Posts Tagged ‘Astro City

14
Jul
13

2 in 1 Showcase At the Movies Episode 36: Monster-Sized Double Feature

showcase logo smallBlake is back this week with a double monster movie review. This week he looks at Guillermo Del Toro’s new epic Pacific Rim and Pixar’s prequel Monsters University. We also double up on the picks with Astro City #2 and Quantum and Woody #1! Contact us with comments, suggestions, or anything else at Showcase@CXPulp.com!

Music provided by Music Alley from Mevio.

2 in 1 Showcase At the Movies #36: Monster-Sized Double Feature

14
Apr
13

2 in 1 Shot #7: Comics Kick Ass Week

showcase logo smallOur pal Adam from the Graphic Panels Podcast has declared the week before Free Comic Book Day, beginning April 29, to be Comics Kick Ass Week — a time to celebrate what we love about comics, and we here at the Showcase are going to tell you how to help spread the word. Blake talks about what’s got him excited about comics this week and tells you how to do the same. In the picks this week, it’s Batman and Robin #19. Contact us with comments, suggestions, or anything else at Showcase@CXPulp.com!

Join the Comics Kick Ass Week event on Facebook!
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Music provided by Music Alley from Mevio.

2 in 1 Shot #7: Comics Kick Ass Week

13
Apr
11

Classic EBI #85: Deconstruction and Glory

With tax season upon us, we’re all going to look for less expensive entertainment. In the interests of helping us all with that dilemma, I’ve taken it upon myself to sift through Amazon for a few graphic novels that — at least as I write this — can be had for under ten bucks a pop.

Everything But Imaginary #394: Eight Under Ten

In the classic EBI from this week, we go back to Oct. 20, 2004, when I look at the two extremes of the superhero genre…

Everything But Imaginary #85: Deconstruction and Glory

There are many types of comic book fans — the geeks, the fanboys, the gaming crossovers, the alts, but there are only two types of fans that really get on my nerves. First are their ones who only read superhero comics. The ones who refuse to come out of the narrow little shell and experience all of the wild, diverse realms of storytelling that comic books have to offer. Second, the ones that refuse to read superhero comics, the ones who think they’re too cool for that and anyone who enjoys a superhero comic is intellectually beneath them and that by picking up this week’s Amazing Spider-Man you are contributing to the downfall of western civilization. (You are actually doing this by picking up Action Comics.) [2011 Note: I wrote this during Chuck Austen’s run on Action Comics. I stand by this statement.]

Smart comic fans, I think, should fall somewhere in-between these two extremes. Nobody should ever read any comic they don’t like (save your money and buy something good), but it’s even more important not to close yourself off to a great story just because of the genre it is written in.

Just as comic book fans have divided themselves into these camps, however, superhero comics to a very large degree have divided themselves as well, and although there are some exceptions, almost all mainstream superhero titles these days play more to one side of the spectrum or the other — they deconstruct the heroes, or they glorify them.

“Deconstruction,” of course, is nothing new — one could argue that it goes back as far as Green Arrow’s discovery of his sidekick Speedy’s heroin addiction. There are lots of kinds of deconstructive stories — those that show the heroes has having all-too-human flaws or feet of clay, or those that simply show them failing, or achieving victory but at too high a price. The darker threats, the mass murders, the terrorist actions. These are the “deconstructive” comics.

Pretty much every title under the Marvel Knights banner fits this description — Daredevil is a great example. He was, in his early days, a brighter character, akin to Spider-Man, but as time went on he got darker and darker. Now his comic is the epitome of gritty, showing hard crime and real consequences. Matt Murdock’s world is not a nice place to live. Brian Michael Bendis, of course, is one of the tops in this realm of comics — along with guys like Grant Morrison and Bruce Jones, and perennial favorites like Frank Miller and Neal Adams. These are often the only comics the “too cool for school” crowd will touch, mainly because it’s so “grim” and “edgy” and helps to shatter the ideals of the spandex-clad warriors they sneer at the rest of the time.

Then we have the flip side of superhero comics — those that take the traditions and standards of the genre and raise them up, glorify them, and make them seem fresh and new again. Take a look at Mark Waid’s Fantastic Four for a primary example of this. While the “Unthinkable” and “Authoritative Action” storylines he told last year did get pretty dark, he stayed with what made the characters the heroes they were rather than pull them down, and he closed off that chapter of their lives in the “Afterlife” story by bringing back the Thing (killed in “Authoritative Action,”) with a little help from a certain Man Upstairs who looked an awful lot like Jack Kirby. Some readers balked at the unabashed sentimentality. I thought it was brilliant.

