Saturday, April 19, 2014

Golden Age Gold: Captain America, Nedor and Earth 2

I have three topics I want to cover today, and as it so happens, they sort of cover recent news events pertaining to superheroes originally created during the Golden Age.

Cap vs Bats?

Reporter Mark Hughes on Forbes has an interesting article about the financial success of Captain America:2 and how that will impact the upcoming (2016) movie showdown between Captain America 3 and Superman vs Batman when both movies are scheduled to release on the same day. The author makes the case that invariably that one of the studios will end up moving their movie to a different day.

I've heard several fans say that a same day showing would not be a big deal and both films would do equally well because people would just go see both (a proposition I would say is logistically problematic for most people as there are only so many days in a weekend. The very reason we have the term "Movie Night" is because people usually reserve one night out of the weekend to go see movies.

While it is possible some people might go see two movies in a weekend, I think it's a stretch to think everyone will. Also, there are only a set number of RPX/IMAX movie theaters. Those screens will have to make a choice between one of the films. With CA:2 doing so well financially and CA: 3 rolling off of Avengers 2, I suspect Captain America 3 will be the more appealing choice (especially if CA 3 includes other heroes in it as Winter Soldier did.)

Nadir or Nedor?

I saw that Warren Ellis is going to be writing a series revamping the Super Powers Project line of comics for Dynamite Entertainment.

For those of you not familiar with the Super Powers Project, it's a series by Dynamite where they've taken many of the more popular Nedor/Standard Public Domain Superheroes and brought them into the modern age. The series has its fans, though I know from previous posts on the comics, that there are quite a number of Golden Age fans who dislike the more modern take on the characters.

I suspect Ellis' revamp will not be to their tastes either. I say that because a lot of Public Domain fans see the characters as "theirs" and no matter what another writer does with the Golden Age Daredevil or The Black Terror, it's not how THEY would do it.

As for me, I'll be interested to see what he does. About half the time I really like Ellis work. This might be a case where I like it. Then again, we might see a more phoned in junk like his Avengers: Endless War.

For those of you new to this blog who are interested in some of the original golden age comics featuring these characters, here's two samples of America's Best Comics to download in rar and zip format. (If you need a reader for this format, click here.)

America's Best Comics1.rar

America's Best Comics

A Weekly Earth 2 Comic

This Summer promises to be a big one for DC with 3 Weekly comics running at the same time. The first one has already started (Batman: Eternal) with Future's End coming out next. The latest one announced appears to be one featuring the new Earth 2 characters.
I haven't been a fan of the Earth 2 series even though I had high hopes for it when it started (as it was originally helmed by James Robinson, whose work I usually like.) Still, the weekly format is one that really appeals to me as the stories can avoid the usual month long refridgerator moment that plagues a lot of monthly super hero comics.

I sort of wish that instead of this sort of bunch of off brand DC superheroes that comprises the current Earth 2, that we were instead getting a genuine weekly featuring the original All Star Society in a real period piece by someone like Darwyn Cooke.

...but that's probably me just dreaming. I don't know that current comic fandom would embrace such a series.

- Jim

Monday, April 14, 2014

Marvel's ORIGINAL Original Sins

So the latest event/multi-comic crossover from Marvel is called Original Sins written by Jason Aaron. This event involves the death (surprise!) of the Watcher.

As I understand it, the series will also reveal dark secrets from various heroes pasts, so if your the type of fan who finds such tabloid like retconning disconcerting (or cliched) then I suspect you won't have much interest in this mini-series.

The premise of a mystery that reveals a tenebrous side of the Marvel universe reminded me of another mini-series written by Dan Abnett and draqwn by Igor Kordey in 1998 called Conspiracy:

 In this series, a reporter stumbles across a cold war conspiracy among several key figures in the Marvel Universe (Howard Stark, Bolivar Trask, General Haywerth, Thunderbolt Ross, Edward Harrison) to arrange circumstances that will end in the creation of American superheroes.

Inspired by a blend of X-files and Marvels, the series rewarded fans by connecting the dots between several significant Silver Age Marvel events in a way that felt respectful to the source material. A fantastic review of the series can be found at The Comics Cube.

I think the key with a series like this is that you suggest connections to the readers but still allow wiggle room for there to be other answers. That way you don't devalue their (precious!) knowledge of continuity.

