Wednesday, June 29, 2011

What Kills a Hero: Duela Dent

Editor’s Note: Today Clayton picks up from part one of What Kills a Hero to bring some more ways he thinks characters can truly die.

Perhaps the fastest way a hero can shuffle off this mortal spinner rack is when a new writer comes in and wastes the characters potential. Nothing can destroy an interesting character faster than apathetic and/or unimaginative writers who fail to pick up the torch handed off to them by the original creator.

An example of this syndrome is one of my favorite character's from the Bronze Age, the Joker's Daughter from DC Comics.

Created by Bob Rozakis during his Bronze Age run on Batman Family and Teen Titans, she was a fun character who claimed to be the daughter of the Joker, but was actually the daughter of Two-Face. Wanting to atone for her father’s crimes, she eventually took on the name Harlequin and joined the Teen Titans using an assortment of Joker inspired gadgets.

When Rozakis left DC, she was mothballed. And if that had been that, all would have been fine, but as other writers brought her back, her origin and personality would become more confused with each appearance. Her Post-Crisis appearances cast her as a middle aged mental patient who may or may not be suffering from schizophrenia. Each new appearance only served to diminish the original potential of the character. Eventually, she was (mercifully) killed in the pages of Countdown.

And while many people may think she didn't have much potential to begin with, I would ask them to examine the popularity of another Batman family femme fatale:

Harley Quinn is spiritually the twin of the Joker’s Daughter. True she is played for more sex appeal, but the Karl Kesel/Terry Dodson Harley Quinn series portrayed her in a way that echoed Duela Dent’s lighthearted first appearances. And I’m not the only one who believes that. Bob Rozakis has said this about the way the Joker’s Daughter has been written since he left DC:

I got a laugh out of it when I first saw it, but I thought they wasted the character. I realize that Marv and company didn't want her around anymore and felt they had to explain her away because of continuity, but they could have just as easily ignored her. Actually, I consider Harley Quinn to be a reincarnation of Duela

Recently, with the DC Relaunch of the Teen Titans, Duela Dent was mentioned as one of the characters DC was considering as a member of the re-imagined Titans team. For whatever reason, they decided against this. Perhaps this is for the best. Judging by the way DC has treated each new incarnation, I don’t know if I would want to see how they botch it again. :D

- Clayton

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Art of Gene Colan

Friday saw the passing of one of the great comic artists, Gene Colan. I remember the first time I encountered his art in the pages of Eddie Young's Daredevil when I was just 7 years old. Eddie wanted to trade his issues of Daredevil for some issues of Avengers I had. At the time, I wasn't really familiar with Daredevil, but I agreed to the trade because at 7, you don't have a lot of options for getting new comics. The issue he gave me was of Daredevil with Man-bull in it.
This was my first exposure to the Colan's art, and the style really threw me for a curve. Up till then, I was under the impression that comics were supposed to look a little exaggerated (like Jack Kirby) or be newspaper strip clean (like Curt Swan). Colan's world of scowling faces, tensed muscles and expansive shadows struck me as a bit out of sync.

As I encountered his art in other comics, I came to realize that Colon was someone who could draw a great Tony Stark, Mandarin or Sub Mariner, but bright shiny superhero suits weren't really his forte.

And while there's no denying his fabulous run on Daredevil, what Colan was best suited for (IMO) was dramatic supernatural tales, which is probably why he clicked so well on Tomb of Dracula and Dr. Strange.

or Night Force

All in all, it makes me wish we had seen Colan on more titles like these during this era (as opposed to Wonder Woman). 

Here are some I think he would have been great on:
  • Man-Thing (where he could have worked with Howard the Duck cohort, Steve Gerber)
  • Swamp Thing
  • Phantom Stranger
  • Morbius
  • Ghost Rider
  • The Demon
  • Black Orchid

And while we'll never get to see what his versions of such stories might have been like, I'm thankful for the great work he did bring us.

- Jim

Friday, June 24, 2011

What Kills A Hero?