Geoff Johns has also proven himself quite adept at the glorification of superheroes, and he does it in a way that Waid often does too — he mines their pasts, digging into classic stories from the golden, silver and bronze ages, and uses them to craft something totally new. A lot of his Teen Titans series up to this point has been about bringing together threads left by the classic Marv Wolfman/George Perez incarnation of the property, but updating it to fit in the new members of the team. In Flash, he keeps taking old villains and remaking them into more serious threats (as he did with the likes of Mirror Master and Captain Cold) or introducing new threats that tie into the past of the character (like Murmur and the new Zoom).

Johns may just save his best storyweaving skills for JSA, however, and it’s no wonder. This is the first superhero team in the history of comic books, and several of the oldest characters in industry are still members. What’s more, they have progeny and proteges that are carring on in their names. Johns has brought together the legacies of the Star-Spangled Kid and Starman stogether in Stargirl, restored Hawkman to a characterization that actually makes sense and even made a character with the goofy Golden Age moniker Mr. Teriffic a deep, interesting character.

But man, the stuff he’s done with Hourman is even better. The original Hourman, Rex Tyler, died fighting Extant during DC’s Zero Hour miniseries. There are two other Hourmen walking around, though, Rex’s son Rick, and an android from the future with time-travel powers. In JSA we learn that the android plucked Rex from the timestream just before his death and gave him one hour to spend with his son, who could break up that hour into increments anytime he needed to talk to his father. When Rick was almost killed fighting Black Adam, though, he and Rex switched places, with Rex back in the “regular” timestream and Rick trapped in time. Johns wrapped up that storyline in last week’s JSA #66 with an ending that showed off everything that made these characters heroes.

If we’re talking about glorifying superheroes, though, one need look no further than Astro City. Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson and Alex Ross have created a real lush, wonderful world that pays a brilliant tribute to everything that superhero comics have to offer, and they look at it from every angle. If you haven’t read this comic, you haven’t read superheroes right.

Here’s the thing — while excellent stories have been told in both the deconstruction and glorification subgenres of superheroes, not all characters are suited for both. Superman and Captain America, for instance, never really work in deconstructed stories. When you start making Superman grim or edgy, you lose what it is that makes him Superman.

This was the big problem I had with Mark Millar’s Ultimates series, and the reason I’m not getting Ultimates 2. Millar recreated regular Marvel characters and made it a point that they were not the same as the ones we were used to. However, the new characters he whipped up seemed to me to be nothing more than the original character’s worst traits magnified to the extreme. Giant-Man was nothing more than a wife-beater. Iron Man was nothing more than a drunken philanderer. Captain America was nothing more than an arrogant nationalist.

On the other hand, characters like the Punisher just don’t hold up if you try to glorify them. Even when you go lighthearted, as Garth Ennis did in the Marvel Knights incarnation of the character, it has to be dark humor, with an undertone of madness that belies the character’s situation in life.

Then there are those rare characters that work if you’re deconstructing or glorifying superheroes. I think the X-Men are probably the best example of this. During New X-Men, writer Grant Morrison dissected these characters, brought their faults to the forefront and made them face down threats — both from without and within — that tore the team apart. Much of his story was a satire of some of the more ridiculous aspects of the characters (Magneto’s tendency to get resurrected no matter what the circumstances of his death were, for instance, or the egocentric notion that the “X” in Weapon X was a letter and not a Roman numeral). He took the X-Men apart and pieced them into something new, then he put the chairs on the tables, wiped down the counter and left.

Then he leaves and what happens? Joss Whedon comes in with Astonishing X-Men and, using many of the same characters, puts them back into costumes and sends ‘em out to be superheroes. And it works, just as well. Meanwhile, Nunzio DeFillips and Christina Weir remake their New Mutants series into New X-Men: Academy X, a book about — what else? — teen superheroes. These are kids learning to one day become X-Men, and as such, the book has several elements that both glorify superheroes (the code names, the “squads”) and break them down (how Wither accidentally killed his father with his powers, for instance).

There are many, many different things that can be done with superhero comics, and a great many of them are being done right now, done very well. There’s an old saying in some parts of the country that if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes and it will change. With comic books, if you don’t like one, just take a step or two further down the rack. Even if you’re looking at a rack of superheroes, you won’t have far to go to find something totally different.

