Friday, January 31, 2014

How would you make Superman more interesting?

Over in the comments section from last Monday's post, StevieB brought up this point:

The difference between Batman and Superman is this, Batman is what he is. Everyone knows what he is and you either love him for it, or don't. Superman means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. There is a vast difference between the Golden Age Superman and the one you see in the New 52. That can be said for a lot of heroes, even Batman, but I feel like the gap is much bigger with Supes.

In a lot of ways, I find myself agreeing with this sentiment, except that during the 40s and especially the 50's, there wasn't too much difference between the two characters. During the atomic age, they were both sort of average do gooders who had wacky adventures.

However, during the 60's, Batman started to get redefined. First with the 60's New Look Batman Era: during which Batman's stories took on a darker/edgier tone (for the time).

Meanwhile, Superman was about the same:

As the characters marched into the 70's, the divide grew even more vast.  Batman's personality was established in a way that resonated so well with fans that it became the guide for all modern stories. Going back as far as I can remember with Detective 439  Steve Englehart's Night of the Stalker, Batman was defined as a sort of relentless vigilante - and that definition has been thoroughly reinforced over the years.

Meanwhile, Superman was still sort of stuck in average do gooder mode who had to rely on the gimmick covers and stories to keep readers interested:

So while Batman was gradually becoming a truly modern comic book character, Superman fell out of step with contemporary storytelling expectations. Modern readers like their characters to identifiable personality quirks, but what are Superman's personal foibles and idiosyncrasies?

Thinking about it reminds me of a conversation I once had with legendary Disney artist Don Rosa. We were discussing the difference in popularity between Mickey Mouse and Donald and Uncle Scrooge. What we both decided was that the Duck characters were more popular because they had quirks (Donald's temper and Scrooge's avarice)

Mickey on the other hand doesn't really have any defining personality quirks.

Superman has the same problem. His comics don't really sell very well unless you put a superstar artist on the title. He needs his personality tweaked in a way that makes him more interesting. I think Geoff John's tried to do this in Justice League, but it didn't get much traction. Nor do I think that pairing him up with Wonder Woman is the solution. As a result, the Superman family books haven't fared too well since the DC 52 reboot. And Hollywood seems to have decided to redefine Superman in a way that doesn't seem to jive with a lot of fans expectations.

So, with that in mind, how would you make the character of Superman someone that resonates with today's readers?

- Jim

Sunday, January 26, 2014

So what IS the best Superman movie ever?

Scott Simmons alerted me to this article over at Portland Mercury entitled Why The Iron Giant Isn't the Best Superman Movie Ever The author suggests that some people see Iron Giant as the best Superman movie ever, or rather, that it embodies all those things that certain fans expect to see in a Superman movie (and there is a good bit of fan art that seems to support this theory.)

 I guess I can see how some people might see that, but given that it's not really a Superman movie, it still begs the question: What really IS the best media adaptation of Superman?

A lot of people love the old Christopher Reeve movies (or at least the first two) but I think a lot of that love is based on nostalgia. If you see them now, the don't really hold up very well. Like when Superman somehow throws his S emblem and it turns into a giant plastic net or something.

And I know quite a few fans of the recent Man of Steel. And just as many who hated it. Frequent flashback Universe contributor MattComix covered the movie pretty well when it came out last summer.

For me, I think the best adaptation would have to have been Bruce Timm animated series.

 I think that series did an excellent job of playing in the Superman sandbox without all the baggage of worrying about "Who Is Superman" or trying to redefine Superman for a new generation. Contrast the bright wonder of that series with the most recent Superman animation, Superman Unbound:

It makes me wonder how Superman will be represented 20 years from now? Will we see an even darker more serious version?

Or will someone pick up the vibe from All Star Superman and give us a new era of the bright and fun version?

 Which would you prefer?

- Jim

Thursday, January 23, 2014

A New Look for Wonder Woman has a clip of Justice League: WAR, the new DC Animation video. In it you will see that Wonder Woman has gotten a new uniform. If you don't have time to check out the video, here are some pics from the video.

