Wednesday, November 29, 2006

I Yam What I Yam!

Along with my regular haul of superhero books this week, I got the long-awaited E.C. Segar's POPEYE Volume 1. When this was first announced, they showed a mock up cover and it...I'm sorry, it was awful. It was bright red, and it looked like Popeye's severed head was being fired from an unseen cannon. I was horrified, and if Again With the Comics had existed at the time, you'd have heard about it. As it turns out, the bad cover was just a mock-up. The actual book looks fantastic, with the lavish design and high quality that are standard from Fantagraphics books. I've been waiting to see the collected Segar Popeye for a long time now, and this looks well worth the wait. It's also huge, with big, broad pages hearkening back to the golden age of newspaper comic strips. The reproduction is beautiful, capturing Segar's fine linework in it's original size to the smallest details. About a third of the book consists of color Sunday pages, and they even included the "Sappo" strips. Superb. Segar Popeye is some of the best that the comic strips had to offer, and before this I only had seen samples in various "best of" compilations throughout the years. The last few years have seen a ton of great classic strip reprints, with Peanuts, Dick Tracy, Gasoline Alley, and too many comic book series archives to list. Too bad they all want money!! I can't get everything I want, but I'll be sure to complete this series.

Monday, November 27, 2006

I Want My Incorrigible Hulk!

Peter Bagge is one of my favorite cartoonists, and his Fantagraphics series HATE ranks up there with my all time favorite comics. A few years ago, Marvel commissioned Bagge to produce the Megalomaniacal Spider-Man, which ended up being possibly the weirdest Spider-Man title ever printed. Sales were fair, and a follow-up Hulk comic was commissioned. Bagge spent months working on The Incorrigible Hulk, only to find Marvel suddenly had cold feet about putting it out, as if one offbeat comic could possibly damage the "integrity" of the Hulk character in any way. The story is finished, but remains unpublished. Marvel has published all kinds of crazy crap over the years, and there's virtually nothing in the inventory drawer that doesn't eventually see print, so why not this??

Dammit, Marvel, I want my INCORRIGIBLE HULK!

UPDATE: If you want to read The Incorrigible Hulk, leave a comment - even if it's as simple as "Yeah, me too!" or "Grunt! Hulk comic funny good now!"

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Civil War #5 (and Affiliated Titles) Round-Up!

Civil War #5: This was a soothing lullaby compared to previous issues. In this issue we find that the Human Torch and Invisible Woman have Joined the anti-registration side, Spidey's defecting, the Punisher's back, and Daredevil's been captured. My only major problem with this issue is that there's no way Spider-Man should have had any problem with the Jester or Jack-O'-Lantern, let alone getting so thoroughly trounced by them as he did here. Millar seems to see Spidey as an incompetent punching bag, as his 12-issue stint on Marvel Knights Spider Man showed Peter being beaten, battered and outwitted at every turn. At least there, he was besieged by pretty much his entire rogue's gallery all at once. Obviously, the Jester/Jack-O'-Lantern scene would have worked better if Spidey had been ambushed, poisoned, and beaten by the Green Goblin, Venom, and the other heavy hitter Thunderbolts before escaping and then being cornered by the two tomato cans. But such is the lot of the armchair quarterback. I quite liked the Daredevil scene, by the way.

I have to admit, this page kicked Ass, the whole Ass, and nothing but the Ass:

I've seen quite a bit of criticism of the Civil War series, and it's frustrating because most of the plot holes people are complaining about could be addressed with a line or two of dialogue.
"Cap, why do we need this psycho to get into the Baxter Building? We have Johnny and Sue! They lived there for years!"
"Richards knows them better than anyone! He's locked them out and every angle they've tried to get back in has washed out."
Something like that. I still maintain that Civil War is better and more involving than any other line-wide crossover Marvel have done... which isn't exactly shooting for the stars, but it's a big improvement over past performance, and sometimes that's the best you can hope for.

Amazing Spider-Man #536: Welcome back, Peter.