FAVORITE OF THE WEEK: October 6, 2004

Welcome back, Bill Willingham, you have been too long absent from this list, but last week’s Fables #30 bolted you right back to the front of the pack. I’ve been a fan of this title since the first issue, friends, and issue #30 is possibly the best yet. This is the answer to “decompressed” storytelling here, everything happens at once. The Fables are reconstructing their home after a battle, the election for the mayor of Fabletown is going off, Snow White is in labor (and Bigby Wolf is the father) — there are three major storylines in this issue, a half-dozen (if not more) minor storylines, and there’s still room in there for a few surprises. If you haven’t tried out Fables, this may just be a great place to start.

Blake M. Petit is the author of the superhero comedy novel, Other People’s Heroes, the suspense novel The Beginner and the Christmas-themed eBook A Long November. He’s also the co-host, with whoever the hell is available that week, of the 2 in 1 Showcase Podcast and the weekly audio fiction podcast Blake M. Petit’s Evercast. E-mail him at BlakeMPetit@gmail.com and visit him on the web at Evertime Realms. Read past columns at the Everything But Imaginary Archive Page, and check out his new experiment in serial fiction at Tales of the Curtain.

 

09
Feb
11

Classic EBI #76: Comics By the Letters

Last week, an independent comic creator put out a call to arms for other creators to take a shot at their own property, and not expend all their creative energy on corporate characters. While I agree in principle, as I explain in this week’s Everything But Imaginary, I think the finger is being pointed at the wrong target…

Everything But Imaginary #386: Are Creators to Blame For Lack of Creator-Owned Comics?

In this week’s classic EBI, though, it’s time for something pretty timely. DC Comics has just announced that they’re bringing back the long-lost, lamented letter pages to their comic books. So let’s go back to August 18, 2004, when I bemoaned the loss of those pages…

Comic Books By the Letters

I want to write comic books someday. I don’t think I’m giving away any top secret information in saying that — at least 25 percent of all comic fans, at some point or another, seriously harbor an urge to pursue a career as a writer or an artist, and if anyone in the other 75 percent tried to claim they had never at least thought about it, I would call them a liar and spray them with the garden hose.

I think it’s safe to say that the next generation of comic fans (wherever they wind up coming from) will come with those same ambitions and aspirations as well. However, there is one thing I can say about being a writer that future generations may not have the chance to, given the way things are. I can say that the first time something I wrote was published in a comic book, it was in the letter page.

Although I had occasionally dashed off letters to comic companies in my earlier years, it wasn’t until the year I graduated high school that one finally saw print. That first letter appeared in New ShadowHawk #1 from Image comics, and I was commenting on the powerful final issue of the original ShadowHawk series (creator Jim Valentino will be bringing the property back for a one-shot later this year, finally) and apparently, something I said was interesting enough to justify seeing print in the first issue of the new series, written by the man who would quickly become my favorite writer in comics, Kurt Busiek.

Well, I’ve got to tell you, seeing my name and my words in print emboldened me, and for the first year or two that I was in college, I was a ubiquitous letterhack. Oh, I was no Uncle Elvis, but I became a semi-regular presense in the letter page of a new title, Kurt Busieks’s Astro City. I also got a couple of letters in the pages of Jeff Smith’s Bone, and landed missives in other titles, including Ninjak (another Busiek title at the time), Impulse, Robin and even JLA (back during the Morrison years). Heck, at one point having my address appear in those back pages actually scored me a black-and-white preview of the resurrected X-O Manowar by Mark Waid and Brian Augustyn — Acclaim Comics even wound up excerpting part of my reply for that preview into an ad for the comic. (It was the first time I was ever “blurbed,” long before my days as a reviewer at CX Pulp.)

Eventually, though, school, work, life and all those other things that prevent us from reading comic books all day interfered and my output lessened, although I still tried to drop a line to Astro City whenever it came out. It wasn’t really that big a tragedy — there was no shortage of letter-writers coming up from behind me to fill the ranks.

Then, a couple of years ago, DC Comics announced it was abandoning its letters pages entirely. Marvel never made an official announcement, but their pages began to dwindle to almost nil, and on those rare occasions they appeared, it almost felt like the editors cherry-picked gushing, glowing missives instead of working in a mix of enthusiasm and criticism like letters pages of yore had done. Part of the rationale DC gave for getting rid of the format is that Internet message boards — like this one — made the letters page irrelevant. I tend to disagree. I love message boards — heck, if I didn’t I wouldn’t have written 76 of these “Everything But Imaginary” columns and nearly 400 reviews for this website — but there’s something unique about the letters page.

Look at it this way — when you see your letter appear in the back of a comic book, you know that somebody involved with the production of that comic read it. If there’s a reply, that’s even better. Even if it’s the assistant editor’s assistant stapler, it passed through the eyeballs of somebody making a comic book happen.