So, what do we see here:
  • I guess points are awarded to DC for covering her chest in more modest manner.
  • I'm surprised they went with so much leg showing as some of the more recent attempts to revise her look have tried to cover her legs.
  • Not wild about the half sleeves with the stars on them.
  • Seems like the Stars and Stripes motif has been downplayed (less stars for one thing.) No gold anywhere.
  • What the hell is that weird thing on her chest? That's gone from being an eagle, to a stylized double W logo to what is it now? The hood ornament from a 1950's car?
As make overs go, it's not the worst I've seen, I just think they could have done better. Now I wonder if this the version of the costume we are going to see in the Superman movie?

What do you think of this new look?

- Jim

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Top 20 Bronze Age Superhero Comic Runs - Part 1

I was recently looking for a nice list of the all time great Bronze Age Superhero Comic Runs by given creative teams. While I found a few lists that were pretty good, I felt like I should throw my hat in the ring and present one of my own. Conferring with my friends Trey Causey and Scott Simmons, and using the dates given by wikipedia for the start and end of the Bronze Age (1970 to 1985) this is what we came up with. With each entry, I will try to provide a link to a site that provides more information.

Here are entries 20 - 11:

20: Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes issues 241 to 245

When this arc was orginally published, I didn't remember being particularly impressed with it. I think I took issue with Staton's art which clashed with what I was used to in the series (Cockrum/Grell). However, it was pointed out that the cosmic war between the Earth and the Khunds was one of the first times the Legion had ever been engaged in such an action packed epic.
19: Captain America 261 - 300

JM DeMatteis is one of the great writers to emerge during the 80's. He was able to blend deeper philosophical and sociological commentary into his stories (Moonshadow, Blood: A Shadow) as well as deliver innovative action/adventure stories (I, Vampire, Kraven's Last Hunt) Teamed up with Mike Zeck who was making a big name for himself at Marvel, they produced a fantastic run on Captain America.
18: Jungle Action 6 - 24

This entry was nominated by Trey and seconded by Scott, but I'm sad to say unfamiliar with it. Here is what wikipedia says about this run:
Comics historian Les Daniels noted that "The scripts by Don McGregor emphasized the character's innate dignity." Unusually for mainstream comics, the Panther stories were set mostly in Africa, in the Panther's fictional homeland Wakanda rather than in Marvel's usual American settings. As with the futuristic stories of Killraven, McGregor's settings were enough outside the Marvel mainstream that he was able to explore mature themes and adult relationships in a way rare for comics at the time.
17: Avengers 167 - 168, 170 - 177

This run begins with an amazing battle between the Avengers and Ultron and ends with the one of cataclysmic Korvac Saga guest staring the Guardians of the Galaxy. Jim Shooter and Roger Stern provide a fast paced storyline that is propelled into your eyes by stunning George Perez art. The saga is also notable for its poetic denouement.
16: Green Lantern 76 - 85

While this series may appear quaint or goofy by todays standards, when it first appeared, it successfully stretched the boundaries of traditional superhero comics at DC in a much needed way. O'Neil was a gifted writer who was more in touch with the times than most of his peers at DC during this time. And Neal Adams was introducing a sense of photorealism to the comics unlike anything seen at the time.
15: Strange Tales (SHIELD) 153 - 168

Before he became that guy who is always dissing on Marvel's Agents of SHIELD television series, Jim Steranko was bringing an artistic style to comics never seen before (and not seen much since). Writer Steven Ringgenberg says it best:
Steranko's Marvel work became a benchmark of '60s pop culture, combining the traditional comic book art styles of Wally Wood and Jack Kirby with the surrealism of Richard Powers and Salvador Dalí. Steeped in cinematic techniques picked up from that medium's masters, Jim synthesized an approach different from anything being done in mainstream comics, though it did include one standard attraction: lots of females in skintight, sexy costumes.
Interesting side note: So reverred is the art and covers from this run that I actually had a hard time finding the ACTUAL covers from the run admidst the horde of homages.
14: The Invaders 1- 29