Punisher War Journal #1: Ummm....mixed feelings? For everything I liked, there was something else that really rubbed me the wrong way. Hated the Stilt-Man killing, loved the "New Microchip". Hated the elderly-man-torture, loved the Spider-Man rescue. We'll have to see where this goes.

New Avengers #25 and Iron Man #13: Both basically said the same thing, but Tony gets his own Mary-Sue-by-way-of-Jerry-Garcia in the Iron Man comic. Executive Summary: Tony Stark is conflicted, and breifly "emo", but continues to support the registration.

More later, no doubt.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Thanksgiving Turkeys: The Crimson Centipede

This article has beeen rewritten and updated! Read more about the Crimson Centipede at "Legion of Subpar Villains: 100 Feet of Failure" !

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Again With the Comics Got a MODOK Dolly!

I can't believe I actually scored this sweet-ass Marvel Legends MODOK action figure:

It was packaged as the "Build-a-Figure" for ML wave 15, meaning you have to buy six different action figures (Moon Knight, Beta Ray Bill, Wasp, Spider-Woman, Thor-Buster Iron Man, and Captain Marvel) to get the parts to build MODOK. I used to collect action figures, and distribution of these things is abysmal in my town, so I pretty much assumed I'd never get a MODOK.

I never saw one of these in Target, Wal-Mart, or any other major retailer. Luckily, I was taking a different route home from work last week, and in a little strip mall, I noticed a new toy store. I went in and they had all six for not too much above retail, so I snagged 'em all.

And I built my MODOK. The six figures are pretty nice, with Beta Ray Bill being the best. Most importantly, MODOK looks GREAT!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Character Obscura: Red Raven

Red Raven first appeared in 1940, in the first and only issue of Red Raven Comics. His daffy origin consisted of infant Red Raven's parents flying their private plane into a cloud. That's really not a good idea, especially when said cloud is concealing the floating island home of a long-forgotten race of bird people! The plane crashed into the island, killing both parents instantly, so the bird people raised the baby as their own, giving him functional artificial wings. That happened a lot in the old days. You just weren't a proper superhero if you weren't raised by apes, aliens, robots, or members of secret hidden societies.

Red Raven fought with the Liberty Legion during World War 2, until he returned to his people. He later pulled a Namor and attacked the human race. Retcons were added to his origin when it was revealed that his bird people were a group of seceded Inhumans. Red Raven recently returned to fight/work with the Defenders, with a new look and a Fox attitude. He seems to alternate between birdlike and batlike wings, but since they're artificial, I guess he could have more than one pair and type of wings.

Here's some more about Red Raven's insanely convoluted backstory.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Stupid Comic Tricks: The 25-Cent Hulkless HULK Comic

Marvel did a series of promotions a few years ago where each month, a different book would get a promotional push and an introductory issue priced at 25 cents. In August 2003 Incredible Hulk #55 was priced low and hyped high. Too bad the Hulk was AWOL from his own book at the time! Bruce Jones had been writing the book as a conspiracy tinged man-on-the-run suspense thriller with Bruce Banner hunted by a bunch of mysterious government agents and God, was it boring. On top of all the black ops blabbity-blab, Jones was apparently determined to never ever ever EVER show the Hulk doing anything. NO MATTER WHAT.

This didn’t sit well with Hulk fans who, for some crazy reason, actually wanted to see the Hulk when buying a Hulk comic. I had quit buying the book after too many Hulkless issues, but when I heard that the 25-cent issue would kick off a new storyline bringing back the Absorbing Man, I figured I’d give it another shot. Of course I dig the Absorbing Man. He's a big brutal lunkhead with a ball and chain to lay upside your head - what's not to love? Surely, I reasoned, the Hulk would have to show up in a promotional issue, returning to battle one of his greatest foes? Surely there would have to be some action to be found? Not so fast, sparky.

The HULK’S ELBOW made a one-panel appearance in this land mark issue.

