Posts Tagged ‘Wizard of Oz

24
Apr
13

Everything But Imaginary #487: Follow the Four-Color Road

You may have noticed, but I’ve been on something of an Oz kick lately.Books, movies… and yeah, comic books. So today in Everything But Imaginary, I take a look at the land of Oz in comic books, past and present, with even a glimpse of future in there.

Everything But Imaginary #487: Follow the Four-Color Road

10
Mar
13

2 in 1 Shots #6: Marvel’s Big Move

showcase logo smallIf Digital Comics are your thing, clear the space off on your iPad… Marvel is making a bold move this week at the South By Southwest Expo. Blake also gives a short spoiler-free recommendation to Oz the Great and Powerful. In the picks, it’s Animal Man #18, the epilogue to the Rotworld crossover. Contact us with comments, suggestions, or anything else at Showcase@CXPulp.com!

Music provided by Music Alley from Mevio.

2 in 1 Shot #6: Marvel’s Bold Move

09
Mar
13

If all you know of Oz is Judy Garland…

Oz-poster1I’m pretty excited, I admit, for Disney’s new film Oz the Great and Powerful. I’ll be catching it tonight with some friends and, no doubt, I will have plenty to say about it. However, before I go into the film, there are a few folks online I feel the need to address. Every time somebody tries to touch upon the land of Oz at all, it seems, there are some people who crawl out of the woodwork and start complaining about how the filmmakers (or writers or artists or whatnot) are not “respecting the original,” by which they invariably mean the 1939 Judy Garland film. They complain about hints of darkness, more frightening monsters, new characters and environments that somehow don’t fit their vision of what Oz should be. And to those people, while you are certainly entitled to your opinion, I would like to make a friendly suggestion:

Read a book.

MGM Studios did not create Oz, people. The Land of Oz first appeared some 39 years earlier in the novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. Baum wrote 14 other Oz books (13 novels and a collection of short stories), and then other writers took his place after his death, stretching the “official” Oz canon to 40 novels before it finally came to a halt in 1963 with Merry Go Round in Oz. After that, the earlier novels began to lapse into public domain, and since that time hundreds — actually, probably thousands — of writers, artists, actors, songwriters, and creators of all types have joined in the fray to create their unique visions of Oz.

As magnificent a film as the 1939 Wizard of Oz is, as perfect as the music is, as brilliant the color and visual appeal of the film, here’s something people just don’t admit often enough: it’s not really a very good adaptation of Baum’s work. The tone is very different, many key sequences are omitted, and other things are changed for various reasons. There is, in fact, only one thing I would argue the MGM film does better than the Baum original, and that’s increasing the role of the Wicked Witch. Baum’s biggest weakness as a storyteller (I say as someone who has read all of his Oz novels and several of his non-Oz books) comes in his antagonists. Many of the Oz books are just a group of characters (often, but not always including Dorothy and her friends) stumbling from one adventure to another with little motivation except to get where they’re going (often, but not always, the Emerald City). The villains are often an afterthought, and rarely truly terrifying, with the one exception of Roquat, the Nome King. Margaret Hamilton’s version of the witch was not only iconic, but a vast improvement over the relatively minor character she was in the original novel. But it still wasn’t the “original,” as so many people say.

Hell, if we’re going to get technical, the Judy Garland film isn’t even the original movie version of Oz — there were several silent films in earlier years, including some written and directed by L. Frank Baum himself, that depicted a vision of the land of Oz that’s very different from the world most people today are familiar with.

But for all of the changes and alterations between the film and the novel, I’m okay with that. You see, there are basically two schools of thought when it comes to creating new Oz stories. There are the creators who try to remain as faithful as possible to Baum’s universe, giving us new adventures in a world that feels like it could seamlessly fit with that Baum created. These books exist to expand upon Baum, giving us new characters and locations, but also presenting new adventures of our old friends like Ozma of Oz, the Hungry Tiger, the Sawhorse, Tik-Tok, Jack Pumpkinhead, Billina the Yellow Hen, the Shaggy Man, Polychrome, Professor H.M. Wogglebug, T.E….

Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz 1Little Adventures in Oz Vol 2aSorry, you were all thinking of Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodsman and the Cowardly Lion, weren’t you? They’re in there too, don’t worry, but even Baum went far beyond those four characters. And in books and comics like these, we see all of them in stories that feel like they belong with the original “Famous Forty” books of old. Eric Shanower, for example, creates novels and comic books in Baum’s world, sometimes alone, sometimes illustrating the work of other writers like Edward Einhorn. More recently, Shanower has been adapting the original Oz novels into comic books for Marvel, with magnificent artwork by Skottie Young (to the left of the above image), which doesn’t fit the original art as well as Shanower’s own (shown to the right), but is a beautiful vision of Oz nonetheless.

Oz_Reimagined_Final_Front_CoverThen there is a second school of thought, one which has become increasingly popular in recent years. These creators take Baum’s framework as their inspiration, but turn out a work that is unique and incompatible with the official Oz canon. Gregory Maguire’s novel Wicked is probably the most famous example, at least since it became the basis for a smash hit Broadway play. Then there’s Angelo Tirotto and Richard Jordan’s No Place Like Home from Image Comics, which recasts the elements of Oz into an intriguing horror story. Big Dog Ink. has given us The Legend of Oz: The Wicked West, which mixes Baum’s universe into a dark western realm that reminds me increasingly of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series (which, itself, plays on Oz imagery at several points in the story). A few years ago SyFy gave us the miniseries Tin Man (more of a sci-fi take) and just weeks ago some enterprising writers came out with the book Oz Reimagined, in which 15 contemporary science fiction and fantasy authors each created a new short story based on their own personal visions of Oz. (The book is available in paperback, or each individual story as a $1.99 “single” for Amazon’s Kindle device.)

