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

Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Flash Gets his Cowl

So,  a few weeks ago, I wrote a post that asked would the CW give the Flash a cowl in the upcoming Flash television series. Now we have our answer with the reveal of a single image from the new series.

My first impression is props to CW for actually going with the cowl. I noticed they have shied away from going with the nose covered look of the 90's Shipp version (which I've always felt took too many cues from the 90's Batman look.)

Here are my thoughts on the new look:

The leather texture looks good. It already looks like it will enable more emotive capabilities than normal cloth would allow.

The chin guard is an interesting addition, which when I started looking around seems to be something that was added during the new 52 era.

I wish the red had been a bit brighter (this is more of a Burgundy Bolt than a Scarlet Speedster) but I understand that Hollywood doesn't like brightly colored characters with such a passion that Hollywood will actually go out of its way to adjust a costume after we have already accepted it on the big screen! That's how this:

 Becomes this:

Also, nice to see the lightning bolts on the sides. Again, that's another place that seems to trip up designers. Check out the challenge Captain America's helmet wings have presented over the years. (Pictured below are Dick Purcell from the 40's black and white serial, Reb Brown from the 1979 television movie, Matt Salinger from the 1990 movie and Chris Evans from Captain America: The First Avenger.)

It would be nice to have a forward facing image of the new look, but based on this side profile, I think they have done a fine job.

I'm now even more excited about his series than I was before.

How about you?

- Jim


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