Unless a creator takes the time to reply to you on a message board, you don’t know that your message is ever getting to the people you intend it for. Even on “official” message boards, there’s no way to know if the writer or artist or editor you’re addressing actually reads your post. You’re just shouting into the wind, hoping your message gets carried off.

Second… let’s be honest here, guys… there’s no sense of accomplishment in posting to a message board. All you need is an e-mail address and anybody can blather to their heart’s content. With a letter page, though, there’s a limited amount of space, and you know that, so if your letter shows up on that page it means somebody judged it superior to other missives, somebody found something in that letter that was clever or funny or thought-provoking enough to want to share it with the other people who read that title.

Third… there is that sense of community. Oh, we’ve got a great community right here on Comixtreme — Doug is the mayor, Brandon is the court jester, Ronée clearly is in charge of the house of worship, Craig runs the barber shop for some reason… but as many hits as we get here, very, very few threads ever get as many views as the print run of an average comic book. And even those that do, it’s the same pool of people reading and replying over and over again. Now there’s nothing wrong with that at all, but when it comes to getting your message out to the masses, having it printed in the comic itself is still far, far superior to anything the Internet has yet accomplished.

I think it’s nice to note that a great deal of comic book creators were just as upset as the fans when the letters pages went the way of the dinosaur. A number of them got their starts as letterhacks back in the day, after all, and they know everything I’ve already told you. People with creator-owned books like Savage Dragon have kept the letters page in defiance of these oh-so-sweeping winds of change. Fables and Robin writer Bill Willingham started online “letter pages” at his own website, and although those are essentially message boards themselves, it does have more of the feel of the “real” letter pages since each thread is devoted to a single issue of a single title and because Willingham himself frequently appears and answers questions the fans ask.

But, as is so often the case, there’s hope. And oddly enough, that hope is coming from DC Comics, the same people who made the biggest stink about losing the letter pages in the first place. DC has announced that, beginning in September, it will lump all of its titles based on animated properties (it seems a bit patronizing to call them “kid’s comics”) into a new line hosted by the return of their old mascot, Johnny DC. Johnny will be bringing you Justice League Unlimited, Teen Titans Go!, Looney Tunes and other such comics every month…

…and with them, Johnny will have letter pages. In fact, he’s already showing up in comics and online asking kids to send in their letters.

I don’t know why, exactly, DC has decided to backtrack here and bring back the letter pages, at least for this small family of titles, but I hope it works. I hope it’s a huge success. I hope the demand gets so great that they start putting the letters back in every comic.

After all, not everyone is as lucky as I am — when I think a comic stinks, I can just write a column about it.

FAVORITE OF THE WEEK: August 11, 2004

Okay, look, I’ve given up on this one. Can we all just agree that any given week that features an issue of Identity Crisis, it’s going to win this award? Issue #3 was the best yet, featuring a spectacular fight scene with the Justice League and Deathstroke, some shocking (but utterly logical) revelations about the JLA’s past, and a last-page shocker that was as gut-wrenching as anything I’ve seen since… well… since Identity Crisis #1.

But since I feel like Brad Meltzer is being very selfish, writing a comic book so brilliant it can’t possibly lose this honor, I’m also going to point out the next-greatest book of the week… this time out it’s a one-shot graphic novel from Image, Doug TenNapel’s Tommysaurus Rex. TenNapel is most well-known for creating the video game and cartoon character Earthworm Jim, but a few years ago he put out an absolutely brilliant graphic novel called Creature Tech, which remains a favorite of mine to this day.

This time out he tells the story of a young boy who goes to spend the summer on his grandfather’s farm after his beloved dog is killed by a car… only to find, inexplicably, a living, breathing Tyrannasaurus Rex in the woods! He and the T-Rex befriend each other (this is a classic example of the “Boy and His Monster” comic I wrote about here in EBI a few weeks ago), and he quickly comes to realize that there may be even more to his new friend than he realized. This is a wonderful, touching story, the sort of thing you really can read with your kids. (Well… older kids, the scenes with the dog dying and other bits may be a bit too upsetting for younger children.) At any rate, it’s a beautiful graphic novel and gets my highest recommendation. And to make things even cooler, even before it came out last week, Universal Studios optioned the rights to make the movie. Now that rocks.

Blake M. Petit is the author of the superhero comedy novel, Other People’s Heroes, the suspense novel The Beginner and the Christmas-themed eBook A Long November. He’s also the co-host, with whoever the hell is available that week, of the 2 in 1 Showcase Podcast and the weekly audio fiction podcast Blake M. Petit’s Evercast. E-mail him at BlakeMPetit@gmail.com and visit him on the web at Evertime Realms. Read past columns at the Everything But Imaginary Archive Page, and check out his new experiment in serial fiction at Tales of the Curtain.

