Archive for the ‘comics’ Category

Ode to the Comic Geeks

September 2, 2016

This is a long overdue tribute that started off as one final salute to an individual, but after some thought I felt it needed to be expanded to encompass the entire group to which this individual belonged, and in a broader sense all of comic fandom.

I stumbled upon the Comic Geek Speak (CGS) podcast as I was disillusioned with all the local radio stations selection from for my daily car commutes to work. I’d heard there were a few good podcasts out there covering a wide range of topics and at first I wasn’t even looking for a comic podcast. While I already owned tons of comics and many of the more popular graphic novels at the time (the story of how I got most of that is worthy of it’s own blog), I wasn’t in tune with any of the then current comic scene and thought that a podcast would be nice to bring me up to date. This was back in 2007 and I’d seen that one of my friends had ‘liked’ the CGS Facebook page so I figured it was as good a place to start as any.  So I downloaded the most recent podcast they had on their website which was somewhere around number 250, listened to it, and immediately knew I’d found a gem in the wasteland that is the internet. I went went back to their very very first podcast, started listening one at a time, and haven’t looked back. Their main podcast, now well over 1600 episodes, is every bit as good and in many ways even better than that first show.

Starting off as a simple two man experiment in 2005 by Bryan Deemer and Peter Rios, the show remains the most prolific podcast dedicated to comics. In the years that have passed, crew have come and gone (and come back), spinoff podcasts were launched, and the podcast garnered a worldwide loyal audience. They had their own conventions, anniversary shows with public fan gatherings , their own magazine for a short time, and have had a myriad of comic creators as guests on their show ranging from celebrities like Stan Lee down to young talent just getting their feet wet. They’ve had guests who were comic legends that have since passed away like the great Gene Colan and Joe Kubert, leaving us with now treasurable interview recordings. Aside from the comics themselves, their discussion topics encompass everything comic related, whether it be movies, TV, or anything remotely geeky. When not hosting their own booth at comic cons, they become one of us, slithering through artist alleys, recording and interviewing creators, letting us enjoy conventions virtually if not in person. Over the years they have also recruited a few recurring guests who we’ve come to know almost as well as the hosts themselves including the always hilarious ‘Uncle’ Sal Abbinanti whose Storytime with Uncle Sal purple prattle episodes always leaves listeners in stitches.

Some of the regulars and semi-regulars that have manned the mic over the years include Adam “Murd” Murdough, Shane Kelly, Matt (Just “Matt’), Kevin Moyer, Chris Eberle, Dani O’Brien and notably Brian “Pants” Christman, who has blossomed from a one-time wallflower on the show to being the bellwether through some hard times.

Which brings me to the impetus for my writing this venerable blog, the anniversary of the passing of the late Jamie Dallesandro a pillar CGS crewmember who left us 2 years ago.You see the CGS crew aren’t just folks who diligently give us the latest scoop and their take of the comic world. When you tune into CGS they are more than just friends giving opinions and facts. Sure we get to know the personalities, likes and dislikes of the individuals, but it goes deeper. While keeping some things respectively private, they have also let us share their world. We know their day jobs, their pastimes, their families and a lot more. For most of the CGS audience the CGS crew are like family.

And it was as a family the CGS clan of listeners first learned when Jamie was diagnosed with the dreaded Big “C”. We traveled that road of treatment, remission and eventual relapse even as we listened to him lavishing praise on his beloved Avengers. And we were all shocked when we heard of his passing. He may be gone, but he will never be forgotten. And neither will we forget the CGS crew who continue bringing us comic news … and more.

R.I.P Jamie “D”, the shiznit pimp, May 2, 2014

Visit CGS at www.comicgeekspeak.com

The Humans – TPB Vol.1 (2015)

May 20, 2016

The HumansPierre Boulle’s original novel La Planete des Singes which was the basis for the 1968 Planet of the Apes, did not feature the primitive ape society that we ended up seeing in the film. His original concept presented a simian society which used contemporary advanced technologies, only suited to ape physical features and with slight differences to those of modern man. (OK, 1960’s modern man.) His simians had cars, planes, helicopters and television. It was only for budgetary reasons the filmmakers decided to regress the apes to x sciences and adobe housing.