Editor’s Note: Today we have another post from Clayton. This one is on Death in Comics, and as you might imagine, it’s a hard topic to talk about without discussing a few spoilers. Now with so many deaths and resurrections in comics, I’m not sure that it’s possible to spoiler such an event, but just in case that sort of thing bothers you, feel free to skip today’s post. - Jim

If you have a favorite comic message board, you’ve no doubt seen at least one thread about the overuse of death of characters to goose sales. Currently, Ultimate Spider-man is sparking this debate several places. This begs the question: what prompts a company to kill characters so much in this day and age?

True, there is the poor sales angle. If a character is deemed by the powers that be as an unsellable commodity, the logical thing to do is either ignore the character (The Scarlet Spider comes to mind), or to kill them off in one of those “special events” as then the character can become a number in the body count total ( like Pantha in Infinite Crisis, or the Wasp in Civil War).

Others may be killed off for “shock value” or to kick off a certain storyline (like the Ted Kord Blue Beetle from DC, or the Scott Lang Ant Man from Marvel). Originally, this death worked well as a plot device in comic (like when DC killed off the original Mr. Terrific back in JLA 171, the death of Gwen Stacy), but in today's market, the only reaction it gets is a bored yawn. It is just an overused ploy that doesn’t seem to boost either sales or interest anymore. More often than not, the death is now accompanied by some grisly show of violence, like the death of Ares at the hands of the Sentry in Marvel's Siege.

But heroes return from fictional death all the time, so we can take some solace in the idea that in comics death isn’t permanent. But does that really mean a hero can’t be killed? Can other things kill a character? I have seen many heroes and villains die long before their “comic book death.” Most of them have fallen prey to wasted potential or bad editorial decisions.

Next week, Jim and I will examine a few examples where characters have truly been killed.

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Manhunter Redux

Sometimes publishers put out collections which, IMO, are a bit substandard or lacking. In a few cases these collections are republished in a more deserving format (like the new Great Darkness Saga or the Squadron Supreme Omnibus) . I'd like to suggest another candidate I think should be recollected.

Back in 1989 DC published a collection of many of the comics Walter Simonson worked on in the Bronze Age. It was a trade paperback that looked like this.

Now the good news is this collection contained some rare gems which many of you fans of the Bronze Age may not be familiar with. Among my favorites from Simonson from this era are his Metal Men stories.

Some issues of Hercules Unbound 

And Dr. Fate

What this 1989 Collection is missing is all of Simonson's Manhunter stories. (These were collected in thin standalone trade.)

I’ve often thought that the Simonson/Goodwin Manhunter as one of those defining moments in comics, much like Watchmen, only to a lesser degree. The ripples in the pond are harder to define and more spread out. Here are a few of the innovative things the series did during its limited run in 1973…
  • First character to have  a healing ability
  • Popularized the use of ancient Oriental weapons
  • First use of clones as adversaries in a comic
  • First Hero to die in a series
Just as Watchmen opened a dystopic door which would let in an entire dark age, Manhunter introduced readers to the elements of postmodernism. Starting in the first story with its metafictional homage to The Spirit, we meet a hero who spends much of his time literally killing himself until the final chapter wherein he destroys his foe with a sacrificial final thought. It’s a rather bleak denouement but we will see similar endings in comics from this point on. (like Starlin's Warlock).

In many ways, Manhunter with its definite beginning and end was sort of an embryonic graphic novel. So the fact that it is not collected in a hardcover edition of strikes me as a bit of an injustice So allow me to present my suggestion for a NEW Simonson collection.

A hardcover with all of the original stories from the 1989 collection PLUS the Manhunter run collected.

Get cracking on it DC! ;)

Monday, June 20, 2011

No Green in the Ring?

This weekend, I saw the Green Lantern movie with a few friends, and as luck would have it, so did Pierre. We all agreed that as movies about superheroes go, Green Lantern was better than expected and overall very enjoyable. It should go a long way towards restoring fans faith in DC/Time Warner's ability to make big budget comic book movies that don't star Batman.

If they actually decide to make any more. And yeah, I know the before the credits scene sets us up for a sequel but I wouldn't go clicking on Fandango just yet. Let me explain...