26
Sep
10

2 in 1 Showcase Episode 189: In the Eye of the Storm

It was a huge week for comic book news, and the guys sit down this week to discuss the DC restructuring and the end of Wildstorm Comics. Also this week — shakeups for the Legion of Super-Heroes, possible directors for the Superman reboot, changes to the Daredevil line and… Sesame Street for Baby Boomers? In the picks, Blake presents Darkwing Duck #4, Kenny digs Incredible Hercules: The Mighty Thorcules and Mike goes with Booster Gold #36. Contact us with comments, suggestions, or anything else at Showcase@CXPulp!

Music provided by the Podshow Podsafe Music Network.

Episode 189: In the Eye of the Storm

Inside This Episode:


11
Aug
10

Classic EBI #60: All the Beautiful Comic Books

This week in Everything But Imaginary, it’s back to school time. You know how I’m dealing. But how are some of our favorite students in comic book land holding up?

Everything But Imaginary #362: Back to School

And in the Classic EBI, we’re going back to April of 200

EVERYTHING BUT IMAGINARY 4/28/04

All the beautiful comic books

Think fast: What’s the most beautiful piece of music you’ve ever heard? I’ll bet you came up with something, didn’t you? How about the most beautiful painting? Sculpture? What about a movie, name a beautiful movie. I’ll bet most of us can come up with serenely beautiful examples of every art form we appreciate.

So why no talk about beautiful comic books?

They happen, after all. They happen, in fact, more frequently than many of us recognize. They don’t get recognized as much, though, because comic books have a reputation of being about action and combat. Even non-superhero comic books often have a focus on adventure, and while adventure can make for a wonderful, thrilling tale, it rarely makes for a very beautiful tale. Now I don’t mean beautiful in a visual sense, in a “Greg Land Sojourn cover” sense, I mean beautiful in a way that makes you stop, and smile, and maybe even let a tear squeeze out.

Last week, I read one of the most beautiful comic books I’ve ever read, and it prompted me to sit down and write this column. I’ll talk about that later, but before I get there, I want to remind you guys about a few other beautiful comic books that are out there. (And I will be spoiling these, so be prepared for it.)

Astro City #1/2, “The Nearness of You,” has to go down as one of the most singularly beautiful comic books I’ve ever read. This tale, crafted by Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson, concerns a man named Michael Tenicek whose dreams are haunted by the memory of a lost love that he never knew. After several attempts to find out who this woman is, a woman he knows he has never met but can’t forget, he is visited by the mystical Hanged Man, who weaves him a tale of a villain who nearly destroyed the universe by tampering with the timestream. The heroes of that world, in a story that would have been a 12-issue crossover epic under any other writer, defeated the villain and restored the timestream, but the restoration was imperfect. The woman Michael remembers is his wife, and because of the time-travel escapades, her grandparents never met, and she never existed. The Hanged Man cannot restore her to life, but he can take Michael’s memory of her away, if he wants. Michael refuses, though, and as the Hanged Man leaves to make the same offer to others who lost something in the timestorm, he asks him what other people choose. Do they wish to forget?

The Hanged Man turns, a slight curl of a smile on the burlap bag over his head. “No one forgets, Michael Tenncek,” he says. “No one.”

Yeah, I cried when I read this story. Astro City #1/2 was reprinted in the Confessions trade paperback. Find it. Read it. Love it.

Next up is our requisite classic comic and our requisite Disney comic, “Only a Poor Old Man” by Carl Barks, originally presented waaaaay back in Uncle Scrooge #1, but as is the case with Disney comics, it has been reprinted frequently. This classic story by Scrooge’s creator seems fairly common enough. The notorious Beagle Boys are trying to steal Scrooge’s three cubic acres of money, so the richest duck in the world recruits his nephews to help him protect it by taking the cash out of his bin and dumping it into a remote lake. With his money submerged, though, Scrooge is denied the one great pleasure he allows himself, to dive in the cash, burrow through it like a gopher, and throw it into the air and let it hit him on the head. Against his better judgment, he dredges up enough cash to make an island in the lake where he can play in his fortune. The sight of the money island alerts the Beagle Boys to Scrooge’s plan, though, and the rest of the comic is a series of adventures with the beagles trying to steal the cash and the ducks trying to save it.