Some of the creators in this group even go so far as to meld Oz with worlds of their own creation. Stephen King I’ve already mentioned, but one of the Oz Reimagined shorts takes place in the Oz simulation of Tad Williams’s Otherworld science fiction novels. Bill Willingham has incorporated the characters into his Fables comic books, and we’ve seen visions of Oz mixed up with such diverse casts as the Muppets, Tom and Jerry, the Veggietales gang, the Justice League, and several stories that have mixed together the denizens of Oz with the characters of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking-Glass books.

Wicked MusicalAnd the thing is, there’s plenty of room for both schools of thought. I love seeing what new creators can bring to Baum’s world (you may even remember my review of Einhorn and Shanower’s Paradox in Oz from a few years ago). I also love seeing what the likes of Maguire and Tirotto and countless others can create from the mythology Baum gave us. Oz is a world that’s simply too big for there to be any one version of it, that’s part of the magic. That’s one of the things I love about it.

Now if I come back and I think Oz the Great and Powerful stinks, I’ll admit it. I’ll tell you everything I think is wrong with it. But if that is the case I can promise you this much: it won’t be because director Sam Raimi dared diverge from the world Judy Garland landed in.

But if it is good… the hopes for a new Oz renaissance is thrilling to me. More visions, more images of Oz… yes, a lot of it will be sad, tired drek, but that’s true of any cultural movement. I’d rather see people try and fail to live in the world of L. Frank Baum than give us another Twilight rip-off (or worse yet, another Fifty Shades of Grey). And if Disney goes ahead with the sequel they’ve already proposed, even before the film opened yesterday, even better. In fact, I hope they’ve got the guts to go all the way and do an adaptation of the original novel in their land of Oz — an adaptation which, from everything I’ve seen so far, would probably be more faithful to Baum than the Oz Judy walked through 74 years ago.

There’s plenty of Oz out there already. Try a little more of it, then get back to me. You may get lost, of course, but that happens in Oz from time to time. It’s okay. Ultimately, all you’ll need to do is click together the heels of your Silver Shoes and repeat to yourself, “There’s no place like home…”

And thus I leave you with one more point, a visual this time… just a few of the many, magnificent, valiant, viable visions of Oz.

15
Dec
12

The Christmas Special Day 15: The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus (1985)

The Life and Adventures of Santa ClausDirector: Jules Bass, Arthur Rankin Jr.

Writer: Jules Bass, based on the novel by L. Frank Baum

Cast: Earl Hammond, Earle Hyman, Larry Kenney, Lynne Lipton, Bob McFadden, Lesley Miller, Peter Newman, Joey Grasso, J.D. Roth, Alfred Drake

Plot: In the forest of Burzee, the Great Ak (Alfred Drake) summons a council of the immortals. As dozens of fairies, nooks, and other fantastic creatures come together, the Great Ak tells them the mortal named Santa Claus is about to be visited by the Spirit of Death. This mortal, Ak says, has earned possession of the world’s one and only Mantle of Immortality. To convince them, the Great Ak tells them his story, the tale of the life and adventures of Santa Claus.

Sixty years prior, the Great Ak found a mortal baby abandoned in the snow. He gives the child to a lioness to rear, but the fairy Necile (Lesley Miller) is curious about what a “child” is. She observes the lioness and decides she wants to care for the baby herself. She begs the Great Ak permission, which he grants, assigning the lioness to remain with the baby as its protector. Necile names the baby Claus, “little one” in her language. Claus doesn’t remain little for long, though. In the view of the immortals, he begins to grow up in the blink of an eye, and young Claus (voiced by J.D. Roth) begins his education in the ways of the forest. Ak decides Claus should see his own people, and takes him on a magical tour of the world of Man, where Claus sees terrible misery, violence, and suffering. He also begins to understand that he is mortal, unlike Necile and his friends, and one day he will die and become just a memory to his loved ones. Claus decides to live in the world of mortals, hoping to make it better, and he takes his lioness protector and teacher Tingler (Bob McFadden) with him. As he grows older, he begins to visit the nearby settlements of mankind, taking particular care in being a friend to the children. (His voice also changes, just like real life! Adult Claus is voiced by Earl Hammond.)

One winter night, as Claus carves a cat out of wood, he finds a child outside his home, nearly frozen. He brings the boy inside to warm up, and the child quickly takes a liking to Claus’s cat, Blinky. As the child sleeps, he finishes carving the cat, paints it, and gives it to the boy when he wakes up. When the other children in town learn of the wooden cat, they all want one of their own. He starts making cats, then other animals and dolls for the children… he has invented the toy. He brings his friends the Nooks to his home to help make toys in bulk, but soon receives a threat from a beast called King Awgwa (Earle Hyman), lord of the dark creatures who convince children to misbehave. King Awgwa abducts Claus, but the immortals easily rescue him. The Awgwa realize they cannot capture him easily, but they can prevent him from delivering his toys. They attack him the next day as he travels, stealing all the toys he’s made and taking them to their caves. The attacks continue, over and over. Finally, the Great Ak, Master Woodsman of the World, takes out his Silver Axe and leads the fairies and nooks into battle with the Awgwa and a mighty dragon. The Great Ak and his forces defeat the Awgwa, and Claus is free to deliver toys again. His sled is now so heavy with toys he can’t pull it, and his friend Peter Nook (Peter Newman) offers to allow Claus to use some of his reindeer to pull the sleigh, provided he can return them to their forest home by daybreak. The reindeer are impossibly fast, eventually finding the ability to fly through the air. Claus begins making regular trips to deliver toys, and is soon beloved by children everywhere, who call him “Santa Claus.” He returns home too late, though, and Peter is angry. Claus asks him to allow him to use the reindeer again, and Peter finally agrees, but only for one night a year… Christmas Eve. With just ten days, Claus won’t have enough toys to make the trip and will have to skip an entire year, unless he can find the toys stolen by the Awgwa. He goes to bed on Christmas Eve, convinced he’ll lose a year, but Peter Nook arrives with the reindeer and the sleigh full of recovered toys.