As much as I loved the film versions and the many sequels and spinoffs that followed (the Tim Burton abomination excluded), many of my fellow ape-o-philes and I have often wondered what could have been had Boulle’s original concept been realized on film or expanded with continuing stories as they did with the version that was filmed.

The creative team behind Image comics’ The Humans (artist Tom Neely and writer Keenan Marshall Keller) now fill that void with panoramic alternate Earth world set in the late 60’s and early 70’s in which apes, suitably garbed, deal with the issues, culture and events of the day. One key point of interest is that the main characters are members of an outlaw motorcycle gang.

Brandishing a middle finger salute as their gang patch, The Humans, while wild at times are one of the more calm, cool, collected biker gangs. Their stoic leader Bobby makes sure they keep their nefarious deeds under a threshold, but don’t thread their Bakersfield California territory or they will unleash their full animal fury. Sporting leather duds, rawhide boots, sleeveless jean jackets, and all manner of 60’s fashion trimmings, the Humans ride hogs and choppers proping their bouffant hairdooed, miniskited ape gals in tow. Members include a beatnik poet, a burly gorilla, and an tag-along orangutan named Clyde (obvious homage to Clint Eastwood’s “Any which way…” series of movies). Their prime nemesis are the Skabbs, a rival gang constantly provoking the Humans, but with neither the brains nor brawn to best them.

The storylines in this first trade paperback volume entitled “Humans for Life” (collecting the first four issues) include confrontations with the Skabbs, a funeral for a departed Human, a Human that has just returned from the equivalent of the Vietnam war and dealings with a corrupt official leading a drug distribution ring serviced by many gangs including the Humans. There are non simian humans are in a few scenes, often depicted enslaved, but there is nearly no mention of them, much less any explanation of the upside-down universe.

As can be expected with a gang centric cast, the stories are action packed and the mature nature of the comic includes unabashed simian sex (you get to see plenty of monkey boobs and weenies) denoting the ‘free love’ spirit of the times. The funky art accurately depicts the glorious groovy threads of the day while the characters are rich and interesting, either one of which are sufficient to recommend reading. My one grumble was the inclusion of a mosh pit at a concert which contrasted with the otherwise faithful rendition of the era.A minor slip in an otherwise great comic.

Invaders from the North – John Bell (2006)

April 15, 2016

Invaders of the NorthI’ve always enjoyed reading books about comic history almost as much as reading comics themselves. Whether it be the trials and tribulations of Superman’s creators (Superman: The High-Flying History of America’s Most Enduring Hero), the indignities endured by Jack Kirby (Tales to Astonish: Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, and the American Comic Book Revolution) or even essays on select comic runs or graphic novels (Give Our Regards to the Atomsmashers!). But while my reading on comics history has been diverse, it has also been fairly negligent when it comes to the comic legacy of my own native Canada.

Invaders from the North – How Canada Conquered the Comic Book Universe is a compilation of essays that capture the history of comic publishing here in the Great White North. This includes the faltering starts and stops during the early years (largely due to economic and protectionist measures in those days) right up to the time the book was published. Author John Bell documents the state of comic affairs over the years with near academic precision and the research to match.

Beginning nearly at the same time as the more prodigious American counterpart publications, the history of Canadian comics since the end of the nineteenth century (embryonic newspaper strips) is well covered including even the smallest of publishers, the titles that were available and, for the most part, the individuals or creative teams responsible. The detail is admirable ranging from the better known titles to the most obscure ones that lasted only a few issues.