In and of itself, it’s a fairly run of the mill Scrooge story (of course with Carl Barks, even run of the mill stories were exponentially better than most of his imitators). When you get down to it, though, down into the meat of the story, you realize that the comic isn’t really about Scrooge or about the money or about greed or anything else people would like to ascribe to the character to tear him down. It’s a story about finding that one thing you love, the one thing that means something to you, and being ready to fight for it. Scrooge’s true love was his daily swim, and he was willing to risk everything for it. There’s something unbelievably sweet and innocent about that. Something that that stays with you.

Moving on, J. Michael Stracyznski and Gary Frank told one of the best horror stories ever to make it into comics with their Midnight Nation series, but in the final issue, they told one of the most beautiful as well. The story, for those of you who haven’t read the comic (and if you didn’t, you are wrong), concerns LAPD Detective David Gray, a man whose soul is somehow stolen and he falls into a strange world that exists between the cracks of his own. With the help of his guide, a woman named Laurel, he must walk from Los Angeles to New York and reclaim his soul within one year or be transformed into one of The Men, savage creatures in the employ of a dark enemy. In the last issue, David discovers he has been misled from the beginning. He can never go back to a regular life. His soul is his for the taking, but he will become one of The Men in the process. He will be in his enemy’s power, but he will be alive. Or he can give his soul to Laurel who has none of her own, and take her place in the horrible, bleak world between the cracks.

David does not hesitate. He gives her his soul and she is freed, and we know that in their year on the road together he came to love her more, even, than himself. In an epilogue sequence some years later we see David trying to get by in this new world, ignored by the “real” world, interacting only with those in-between. Then he sees her — a young girl with Laurel’s face. He says her name and for a second — just for a second — she acknowledges him.

And he knows it was worth it.

Finally, we come to the comic book that grabbed my attention and sparked this little conversation, a comic that, not coincidentally, is my…

FAVORITE OF THE WEEK: April 21, 2004

Actually, all four issues of this miniseries were beautiful, but the final issue of Kurt Busiek (he’s good at these beautiful comics, isn’t he?) and Stuart Immonen’s Superman: Secret Identity, is the most beautiful of all. The story is of a young man in a world like our own, where Superman is a fictional character known all over the world. Born to parents in Kansas named “Kent,” they have the unfortunate sense of humor to name him “Clark.” This new Clark Kent hates the Superman jokes… until the night he wakes up with all his powers as well. This final issue wraps up Clark’s life story and explains where his powers came from, but that’s not the important thing. It’s a story of a husband, a father, a man who sees his life’s work mean something, who sees his family become something, who sees a world made better by his presence. No supervillains, little action. This is a quiet tale, a powerful tale, a happy tale.

A beautiful tale.

There have been good Superman stories. There have even been great Superman stories. But this is the most beautiful Superman story ever told.

And that’s something we don’t get enough of.

Blake M. Petit is the author of the superhero comedy novel, Other People’s Heroes, the suspense novel The Beginner and the Christmas-themed eBook A Long November. He’s also the co-host, with whoever the hell is available that week, of the 2 in 1 Showcase Podcast and the weekly audio fiction podcast Blake M. Petit’s Evercast. E-mail him at Blake@comixtreme.com and visit him on the web at Evertime Realms. Read past columns at the Everything But Imaginary Archive Page.

21
Jul
10

Classic EBI: Demons, Castles, and the House of Mouse

In today’s Everything But Imaginary column, I expend a bit upon something I mused over here Monday — the idea of a storytelling universe where the world is the real star instead of the individual characters. When has it worked? How does it work? Will I try it myself?

Everything But Imaginary #360: Share the Universe!

And in today’s EBI Classic, let’s step back to March 7, 2004, just before a summer where a lot of superhero movies were about to cut loose, and how that made me feel…

Demons, castles and the house of mouse

Sunday evening I got an e-mail from my Uncle Todd. “Hey, looks like the Hellboy movie is number one this weekend,” he wrote. “That should make you feel good.”

“Actually,” I wrote back, “what makes me feel good is that the movie didn’t suck.” Comic book movies, at least over the past 15 years or so, since the first Batman, seem to have fallen into two categories: critical and commercial successes that pundits predict will birth a new breed of comic book readers that never actually show up, or major flops that the comic reading publish wishes people would rather forget but know inevitably will be trotted out as a comparison the next time a comic book movie is made. We’ve been lucky for the last few years. Marvel hit it big with the first Blade movie after 30 years of terrible attempts at movie and television projects, but Wesley Snipes seems to have been a magic charm, because Marvel movies have been, for the most part, very good since then. (Yes, I know some people didn’t like Daredevil or Hulk, but I did like ‘em and it’s my column, so nyeah.)