Years later, Santa Claus has won the love of all the world, and now stands on the brink of death. He decorates a tree with small toys as a symbol of his good work, and Tingler vows to decorate the tree every year. In the forest of Burzee, the Great Ak petitions the rest of the immortals to give Claus the Mantle of Immortality. In all the world there is only one, and can only be given to one mortal. Touched by his story, the immortals agree to present it to Claus. Just before he dies, Necile delivers the golden shroud to her son. Revitalized, he thanks Ak, pledging to prove himself worthy of the mantle for all time to come.

Thoughts: It had to happen sooner or later, my friends. This, I’m sorry to say, is the last Rankin and Bass special in our Reel to Reel countdown. It’s not one of the best-known specials either, but it’s one of my favorites. Based on the novel by The Wizard of Oz creator L. Frank Baum, this is a version of Santa Claus’s origin that doesn’t quite jive with any of the others we’ve seen, doesn’t fit in with the rest of the Rankin and Bass “universe,” but stands on its own as a lovely fairy tale version of this holiday icon’s story.

The Baum touch is one of my favorite things about this special, I admit. I am an unabashed fan of all things Oz and I love to see different takes on the Oz mythos. While Baum never directly linked this book to his Oz novels, there are enough of his magical creatures common to the different books for me to accept this as a part of the Oz Universe. Which I know is something only a nerd of my particular stripe cares about, but as I can say that for roughly 87 percent of the observations I’ve made this month, I feel perfectly justified in doing so again.

Children may find parts of this special a bit odd. Although it was made in 1985, it’s a faithful adaptation of a novel written in 1902, before many of the elements now considered part of Santa Claus lore became standard. He’s still a plump, jolly man who enters through the chimney, who rides in a sleigh pulled by reindeer. But kids will ask why his toy shop is in the Laughing Valley instead of the North Pole, why his toys are made by nooks instead of elves. My nerd response will be to tell them this is the Santa Claus of Earth-2. Of course, then you’ll have to explain that, so maybe you’d better just find a way to explain it that suits your own children.

Most of the Rankin and Bass specials are more or less timeless. If there’s anything that links them to their era it is a tendency to model their narrators after the stars who voice them (Fred Astaire in Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town and Andy Griffith in Frosty’s Winter Wonderland being prime examples). This one is a little different, with the nook (or fairy or gnome – I’m not sure) named Tingler being clearly inspired by Chico Marx, of call people. Which would have made a lot more sense in an early Rankin and Bass special – this was made in 1985. It’s an odd choice, one that most kids watching this won’t even notice, but older viewers will see it quickly.

This special doesn’t have as much music as most Rankin and Bass specials either. The “Big Surprise” number the children sing to Claus is the centerpiece, coming almost exactly halfway through the film and helping Claus realize exactly what his mission will be. It works pretty well as far as providing the character with motivation, but it isn’t as great a musical number as we’d like from Rankin and Bass. The special also isn’t as funny as we’ve come to expect from Rankin and Bass. Except for the Biblical specials, most of their cartoons at least had an element of comedy to them. This has almost nothing. Claus is motivated by seeing true darkness in the world, and although the battle sequences aren’t gory or bloody, they’re fairly intense for a film of this nature. The violence is real, not played in a cartoonish nature.

These elements are all perfectly good, though. This isn’t another cookie-cutter Santa movie like so many of them are. (To fully understand what I’m talking about, just turn it on the Hallmark Channel or Lifetime whenever you’re reading this. If it’s still December, there’s a 90 percent chance they’re showing a Christmas movie starring washed-up stars that is virtually indistinguishable from all of the other Christmas movies starring washed-up stars they show this time of year.) If you’re looking for something a little different – something that still has the charm and joy that comes with the names of Rankin and Bass but that is totally unique from every other version of the Santa Claus myth you’ve seen this year, this is the special for you.

NOTE: This story was remade as a traditionally animated direct-to-video movie in 2000 starring Robby Benson of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Don’t get the two confused. While the Benson version is… okay… the Rankin and Bass version is great.

Don’t forget, The Christmas Special is the third Reel to Reel movie study. The first, Mutants, Monsters and Madmen, is now available as a $2.99 eBook in the Amazon Kindle store and Smashwords.com bookstore. And you can find links to all of my novels, collections, and short stories, in their assorted print, eBook and audio forms, at the Now Available page!

11
Feb
12

What I’m Watching in 2012

Just like yesterday’s post about books, I also keep a running list of the movies I watch each year. You know you do it to. Okay, some of you. Three of you? Harvey?

Anyway, for those who are interested, here’s the tally thus far. As with the books, if I happen to write a review of any of these films, I’ll throw up a link. And, should I happen to watch a movie as it’s being riffed by the likes of Mystery Science Theater 3000, Rifftrax, or Incognito Cinema Warriors XP, I’ll provide a separate “grade” for the riff.