One of the most Interesting aspects was learning how Canada was not impervious to the anti-comic hysteria rampant in the US during the 50’s and how events here even led to an entire chapter in Dr. Frederic Wertham’s notorious Seduction of the Innocent which triggered the entire debacle. The events here eerily mimicked those in the US.  I never realized that Canada also held senate hearings of our own and much like famed EC comics (and later MAD magazine) publisher Bill Gaines who spearheaded the defence of the comic industry in the US, we had publisher William Zimmerman doing the same here.  The uproar was national news with even Prime Minister Mackenzie King voicing his jaundiced opinion. Sadly, the end result was also pretty much the same with the establishment of our own Comics Code self imposed by publishers as compromise solution. As much as events here shadowed what was happening across the border, the biggest surprise was we even participated in narrow minded comic burning episodes, the most famous occurring at St-Bernadette, a school in Gatineau, Quebec, which is just a few kilometers from where I live now. All fascinating material!

Other chapters plod through the decades capturing all the high points like Dave Sim’s Cerebus, as well as the more esoteric echelons like the underground comix scene, indie creators, the successful Drawn & Quarterly, and of course some of the French language endeavors over the years, some bridging the language divide that seems omnipresent when discussing Canada on any issue.

Nestled among the essays are two spotlight chapters, the first on uniquely Canadian heroes including Johnny Canuck, Captain Canuck, Nelvana, Canada Jack, Northguard, and all the rest of the more iconic heroes. The second spotlight features Chester Brown, discussing his much lauded Louis Riel graphic novel as well as his earlier Yummy Fur.

With a snazzy Dave Cooper art cover, there are plenty of illustrations, clips, and cover art within. Perhaps the best treasure are the many vintage posed and candid photos of most of the writers and artists discussed in the book, sometimes jarringly reminding me of how time flies having met a number of these artists today.

One issue that was a bit of a sore point was how the book was cobbled from various essays  written over the years that in some cases, if not all, evidently contained previously published material. Read as standalone segments, the essays are informative and concise. But when presented as a compiled tome as was done here the segments contain a lot of overlap and are annoyingly repetitive on some points. A much better job could have been done to edit out those portions already documented in other chapters. Another lesser gripe was how the volume bounces through the history and is not presented in any clear chronological order as one would expect of a historical accounting.

If your views on Canadian comics were confined to nothing more than Captain Canuck and Captain Canada, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to learn of the vast history captured here. A must read for any real Canadian comic fans, young and old. Something to keep in mind as we scour the shelves at our local comic shops today and come across yet another rebirth of Captain Canuck!

Godzilla or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

May 4, 2011

Ah, Godzilla! These days, any mention of the King of the Monsters usually brings a smile and images of a rubber suited man stomping on miniature cardboard and plastic cities adorned with toy cars while being fired upon by a proportionately scaled toy army. The suited man wears the latest incarnation of the Godzilla look while there is sure to be another suited figure guised as one of Godzilla’s many foes lurking somewhere in the background. Thus is the legacy of the numerous Godzilla movies, twenty-eight and counting, since he first made his appearance on the big screen in 1954.

But one would be fooled if they believed that the cliche city stomping and giant monster fights are all that Godzilla represents. Indeed, it was the somber specter of nuclear war that first gave rise to Japan’s Toho studios famous creature. The original Japanese version, Gojira, was no laughing light fare. The opening sequence of that first movie in which Godzilla strikes a unsuspecting fishing vessel was a reference to the real life story of a fishing vessel, the Fukuryu Maru, caught in the fallout of a Hydrogen bomb test in the pacific by US forces. While it was well known in Japan, the event was largely unpublicized here. Even before the event, the Japanese, being the only population subjected to nuclear bombs mere years earlier, were highly sensitive to the consequences of nuclear powers. The original Godzilla represented a thinly veiled representation of those nuclear forces and the movie made quite an impact to Japanese audiences. The success of the movie was such that a US distributor acquired the rights for North America, and re-shot sequences of the movie with Raymond Burr and dubbing the Japanese segments. Not surprisingly, the controversial opening sequence with the fishing vessel were discarded and some of the more gory scenes of death and destruction were toned down.