The rest of the story was a slimy, unsavory, mess recasting Crusher Creel as a sort of body-hopping Hannibal Lecter serial killer/rapist type. Somehow, he had learned to use his absorbing abilities to possess others, and spent the entire issue in an energy cage, grinning manically as his mind hopped from body to body casually murdering people. There was a nasty attempted rape scene, as Creel possessed a woman to come on strong to a co-worker, then possessed the co-worker to try to rape the woman. Banner was in there, acting all emo, and there were some government types in a secret prison under a graveyard, holding Absorbing Man in custody. I’m not sure I explained all that very well, but rest assured, it was very stupid. Even at 25 cents, a crappy, boring Hulk comic with no Hulk whatsoever is still a rip-off.

Actually, there were plenty of Hulk appearances in the issue. There was a "Got Milk?" ad with Hulk in it, as well as a DVD of crappy Hulk cartoons, an "Official HULK Movie Souvenir Magazine", and Hulk pimping Slim Jims. Hulk was too busy shilling shit to appear in the actual story!

Forgetting to put the Hulk in his own comic? That’s a Stupid Comic Trick.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Re-reading FLEX MENTALLO Part 3

This is the third part of a four-part look at the out-of-print 1996 Flex Mentallo miniseries from Vertigo by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely.
Here's Part 1
Here's Part 2

Lightning flashes and a cold rain comes down as Flex Mentallo's search for his missing teammate, the Fact and the lost superhero team the Legion of Legions leads him into an underground superhero sex club, where garishly costumed superhumans engage in decidedly unheroic, sweaty activities. Flex is obviously uncomfortable, but continues through, until the weird heroes close in and drag him down. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Harry's wife has succumbed to cancer, and with little else to do, he sets out to find and help Flex, enlisting a supervillain named the Hoaxer to help. Wallace Sage realizes that the memory he’s suppressed all this time was a meeting with a real superhero, Lord Limbo.

A nice dramatic splash of the one and only Flex Mentallo, Man of Muscle Mystery.

It's all a hoax. The Hoaxer knows the score.

This is an amazing, moody page. I like how the crazy technicolor "Walter Ego vs. the Counting Tree" showdown panel offsets the gloominess of the present day scenes. Faculty X! I'm not sure if it's intentional, but this page has a strong Dave Gibbons/Watchmen vibe going on.

A nice, telling moment between the Harry and the Hoaxer. I really liked Harry in this series, and he and the Hoaxer paired made for some excellent scenes.

I'm running out of ways to say "Quitely's art is brilliant", but it is. Great layout on this page, and check out the Grasshopper Girl. Wild.

Probably NSFW, by the way.

Wallace Sage: Still trippin'. That skeleton tossing the bombs is fantastic.

Finally, Sage remembers what had been eluding him: a childhood encounter with Lord Limbo.

Coming soon: The conclusion of Again With the Comics four part look at Flex Mentallo. Three down, one to go!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Spider-Man 3: A First Look at VENOM?

Here's (possibly) a look at Venom, from Spider-Man 3:

UPDATE: This may be a picture of Venom from a Spider-Man 3 videogame, based on the upcoming movie. If so, this site also has pictures of Harry Osborn in a sleek looking goblin-esque getup, as well as a traditional looking Sandman by way of Thomas Hayden Church. Keep in mind, I have no idea if these pictures are real or not, but I hope so. I like the looks for all three villains, and while regular readers will not be surprised to find out that Sandman is a favorite, '90s poster boy Venom has actually kind of grown on me as well. If accurate, this Venom is spot on, and the early pictures I've seen of Sandman are perfect. I don't ordinarilly get all that excited about other-media adaptations of comics, but good stuff is good stuff, and I find I'm very excited about Spider-Man 3.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Walking Tall: Eulogy for a Stilt-Man

One good thing about the delay of Civil War #5 is that it also delays the inevitable death of the Stilt-Man in Punisher War Journal #1. Based on the preview page above and a dismal, hard-rock scored “trailer” over at the Marvel site, it’s clear that Stilt-Man will be the first casualty in Frank Castle’s renewed war on guys dressed like porcupines and frogs. I know writer Matt Fraction has to show how badass the Punisher is, and how much he “means business”, by having him kill off some old loser villain, but why, oh why did it have to be Stilt-Man?