And I think that's where Original Sins is going to fail. While I doubt there will be anything that subverts continuity in the way that Conspiracy did, be on the lookout for grand scale icon tarnishing. And while it might seem a bit fannish for me to say that's a flaw, here's the problem. If you show a character who has been always portrayed as making the heroic decision for decades making a real line crossing call early in their career, how is that supposed to work exactly? Were there no ramifications in the character's personality or attitude after said dark decision? You've sort of just underlined the unreal-ism of the entire genre by doing that haven't you?

It would be like having a Conan story where the barbarian meets a young son who is the result of celebratory night with some wild wench and then showing Conan all torn up about the act of bringing a boy into the world without a father to guide him.

How do you then turn around and tell business as usual Conan stories after that?

I'll be interested to see how Original Sins turns out.

- Jim

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The State of Captain America comics

As I eagerly await viewing the Captain America Winter Soldier movie today (in America), I have been pondering that state of Captain America in the comics now. Cap's star in the comics has definitely risen over the years. In the Bronze Age, he was at best a B-list hero with some occasional moments of greatness (the Englehart and Byrne eras were particularly good)

but during the 80's and 90's the character sort of languished.

But now, Cap is definitely a A-lister. In part due to the fantastic run Ed Brubaker had on the series but mostly because of his prominence in the movies. So, how are Captain America comics now? To answer that question, I thought would sample some of the current stories to see.

First up Captain America 16 (the main title) vol 7 by Rick Remender and Pascal Alixe

It might seem a bit unfair to use the 16th issue of Remender's run for this sampling, but as it was marked as a #1 in the Marvel Now banner, I figured it would make for a good example, because the purpose of such issues is to give new readers a place to jump on, right?

Well, the first thing you'll notice about this book is Captain America is pretty much absent from the entire issue. Instead, Remender focuses on a character of his own creation, Jet Black, the daughter of Arnim Zola, who is a remnant of the Dimension Z storyline that many readers found off putting. And I must admit, while I was a fan of the Dimension Z storyline, I will agree it seemed to run a bit long. When it finally ended, I dropped the series. So, seeing that the issue was basically a Jet Black solo story really put me off. One, because this felt like a wasted opportunity to get the people who were unhappy with the Dimension Z storyline back on board (and the sale figures make it look like that's a good 20K of people) and two, because Jet Black runs around in one of those costumes that seems like it was created during the worst of the 90's comics era when super heroines were all running around in thongs.

There is even a point when one of the characters in the story calls her out on her costume which I guess is Remender's attempt to pacify criticism, but all it really does is make it more awkward. Outside of that, the art isn't so bad. While Alixe doesn't always make the best composition choices for his panels (like the 3rd water tower panel above) his illustrative skills are quite good.

The story itself is a setup for another multi-issue storyline which introduces an agent of a cabal called the Iron Nail called Tsar Sultan (which I think is a lazy name...) In an attempt to get Black to join the Iron Nail, Sultan causes Jett Black to confront visions of her father and the Red Skull who question her new found allegiance to Captain America.

Overall, this is a pretty disappointing introductory issue, so I give it one star.

Next Up, All New Invaders 1 by James Robinson and Steve Pugh

 My love of the Invaders is well documented on this blog, and over the recent years, I've watched Marvel revisit the title, usually with dismaying results.

But as he's proven in the past, James Robinson has a great knack for breathing new life into Golden Age characters. I see a lot of fans say it's because he respects the source material (which I'm sure is true) but mostly I think Robinson prefers to write stories where characters grapple with remorse, regret and familial obligation and those are themes easily applied to Golden Age characters. Also since such stories carry more gravitas than your average "Can we trust Magneto!" comic, when does Robinson engage in fan service, it feels more substantive and noteworthy.

After a two page prologue with Kree fighting an Imperial Guardsman in the desert, Robinson reintroduces readers to Jim Hammond, The Original Human Torch, who is now working as an auto mechanic in a small town in Illinois. This gives us a vista that is  physically removed from the normal New York Marvel universe and echoes the folksy tone of the book.