1. Tucker and Dale Versus Evil (2011), A
2. Little Shop of Horrors (1960), D; RiffTrax, B+
3. Eurotrip (2004), B-
4. Barely Legal (2011), D
5. TransFormers: Dark of the Moon (2011), B
6. Lady Frankenstein (1971), D; ICWXP, B+
7. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011), B+
8. Serenity (2005), A
9. Bloody Pit of Horror (1965), F; ICWXP, B
10. Werewolf in a Girl’s Dormitory (1961), F; ICWXP, B+
11. Cedar Rapids (2011), B
12. Pontypool (2009), B+
13. Atlas Shrugged Part I (2011), B
14. Ghosthouse (1988), F; RiffTrax,  B+
15. The Slime People (1963), D; MST3K, C+
16. The Crucible (1996), B+
17. Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop (2011), B+
18. Chronicle (2012), A-
19. Justice League: Doom (2012), A-
20. Timer (2009), B+
21. Tree of Life (2011), D
22. Another Earth (2011), B+
23. Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011), A-
24. Phineas and Ferb: Across the Second Dimension (2011), A
25. Real Steel (2011), B
26. In Time (2011), C-
27. John Carter (2012), A-
28. My Week With Marilyn (2011), A-
29. The Adjustment Bureau (2011), B+
30. The Help (2011), A
31. Forrest Gump (1994), A
32. The Jetsons Meet the Flintstones (1987), B
33. The Flintstones (1994), C
34. The Hunger Games (2012), A-
35. Hereafter (2010), C+
36. The Task (2010), B
37. Cabin in the Woods (2012), A
38. The Adventures of Tintin (2011), B
39. Win Win (2011), B+
40. Millennium (1989), C
41. Immortals (2011), B
42. Iron Man (2008), A
43. Being Elmo (2011), A
44. Incredible Hulk (2008), B
45. Iron Man 2 (2010), B+
46. Apollo 18 (2011), C+
47. Reefer Madness (1936), D; RiffTrax, B+
48. Them Idiots Whirled Tour (2012), B
49. Thor (2011), B+
50. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), A
51. The Avengers (2012), A+
52. The Muppets (2011), A
53. The Goonies (1985), A
54. Spaceballs (1987), B+
55. Airplane (1980), A
56. Men in Black 3 (2012), B+
57. The Descendants (2011), A
58. Insidious (2011), D-
59. Muppets From Space (1999), B
60. Pom Wonderful Presents the Greatest Movie Ever Sold (2011), A-
61. The Swing Parade of 1946 (1946), D; RiffTrax, B
62. Lucky (2011), B+
63. Exporting Raymond (2010), A
64. Alien (1979), A+
65. Aliens (1986), A
66. Prometheus (2012), B
67. I Want Candy (2007), B-
68. Sirens (1993), C
69. Superman Vs. the Elite (2012), A-
70. Drive (2011), C
71. The Wizard of Oz (1939), A
72. Blade Runner (1982), B+
73. Total Recall (1990), B+
74. Rock of Ages (2012), D
75. The People Vs. George Lucas (2010), A-
76. Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter (2012), C-
77. Brave (2012), A
78. The Amazing Spider-Man (2012), A
79. Media Malpractice (2009)
80. Batman Begins (2005), A
81. The Dark Knight (2008), A+
82. The Dark Knight Rises (2012), A
83. Troll 2 (1990), F
84. Silent House (2012), B-
85. 50/50 (2011), A
86. Total Recall (2012), C+
87. The Darkest Hour (2011), C
88. Moneyball (2011), A-
89. The Expendables (2010), B
90. The Expendables 2 (2012), B+
91. Red Tails (2012), B
92. Walkabout (1971), C
93. Finding Nemo (2003), A
94. The Woman in Black (2012), C-
95. The Incredibles (2004), A
96. The Boys (2010), A
97. In the Realms of the Unreal: The Mystery of Henry Darger (2004), A-
98. In the Mouth of Madness (1994), B
99. Act of Valor (2012), B
100. Project X (2012), C+
101. Tales of Terror (1962), B
102. The Birds (1963), B+
103. Hellraiser (1987), B+
104. Child’s Play (1988), C+
105. Looper (2012), B
106. Cinderella (1950), A
107. The Ghost Breakers (1940), B+
108. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948), A+
109. Young Frankenstein (1974), A
110. Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (1978), C-
111. An American Werewolf in London (1981), B+
112. Ghostbusters (1984), A+
113. The Toxic Avenger (1984), C
114. Beetlejuice (1988), A-
115. Arachnophobia (1990), B-
116. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992), C+
117. Army of Darkness (1992), B+
118. Bride of Chucky (1998), C
119. Bubba Ho-Tep (2002), A-
120. Eight Legged Freaks (2002), B-
121. Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006), A
122. Slither (2006), A-
123. The Evil Dead (1981), B-
124. Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn (1987), A-
125. Trick ‘r Treat (2007), A
126. Zombieland (2009), A
127. 2016: Obamas America (2012), B
128. The Lorax (2012), B
129. The Pirates! Band of Misifts (2012), A-
130. The Room (2003), F
131. Skyfall (2012), A-
132. Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977), A
133. Home Alone (1990), B+
134. Finding Mrs. Claus (2012), C+
135. Disney’s A Christmas Carol (2009), B
136. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012), B+
137. Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964), D; MST3K, B
139. Santa Claus (1959), F; MST3K, B+
140. Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny (1972), F-; RiffTrax, A
141. Magic Christmas Tree (1964), D-; RiffTrax, B+
142. Santa Claus: The Movie (1985), B
143. Arthur Christmas (2011), A-
144. A Christmas Story 2 (2012), C+
145. Trading Places (1983), B+
146. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989), A
147. Nativity! (2009), B
148. A Christmas Story (1983), A
149. Love Actually (2003), A
150. Scrooged (1988), A
151. Die Hard 2 (1990), B
152. Django Unchained (2012), A-
153. Les Miserables (2012), A

–Updated January 5, 2013.

28
Nov
11

2 in 1 Showcase Episode 247: Of Muppets and Kings

Blake and Erin spent the week in Pittsburgh for Thanksgiving, and this week they’ve got a trifecta of entertainment to talk about. From the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, they discuss the special exhibit Heroes and Villains: The Comic Book Art of Alex Ross. Then they shift gears to discuss the new Stephen King novel 11/22/63 and the online experience surrounding the new King miniseries Bag of Bones. And to cap it off, they delve into the movie event Blake has been waiting to see for 12 years: The Muppets. In the picks, Erin talks more about the Dresden Files and Blake doubles up with Wolverine and the X-Men #2 and Legend of Oz: The Wicked West #1. Contact us with comments, suggestions, or anything else at Showcase@CXPulp.com!

Music provided by Music Alley from Mevio.

