Sunday, February 23, 2014

Fear of a Black Human Torch

This week, it was revealed that the role of the Human Torch in the new Fantastic Four movie will be played by Michael B. Jordan, who appeared in Chronicle.

As you might imagine, this has caused some concern amongst the normally level headed internet. Over at Blastr, Dan Roth has put together a nice article in response to the various objections many people are expressing.

But I fear all his points will be ignored as most of the replies to the article (some of which I've reposted here in italics) are simply the old objections rephrased (to which I will respond, thus letting you see where I stand on the issue.)

For example, let's take this reply:

To criticize people for bringing up race is flat out wrong considering the only reason he was cast was for that reason I've seen Jordan act and you can't say he just nailed the part of storm he was cast to cause controversy in the end it will backfire because out of all marvel comics ff is old school all the way and most of their fans feel that way and please don't bring up nick fury he was never a important enough character to matter what color he was 

Honestly, I never saw Chronicle, so I don't know if Jordan can act or not, but I'm about 90% sure that in a big Summer tent pole movie, acting ability falls right behind shoe size during the casting consideration phase. Nor have I EVER heard a movie goer remark on the acting in a Summer blockbuster. I do like how this guy tries to dismiss the Nick Fury analogy by saying there is some established ranking of importance that should respected. I disagree, but admire the pomposity.

Whoever wrote this article is an idiot...I grew up with the FF and changing the story so radically is an insult to all us lifelong fans. I will not go to this movie and predict it will be a big flop. 

I wouldn't call changing skin color a radical change in a story unless skin color was a plot point or the story was a period piece and the skin color change might conflict with social attitudes at the time. And thinking on it, I can't really recall a single FF story where The Human Torch's skin color was a plot point. (He was recently shown as all blue, but that was more of a gimmick than a plot point.)

Nor do I take this change as an insult. And while that may be just a poor choice of words on the behalf of the commenter, it does suggest that he has a personal investment in comics continuity which is keeping him from being entirely objective about the issue. IE: This is not how I know the Fantastic Four, ergo it's no good.

Sure Sue and Johnny could be step-siblings or one could be adopted but I just get tired of all the changes to character history. Marvel does it, DC has done it time and time again . The worst with the New 52. And they all claim they are trying to make things simpler for the fans when they are really just complicating storylines . As for the movie I don't have a problem with Johnny being black but I think his sister , who isn't adopted or a step-sister should also be black or at least they should both be the same race whatever race that is.

Changes to characters and their histories is sort of a long standing tradition in comics. I think what this person really has a hard time is the perceived devaluation of the history THEY know. The comments about Sue Storm needing to be of the same race sort of strikes me as a nice to have, but it honestly, when has their sibling nature ever really been used to any great effect in the FF stories?

I wont watch this one simply due to the poor casing. They are way too young, it seems the CW may have cast this one for 20th Century FOX. For characters such as Green Lantern, and other roles in the comic universe that are passed on to the next hero, this makes sense. There are many other Black Heroes in comics now, there no longer needs to be a race flip to mix things up. Huge FAIL on FOX's part!

Wasn't the Human Torch a teenager in the 60's? Seems to me he was still in college up until the early 80's.  And yeah, there are other black heroes in comics, but Fox ain't making a movie about them. Fox is making a FF movie and they want it to be a money maker, so this is where their instincts (by way of the director) are leading them.

With all that said, I'm not totally unsympathetic to people who have a problem with this change. This change just rubs you the wrong way because you have a fixed notion of who the Fantastic Four are. That's understandable. I used to avoid all the Daniel Craig James Bond movies because to me, James Bond was either Sean Connery or Roger Moore.

But I thought about it and realized I was being a bit silly about the whole thing. Especially since I fully acknowledged two different actors played the role, but felt like somehow another actor couldn't. So, I went to see SkyFall with my friends and found a lot to enjoy about the movie.

And this brings us to the real question (for me at least) - will this be a money maker? In the past, I've had a pretty good track record of predicting the box office results of such movies, but recently, with Man of Steel and Thor the Dark World, I've been wrong (with both movies doing much better than I originally though.) And while it's hard to gauge a movie's reception completely sight unseen, I think I can hazard a prediction at this point using other movies which followed poorly received films.

Spider-Man 3 --> Amazing Spider-Man: $62 million
Hulk --> Incredible Hulk: $55 million
X-men 3 --> X-men First Class: $55 million

Looking at those numbers and adjusting for how wrong I was about Man of Steel and Thor: Dark World, I'm going to put the new Fantastic Four movie first week box office at around $75 million. With that, if the budget is below the low $200 millions, (which I think is a safe bet) I would say it would be viewed as successful by Fox.