Of course, it's not long before the Kree we saw in the prologue show up looking for an artifact that was used by the Nazis in World War II. In explaining what they are looking for, the Kree give us a nice flashback with the Invaders and a few surprise guests:

At the cost of revealing his true identity and alienating his friends in the town, the Torch fights back against the Kree. Outnumbered and overpowered, the Kree seem unstoppable until the end when  Captain America and Bucky show up to join the fight.

It's a pretty standard beginning to a superhero story but where it shines is in the dialogue. Unlike many other Marvel writers who are write dialogue that makes their heroes sound like Starbucks baristas, Robinson's characters have a voice that sounds fitting.  The art for this series is from British illustrator Steve Pugh, whose has been around since 1990 is probably best known for his work on Hellblazer and Animal Man. He doesn't have a lot of experience drawing your standard superhero fight comic which makes for some weird choices during the battle scenes:

On the flip-side his faces are more expressive than you typically see in Marvel comics today which compliments Robinson's dialogue skills.

 I was pretty satisfied with this comic and will continue buying the rest of the (mini?) series. I give it 4 stars.

The last entry in this post is the most disappointing.

Avengers Endless War OGN by Warren Ellis and Mike McKone

Warren Ellis is one of those writers who can sometimes turn in great work with some very creative ideas. I've been a fan of work at times (Doom 2099, The Authority, Planetary, Transmetropolitan, Hellblazer, Thunderbolts) as well as a detractor (Ultimate FF, Iron Man, Secret Avengers) His work is a real mixed bag of good and bad (imo) with the bulk of his good stuff being his personal projects or superhero work from early in his career. He's made statements that suggest he doesn't have the same level of personal appreciation for superhero comics that someone like Grant Morrison has. And I suspect his apathy to the genre has only gotten worse over time. As a result, some of his worst work for the big two has a phoned in feel to it. Still, knowing all that, I sort of expected this maiden launch of Marvel's OGN line to be one of those places where Ellis might shine again.

Instead, this ended up being 120 pages of what felt like a movie tie-in. With a price tag of $20 (for the digital version) that works out to be cheaper (per page) than most current Marvel comics, but a LOT of this book feels like padding. For one thing, there are 35 pages of scenes where the Avengers are just standing around and talking, like this:

And quite a number of panels everywhere where nothing is weird mini-pinups

I almost get the feeling that this was supposed to be a Annual or Giant-size comic (60 pages?) and at the last minute the project was increased to become this longer OGN.

Looking at those pages above, you may notice, as other fans have, that there is a certain stiffness to the illustrations. While I didn't find it as off putting as a lot of other people, it is a little curious. I don't think I remember Mike McKone drawing like that in the past. I think it's a result of extra pages being rushed out. Compare the face of this girl in the first scene of the comic:

With this scene with Steve Rogers

I'm also a bit confused by who was the target audience for this comic. On first glance I figured it was the fans of the Avengers movie since the costumes and lineup (the Hulk is included here) seem to fall in line with the movie. But they do weird things like color Hawkeye's hair blonde and give Iron Man gold and grey (?) armor and add Ms. Marvel to the mix that, again, makes me think somewhere, this was originally going to be set in the regular Marvel universe.

Whatever the audience, this book will probably not entertain them. And it seems the ratings on Amazon back this up. I've seen quite a number of people refer to this as Endless Snoretime and I think that's about right. I give it 1 star.

I'm going to wrap it up here. To those of you going to the movie this weekend, let me know what you think of it!

- Jim

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Return of NorthStars

About this time last year, I mentioned that I was working on a new Project called NorthStars. This was going to be an all ages comic inspired by the Carl Barks Disney stories, Asterix and Obelix and the classic Rankin Bass animations from the 60's.

Unfortunately, the artist I was working with (Laurianne Uy) withdrew from the project so that she could  concentrate on her own manga series. (I also believe she found drawing Pierre's character The Artifact a bit daunting.)

Since this put the comic on hold, I used the time to retool the project a bit. I ditched Artifact (for now) and decided to add another character called Frostina, the daughter of  The Yeti, another Flashback Universe character. Here is the new character as designed and illustrated by our new artist Anna Liisa Jones

Anna Liisa also redesigned the primary character of the story, Holly Claus

Because I've replaced Artifact with Frostina, this makes my two primary characters female. While that was sort of a happy accident, the more I thought about having a comic where the central characters were both girls, the more I liked the idea. I may be wrong, but I don't think there are a lot of comics with female characters which really appeal to girls (especially as published by the Big Two companies.) There are comics which feature female characters, but most often those still feel like comics written for male comic book fans.