Stilt-Man, (or “Grimy” as he preferred to be called), made his debut appearance in Daredevil #8. After failing to steal the Stilt-Man armor through legal means, Wilbur Day stole the prototype, becoming the villainous Stilt-Man. The Emir of Elevation initially gave the horn-headed crime fighter a real run for his money:

The Lofty Lawbreaker spent his glory years being regarded as a legitimate threat by Daredevil, before the book went all grim and gritty. I remember one story where a major plot point was Matt's fear that Stilt-Man and Leap Frog might actually join forces, becoming an unstoppable threat. He was seriously worried about this. Daredevil had it easy back then, before Elektra, the Kingpin, and scores of ninjas became defining elements of his world.

Daredevil was just the first of many superheroes to defeat the Stilt-Man. The Towering Terrorist went on to get beaten by all the greats: Spider-Man, The Avengers, the X-men and more took turns beating up on the Sultan of Stride, but undeterred, he kept coming back for more. Once Frank Miller took over the book, it would have been reasonable to assume that Stilt-Man would never be seen in Daredevil again, but in Daredevil #186, recurring small timer Turk Barrett stole the Stilt-Man armor in a vain attempt to get work with the Kingpin:

Maybe Turk can take up the “mantle” of Stilt-Man again, now that the original is gone.
Farewell, Stilt-Man. You may not have been a good man, or an especially successful one, but you still towered above us all. Because of the stilts.

R.I.P. STILT-MAN: 1965-2006
Good night, sweet mechanically-augmented prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Again With the Comics Recommends "Fred The Clown"

I spent part of Sunday re-reading my copy of Fred the Clown, by Roger Langridge.

Fantagraphics Books usually publish some outstanding, high quality books, and Fred the Clown is no exception. This is just one beautiful book, from cover to cover. Langridge puts the titular clown through his paces in this volume with some of the most visually inventive cartooning it's been my privilege to enjoy. Fred is Langridge's hapless goon of a clown protaganist, chasing love through his vintage cartoon world. There is some fantastic art in this book. Look at the sheer imagination and craft in these two facing pages:

The rest of the 192-page book is just as beautifully illustrated. I was aware of Langridge's work before, but this really put him up there on my list of top cartoonists. In short: If you see Fred the Clown, get it!

Friday, November 03, 2006

Wonder Woman Wants to Beat You to Death With a Live Warthog.

Clearly, Wonder Woman is full of hatred for man and beast alike. So much so that she's willing and able to batter one with the other! I think Infinite Crisis would have been greatly improved by having Wonder Woman bludgeon Maxwell Lord to death with a live warthog, but maybe that's just me.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Stupid Comic Tricks: I Married a Skrull!

When taking the reins of a long-running title, a new writer faces a daunting challenge: they have to provide both the shock of the new and the comfort of the old. Interesting, thrilling new stories are expected but by God, don’t change things too much, or the fans will claim you’ve destroyed the character and buggered their childhoods. When you factor in deadlines, constantly shifting editorial vision, and the need to fit it all into an existing, cohesive, decades-old universe, it’s a wonder the damn things get published at all. Sometimes, when trying to come up with the next epic storyline, the storytellers stumble into the realm of dumbness, leading to…STUPID COMIC TRICKS.
Whatever else you may say about him, John Byrne was at the top of his game in the early 1980’s, when he was writing the Fantastic Four. Byrne brought fresh blood to a title that had been in steady decline since the Lee/Kirby era. During his time on the book, one of his ongoing subplots involved the longstanding romance between the Thing and Alicia Masters. Alicia had been badly wounded during an attack by Annihilus on the Baxter Building, and Ben began to have grave doubts about their relationship. Over a period of months, he and Alicia drifted apart. The Thing went off on his own in his solo book, replaced in the FF by the She-Hulk.
It was during this period that Alicia and Johnny Storm, the Human Torch began to notice a mutual attraction and started a romance, each aware of how it would hurt Ben but unable to help themselves. I found all this very refreshing, as Alicia had always been a fretting cipher before, spending a lot of time standing around saying “Oh, Ben!” and not much else. Suddenly she was doing something different, becoming much more appealing in the process. Johnny had never been able to make a love connection before, so this showed a more mature side to him. It really seemed like a bold course for two characters who had stagnated. The two got married in the post-Byrne era, issue #300.