The first weekend box office tally is looking to be in the neighborhood of $52 million. Below both Thor AND X-men First Class (which performed the worst of any of the X-men movies in its own first weekend.) Rumored budget, including marketing, for GL was $300 million, of which $150 was just production cost alone. That Green Lantern failed to outperform either of those movies is going to chaff someone's butt at Time Warner. However, the sad reality is that all of those movies did worse than Bryan Singer's X-men movie when you adjust for inflation. And Singer's movie didn't have the benefit of overpriced 3D tickets to help boost box office numbers.

And there's the rub. If Green Lantern had come out in 2001, after the first X-men movie and prior to Sam Raimi's Spider-man, then there would be partying in the streets on Time Warner Drive. As it is, I suppose there will be some mumbling about performing to expectations followed by a lightning round of finger pointing. I suspect the early loser will be the Marketing department with later blame placed on the film itself.

Is that fair? I don't really think so. As one of my friends said after the movie; he's sad that he now lives in a world where we know and (to a degree) care about the box office numbers of movies. It taints a movie in a way that causes audiences to steer away from what would otherwise be an enjoyable experience. One wonders if Americans had grown up with the knowledge that the Wizard of Oz was a box office failure, would it be the cultural icon it is today? Waterworld says no.

Bottom line, this doesn't bode well for future DC movies and definitely scotches my plans to make a Diamond Jack movie. ;)

Speaking of Diamond Jack, enjoy his first appearance here in the pages of Slam Bang Comics 1 from Fawcett.

Have a great day!
- Jim

Friday, June 17, 2011

Who Is the Greatest Hero?

Editor's Note: Today I have a guest post by contributor Paul Entrekin which I think you will find appropriate in light of a certain movie that is opening today. ;)

Thousands of years ago there were heroes. Indeed, there were Superheroes. From Agamemnon to Hercules and Thor, beings with powers far beyond the norm took bold, drastic action on behalf of mere humans to stop evil, right wrongs or just eliminate some menace to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Some seventy years ago, due to a desire to keep idle printing presses running and make a bit of additional income, superheroes were once again re-envisioned, and tread across the pages of illustrated text we have come to know as Comic Books.
Like many who stumble on this media at an early age, whether by chance or choice, I first came to be infatuated with the first and “greatest” hero, Superman. It wasn’t that the stories were that good, in fact, they seemed ridiculous even to my ten year old mind. No, it was the myth. Who he was and how he came to be was just so tragic and cool! Then the reasons why he did the things he did, the way he did them, were just so noble and yet so necessary from a human point of view. He performed good deeds because it was the right thing to do, he passed on actual punishment to the legal system so that people would not fear him, mistrust him, or resent his vast superiority.

The concept of a part time secret identity seemed necessary for peace of mind and sheer sanity. I think even then there was some appreciation of the extreme empowerment of the individual in a world where it seemed that the power of the individual was greatly diminished by governments and large corporations.

At some point I became more interested in Batman, probably because he was at least remotely possible from the standpoint of reality. His non-super vulnerability made him more attractive. I could possibly actually become Batman. (Of course, I wasn’t rich and probably not willing to devote so much energy into the necessary training)

Then I stumbled upon MARVEL comics, and finally, the stories were much, much better. The heroes were more complex and human. They had doubts, could get freaked out, and could just as easily make a mistake as pull off a winning move. This was some good reading!

After years, decades of considering myself to be firmly in the Marvel camp, I came to realize that one character had become more appealing to me than any other, and surprise, it was a DC character! Green Lantern. Even considering the dopey, obvious ploy to weaken a character who wields limitless power, namely a weakness to the color yellow and the ridiculous lantern concept itself, he was still the most incredibly great concept to come down the chute.

The new 60’s version was based on incredibly ancient science. The ring was a computer so sophisticated and compact, that it could literally create anything one could imagine! It could create any form of matter or energy, answer any question that could possibly be known through its billion year old and millions of cultures database (including every source of data on Earth!) His was not just a powerful weapon, but a device that could provide knowledge and create any needed material instantly on a galactic scale. Man become God!