At their best they are homogenized superhero stories with a female character in form only (like Spider-girl or Supergirl)

At worst they are embarrassing adolescent fodder filled with little more than crude action scenes and clumsy titillation. 

Sometimes FBU scribe Trey Causey asked me this week why the big two don't really seem to target the female audience better (especially when movies like the Hunger Games and Young Adult fiction are proving what a lucrative market that is.) After a bit of wrangling over the subject we both decided that the primary reason is that the people writing for (and editing) DC and Marvel are mostly guys who are not really that interested in writing anything but comics similar to the ones they've read. Trey said (and I think he's right) comics are one of the few places where the people who run the companies are overwhelmingly drawn (hired) from fans.

And even when the companies try to start a imprint aimed at attracting more female readers, they still sort of get it wrong (as was the case with DC's Minx imprint.)

So is NorthStars a deliberate attempt to target girl readers?
Nope. It's more of an attempt to scratch a nostalgic milieu based itch for me.

Still, when I explained the concept to Anna Liisa, she said she love the old Donald Duck stories and was looking forward to being a part of the project. And based on conversations I've had with other female fans I've met recently, I wouldn't be surprised if girls enjoyed NorthStars more than your average Catwoman comic.

- Jim

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Download Maskarado Adventures for Free

Today we have a new Free Comic ready for download courtesy of longtime friend of the FBU Jan "Reno" Maniquis. Some of you may be familiar with Reno's work from seeing it here on our Lost 100 Pagers series, but you may not be aware that besides being a fan of classic comics, Reno is also an established comic professional with an impressive list of industry work. Today's comic is an original creation written and drawn by Reno featuring a character called Maskarado.

[ Download Maskarado Here ]

Here's Reno's overview of the character:
Maskarado's powers were bequeathed to him by a benevolent alien (kind of like Green Lantern), which comes from the mask he wears. He can fly, has super strength (around Spider-Man level) and is an excellent hand-to-hand combatant.

The current Maskarado is actually the second one, selected after the first one retired to raise a family. The first Maskarado's adventures (he was a cop) were published in 1992 in comic strip form for a local daily newspaper, Tempo. It ran for 170 issues. I resurrected it as an independent comic around 2000 or thereabouts, passing on the mask and the torch to a much younger guy named Raymond Pacheco (a creative director in an advertising agency). He's been Maskarado ever since.

The ad at the end of the book is for the collected edition (in English!) of the first four issues of the independent comic, which can be purchased at, a Filipino digital book distributor, although anyone around the world can purchase books there. It retails at their site for around $4 (give or take) so it's not a bad deal. :)
I agree. 4 issues for $4 is not a bad deal at all!

Thank you for the free preview issue Reno!

- Jim

Friday, March 14, 2014

Can you live in a world without Nightwing?

Today's post has a bit of a spoiler to Forever Evil 6 (I guess...) so if that bothers you, don't read any further.

If, however, you aren't concern about the death of a truly major character that will never, ever be undone, read on!!!

Several years ago, when Countdown to Infinite Crisis was announced, one of the teasers was that there would be a death of a DC hero, but we didn't know which one. At the time, the rumor was it would be Nightwing as Dan Didio seems to dislike the character.

And now, it seems that Didio is getting his wish as Nightwing is apparently killed in Forever Evil 6 when, in an attempt to disarm a bomb, Lex Luthor supposedly kills Nightwing. (Though even in the very same comic, the writer seems to indicate that's not entirely what happened.)

Now, if you are reader of this blog, you've heard me rant about the empty threat of a death in comics before, but in seeing this most recent example, I wonder: Would the readers really miss Nightwing? I know there are Nightwing fans who would (FBU writer Caine is a big Nightwing fan for instance) but outside of them who else would miss him? Currently, the Batman family contains a Robin, a son of Batman, two former Robins, A Batgirl, A Batwoman and Talon (who is sort of this years Azrael )

I've always wondered: What stories are being told in Nightwing that couldn't be told in any other Batman title? The few times I've read the title, the stories have always struck me as a bit pedestrian and unambitious. I suspect that's because, due to his ties to the Batman universe, writers are discouraged from doing anything daring with the character (because you never know when the next Batman event is on the way.) It would be a bit like if Daredevil was shackled to the Spider-man storyverse.