Episode 247: Of Muppets and Kings

02
Oct
11

2 in 1 Showcase Episode 239: One Month of the New 52

The new DC Universe is a month old now, and in an extra-sized episode Blake, Erin, and Mark sit down to talk about how that first month shaped up. Mark gives us the retailer’s perspective on how sales have changed not just for the New 52, but for other titles as well, and the gang discusses the hits and misses of the last two weeks of titles. In the picks, Erin is just getting into the Dresden Files, Mark is a fan of Annihilators: Earthfall and Herc, and Blake cheers the premieres of Ghostbusters and Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz. Contact us with comments, suggestions, or anything else at Showcase@CXPulp.com!

Music provided by Music Alley from Mevio.

Episode 239: One Month of the New 52

14
Sep
11

Classic EBI #108: The New Mosaic Comics

DC Comics has been having something of a string of good fortune lately with their New 52 venture, leading to some geeks to speculate whether or not Marvel Comics should follow suit. Now I’m not saying that I think Marvel should. I’m just saying that if they did, this is a 52-title Marvel Universe I would be interested in reading…

Everything But Imaginary #415: My Marvel 52

And in this week’s classic EBI, we go back to March 2005, a time when I’d been having a particularly crappy string of luck and I needed some cool comics to cheer myself up. Fortunately, those were easy to find.

Classic EBI #108: The New Mosaic Comics

When I’m having a particularly lousy week (as those of you who follow my blog know I’ve been having in epidemic proportions lately), there are few things that are as certain to cheer me up as finding a new comic book that I really enjoy. So I lucked out Friday when I went into ol’ BSI comics and picked up a copy of Lullaby: Wisdom Seeker from Image Comics and Alias Productions.

I am, as is well known, a big fan of children’s literature. I adore the works of L. Frank Baum and Lewis Carroll. I think The Chronicles of Narnia are great literature, and one Saturday this summer I’m going to be waking up like a kid at Christmas ready to get the new Harry Potter book. I’m also a big fan of Mike S. Miller, who’s writing this book along with Ben Avery and creator Hector Sevilla on some beautiful artwork. So Lullaby was an easy sell to me.

Here’s the basic plot – the story starts in a version of Wonderland where Alice never made it home. In fact, she doesn’t even remember her life in the “real” world except as vague dreams and shrounded memories. She has risen through the ranks and become the right hand of the infamous Queen of Hearts. Now there is unrest in the lands of imagination, and she sets out to find the source.

Lullaby is, in essence, a patchwork of twisted versions of these classic children’s stories. In addition to this new Alice, we’re also faced with a version of Jim Hawkins (of Treasure Island) who joined up with Long John Silver’s pirate crew and a spritely Pinocchio who was turned back into a puppet and, rather than break his father’s heart, fled to the other lands in hopes of finding the Wizard of Oz to restore his lost humanity.

So no, these aren’t exactly the characters we all grew up reading about, but they aren’t too far removed either. Alice is still a little girl who longs to go home, Pinocchio still yearns to be a real boy and, although Jim isn’t explored too deeply in the first issue, you get the sense that he joined the pirate’s life out of a thirst for adventure rather than gold.

Reading the book, however, immediately brought to mind two other recent comics, both of them critical and commercial successes, that use the same idea of snatching characters from disparate sources and putting them together. Here we’re talking, of course, about Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Bill Willingham’s Fables. Comics have long taken characters from different settings and combined them, going back to the very first stories of the Justice Society of America, which took the most popular characters from the then-National Comics and put them in a book together. At the time, such a thing had never been done. Decades later, it was common for superhero universes to have sort of an “all-star” team – the Justice League of America, the Avengers and so on. What Moore did with the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was transplant that idea back a century. Who were the superheroes at the end of the 1800s? Well, that would be like likes of Allan Quartermain, Captain Nemo, the Invisible Man, Dr. Jekyll (and Mr. Hyde) and Mina Murray. (And go ahead and pan the movie if you must, but I thought the addition of an adult Tom Sawyer was a nice touch.) Who would the supervillains be? Clearly, the likes of Dr. Moriarity, the invading Martians from War of the Worlds and perhaps even some of the “heroes.”

Moore turned out two volumes of this critically acclaimed comic book (this isn’t that big a trick for him – Alan Moore could publish a recipe for prune-flavored flan and the comic book press would declare it a masterpiece) and supposedly a third is forthcoming. It wasn’t the first time such an idea had been attempted, but it was certainly one of the best comics ever to use the idea of stitching together such disparate characters.

Then of course there’s Fables. If you don’t know what Fables is, you must not read this column much because I praise it all the time. The brainchild of Bill Willingham, Fables is a story of fairy tale characters driven out of their homeland and into our “real” world by the invading forces of a mysterious entity called the Adversary. Living among humans for hundreds of years, some have resigned themselves to their existence, while others still believe they can one day find their way home. Of all the “mosaic” comics I’m talking about this week, I think Fables has, hands-down, the most expansive cast: Snow White, the Big Bad Wolf, Prince Charming, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Pinocchio, Thumbelina, Old King Cole, Little Boy Blue, Jack of the Tales, Ichabod Crane, Beauty and the Beast, Baba Yaga, Little Red Riding Hood, the Three Little Pigs, Robin Hood, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Beauty and the Beast and Flycatcher, just to name a few, have all been a part of this story. And while so far the Fables we’ve encountered have been mostly European or North American in origin, Willingham promises that future storylines will expand to Fables of other cultures as well.

You wouldn’t think that sort of thing was really so unusual for a comic book fan. We’re used to seeing team-ups. We’re even used to seeing team-ups among really bizarre groups of characters – Alien Vs. Predator, Superman/Madman, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles/Flaming Carrot – even Archie Andrews has met the Punisher.