Most of these characters, with the exception of Blade, were at least moderately well-known to the public at large before the movie came out though, and even Blade had the force of coming from powerhouse Marvel Comics. I’d been wondering what would happen if someone made a good movie based on an obscure character from a smaller company.

Enter Hellboy.

Even I, geek that I am, didn’t know a tremendous amount about Hellboy. I’d read his first trade paperback, Seed of Destruction, and a few random other appearances, but I didn’t carry around much knowledge of who he was or what he did. What’s more, I was a little worried about a live-action movie because, even with a great actor like Ron Perlman in the title role, the character’s makeup looked a little campy and I was afraid it would turn people off. Still, it was a comic book movie, and since the mission statement of this little column includes trying to get more people reading comics, I took it upon myself to see the film and determine if it could potentially help.

First, the movie itself. Was it campy? Yeah. Was the makeup a little hard to swallow? Sure. Goofy dialogue and slightly unbelievable romantic subplot? Oh yeah. Nazis as villains? Boy, there’s a twist.

But was it fun?

Absolutely.

While not as tongue-in-cheek as, say, Batman and Robin, Hellboy was a movie that knew it was taking a kind of silly premise and had fun with it. What’s more, the actors looked like they were having fun, and that sense of fun jumped out and grabbed the audience. Joel Schumaker, in directing the last two bat-flicks, took the sillier parts of the premise and played them up, utterly disrespecting the character. Guillermo del Toro (who, not coincidentally, also directed Blade II), had fun with the silly parts but respected the serious parts, the characters, the creators and, most importantly, the fans. I walked out of that movie theater feeling cheerful, ready to see it again and ready to pick up the DVD.

Ah, but the test is whether or not it will get people to read Hellboy comic books. Well, I already had the second trade on order, and I’ll be on the lookout for some stand-alone comics on my weekly trip to the comic shop this Friday, so it certainly scored with me on that account. But I’m an easy sell, I needed to talk to people who don’t ordinarily read comics. So I did. Friends, family, co-workers. And here’s the thing: while not all of them are necessarily going to go run out and start buying the complete works of Mike Mignola, every single person I talked to was aware that Hellboy was based on a comic book. That’s unprecedented. Sure, most of ‘em knew Spider-Man was a comic, but they hadn’t heard of Daredevil and an awful lot of people thought X-Men and Hulk were based on the old TV shows.

So how on Earth did a little niche comic like Hellboy get it right?

Well, part of it may be the fact that the character didn’t have the stigma of a Saturday morning cartoon or an old Lou Ferigno TV show to live down, so people had no expectations. But it’s not like it’s being promoted as “Based on the comic book by Mike Mignola!” or even as “From the same guy who drew those purty pictures for Disney’s Atlantis movie!” I think the real reason is actually very simple: even from the earliest trailers that had me worried about the makeup, Hellboy was a movie that looked like a comic book. Now a lot of the time people say that in a detrimental fashion, but I mean it as the highest compliment. From the garish colors to the freaks in makeup to the incredible amount of energy on the screen to the overriding sense of excitement that the movie generated, even with a character no one had heard of who didn’t have a cape, this felt like the beautiful image people have in their collective conscious regarding superheroes (at least, the conscious of people who aren’t snobbish enough to deride anything with a superhero as being infantile).

Like I asked, will it get more people to read the Hellboy comic book? That remains to be seen. At any rate, I doubt it will pull in huge numbers except possibly from the preexisting comic book reading market. But one thing that is undeniable is that the movie has made people more aware of comic books, and that is a very good place to start.

And what gets me most excited is that there are still tons of comic book properties coming down the pipe. In just a week and a half the Punisher movie will premiere starring Thomas Jane as Frank Castle. I’m a little wary about that one, to be honest – I like Jane (he’s fantastic in 61*, my pick for the second-best baseball movie ever made), but the trailers disturb me. Especially the costume. Look, points to Artisan Entertainment for actually putting him in the skull as opposed to the tank top we had to sit through in the godawful Dolph Lundgren version of the character back in 1989, but couldn’t they have found a way to do it that doesn’t look like he’s wearing a silk-screened T-shirt?

(2010 Note: I rather did like the Thomas Jane Punisher film –and even if you didn’t, if you try to tell me that Punisher: War Zone was better, I will punch you in the spleen.)

Regardless, the Punisher is a much more well-known character than Hellboy and, again, I shall see the film for research purposes. Hellboy surprised me. Maybe this will too. My friend Jenny, I think, has the best attitude about the film. She has decided just to watch the flick and look for references to Garth Ennis’s run in the title. Well… if nothing else, Spacker Dave and Joan the Mouse are in the movie.