Set against the backdrop of WW II, this series gave comics fan turned comics pro Roy Thomas the playground he most likely always wanted as he took long forgotten Golden Age heroes from Marvel's Timely era and let the stand shoulder to shoulder with Captain America, The Human Torch and Sub-Mariner. Golden Age artist Frank Robbins provided the art with a style that set it well apart from some of the more generic superhero comics of the time.
13: Fantastic Four 164 - 192

This was a tough one to add to the list as many issues are by other artists (though most of them are outstanding like John Buscema) but the issues by Perez make it a classic run. Some of the highlights:
  • The return of the Golden Age Crusader
  • The FF come to the aid of the High Evolutionary as Galactus sets his sights on Counter Earth
  • The return of the Impossible Man
  • The Frightful Four return and hold auditions for a new member in the Baxter Building
  • Power Man joins the FF
This was a string of beautiful action paced stories not scene since the old Lee/Kirby days. Bonus: Power Man joins the FF for a bit as a replacement for The Thing.
12: Master of Kung Fu 100 - 120

This is a series where picking the classic run is tough because several fantastic artists worked on the series (Jim Starlin, Craig Hamilton and Paul Gulacy) However the one that got the critics talking back in the Bronze Age was Gene Day.
11: Legion of Super-heroes 184 - 224

In 1973, Jim Cockrum redesigned the Legion of Super-heroes costumes kicking off the rebirth of the series for many fans. Cockrum would stay on the series until his roommate Mike Grell took over with issue 203. The one, two punch of Cockrum and Grell was exactly what the long in the tooth franchise needed. Aided by seasoned writers Cary Bates and Jim Shooter, the Legion was able to reclaim much of the popularity it had lost over the years.
Since I started with a Legion entry, it seems fitting to end with one, so I'm going to stop here and will try to continue the list new weekend.

Stay tuned for a shorter post later this week.

- Jim

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Batman TV Show Finally coming to DVD

Blastr announced today that the 1966 Batman Television Series is finally going to be released on DVD (and presumably Blu Ray)

And while is bit a long time since I've bought a television series on DVD (because so many things end up on Netflix) I'm going to be tempted to buy these DVDs when they come out.

I see a lot of comic fans who hate this show, stating that the camp is off putting or cheesy. I understand why they might say that. I think if you come start as a comics fan as a youngster, as you get older, there is a desire to take your hobby with you as you mature, so you want IT to mature as well. This leads some fans to go through a I only read serious comics phase. If you've ever met a fan who only reads Vertigo comics, you know what I'm talking about.

It's a shame because with a fixed point of view like that, these fans don't see the beauty and wonder in Carl Bark's Donald Duck comics or Roy Crane's Captain Easy

I think one of the things plaguing the industry now is a complete lack of fun and wonder in comics. The only creators who seem to try and introduce that in modern comics from time to time now are Grant Morrison and Rick Remender.

Morrison seems to be a figure who polarizes fans, with a number of online posters outright hating him for being too complicated or trippy. And while I have enjoyed Rick Remender's Captain America run because of its zany excursions into Kirbyness, I'm in the minority. In fact, I'm having a hard time thinking of a popular comic from the big two with a real element of fun and wonder in it now.

Does this mean the average modern comic fan doesn't want fun and wonder in their comics any more?

- Jim

Friday, January 10, 2014

CW's Flash - Cowl or No Cowl?

So Sony released this picture revealing how Quicksilver will look in the upcoming X-men movie:

 In case you do recognize him, he's the one in the back with the silver jacket.

Now, the Marvel movies have strayed a bit from the original designs in the past, but this strikes me as being one of the worst redesign of a costume I've ever seen.  It's possible that what we are seeing is just the character in his civies, and an Action Suit of some sort will be shown later in the movie. I guess we'll have to wait and see.

Still, seeing this picture made me think about how the liberties that are taken with superhero costumes in movies and television. I suspect that it's because many things that work (for comic book readers) in comics don't particularly work (for movie goers) in movies. Some of this reworking might be to appease test groups from Topeka or it might be an attempt to drag Silver Age aesthetics into the 21st century.