And it’s not that unusual to see these characters combined in other medium, either. Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula novels cover over a century in which Bram Stoker’s Dracula survived and unleashed vampires across the world – but along the way Newman references real people and fictional characters freely. Jack the Ripper and Edgar Allan Poe make appearances alongside representations of James Bond, Superman, Dr. Strange, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and even – in a brief Red Baron joke during World War I – Charles Schulz’s Snoopy.

So why is it stuff like Moore’s League seems so revolutionary to us?

Without sounding like a snob… I kind of think it’s because these are all characters from outside of comic books. We’re used to crossovers with comic book characters – or at the very least, characters that have a firmly-established presence in comics (like Aliens). It’s different when you’re talking about characters from other sources. A lot of the general public, if you tell them you’re reading a comic book, may turn up their nose at you. But if you tell them you’re reading a comic book where the Island of Dr. Moreau is a setting, that may elicit a gem of curiosity. If you tell them about Pinocchio and Jim Hawkins sailing off to the land of Oz, people who loved those books as children will want to know what you’re talking about. And if you mention that one of the best love stories in comics is currently between Snow White and the Big Bad Wolf, they’ll have to ask you where that’s coming from.

I think one of the reasons that comics like these three are arcing up in popularity is because we comic fans realize, on some level, that this is the kind of thing that could potentially grab other readers. Someone who loves the Oz books may want to read Lullaby. Someone who was raised on Allan Quartermain will want to check out the League. Someone who studies folklore will want to see how it is being treating in Fables.

The trick, as always, is getting the word out. The League movie, unfortunately, flopped (although I don’t think it’s nearly as bad as some people say). But there’s word that a Fables film may be in the works, and Lullaby would be perfect as an animated feature. If those audiences can be grabbed and lured back to the comic books, that would be a very good thing.

Then there’s the other reason that comic fans like these three titles – the most important reason. They’re all really, really good.

Who knew? Maybe you can get something out of those books without pictures after all.

FAVORITE OF THE WEEK: March 22, 2005
It was a surprisingly good week for comics, last week, friends. Aside from the aforementioned Lullaby, there were also very strong showings from Runaways, JLA: Classified and New X-Men: Academy X, but narrowly taking the top spot for me was New Avengers #4. This team is slowly growing on me, I must admit. Brian Michael Bendis has found a logical explanation for the characters on the team now and has thrown in a good bit of mystery as well. His characterization is top-notch, and while some may think Spider-Man’s constant quips are annoying, I think they clearly indicate how nervous the character is to be counted among such an auspicious group. While the impending inclusion of Wolverine still bugs the screaming bejeezus out of me, so far, the book is really a solid read.

Blake M. Petit is the author of the superhero comedy novel, Other People’s Heroes, the suspense novel The Beginnerand the Christmas-themed eBook A Long November. He’s also the co-host, with whoever the hell is available that week, of the2 in 1 Showcase Podcast. E-mail him at BlakeMPetit@gmail.comand visit him on the web at Evertime Realms.Read past columns at the Everything But Imaginary Archive Page.
26
Jan
11

Classic EBI #74: The Recruitment Drive

A big change happened in the world of comics last week, as both DC and Archie Comics announced that they’re ending their association with the Comics Code of America. This week I look back at where the Code came from and whether or not a rating system is the way to go.

Everything But Imaginary #384: Collapsing the Code (Bring on Sex and Violence!)

And in the Classic EBI for this week, let’s go back to August 4, 2004, when I was thinking about what it takes to get new folks reading comics. Let’s talk about…

Everything But Imaginary #74: The Recruitment Drive

Here at Everything But Imaginary Global Headquarters, there are two topics of conversation we never get tired of: how cool it would be to get a job applying body makeup to actresses for science fiction TV shows and movies, and how to get new readers into the comic book world. This isn’t meant as an insult to longtime fans, of course. The comic industry has been kept afloat for years by people like myself, who own every issue of Superman since 1988 and who will actually spend hours arguing over which is better, G.I. Joe or the TransFormers. (The answer, by the way, is that G.I. Joe has a better comic book, while TransFormers has a better TV show.)

But let’s face it, we aren’t getting any younger. Some of us are not getting younger at a particularly advanced rate, in fact (these are the ones who have every issue of Superman since 1968). And while successful movies and TV shows and an increased awareness in the mainstream media can only help comic books as a whole, I’ve found that nothing is as great a tool to get new readers as plain and simple word of mouth. Last week, for instance, Jeff Smith released the giant one-volume edition of his epic Bone series. 55 issues. Over 1300 pages. Probably (although I have no official documentation) the longest single-volume comic book ever produced.

And I bought two copies.

No, it’s not because I’ve got that kind of money. It’s because I wanted one, and so did my brother. As we grew up, I tried to get him to read several comics, and he did, but the one that he stuck with more than any other was Bone. So when I was picking up that giant volume for him (that reminds me, he still owes me money), I felt like I had at least accomplished a little something. I’ve also had limited success with my sister — she enjoys Liberty Meadows and occasionally looks into other titles with an artistic eye, but she’s not quite the rabid fan.

I tried to get friends, throughout high school and college, to pick up comics, and again I met with limited success. My old buddy Jarrod Friloux has, to my knowledge, a single long box that he doesn’t add to anymore, but still looks on fondly. My goombah Ben Clark collected with almost the ferocity I did for a while, then cut down to almost nothing. James Pinkard, my old roommate, still picks up the occasional trade paperback, such as the aforementioned Bone saga, and he was getting into some of CrossGen’s stuff as well, like Sojourn, before the bottom fell out of that one.

My biggest success, and I say this with as much pride as a human being can muster, is Ronée Garcia Bourgeois. After we met at the Thibodaux Playhouse about three years ago, Ronée and I became fast friends, and got even closer when we worked on a few plays together. She’d had a love of comics and cartooning at a younger age, and reading my columns and other posts on this site slowly began to draw her back. She started to accompany me on my weekly trips to the comic book store. She puts her son in Green Lantern t-shirts. She has become one of the few comic-loving women I know, and it pleases me to no end to think I had something to do with that.