Too bad DC felt they had to “dumb down” most of their ultra-powerful heroes. They seem to feel that no one should be shown to have that much power, or that they can’t build a story with any challenge to it for such heroes. I say that there is always a way to make an interesting tale, you just have to find the right angle. Sometimes just finding the “villan” or cause of an event can be challenging. Perhaps figuring out what to do is not so obvious. Indeed, it seems the stories I have enjoyed most are the ones where the hero figures out some ingenious way to beat the bad guy. Then there are the internal struggles. Hal Jordan had to constantly remember that he is just a mere man after all, and that even though he could have anything he desired instantly, he understood the fundamentally most important thing, that absolute power does not bring happiness.

All he really wanted was to have friends, love, and a place to come home to. Denny O’Neil got close to this mainly missed truth about the character, and created some of the most memorable stories ever to take comic form. If only DC had understood this, we would have had some of the greatest stories ever, constantly.

But for me, to answer the original question, I stick with Green Lantern. The ability to create as well as destroy makes him far more interesting to me. Perhaps one day DC will realize just how great that fact is and use it instead of ignoring it completely, or injecting ridiculous ideas like having it cause him pain to use the ring. There is a much greater story here. If only it were told.

Hope you enjoy the movie!

- Paul

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

My Wishes Come True

During the months I was on break, a number of things happened that I thought were interesting.
One was that several of my suggestions for Collected Classics Wishlists have become true.
This will of course only encourage me to make more such mockups.

The Thing Liberty Legion Premier Classic I asked forwill soon be available. Thing: Liberty Legion on Amazon

Interesting thing about this one. When it was first announced, the mockup cover that was being used for the announcement on various websites looked amazingly similary to my mockup cover. That has changed, but I heard the gold color is still going to be used.

Another one I'm looking forward to is one I first mentioned back in November, albeit, it was a tag along wish on my Darkoth post, but still it's nice to see the Fantastic Four: The World's Greatest Comic Magazine coming out on Amazon soon.

Finally, I was a bit surprised to see DC caving in to our demands for a collection of the Deluxe Comics adventures of the Thunder Agents. The T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents Archives Vol. 7
one that was a little easy to predict as DC had an ongoing of the Thunder Agents at the time, and they have been known to reprint material from other publishers, but it was interesting to see how quickly they got this one out.

IMO, my cover is better looking than the one they are actually going with because of the better use of the Ditko art. What do you think?

DC Thunder Agent Archive

I look forward to seeing more of my wishes being fulfilled by DC in the future!

- Jim

Monday, June 13, 2011

Many Men Smoke...

One of the projects I'm currently working on is typesetting a RPG Setting book created and written by Flashback Universe regular and good friend Trey Causey called Weird Adventures. It's sort of a Noir/Pulp version of Dungeons and Dragons with a bit of C.C. Beck's and Al Capp's whimsy thrown in. Old Popeye Cartoons, The Newsboy Legion, The Wizard of Oz, The boxing stories of Robert E. Howard - all of those seemingly disparate influences can can be seen in this incredibly original world Trey has created. 

As one might expect, my involvement goes beyond simply typesetting the book and hopefully beginning next month, I will actually be able to play in a game with this new setting. The character I'm thinking of playing is going to be based on the classic Chinese Detective characters that were so popular back in the 30's and 40's. If you aren't familiar with the archetype, here are three classic examples that will give you some idea of what I mean. All of these characters found life in books first, but my primary experience with them has been the movies.

The first is Charlie Chan, and I've mentioned him several times in the past on this blog (as well as provided you with free comics with Inspector Chan in them.) While there were several different actors who have played the role of Chan, most people agree Sydney Toler best defines the character.

The next most famous detective in this group would have to be Peter Lorre's Mr. Moto. Whereas Chan seems unflappable and at times arrogant, Moto is quite the opposite. You can never be sure if he isn't just on the edge of losing it sometimes. Lorre makes us think that, yes, Moto is one step ahead of the game, but he isn't always quite sure where his feet are going to land.