Then later this summer we’ll have Spider-Man 2, a film that will be fun, action-packed, true to the characters, a delight to watch and will leave a thousand over-hyped fanboys who went into the film expecting the second coming of Christ complaining about how much it sucked. (You don’t believe me? Let’s lay odds.) Spider-Man has certainly done more to boost comic books in the public consciousness than any film in recent memory, but I seriously think Marvel has bungled their end of it. Aside from launching Ultimate Spider-Man, they haven’t made any real strides to reach out and grab new readers, and that’s what is really needed.

Also this summer we’ll have Halle Berry in Catwoman. Let’s look at a photo of her in the costume. (You’re going to want to click on it to get a full-sized image for the complete impact):

Okay, now let’s talk about something that doesn’t make me want to wretch. This fall we’re going to have a film that, while not actually based on a comic book, does feature superheroes – Pixar’s The Incredibles, a comedy featuring the voices of Craig T. Nelson, Samuel L. Jackson and Jason “No Middle Initial” Lee. Pixar is a studio that has never failed to enchant me – even their weakest film, A Bug’s Life, is head and shoulders above anything almost anyone else is putting out for children, and if nobody has snapped up the rights to do a comic book based on this film yet, they’d better get in gear. (Gemstone Publishing? I’m lookin’ at you, buddy.)

So what else is in the works? Well, there’s been a Fantastic Four movie in the hopper for as long as I can remember, and supposedly there are film versions of every Marvel character from The Silver Surfer to Iron Fist waiting to make waves. Over on the DC side they finally gave Batman to a good director (Christopher Nolan) and a good writer (David Goyer, who wrote the first two Blade flicks and is currently writing and directing the third one). There’s also talk of a new film to resurrect the Superman franchise, but that’s been in production hell for so long that I’ll believe it when I see it. And even then, I won’t believe it unless I see a signed affidavit stating that Tim Burton and Nicolas Cage were not allowed anywhere near the film. (Don’t send me hate mail, I like them both, I just don’t think either of them are right for Superman.)

Robert Rodriguez, who has yet to take my advice about him doing a Madman movie, is set to begin work on a star-studded adaptation of Frank Miller’s Sin City comic book. Even comic book geek-turned filmmaker-turned comic book writer Kevin Smith has announced he’s going to be taking time out of his hectic schedule of not finishing Daredevil: The Target #2 to make a Green Hornet movie for Miramax. The man may not finish writing his comics very often, but no one can deny he loves ‘em, and I expect that movie to be a lot of fun as well.

And not so long ago it was announced that my personal favorite superhero comic, Kurt Busiek’s Astro City, is in the works for a feature film with producer Ben Barenholtz, who has done a lot of work with those delightful little scamps The Coen Brothers (of Fargo and O Brother, Where Art Thou? fame).

Finally, let’s think about all the great comics that have the potential to be great movies. Special effects have finally reached the point where a Green Lantern movie may be feasible, and I’d do anything to see a great cartoon adaptation of Jeff Smith’s Bone, Doug TenNapel’s Creature Tech or Mike Kunkel’s Herobear and the Kid.

So if you’re a comic book fan who loves movies, this is a very good time for you.

But what if you’re a movie fan that wants to get into comic books?

Good question. I’ll see if I can answer it in just seven short days.

Favorite of the Week: March 31, 2004

Much like I expect people who expect too much of Spider-Man 2 to be disappointed with the film, I think the same plague took a chunk out of my favorite title last week, Avengers/JLA #4. After 20 years of buildup, it was inevitable that some people wouldn’t like the book. I, on the other hand, loved it. From the damaged timestream allowing us to see practically every Avenger and Leaguer ever fighting together, to spot-on characterization of Superman, Captain America, Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) and Barry “Flash” Allen, not to mention beautiful artwork by George Perez and Tom Smith, this miniseries was everything I wanted it to be. All comics should be this good.

(One more 2010 note: It’s interesting, looking back at this column. Some of the movies I discussed here were hits, some of them were flops, some were never made. I completely forgot that Astro City had been optioned, because nothing ever came of it. Oh, and we’re all still waiting for Daredevil: The Target #2.)

Blake M. Petit is the author of the superhero comedy novel, Other People’s Heroes, the suspense novel The Beginner and the Christmas-themed eBook A Long November. He’s also the co-host, with whoever the hell is available that week, of the 2 in 1 Showcase Podcast and the weekly audio fiction podcast Blake M. Petit’s Evercast. E-mail him at Blake@comixtreme.com and visit him on the web at Evertime Realms. Read past columns at the Everything But Imaginary Archive Page.




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