not soon forget.

The Bad:

Not really much to say bad about the story apart from the ending. Now the obviously bad thing is the fact that the story ended. You want it to go on. But some may not see that as a bad thing.

One thing I didn’t care for was the way the ending just sort of happened. It’s like you’re traveling in a car at 90 miles an hour than suddenly you hit the breaks and your trip is at an end. Especially with some of the supporting characters going through something that I would think would be traumatic as fuck but it just ends where everyone goes their separate ways, la la la. I would have liked a little more explanation into how they dealt with the experience.

Bottom Line:

If you are a fan of The Joker, you need to read Death of the Family. This is just required reading folks, no two ways about it. While it does have some very minor flaws, overall the story is an instant classic. I give it a 10 overall. The art and words compliment each other in such a way that you don’t see too often.

Batman: The Killing Joke

killing joke

I have surprised myself by getting to day 30 of this little adventure of reviewing a comic a day. As a writer I’ve let writer’s block stop me from writing on any sort of a regular basis. While I would love to say that it was due to some grand artistic gesture on my part, I have to be honest and say it wasn’t. I, like so many others before me, felt that I needed inspiration or a muse to get me to write when in the end, practice, practice, practice is the only thing that will make me a better writer.

Admittedly this site is not my main focus as a writer. What I like to think of this site for me is what playing scales is for a musician. It focuses my brain on the task of writing and just getting words on the page. Too often in the past I found that I would get to a certain point in something I was writing and then decide that I must make the words I’ve already written be as could as they could be before I took the time to actually finish the damn story. In fact, the sequel to my first novel is around the halfway mark but I’ve found myself stuck. Words just wouldn’t come out. So I stopped writing. A damn foolish thing to do.

So I challenged myself to write reviews of comic books. I felt that doing so would help me in a couple of ways. As writers, the first rule that is given to any writer is to read. You’re only going to know what works and what doesn’t by reading other work. I mean, would a musician know if they were any good on the guitar for example if they never heard anyone else play the instrument? While it’s certainly possible someone could theoretically teach themselves how to play without having ever heard anyone else playing the guitar the fact is that most guitar players of note had an influence or two, artists who they emulated and were able to actually add to in order to make themselves better musicians. By reading daily I would see what worked for other writers and frankly what doesn’t work. I can then use that knowledge and apply it to my fiction when I write.

Secondly I would find myself writing every day. I’ll be the first to admit that the reviews on my site are all first draft, stream of conscious reviews. While I could certainly take the time to tighten up the reviews that’s not really why I do what I am doing. The point is simply…write. The more I write, even something as straight forward as a review of something I read, I will be writing. And when I get back to my fiction work, the fact that writing is now a habit for me, something I have to do every day, I will find myself getting what I need to out on paper.

Writing can be the most fulfilling and the most challenging work anyone can do. When you’re in the zone, words can’t get on the page fast enough. When you’re not in the zone, the empty space on the page will taunt you like a grade school bully. This site is dedicated to writing. It’s not pretty but to me, it’s work like this that writers have to go through on a daily basis that will get them to do their greatest work.

Now on to our show…

For day 30, I thought I would tackle another graphic novel. It’s a short one this time but quite monumental in how it not only affected the comic industry but movies we see today as well. It’s The Killing Joke from Alan Moore.

I have a love/hate relationship with Alan Moore. Some of his work I can’t stand. I HATE Watchmen. Now don’t get me wrong. I understand Watchmen’s place in comic history and respect the fact that Watchmen brought a new respect for comics. It deserves the respect people have for it. As a story though it just didn’t do it for me. I hated it and was glad when it was over. On the flip side I really enjoyed The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. He did an amazing job in taking already established characters and through sheer ingenuity, bring a group of people together who have no reason to be together and make them a coherent team. For as much as I don’t like his work, for me to deny Mr. Moore’s writing skills would be foolish.

The Killing Joke I have to say is not really a story in the traditional sense. It’s more of an exploration piece about madness and how life can really just fuck with you at times. The biggest event in this comic is the shooting of Barbara Gordon. It came out of nowhere and just makes no sense. Yet The Joker is a character who does things for shits and giggles at times. It seems that he wanted to see if he could break Commissioner Gordon’s mind and he thought that by shooting and raping his daughter he could do that. The story also intersperses an origin story for The Joker, exploring how he became The Red Hood. (Or one way he imagines he became The Red Hood.)