The other character I would include here is Mr. Wong, as played by the original man of a thousand faces, Boris Karloff. Unlike the detective Chan or the Secret Agent Moto, Wong was merely a well cultured Oxford educated scholar who happened to find himself involved in criminal cases at times. Many have suggested that Wong's well cultured mannerisms were close to Karloff's own gentile habits. Karloff played Wong in 5 of the 6 Mr. Wong films, of which many are in public domain.

There may be more such detectives, but I am unaware of them. If you can think of more, please let me know! I will leave you with another free comic which you will find most appropriate.

btw - can anyone identify the artist on this cover? It sort of looks like Jack Kirby doesn't it?
Finally, today's title is part of a old joke. The other half is...but Fu Man Chu.

 - Jim

Friday, June 10, 2011

Introducing Clayton's Corner

Editor's Note: Today I present a another guest column by Pop Box creator Clayton Neal. Clayton has written one or two columns here in the past and has kindly agreed to help me with posts on Flashback Universe while I letter his comic - The Agency. Today he tells us how he was introduced into the world of super-hero comics.

Welcome to Clayton's Corner! Here I will regale you with my memories and opinions of the great comics of my youth. Like many of you, it seems like I can almost always remember a time when I was reading comics, but I think there comes a turning point in every comic collector’s life where he graduates and goes from casual reader to devout fan.. At least that is the way it was for me. I grew up on Archie and Richie Rich, I enjoyed them quite well. They were simple, and entertaining. I mean, c'mon...what kid wouldn't want to grow up in the Rich mansion, have a faithful butler and a robot maid?

But then, all that faded one day while standing at the spindle rack in the local grocery store. There I saw it! There on the cover of this comic book was a Man with wings behind his ears, a little guy standing on another costumed man's shoulder, and another man whose neck was stretching out of proportion! Unknown to me at the time, this was my comic book baptism! I think I was seven (don't want to add it up and remind myself exactly how old I am) and the comic: Justice League of America 109!

In the store, I thumbed through it, and was entranced. There was a blank eyed robot that could turn his bottom half into a tornado, and an elfin eared villain with two colors on his face! (Eclipso), and a blonde haired heroine in stockings. (Up until then, I thought the only females in comics were Wonder Woman and Batgirl.)

That is the issue that Hawkman quit to go back to his home planet. I remember it being such a letdown because I really liked the character! I kept telling myself that he would be back the next issue, but when I finally got my hands on that (one of the first 60 cent 100 page giants that introduced the Injustice League) he was still gone!

Needless to say, this became my very first “must have”. I don't even remember how many times I read and re-read, and re-re-read that comic! Len Wein, Dick Dillan and Dick Giordano will always be the heroes to me who brought me to the moment of my conversion.

Now here it is years later, and I can still say I love comics as much now as I did then.

I am wondering, how many people remember their moment of conversion from comic reader to comic fan?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Today Mars, Tomorrow The Universe!

Today's Collected Classics Wishlist is an hodge podge of all the Bronze Age Martian Manhunter appearances. Of these, my favorite is from 1977 by Denny O'Neil - a 4 part mystery story wherein J'onn J'onzz is framed for a murder on Mars and the clues lead him to believe the real killer is a hero from Earth. This series started as a backup in Adventure Comics 449-451 and climaxed in World's Finest 245.

The art in this run was primarily by Mike Netzer (as Mike Nasser) (remember that guy? He often got tagged as a Neal Adams clone, but he was really too good for such a lazy tag as that.) Netzer must have really gotten attached to the Martian Manhunter, because years later, when there were rumors that MM would be killed as the kickoff event of Final Crisis, Netzer posted a very sincere plea to DC to spare the Green Gumshoe.

As a bonus, Terry Austin, Curt Swan and Jim Aparo also handled parts of the art in this story arc.
Here is what this collection would contain...