Which makes me wonder about CW's new Flash series coming out this year. What are they going to do about his cowl?

Now, I can hear some people say..."Why do they need to do ANYTHING about the cowl? They can just show it as is! It looks perfectly fine" Whereupon they would offer up this excellent image as proof:

Here's the thing - I don't think Hollywood shares that opinion. I think they are down on cowls based on a few things:

1. Outside of the 60's Batman, what successful television show featured a character with a cowl? And I'm defining successful as running more than one season, so that leave out the first Flash series.

2. None of the Marvel movie characters have had a cowl. Not even some that have traditionally had one in the comics (like Hawkeye) True Spider-man has a full face mask, but I think you actually have an easier time selling a full face mask instead of a cowl - ala Deathstroke on Arrow.

3. Has there ever been a cowled character on either Smallville or Arrow?

I think if you were to ask the creative minds behind such movies and shows, you would get an answer about how they see the comics as sources for inspiration - not a blueprint.
That's why on a show that clearly features Green Arrow, no one has yet to actually call him Green Arrow.

Still, how much do you change the character design before you've basically created a new character?

Also, would a Flash without a cowl ruin the series for you? Remember, the original Flash didn't have a cowl:

And the newest version of the character (from the Geoff Johns Earth 2  series) also doesn't wear a cowl, but has opted for a more windshield/helmet type of contraption (which looks awful imo)

I'll be interested in seeing how the CW handles this.

- Jim

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Arrow vs Agents of SHIELD

Early December, my job sent me to Pittsburgh for several weeks where I had nothing to do at night but catch up on television shows. This allowed me to check out Arrow (which was recommended to me by my Father-In-Law) and Marvel's Agents of SHIELD (MAOS).

Here are my quick thoughts:

Here's what I like about Arrow:
  • I like how the show juggles Oliver's story of survival on the island and his quest to save Starling City. (Why Starling as opposed to Star?)
  • Stephen Amell, the actor playing Oliver Queen, seems well suited for his role.
  • The adventures on the island with Slade Wilson and Shado entertain me in a way that I've long for since the departure of LOST.
  • I get a kick out of the number of DC characters who have not just been named dropped but actually appeared on the show.
  • While I've grown tired of grim and gritty comics, the tone of this show feels right. This is an Oliver Queen who reminds me of the Mike Grell era Green Arrow with respect to how serious he is about his mission, even if that meant killing people. I was afraid that season two premiere meant we were going to lose that tone, but so far, the show has managed to keep the serious tone while lowering the bodycount (for Oliver at least.)
Things I'm not so wild about:
  • I find some of the story lines with supporting characters a bit boring. 
  • The romantic storyline between Oliver and Laurel Lance comes across as an afterthought. It gets pushed aside whenever it's convenient for the writers.
  • Sometimes the show trips over its origins and pulls TOO much from comic storytelling conventions. (Like have Alderman Blood keep his Brother Blood mask in a special cabinet on a pedestal in the middle of his office. That works in comics, but on television, it looks a bit quaint, if not out and out silly.)
 Overall Grade: A-

Marvel's Agent's of SHIELD

Okay, this is going to be much shorter as I only watched three episodes (which gives you some idea of what I thought.) Again, I hadn't seen any of the promos for this show and started into it cold with no expectations. I actually tried it before trying Arrow, which looking back should have helped. 

Things I liked:

  • I like the guy who plays Agent Coulson.

Things I don't like:
  • This is a youth-obsessed show like I've not seen in sometime. While Arrow is also populated with a lot of 20 Somethings, it has a better number of older characters (Diggle, Slade Wilson, Quentin Lance) Would it have killed the MAOS producers to have a Dum Dum Dugan type of agent on the show?
  • Cringe inducing dialogue - It's like all SHIELD Agents are all trying to out clever-line each other the entire time. At best, it's amusing, at it's worst, it zaps you out of the story with its inappropriateness.
  • Not enough nods to the Marvel universe.
Overall Grade: D

Like I said, I quit watching the show with the third episode, so if it got better, I would be happy to try it again. Let me know what you think.