But over the years the Godzilla mythos took a decidedly intellectually lighthearted path. The once terror inducing creature became a matinee idol around the world, catering to younger and younger audiences, degrading along the way into a mere caricature of his former glory. Instead of being the menace, he became a hero battling whatever next giant monster came along, usually to stomp on Tokyo. To be sure, there were some higher points along they way, such as defeating the Smog Monster (Hedorah) in the 70’s, a fitting socio-environmental menace at the time. But there were some dismal lows as well, like the battle against a glassy eyed King Kong, which was pretty silly even as I watched it as a kid. (Seriously, in order to net Kong, they get him drunk!).

In order to temper our relationship with Godzilla and not overexpose him, Toho has staggered his appearances in the movies, having him slumber into semi-retirement every few years until enough time has passed before resurrecting him for yet another series of movies. These definitive eras are the Showa series (1954–1975), the Heisei series (1984–1995), and finally the Millennium (or Shinsei) series (1999–2004) when he last graced the screen in “Godzilla: Final Wars”.

But these days, Japan finds itself in it’s darkest moment since those first nuclear strikes in World War II. The large earthquake and ensuing catastrophic tsunami in March of this year not only caused immense death and destruction of the north east coast, but plundered the country in a nuclear crisis.

As it so happens, all this coincided the same month that IDW premiered their new Godzilla: Kingdom of Monsters comic. Written before the real life dramatic events, it was with great irony that I read the story in which officials had to decide whether or not to unleash those nuclear forces in an attempt to halt Godzilla. Deciding to take the risks the failed attempt results in Godzilla becoming even stronger.

I’m not going to condom or condemn nuclear power here. It is controversial to say the least, but some of the alternatives are debateably just as bleak. Suffice it to say, that once a again, Godzilla teaches us that a nuclear solution poses risks. But that is not necessarily a bad thing. While he may appear as a villain at the moment, he has come to the rescue of Japan before.

And god knows, Japan could use a bolstered Godzilla to save them now.

Y the Last Man

June 15, 2010

I’ve been collecting and reading comics for quite some time now but most of what I read are older issues and the odd short series of comics that for one reason or another (lousy content or overly optimistic print runs) have made it to the cheapie bins or bundled for sale at comic shops. At the same time, all of my graphic novel reading to date have been either fan favorite one shots (Watchmen, V for Vendetta, Dark Knight Returns, etc) or cheap reprints of yesteryear (DC Showcases and Marvel Essentials). But taping into the scuttlebutt of some the current ongoing series has seriously whetted my appetite for something more modern. So about a year ago I decided that I was going to give a new series a try, but which one?

There are a fair number of such series that have gained almost unanimous universal acclaim, but the one that really peaked my interest was “Y the Last Man”. One reason was that it reminded me of the great Richard Matheson “I am Legend” novel (filmed as “The Last Man on Earth”, “The Omega Man” and recently with Will Smith in a movie using the original title) which is a mix of science fiction and horror. In both cases we are confronted with a world altering event which (purportedly) leaves one man left alive on Earth.

Y the Last Man, written by Brian K. Vaughan, differs in that his cataclysmic event was some unknown cause that struck down every last male on the entire planet while leaving all females unaffected. The story is about the one last man, Yorick who, along with his companion male capuchin monkey are the last males on Earth. We witness the turmoil of women across the globe having to reassert control over governments and institutions all handicapped by the instantaneous deaths of all male participants. As rich as the context already is for great story line fodder, Vaugh immediately sweetens the pot with the introduction of covert agencies, one of which assigns a Yorick a personal protector in the guise of agent 355.

Spanning 10 graphic novels (60 issues, 2002-2008) richly drawn by Pia Guerra, the series moves along at a quick pace as Yorick is forced to hide his true gender while seeking out his girlfriend who happened to be on the other side of the globe when the ‘event’ occurred. Having to cope with all sorts of impediments along the way including a newly formed band of amazon women, a scientist claiming to be able to repopulate the earth with men, multinational forces hot on the trail of Yorick, and a band of pirates, to name just a few, almost each issue features drop dead cliffhangers and mind blowing unforeseen scenarios. I was amazed at every turn and enjoyed the ride. My one peeve is the somewhat inadequate explanation of the ‘event’ itself, but the many stories and characters encountered throughout the series more than make up for that.