- Jim

Friday, February 14, 2014

Five 0 Today

I'm turning Five-0 today. Not the type with Jack Lord and Wo Fat...

But the type where when you tell people your age, you can see them mentally pause as they consider whether they will have to explain what Twitter is to you.

As one might think, this birthday has been a time of reflection on many things of which the comics portion I'll share with you today.

I'm a bit surprised by the fact that I'm still reading comics now. I think if you had asked me at 30 would I still be reading comics at 50, I would have said no. Yet, here we are, and I'm constantly finding things I missed when I was younger or before my time that I enjoy. My current faves are Don Rosa's Duck stories and classic World's Finest.

I'm also following quite a number of new titles as I mentioned in my post about the new wave of sci-fi comics

 And while I'm sometimes disappointed with the general output coming from Marvel and DC, I think that calls back to my first point which is - I've read a lot of Fight Comics in my day, so reading somebodies 2nd hand version of The Dark Knight Returns doesn't hold much allure to me. Still, there are a few bright spots at both publisher (Superior Spider-Man surprises me every month and has been such a fun book to read. Forever Evil has been fun in a give the people what they want sort of way.)

What does the future hold for comics? I suspect we will continue too see more experimentation as publishers try to duplicate the success of Walking Dead and Saga (both of which I enjoy.) That's a good thing as it's led to quite a number of new titles for me to read. And just this week, I picked up another book that looks promising called The Royals: Masters of War

From what I can gather, this is going to be a sort of Ultimates during World War II (or perhaps a bit like Uber, but less violent I bet.) Still, it's by a British team who cut their teeth on 2000 AD comics, and such guys tend to be entertaining.

So, I  guess as long as comics continue to innovate, I'll continue to read them.

- Jim

Monday, February 10, 2014

Romita and Johns on Superman?

Last week, it was discovered that Geoff Johns and John Romita Jr. would be taking over one of the Superman title(s?), an announcement I found a bit synchonous considering my recent posts on the Superman titles and the resulting discussion in the comments section of this blog.

This news raised an eyebrow from me on several levels:

1) John Romita doesn't really strike me as a good fit for Superman. His art style is a bit grittier than one typically associates with Superman. He would be better for a Batman book, wouldn't he?

2) The bit about this being a soft reset sounds like Johns is saying Morrison/Perez botched the DC 52 relaunch of Superman, so he's coming in to save it.

3) Is Johns the right guy for Superman? His previous turns on the title didn't really ignite the internet into a buying frenzy.

4) The comments on suggest this won't be the slam dunk DC thinks it is going to be.

I emailed my concerns to documented Superman fan and FBU columnist MattComix and he managed to talk me off the ledge a bit. This is what he said:


I don't think any artist can save that costume.

1. I agree that JR Jr. is miscast here. Then again, having the art team from 90's Punisher War Zone comics on Superman looks pretty much in line with DC's current modus operandi. Not to say that Superman should always be drawn from the Byrne or Garcia Lopez school of art but I do think he's a character who generally works better with a cleaner look and line. Though I could see someone who had been a fan of Jon Bogdanove being into a JR Jr. Superman.

2) He says "reset" but he may just be talking about setting the stage for whatever it is they're going to do rather than backtracking from stuff that's been established as part of his Nu52 concept and origin. One of the problems New 52 has is that it's the same people doing the same stuff only now with pop collars and visible seams.The same basic philosophy is still driving the line, the reboot just let them apply it to the past as well as the present.

3. If nothing else I think Geoff does have a sincere love of the character. But sadly that is not something that is likely to curb the usual gratuitous aspects of his work. Also, he's had Aquaman leading a z grade super team called The Others hasn't he? Maybe Superman will get his own called Those Guys.

4. I don't think that the reaction on ComicsBeat is a indicator of how the comic will ultimately do. Besides DC's standards for a success don't seem to really extend beyond getting in enough of the direct market fans to make it defensible as one.

I think Matt has a good point in that my reaction to the news was a tad too negative. I still have my doubts about this team, but I'll pick up the first issue.