Without the struggle of good verses evil, why have comics? But that basic premise alone can get tired if you don’t take the time to think about what can make a person evil. About what makes a person be good. To The Joker, life itself is what is crazy. The freedom he has being insane is the true happiness in life. It takes more effort to stay sane so fuck it, why go through all that work when you can be cuckoo bananas and have the time of your life?

Batman and Commissioner Gordon are there to show him that his way of thought is ultimately destructive. These two ways of thought on how to live life are not compatible. While life will kick you in the teeth at times, you grow more as a human if you’re able to dust yourself off and move on. In a lot of ways the comic does a great job of showing that apart from a choice or two, Batman and The Joker could have easily reversed their roles. Anyone could be The Joker if you just kick them down one too many times. But what makes a person who has life kick them in the face stand up and keep moving forward? What makes them any different than the person who says enough is enough and decides that life can just go suck a big one?

This is a must read comic. This is a book you show someone who has never read a comic before and is quick to dismiss it as juvenile nonsense. From what I have read this comic was not necessarily an act of love by Mr. Moore. If that is the case, the fact that a classic of comic books came from someone that was there essentially earning a paycheck and nothing else is amazing in and of itself. Do yourself a favor and get this book. The artwork alone is worth the price. Hell, if a movie coming out next year is cribbing from this comic that came out close to thirty years ago they must be doing something right.

joker1

The Death of Superman

The Death of Superman

As promised, I said I would take a day a month or so to review a graphic novel. This month I’ve decided to talk about one of the greatest stories in comics history, The Death of Superman. What follows is not so much a review as it is just my thoughts about the character and my reaction to the story when it came out. While I could quibble and find something wrong with the story (you can find something objectively wrong with any story from any author), when something like this story is created that packs such a wallop in terms of pure emotion, you just have to sit back and enjoy it.

In 1992 I was a sophomore in high school. I was never a huge Superman fan growing up. Like most kids I’d watched Saturday morning cartoons and when Superman from Christopher Reeve played on television I would watch but Superman just never interested me. So when it was announced that Superman was going to be killed off I was shocked at how angry I was at the decision.

Why was I angry? I couldn’t really explain it at the time. What was it about the character that caused such a reaction?

As the saying goes, you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. The world is a better place with Superman in it, even it it’s just in a comic book.

The comic is not so much a story but a study of what Superman would do if he had to face the most vicious beast he ever had to face. A beast who could take down a near invulnerable person in Superman is a fearsome creature to deal with indeed.

doomsday1

Having a simply image of a fist hitting a wall was a brilliant way to introduce the character. In the wrong hands they would have had Doomsday do something overly complicated to show how dangerous he was, with the end result being that you don’t believe in the character despite the best efforts of the writer and artist. The opening images of the comic is the work of genius.

The ending. What more can be said about the ending? The artwork is great.

Superman dead

That is a haunting image. A figure we’ve taken for granted since the late 1930’s met his match. You can’t but feel stunned at seeing someone who you held in high regard for so many years lying dead, battered and bruised almost beyond recognition.

After the comic came out I made more of an effort to follow the character. It wasn’t too long after this came out that Christopher Reeve, the man who embodied Superman for my generation, had his tragic accident which left him in a wheel chair for the rest of his life. Being an ignorant douchebag at the time I made my fair share of jokes immediately after the accident. But his courage, strength, and just pure good nature changed my opinion over the years to the point that when he passed away I shed tears like he was a member of my family.

I also gained a new appreciation for the films. The soundtrack alone was John William’s best work.

The music. My god, the theme song alone makes you think YOU are Superman. You want to rip your shirt off and hope your costume is underneath so you can fly around your living room.

Having grown up a James Bond fan I am not one who feels that another actor cannot bring more to a character simply because I associate one actor with that character. But you’d be hard pressed to find many folks who don’t think that Christopher Reeve embodied everything that was good about the character.

“Easy Miss. I’ve got you.”

“You’ve got me…who’s got you?”

This scene has to be one of my favorite scenes in movie history, up there with the reveal that Darth Vader is Luke’s father. Any other actor could have screwed this scene up by simply not taking it seriously. The genius of Christopher Reeve’s portrayal was that he truly believed in the character and everything it stood for. While the character could be a little innocent at times, a little corny, his intentions were pure and meant for the good of mankind.

I think it was that line of thought that brought about DC to consider killing off the character even temporarily. Sometimes you don’t realize what something means to you until it’s taken from you. The absolute beauty of this comic is that in his death, you appreciate everything that is good about the character of Superman. His place in our culture is well deserved. The world is a better place for Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s creation. Superman’s death in this comic makes you appreciate everything that character represents. This is why comics are made. If you only read one comic in your life, make it The Death of Superman.