And what’s even better, is that I see her passing along her love to her children. Her son, Tré isn’t quite two years old yet, so he doesn’t really grasp the significance of the Spider-Man shorts his granny made for him, but 6-year-old Tori is a kick to take to the comic store with us. Ronée usually allows her to pick out a book or two, and she’s definitely developing her own tastes. Teen Titans Go appears to be her favorite, although she’s also picked issues of Scooby Doo, Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories and, to my utter surprise and delight, new reprints of old Classics Illustrated Junior comics like Cinderella and The Wizard of Oz. This is a child who’s going to grow up loving reading, and whether that’s comic books or that kind of book that doesn’t have quite as many pictures, that’s a love that not nearly enough people have in this day and age.

However, now that Ronée is not only reading, but recruiting as well, that makes things doubly dangerous for anyone who crosses our path. Just this past weekend we wrapped the Playhouse’s summer musical, The Fantasticks. During the rehearsal period, I got into a discussion with another cast member, Michael Cato, who had seen Spider-Man 2 and had really enjoyed it. He and I got to talking about comic books and I found out he used to read them, but after a series of moves and a lack of availability, he’d fallen out of the habit.

So I did what any red-blooded comic book fan would do — I directed him to the comic shop we frequent and specifically told him to pop in on July 3 — Free Comic Book Day. And he did. And he seemed to like what he found.

Poor Michael didn’t stand a chance at this point, because once he went to the comic shop and admitted to reading Ronée’s “What a Girl Wants” and my “Everything But Imaginary” columns, the two of us were relentless. She got him buzzing about her columns, she got him to try out one of her favorite titles, Regent St. Claire’s Candyappleblack, and she started to cajole him to join us on our quest to the comic shop sometime. I imagine it’s only a matter of time now.

I know other comic book readers in my life who have tried to pass on the love. My uncle Wally, a freelance artist, has taken his son Norman to FCBD. My uncle Todd reads comics with his son, Ben. My longtime comic geek group — Chase, Jenny and Mike — have spent years trying to get our buddy Jason to pick up some comics. Even when he accompanied us to Free Comic Book Day, he didn’t partake. Then this year, to everyone’s astonishment, he picked up a Joseph Michael Linsner art book. Mostly, we suspect, for the pretty paintings of scantily-clad women, but hey, it’s a start.

If you’re reading this, chances are it’s because you love comic books. And you’re right to do so. Comics have been very good to us over the years — we’ve gotten gems like Astro City, Kingdom Come, Mark Waid’s Fantastic Four and Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. Even bad comics are part of a unique art form, a blending of words and pictures that can tell stories no other medium can achieve. But it’s an art form with a dwindling audience that is misunderstood by the public at large.

So it’s time to give back, folks.

You’ve all got friends and family that have never touched a comic book, or who stopped reading years ago. Lure them in. Figure out what they’d like and make suggestions. Invite them to come to the comic shop with you. Show them this website, the debate, the columns, the reviews.

Show them why comics are cool.

Remember, Uncle Sam wants you. And so does The Shield. And Captain America. And Batman. And The Flash. And…

FAVORITE OF THE WEEK: July 28, 2004

No character in all of comics has had his origin revamped and revised as many times as Superman. From his very first appearance to his very first origin story, to the silver age updates, the John Byrne revamp, the movies, the television shows, even the radio show — every so often his story has been changed, modified to meet the sensibility of the day. That lastest revision concluded in last week’s Superman: Birthright #12, my favorite of the week.

Superman is on the ropes. Lex Luthor has staged a fake Kryptonian invasion of Metropolis. People don’t know if they can trust this guy or not. The whole city is about to be overrun.

Cue the John Williams score.

Mark Waid and Leinil Francis Yu were spot-on perfect with this series. They showed what Superman is about, why he’s important and what he really means. This is the comic to give someone who thinks big blue isn’t cool enough or is too powerful or has some perfect life. This is the book that redefines the greatest hero in comic books. This is the best origin Superman has ever had.

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.

 

19
Jan
11

Classic EBI #73: A Boy and His Monster… Or Robot… Or Teddy… Or a Girl…

In this week’s all-new Everything But Imaginary, I take a look at the current run of “DC Icons” covers that you no doubt have seen in the comic shops, then dive back and look at previous cover “theme months” from the big two. These things can be a lot of fun, when done right.

Everything But Imaginary #383: Cover Stock

In this week’s Classic EBI, we go back to July 28, 2004, when I took a look at an interesting trend in comics for kids… specifically those tales of a child and a big, powerful buddy that we’d all like to have around.

A Boy and His Monster… or Robot… or Teddy… or a Girl…

Whether it is as a reader or a writer, one thing that absolutely fascinates me about fiction is seeing patterns develop. Recurring themes that show up again and again throughout history — different writers, different cultures, different eras, but the same basic idea. The Wizard of Oz, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Alice in Wonderland, the Harry Potter books, Abadazad — what do these all have in common? They’re all about a child (or group of children) being whisked away from a normal, mundane world to a place of magic, fancy and imagination. That sort of thing is my meat.

Another such common theme, and one that has appeared in comic books time and again over the years, is the idea of “a boy and his monster.” Now technically, it doesn’t have to be a boy and it doesn’t have to be a monster for it to fit into the pattern, but the basic idea is of a person — typically young, usually innocent — gaining some sort of incredibly powerful protector, their own personal guardian angel with fangs or transistors. Brad Bird’s brilliant film The Iron Giant is one of my all-time favorite animated features just because it captures that theme so wonderfully.

The idea appeals to children because, let’s face it, there were times in everyone’s life where you felt like the world was crashing down on you, like the bullies would never leave you alone, like the grown-ups would never understand, that you don’t have a friend in the world. These fantasies solved all of those problems — someone who loved you unconditionally, someone who knew your pains, and someone who could stand up and fight for you. That’s why kids love this story, and that’s why it works so often in comic books.