- Jim

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Top 20 Bronze Age Comic Runs Part 3

Today, I am posting the final installment of my look at the Top 20 Bronze Age Superhero Comic Runs, starting with number 5:

05: New Teen Titans 1 - 44

After several clumsy attempts to copy the Marvel style, DC finally had a book with the type of characterization and banter that fans at that time were clamoring for. While the rest of the DC Universe seemed sort of stuck in stasis, Marv Wolfman introduced characters and concepts that most got fandom talking about DC again. Some of the legendary arcs and characters from this run include:
  • Terra Incognito
  • The Judas Contract
  • The Search for the Doom Patrol
  • The Terror of Trigon
  • Who Is Donna Troy
  • Brother Blood
  • DeathStroke
George Perez, who had been a rising star at Marvel, became a true superstar on this book. His pages and designs fostered a rabid fanbase that helped create the concept of comic convention headliner. What's interesting is that at the time, The Teen Titans were nearly as popular as the X-men. Now, despite several cartoon series, DC just doesn't seem to be able to make the book work. I almost think they need to steal Brian Bendis' idea of bringing the Silver Age X-men into the modern era with the Teen Titans. There was something about that classic lineup that pale analogues of the modern era are missing.
04: Kirby's 4th World

It might seem a bit unfair to include three separate titles as one entry, but since Jack was interweaving the storylines so closely, I count his Fourth World titles as one big run. I don't think I can adequately encapsulate the brilliance of Jack's Fourth World comics, so I'll present this video documentary on the King:

I have one thing to add: I remember the first time I saw a Kirby Fourth World Comics. It was issue 9, which featured Forager. My friend Jim Triplett had it at his house and I read it while on a sleep over back in 1972. Jim had a stack of comics, many of which I wasn't familiar with, but the New Gods was the one I picked up to read while he slept in on Saturday morning (I've always been an early riser).
I remember reading the first couple of pages and just being awestruck at the richness of the world and characters. I think this may have been my second actual encounter with Kirby's artwork (the first being Fantastic Four 92 which was one of my first five comics) and I could tell he was on a completely different plane than the artists who drew most of my favorite comics (Dick Dillin, Ross Andru, Jim Aparo, John Buscema) Looking back on this event now, I realize that my local newstand most likely was not carrying the Kirby Fourth World books as I don't recall ever seeing any of them anywhere but in house ads. When Mister Miracle or The Demon showed up in Batman Brave and the Bold, I recognized them as being by Kirby, but I always wondered why their own titles weren't on the racks.
No link to a collected edition on this one because I kind of think the DC 4th World Omnibuses have sucky paper and bad bindings and I'm not alone on this.

03: Daredevil 158 - 191

The first (acknolwedge) artist as storyteller comic at Marvel. Miller redefined the genre with his grim and gritty storytelling and lean artistic style. As a kid, I had actually bought 158, Miller's first issue on the title, and thought it was pretty ho-hum, but as he continued on the series, he loosened up on his line work. By the time I tried another issue (171) Miller's style had evolved into an almost Alex Tothian simplicity. What really struck me though was how Miller was telling the story. The panel work felt like movie storyboards with an experienced noir director calling the shots on the setup. It's no wonder this run is a favorite among folks in Hollywood.


02: Strange Tales #178-181, Adam Warlock 9 - 16, Avengers Annual #7 (Nov. 1977) and Marvel Two-in-One Annual #2 (Dec. 1977)

While he turned out some fine work on Captain Marvel, this is the comic that Jim Starlin is most associated with - and for good reason. It's easy to see that this became a very personal book for Starlin as the stories often tackled unusual topics for comics books (the questionable authority of the Church being the most prominent.) Looking back, it's almost hard to believe that Marvel gave this series to time to unfold. Especially since I suspect it only came out bimonthly (check this) still the editors must have realized Starlin was working on something great here.
I'm putting this over Miller Daredevil run for two reasons. 1) It's shorter and as a result delivers more impact because of that. 2) It covers more ground thematically. 3) The characters introduced, especially Thanos have become more influential in Marvel over the years whereas many of Miller's characters, with the exception of Bullseye, have completely disappeared.
01: Uncanny X-men 108-109, 111-143

In many ways, this run was the end of the Bronze Age in my opinion. In it we saw the rise of the hero as killer with Wolverine, the beginning of the X-men dynasty, longer, more complicated storylines and the first death to rock the industry since, what? Gwen Stacy? Byrne was turning out incredible artwork and Claremont brought a whole new level of pathos to the old mutant gang. This run was so popular that it was picked by the readers of ComicBookResources as THE number one comics run of all time.
In many ways, this series rewrote the book on what superhero comics should be like. After this, both DC and Marvel would put out a multitude of team books. DC scored a hit with New Teen Titans. Marvel found gold in X-men spinoffs. One has to wonder, would this current era of superteam spin off comics exist without the massive success of the X-men series?
Well, that's my Top 20. What do you think? Is there an arc you would have liked to seen rated higher? Did I forget one of your favorites. Let me know in the comments section.
- Jim