As a pick for my first significant, modern, entire series comic read, I don’t think I could have done better. I’ll certainly be reading more Brian K. Vaughan material in the future.

Obama Amazing Spiderman

May 26, 2010

Like many other comic book enthusiasts, I watched in amazement as the throngs of the general population flocked to comic stores to scoop up an issues of the “Obama Spiderman”. Shades of the comic collecting folly of the late 80’s, the original issue sales went through the roof, catching even some comic shops by surprise, illiciting numerous print runs, all with variant covers of course. While many undoubtedly sought out the comic as a memento of the inauguration of the first African American president, others also had dollar signs in their sights, firmly believing that this was going to be a collectible item in the future, notwithstanding the very notion that anything called a ‘collectible’ at the point of initial sale defies the definition itself. I watched the events unfold with amusement thinking how soon those issues would find their way to the cheapie bins.

Spiderman ObamaBut even I was surprised last week to find the Marvel Premiere Edition Hardcover trade of “Election Day” in a 2 foot stack at the local mini comic convention and seeing a vendor vainly trying the sell these for a mere $5. That’s $5 for a collection comprised of 5 Amazing Spiderman comics (#584-588), the Obama back-story of ASM #583, and three other stories as well, all immaculately bound and ready for the reading. While it’s not unusual to find great sales at conventions, this was a $30 item going for $5.

Well for that price, I picked one up for myself. Not only do I get to read an Spiderman storyline (which even if it sucked, would be worth the $5) but I also get an artifact of yet another instance depicting crowd mentality overcoming common sense. I’m not up to speed with the current Spiderman stories, so a lot of the characters and situations in the “Election Day” storyline are new to me. That said, it was still an enjoyable series and OK for anyone to pick up. Certainly worth 5 dollars. And the Obama back-story that was used to envelope this whole series was, as expected, nothing but a fluff commercial grab. It’s only a few pages long, featuring reporter Peter Parker attending the inauguration when the mandatory presence of Spiderman makes it’s way into the plot. Completely forgettable. The only redeeming characteristic of the back-story was that in the end I got to pick up a complete Hardcover of an ASM series for 5 bucks!

Dark Tower and Marvel Apes

February 24, 2010

Over the holidays I picked up a few pre-bundled comics series in a clearance bin at a comic shop. One series was the 3rd story arc of the Stephen King inspired Dark Tower series: “Treachery”. While I have read a few Stephen King novels over the years (mostly his early stuff and even his “Bachman” The Running Man, I did not know anything about his Dark Tower series of novels, much less the comics based on them. But the cover artwork painting of the first issue was more than a bit intriguing and lucky for me that I can’t pass up a bargain. I say lucky because this series was a revelation in many ways. For the uninitiated, the world of the Dark Tower series is a mashup of the old Wild West with more than a touch of mystical forces and elements of fantasy. Even though this was the 3rd story arc of the series, the short summary of preceding events was all I needed to be immediately absorbed into this fascinating world. While writer Peter David is the driving force, it’s the fantastic painted art collaboration of artist Richard Isanove and penciller Jae Lee that really deliver the dark brooding atmosphere of the Dark Tower world. Many of the panels throughout the comic would hold their own as individual art pieces. I enjoyed Treachery immensely. I was determined to get the preceding stories and was lucky enough to then find a hardcover copy of the first storyline, “A Gunslinger Born”, for a paltry $10. I’m now looking forward to reading that and other Dark Tower comics.