Now, I don't want to give the impression that I think Nightwing should be discontinued in any way (either by cancellation or death). I'm just curious if his passing would really mean much today. Or is he, as I suspect, simply an outdated construct Marv Wolfman and George Perez designed to satisfy some creative impetus during the 80's Teen Titans heyday which doesn't really exist today?

- Jim

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Secret Origin of Star Trek?

I recently started watching an old black and white television series called Riverboat on DVD a western series starring Darren McGavin and Burt Reynolds set on a steamboat during the 1860's. Upon watching a few episodes, I was struck by a number of similarities between Riverboat and another favorite show of mine, Star Trek.

Remembering that Gene Roddenberry worked as a western writer for several years prior to producing Star Trek, I wondered if there was a direct connection between the two shows. Was this the show that gave Roddenberry the inspiration for Star Trek? I did some research and was surprised by what I found.

Mild Similarities

  • They featured a ship’s Captain as the leading role
  • Both had a hard drinking chief engineer among the cast
  • Both had a Scotsman as a featured crew member
  • On both shows, the crew of the ship is armed
  • Both shows featured appearances by Abraham Lincoln

Similar Episodes

There is a whip fight between Captain Kirk and a tall villain in Gamesters of Triskelion is similar to the whip fight between Riverboat's Captain Holden and a tall villain in Duel on the River. In both episodes the captain nearly strangles the villain.

The Star Trek episode Miri echoes the Riverboat episode 3 Graves. In both episodes a doctor works to determine the cause of a plague which has rendered an area deserted.

The infamous space hippies episode of ST Way to Eden is reminiscent of the Riverboat episode Guns for Empire as in both episodes a group of people are searching for a utopian society.

The ST episode Conscience of the King is similar to Riverboat's Trunk Full of Dreams as both feature a father/daughter acting troupe. In both episodes the father plays the role of MacBeth.

The last episode of Riverboat, Listen to the Nightingale, featured both Jeanne Bal and DeForest Kelley.

The 1st episode of ST, The Man Trap, was a story featuring the same pairing of Bal and Kelley.

Possible Direct Links

In both shows the ship that the crew travels on is called the Enterprise

A number of people worked on both shows including:
  • Writer Gene L. Coon
  • Actor Composer Alexander Courage
  • Producer Fred Frieberger
  • Composer Gerald Fried 
  • Elmer Bernstein, who composed the score for Riverboat, also scored 4 episodes of Star Trek
  •  Wouldn't DeForest Kelley have mentioned the similarity between the two shows during the initial production stages of the show? (especially the name of the ship.)
Now while all of this is an impressive amount of circumstantial evidence suggesting a link between the two shows, I was unable to find a real smoking gun. That is to say, Gene Roddenberry never mentioned Riverboat as an inspiration for Trek in any interview that I was able to find. He has gone on record several times as saying that he initially pitched Star Trek as a sort of Wagon Train in space. That strikes me as odd because a wagon train suggests that there would be more than one ship with some of the ships possibly having families on them. That's not Star Trek at all. That description actually suits Battlestar Galactica better. So why would Roddenberry refer to Wagon Train when it not only didn't accurately describe his concept but might even cause some confusion?

Here's what I think happened: It seems likely that Roddenberry who was pitching scripts to various westerns at the time would have at least heard about Riverboat, either on his own or through other writers at a local watering hole. I suspect he was taken with the idea of an ensemble show set on a ship and filed it away in the back of his mind. Later when it came time to pitch Trek, he realized that using Riverboat in space wasn't very good because Riverboat was a bit of a failure. (It  only lasted two seasons, and never scored very high in the ratings.) Instead he used Wagon Train as his hooky reference when pitching Trek. As time went on and Trek became its own creation, he forgot Riverboat altogether.

One final coincidence (after the fact) - Based on references in the show, a small town in Iowa has declared itself the official birth place of Captain James T. Kirk (with Roddenberry's blessing.)

The name of that town is: Riverside.

- Jim


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