Not so long ago there was a comic that got a very devoted cult following using this very theme — Sean McKeever’s Sentinel. Juston Seyfert, our teenage protagonist, came across a massive robot in his family’s salvage yard. It was one of those giant killer robots that had tried to wipe out mutants in the X-Men titles a while back, but this one somehow became a protector for Juston. I have to admit, I never read this series, although I intend to hunt for the Marvel Age digest editions, just to see what all the fuss was about.

Juston was far from the first comic character to gain one of these protectors, of course. As far back as the Silver Age, DC fans thrilled to the exploits of Stanley and His Monster. Stanley Dover was a typical five-year-old boy, but he had no siblings and no friends to play with, until the day a big, friendly purple monster arrived in his life. Naming the creature Spot, the two of them had many adventures together, even as his parents thought the monster was just their son’s imaginary friend.

This was a fun, silly little title first introduced in 1965 as a simple humor comic, a “kiddie’ book in the true sense of the word, beginning as a back-up feature in Fox and Crow #95 and rapidly taking over the book. It was renamed with issue #109. The kid’s life wasn’t that bad, he was just lonely and he needed a friend, and that’s what he got It wasn’t until years later that the tale of Stanley popped into the real DC Universe. Spot, as it turned out, was actually a demon with no name, cast from Hell for being too nice, and Stanley’s grandfather was a serial killer hoping to gain control of the beast by repeating the ritual that had caused Morpheus, the Sandman, to be trapped on Earth for decades. Grampa’s plot was conveniently foiled by Green Arrow during Kevin Smith’s “Quiver” storyline in 2001, and since gramps was too dangerous to let simply run around, the monster ate him. If that ain’t kid-power to the extreme, I don’t know what is.

On a more lighthearted note, thanks to our own Craig Reade, I recently discovered Herobear and the Kid by Mike Kunkel. I fell in love with this book in about half an instant. The idea is simple, and fits into this pattern perfectly — Tyler’s grandfather has just died. His parents inherited the kindly old man’s huge home and they’re moving in — meaning he has to cope with the loss of his grandfather and moving to a new school, trying to make new friends, getting picked on by bullies and getting frustrated by his little sister. What’s more, the only thing he inherited from his grandfather was an old, white teddy bear and a broken pocketwatch, neither of which come in particularly handy when the schoolyard jerks are pounding him into the sandbox.

This is where the book takes its turn into pure magic — the teddy bear comes to life and turns into a ten-foot-tall polar bear with a bright red cape — Herobear. This feeds into that classic kid fantasy perfectly. A protector, a friend, and more than that, a superhero that wants to take you on adventures with him. Even more than that, Kunkel has a beautiful art style — he doesn’t erase his early pencil lines, giving the whole comic book a look that feels like you’re reading the storyboard for a movie. And if there’s nobody thinking of making a movie out of this comic yet, than there is no hope left for Hollywood.

What’s even better is the ultimate origin of Herobear, the truth about where he came from. It’s a neat little twist that is more magical than anything else.

Gail Simone tried a little twist on this theme last year with her Gus Beezer stories. In a series of four one-shots, she introduced us to a young boy who lived in the Marvel Universe and loved the Marvel superheroes. Gus faces the same challenges kids like Stanley and Tyler did, but he never had his own “monster,” strictly speaking. Instead, he encountered heroes like Spider-Man, the X-Men and the Hulk, all of whom got a chance to fill that role. He was even made an honorary X-Man by Wolverine and got to hang out with his cousin Peter Parker. I loved these charming little books, and as good as Simone’s work on Birds of Prey and Legion is shaping up to be, I hope that once her DC exclusive contract runs out she finds time to go back to Gus.

The last book I’m going to talk about here, while strictly adhering to the basic format, is probably farthest from the others in spirit. Most “boy and his monster” stories are about the child learning and growing because of his protector’s presence, but DC Comics’ The Monolith is as much about change for the monster. Written by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti, this story is about Alice Cohen, a young woman who inherits her grandmother’s house with a few conditions — she get a job, she not sell the house, and she gets cleaned up from the drugs she’s been on. (This, clearly, is not a version of the story for children.)

In her grandmother’s home, however, Alice finds a Golem trapped in the basement. This legendary creature from Hebrew myth was created decades ago by her grandmother and others out of clay and given life with the blood of a man she had loved. The creature was supposed to be a protector, but had no sense of proportion, meting out brutal punishments for even the mildest of offenses. When Alice had to free the creature to save her life, she couldn’t get it back in, and now she finds herself trying to teach it about the world, and learning to become a hero herself in the process.

I really dig this title — it’s a new take on a classic theme, which is what most of the best fiction is these days — and because of its very nature it doesn’t flinch from ideas of faith. This is that classic “best book you’re not reading.” If you’re still smarting from Sentinel’s cancellation, you really should check this comic out.

Myth is a powerful thing, and I love to take the time to see how the same myth can be retold again and again. I’m sure there are plenty of “boy and his monster” stories out there that I’ve missed. And I’m sure you’ll let me know about them. And I’m sure you’ll yell at me because I haven’t read Sentinel yet.

But in the end, if a story can get someone talking, that’s a story that has done its job.

FAVORITE OF THE WEEK: July 21, 2004

As much as I enjoy the Devil’s Due Comics G.I. Joe series, it is rare for an issue to simply blow me away. Issue #32 did. With Destro in custody, Cobra Commander planned a daring raid to spring him and deliver him into his own “tender mercies.” One of the great things about the G.I. Joe comic (as opposed to the TV show) is that, once you put the superheroish action movie qualities aside, it’s pretty realistic compared to most comics. Actions have consequences. Things change. And people die suddenly, and without warning. My jaw was on the floor at the end of this issue. Well done. Brandon Jerwa. Keep writing ‘em like this.

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.




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