Monday, February 3, 2014

Top 20 Bronze Age Comic Runs - Part 2

Today, I'll continue the Top 20 Bronze Age Superhero Comic Runs I started a couple of weeks ago, with the next 5 entries and finish the list on Wednesday. Starting with number ten:

10: Detective Comics #469-479

After leaving Marvel, Marshall Rogers joined fellow Marvel refugee Steve Englehart to produce some of the most memorable Batman comics from the 70's. Obviously a fan of the character, Englehart created a storyline that incorporated many of Batman's rogues as well as reintroducing several who had been forgotten since the Golden Age. (Hugo Strange and Deadshot) One of the original characters for the series was Silver St. Claire, who would become Batman's love interest. Englehart, who has always had a knack at creating interesting female characters, made St. Claire a fully realized leading lady who seemed perfectly suited for Batman's world.
09: Batman 234 - 250

This is the team responsible for returning Batman to his darker roots which ultimately paved the way for such things as Dark Knight Returns. While doing research on this run, I discovered this excellent YouTube Video in which Denny O'Neil himself talks about this period when he work with the incredibly talented Neal Adams. There's nothing I can add that would be better than hearing it from one of the creators involved.

Some of the highlights from this run include:
  • The return of the homicidal Joker
  • The introduction of Ra's Al Ghul and Talia
  • The return of Two-Face
  • The return of a darker, more serious Batman
  • Neal Adams awesome photo realistic artwork
As I mentioned Monday, it was this period where Batman started getting redefined for the times in a way that has allowed him to stay relevant today.
08: Goodwin/Simonson's Manhunter

This is a short run, so putting it so high on the list might seem overly generous. I've praised this run on several occaisions here. Perhaps it is a bit idiosyncratic to place it so high, but there is something utterly magically about this run that I've rarely seen since. It had an innovative approach to design and dizzying linework that was exhilirating to behold. Goodwin also did a nice job of combining old pulp staples (exotic cults, playboy adventurers) with newer concepts (martial arts, healing factors, cloning)
07: Swamp Thing 1 - 10

As a kid, I wasn't quite sure what to make of this series. The covers often looked a bit too PG13 for my younger self, but I could still tell there was something of quality about the series. (I think how well rendered each cover was what struck me.) When I got older, DC reprinted the series in some $1.00 sized editions which I picked up in the 80's. Those floored me. The stories and artwork had a tone and atmosphere about them that seemed so much more authentic than other monster titles I had purchased. While Swamp Thing had the soul of a hero, this didn't feel anything like a superhero title. At a time when Werewolf By Night was teaming up with Iron Man and Man-Wolf was sword fighting on alien planets, DC's muck monster was at the mercy of Anton Arcane and his gruesome Un-men. The characters, setting and stories put forth by Wein and Wrightson provided such fertile material, that I don't think it's a coincidence that some of comics best writers were (and still are) attracted to work on the series.
06: Spider-man 101 - 149

When Stan Lee stepped down as writer of Spider-man with issue 100, one would have thought the series would have lost a lot of it's creative steam. As it turns out, successive writers Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway were just the people to keep the book in high gear. Aided by the fantastic artwork of John Romita, Thomas kicked things off with a story that introduced Morbius, the Living Vampire and had Spider-man gaining six arms. Thomas would move to editor after 4 issues handing the reigns to Conway who would stay on the title for 44 issues. When Romita moved off the title, he was replaced by Ross Andru who was already drawing Spider-man in Marvel Team-Up. Romita brought an classic illustrative beauty to the book which fit Lee's dramatic stories whereas Andru seemed to have a better handle on dynamic action scenes. As I pointed out in another article, to many, Andru is seen as the Bronze Age Spider-man artist. Altogether, these four creators would introduce some of the titles most historic moments:
  • The Death of Gwen Stacy
  • The Death of the Green Goblin
  • The Wedding of Doc Ock and Aunt May
  • The introduction of the Punisher
  • The original Spider-Clone storyline
  • And one of my personal favorites, the introduction of Man-Wolf
All that and the infamous Spider-Mobile!

Be sure to check back Wednesday for the final five entries.

- Jim


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