I’m not sure what the reasoning was behind that, but it did make for some serious friction between the Thing and the Torch. Eventually, Ben agreed to be Johnny’s best man, and all was more-or-less well for the two old friends. Mister and Mrs. Storm were wed, set up housekeeping, and life went on.

I fully expected that this would be undone eventually. Even then, I’d been reading comics long enough to know that change is rarely permanent. I assumed that sooner or later, Alicia’s stepfather, the Puppet Master would be revealed as the mastermind behind the romance. Doing his usual bang-up job of “protecting” her. When writer Tom DeFalco took over the FF with issue #357, he went with an aggressively retro approach, and the first thing he did was to undo the Torch/Alicia pairing.
Unable to wait even a full two issues to hammer everything back into silver-age form, DeFalco’s story hastily revealed that Alicia had been replaced by a Skrull impostor to spy on the FF, and that Johnny had never been married to the real Alicia Masters at all!

Why? It took a compelling, humane dual character development and turned it into the hoariest, hokiest old-school funnybook cliché in the book. It made each and every member of the FF look stupid. (Surely Reed must have a baker’s dozen of ways to detect alien life forms in the Baxter Building? Didn’t Ben notice anything different about her mannerisms?). It failed to accomplish its (assumed) goal of restoring the status quo, since Ben and Alicia remained split for years until only very recently in the Thing #8. And it made Johnny look like a chump. More so than usual.
Once rescued, Alicia immediately disappeared for the rest of DeFalco’s run, which makes me wonder why he was in such a damned hurry to “restore” her in the first place. If his goal was to make Johnny single again, well, that didn’t work either, since Lyja (the Skrull’s real name) hung around for some time afterwards having an on-again/off-again romance with Johnny, taking on the name Lyja Laserfist (!) getting pregnant by Johnny(!!) and eventually giving birth to an EGG, (!!!) which soon hatched into some sort of monster-weapon-trap-thing that the FF quickly defeated. The whole plot just shambled along for months before Lyja just kind of wandered off, resurfacing a few months later to join the extra-stinky Fantastic Force. I had given up on the main FF book by then, but the cover to #410 implies that eventually, Johnny and Ben were fighting over Lyja, bringing the whole mess full (stupid) circle.

They say: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I say: If you think it is broke, and you don’t know what to do with it when you've fixed it, DON’T fix it. 

Have a stupid day.

This post was originally published on November 11th, 2006.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

More About MODOK's 11

From a Newsarama interview with Fred Van Lente about Super Villain Team-Up: Modok's 11 with artist Francis Portela:

FVL: As the title implies, it's about the super-heist of the century: Modok, sick of being hunted and hounded by AIM, gathers together an eclectic team of Marvel's Most-Wanted for one big, spectacularly impossible score... The opportunity for which would not be possible without the events of Civil War. While the heroes are distracted by in-fighting, the villains are free to flourish ... The ones that don't actually work for the government, that is.

Wow, looks like they might actually give 'DOK a personality, something he's always pretty much lacked. From the sample art, it looks like we'll be seeing his origin in this as well. I forgot that poor ol' George Tarleton was an unwilling participant in A.I.M.'s little gourd-expanding experiment. There was also a couple of pages shown earlier in the week that gave us a look at his team:

Looks like Armadillo, the Spot, the Living Laser, the Chameleon, the Rocket Racer, aaand...I still don't recognize the woman. A nice mix of misfits. Best of all, apparently they travel around in...BIG WHEEL:

Jackson Wheele is back in business, baby. I'm really looking forward to Modok's 11. It's interesting to see the old Marvel villains getting a pretty substantial push into the limelight, with books like this and Thunderbolts exploring the more complex side of characters who have, until now, been largely ciphers.