Another series I picked up from the same bin was the 4 issue Marvel Apes story. Now I’m a huge Planet of the Apes (POTA) fan (and will have to get to some of that in this blog someday), so this story had more than just a passing interest for me. Not that it would be anything remotely similar to POTA, but just the fact that it was some way out story in which some Marvel superheroes are somehow transformed into simian bodies, much like the Marvel Zombies stories. The story is about an ape bodied Marvel superhero wannabe, “The Gibbon”, who gets transported to another dimension where civilization is led by talking apes and is also mirrored by our own dimension with Ape Avengers. Aside from the rustic jungle counterpart cities in this dimension, and the apes themselves, the Gibbon soon finds out that there are other ominous differences between the two dimensions. He quickly gets indoctrinated with the Ape Avengers only to find out that their version of justice is a tad more uncivilized than our own. I don’t want to spoil it all, but the Ape Avengers membership has its council subgroup with a dark secret. Worse yet, when the ape Captain America Avenger leader learns that the Gibbon has crossed over from another dimension, he and the other members of the council realize that coming over to ‘our’ side would solve a critical problem of theirs. So the Gibbon and the good ape Avengers duke it out with all the bad ape Avengers. In the end, the Gibbon has to figure out whether he belongs with his ape counterparts in the ape dimension, or his native human populated one. I rather liked the unexpected twists to the story despite the outlandish premise and think that even non ape fans will like this alternate universe story.

Crisis on Infinite Earths

January 18, 2010

When it comes to graphic novels featuring superheros, there are few (Watchmen aside) that have garnered the ‘must read’ accolade from superhero comic fandom. Presumably, this long planned story had a simple original basis, but by the time it was finally written by Marv Wolfman (greatly assisted by artist George Pérez), it had much loftier goals. By the eighties, the DC universe of stories had become so convoluted with continuity problems that the DC writers had begun to associate alternate histories and conflicting versions of their heroes and villains with alternate universes, each having there own version of Earth. Hence there was an Earth 1, Earth 2, etc. The 1985 12 part Crisis on Infinite Earths series set out to resolve the fractured DC landscape. It did this, but also much more.

The series is as famous (or infamous, depending on your view) for penning the death of Barry Allen, the Flash, and a few other notable and minor characters. Without going into too much detail of the story itself, a being called the Monitor begins to manipulate events in all the universes and captures some superheroes to be at his side. But his intentions are noble and are done to offset his own counterpart, the Anti-Monitor, who wishes to destroy all the universes. As the destruction unfolds across the multiverse, heroes from all these alternate Earths must combine to thwart the Anti-Monitor.

It’s a powerful story and an ambitious one bringing together all these characters. And I do mean ALL the characters. And that is one problem I had with this otherwise fine series. Wolfman and Pérez literally tried to include every single character ever created in the DC universe. Some of course had meaningful contribution to the story at hand, but the vast majority were only presented in one or two panels. Those forced oblique appearances were often annoying sidetracks to the main events of the story. While it may have appeased a number of fans, I would have appreciated a more realistic take on the story.

But the story itself is pretty good despite the distractions. It sets itself apart because the often invincible superheroes are so impotent to the destruction of their worlds. Many do fail, and many die as a result. There are Earths that are destroyed along with all the history that took place on those Earths. The DC universe IS cleansed of cumbersome alternate histories and only one version of history remains at the end.

I’m not sure that I would say that this is really a must read story even for DC fans. It’s not a bad story by any means, but there are plenty of other grand epic stories that surpass Crisis. But if you’re one of those people who think it would be really cool to see all the DC characters (pre-1985 at least) in one story, then this is the one for you!

Tales of the Bizzaro World

September 3, 2009

Me am writing this review of Tales of the Bizzaro World. Me buy this Graphic Novel at store when me am bored and need something to reed. Book have many stories with me, Bizzaro Superman No1, me wife, Bizzaro Lois No1, our son Bizzaro Junior and even dog Bizzaro Krypto. On Bizzaro world, which shape like cube, everything opposite. Bad is good, and we live by Bizzaro code:

Us do opposite of all Earthly things.
Us hate beauty!
Us love ugliness!
Is big crime to make anything perfect on Bizzaro world
.

BIZARRO!

On Bizzaro world, we pay store with coal, and take dirt baths. Is bad to give rite answer in skool. This book have almost 200 pages of some of best Bizzaro stories. Stories also have Bizzaro Jimmy Olsen, and Bizzaro Lex Luthor, Bizzaro KLTPZYXM (him do everything good), and even dat terrible Superman guy.

Me hate Tales of the Bizzaro World so much that me hope you buy it too and hate it as much as me.

surazaL