- Jim

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Marvel Now Sales - One Year Later

Last year, when Marvel started its Marvel Now Initiative, there were some impressive sales numbers clocked in by many of the titles as they were all rolled out each month. For many fans watching the hoopla, there was a strong sense of Deja Vu from DC's  New 52 launch. However, as I showed in a follow up article, the sales of the DC 52 titles fell quite a bit within the year.

So today, let's do the same thing with the Marvel Now sales. First, here are the initial sales figures of the first batch of titles that came out within the first few months of Marvel Now.

First thing to notice is how much disparity there is between the Avengers and X-men titles from just about everything else. I would love to ask of retailers what was the reasoning here. Why would you order 3X the number of one title as the rest of the core (FF, Hulk, Iron Man, Thor) titles? Isn't the core the better barometer of how much you will actually sell?

I suppose some of the answer to that question can be found in the number of Variant covers which the Marvel Now launch had. I guess if as a retailer, you can make up the difference in cost of ordering extra issues by reselling a variant covers to hard core fans or on ebay, then it's a good strategy.

Anyway, here's where Marvel stands One Year Later. (I've overlaid the current sales over the intial sale to show how far titles have fallen.)

This is a much closer grouping of titles vis a vis sales. This is what I would expect the launch to look like (if it hadn't been skewed by variant titles.)

Notice the huge amount of titles in the Brown bars area. Those are all within the historical cancellation zone. Not good.

Here is another view of the data. The blue line is the starting sales of all the Marvel titles. The red line is where each of those titles stand now. The number of titles under the 50K mark is over half the line.

To give you some perspective, several years ago at HeroesCon, a DC editor casually dismissed a fans question about Aquaman getting his own title again by saying he never sells above 50K. Other editors at the panel all agreed with one making a joke involving the phrase sink or swim, which generated a chorus of laughter.

So that's what we have now. Half of the Marvel line sells at an amount that the industry used to sneer at.

Among those titles that have proved the most successful with the Marvel Now Launch are these three:

The biggest loser is the Fantastic Four titles (both of which are being cancelled.)

The series is going to be relaunched with James Robinson writing it and while he can be a very talented writer who brings greatness to a title, I don't know if he had enough marquee value in this day in age. Starman and The Golden Age were a long time ago.

So What's Next? - I've been watching these numbers come in over the past few months and I have to wonder what Marvel is going to try to increase sales for next year. I know they have some second wave of Marvel Now books coming out but I don't think we are going to see anything close to the sales they started with last year. Nor do I think Marvel is going to have another successful(?) event after the slow burn of Age of Ultron and Infinity.

Ultimately, I think 2014 is going to be a challenging year for Marvel.

- Jim

Friday, January 3, 2014

Is Andy Olsen the real creator of Wolverine?

Over at Bleeding Cool, Rich Johnston has been following the astounding price jump in ebay auctions featuring Foom Issue 2

On ebay, this issue normally sells for $5 but recently, it has been selling for over a $100 with a recent auction ending at $225. What seems to be driving this price is a story Rich did pointing out that in issue 2, there was a Create A Character contest in which a Marvel Fan Andy Olsen sent in a cyborg character named Wolverine.

Click on the image below and look at the center of the page to see what the hoopla is all about:

 While the timing is coincidental (Andy's character appeared 6 months before Len Wein and Herb Trimpe created the character in Hulk 181) I think it's safe to say Marvel doesn't have to worry about Mr. Olsen getting lawyered up and coming after them. While Olsen's contest entry is sort of neat with its Origin Montage as a background, the character design is vastly different. This is just another one of those cases of people latching on to a cool sounding name (like Scarecrow) and going with it. Notice there is also a Quasar among the entries.

Still, in digging around to find out what the character looked like, I got a kick seeing all the Create A Character entries. Here's the other page of entries from the same issue.

While the entries range vastly in quality and technique, I think my favorite is Chuck Slater's warrior woman with her chained ape sidekick.

Anyone else remember this issue?

- Jim


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