Adventure Comics 449
Mission Catch A Killer
Script:Denny O'Neil
Pencils:Michael Netzer [as Mike Nasser]
Inks:Terry Austin

Characters: J'onn J'onzz Manhunter from Mars; R'es Eda; Flash [Barry Allen] (Cameo); Green Lantern [Hal Jordan] (Cameo); N'or Cott; Superman [Clark Kent] (Cameo)

Adventure Comics 450
Return To Destiny
Script:Denny O'Neil
Pencils:Michael Netzer [as Mike Nasser]
Inks:Terry Austin

Characters: J'onn J'onzz, Manhunter from Mars; Supergirl; N'or Cott; R'es Eda (flashback)

Adventure Comics 451
The Secret of the Sinister Abyss
Script:David Michelinie
Pencils:Jim Aparo
Inks:Jim Aparo

Characters: Aquaman; Starro; Aquababy; Topo; Mera; Sett; Thoran; the Idylists; Justice League of America [Martian Manhunter [J'onn J'onzz] (Flashback; Cameo); Wonder Woman (Flashback; Cameo);

World's Finest 245
Today Mars, Tomorrow the Universe
Script:Bob Haney
Pencils:Curt Swan
Inks:Murphy Anderson
Characters:With J'onn J'onzz, Hawkman; Superman; Batman; Hawkgirl; N'or Cott; R'es Eda; Supergirl (flashback)

The completist in me would like to also include these random appearances from the Bronze Age...

Justice League of America 71 - wherein MM leaves the JLA in 1969 to go search for his people. (Or something like that...) While he had been absent since issue 61, this Denny O'Neil/Dick Dillan issue makes J'onzz departure from the League official.

The next time we see him is in 1972 in World's Finest 212 in a story written by Denny O'Neil and illustrated by Dick Dillan.

The final story I would include in this volume is (by my reckoning) the very last JLA Bronze Age appearance of J'onn J'onzz. From 1975, Justice League of America 115, which also happened to be a 100 Page Giant in a story written by Denny O'Neil, who may have had some regrets about banishing ole J'onn J'onzz as he keeps bringing him back.

What I think is most interesting about the Martian Manhunter is that he was such a big character in in the Silver Age (appearing in House of Mystery and Justice League of America) but was relegated to just this handful of appearances during the Bronze Age. Is there another example of a character who was so big in one comic Age, banished in another, and then finally returned as triumphant as the Martian Manhunter did in the Giffen JLA? I can't really think of one off hand.

Have a great day!
- Jim

Monday, June 6, 2011

Breaks Over

So I had this grand scheme of putting together a post of all the interesting things that had occurred while I was on break (and I'll do that that this week hopefully) but I was starting to see that the task of composing such an article was slowing me down from getting to the business of actually posting again.

Well...what about that DC Relaunch thing? Tired of hearing about it yet? I'm sure you are, but I feel inclined to add my 2 cents so be kind and indulge and old man if you will.

I'm not sure how well this is going to play out. Based on what they are saying (52 titles?) there are going to be way too many comics to really ride herd on every storyline, so while they all may be even out of the gate - a year from now we may see quite a scattered assortment of tones and treatments.

Recurring themes across message boards seem to be:
  • Good for DC - Digital is the way to go!
  • RIP Retailers - with good riddance tossed in occasionally
  • DC is going to muck everything up
  • Jim Lee is redesigning everything? Horror! (He's not really a good designer, is he?)

I've been more interested in the backroom business side of this decision. We can't say for sure, but one of the most interesting aspects of this is that DC, no matter how they do this, is going to have to split a huge chunk of their profits on their digital sales with Apple, a company that is more tied to Marvel than they are. If they are using ComiXology as the distributor, then that will cut into their profits even more. None of this is new - it's exactly how they've been selling digital comics for the past two years, but what, if anything, has changed that has made them decide to go full out like this? This doesn't really feel like the next safe toe dip in the digital waters, but more like a complete cannonball. So, on one hand, this may be a complete Hail Mary pass.

Or...and I've said this before, sometimes corporations just make grand moves without really thinking things through - stockholders getting antsy because your digital offerings seem lame? Jeff Bewkes caught sounding like a fool when asked about Netflix in Businessweek? No problem! here's HBOGo and Day and Date digital comics! Time Warner is down with the kids on this this digital thing!

Ultimately, if all of this proves unsuccessful (storywise or businesswise) DC can always scale back and retool as necessary.

Now - how long before Marvel follows suit?

Finally, it looks like my Captain Comet article was more prescient than I realized. ;) 

Have a great day!

- Jim


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